Will this book ruin Narnia for kids forever? | Talking Beasts

Earlier this year, a board book adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was released. It’s a condensed version of the classic story for 0-4 year olds. In this episode, three NarniaWebber parents take a look inside and discuss if this “gentle re-telling” will spoil the original story for their children.

This episode was inspired by a conversation in the NarniaWeb Discussion Forum.

Bonus Discussion:

  • Watch Glumpuddle’s 2-minute video review of the board book.
  • Read NarniaWeb’s exclusive interview with Douglas Gresham about the book.
Glumpuddle, Rilian, Fantasia

13 Responses

  1. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    Great episode! I have not read the book, but I agree with Fantasia that, on the basis of being a board book, it would be cool if it rhymed (also really thrilled to hear her kids like The Penderwicks, it was one of my favorite series)

    I agree about children not being given enough credit with death and scary things. Since I did go to Sunday school, the concept of death was not foreign to me (the Old Testament doesn’t pull its punches!). Additionally, I had pets which would die, and my parents didn’t sugar coat it and tell me my hamster went to live on a farm or something (we held a funeral instead).

    However, I do find it interesting that most Grimm’s fairy tale is going to have at least one terrifying witch and someone being murdered and/or maimed, and (in my experience) nobody bats an eye. To be fair, a lot of the “good character” deaths are reversible (like Red Riding Hood’s grandmother being swallowed but not digested) but the villains usually die horrifically. Additionally, many of the Disney animated classics have objectively scary imagery (although those have a slightly older target audience than board books’).

    I agree with Glumpuddle that maybe if they had chosen a synonym to “safe” I would find it less problematic. Personally, I think I would’ve gone with something like “He makes you feel brave.”

    As to what age kids could/should be introduced to real Narnia, I’m not sure. I am pretty sure my parents only read me LWW, I read the rest on my own at an age that, when I asked if it could read them, I was told they would be too advanced (shocking words to hear from my homeschooling mom). I am pretty sure some of my enjoyment came from sheer defiance.

  2. Andy Harrelson says:

    Honestly, as someone who was introduced to Narnia through the movies, I have absolutely no problem with anyone watching the movies before they read the books (The obvious exception of course being Dawn Treader). I honestly believe Narnia fans don’t give the movies enough credit and it’s a shame, because I feel they are very faithful adaptations (With a few exceptions, the biggest one being Dawn Treader) with most of the changes being made enhancing the story rather than water it down. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, Dawn Treader is an exception. I honestly believe if it weren’t for that disastrous adaptation, Narnia fans would be more appreciative of the movies.

    • Col Klink says:

      I really like the first two movies too. (There are even parts of the third movie, like Eustace’s journal entries, I love.) I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite movies but they have scenes, like the scene where Edmund meets the White Witch or the one where the Pevensies enter the old treasure chamber, that are my favorite scenes from any movie.

      But I feel like if you want to defend the movies from the book fans who are their detractors on this podcast/forum, you should address specific problems they have with the adaptation. Like why do you feel that the changes or storytelling choices that book fans dislike aren’t really that big a deal? Or if you feel they improved on the source material, how so?

  3. Col Klink says:

    It was really interesting for me to hear the opinions in this episode about how kids shouldn’t be exposed to stories before they experience the original books. Because when I was a kid, I was already familiar with the story of the Wizard of Oz before I saw the movie. In fact, I was exposed to a lot of tie-in books for movies before I watched them. I also saw the 1973 movie, Charlotte’s Web, before I read the book. I also watched the show, Wishbone, as a kid, which is probably something that Fantasia would describe as dumbing down classic literature. And I read picture books of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and saw the BBC miniseries before reading C. S. Lewis’s book. (Rilian and Fantasia probably hate me right now.)

    And I don’t feel like any of this ruined my first experience of the Real Things (though some kids might definitely end up feeling that it did for them.) There were always things that were a little different about the source material. And since movies are slower paced than marketing tie-in picture books and books are slower paced than movies, there were always lots of details that were new to me. To me, books weren’t really about experiencing stories for the first time. They were about reexperiencing them. Actually, that’s still how I am as an adult. I reread books more than I read new ones. It could be though that as a parent, I would do things differently from my parents and have my kids experience the Real Things first. Who knows?

    I stand by my statement, quoted in this episode, that the story doesn’t make any sense in the LWW board book. I feel like if a kid were really paying attention to it, which admittedly plenty of toddlers probably aren’t, they’d be bugging their parents with all kinds of questions. But interestingly, Fantasia seems to have felt that was a good thing, even the whole point of the book, since it got her kids potentially interested in the original book. I feel like that’d be really annoying for parents, especially they weren’t particular fans of Narnia, but she’s an actual parent, so I suppose her opinion carries more weight than mine. (Plus it’s unlikely any parents who aren’t Narnia fans are going to read this book to their toddlers.)

    I wonder if Joey Chou wanted to have Aslan die (in an image from the book I saw, it says the characters were surprised to see Aslan alive, implying in retrospect that the Witch killed him) but her editor told her, “we can’t have a picture of a character being stabbed to death in a board book.” And then she thought, “if we can’t have a picture of it, we might as well not mention it in the text.”

    This board book sounds like something I might pick up if I saw it in a bookstore, but, even as someone who loves a good Narnia tie-in, would never buy. (The Aslan-makes-you-feel-safe line makes me grind my teeth and utter a low growl.) However I agree with the podcasters that it feels like it was a labor of love for Chou. And as a writer myself, with ideas that don’t make a lot of sense, I’m happy for her that she got her idea that doesn’t make sense (a LWW board book) published. And I don’t begrudge any little kids whatever pleasure the book has given them, even if it’s only the pleasure of chewing on it. (In my youth, I used to do that too.)

    It was great having Fantasia back for an episode.

    • fantasia says:

      Going to admit up front that I haven’t gone back and listened to this podcast, so what I’m about to say may completely miss the point of your post. LOL

      Dumb down = when filmmakers think something about the material is too difficult or complicated for a child to understand, so they make it more “dumb.” Usually this comes in the form of modernizing the language and attitudes/actions of characters. Like instead of turkish delight, they change it to hamburgers. 😉

      Spoilers = When you go into a movie or show already knowing either critical points or ending of the storyline, and therefore the story may not have as much of an impact as it would otherwise.
      For me personally, spoilers absolutely affect my like/dislike of a film, though I admit this is not the case for everyone.

      The board book falls under the category of dumbed down BECAUSE it’s for four years old and down. I get it, it’s not for people like me. But interestingly enough because it’s so simple and vague, there aren’t a whole lot of spoilers. As I mentioned in the podcast, the board book almost acted like a trailer for my older kids and caused them to ask a lot of questions about the official book.

      As a side note, I was a little bit older when Wishbone came on the scene, but my siblings watched it and I very much enjoyed that show when I watched it with them. 😉 Though I was already either familiar with the stories or didn’t care one bit about reading them, so nothing was “ruined” for me. Nor do I recall it being dumbed down (per my above definition), though that was years ago so I don’t remember.

      “It was great having Fantasia back for an episode.”

      😀 Thanks!

      • Col Klink says:

        “For me personally, spoilers absolutely affect my like/dislike of a film, though I admit this is not the case for everyone.”

        I understand. What I was saying was I didn’t really care about that when I was a little kid. As an adult, I’m more likely to try to have that First Time Experience. But even now, I often try to find out a good bit about a story before I devote my time to reading a whole book or watching a whole movie of it.

        Just so you know, the comment about you and Rilian hating me was a joke. (Technically, I suppose it should be “hate my parents for not keeping me spoiler free as a child.) Maybe I should have some emoticons by it or something.

  4. Matthew says:

    Where should I leave a Narniaweb stump question? And will the Talking Beasts podcast do an episode of Focus on the Family’s Narnia productions this season? My stump question has to do with those audiodramas.

    • Glumpuddle says:

      Hey Matthew. We aren’t doing regular stump questions anymore, but if you send yours to podcast[at]narniaweb.com, maybe we’ll give it a go!

  5. Larry W. says:

    I think it may be better to read the Narnia books aloud to children than to offer a simplified abridged edition of. the books. Having cut down versions of the stories is not really the best way to introduce the series. It is better to wait until the children are older. But if there must be board books they should be as accurate as possible to the.original book even when simplifying the story.

  6. Anfinwen says:

    I was super excited when you mentioned the Pride and Prejudice counting book, because that’s what was in my mind as I listened. I also have a Sense and Sensibility book of opposites. You all hit it exactly, these books are for the parents. they’re not going to ruin it for the kids/babies. they’re probably looking at the pictures colors and enjoying turning the pages more than focused on the story. I was also in agreement with the point that there’s a big enough gap between when they will stop reading these board book and start reading real books for this not to impact them significantly. However I think, like Fantasia, I’d have liked the book to have a different selling point, more like the BabyLit series I referred to above. It could have been a poem, or learning your colors in Narnia, or learning people and animal names in a Narnia setting, not just a baby-fied story.

  7. Just Queen, not High Queen says:

    I’m not sure if I’ll share the board book when I have kids someday. I’m more likely to give them Narnia-related bedtime stories when they’re really young.
    When it comes to the movies, I am showing my kids all three movies before they are permitted to read the books. My future husband is going to have to relent on this issue because I’m not budging on this. I love the movies and I don’t want the books to potentially overshadow the magic of the films because they’re hung up on the differences. Plus, I really want their perspective of watching the sequels without having read the books first.

    • Col Klink says:

      I think the books should ruin the movies to an extent because-I’m sorry-the books don’t have cheesy, pulpy dialogue and the movies do. “You told me it led to your Mum’s!” “Because I believe in a free Narnia.” “Brace yourselves!” “Don’t give in it fear’s temptations.” “What a magnificent puzzle you are.” And there are a number of great scenes from the books that aren’t in the movies, like Dr. Cornelius telling young Caspian the truth about Old Narnia, Caspian being reunited with his nurse, the confrontation between Gumpas and Caspian. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great things about the movies too. I’ll even say there’s some great scenes in the movies that aren’t in the books. But if you add everything up, the books are objectively better.

  8. Courtenay says:

    Coming a bit late to this — gosh, it was a surprise to find myself quoted on Talking Beasts!! I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed listening to this podcast. You three have actually done a lot to address my concerns (which you quoted) about the board book giving kids so many spoilers that it’ll reduce the impact of the original book for them when they read it later on. It’s a relief, really, to learn that the board book’s retelling of the story is so simplified and vague that it probably won’t spoil it too much for most young readers! Which raises the question (which you three also discussed) of why bother having a board book version in the first place, but I’m glad to know it most likely WON’T ruin Narnia for anyone after all. 😉
    I thought your whole discussion was really balanced and fair and covered all the possible pros and cons of the board book really well. Myself, if I had kids, I probably wouldn’t choose to introduce them to Narnia in this way — I’d wait till I felt they were ready for the original books and start with those. But if the board book isn’t likely to harm any kids’ enjoyment of Narnia, and if it actually does get them asking lots of questions and getting more interested in the full story, like Fantasia found, that’s not a bad thing at all!
    Many thanks to all three of you and I hope you all have a relaxing break before giving us lots of great new Talking Beasts podcasts next season!!