March 16, 2010

Some Comments on Narnia

Lucy first enters the wardrobe because "she likes nothing more than the touch of fur." Later, when she and Susan are walking beside Aslan as he goes to his death, he allows them to do what they'd always wanted: place their hands in his mane.

Prince Caspian is the worst of the seven books. One theme running through it is that of belief: the Narnians have forgotten about their heritage; Trumpkin doesn't believe in Aslan (or the Pevensies); only Lucy sees Aslan at first when he appears. It's as if Lewis is trying to regain the belief in his imagination that sustained The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was the book he needed to write to get to the sublime Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In the opening chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we are informed three times how dangerous it is to close a wardrobe door behind us (this struck me very strongly as a child). Lucy and Peter leave it open, but Edmund closes it. Lewis seems to be indicating that Edmund's trials within the wardrobe are somehow linked to closing the door. But this doesn't pan out.

In the forums at Into the Wardrobe, someone has posited a theory that the Pevensies are descended from the royal house of Charn. It goes something like this: Uncle Andrew's great-aunt Lefay had in her possession a box of dust from the Wood Between the Worlds. It is mentioned that one of the other people in England with fairy blood was a duchess. At the end of The Magician's Nephew, Digory's father inherits a large house in the country (from the duchess?). Thus, the Pevensies possibly have fairy blood from two sources, which the theorist suggests is really a link to Charn!

Nuggets of Narnian wisdom: Never shut yourself into a wardrobe. It is a serious business to invite a centaur over for a meal. Always remember to wipe your sword. Even the stars in our world are not what they appear to be made of. Most people are dead. If you fall overboard, kick off your shoes. No one is told what would have happened.

The Silver Chair is almost like a mirrored Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Many elements are the same, though reversed, or "upside-down": A boy (and the "bad" boy, Eustace) has been to Narnia first, and brings the girl in. Rather than entering the middle of Narnia, they enter beyond the end of the world, in Aslan's country. Their dour helper, Puddleglum, is the opposite of the cheery beavers and flute-playing Tumnus. Many scenes take place at night. The end of the book takes place underground. The piece of furniture in the title is a prison, rather than a means of liberation. The witch is not "white" but "green." When they emerge from the witch's underground domain, it is into a scene much like the one Lucy first saw in Narnia: faun, snow. At the end of the book, they watch Caspian become younger.

Extraordinary fruit: The berries the birds bring on Ramandu's Island, and that Lucy's cordial is made from, are fire-berries from the sun. Golg wants them to taste "living diamonds and rubies" in Bism. The fruit in Aslan's country would make "the most melting pear taste woody." The children live on apples when they first return to Narnia in Prince Caspian. Jadis eats of the apple in The Magician's Nephew, and it gives her eternal life. A "child" of one of these apples saves Digory's mother. And a seed from this "child" grows into the tree from whose wood the wardrobe will be made.

In Prince Caspian, Doctor Cornelius describes dwarfs "shaving off their beards and wearing high heels" in order to evade the Telmarines. Sounds like they might have had issues other than their height.

There are a number of differences between the older U.S. and British editions. These were made by Lewis when the first U.S. edition came out. For example, Maugrim becomes Fenris Ulf in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Jadis's world, Charn, has an older, colder sun than ours. Thus it makes sense that, when she ruled Narnia as the White Witch, she would be very pale-skinned and create a world where it was always winter.

Neil Gaiman has written a story, "The Problem of Susan," about a woman remembering her siblings who were killed in a train crash. It also examines the issue of centaur sex.

The sardines on toast Tumnus serves: who tins these? Is there a sardine-tinning factory run by dwarfs? Or are they imported from Calormen?

One can pass some amusing minutes imagining encounters of various Narnian inhabitants: Father Christmas meets Tash, Bacchus meets the Sea Serpent . . .

On the subject of Father Christmas: it is clear that Christmas, at least in Narnia, has nothing to do with the date. Does this mean that the Witch, in doing away with seasonal changes, also somehow froze time?

Wikipedia informs us that a "Narnian" is a moniker for a gay person who is deep in the closet.

The Narnia books draw on a vast number of sources, including Greek mythology, Plato, George Macdonald (an acknowledged influence), and others. A couple other interesting sources are E.M. Forster's short stories and John Masefield's wonderful, wonderful The Box of Delights. In Forster's "The Story of a Panic," a horrible, lazy boy named Eustace blows a whistle in an Italian landscape, and unwittingly summons Pan (a faun). By the end of the story, Eustace is transformed. The Box of Delights, which was also a major influence on T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone and Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, contains characters named Peter and Susan. At one point, a rhyme advises the protagonist, Kay, not to blow a hunting-horn. ("He that dares blow must blow me thrice/Or feed th'outrageous cockatrice.") Over Susan's protestations, he blows the horn, and "the beautiful people in the portraits stepped down into the room." The King of the Fairies says, "The long enchantment has been brought to an end." Very similar to the scene with the bell in Charn.

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