Art Interlude: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Harry Potter is well known for it’s influence on the publishing world–and increasing the popularity of reading, writing and publishing fantasy fiction for kids.  But it certainly wasn’t the first.   Among the authors who first made fantasy a household name,  few can contest that the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have made their mark.  Within the past decade, we’ve had three of the books made into sprawling fantasy flicks and the books continue to be a mainstay on library shelves.

Given the span of time they’ve been out, we’ve seen quite a range of covers.  This post is going to look at some of the cover art that has been used over the years I won’t be covering all of it mind you–there’s far too many covers for me to touch on in one post!

(HarperCollins, 2009)

The original cover reissued in 2009.  The first edition was released by MacMillan in 1950).  Here we have Susan and Lucy Riding a stylized Aslan while fauns  look on.  It’s a simple cover that’s evocative but muted.  It’s a wonderfully classic cover, but it only works because it’s such a beloved classic.  Brown is not a popular reader-attracting cover as a rule.  The lion illustration reminds me a bit of Greg Foley’s  lion in Willoughby & the Lion.

(HarperCollins, 2000)

Susan and Lucy with Aslan again.  This seems to be the most popular group of characters to depict on book covers, though I don’t think this does a very good job.  To be honest this looks like sisters going on a summer vacation to the beach where they romp and play and make flower chains with a friendly Lion who happens by.  The setting has no snow, no castles, no hint of magic or magical creatures.  It’s not really a cover that speaks to me or inspires me.  It’s a reprint of the 1959 edition, but just doesn’t have anything to really recommend it as a cover.

(Collier Books, 1970)

All four siblings walking through the wardrobe doors into a stylized woodland with a castle in the distance.  This was the cover I had on my copy (my mother bought me the entire set in paperback).  I know the whole set really well as I read and reread them until they fell apart. It captures the whole snow, wardrobe doors and fantasy castle idea, although the lamppost is markedly missing.  This was a very serviceable cover but I don’t recall ever loving the design. Very 70s, to be honest.  Especially that yellow color.

(MacMillan, 1983)

Here we get all four children, Aslan and some of the other denizens of Narnia.  I’m afraid the lion looks odd too me.  The beard and the nose stand out and make him look a bit clownish–he reminded me of W. C. Fields.    Everything feels a little too stiff  and stodgy in this edition.  Nothing conveys motion or action.

(HarperCollins, 2002)

Probably one of the prettiest covers of the bunch.  Nicely evocative, all blues and whites, giving it a chill touch.  Both our main protagonist and villainess are transparently imposed on the scene  though I can’t tell if our four heroes are visible in the landscape but there are lots of little details to find in the scene.  It gives the story a very grand scale fantasy feel.

(HarperTrophy, 2002)

Susan and Lucy again with Aslan. This painterly cover captures something of the giddy joy of Susan and Lucy riding Aslan.  The rich glowing colors of Aslan and the girls in rosy reds and golds while the White Witch and her castle is in  blues and frosty whites does a nice job of conveying the two opposing forces of the story.  And in my opinion, this is the most joyful lion of the bunch.  He’s clearly plunging forward, coming towards the reader so that you get both girls’ faces full on instead of in profile.

(HarperCollins, 2003)

This is a lovely conjuration of the snowy Narnia woods and the witch in her sleigh.  A little Snow Queen-esque, but given  that image comes up in the story, not a bad thing.  Interesting in that the cover features Edmund by himself.  I also like the way the snowy footprint path sort of wanders out of the border and off the book, conveying that sense that Edmund has stepped out of one world and into another.

(HarperCollins, 2004)

This edition is a lovely, lush cover, rich in color and full of detail.  We have The White Witch front and center with some of her minions look out, around the frame we have the various creatures of Narnia, and a lion head set at the top of the frame to represent Aslan. I may be missing some of the details in the browner parts, but it’s certainly an attractive cover that conveys a sense of fantasy and danger.

(Abridged, HarperCollins, 2007)

Susan and Lucy and Aslan again.  Not sure how to feel about this one.  The Lion in this cover seems a tad perplexed at the two girls gripping his mane.  And while I know the scene this image is taken from, it really isn’t going to give the new reader a very good idea of the story.  It’s beautifully rendered as far as color and a softly romantic  tone, but you can’t tell if the girls are happy or sad and where any of this is taking place. This image was also used for the 2008 ebook.

(HarperCollins, 2008)

Mr. Tumnus out in the snowy woodland.  Like the epic fantasy edition cover from 2002, we are still dealing with snow and cold woodlands, but instead of soaring castles and mystical atmosphere we have Mr. Tumnus with his umbrella and packages tucked under his arm.  A mythological faun with extraordinarily mundane items.  There’s something intrinsically right about this kind of cover.  Much like the existence of the lamppost in the middle of an enchanted forest or Edmund getting Turkish Delight as a treat from the White Witch.  Elements of ordinary, contemporary life in Britain (at least at the time it was written, are threaded through the entire epic tale).

(HarperCollins, Unknown Year)

I think this is the most current edition cover . . . and it’s frankly got the best Lion of any of them.  You can believe this is Aslan, rather than an ordinary lion, and despite the fact that the cover is merely a facial portrait of Aslan, it’s incredibly evocative.  Does anyone have the published year for this cover?

A few links to add:

One bit of art inspired by the book is this “cover” below at this link: Fine Art America: Minimalist Book Cover

Here’s another, a poster by Ian O’Toole that I think is quite marvelous: Projects: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production discusses our title which came in at #5 in her Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll, she includes some cover art that I didn’t use or find here.: #5 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

What’s your favorite edition?  Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on September 8, 2013, in Art Interlude, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. My brother had the entire paperback box set, too–1970 editions. So I have a soft spot for those covers! I now have my own set, the 2008 editions. I do love that cover with Mr. Tumnus because that’s the initial image C.S. Lewis had when he got the idea for the book as a teenager. But he didn’t write it until his 40s!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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