I'm proud of you for giving the books a read :-) I think my love for the series is MOSTLY because I was a child when I first read the books (3rd grade? Definitely during/by 4th grade). I immediately identified with Lucy (I can't lie either, LOL) and was sucked into the world which felt- to me- incredibly vivid and real. I loved the concept of being able to get into another world and I liked to think of the time-passage thing as a very interesting concept, rather like daydreams/my imagination. I could imagine all sorts of stuff but when I needed to stop, I was still me, sitting in my room, etc.
At times, Narnia & its surrounding lands seem more vivid to me than Middle Earth, and sometimes less. I LOVE the mythology behind it, though, and I always get pulled in by all the little details like all the different creatues and peoples and lands. More on that in next post. But, yes, I can see how compared to ME it might seem much flatter at times and less creative/fantastic.
I TOTALLY realize (having convinced friends to read the books/watch the movies) that it's a much different feeling to read the books now as an adult than as a child. And the allagory parts WOULD drive me insane as well if not for the fact that whenever I read the books, I try to pretend I have NO knowledge of the Christian mythology at all and I take the stories and world at face value. Only then am I able to appreciate the way the world was set up and the twists and turns that come along with it. Yes, every time I read/see Aslan on the stone table, Jesus pops into my head but I try to push that thought away and remind myself that it's a world that was created through deep magic and magic is just that: magic. To me, Narnia is a HELL of a lot easier to understand and believe than most anything written in the Bible. LOL But I agree with your statements entirely regarding religion(I have decided that traditional organized religion is not for me. I can't take the bigotry, the exclusionary nature, the self-righteousness, the atrocities that are so often committed in the name of one god or another, with each party so completely convinced that their way is the only right way.) My ex-boyfriend was groaning during parts of LWW when we watched it together. I, too, wish C.S.L. didn't feel the need to constantly remind us of the religious connections. So I try to separate the real world from Narnia in my mind whenever I read the books. Sorry Lewis (I'm sure he's rolling over in his grave at that) but that's just what I do. So to me, it's just a magical world that has a lot of similarities :-)
More in next post... I'm running long here...
I often wonder how I might have turned out, had I read both Narnia and LOTR when I was much younger. I read all the time as a child, but even then I tended to run in obsessive streaks, like my 'Sweet Valley High' period, my 'Clan of the Cave Bear' period, and my huge run of pre-white-people Native American novels, and it was easy for stuff to slip through the cracks that wasn't in my fandom of choice at the moment. Of course, I deliberately avoided reading LOTR after being freaked out by the spiders and orcs, and put off by Gollum in the cartoon 'The Hobbit', which amuses me to no end now. *G* But yeah, much of the Christian allegory probably goes right over the heads of young children unless their parents point it out deliberately. I regret not reading Narnia when I was younger, but I wouldn't readily trade away my experience of being completely and utterly blown away by FOTR in the theater, swept away by the story and not having a clue what to expect. I'm sad that I'll never have a mental image of 'book Legolas' untouched by movie images though...would have been interesting to see what I came up with. *G*
At this point, my favorite of the children is Peter. He's responsible, kind, noble, no nonsense, and rarely annoying or whiny like the other children can become.
I definitely do enjoy Narnia the most when I'm able to forget 'the message' and just enjoy the adventure. Most of the time, I'm able to do this, but every now and then it just becomes too much and I either end up skimming without reading closely, or just putting the book down and coming back to it when I'm in a better mood. And I agree, everything in Narnia makes way more sense (and is much less self-contradictory) than the Bible.
I like reading the books in publication order, not chronological order, because my favorites are LWW, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. I love the quests in those and Eustace is such a fascinating character to me (so long as I adopt that denial attitude where Christianity is concerned and, again, look at it with the religious tones as a normal person not wanting to believe in fantasy but being forced to admit it's real). I know you haven't read those two yet, but I adore then because the lands seem SO detailed and rich to me, and the adventures are interesting/important. I've definitely got a thing for quests. And I was quite attracted to lovely Caspian in VotDT (And Peter, for what it's worth) ;-) And Reep is one of my favorite characters as well. Gotta love noble, loyal warrior-types. I love Shasta and Aravis, too, though :-)
Prince Caspian, on the other hand, is possibly my least favorite. I could fall asleep reading all about the line of succession and all that. The history is interesting to know but once I know it I always skip those parts. I never feel like skipping around in LotR.
And in the defense of the High Kings and Queens... they didn't exactly know when they were going to hunt the stag that they'd fall out of Narnia. If they hadn't left as they did without naming a successor maybe the world would have carried on fine without them? Maybe they wouldn't have been needed in the future and they never would have returned to Narnia. As it is, they were called back because they were needed to fix a situation that they'd technically caused. That's kind of how things work in RL. Even when we screw up (even when we might not know it for a long time) we many times have chances to put things right. The question is, if we/they will take that opportunity or squander it.
Anyway, I'm glad you're giving the books a shot. I totally agree with you about the young feel to them and the overwhelming Christian overtones. But I hope you'll be able to find enough to like about them. And I hope that the world will start feeling real and wonderful to you eventually. I more than understand it might not- I always look at the series through child-like eyes.
I probably should have read them in publication order too, since creators often have no idea how much the impact is lessened/changed by partaking of the adventures in a different order (read: George Lucas. I would *Never* use The Phantom Menace as the introduction into the SW universe!). I did make it a point to read 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' first though.
Up until Aslan came back, I was enjoying 'Prince Caspian' immensely, actually. Particulary the stuff about Caspian before he ran away...I love castles and nobility and intrigue about the line of succession, and I'm biased toward stories with princes after Legolas. *G* I also really enjoyed the idea of the mythological creatures being real, but no one can talk freely about them anymore. Their world is lost, but maybe not gone forever...reminds me of the Elves leaving ME, and hobbits still possibly around in some form but now a mere shadow of a legend. Shoot, again with the LOTR comparisons! Damn, I need to stop comparing the two and take Narnia at face value, as it deserves...
I'm looking forward to 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader' very much...it has a great title and I keep hearing good things about it. And I'm all for more richness of lands. That was one of the main weaknesses in LWW for me, besides the fact that the Quest felt all too easily accomplished for my tastes. The journeying was really only a couple days, they fought a single wolf, and the major battle was mostly glossed over, and only recounted later to others (a fault of Tolkien's as well). The Witch's power over the land was broken all too easily to really impress me, as well. I'm really counting on the power of cinema to spice this story up for me.
As for the Kings and Queens, personally, if I'd started seeing the coats and remembering my old life, I'd have turned right smack around and gone back to Narnia. Screw modern normal daily existance! Plus, I'm against the hunting and killing of great and noble creatures for sport anyway. (I read an awesome young Legolas fic where Thranduil took him on his first hunt, and was proud of Legolas when he was unwilling to shoot at the venerable old stag because they didn't need the meat badly enough.) *smacks self for more LOTR comparisons, and fanfic at that...guess that's what I get for typing this while ROTK is on tv*. And yes, I'm still surprised they had no plans for succession, especially given all the political meetings and the courting of the two Queens by other lands, but it is a children's book so I guess I'll overlook that point.
I also spent my childhood reading Greek myths and stories. While I love that I can recognize so many characters, I think that my love of Greek mythology works against me in this instance because I find it slightly disconcerting to see all of them mixed together in one story, especially one that includes Santa no less, for seemingly no reason, with their individual contexts partially lost. Sometimes it's magical ( I loved the part with Bacchus and the trees), but often it just feels jumbled and odd and maybe that's the point, but the mere presence of these creatures is not enough to sweep me away. Maybe that's the adult in me talking, or maybe I'm just not expressing myself well, but that's how I feel.
I'm definitely going to finish them, if for no other reason than that I feel like I need to read more of the classics. The Chronicles of Narnia will never come close to occupying the place in my heart that LOTR does though, and that's sad, because I so wanted them to.
Anyway, thanks for such an insightful and thoughtful response!