“I would read other books, of course,” wrote the novelist Neil Gaiman, “but in my heart I knew that I read them only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books.”

My son sent me that quotation the other day. Partly because he knows I’m a big fan of the Narnia books, too, and partly because he knows I’m in the middle of writing a children’s fantasy. I am not, however, going to claim that my book is even remotely like the Narnia ones.

Why not? First, because that claim has been made so often, and second, because it leaves a disgruntled reader in the wake. It’s very easy to understand why, on front covers, back covers, and in publishers’ blurbs, so many books have been compared favourably to the Narnia series.  Since so many readers love the Narnia series, and publishers want to entice us to buy their new books, it makes sense for the advertising copy writer to put, the author is “like Lewis,” the book is “like the Narnia books” or “in the style of the Narnia books”  somewhere readers will see it.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, at least, what happens next is that I get disappointed. To date, I’ve never found another book that was compared to the Narnia series that has been anywhere near as good as the original.

So the book I am writing is most definitely NOT intended to be like the Narnia books. It’s simply a book  I’m writing at the request of my granddaughter who thought it unfair that I should write books for teens and adults but none for her age group. And it’s in the fantasy genre simply because I thought of this neat character and she happened to be a princess and live in a rather interesting world that wasn’t quite real, so by default it had to be a fantasy.

Do I read fantasy? Well, growing up, I read every fairy tale I could find, over and over again, plus Alice in Wonderland and many others. I’ve read Lewis, of course—over and over. And Tolkien, and many others, including another of my all-time favorite writers, Terry Pratchett. But I’m not trying to write like any of them. I’m hoping my book will simply look like itself.

But today, after reading the Gaiman quotation, I’m thinking about the Narnia series, and why it stands alone at the head of the class. What is it that makes those books so beloved and so difficult to imitate? Is it the setting? the plot? the characters? the themes? the dialogue? the style? Hmm. While I don’t want to imitate what Lewis did, I would like to find a way to write a book that will have the staying power of the Narnia series.

I’m contemplating what that means.

December 9, 2008

About the author 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

  • Carrie, thanks. You know what? I may have seen that article – or if not it, at least a very similar one. I’ll be referring to it when I find a few minutes to post more. Now that my book is done, we still have a few more presents to get tomorrow. :)

  • Nancy,

    There was an article in our local paper, the Austin American-Statesman, in the Lifestyle section on Sunday about just this very thing. Of course I thought of you, and of course I meant to save it for you. It didn’t happen, but maybe you can find it on-line.

    The story was about a writer who was furious about all the Christian symbolism *ruining* the Narnia series…symbolism she didn’t see at first read…until someone pointed it out to her. She wa furious, and then discovered that symbolism aside, the Narnia stories stand up…quite a nice article. I wish I could remember more, but truly my brain is a sieve.

    And then, I channeled all my energy into making 3 pillows yesterday…not just made, but complete. Whatever was left in my head vanished after wrangling the sewing machine into submission!

  • Good question…and no answer. I will offer that for me Alice in Wonderland stacks up alongside the Narnia books…ditto the first several Oz books. I still read them. The original A Christmas Carol. But Nancy, I think you’ve hit close to *it*. You’re not trying to write *like* those. You’re writing a story for your granddaughter…one of your very own for her, in your inimitable style. I know Lewis wrote Alice in Wonderland for someone specific, and if I’m remembering correctly…so did Lewis with the Narnia books. Maybe that’s the key…those enduring stories weren’t written for mass market appeal…they were written for a specific and special target audience. The rest…a bonus!

  • I am just reading the Narnia series for the first time…I’m 40. I’ve been reading them out loud to my children, one chapter at a time. Many nights, they want more.
    One comment though; I find he uses BIG words that I have trouble pronouncing and when my children ask what they mean I admit I must use a dictionary.
    I’m not sure that any other children’s author could get away with this.
    Kimberley Payne

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