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This study was written by Amelia Harper as the November E-letter unit study offered as a free service from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and is reprinted here by permission. Copyrighted by Amelia Harper. You may cut and paste this into a word processing processing program and reproduce for individual, family, or classroom use only. We hope you find it helpful! If you wish to sign up for more free monthly unit studies from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, click here to subscribe to this service. While you are there, please vote for Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings as your favorite homeschool literature program!
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The Chronicles of Narnia Unit Study
By Amelia Harper
In the Fall Issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, we featured an article about The Chronicles of Narnia and a fascinating interview with Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis and a firm supporter of homeschooling. There are great pictures and more information about the upcoming movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is due in theaters on December 9.
We recommend that you and your family read the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, before you view the movie, if you have not done so already. Below are background materials and some ways that you can incorporate this book into your educational activities. Links to other resources will help flesh out this study even further, if you desire to do so. If you plan to view the film, this would also be an excellent opportunity to prepare your kids and make the most of the movie. You can use the ideas below and culminate the study with a family film field trip!
About C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis, known as Jack to his friends, is now regarded as one of the most important and influential literary and Christian figures of the twentieth century. He was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898, the son of a successful but stern father and a loving mother. He had one brother, Warnie, who became a well-known historian and remained Lewis’s companion through much of the course of his life.
When Lewis was 10, his mother died as a result of cancer. This early tragedy scarred him, and he began to doubt the love of a God who would ignore his childish prayers for her survival. After her death, he was sent to a boarding school with an eccentric headmaster who was later declared insane. His education then consisted of various prep schools and terms with private tutors. During this time, he was awakened intellectually, but he came to completely cast off any remnants of his religious upbringing and to consider himself an atheist.
He entered Oxford University, but World War I soon interrupted his plans. He enlisted in the British Army and trained as an officer. By his nineteenth birthday, he was serving on the front lines in France, facing some of the most ghastly battles of the war. His former Oxford roommate, Paddy Moore, was killed in the conflict after having elicited a promise from Lewis to care for his mother and sister in the event of his death. After the war, Lewis returned to England and fulfilled that request for many years until the death of Mrs. Moore, often at great personal and financial sacrifice.
Lewis returned to Oxford in 1919 and eventually earned a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin Literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923. He was a brilliant scholar and was reputed to have a nearly photographic memory with almost total recall for everything he ever read. In 1925, he was elected as a Fellow of the Magdalen College in Oxford, where he served as a tutor in English Language and Literature for 29 years before taking a position at Cambridge, where he served until shortly before his death.
In 1929, the tide began to turn for him spiritually. He admitted the existence of God and became a theist, though he still did not accept Christianity. It was not until 1931, after a conversation with friends and colleagues J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson that Lewis came to accept the sacrifice of Christ in atoning for his sins. He marked his conversion from this time period and recounts the experience in his partial autobiography Surprised by Joy.
In 1933, Lewis and Tolkien began an informal gathering of friends and writers called the Inklings. These friends, including others such as Charles Williams and Hugo Dyson, met semi-regularly at a pub called the Eagle and Child and shared ideas and works of literature with one another. It was in this setting that many of both Lewis’s and Tolkien’s best-known works were born and nurtured. Both Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings were among works read aloud to this group as they were produced. According to Lewis’s biographer and stepson, Douglas Gresham, these meetings were characterized by laughter and good-natured criticism of one another’s works that served to refine the literary efforts of the participants.
Lewis went on to write many books in the realm of lay theology and became a popular Christian writer, lecturer, and radio personality. His keen apologetics in defense of Christianity earned him many enemies as well as innumerable friends. He had a clear, insightful way of delivering truth that has made him one of the most quoted men of his generation.
Lewis did not marry until 1956, when he married a woman 17 years his junior in controversial circumstances. Joy Davidman Gresham was a renowned American poet and writer in her own right. The two had struck up a friendship through literary correspondence initiated by Joy, who had converted from Communism to Christianity largely as a result of reading Lewis’s works. After her divorce from an unfaithful husband, Joy assumed her maiden name and moved to England with her two young sons, where her friendship with Lewis grew. In 1956, Lewis married her in a civil ceremony as an act of friendship to prevent her deportation from England. That same year, it was discovered that Joy had cancer and doctors did not expect her to survive. C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman were again married at her hospital bedside—this time in a ceremony performed in accordance with the rites of the Church of England.
Unexpectedly, Joy’s cancer went into a period of remission for a few years. Lewis learned to love Joy as the wife he had never expected to have, and the two enjoyed a brief time of companionship before cancer claimed her life in 1960. Joy was only 45 at the time of her death. Their amazing love story has been recounted on stage and screen in the work Shadowlands and to some extent in Lewis’s own work A Grief Observed. After Joy’s death, Lewis assumed the care of Joy’s two sons, David and Douglas, though they never took his name. As Douglas Gresham explains, Lewis felt that the boys should keep the Gresham name to honor the father whom God had given them. Their natural father committed suicide shortly after the death of Joy Davidman Lewis.
Lewis’s own health began to decline dramatically after the death of his wife. He died in 1963, just one week before his sixty-fifth birthday. His death occurred on November 22, the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though his life was cut short, his influence remains in the many writings he left behind and in the land of Narnia, which he opened before our eyes.
About the Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of books that C.S. Lewis wrote as a “fairy-tale for children” because he felt that the children’s tale genre suited the story he wanted to tell. Though the stories are often referred to as allegories (stories in which persons or objects represent other things beyond the surface meaning of the story), they are not complete allegories in the true sense of the word (though some allegorical elements certainly exist within them). Lewis intended them more to be “supposals.” Suppose, he thought, a world existed where Talking Beasts roamed the land and the characters of mythology really sprang to life? Suppose Evil entered that world? Suppose the Son of God ruled that world? What form would He take? How would He reveal His character? Lewis’s “supposals” are contained in The Chronicles of Narnia. Through these stories, we gain a fresh vision of human nature and the interactions of a just yet loving God with the created beings of His world.
The Chronicles of Narnia consists of seven books:
The Magician’s Nephew—Though this was not the first book written, it is the first in the chronology of Narnia. Lewis later expressed a wish that this book would be placed first in collections of The Chronicles of Narnia, and some more recent collections honor that wish. The Magician’s Nephew recounts the adventures of Digory and his friend Polly, who get swept up in the odd adventures of Digory’s power-hungry and mad uncle, a magician of sorts who discovers an awesome secret. In the course of these adventures, the two children find themselves witnessing the creation of Narnia and the entrance of Evil into the infant world.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—This was the first book written and remains the most popular of all of the Narnian Chronicles. Because of this (and other reasons), it was also chosen as the first to be made into the new film version. Many people still prefer to read this book first. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe recounts the adventures of the four Pevensie children who are visiting the home of Digory (now a grown man and a Professor) and discover a portal to the realm of Narnia.
The Horse and His Boy—The third book relates adventures of a Talking Horse named Bree and his boy (named Shasta) who live in Narnia during the reign of Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy. If you want to know how the children came to rule Narnia, read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If you want to know what happens to Bree and Shasta, read this book. There are very interesting girl characters in this book as well (both human and horse).
Prince Caspian—The four Pevensie children are plucked from our world and sent back to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian and attempt to save the kingdom from grave danger. They find that much time has passed in Narnia, things have changed considerably, and they themselves have passed into legend.
At a recent conference I attended with Co-Producer Douglas Gresham, he hinted that if the first Narnia movie proved successful, the second one made would likely be Prince Caspian. This is largely because it contains many of the same characters as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and child actors do not remain child actors long.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—In this tale, Edmund and Lucy are again sent back to Narnia. This time they are accompanied by their bratty cousin, who is called Eustace Clarence Scrubb (and almost deserves it). While in Narnia, they take an epic sea voyage with Prince Caspian and his crew and encounter strange and marvelous adventures on the way. The wonderful images and tremendous lessons of this book make it well worth the literary voyage.
The Silver Chair—This time, Eustace and his new friend Jill are plucked from the terrors of their boarding school and sent to Narnia to face even greater dangers. The two are given a seemingly impossible task: to find the bewitched son of King Caspian and restore him to Narnia before it is too late. In the course of the quest, they learn more about themselves as well.
The Last Battle—A poignant ending to a truly remarkable series, The Last Battle tells of several of the Friends of Narnia returning to help in her greatest hour of need. By the end, the Friends learn more about the nature of both Narnia and our own world and discover even greater wonders. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but a great battle is in there somewhere.
Activities for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
As you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you can do the following activities with your children. These are just a few of the possible activities.
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.”
—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chapter one
Why Were the Children Away from Home?
During World War II, England was faced with war on its doorstep. The advent of fighter planes and bombers meant that civilians were not safe at home while soldiers fought England’s enemies in France, Germany, and beyond, especially since part of the strategy of the German army was to attack civilians and thus weaken the morale of Germany’s opponents. When England became engaged in the war, this danger was known, and heavy causalities were predicted among the civilian population, particularly in London. As the center of government and the most populous English city, London was often targeted for attack. Though the civilian loss of life was not as great as originally predicted, it was still quite heavy.
On September 1, 1939, two days before war was declared in England, efforts began to evacuate over 1 million children from London and the more populous areas of England. Many were sent to live with relatives or with foster families in the countryside, in Cornwall, and in Scotland. More than 16,000 were sent overseas, though some of these children died in enemy attacks en route. Despite the efforts at evacuation, the war took its ghastly toll. More than one in ten air raid victims were children under the age of 16. Official estimates place the child death toll during the war at 7,736. In addition, 7,622 were seriously wounded in the attacks. Including adults, more than 60,595 civilians were killed by enemy action in Great Britain during the war, with another 86,182 seriously injured.
The fictitious Pevensie children (Pevensie is Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter’s surname) were placed with an eccentric but wise professor who lived in a large house in the country. According to Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis himself harbored some children during the war effort. In fact, the Professor Digory character (who appears in several Narnian tales) shares many characteristics with Lewis himself.
The study of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may be a good opportunity to learn more about the terrible events that surrounded World War II. Perhaps it will even give your children a new perspective on how thankful they should be for our present (though tenuous) level of security. The links below provide good starting places to learn more about the role of children in England during this terrible conflict. If you wish to see another film that depicts this, you may want to rent the recent film version of Five Children and It based on the fantasy classic by E. Nesbit. Though in the book version the children are not evacuated, the film adaptation makes use of this element as part of the plot and gives another touching portrait of the fears and discomforts that the evacuated children endured.
(lots of pictures—great site!)
“The White Witch? Who is she?”
“Why it is she who has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she who makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas: think of that!"
—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chapter 1
Narnia is covered with ice and snow at the beginning of the story. As Aslan comes, the snow melts and spring comes to Narnia. Edmund finds that as the snow melts, the air is foggy and the solid streams turn to water. This would be a good time to study snow and ice science and investigate the different forms that water takes. You can also experiment with ways to melt snow (heat, salt, etc.). Below are some links and project ideas to get you started.
After reading the book, have older children draw a picture of a scene in Narnia.
You could also have younger children (or all) cut out snowflakes. This can tie in with the science lesson above.
“But what does it mean?” asked Susan….
“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 only back 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 backwards....”
—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chapter 15
Find ways that Aslan illustrates the character of Christ. More advanced students could use a concordance or Bible search program to find Bible verses that support these comparisons and connect them with passages about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
This 1-page handout identifies some of the most important Biblical themes in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and offers corresponding Bible verses for further study.
“Edmund felt much better as he began to sip the hot drink. It was something he had never tasted before, very sweet and foamy and creamy and it warmed him down to his toes.… The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmond had never tasted anything more delicious.
—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chapter 4
Make a family treat of Foamy Hot Chocolate and Turkish Delight. Turkish Delight may not be to everyone’s taste. You may want to have an old family standby available, as well, and then let everyone sample the Turkish Delight.
“Real” Foamy Hot Chocolate Recipe
2 cups milk
1/8 cup sugar
1½ ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped; or use semi-sweet chocolate chips.
(You can experiment with white chocolate or mint chocolate chips if you are brave)
Grated chocolate, cocoa powder, or mini chocolate chips
Place the milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir as sugar dissolves. Add chopped chocolate and whisk periodically until the mixture reaches the boiling point and is foamy. Remove from heat. If more foam is desired, use a handheld blender to whip up the hot chocolate.
Pour the hot chocolate into two cups and garnish with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder, grated chocolate or mini chocolate chips, if desired.
Makes 2 8-ounce servings. Adjust recipe for larger family.
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
*1 teaspoon flavoring
* flavoring can be rosewater, lemon juice, strawberry, or raspberry extract
** your choice of nuts—almonds, pistachio nuts, walnut or hazelnut
1. Stir the cornstarch into warm water until it is well mixed and not lumpy. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan mix water and orange juice. When the mixture is warm, add sugar. Stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil.
3. Turn heat down. Add cornstarch and cream of tartar. Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
4. Remove from heat and add flavoring. Some like to add a hint of food coloring to match the flavor, but that is up to you.
5. Mix in nuts of your choice.
6. Pour into a lightly oiled, shallow, square pan. Chill in refrigerator overnight.
7. When cooled, cut into squares. Use a knife dipped in hot water to make the cutting easier.
8. Roll in powered sugar.
You can store the squares in plastic containers sprinkled with powdered sugar to prevent sticking.
You may want to choose writing assignments that suit each student’s abilities or interests, or let them pick assignments from the list below. If you need some help (or reminders) about basic writing instruction, this link to our writing resource page may help.
1) Write a book report about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. What was your favorite part of the story? Why? What would you say to convince someone else to read the book?
2) Read the book and watch the film. Write a comparison paper about the two. Which did you like better? Why? If you had made the movie, what would you have done differently?
3) What did you think of the siblings in the book? Which one would you like best to have as a brother or sister? How did their relationship to one another change throughout the book? Write an essay explaining this.
4) Trace the character development of Edmund throughout the book. What is he like in the beginning? What is he like in the end? What changes him?
5) Which of the characters in the book do you identify with most? Who would you be in Narnia? Why?
6) Would you really want to live in Narnia? Why or why not? Write an essay explaining your answer.
7) Do you think that the inclusion of Father Christmas adds to the story or weakens it? Opinions differ on this matter. Tolkien, for instance, objected to Lewis “mixing his mythologies” together. Some people love this and feel that Father Christmas reminds us of the Holy Spirit giving gifts to believers. Yet others just like the whole idea of Father Christmas (the English version of Santa Claus). What is your opinion? Why?
8) Rewrite a scene in the book from the point of view of another character. For instance, you could write the adventures of the children with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from Mrs. Beaver’s perspective. Or you could write a scene from the point of view of the White Witch. How would she tell the story differently?
9) Write a poem about one or more of the events in the book. For instance, you could write a poem about the death of Aslan or the coming of Spring after the Long Winter or the Coronation of the New Kings and Queens of Narnia.
10) Write a report about beavers—their habitat, activities, diet, etc. If you wish, add a paragraph comparing real beavers with the Talking Beavers of Narnia.
Other Resources for Study:
1. Curriculum Book Resource: Further Up and Further In. If you are looking for a complete elementary-level unit study program for the entire Chronicles of Narnia series, look no further. This program is now available for purchase from HomeScholar Books for the special price of $50. Also check this site for other Lewis resources and for copies of the Chronicles of Narnia priced at $15 for a one-volume version of the complete set. These and other resources are listed for sale above
2. Book Resource: Jack’s Life.
This newest biography of C.S. Lewis was written by his stepson, Douglas Gresham. Homescholar Books has these available in hardback. There are even a limited number of copies signed by the author available at a slightly higher price. See resources above.
Explore the official movie website. Note the Educators materials available on the site. There are some interesting project ideas there. A beautiful 16-page printable educator’s guide to the movie version is also available on this site, but it takes a while to load.
A free online 20-lesson study of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
A collection of teacher resources for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Test your knowledge about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Information about how to get involved in group previews of the Narnia film.
Send email invitations featuring pictures from the film.
More information about the world of Narnia
Information and links about C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis published about 100 books in his lifetime. Below is a partial list of some of the more popular ones.
Out of the Silent Planet (part one of his space trilogy)
Perelandra – Original Title “Voyage to Venus” (part two of his space trilogy)
That Hideous Strength (part three of his space trilogy)
Till We Have Faces (an interesting Christianized retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche)
The Great Divorce – (An imaginary account of what would happen if a group of damned souls were allowed to visit heaven.)
The Chronicles of Narnia (described above)
Literary Criticism and Anthologies:
The Allegory of Love – a scholarly study of medieval allegory and courtly love
The Personal Heresy – a debate about literary criticism
Preface to Paradise Lost – an introduction to Milton's epic
The Oxford History of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century,
Excluding Drama – A textbook, considered a classic
Studies in Words – An analysis of the changing meaning of words
An Experiment in Criticism
George MacDonald: An Anthology (edited)
Surprised by Joy – Lewis's account of his childhood and his conversion to Christianity
A Grief Observed – a discussion of Lewis’s experiences following the death of his wife
All My Road Before Me – Lewis's diaries from his undergraduate years
Letters of C.S. Lewis – Volumes one and two are now available. Volume three is forthcoming.
Works of Lay Theology and Apologetics
Mere Christianity (transcripts of radio broadcasts)
The Problem of Pain
The Pilgrim’s Regress
The Abolition of Man
The Weight of Glory
The Four Loves
First and Second Things
God in the Dock
Of This and Other Worlds
The Screwtape Letters (fictional letters between two demons showing the way that Satan deceives the Christian.)
About the author of this unit study:
Amelia Harper is a homeschooling mother of five, a pastor’s wife, a freelance journalist and the author of Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, a complete one-year literature program for students on the secondary level. She is a Tolkien and Lewis scholar and recently presented a paper at a Lewis Conference at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is also a contributor to the J.R.R Tolkien Encyclopedia, which is due to be published by Routlege in 2006. In addition, she is the Contributing Media Editor for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and the author of the recent piece on Narnia. Check out her website at www.homescholarbooks.com for more information about her curriculum and for information about how to purchase The Chronicles of Narnia and other great Lewis and Tolkien resources.
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