The fantastical world of Narnia is one filled with magic, witches, talking animals, and mythical figures of fantasy and folklore—even Father Christmas makes an appearance there. In spite of the fantastical atmosphere, though, Narnia is not free from problems—in fact, when Lucy and her siblings arrive in Narnia, they find that it is a world in at least as bad a shape as their own. By denying the escapist possibilities of a utopian dream-world, Lewis makes Narnia a place where the children who venture there must actually face their problems. In doing so Lewis argues that true, pure fantasy does not exist at all, and suggests that no attempt at escaping one’s problems or circumstances will ever prove fruitful—at least not for long.
Lucy first finds Narnia while exploring the Professor’s house with her siblings. Lucy’s escape into Narnia is doubly meaningful, as she and her siblings have already escaped their city, London, to avoid the violence and chaos of the air-raids during World War II. In showing Lucy’s entry into Narnia as an escape from an escape, Lewis is already demonstrating how tempting and yet impossible it is to try to leave one’s problems behind. Once in Narnia, Lucy believes she has entered a fairytale. She meets a kind Faun, Mr. Tumnus, who invites her to his cave for tea and a delicious meal, and tells her exciting stories about his life in the forest with Nymphs and Dryads. Lucy feels comforted, happy, and transported, but eventually decides she needs to return home, as her siblings must be worried for her. When she tells Mr. Tumnus she needs to leave, however, he becomes upset and starts sobbing. He reveals to Lucy that the White Witch, the ruler of Narnia, has commanded all Narnians to ensnare any “Sons of Adam” or “Daughters of Eve (humans) who come to Narnia and bring them to her. Lucy realizes that the world she has found herself in is not perfect, and is actually dangerous. Her escape into a fairy-world, then, becomes less of a fantasy and more of a nightmare.
Having been berated all week by her siblings for supposedly making up lies and fantasies, Lucy decides to use the wardrobe as a hiding place during a game of hide-and-seek and thus check, once and for all, whether the wardrobe really is a portal to another world. Lucy’s escape from her siblings during a game of hide-and-seek—already situated within their escape from London—is set up to portend yet another confrontation with the inability to ever truly leave one’s problems behind. Lewis complicates this new journey into Narnia by having Edmund follow Lucy into the wardrobe. Soon, Edmund finds himself in Narnia, but cannot find Lucy—instead, he comes face to face with the evil White Witch herself, who plies the greedy, suggestible Edmund with sweets and gets him to agree to lure the rest of his siblings to Narnia and bring them to the Witch. She promises Edmund that if he heeds her, he will one day be King; his desire to show up his siblings combined with the Witch’s enchanted candies result in Edmund’s capitulation to the queen. Edmund, as the second-youngest, is often picked on by his older siblings, and in Narnia he believes he has found a way to escape their taunts and finally prove himself as the most special and powerful of all four of them. Edmund will soon come to realize, though, that Narnia is not a place where the struggles of the real world melt away; rather, in Narnia the problems of life are magnified and battled out against an even more heightened backdrop.
All four siblings at last escape into Narnia together when they are hiding from the housekeeper, Mrs. Macready, and a party of sightseers she is bringing through the Professor’s house—as it is a historic home, the children often have to evade tour groups passing through. The children escape the tour by hiding in the wardrobe—and soon find themselves in Narnia. As Peter and Susan marvel at their fantastical new surroundings, they, too, at first believe themselves to be in an “exciting” fantasy world. However, when they join Lucy and Edmund and make their way towards Mr. Tumnus’s cave, they find that things are not at all what they seem to be. Mr. Tumnus’s cave has been ransacked, and a sign on the door announces that Tumnus has been arrested for the charge of “High Treason against her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia”—ostensibly for refusing to turn Lucy over to the White Witch. Peter and Susan too now see that Narnia is not a place where they can escape from their problems and lose themselves in fantasy—there is very real danger here, too, and they are at the very center of it. As the four siblings witness the chaos at Tumnus’s house, they consider turning around and heading back for the Professor’s; Susan is the first to suggest they abandon Narnia and return home. Lucy protests, though, insisting they must try to rescue Tumnus. Edmund wants to go home, too, but Susan then changes her tune, and admits that though she “wish[es they’d] never come” to Narnia, they cannot turn back now.
The first third of the novel consists of Lewis’s attempt to establish the impossibility of escapism in a world fraught with war, corruption, and pain. To leave one’s problem’s behind is an unrealistic wish, and as the children, one by one, find themselves pulled into the world of Narnia and forced to reckon with the evil and danger that exist there as well, they begin to realize that even fantasy worlds are not immune to suffering and strife.
Fantasy, Reality, and Escapism ThemeTracker
Fantasy, Reality, and Escapism Quotes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“But what have you done?” asked Lucy.
“My old father, now,” said Mr. Tumnus; “that's his picture over the mantelpiece. He would never have done a thing like this.”
“A thing like what?” said Lucy.
“Like what I've done,” said the Faun. “Taken service under the White Witch. That's what I am. I'm in the pay of the White Witch.”
“The White Witch? Who is she?”
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It's she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
“How awful!” said Lucy.
“I had orders from the White Witch that if ever I saw a Son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve in the wood, I was to catch them and hand them over to her. And you are the first I’ve ever met. And I've pretended to be your friend and asked you to tea, and all the time I've been meaning to wait till you were asleep and then go and tell Her.”
“Oh, but you won't, Mr. Tumnus,” said Lucy. “You won't, will you? Indeed, indeed you really mustn't.”
“And if I don't,” said he, beginning to cry again, “she's sure to find out. And she'll have my tail cut off, and my horns sawn off, and my beard plucked out, and she'll wave her wand over my beautiful cloven hoofs and turn them into horrid solid hoofs like a wretched horse's. And if she is extra and specially angry she'll turn me into stone and I shall be only a statue of a Faun in her horrible house until the four thrones at Cair Paravel are filled-and goodness knows when that will happen, or whether it will ever happen at all.”
While he was eating the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one's mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive. She got him to tell her that he had one brother and two sisters, and that one of his sisters had already been in Narnia and had met a Faun there, and that no one except himself and his brother and his sisters knew anything about Narnia. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it. “You are sure there are just four of you?” she asked. “Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?” and Edmund, with his mouth full of Turkish Delight, kept on saying, “Yes, I told you that before,” and forgetting to call her “Your Majesty,” but she didn't seem to mind now. At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.
“Peter! Susan! It’s all true. Edmund has seen it too. There is a country you can get to through the wardrobe. Edmund and I both got in. We met one another in there, in the wood. Go on, Edmund; tell them all about it.”
“What's all this about, Ed?” said Peter.
And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story. Up to that moment Edmund had been feeling sick, and sulky, and annoyed with Lucy for being right, but he hadn't made up his mind what to do. When Peter suddenly asked him the question he decided all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he could think of. He decided to let Lucy down.
“Tell us, Ed,” said Susan.
And Edmund gave a very superior look as if he were far older than Lucy (there was really only a year's difference) and then a little snigger and said, “Oh, yes, Lucy and I have been playing—pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true. Just for fun, of course. There's nothing there really.”
“So you really were here,” [Peter] said, “that time Lu said she'd met you in here—and you made out she was telling lies.”
There was a dead silence. “Well, of all the poisonous little beasts—” said Peter, and shrugged his shoulders and said no more. There seemed, indeed, no more to say, and presently the four resumed their journey; but Edmund was saying to himself. “I'll pay you all out for this, you pack of stuck-up, self-satisfied prigs.”
“I-I wonder if there's any point in going on,” said Susan. “I mean, it doesn't seem particularly safe here and it looks as if it won't be much fun either. And it's getting colder every minute, and we've brought nothing to eat. What about just going home?”
“Oh, but we can't, we can't,” said Lucy suddenly; “don't you see? We can't just go home, not after this. It is all on my account that the poor Faun has got into this trouble. He hid me from the Witch and showed me the way back. That's what it means by comforting the Queen's enemies and fraternizing with Humans. We simply must try to rescue him.”
“I've a horrid feeling that Lu is right,” said Susan. “I don't want to go a step further and I wish we'd never come. But I think we must try to do something for Mr. Whatever-his-name-is—I mean the Faun.”
“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn't safe?” said Lucy.
"Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
“I'm longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”
“The quickest way you can help [Mr. Tumnus] is by going to meet Aslan,” said Mr. Beaver, “once he's with us, then we can begin doing things. Not that we don't need you too. For that's another of the old rhymes:
When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done.
So things must be drawing near their end now he's come and you've come.”
You mustn't think that even now Edmund was quite so bad that he actually wanted his brother and sisters to be turned into stone. He did want Turkish Delight and to be a Prince (and later a King) and to pay Peter out for calling him a beast. As for what the Witch would do with the others, he didn't want her to be particularly nice to them—certainly not to put them on the same level as himself; but he managed to believe, or to pretend he believed, that she wouldn't do anything very bad to them, “Because,” he said to himself, “all these people who say nasty things about her are her enemies and probably half of it isn't true. She was jolly nice to me, anyway, much nicer than they are. I expect she is the rightful Queen really. Anyway, she'll be better than that awful Aslan!” At least, that was the excuse he made in his own mind for what he was doing. It wasn't a very good excuse, however, for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel.
“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling.”
It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. […] And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn't find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I've come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening.”
But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn't know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan's face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him and went all trembly.
“Oh, you're real, you're real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. And now—”
“Oh yes. Now?” said Lucy, jumping up and clapping her hands.
“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me.”
“And now! Those who can't keep up—that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals—must ride on the backs of those who can—that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is. Look lively and sort yourselves.”
And with a great deal of bustle and cheering they did. The most pleased of the lot was the other lion who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy but really in order to say to everyone he met, “Did you hear what he said? Us Lions—That means him and me. Us Lions. That's what I like about Aslan. No side, no stand-off-ishness. Us Lions. That meant him and me.”
“I know not how it is, but this lamp on the post worketh upon me strangely. It runs in my mind that I have seen the like before; as it were in a dream, or in the dream of a dream.”
“Sir,” answered they all, “it is even so with us also.”
“And more,” said Queen Lucy, “for it will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern either we shall find strange adventures or else some great change of our fortunes.”
“Madam,” said King Edmund, “the like foreboding stirreth in my heart also.”
“And in mine, fair brother,” said King Peter.
“And in mine too,” said Queen Susan. “Wherefore by my counsel we shall lightly return to our horses and follow this White Stag no further.”
“Madam,” said King Peter, “therein I pray thee to have me excused. For never since we four were Kings and Queens in Narnia have we set our hands to any high matter, as battles, quests, feats of arms, acts of justice, and the like, and then given over; but always what we have taken in hand, the same we have achieved.”
“Sister,” said Queen Lucy, “my royal brother speaks rightly. And it seems to me we should be shamed if for any fearing or foreboding we turned back from following so noble a beast as now we have in chase.”
The Professor, who was a very remarkable man, didn't tell them not to be silly or not to tell lies, but believed the whole story. “No,” he said, “I don't think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won't get into Narnia again by that route. Nor would the coats be much use by now if you did! Eh? What's that? Yes, of course you'll get back to Narnia again someday. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia. But don't go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don't try to get there at all. It'll happen when you're not looking for it. And don't talk too much about it even among yourselves. And don't mention it to anyone else unless you find that they've had adventures of the same sort themselves. What's that? How will you know? Oh, you'll know all right. Odd things they say—even their looks—will let the secret out. Keep your eyes open.”