Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter fifteen. The end of this story and the beginning of all the others.

Synopsis: Uncle Andrew and the children return to our world. Digory gives his mother the apple, which heals her.

Aslan warns the children about our world, and how it could end similarly to Charn. The story takes place prior to both world wars, so Lewis may have been referring generally to the evil things, and weapons, that people would invent to defeat each other. Ford suggests, in his ‘Companion to Narnia’ that it is a more specific reference to the atomic bomb, which had of course been used prior to this book being written. Aslan also warns of tyrants rising up, which the reader knows to refer to those such as Hitler and Stalin who wrought such devastation on the world. I’m not entirely sure, however, why Digory and Polly are warned of this – are they supposed to act on the knowledge? If so, how? Wouldn’t it frighten them terribly? Or is it really just a warning that is being given indirectly to the reader?

For the rest of their lives, we are told that the memory of Aslan’s ‘golden goodness’ was a source of strength and happiness to them. The words, ‘The feeling that it was still there, quite close, just around the corner or just behind some door, would come back and make them sure, deep down inside, that all was well,’ describes pretty accurately what my relationship with Narnia was, for me as a child, and in many ways as an adult.

Digory’s ability to provide a cure for his mother, a genuine, gentle cure, is a very touching end to the story, particularly as Lewis must have been thinking of his own mother as he wrote it. How different his life might have been.

We’ve seen Digory being less than perfect during the story: twisting Polly’s arm; lying to himself; lying to other people; rushing into situations without thinking about the consequences. But here, we see the Digory being gentle, thoughtful, and we see how desperately he loves his mother.

I’ve mentioned before that as a child the religious undercurrent of the Chronicles passed me by for a good while, but here the references to religion in our world are coming thicker and faster. Heaven (also previously mentioned by Digory when arguing with the Witch outside the Garden) is mentioned again. The doctor speaks of Mrs Ketterley’s recovery as a miracle.

I don’t imagine the children buried the rings very deeply. The next occupant of the house could have unearthed them, and ended up in the Wood Between the Worlds, with no means of return.

‘When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better’. I don’t remember this quote from earlier readings, but it really stood out for me this time. Based purely on my own experience of life, it’s actually quite accurate.

Digory is described as a great traveller (something Lewis definitely was not). Maybe his journey to other worlds sparked this interest in him.

Again I am reminded of how much more pleasurable it would be to read this book after reading LWW. Reading about the lamppost in the woods, the house in the country, ‘with the suits of armour’ and of course about how the wardrobe came into existence, is so much more satisfying when you know about what happened there. Otherwise, it’s just spoilers.

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter thirteen. An unexpected meeting.

Synopsis: Fledge and the children arrive at the garden. Digory encounters Jadis. He returns to Aslan with the apple.

Of all the foods people eat in Narnia, the one I longed for most as a child was the fruit of the toffee tree. I could imagine quite clearly how it would taste. The idea of its leaves being papery, like honesty leaves, is a lovely idea. I’ve tried to find apple flavoured toffee – the nearest thing I could think of – but so far haven’t been able to. When I eat my way through the foods of Narnia, I think I’m going to have to somehow try to make my own.

I love the little asides the narrator gives us, for example saying that Polly said she bathed, but she wasn’t a great swimmer, so we’d best not inquire further.

As mentioned in the previous chapter’s post, in Greek mythology there was said to be a place called the Garden of the Hesperides. It was described as being far to the West, beyond the mountains, just as this garden is. In the garden was a tree – or trees – which bore golden apples, which granted immortality to those who ate them. The garden belonged to Hera, who was associated with peacocks, known for their beautiful multi-coloured plumage. Lewis’ garden, with its watchful bird, seems at least partially inspired by it.

The gates of the garden face east, presumably because this is the direction associated with the Emperor over the Sea. The garden is described as being a private place, and is described as beautiful, but an air of solemnity is also suggested. Many of the signs of something spiritually significant used elsewhere in the Chronicles by Lewis are here; reverent silence, the beauty of nature, an appealing scent, and the combination of seriousness and happiness.

Digory is tempted by the desire to eat an apple, just as Adam and Eve were in the Bible story of the garden of Eden. It is particularly bad when he smells the fruit before putting it away. However, he manages not to succumb.

The illustration that accompanies this chapter (and this post) is one of the most memorable from the entire series. Your eye is naturally drawn to the figure of Digory, set in the foreground. Then you notice the bird in the tree, and perhaps the fountain. But then you finally realise that something is wrong. Half hidden in the trees is Jadis. Spotting her in this image gives the reader an echo of Digory’s experience as described in the text.

Jadis’ temptation of Digory is so cruel, in using his own mother’s illness, that we see very clearly just how terrible she is. She’s so clever, and so manipulative, that Digory is completely torn by the decision he has to make. However, he chooses correctly, to do what is ‘right’ rather that what might personally benefit him. Did Aslan already know he would be tempted in this way when he sent him? Was that part of the ‘quest’?

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter twelve. Strawberry’s adventure.

Synopsis: Digory asks Aslan for help. Strawberry becomes Fledge, a winged horse. He takes Polly and Digory on a mission for Aslan.

There are a number of passages in the Chronicles which I find particularly emotional. The beginning of this chapter is one which never fails to get to me. Digory is so desperate to help his mother, and so afraid of what will happen if he can’t. You can feel the grief coming off the page. Of course, Lewis knew exactly how this felt, having lost his beloved mother at just such a young age. When I was younger I felt empathy for Digory. Now I’m older, and have lost a parent myself, this passage seems even more genuinely sad. Now, I think perhaps I understand why Aslan’s tears (‘wonder of wonders’) are more remarkable perhaps than anything else about him. ‘Grief is great.’

Unsurprisingly, there are Biblical allusions to be found here.  ‘My son, my son,’ echoes Samuel 18:33: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.’

The garden to which Digory must travel is not simply a geographical feature of the Narnian world. It is also a place of myth and symbolism. Scholars have noted its relationship with Dante’s Mount Purgatory. (J. Christopher: Mount Purgatory Arises in Narnia) Personally, it reminds me of Lothlorien in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

Digory is asked to pick an apple. Apples appear often in myth and legend. (This is partly because, until relatively recently, ‘apple’ simply meant ‘fruit’, rather than the specific fruit we know it as. The most famous mythical apple is the one eaten in the garden of Eden. A golden apple played a central role role in the Judgement of Paris, in Greek mythology. Golden apples also appear in Norse and Celtic mythology. Most relevant here, however, is the Greek myth of the Garden of the Hesperides. (See next chapter for more detailed discussion of its relevance.)

Fledge’s modesty when asked about becoming a winged horse is similar to Frank’s reaction to being made king. The name ‘Fledge’ is chosen as it means ‘developing feathers which enable flight’. The series of drawings showing Fledge’s wings growing are among my favourites from the entire Narniad.

There are many experiences in Narnia which I longed to have. Flying on Fledge’s back must be one of the most magical. No wonder it’s been a popular choice for the illustration on the cover of the book in a number of editions.

Paul Ford discusses the use of North/South/East/West in Narnian geography, in his ‘Companion to Narnia’, which I would thoroughly recommend. Fledge and the children fly west, across Narnia and into the Western Wild, passing the waterfall mentioned in LB. They see the sandy south, presumably the desert border with Calormen described in HHB. Do they also pass what becomes Telmar (which is described elsewhere as being beyond the Western Mountains?)

‘Re-snuggled’ is definitely a word deserving of more use.

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter nine. The founding of Narnia.

Synopsis: Aslan calls the animals of Narnia into being. The Witch attacks him, then flees.

I would love to see the sequence described here animated somehow, especially the spreading of plant life outwards from Aslan. Whether I ever will, I don’t know.

I didn’t really expect Uncle Andrew to be brave enough to take issue with Jadis’ behaviour.

When Digory says to Andrew that, ‘You wanted to know about other worlds. Don’t you like it now you’re here?’ I’m reminded of the idea, mentioned in LB, that ‘All find what they truly seek,’ or the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Andrew didn’t really want to enter another world as an open-minded visitor. He wanted knowledge, riches or power which other people didn’t have.

‘The more dressed up you were to begin with, the worse you look…[when you become messed up]’ I’ve proved this theory on literally hundreds of nights out.

Do people make hissing noises at horses? Why? What do they mean?

When people talk about the best order in which to read the Narniad,  I always think of this moment, when the lamppost begins growing from the ground. If you read this book first, when Lucy finds a lamppost in a wood you already know why it is there and how it got there. There’s no mystery about where you are, or what sort of place it is. However, if you read LWW first, when you read about the growing lamppost, you have that satisfying moment of recognition and the mystery is solved for you. I absolutely believe that publication order is the best way to enjoy the books.

Uncle Andrew’s ideas about the ‘commercial possibilities’ of Narnia show us just how lost he is, in a moral or spiritual sense. Edmund in LWW (planning to build roads and cinemas) and Eustace in VDT (thinking that Calormen’s trade and finance systems preferable to Narnia’s) made similar mistakes. They don’t see the value of the land itself, the worth of it simply existing. They want to ‘develop’ it for profit. This idea goes against Lewis’ deeply held values and beliefs, discussed in his non-fiction. Lewis would definitely not want to explore the ‘commercial possibilities’ of a place full of natural beauty.

For some reason, until Digory points it out here, I always forget that Andrew is not only brother to Letty, but also to Digory’s mother. He’s so callous about her.

Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of the animals bubbling up out of the ground always stayed with me. Her drawings were instrumental in developing the Narnia I saw in my mind’s eye.

Aslan choosing two of each species – ‘always two at a time’ – reminds me of the Noah’s Ark story. It amuses me that Aslan uses a ‘nose boop’ to select the animals.

When we are told that some sorts of animal weren’t chosen at all, this must presumably include mice, as we learn in PC that they only gain the power of speech after their actions at the Stone Table in LWW. Which other species were overlooked? Why? What were the criteria?

Why is Aslan described as unblinking? This is mentioned elsewhere in the Chronicles. Is there some significance?

Why is there a flash of fire?

When Aslan speaks here, for the first time in the book, it feels like a really emotional moment.

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter eight. The fight at the lamp-post.

Synopsis: Digory transports Jadis, and others, to the Wood Between the Worlds. They then travel to a new, empty world. Music begins.

When the crowd call Jadis the ‘Hempress of Colney ‘Atch, it refers to Colney Hatch, Barnet, London. Colney Hatch is the name of an area, but in this instance references the well-known ‘Lunatic Asylum’. This place was built in Victorian times, and the name became a byword for insanity.

Is Jadis left handed? Or ambidextrous?

Do children still eat barley sugar? When I was small it was given to me when I had a sore throat. It almost made being ill worth it.

Digory shows his bravery here, and his appreciation of Polly.

Jadis lists cities from her world. ‘Charn’ is reminiscent of ‘char’ (to burn) and ‘charnel house’ (a place where skeletal remains are stored. Both are relevant when Charn’s fate is considered. As far as I can discover, ‘Felinda’, ‘Sorlois’ and ‘Bramandin’ have no specific meaning other than being names which sound like they originate from different cultures. (To me, Sorlois sounds French.)

Uncle Andrew shows his true colours here: he is a coward; he doesn’t want to take any responsibility for his actions;he refuses to face consequences.

What do modern children make of phrases such as, ‘My hat, what a picnic’? (I feel like I need to shoehorn this into a conversation soon.)

I’ve always found it difficult to imagine ‘nothing’ or ‘nothingness’, particularly the nothingness which presumably preceded the existence of the universe.

When the Witch says that, ‘My doom has come upon me,’ does she really know that this is the world where her life will (eventually, after a very long time has passed) end? Or is she just being dramatic?

When the Cabby starts to talk about being thankful, mentions that death is not to be feared if you have lived your life properly, and then suggests singing a hymn, it is the first time – that I can recall – so far in the Chronicles in which a direct reference to Christianity’s beliefs and practices is made. The hymn itself is probably ‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’, which includes the famous line, ‘All is safely gathered in’. (An episode of ‘Dad’s Army’ takes its title from this.) The hymn also has some relevant lyrics considering the situation which unfolds across the next six chapters:

Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.

Once again, Lewis describes something which is wonderful and terrible at the same time. The music which has begun is ‘so beautiful he could hardly bear it’. As seen elsewhere in the Chronicles, music has a beauty and emotional intensity which is able to profoundly affect those who hear it.

For me as a child, this entire passage felt truly beautiful. (I much preferred it to the various creation stories we learned about at school.) It seemed to capture the beauty and sense of wonder which Lewis must have intended.

The idea of a world being brought into being through a song or the voice of God is not unique to Narnia. In Christianity, God’s word brought the world into being. In Hinduism, the sacred sound ‘Aum’ began the world we live in. In Tolkien’s creation story, music brings life to the world. (The idea of creatures being ‘born’ from the ground is also found here.)

The response each character has to the Voice confirms their current state of ‘goodness’ – or not. It is similar to the way the Pevensies responded to hearing Aslan’s name for the first time in LWW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter seven. What happened at the front door.

Synopsis: Jadis and Andrew go into London. Jadis steals a horse-drawn cab and causes mayhem.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand so well the way that Andrew’s ridiculous thoughts about the Queen being attracted to him only appeared when she was not present. I think I understand better now. Reality often disrupts and corrects our happy daydreams – what we’ll say to the boss, how we’ll deal with a situation, how we’ll be received etc. – when the time actually comes for action. Things don’t play out the way we imagined them in our heads.

Why didn’t the Queen’s magical powers work in London? Does magic need to be near a source or place of origin? How does she later manage to perform magic in Narnia, such as generating the enchanted winter? Do different worlds have different rules?

I’d forgotten about the (secretly thrilled) housemaid. There are lots of little comic touches throughout this book. When I think of the other stories, they have light moments but I suspect that MN might be the most comedic. I don’t know why this might be. Maybe Lewis was feeling happier at this time in his life. Maybe it stemmed from him writing about a different time period. Maybe it just fitted his idea for the story.

I was always puzzled by Aunt Letty’s mattress mending. I suppose it’s another thing you don’t really see these days. What were mattresses like then?

The description of the house – ‘It was one of those houses that get very quiet and dull in the afternoon and always seem to smell of mutton’ – reminds me of two things. Firstly, the description of Bill Door’s visit to Miss Flitworth’s parlour in Pratchett’s ‘Reaper Man’, and secondly, the memory of visits to numerous houses which belonged to friends of my Grandma.

Digory’s hope – and his fear that the hope might be dashed – for his mother’s recovery surely reflects the young Lewis’ emotions as he watched his own mother’s health deteriorating from cancer.

Jadis’ ability to ride on the top of the hansom ‘with perfect balance’ impressed the young me.

Cruelty to animals and a disregard for their welfare is often an indicator of a ‘baddie’ in the Chronicles.

What did Jadis whisper in the horse’s ear?

As I mentioned earlier in my re-read (in VDT) I don’t really enjoy Lewis’ ‘accented’ voices. This is true of the ‘cockneys’ in the crowd here (‘Gor! Ain’t she strong then!’ etc.) It just feels awkward to me.

‘Womfle –  pomfy – shomf’ (used to denote someone speaking through a damaged top hat) is probably my favourite ever mixture of nonsense words and onomatopoeia.

The first time we meet the Cabby, we are given plenty of clues as to his personality and nature. He is clearly worried about others, including the horse itself. He’s calm in a strange and dangerous situation. Despite Jadis having destroyed his means of making a living, he is kind and gently spoken towards her, trying to convince her to calm down.

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter six. The beginning of Uncle Andrew’s troubles.

Synopsis: Jadis has managed to return to the Wood between the Worlds. The children unintentionally bring her back to their world, where she meets Uncle Andrew.

When I was younger, I loved the idea that creatures like Jadis, from other worlds, could arrive in ours. I don’t think that I’d imagined inter-world travel as two-way until reading this book. The children’s inadvertent transportation of the Queen through the portal reminds me of a scene in Rowling’s Harry Potter series, where the protagonists use magic to travel between two places, but an enemy grabs one of them, so they have to change course.

Once again, Digory is taken in by the Queen, while Polly heartily dislikes her.

There is a mention of Jadis’ size, and the possiblity of her having ‘giantish blood’. This would tally with Mr Beaver’s statement in LWW that she is descended from Adam and Lilith (Adam’s first wife, according to Jewish mythology, who is supposed to be a jinn linked to demons and sinfulness) on one side, and giants on the other. Presumably all the people of Charn – or possibly only the noble houses – are the same. Was this world a world of giants? The idea that Jadis is descended from Adam makes you wonder how descendants of ‘Adam’ ended up in a totally different world to ours. Did they travel between worlds? (I suspect that the truth is that this statement, from LWW, doesn’t really match the ‘backstory’ Jadis is given by this, later, book.

Uncle Andrew makes mention of his ‘old Dorsetshire family’. In Downing’s ‘Into the Wardrobe’, it is suggested that he is partially based on Robert Capron, the cruel headteacher Lewis talked about in ‘Surprised by Joy’. Capron took pride in his Devonshire family roots, being from Southern England. It is worth noting that Capron was described as ‘tall’ with ‘plentiful grey hair’. Lewis feared him, but saw him as a fool as well, which reflects Digory’s relationship with Uncle Andrew.

Lewis uses one of his favourite insults for witches: they are ‘terribly practical’. He doesn’t mean by this that they are able to do useful things. He means that their minds are not creative or empathetic, and unable to appreciate beauty. (Like the pre-dragoned Eustace in VDT.) They – to quote Oscar Wilde – ‘know the price of everything and the value of nothing’.

Digory’s initial inability to see how he has wronged Polly, and his exclamation of ‘just like a girl!’ are both reminders that if he’s not careful he could end up becoming just like Uncle Andrew. However, I don’t find myself disliking him; in the same passage he apologises and shows his overwhelming concern for his mother.

Lewis’ nostalgia runs through his descriptions of our world at this point in time: ‘You have never seen such clothes but I can remember them…He took a clean handkerchief ( a lovely one such as you couldn’t buy today)…’

One of the things I loved about this book as a child was the description of the Victorian world in which it is set. Uncle Andrew’s strange clothes, such as his eye-glass on a black ribbon, fascinated me. They seemed to come from a world which was close enough to understand, but far enough away to be interesting and exotic.

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter five. The Deplorable Word.

Synopsis: Jadis is awoken by the bell. She explains what happened to the world of Charn. She wants to travel to the children’s world with them. They try to escape.

When I was younger I was always really annoyed, on Polly’s behalf, at the Queen ignoring her and only addressing Digory.

I wonder how old the Queen is. How old was she when the enchantment began? How long as the enchantment kept her in stasis?

Polly is not in any way taken in by the Queen. She sees her for exactly what she is: dangerous and cruel. However, Digory thinks she’s ‘brave’ and ‘strong’, a true Queen. He’s allowing himself to be ‘fooled’ again, as he did with the bell and the hammer.

The Queen’s commentary on ‘dungeons…torture chambers…killed them all…’ adds to our image of this world. Inviting guests to a banquet, then killing them, shows a total disregard for the sort of hospitality ‘laws’ which were widespread in the Middle Ages. It certainly wouldn’t happen at Anvard or Cair Paravel. This kind of transgression will be familiar to anyone who has read G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin explains its historical origins here: http://nerdist.com/george-r-r-martin-explains-the-red-weddings-historical-roots/

I always loved the crown and dress of the the Queen in the illustrations. They looked exotic and otherworldly.

The lack of nature, countryside, trees in Charn reminds me of Tolkien’s portrayal of Saruman’s desecreation of Isengard in The Lord of the Rings. Both authors saw the increasing urbanisation and modernisation of Britain as the destruction of what the country should truly be. The sounds of Charn were ‘wheels…whips…slaves…’. Saruman is described as having  ‘a mind of metal and wheels’.

Here were are told the Queen’s name, Jadis, and we know that this is the White Witch of LWW.

What are ‘the Powers’ mentioned by Jadis? Are they gods?

Jadis shows here that she is one of those people – there are many in our world, unfortunately – who see mercy, or the reluctance to spill the blood of others, as weakness.

The Deplorable Word taps into the ancient idea that certain words have real power (for example the names of gods). There have been taboo words for centuries.

What happened to all the dead soldiers? Why aren’t their skeletons lying everywhere? Did the Deplorable Word completely atomise them?

We see how Jadis and Andrew are alike, although Andrew is really a pale imitation of Jadis, with little of her power. They both see everyone around them as dispensable. They both speak of their ‘high and lonely destiny’. They both betray their greedy thoughts through hungry facial expressions. They both see magic as a way to gain power over others rather than genuine understanding.

Jadis refuses to accept facts which we know to be true because they don’t fit with her worldview. This is the first ‘weakness’ we have seen in her – a lack of understanding of things outside her experience. This will become important later in the story.

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter four. The bell and the hammer.

Polly and Digory explore the world they have entered. They find a strange bell and hammer in a room of statues. Against Polly’s wishes, Digory strikes the bell.

Polly and Digory’s immediate reactions to Charn are telling. Polly just knows it feels wrong. Digory has lots of curious questions. He’s fascinated by finding the answers to questions, an impulse which echoes Uncle Andrew.

I’ve been to lots of places which have reminded me of parts of the Narnian world (which I try to photograph and upload here via my instagram account) but I’ve never seen anywhere which reminded me of Charn (except perhaps in Sci-Fi, where barren planets with strange skies are more likely to be found). I love Pauline Baynes’ illustration showing the two children holding hands, dwarfed by their surroundings.

The Narnian world has Aslan. We know what the equivalent is supposed to be in our world. Does – or did – Charn have an equivalent? Do all the worlds which can be reached by the wood have one?

The deadness, the stillness, the lack of anything natural in Charn, will provide a complete contrast with Narnia. Everything the children see adds to the ominous picture: the fountain is in the form of a monster rather than a normal animal; the figures’ clothes are decorated with ‘strange beasts’; there is no evidence of plant-life, not even moss. The eeriest detail is the light. The red, cold, dead light, coming from an old sun in an inky sky is quite unsettling.

Are these figures simply very realistic statues, or could the right magic revive them?

The magical translation of the inscription, enabling the children to read it, reminds me of Doctor Who, where the Tardis automatically translates speech and written text.

I wonder what proportion of people would choose to strike the bell, and how many would not.

Lewis is often accused of less than enlightened portrayals of gender in the Chronicles. Here, however, we see that Digory’s dismissal of Polly ‘because you’re a girl’ is simply a mask for his own failings. (Just as Andrew spoke of Digory having been raised by women when Digory accused him of being selfish and cruel.) I know that Lewis’ attitudes to women and female characters weren’t always modern, but I personally find in Polly a clever, brave and warm female protagonist. Yes, she’s interested in the clothing of the statues, but her interest is not harmful or excessive, like Digory’s.

Sounds are always key in the Chronicles, with the power to generate strong emotions and reactions. Here, the sound of the bell tells us straight away – if we hadn’t already guessed – that striking the bell was a terrible idea.

I don’t know whether it’s just my perception of it, but this book’s chapters seem to end more frequently on ‘cliff-hangers’ than other books from the series. Up to this point there has been:

Digory and his Uncle were alone in the room.

He … picked up the ring …

And they jumped.

They had never been more mistaken in their lives.

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter three. The Wood between the Worlds.

Digory is reunited with Polly in the Wood between the Worlds. They decide to use the rings to explore other worlds through the pools in the wood.

The title of this chapter is a nod to William Morris’ ‘The Wood Beyond The World’, which Lewis greatly admired. (He mentioned him frequently in his personal correspondence, and gave lectures defending Morris from criticism. It has also been suggested that Prince Caspian was based on Morris’ character Child Christopher.) This book, by the man who is nowadays more famous for his ever-popular fabric and wallpaper prints, is considered to be key in the development of the fantasy novel. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wood_Beyond_the_World) Lewis’ friend Tolkien also acknowledged Morris as an influence on his writing.

Where is the wood? Is it somehow attached to Aslan’s Country? Is it infinite or does it eventually come to an end? Do people often go there? Why does it exist? Is it eternal, or does it have a beginning and an end? When I was younger I didn’t see the appeal of a peaceful place where nothing seems to happen, but now I do.

In Lev Grossman’s ‘Magicians’ series, I enjoyed reading about his version of the wood, the Neitherlands. All other worlds are connected by the Neitherlands, which consist of deserted Italianate buildings, which are all libraries.  Different worlds are accessed via fountains, although these can dry up. I believe he has stated that either the wood grew over the buildings there, or the buildings were built on top of the wood. (The series revolves around the magical world of Fillory, which is linked to our own and is the focus of a series of classic British children’s books. It’s Narnia, by another name.)

Polly shows her sensible, practical nature here. She realises that they have to fight against the pleasant dreaminess of the wood. She imagines the consequences of rushing into action. When Digory is carried away by the thought of exploring, he talks over her and ignores what she’s trying to say, which is a foretaste of what will happen in Charn.

It is here that we are told that Digory becomes Professor Kirke from LWW. This was written after that though, and Lewis had never initially intended to write a ‘prequel’ to LWW, and it makes his initial conversation about Narnia (with Peter and Susan) seem a little strange.

I like the fact that Polly and Digory squabble (much as Jill and Eustace do). They don’t just marvel at the extraordinary events taking place. They behave like real children do. Their arguments continue throughout the chapter.

When they try returning to London, why can they see through the walls of all the buildings? Would this happen in other worlds?

How did the dust in Uncle Andrew’s box manage to make rings which wanted to both leave and find the wood? Were there separate compartments? Who in our world would have known how to do this? How did Uncle Andrew work it out? Why did the dust behave in two different ways?

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Magician’s Nephew Chapter two. Digory and his uncle.

Synopsis: Uncle Andrew explains the origins of the magic rings. Digory decides to go after Polly with the second ring.

Mrs Lefay always sounded so interesting to me, I wanted to know more about her back story. Why was she sent to prison? Where did she get hold of the box? What ceremonies should it have been destroyed with? Why? Her name is an echo of Morgan Le Fay, the sorceress who features in Arthurian Legend. The term ‘fay’ itself can be used interchangeably with fairy or faery, which is suited to Mrs Lefay’s role as a ‘fairy godmother’.

Uncle Andrew’s insistence that the rules don’t apply to him, that he’s special and different, stand in direct contrast to Aslan’s stance. In both LWW and VDT, Aslan explains that he must follow his, and the Emperor’s, rules, for example by becoming visible when Lucy casts the spell in the Coriakin’s house. The reader is shown that his talk of a ‘high and lonely destiny’ is insincere and self-serving.

I would love to see the box itself.What were the decorations like? What exactly was it made from? How could Andrew be sure that it was Atlantean? Who did he learn this from? Who else had this secret knowledge?

Lewis was interested in the idea of Atlantis, his friend Tolkien even more so: it inspired his story of the downfall of Numenor, and he had recurring dreams about a land consumed by the sea. (These are documented in his own writing.)

How had the dust come into our world in the first place? Did it arrive here as dust or was it dust made from something else. Who travelled between the worlds? This is another unknown story.

The more Andrew speaks, the more he reveals about himself. He wants knowledge, and probably that power which knowledge that other people don’t have brings, but doesn’t stop to think about the consequences. He admits his health has been damaged, and he shows absolutely no interest in other people (or animals) apart from wondering how he can make use of them. Polly’s safety is of absolutely no concern to him, and his empathy is so lacking that he can’t understand why Digory is so upset. In contrast, we see that Digory understands the ‘rules’ – of fairness, courtesy and doing the right thing.

Andrew is the perfect example of what we become when we see ourselves as the hero of our story, rather than looking at ourselves as part of a bigger story. He can’t see that other people are equally important to him.

Do children now know what ‘the white feather’ represents?

As ever in Narnia, we see how reading the ‘right books’ helps us: Digory predicts that Andrew won’t profit from his terrible conduct. Andrew finally seems disconcerted. He dismisses Digory’s ‘old wives’ tales’ but in the Chronicles we have seen, notably in PC, that such tales are often true. They are dismissed by those who fear or misunderstand them, such as King Miraz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Horse and His Boy Chapter fifteen. Rabadash the Ridiculous.

Synopsis: The victors discuss how to deal with Rabadash. When he refuses their mercy, Aslan punishes him.

Something a little odd happened on my re-read of this chapter. When King Lune welcomes Aravis to Anvard, I felt really emotional. I don’t remember this happening when I was young. Maybe it’s because Aravis must have felt so utterly relieved to be put so at ease after worrying what would happen to her. Maybe it’s because I’ve developed a soft spot for the formal speech employed from time to time in Narnia, when noble people are being courteous to each other. Maybe it’s because Lune is so down-to-earth and fatherly, and my own lovely father is no longer with me. I suspect it’s a combination of all three.

When Cor is initially pleased that his parent hears a story of his heroism, then increasingly embarrassed after multiple re-tellings, I think anyone can relate. Parents feeling proud is lovely, but they do love to re-tell a tale to everyone and anyone they meet.

Lucy and Aravis instantly like each other. I imagine each would like the other’s straightforwardness. This passage, again, is often cited as an example of Lewis’ sexism. Although I don’t deny that Lewis did write and say sexist things (I’ll explore this fully in an upcoming post) I never read this section in that way as a child. This was only my personal reaction to it, but as I read it all I thought was, ‘I wish I could be their friend, and have some fancy castle rooms set up just for me.’ Gender never featured in this for me, but I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where everyone was a feminist, so maybe that was why.

‘Even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did.’ This quote is all over the internet (instagram, pinterest etc). It really resonates with people. We’ve all done things we regret, but all hope to be given a second chance.

Apes are mentioned here, being described as dishonest. This will become more significant in LB. Is there a folklore precedent for this? I couldn’t find one but it would seem likely.

Rabadash was in a comfortable room with good food, but we are told he had a terrible night due to his own sulkiness. This is similar to Uncle Andrew in MN, in that situations do affect us, but our perception of and response to them are what often decide our state of mind.

My disproportionate dislike of Corin continues with his plea to box Rabadash and his taunting of the Calormene.

According to Downing’s ‘Into the Wardrobe’, Lune calling Rabadash a ‘pajock’ references Hamlet, where Hamlet is about to call someone an ass, but instead uses this term. This is relevant considering Rabadash’s imminent fate.

After reading this book when young, I was determined to learn to waggle my ears. It’s a useless skill but one that Narnia taught me, nonetheless.

‘Lightning in the shape of scorpions’ reminded me of Doctor Evil’s sharks with laser beams from the Austin Powers films.

I don’t know why Rabadash is turned into a donkey rather than any other animal. Maybe because ‘ass’ is a synonym for ‘fool’. Maybe for no particular reason. I have read elsewhere online that it is due to the unpleasant associations the name of  this animal has in arab culture, so was used as a final insult to the ‘middle eastern’ Rabadash. I hope this isn’t the reason. (See my separate post on race issues in HHB.)

I did look in my local library for a good history of Calormen. Naturally, I was disappointed.

A grand feast is the quintessential Narnian ( or Archenlandish) way to celebrate. The setting, with lanterns hung around the moonlit lawn only make it more appealing. Similarly, I love the evening dinner on the Camomile Lawn in Mary Wesley’s book of the same name, or the birthday party in the Weasley’s back garden in Rowling’s Harry Potter. Eating outside, with friends, somewhere warm enough to stay out late, is such a lovely thought.

I’d absolutely love to hear the full version of the lay of Olvin (did anything in Narnia ever sound so Tolkien-esque?).

I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that Lucy tells the others the story of the Wardrobe here. Not long after HHB’s events, the Pevensies are utterly mystified by the lamppost and have no recollection of their origins in our world. How did change this occur?

When Corin says that ‘princes have all the fun’, it always makes me think of the British princes, William and Harry. I wonder if that’s how Harry feels?

Why did Corin box the bear? Why did this make it ‘un-lapsed’?

For some reason (most likely my personal prejudice against Corin) I was always pleased to know that Cor was the more accomplished and dangerous warrior. I’m sure he wouldn’t have boasted about it either.

Personally, I was happy to know that Cor and Araris got married, but I’ve seen people online both agree and disagree with it. It’s the classic ‘buddy/romantic comedy’ result: two very different people forced to work together, where they start off disliking each other but then change their minds. Some people think it is too hastily ‘tacked on’ to the story to be convincing. Others ‘ship it’ and have written plenty of fanfiction on the subject. I just liked the thought of two characters I liked settling down together; why, I’m not sure.

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter sixteen. The healing of harms.

Synopsis: The children say goodbye to Puddleglum. Centaurs take them to Cair Paravel.  They see Rilian reunited with Caspian, who then dies. Aslan takes them back to his country. There, they see Caspian lying in a stream, and Aslan brings him to life. The children return to our world, and with Aslan and Caspian’s help they punish the school bullies.

As ever, the home of a good Narnian is here shown to be a cosy, homely place, with delicious food and comfort all around. The description of the sausages is most enticing, which is unsurprising considering that Lewis completed the Chronicles in 1954, when meat rationing finally came to an end in Britain. Lewis would probably have thoroughly enjoyed a feast of fat sausages, ‘just the tiniest bit burnt’. (I’m planning to eat my way through all the food mentioned in the Chronicles once I’ve finished my re-read, and I’m really looking forward to this meal.)

Reading the book as a child, I just accepted the way things happened in the story. Now, when I read that Caspian had been told by Aslan to return to Narnia, I find myself wondering why he didn’t do so sooner. The voyage can’t have been good for the king.

When Cloudbirth the healer is described as a ‘leech’, it refers to the obsolete use of the word to mean ‘physician’. (This is derived from the Old English word ‘læce. Cloudbirth’s name follows the convention throughout the Chronicles (although disregarded in the film adaptations) of portmanteau words. (Roonwit, Glenstorm, Ironhoof etc.) Maybe Lewis chose this form because of their similarity to kennings: descriptive two-word nouns associated with Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse poetry. (For example: ‘battle sweat’ meaning blood, and ‘raven harvest’ meaning corpse.) I don’t have evidence for this particular idea, but it does seem plausible, bearing in mind Lewis’ areas of interest and love of wordplay. 

The little comic touches here a real pleasure: the seriousness of having a centaur to stay for the weekend; Puddleglum’s fear that neither he nor the Prince will survive for long, Puddleglum’s assessment of himself as ‘a good-looking chap’.

We learn that Aslan has ‘nine names’ but they are not listed. Of course, religious figures in our world have multiple names. Allah has 99 names. Jesus is known as Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace etc. Aslan is referred to elsewhere in the Narniad as ‘the son of the Emperor over the Sea’ and ‘the Great Lion’. I can’t think of any others but will have to double-check that I’ve not missed one.

A perfect example of Lewis’ ‘sehnsucht’ is given here. The centaur-ride was rough and uncomfortable at the time, but the children would later long for another chance to experience this moment again. The mood continues in this vein, with ‘a tune to break your heart’ being played. (Similar words were used in VDT.)

Jill’s eyes fill with tears. Eustace weeps for Caspian. Characters often cry in the Chronicles, and it is not shown as weakness or silliness, but as a natural response to intense emotions or physical hardships. I can only imagine how crying was viewed at Lewis’ boarding schools. Maybe the two are connected.

In VDT the religious aspect of the Chronicles was made more explicit than previously. In this chapter of the Silver Chair it becomes so again. Young me didn’t really notice this, but now, reading it, I’m struck by how odd it is to read in a children’s book about a hero growing old, dying, and then being resurrected with the blood of Aslan. I can’t think of any parallels with other children’s literature.

Does everyone who dies appear in the golden stream in Aslan’s country? Does he have to shed blood in this way for others? Or are kings different?

I distinctly remember the line, ‘He has died, Most people have, you know. Even I have.’ It was the first time that I really considered how many people had lived before I was even born. (Children often do find it difficult to concieve of a world that preceded them.)

Aslan tells the children they will come to this place again – permanently. How on earth would you be able to get on with your ordinary life, knowing that? Every day you would be wondering, ‘Is today the day?’

Lewis, the man who had hated boarding school, and hated the social structures and bullying which he suffered there, must surely have been indulging in wish fulfillment here,  as Caspian and the children beat the bullies. It’s an odd scene, which I think I care for much less now I’m an adult.

Why on earth did Eustace bury his Narnian clothes? It’s such a strange way to deal with them. I would definitely do what Jill did: keep them and wear them.

The open hillside, with the lake in it, is described briefly in just two sentences, but the image has stayed with me over the years. If there’s an equivalent in our world, I would love to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter fourteen. The bottom of the world.

Synopsis: Golg explains about Bism and the life of the gnomes. The party decide not to visit Bism, and try to find their way out.

In another world, the name Golg wouldn’t sound out of place amongst the orcs of Mordor. (Tolkien often used hard ‘g’ sounds for orcish names.)

Once again, the Silver Chair’s focus is on point of view: What is real? What is true? To the heroes, they are in a land they dislike because it is beneath their true home, with no sky and fresh air. To the gnomes, the same place is too high up, and they are terrified of the sound of a world with no roof. Also, the gnomes had appeared to be dull, serious, grey creatures. However, this was due to their enchantment. Now they have been freed, we can see that they are merry, lively folk. They turn cartwheels and set off fireworks, and their true home is a blaze of light and colour. In turn, the gnomes had feared Rilian and the others, believing them to be enemies, when in truth they shared a common enemy and had no cause for disagreement. How things look – your ‘reality’ – is not necessarily actual ‘reality’. Truth is subjective.

Which happened first: the witch enslaving the gnomes or her enchanting Rilian? We know both have been in ‘Underland’ for years. How exactly did the witch call the gnomes up from Bism? Was there an earlier rift in the ground? Did they have to dig their way up? And how did she even know they were there? Is anyone else in ‘Overland’ aware of their presence? Has there been contact between the two worlds before? If so, how? Will there be again? Speaking of the gnomes, were they called into existence at the same time as the other creatures of Narnia?

The word ‘Bism’ means ‘deep pit’ in Greek, so fits this underground world perfectly. (This is also the origin of the word ‘abyss’, which has a similar meaning.)

I would love to see some really good quality artwork portraying Bism. I’ve never seen any (not even on Deviantart, which usually has something.) The description of a world alive with colour, so bright it dazzles the eyes, is really appealing. I’d particularly like to see the living gemstones and precious metals. (Although diamond juice probably looks better than it tastes.)

Salamanders have often appeared in myths and legends. They were said to be ‘born from the flames’ and also have the ability to put out fires. There’s a really good explanation of this at: https://ztevetevans.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/mythical-beasts-the-salamander/ (This blog is full of interesting, well-researched posts about myths and legends. It’s well worth a look.)

Rilian’s temptation to explore the extreme depth of the world echoes his father’s attempted abdication in order to explore the extreme edge of the world. Both got caught up in the excitement, the glory, the idea of doing or seeing something most mortal men never would. Both forgot – although only for a short time – about their duties and responsibilities, Caspian to his subjects, Rilian to his father. Reepicheep would have been surprised to see his old friend Eustace quoting his opinion on the value of adventures, and siding with Rilian rather than Jill – who really didn’t want to visit Bism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter twelve. The Queen of Underland.

Synopsis:  The Queen returns to find the chair broken. She tries to put the others under a spell but Puddleglum resists. They fight and kill her.

Remaining so calm and courteous in his speech to the witch must have been a real effort for Rilian.

What is the Lady of the Green Kirtle? Where did she come from? How old is she? Is she unique or are there others like her? What would her natural life-span be? Was she born with all her powers or did she have to learn them?

Green has long been associated with magic, fairies and mythical creatures such as dragons and leprechauns. It is unsurprising that the witch uses green powder to cast a spell.

The Lady’s pretence of friendliness, when she is clearly evil, makes her somehow more unpleasant (to my mind, anyway) than an enemy like Miraz. Throughout this book, themes about what to believe and what to trust come up again and again.

The passage where the witch tries to convince the others that Narnia doesn’t exist, and their arguments about what is real, is among the most popular and most often quoted of the entire series, particularly for those who like the religious ideas underpinning the series. The witch insists that the world in which the travellers are is the only world. Anything else they imagine to be above them is just a dream or an imagining. For example, lions don’t exist. The travellers have imagined them – basing their ideas on cats they have seen. The sun is just something they have dreamed up, based on lamps. The entire situation is based on Plato’s ‘cave’ allegory. Lewis loved Plato. He’s even referenced by name elsewhere in the Narniad.

The allegory is explained much more clearly, and in more detail than I could manage, in many places elsewhere online, but my general understanding of it is this:

Imagine that there is a group of prisoners chained up in a cave. They never see the world outside. Behind them is a fire. Sometimes, people and animals pass by the fire, out of view of the prisoners, casting a shadow on the wall. When the prisoners see the shadows they believe them to be the real, and only, forms that there are. They don’t realise that they are simply echoes or outlines of the real things, which exist in a world beyond their experience.  When a prisoner escapes and discovers the truth, the others disbelieve him, accepting only what their own eyes have seen. Plato is trying to demonstrate that the physical world which we experience through our senses is not the only one. He believed that our world consists of ‘copies’ of ‘true forms’ which existed beyond our current experience.

In this chapter, the characters are also trapped in an underground space, and the Queen nearly convinces them that world is only what they see in it. It is only through Puddleglum’s bravery and quick thinking that they are saved. He clears his head by stamping out the enchanted fire:

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Of course, reading this as a child, I had no idea it related to Plato. Neither did I understand how similar it sounded to an argument someone might present in defence of their beliefs or their faiths. I just knew that Puddleglum was a real hero, and that I wanted to ‘live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia’. Reading it now, I don’t think that has really changed, although my understanding of what living like a Narnian involves has.

Once the witch reveals her true self, and becomes a huge serpent (like Lamia in Greek mythology) Rilian, helped by the others, is finally able to kill her and avenge his mother.

For some reason, I always loved the line where Rilian calls Jill a ‘damsel … of a high courage’ and assumes she comes of ‘noble blood’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter eleven. In the dark castle.

Synopsis:  The Black Knight tells Puddleglum and the children of his plans to invade ‘Overworld’. He explains how the Silver Chair is used to control him in his ‘madness’. When he comes to his senses, he asks them to release him, and they do so.

Aside from the echoes of Hamlet mentioned in the previous chapter, this section of the story references other influences too. In Spenser’s ‘Fairie Queene’ a knight called Sir Guyon spends three days and nights in the underworld with Mammon, who in medieval times was the personification of greed for material wealth. Mammon tries to tempt the knight in different ways, including offering him some rest in a ‘silver seat’, but Guyon resists. (In Lewis’ ‘The Allegory of Love’, he describes Mammon as the ‘gold-hoarding earthman of immemorial tradition, the gnome’. The inhabitants of Underland are referred to in The Silver Chair as gnomes and earthmen.)

There are echoes of a Greek myth in the story, too. Pirithous was descended from Gods and related to the centaurs. He was a good friend of Theseus, taking part in adventures with him. In one tale the two men travelled to the underworld because Pirithous wanted to take Persephone (Hades’ wife) as his own bride. In some versions he was tricked by Hades into sitting down on a chair or stone, where snakes coiled around him, trapping him. In other versions the chair is the ‘chair of forgetfulness’ or the ‘seat of oblivion’, and Pirithous forgets who he is and what his quest is. Another Greek tale, Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, visits the island of the witch, Circe. She invites him to sit on a chair decorated with silver as part of a plan to cast a spell over him.It is easy to see how these tales of underworld visits, seats which are traps, forgetfulness and snakes have all combined in Lewis’ imagination. As ever, his love of stories and legends from different times allows him to create something new which still feels like it has a ring of familiarity or authenticity.

The knight tells the children he doesn’t know where he came from before the Queen found him. Why doesn’t he ask her what happened?

What ‘barbarous land in the far south of the world’ is Rilian referring to when he mentions the honey cakes? The most southerly land we hear of in the Chronicles is Calormen. That would seem a long way for honey cakes to be transported.

The entire plan of taking over Narnia by invading it from below seems unnecessarily complex. Couldn’t the witch have simply enchanted Rilian to fall in love with her, then made him marry her, and ruled through him that way? He mentions his enchantment being broken once he is crowned. Would this actually happen? Would his circumstances change? And why does he go to the trouble of feeding his visitors and then explaining his plans to them?

Puddleglum’s dry responses to the knight’s praise of his ‘lady’ are even more enjoyable than the children’s horrified reactions to his plans.

Rilian mentions a specific memory from overworld: looking into a pool, and seeing in it the reflection of trees and sky. This reminds me of Lewis’ other references to reflections and mirrors. (See Alister McGrath’s ‘The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis for a detailed exploration of this theme.) He uses the example of seeing a scene reflected in a mirror in The Last Battle to explore what ‘real’ and ‘reality’ mean. Such ideas can be connected to Platonic ideas of forms and shadows, and also religious ideas whereby God or the Divine is seen ‘through’ something else, such as nature. It also reminds me of Lewis’ sehnsucht; seeing a tiny garden made by his brother, and feeling it was somehow more real, more the essence of what a garden was, than his own actual garden.

Lewis uses the example of the sign, in this case being asked to do something in Aslan’s name, to make a religious or moral point. It suggests that if we know what we are supposed to do (and for Christians this would presumably mean what the Bible has instructed) we must do it, even if we are unsure of the consequences for ourselves. Doing the right thing, even if it will mean you are alone, or in danger, or worse, is of crucial importance in all the Narnia stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter one. Behind the Gym.

Synopsis: Jill Pole is crying behind the gym. Eustace tries to cheer her up. He tells her about Narnia and they try to get there. The school bullies chase them, so they go through an unlocked door in a wall. They find themselves in a strange world. Eustace falls off a cliff when trying to stop Jill from falling.

This book begins in a miserable place – a boarding school dominated by terrifying bullies. In his autobiography, ‘Surprised by Joy’,  Lewis discusses his own school memories at length. Miserable they certainly were. Shortly after losing his mother, Lewis found himself being sent to a different country (England) to start school. He absolutely hated boarding school: the loneliness, the bullying, the atmosphere, the focus on sports and athleticism. His loathing for his school days is made very clear, and must have been in his mind as he created Experiment house.

Surely most children can empathise with Jill Pole – even those readers who enjoyed their schooldays. (I’ve looked into Jill’s name and I can’t see any particular reason why Lewis might have chosen it, although it has been suggested that she was named after Jill Flewett, who lived at the Kilns for a while and who Lewis was very fond of.) Feeling lonely in the comfort and safety of your own home is not nearly so horrible an experience as feeling lonely and scared when surrounded by people you fear and dislike. We aren’t given specifics about the bullies and what they do. This allows the reader to fill in the blanks with their own fears.

Lewis gives us a number of his opinions via his narrator’s disapproval of Experiment House. ‘Modern’ styles of ‘discipline’, co-educational schooling and the like come in for criticism, and  when Lewis tells us that Experiment House didn’t encourage Bibles, we know what he is trying to tell us.

The Eustace we meet at the start of this book is very different from the Eustace who first appeared in VDT. We are reminded of how unfortunate his name is, but now he is ‘not a bad sort’.

Trust and friendship are important ideas throughout this story, and this begins here. Why does Eustace trust Jill enough to tell her such a huge secret? As far as we know, none of the ‘friends of Narnia’ discuss Narnia with anyone but each other. Jill and Eustace aren’t close friends. Eustace says he trusts Jill because of their share hatred of Experiment House, but other children must have hated it too. Why Jill?

As Eustace and Jill speak in whispers of Narnia, while surrounded by their utterly prosaic surroundings, it’s like an echo of the thousands of people who have escaped their own ‘dull Autumn day’ by reading the Chronicles.

Eustace knows that Aslan is magic, but he also knows it isn’t ‘right’ to try to summon him through spells and so on.

Eustace’s complaint that girls can’t orient themselves reminds me of Edmund’s comment about girls ‘keeping a map in their heads’ in Prince Caspian. (Both are immediately rebutted by the nearest girl.)

The rumour of the door having been open once is exactly the kind of rumour that entertains school children and gives them a focus for their daydreams. Such ideas can sustain you through the dullest, longest lesson. Many doorways in walls make me think of this doorway. When I spot one I try to photograph it and add it to the instagram account linked to this site.

Eustace insists they hold hands and avoid being separated – which of course is exactly what will happen by the end of the chapter.

One of the things I like about the children’s entry into the Narnian world in each story is that they always arrive in a different place. This place is not somewhere readers of the previous books would recognise. It isn’t even in the country of Narnia.

Jill really shouldn’t have messed around on the cliff edge. We know that. The use of the word ‘despised’ to describe what she thinks of Eustace is very strong.We haven’t known her long at all. And yet all this doesn’t seem to put me off her as a character. Having read the books dozens of times, however, I don’t know if this is because I ‘know’ her already. Would I feel the same on a first reading?

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter fifteen. The wonders of the Last Sea.

Synopsis: The sun appears larger and the water clearer as the Dawn Treader sails east. Lucy sees an underwater world peopled with mermaids and mermen. The water becomes sweet.

The dreamlike quality that began in previous chapters develops further here. ‘All was different’. Everyone eats less, sleeps less and talks less. The birds sing with human voices. The sea water is so clear you can see the bottom. This is a very different place from those we’ve seen before. There is a sense of wonder, maybe even reverence developing. The ‘sprituality’ of Narnia, which of course makes some love and some hate it, is becoming more and more apparent. Colbert’s ‘The Magical Worlds of Narnia’ suggests that this book was intended as the final book in a Narnia ‘trilogy’, and that this is the reason why this element of the book comes to the fore here.

The submarine world Lucy sees has always stayed with me. Whenever I think of mermaids, it is this passage that springs to mind. It’s a perfect example of Lewis’ ability to use clear, concise prose to paint a memorable, beautiful picture for his reader. I would quote some, but suspect I would end up quoting pages and pages. I can only recommend that you revisit it. It’s a perfectly formed world within a world, which operates on its own logic. In five pages we learn about its geography, its buildings, its people and their pets/hobbies.

Drinian’s grumpy concern for Reepicheep is utterly endearing. Surely everyone can relate to feeling worried about someone, and this resulting in snappiness and anger.

I would love to taste the sweet, clear water from this sea: drinkable light. What an interesting taste that would have. Maybe this transformative water echoes baptism.

Lewis returns to the idea of mixed, contrasting emotions. Here, the crew are ‘almost too well and strong to bear it’. They find they have developed the ability to cope with the dazzling light of the sun. This reminds me of ‘The Great Divorce’, where those who visit heaven on a trip from hell find the wonder around them painful and difficult to bear, but can overcome this as the move closer to the ‘divine’.

It seems most fitting that Narnia is a ‘flat’ world. It reflects older ideas about the world (chivalry, astronomy etc.) in many different ways. This is another. When I read it as a child I found the idea of a world you could sail over the edge of thrilling. Now, having read (and re-read) every Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, this reminds me of maps I’ve seen of that flat world. Maybe Narnia is held on the back of elephants balancing on turtles We’ll never know. Caspian’s misconception about our ’round’ world always amused me. Does anyone from Narnia ever get called into our world? Is the link only ever one way? If so, (which I believe to be the case) why?

As a child, I enjoyed this part of the story, but had no idea about the religious side of things. I just wished I’d seen mermaids and tasted light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter fourteen. The beginning of the End of the World.

Ramandu appears and explains what Caspian must do to break the enchantment. Birds appear and feed Ramandu. Caspian gives the crew a choice: stay on this island or sail to the end of the world.

Ramandu’s silver ‘glow’ echoes the silvery light emanating from Aslan earlier in the story. His general appearance and demeanor remind me of the Hermit of the Southern March in ‘The Horse and his Boy’. Were there really silver sheep somewhere, or was his robe reflecting his glow?

Once again, Lewis gives two seemingly contrasting or very different qualities to the same thing. Here, Ramandu is ‘mild’ but also ‘grave’.

Lewis was powerfully affected by music that he loved. Works such as Wagner’s Ring Cycle provoked intense emotional responses for him. Throughout the Chronicles, sounds, particularly voices and music, are described with words that not only convey tone, volume and so on, but also less ‘musical’ qualities.  Aslan’s voice and Susan’s horn are probably the best examples of this. Sounds can be sad, happy or something else entirely. Here the high song is also said to be ‘cold’ but ‘beautiful’.

Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’ argues that the underlying theme of the entire book is the Sun, and the qualities and properties ascribed to it by the medieval world. This chapter certainly strengthens his case. The sun becomes larger both in significance, as the herald of the world’s end, and physically.

We are told that for Edmund, of all the thrilling-sounding adventures, battles, monsters and magic encountered on the voyage, seeing the sun rise on Ramandu’s Island was the most exciting experience. For me, this corresponds with Lewis’ religious/spiritual beliefs and experiences. For people who believe in and feel that they are in some sort of communion with their God, this experience must be extremely powerful, but difficult to describe and not visible to other people. Maybe Edmund’s experience echoes this sort of response.

There are numerous religious references in this chapter. In the Bible, Elijah is brought food (bread and meat) morning and evening by ravens, just as Ramandu is brought food by the white birds. In another book of the Bible, Isaiah is brought a coal by a flying creature – in his case a seraphim – which is touched to his mouth. The coal cleanses him of his sin. Ramandu is fed a fire-berry from the sun (described as a ‘little live coal’) which rejuvenates him.

To be honest, the idea of birds landing all over me, and ‘picking clean’ a table I was going to eat from, did not appeal to me as a young reader. It still doesn’t.

Who carried Coriakin to this island? Why did they do it? Why this particular place? Are stars immortal? Can they die or do they all follow the same pattern as Coriakin? Did he have his daughter before or after he ‘set’?

A very popular quote from this chapter is: ”In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’ ‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” This encapsulates Lewis’ beliefs about the world around him – the world was not just the one of matter which he saw – there were elements beyond that. Similarly, he saw humans as more than meat, bone and biological impulse, he thought they had souls, too.

How does Ramandu know about our world? Has he heard about it? Or do stars possess some sort of magic which allows this? Is it because he was there when Aslan called Narnia into being, and there were humans there from our world? How does he know the travellers have met with Coriakin? Was he told, or is he able to work it out in some way?

I would love to know what Coriakin’s ‘sin’ was. What could a star do which was so wrong that it had to be removed from the sky? Do the stars in Narnia do other things apart from dance through the heavens? Do they have personal lives? And why was his punishment so strange: being sent to live in a remote but luxurious country house, with the tiresome Duffers as servants? Why did Lewis include this detail – why wasn’t Coriakin just a retired star, or a human magician or wise man?

We see here how much Caspian has grown as a leader and ‘politician’ from the previous book. He is much more kingly in his speech and his actions.

Is this the only occasion where Reepicheep is referred to as ‘Sir’? I can’t think of another.

If anyone else had made Reepicheep’s speech about getting to the East, it would sound silly, or boastful. With him, it is simply a statement of fact. You don’t doubt Reepicheep’s word.

What is it that Ramandu does to Lord Rhoop? Is it star-specific magic or something more general? Are all stars capable of healing?

I can’t find any reason why the man left behind was called ‘Pittencream’. It sounds like a medical preparation as much as anything. He is an example shown to us of what happens when you allow fear to prevent you from acting. It’s a depressing tale. He deludes himself about what his adventures consisted of, in a way familiar to readers of ‘The Screwtape Letters’.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter thirteen. The Three Sleepers.

Synopsis: The Dawn Treader reaches an island. They find a table set with a feast, where three men are sleeping. They realise that the men are the last three Narnian lords. A woman appears and explains what happened to them.

A common theme throughout the Chronicles is the coexistence or combination of apparently contradictory emotions. Here, Lucy looks at the unfamiliar constellations above her with ‘a mixture of joy and fear’.

It is at this point in the journey where the story becomes increasingly dreamlike. The weather becomes warm and  unchanging. The sea becomes calm. The sky appears larger, the stars nearer. When they reach an island, it is described using words like ‘gentle’ and ‘attractive’. Wherever they go on the island, the soft sound of waves breaking on the shore is in the background.

Ramandu’s table combines some different aspects of the story of St Breandan’s voyage. This is discussed in David Downing’s ‘Into the Wardrobe’.

Once again we are told about delicious food – this time ornate and extravagant: ‘flagons of gold’, ‘pies shaped like ships under full sail’, ‘peacock’. Apparently, similar feasts were a feature of life at Cair Paravel during the Golden Age. Pauline Bayne’s illustration (shown in this post) is reminiscent of Victorian cookbooks, with their extravagant puddings.

How much would hair and beards grow if left unchecked for seven years? Would it make a tangle like the three lords’ does here? Or is the island’s magic responsible?

For perhaps the last time in this book, we are reminded of the disadvantage Eustace is at, ‘having never read of such things … made it worse for him’.

How is a ‘sea cloak’ different from a normal cloak?

Ramandu’s daughter is never given a name. We know her by her relationships with her father, husband and son only. Was this intentional or an oversight? In the films made of the Narnia stories, she was given the name ‘Lilliandil’, which to me is reminiscent of the Elvish names created by Tolkien. We don’t know who her mother is, but presumably she wasn’t a star like Ramandu, as she herself isn’t described as a star. What happened to her? Does Ramandu’s daughter mind living on a completely isolated island with only her father? Has she always lived there?

What happened to the sailors who accompanied the three lords to this island? We are told they existed, but where did they go?

Why is the stone knife which killed Aslan being ‘kept in honour’ on a tabletop near the world’s end? What is the reason for this choice of location? Who brought it here?

‘You can’t know. You can only believe – or not,’ is a popular quote from this chapter, particularly with Christian Lewis fans. It pops up online quite regularly.

The table is set with food every day. Yet the island is only visited rarely – we only know of two instances in the last seven years. It seems a strange arrangement, particularly as Aslan is able to know who will visit the island, and when.

How does Caspian know the story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from our world? Who told him about it?