My initial reading of this book rates a 3.5, but the movie gets 4.5, so I'm giving an overall rating of 4. Probably, like other classics I have read (Pride and Prejudice, for example), the rating goes up over time and I should just give it a 5 now. I like books that grow on you.
I suppose my initial reaction was that I was a little disappointed. I didn't feel it lived up to the hype that an author of the stature of C.S. Lewis deserved in my mind. Of course I was coming to it as an adult rather than as a child. I remember starting this book somewhere back in my youth, but I do not remember reading more than a couple of chapters. I think it bored me. I was probably too old for it then. Admittedly, it has a slow start. The talking animals are merely cute. It is not until Edmund is imprisoned by the White Witch that we begin to sense something deeper is going on. The ideal age for reading this (or having it read to you) is about 4-8. Most reviews say Grades 4-8. I think that is too old. For older children, I would recommend the Golden Compass trilogy.
Just as Philip Pullman has been criticized for being anti-religion, C.S. Lewis has been criticized for being too Christian. Well, it wouldn't be C.S. Lewis if it weren't. He was a theologian, after all. His aim was to write a Christian allegory that would teach children about good versus evil, morality, and good manners. But he doesn't beat you over the head with it. Indeed, it can be enjoyed on many different levels. Younger children are not going to be sophisticated enough to pick up on the symbolism. They will enjoy a good fantasy adventure with animals that talk. Good triumphs over evil, spring comes after winter, one can redeem oneself after making bad choices, and love is the ultimate sacrifice.
The movie brings this little book to life. The actors are perfectly cast. Who can resist Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie? The CGI effects are well done. Aslan looks real and is given a wonderful voice by Liam Neeson. The White Witch is suitably chilling. The action is not always true to the book, but movies never are. Thankfully, it updated C.S. Lewis's 1950s attitudes about women. I had to roll my eyes a few times in the book, for example - where the boys get to help catch fish for dinner while the girls end up helping in the kitchen.
After watching the movie, I now want to read the rest of the series, especially The Magician's Nephew, which is a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and tells of the Professor's adventures in Narnia when he was a boy.