#Narniathon21: Tales of Narnia

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By way of extending our Narniathon for those who felt bereft after The Last Battle I suggested readers seek out Katherine Langrish‘s excellent study From Spare Oom to War Drobe, subtitled ‘Travels in Narnia with my Nine Year-Old Self.’

As you might guess, this then is “a personal reading of the Seven Chronicles, blending literary criticism with memories of childhood passion for the world of Narnia.” It discusses each of the instalments in chronological order and compares responses in childhood with those we might have as an adult.

As before I give readers the option – should they so choose, Mission: Impossible style – of answering three questions in the comments below, but feel free to add your thoughts on aspects you’d rather talk about.

Illustration by Pauline Baynes
  1. Katherine was already writing her fan fiction during her pre-teen years in response to the Narniad. Have you ever been tempted to write your own fanfic to this or any other title that made an impression on you? Or indeed prompted any creative response?
  2. The author has studied myths, legends and folklore for many years and had her own fiction published, and so is able to show how Lewis drank deep from the Cauldron of Story. Have her many examples and parallels of Lewis’s literary borrowings detracted from or enriched your admiration of his achievement?
  3. “C. S. Lewis changed my life,” she acknowledges in the Afterword. Has involvement in this readathon – and reading Spare Oom of course – changed your life in any way, however small?
Cair Paravel by Pauline Baynes

And that, sadly, is it! There’ve been around 450 interactions on posts here, from answers and commentaries to links and more, which has been brilliant. I’ve already thanked the many who’ve encouraged me, joined in conversations, reviewed and commented elsewhere regarding this Narniathon so I won’t repeat myself, but I will say I’m hugely grateful for all those who’ve stayed the course and ensured this has been one of more enjoyable projects I’ve been involved in. Onwards and upwards!


My own review of Spare Oom is here, for those who may have missed it. Now, I understand Annabel at Annabookbel is planning to read Susan Cooper’s fantasy sequence of five novels The Dark is Rising over the coming months: if she announces anything I’ll add a note here if you think you might like to join her. (See her comment below with the announcement.)

I will have a couple of thoughts to add to those I’ve posted during the #Narniathon21 so this mayn’t be the last time this image appears. And if you too have things to add on social media don’t forget to use the (hash)tag!

Coincidentally, today (29th July 2022) the Guardian reviewed a new stage version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, London: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2022/jul/29/the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-review-gillian-lynne-theatre-london

36 thoughts on “#Narniathon21: Tales of Narnia

  1. Firstly, The Dark is Rising readalong is on! I’ll be posting sometime in the second half of each month. Anyone is welcome to join in.

    Now to your questions:
    1. I wrote a lot of stories (and poems) as a child, but they were usually thrillers/adventures rather than fantasy – I suspect Enid Blyton and later Willard Price and Tintin had a lot to do with that.
    2. Definitely! I do love to discover more about the themes and references in novels, especially mythological and folkloric ones. I’ve bought Langrish’s book of essays on fairy tales now to read.
    3. Yes! I too found re-reading the Narnia books as an adult very enriching indeed. It has also awakened in me a need to include more children’s classics in my reading, both new to me and re-reads – hence The Dark is Rising which I didn’t get to as a child, and after that I’d like to keep it up at one book a month.

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    1. Fantastic to hear about TDiR readalong, Annabel – I have my set in a uniform edition ready and waiting! Children’s classics are one of the genres that always find a place in my reading, as I believe the best are those one can never grow out of.

      Did you keep your childhood adventure stories? And what an interesting trio of influences, I wonder how they melded together.

      Katherine’s steel thistles book has been on my wishlist for a while, her essays posted on the related website are always a joy to read.

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        1. That kind of incident was at the core of many stories then, wasn’t it, and especially kids TV series like ‘Lassie’ and ‘Rin Tin Tin’, and I remember having similar daydreams. Good though that you’ve still got your poems and drawings – I started a Treasure Island type story set in Bristol but after my parents had a bit of a snigger about it I gave up on writing and stuck to reading comics…

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  2. Pingback: Announcing the Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising Sequence Readalong #TDiRS22 – Annabookbel

    1. Thanks Annabel for details of The Dark is Rising readalong, especially the posting schedule (the first post of which I see is on my birthday!). That #TDiR22 hashtag will be one to look out for… 🙂

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  3. Oh, I’m glad there will be a further readalong to join!

    Wrapping up this one with your questions:
    1. I never wrote “fan fiction” as such, I would not dream of invading the space of my favorite books/authors with my paltry contributions. That seemed too far beyond me, I suppose. But I did write very derivative stories of my own in the high fantasy vein. All long lost, thankfully!
    2. The tracing of influences was one of the most interesting things about the Langrish book, for me. An annotated Narnia edition that could skip the plot summary and just add lots and lots of notes would be ideal.
    3. I agreed heartily with Langrish’s statement about Narnia changing her life, and while this read-through didn’t exactly have the same impact, it did remind me of what I still and always find to be of lasting value and influence about the books — as well as some things I wish were not in there, but still don’t outweigh the good parts in my experience.

    Thanks again Chris, and see you soon in magical Cornwall!

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    1. Only the sunny confidence of a 9 year-old could have prompted me to try my hand at writing Narnia stories, Lory! (That, plus my desperate longing to read *more* about Narnia,in some way to ‘inhabit’ Narnia.) I enjoyed myself, I remember, but I discovered that writing a story was a very different experience from reading one. But I’ve thought since that fan-fiction, at least for children, isn’t a bad way to get into writing: rather as art students used to be encouraged to sit in galleries and copy Old Masters, they learn, by imitation, some of the technique.

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      1. And, when I was learning cuntrapuntal technique, when I was encouraged, nay, told to copy what composers like Palestrina and Bach did before essaying my own sad efforts at canons and fugues!

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      2. I think it’s great to write “extensions” to one’s favorite stories as long as it’s enjoyable, and good practice indeed. I definitely know about that longing to inhabit the world of Narnia. Thanks for all the thoughtful commentary in your book, I really appreciated it.

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    2. Derivative or not, independent writing of any kind at that age is so important, isn’t it, whether a diary, fiction, reviews, poetry.

      I too would appreciate annotated versions of certain works of fiction, but encyclopaedias, atlases and essay collections suit me equally. Katherine’s book was actually a spur for me to reread the books after absolutely disliking the series when I read it all the way through as an adult.

      While I’ll still be lingering in Narnia a little longer with another post or review, I’m also packing my bags to join the Drews in Cornwall!

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  4. I sadly haven’t managed t find a copy of this yet, but am going ahead and responding to some of your questions.

    I haven’t ever tried my hand at fan fiction, but that may be something to do with the fact that I don’t in general get on with stories written about favourite characters or series by other authors so at some level that would apply to myself too. But if I do like a book, I write about it, and perhaps would like to explore it in within that frame. The closest I’ve come to fan fiction is starting a mystery story featuring Gridley Quayle, detective, a fictional detective that Freddy Threepwood used to read, but I didn’t get very far. Perhaps some day.

    Re the third question, one change has been looking at any similar children’s literature I read from the lens of the Narnia, elements that could have been an inspiration or are just similar in either direction.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I do hope you get to locate a copy to read, Mallika, but if not no worries—you’ve been very assiduous in joining in everything else so you’re excused!

      Your response to the notion of fanfic is similar to mine, in that I’d rather explore the work in question as a text, or come at it from a new direction. I also have a fear of writing a parody of a favourite work instead of a homage, and that would be disrespectful of course!

      And again as with you I’m finding that the more I look in detail at classics like Narnia, the more I see links and parallels with themes, plots, characters, approaches and so on in other works – and not just children’s fiction.

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  5. 1. I had no impulses to write anything as a child, and as an adult I’ve only wanted to work on my own ideas (one unpublished middle grade novel, several works-in-progress). The voice of the original author is part of what I relish. I have seldom enjoyed “written with” sequels, let alone same-characters-new-writers; there are a few exceptions (maybe some of the Sherlock Holmes continuations?) but fanfic is not for me.
    2. I loved the way Spare Oom traced and highlighted Lewis’ allusions, which definitely enriched my experience. However, like Lory, I think an annotated edition rather than the detailed re-telling of each book might be ideal – although this way had its own charms!
    3. Even though the Chronicles were among my favorite books, I wouldn’t flat-out say they changed my life – all of my reading put together did, and they were an important part, but not sui generis. Revisiting them in this fashion has been a highlight of the year, though, and I hope to join AnnaBookBel’s Dark is Rising read-along.

    Thanks again for this wonderful journey, Chris!

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    1. Oh, good points, Hilary, especially on taking up another writer’s mantle. There’s fanfic … but also there’s literary fanfic, isn’t there. I think Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s ‘prequel’ to Jane Eyre, stands on its own merits (despite taking some liberties with chronology), and Hag Seed, Atwood’s entertaining metafictional re-envisioning of ‘The Tempest’, also counts as fanfic of the highest order. But I admit they’re not what we assume amateur or childhood fan fiction resembling, arising from a desire to extend the experience of living in a fictional world (like, say, Hogwarts) which, if one’s not careful, can too easily border on unwitting parody.

      But I love annotated editions, as some of the Oxford World’s Classics are, or Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice, much as I appreciate atlases of LOTR or guides to His Dark Materials. Langrish’s work I think is intended as an invitation to revisit Narnia with new eyes, perhaps after a period of many years, for which I found her plot synopses a great help. And of course her book directly led me to be willing to run this readathon, from which I’ve gained as much as I hope other readers have!

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      1. That’s a huge compliment, Chris! Thankyou. And yes it’s interesting to consider some of the spin-off’ works by writers who’ve been inspired to investigate characters like Bertha Rochester, nee Mason, who were subsidiary in the original books. Wide Sargasso Sea is surely a classic in its own right. On a less exalted level I recently read Joan Aiken’s “Jane Fairfax” (subtitled ‘A Companion Volume to Emma’). Aiken is not Austen, but her pastiche of Emma slanted from Jane’s point of view was worth reading: it delved into Jane and Emma’s shared childhood, and was done with wit and verve.

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        1. So well deserved, Katherine! Speaking of spin-offs, I’ve had a copy of Jane Fairfax for a while, and meant to read it after Emma but never did. Having watched three dramatisations of Austen’s novel – the TV serial and now the two films – I almost feel I’ve had my fill of Highbury society. But as I’ve also Aiken’s Mansfield Revisited to read I shall be manfully shouldering my spin-off burdens in due course!

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  6. Thank you, Chris. This Narniathon has been an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
    Your questions have given me pause for thought.

    1. Yes, children’s books did prompt me to write stories when I was very young, influenced more by Blyton and the like I think. Narnia felt too special to me to attempt any recreation I think!

    2. The reference to folklore and other literature in Katherine Langrish’s book has most definitely enriched the reading experience and I’m tempted to read more around Lewis and his writings now. In fact I think I will be savouring some of the books again before long this time with an added understanding.

    3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was definitely the book that encouraged me to be a ‘proper reader’. It was the first time I felt true emotion prompted by a story and Lewis certainly made me care. I was utterly convinced that Narnia existed and the whole series is wrapped up with memories of the special people who gave me the books. So much did this affect my view of the books that I was reluctant to re-read them as an adult in case it spoiled the magic. Quite the opposite has happened thanks to the fascinating discussions, you have prompted. It’s been like travelling back in time but in a good way. Thank you.

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    1. Lewis really does make his readers care – doesn’t he just! I’m still genuinely moved by many passages in the books – Aslan’s death and resurrection, the breathtaking moment when Lucy *almost* brings the trees to life in ‘Prince Caspian’, Reepicheep disappearing over the crest of the wave at the edge of the world…

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    2. What a delight it’s been to know that so many bloggers like you have appreciated this chance to revisit Narnia, Anne, and to find much that they may have missed on previous visits, and also to know my broad questions have allowed for ruminations that they might never have had.

      Good too for me to have confirmed that readers are inspired to be writers from an early age, all contributing to the building of the imaginative literary labyrinth that we yearn to lose ourselves in. And if books like LWW encourage us to care for others and what happens to them, what’s not to like?

      Quite a few readers have recommended Lewis’s Till We Have Faces as a good title to read, one of his best fictions and with its use of Greek myth just the sort of material that, in your words, “enriches the reading experience.” I think that’ll be my next look at his work, rather than his short fiction, some unfinished (such as ‘The Dark Tower’), that I was going to go on to reread.

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            1. Yes, I saw this post was up, thanks, and had a quick skim of it, making a mental note to read it properly after I’d finished the Lewis. And, of course, you’re adding another push to me getting on with it, aren’t you! 😁

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    1. Yes, a pity you missed it, Constance, but you fitted in so much else, I’m so impressed but also envious! And also envious you have Cooper nearby – she must be in her 80s now, I guess – so a good author to follow Lewis with.

      Pleased you managed to get a copy of the Langrish and found it worthwhile, as I see from your review. I comment on your thoughtful post presently! 🙂

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  7. Cooper is very friendly but I was a bit tongue-tied both times when I met her. A pity! I have not reread them nearly as often as Narnia but I can probably be coaxed into a reread.

    I realize I have never read Till We Have Faces! I did like the first two books of the Space Trilogy but seem to recall not liking That Hideous Strength.

    Thanks for your post on Spare Oom on my blog!

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    1. I’m pleased you got something out of Spare Oom, Constance, and I hope it helped to round off your reread of the sequence. My next Lewis read will *definitely* be Till We Have Faces – I think! I’m reluctant to revisit the Space Trilogy though I probably got more out of That Hideous Strength than you did, mainly because of the Arthurian influences.

      I’m well into my third read of Over Sea, Under Stone and have glanced at the final volume as we’re staying in Aberdyfi soon for a week where, as you know, some of the action is set; I’m guessing you’ve already explored the area on some visit or other… 🙂

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