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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Illustrated by Michael Hague. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1981. 183 pp. ISBN 978-0027582000.

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Reviewed by Nancy-Lou Patterson

[This review originally appeared as “Hague in Narnia” in Mythlore 11.1 (#39) (1984): 35-36.]


I wouldn’t presume to review the text of this book, which is one of the great masterworks of modern fantasy. It came into my life in the late 1950s when for seven wonderful months I used part of our graduate student’s salary to buy one new Chronicles of Narnia each month. The joy of the moment when Lucy first crunches into the snowy landscape of Lantern Waste will remain with me all my life, and, if the essential meaning of this book is true, beyond.

I am one who thinks that Pauline Baynes––who illustrated the original edition of this book––is a world class illustrator, a superbly original artist whose breathtaking miniature works are unmistakable and unique. It is pleasant to be able to say that I enjoy Michael Hague’s paintings very much too. He has used the classic illustrators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as his sources, modeling his forests on Arthur Rackham and his figures on the Robinsons. His White Witch is frankly drawn from Baynes’s distinctive vision. I wonder, sometimes, how she would look if she were made to be as beautiful as Lewis says she is, a true Snow Queen with “a beautiful face … but proud and cold and stern.” His Aslan is magnificent, sublimely leonine, though the resurrection scene contains a hint of W.W. Denslow’s Cowardly Lion from the first edition of The Wizard of Oz: something about his smiling muzzle and the uplifted tuft of his orange mane. The Beavers are excellent, scaled perfectly, and their dwelling given a delightfully firelit interior full of the enchanting paraphernalia of the English cottage kitchen. Mr. Tumnus is larger and more feral than Baynes’s more delicate, sweet-faced creation. And I wonder if the lantern which grows in the snowy forest would really have been lighted with a fat candle: the gaslit lamps of Lewis’s boyhood burned with a pure still glow, and this lamp, which grew from the iron lamp-bar flung by Jadis into the preternaturally fecund earth of Narnia’s Creation, should gleam as if with some vegetable fire. Hague’s Father Christmas is exactly right, perhaps because Baynes never depicted him. And the courtyard of Cair Paravel, with its stone figures, is splendidly mysterious.

There are twelve single pages and one double page of illustrations in the book, along with another on the dust jacket, all slightly cropped versions of the Calendar which Hague created for the year 1982. The typographic and binding design––by Ellen Weiss and Ben Birnbaum––are superb; the book is a joy to examine and to read. I’m told that no other of the Chronicles has been published to this point, though there are two more calendars in print as I write (and more to come, I hope). Perhaps if we all believe, like the audience of Peter Pan on behalf of Tinkerbell, they will appear in due course; it would be delightful to see the entire series printed in this very beautiful and suitable manner.

 



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