The Narnia Dilemma

As we celebrate my firstborn’s seventh birthday soon, my husband and I are looking forward to introducing our children to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. We have four choices: the movies, radio theatre, audiobook or traditional words on paper.

One family rule I inherited from my mother is that you can’t watch the movie until you read the book, so that’s out.

narniaWhat’s the difference between radio theatre and an audiobook? Wouldn’t a quality radio production be preferable to someone just reading an audiobook without the enhancement of music and sound effects?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Focus on the Family Radio Theatre audiodrama on CD - By: C.S. LewisAlthough I’ve heard good things about the Chronicles of Narnia radio theatre production from Focus on the Family (whose high-quality team is also responsible for Adventures in Odyssey and Lamplighter Theatre), there are some factors that need to be considered when listening to radio drama. It is similar to listening to a movie from the other room, including sound effects and excitement, but any kind of theatre means that the author’s words are being interpreted. Descriptions are deleted, character’s thoughts must be voiced or omitted, and some of the author’s language and voice through the narrator is lost. (From my experience of producing another of Lewis’s masterpieces on stage, I know how difficult this is!)

Most radio theatre tends to work better for children who are older than mine. While my boys love classic audiobooks and have a fairly high level of listening comprehension, I have learned that it is harder for them to follow drama that does not include plain narrative. There is certainly wonderful drama and excitement in radio theatre that brings the story alive in a new way, but I believe that the first experience is best through the book. Later there will be time to build on their experience of the book with audiodrama.

13 The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe 201x300 The Children’s Book Blog Christmas Countdown: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. LewisSo for our sons’ first Narnia experience, we will read aloud from a traditional book for the joy of hearing the author’s original story with his own language and descriptions through a beloved parent’s voice–and for snuggling on the couch, of course. An audiobook would be a good alternative if we were travelling, as long as it is read by someone who reads well, because that person’s voice will be in your head next time you read the book. See Betsy’s post on a good Narnia audiobook as well as other great choices if you are travelling.

After this? We will probably at some point share the radio theatre version and watch the movie as a family and discuss the differences between the original book and the interpretation. What worked? What didn’t work? What came alive to you? What details did you miss?

That’s our family’s choice. Now it’s your turn, dear readers/listeners/watchers: What has been your experience in visiting Narnia, and which version had the greatest impact on your delight in and understanding of the story?

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Megan Saben

Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader, and she loves nothing more than discovering Truth and Story in literature. She is the author of Something Better Coming, and is quite particular about which pottery mug is best suited to her favorite hot drinks throughout the day. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia.

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  1. Christina on December 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    When our kids were in preschool, we read them children’s versions of the story. As they got older, we read the full story. Since then we’ve done the movies and radio theater. Isn’t it wonderful to have so many choices? My oldest has also read biographies of Lewis and read the space trilogy. We can’t get enough:)

  2. Tonia on December 20, 2013 at 11:33 am

    We have the same rule – book before movie. But we did listen to the radio drama first in this case. But we have listened to the audio books and now we’re reading through the books and discussing them. I really love this series.

  3. emily on December 21, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Love this post, Megan. Thanks. I think there is a lot of wisdom in your thought process, and I think we may follow the same track. We have already done the read aloud, but not sure where to go from here. A radio theater production in a year or two may be just the ticket.

  4. Carol on January 14, 2014 at 9:36 am

    We read aloud the entire series. Of course, that was the dark ages years ago before we had so many options, but I would still encourage it. We always had a family read aloud; and when the kids were old enough they read as well. It is a special time, a family bond, to read, discuss, and hurry to finish dinner because no one can wait to read the next chapter…
    Sometimes I mourn the loss of the pre-electronic era…(Can you tell that I’m old?)

    • emily on January 15, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      Carol, We love the idea of families reading aloud together, too! So glad to hear it meant a lot to you! Thanks for weighing in and encouraging us moms still in the trenches to put the effort in on something like this.

  5. Debbie on March 30, 2014 at 6:41 am

    I am curious for other recommendations for kids who loved the Narnia books. I have a hard time recommending books that are similarly challenging in reading level without being beyond the age level appropriate. I am usually asked for recommendations for second to fourth graders who read above their grade level. Thanks for your help!

  6. Beth Church on September 8, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    We have read through them with each child individually. I personally was not a fan of the audio drama as it wasn’t simply a reading of the books. I also highly recommend the movies by the BBC produced in the 80’s. They are very true to the books and are very simple and innocent.

    • Megan Saben on September 10, 2020 at 7:13 pm

      Beth, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the dramatized versions. I feel like so much of the beauty of the original writing is lost when an actor is trying to make it come “alive.” It wasn’t written for the stage. Narnia gets better every time we visit.
      And this I say after producing Lewis’s novel _Till We Have Faces_ on stage! I could not do it justice, but it was still an amazing experience to try. 🙂

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