One of the miracles of C.S. Lewis is that he is able to incorporate a sense of the mystical and magical with the form of the world in a Christian framework without either aspect becoming forced or stilted. The stories that Lewis has crafted in the Chronicles of Narnia stand on their own as good storytelling even without the underpinning of Christian imagery - they are strong tales, kin in many ways to the Lord of the Rings cycle, which makes sense, given the friendship and professional relationship of Lewis with Tolkein.
This particular text, 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', is the second installment in the overall Narnia series, but each story is able to stand on its own. This is a story that almost begins with 'once upon a time...' It is a good story for children of all ages (including 40-year-old children like me). The story begins in the dark days of the London blitz, with the children being sent away for their protection. This was common for people in all social classes, from the royal family on down, to send the children out to the countryside for the duration of the war - when Lewis was writing and publishing the Narnia books, this experience would have been fresh in the minds of the readers. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are the family children sent to stay with old Professor and his less-than-amiable housekeeper; it comes as no surprise that the children hope to escape from this as much as from the bombs in London, and escape they did.
Lucy found it first - the portal to Narnia, in the back of the wardrobe in the special room. Then Edmund (though he would lie about it), and then all four make the journey into Narnia, where they discover themselves to be the likely heirs of a prophetic chain of events freeing the land from the evil of the wintery White Witch, who was then styling herself as the Queen of Narnia. In fact, the real king of Narnia was Aslan, a majestic lion full of power and grace, whose soul was as pure as any child's hope for the future.
The Christian images would seem familiar to any liturgical churchgoer, but the there are also other symbols that fit beyond the religious that tap into deeper longings - evil here is not a hot place, but a frozen place, where the emotions are cold and sharp. The lesser creatures are the virtuous ones, and the children lead the way to the redemption of all. The battle of good and evil takes place in epic form, fitting many forms of heroic tales. The lion Aslan stands for the Christ figure, but can also conjure images of the lion of England - Peter's shield with a red lion makes him both the stand-in for the first of the apostles as well as a perfect casting for St. George. Other parallels abound.
The children themselves live a good life in Narnia, but eventually return to their English countryside encampment, with spirits and hopefulness renewed.
This is a tale of extraordinary power, and one that stays with the reader for a long time. Long before Harry Potter, there was Narnia - a tale that is not only fun and riveting, but also one with a strong moral lens that includes not only power, but the giving up of power; not only victory, but also forgiveness and sacrifice. Revenge is an emotion that is defeated here, and good triumphs at the last.
A grand story!