In this book we are taken back to the 1940s and introduced to four children, two girls and two boys, brothers and sisters who are ‘Evacuated’ to the countryside during WWII. This was common practice during that conflict, when children were taken out of the towns and sent to the country in order to make them relatively safe from the regular bombing raids that were causing huge destruction to all the major cities.
These particular evacuees are taken in by a rather eccentric professor who largely ignores them, leaving their care to his housekeeper. They are free to explore his house and soon discover what appears to be a perfectly ordinary, but fairly old model MK XXII Quantum Interdimensional Portal (QIP ) of the kind that transports you to another parallel world but which has been mistaken by the housekeeper and the children for a wardrobe.
It turns out that there has been a recent change of government and the country is now under strict economic freeze with very tight restrictions. The new leader of the country is known as the White Queen, someone who is rather on the harsh side of severe in her policies and who emerged onto the political scene after a power vacuum was created by the unexplained loss of the monarchy.
This new ruler seems to come from a land that must be much like Alaska, because a part of her policies also imposes a literal freeze on all her dominion creating a permanent winter. Possibly because she uses a sleigh for transport and they do not run well in warm weather. She also has the wildest collection of garden ornaments you have ever seen in her castle yard and in accordance with the rules of being an evil ruler, is served by only the ugliest of hench-creatures. No doubt the castle, in compliance with the standard evil rulers' charter, has a self-destruct button somewhere too, but this is unconfirmed and not used.
After discovering the fawn’s deviousness, Lucy hastily returns home and finds she has been away with no objective time lapse on the part of her original universe, but when she attempts to show the other children the portal, the QIP is on the blink and will not work for her, so they think she is mistaken and still believe it is just an ordinary wardrobe. I expect being one of the older models it required about twenty four hours to recharge after each use. Edmund, the younger of the two boys, later manages to blunder through it and meets the White Queen herself, who happens to be out for a sleigh ride with her vertically challenged companion, usually rudely referred to as the dwarf.
Eventually, the QIP operates long enough for all the children to enter the portal and they soon find out that they are expected to take charge and wrest the land of Narnia from the grasp of the White Queen and allow the weather to improve. This comes as something of a surprise to them and they are rather hesitant but when introduced to a huge talking lion, they realise, quite sensibly, that they would rather attempt to overthrow an evil and extremely powerful ruler, rather than get on the bad side of this enormous carnivore.
Meanwhile the other three are still with the lion who, although obviously capable and feared by the White Queen, puzzlingly is not actually in charge. He does however, seem to have some sort of executive power and negotiates a deal to save Edmund, who has by a very obscure piece of ancient Narnian legislation, become the property of the White Queen, and this has happened to him even though he has never actually signed any contract.
This must work something like changing your energy supplier or phone service provider when they do cold-calling and let you agree to a change of supplier without you realising that is what the conversation was leading to.
Such is the nature of the Narnian universe, that if this contract is not fulfilled, the whole place will suffer a major tectonic collapse and immense earthquakes and the subsequent tsunamis would eradicate all life. Not a very sensible structure for a world, when by hiring a bad lawyer you could cause the world to end.
The talking lion, unlike his counterpart in the parallel dimension of Oz, is no coward and to prevent this disaster agrees to be ritually killed by the White Queen, who is less well briefed by her barrister on Narnian law and believes that this course of action will get shot of the Lion and she will regain control.
Boy is she wrong!
After the seeming demise of the lion and all the evil crew have run off exulting over their easy victory, a rather smaller earthquake occurs and the lion is restored to health with a new hairdo too.
Shortly after this all the bad ones run off and the children are crowned to become a quadumviate and rule Narnia as King and King and Queen and Queen. A very unusual governmental structure.
The lion meanwhile, job done, wanders off and the two kings and two queens start to live the life of riley in Narnia with everyone left fawning over them as the right and proper rulers of Narnia. This carries on long enough for them to grow into adults and eventually forget who they really are.
The story ends with them rediscovering the lampost whilst on a hunting trip, returning home and reverting to their original children’s forms, again with no objective time passing in their original universe.
A fascinating story and I give it a 9.8 out of ten and read it and re read it as a child. This book was followed by several sequels and one prequel but I did not find any of the later stories about Narnia anything like as magical as this first book and would probably give them between five and six out of ten should I review any of them.
A Disney movie was made of this book a few years ago, which is probably a lot closer to the original story than many other movie versions of books I have seen and very nicely done, but they did not do all their research properly. The movie adds a bit by unnecessarily starting with an air raid over London during the blitz. The book starts with the four children on the train leaving London, but in the movie the whole family are still in London and for some incredible reason are taken completely by surprise by an air raid! Bombers did not sneak up on you, they were slow and noisy and you heard them coming and anyway Britain had long range radar. So it is not very likely that a mother would risk her own children’s lives by ignoring all the warnings. Before a raid arrived deafeningly loud Air Raid Sirens were started several minutes before any bombers could get to you and besides the local sirens, you could hear the sirens starting up in the far distance and closer sirens joining in as the raiders approached long before this. In those days you listened out all the time so I am sure that they would have been inside their bomb shelter well before any bombs started falling. Apart from that the movie is quite well done.
Finally a Health and Safety warning!
It is important to stress that should young children be attacked by a lion or other large predator, a garland of flowers is no real defense. Please do not attempt to control any wild animal in this way.
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