Of Course You Must Never Close a Wardrobe Door Behind You

Yesterday Thea and I finished The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’ve been thinking a lot about if she might have been a little young for it. She interrupted with a lot of questions, some of them tangential (what color dress is Lucy wearing, for example). But some of them were good questions, like: is Mr. Tumnus right in calling himself a Bad Faun? He was nice but pretending to be mean but pretending to be nice but also actually nice? And then the matter of Edmund: did we hate him or love him? We hated him and then loved him? And what is a traitor?

My parents read me the Narnia books when I was in first or second grade. We were living in Switzerland then. The night we read the chapter where Aslan dies, I cried and cried. We stayed up late so I could hear the rest of the story: his resurrection, the cracking of the stone table, and the work of bringing Jadis’s statues back to life.

Although I wouldn’t learn about the Christian allegory in the Narnia books until years later, I’d at least heard of World War II by the time I read them. As a result I knew a little more about the world happening on the other side of the wardrobe. I knew why the children were separated from their parents, why they’d been sent to a remote, old mansion.

Thea knows school is closed because there are germs going around that can make some people very sick, and that we can’t see family or friends until the germs aren’t as bad. She knows “germs” are the reason the playground and the beach are blocked off with police tape (I’m not sure if this has been the right level of detail and information to give her, but we’ve done the best we can to be honest but not frightening), but of course she doesn’t know about the numbers coming out of Italy. She misses her kindergarten teacher and has asked, worried, what will happen if she doesn’t get to go back and be in her class anymore.

Nick told me that one of the things that scares him most about the threat posed by COVID-19 is the uselessness of logic or negotiation in combatting it. Like the enemy in a science fiction story (zombies for instance, and, though I’ve never seen it Nick says nearly every Star Trek episode) that speaks to a fundamental terror we all feel.

The good and evil in Narnia is both reassuring for its clarity (“I really want the good people to win this fight,” Thea told me) and heartbreaking for the parallels it’s easy to draw (despite the different nature of the fight): number of people at risk, necessity of extended isolation, the seemingly undeniable way this crisis will reshape every generation that lives through.

I’m hoping Thea wants to read the other books in the series (she said she does, but from what I remember the others are not quite as accessible for young kids so I want to be careful). On this reading I was delighted by the times Lewis addresses the children reading the book directly (all those reminders not to close oneself in a wardrobe!). The most emotionally evocative part—at least as an adult with a little girl on her lap amidst a pandemic—was the ending when the professor tells the children not to try to get back to Narnia, though reassuring them that someday they’ll find themselves there again.