Fiction – audiobook. Read by Kenneth Branagh. Listening Library, 2013. Originally published 1955. 3 hours, 57 minutes. Library copy.
Two young children named Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer decide to explore the connected attics their family’s homes in London during the summer of 1900. During their exploration, the two children stumble across Digory’s Uncle Andrew, and Polly is convinced by Uncle Andrew to touch a yellow ring, which causes her to immediately vanish.
Horrified, Digory learns that his uncle has been playing with magic and only the way to get his friend back is for him to touch a second yellow ring making sure to take two green rings with him so Polly and Digory can return. Digory finds Polly almost immediately in the “woods between the worlds” where puddles serve as portals to new lands but, like all curious children, the two decide to jump into one of these puddles before returning to England.
The two end up in Charn, a destroyed city where all life has died and only a few reminants of civilization remain including statues of the Charn’s former leaders and a bell imploring the finder to ring. Polly resists the temptation, but Digory succumbs ringing the bell and awakening Jadis, an evil witch who killed all those in Charn in her quest for power.
Digory and Polly do their best to escape back to London yet Jadis ends up following them. Thirsty for power in this new land, Jadis enslaves Uncle Andrew and assaults anyone who gets in her way. Determined to save Uncle Andrew and themselves, Digory and Polly grab Jadis, take her back to the woods between the worlds, and try to locate the puddle leading to Charn. Instead, the duo ends up jumping into a puddle that leads to a land not yet created and witness the lion king, Aslan, founding Narnia.
There’s some contentious over whether or not this book should be read as the first in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Yes, the novel is chronically the prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but it seems to rely upon at least a cursory knowledge of that book — the important of Aslan, the horrors of the White Witch, the existence of a lamp post in the middle of nowhere — to really work well as a story.
Even though I’ve read The Lion, the Wtich, and the Wardrobe (although, it’s been nearly five years), I felt as though I was listening to someone read a Wikipedia entry to me rather than a novel. This happened and then that happened, which lead to this. Not a lot of excitement; not a lot of intrigue. A lot like reading the first chapter of Genesis, which is clearly the inspiration for how Aslan brings about Narnia.
I know some people read fantasy novels and immediately must know how that land came into being. I’ve seen all the movies and read the first book yet I never felt that burning need with Narnia. It’s a magical land one accesses through a wardrobe simply because that’s how things are. Not very imaginative of me, I guess.
Yet that probably explains why this book did not work well for me, and the uninspiring narration by Kenneth Branagh did nothing to keep me engaged with this tale. I also must admit that the audiobook I listened to largely skipped the third chapter. The CD was scratched so it refused to load properly past the first four minutes, but I decided to read up a summary of that chapter online rather than seek out a print copy to help fill in the holes.