It was getting dark when we pulled onto the turnpike last night for the last long push home. At that point, we've still got a good two and a half hours to go -- well, that length if we don't stop for bathroom breaks or a meal (and we usually need to do both) and if traffic is moving swiftly (and on the weekend after Thanksgiving, it was barely moving at all for a while).
We had just finished a family read-aloud earlier in the afternoon, but I knew that reading would be what would get us through the next few hours, as it usually is. And I'd saved the best for last: it was time to begin our read of The Last Battle.
The Last Battle is, of course, the seventh book in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, books I read and re-read as a child (and continue to as an adult). Our family read-through of the Chronicles has taken a long time. We've doled them out like delicious chocolates. We've meandered, reading many other books in between them. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is now so long ago in the sweet girl's memory that we plan to read it again later this winter. (Since we read it the year she was five, it's truly become akin to one of the "ancient stories" recalled about the Golden Age of Narnia in Prince Caspian!) She remembers better the more recent books, especially The Magician's Nephew, which I think has been her favorite of the series so far.
Reading the first several chapters of The Last Battle...at the end of a long and emotional trip, by the light of a tiny booklight, on a busy turnpike under darkening skies, with a voice slightly hoarse from a worsening cough...well, let me just say again how much I love the fact that one can always be transported to Narnia.
I love to read aloud. If my voice holds out, and if I have a willing audience, I can go a long time. Certain stories I love work well when read aloud, but I am fairly certain that Lewis' writing, especially in Narnia, is some of the very best writing for read-aloud ever. A kind, benevolent, generous voice shines through each page, as Lewis the storyteller gently takes you by the hand and leads you through where you need to go. He lets the story unfold of its own accord, creating characters whose lives and feelings you understand, and a world you love to walk through. But once in a while he gives you that authorial nudge, reminding you that it's a story, but somehow not pulling you out of the story-spell you've fallen under:
"If one had known what was going to happen next, it would have been a treat to watch the grace and ease with which the huge bird glided down..."
"Jill had, as you might say, quite fallen in love with the Unicorn. She thought -- and she wasn't far wrong -- that he was the shiningest, delicatest, most graceful animal she had ever met: and he was so gentle and soft of speech that, if you hadn't known, you would hardly have believed how fierce and terrible he could be in battle."
"They drank from a stream, splashed their faces with water, and tumbled into their bunks, except for Puzzle and Jewel who said they'd be more comfortable outside. This perhaps was just as well, for a Unicorn and a fat, full-grown donkey indoors always makes a room feel rather crowded."
Omniscient narration is not terribly "in" these days, but Lewis reminds me of how beautifully and artfully it can be done in the hands of a writer who both loves the cadence of old-fashioned tales and whose story vision is crystal clear.
Happy Birthday, Jack. Thank you for gracing so many of our miles last night, and so many of the miles of my life, with your wonderful voice.