#Narniathon21: Through the door

Pauline Baynes

You will by now — I hope! — have completed your first (re)visit to Narnia for this #Narniathon21 event by reading and thinking about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first published title in the series of what’s variously become known as the Narniad or the Chronicles of Narnia.

As promised, I’m going to pose three general questions as a spur to your discussion in the comments section below, which you can either answer or ignore as you choose — though I hope you will have lots to say with or without my prompts!

My three questions will centre around three themes — magic, allegory, and character — but feel free to range beyond these if you so wish.

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#Narniathon21 begins

#Narniathon21 image after Pauline Baynes

On this, the last Friday of the month (and three days short of C S Lewis‘s birthday on 29th November) the start of #Narniathon21 is officially announced: the wardrobe door is now open!

As previously noted, we’ll be reading all seven titles of The Chronicles of Narnia in publication order, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950). You will have a month to read each title at your own speed, in your own time, until the last Friday of the corresponding month when you’ll be invited to comment. Here’s the schedule:

  • December. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  • January. Prince Caspian.
  • February. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
  • March. The Silver Chair.
  • April. The Horse and His Boy.
  • May. The Magician’s Nephew.
  • June. The Last Battle.
  • July. Optional read: From Spare Oom to War Drobe by Katherine Langrish.

At the end of the month you’ll be invited to join a conversation here — and also on Twitter — about that month’s instalment. If you find yourself at a loss as to where to begin, I’ll pose three general questions which you can either respond to or ignore, as you wish—this readalong is designed to be an enjoyable experience, not an examination! (But in the meantime feel free to add initial thoughts below.)

Two more points: as the last Friday in December happens to be New Year’s Eve (when you may have other things on your mind!) that month’s summative post will be on Thursday 30th December.

Secondly, roughly midway through each month I shall aim to post (or repost) a review of a related title or discuss a topic which touches on an aspect of that month’s selected title. As always the tag #Narniathon21, with or without the hash, may alert you to that post, principally on Twitter if you don’t already follow this blog.

And now all that remains is to remind you how it all started so innocuously:

Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.

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Are you up for a Narniathon?

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After I posted a review of Katherine Langrish’s excellent From Spare Oom to War Drobe one blogger expressed the thought “how wonderful a group read of the Narniad followed by Langrish’s book would be!” She teasingly added “Host it, Chris, host it next year!” And then another blogger joined in… Thanks so much, Laurie and Sandra, I hope you’re not offering me what could turn out a poisoned chalice!

Well, as leery as I am of potentially onerous commitments here I am actually contemplating it. Who knew? So what form should it take? When should it start? Which of the Chronicles of Narnia should a readalong begin with? And would any bloggers be interested in joining in?

I haven’t run a poll in quite a while so you lucky people will be treated to a short series now. To get you focused I’m borrowing a title previously used on social media (for, I think, watching screen adaptations of the series), namely Narniathon — short, precise and hopefully memorable.

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Farther up, farther in

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From Spare Oom to War Drobe:
travels in Narnia with my nine year-old self,
by Katherine Langrish,
introduction by Brian Sibley.
Darton, Longman & Todd, 2021

C. S. Lewis changed my life. He certainly influenced the way I thought, though it didn’t quite work out as you might imagine.

From the Afterword.

In a way that doesn’t quite apply to Middle-earth, Narnia’s magic seems to affect adults and children quite differently. And adults who only read C S Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia in childhood tend to report a nostalgic delight, unlike readers like me, who only became acquainted with them in later life, and whose visits have proved rather more troublesome and even disturbing.

Katherine Langrish has done both, the initial visits and the later return, and this (along with being an accomplished writer herself) puts her in a good position to provide this guide for readers of more mature years. She began honing her skills as a writer with what we’d now call fanfic, eagerly writing her own Tales of Narnia, so when she subtitles her book ‘travels in Narnia with my nine year-old self’ she attempts that difficult balancing trick of simultaneously imagining herself at that impressionable age while observing from her adult perspective.

That she succeeds is of huge benefit for her readers if, like me, one is persuaded to both see with the eyes of one of the target audience and also observe with the mind of the adult critic. Like before and after photos placed side by side of a slightly decrepit house in the process of restoration one is able to see the details of the original building as well as the work done in revealing its materials and structure, all before it’s reassembled into an edifice fit for purpose and a new lease of life.

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In the beginning

The ruins of Charn (Pauline Baynes)

The Magician’s Nephew
by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Fontana Lions 1980 (1955)

In this, the penultimate Narnian chronicle to be published, C S Lewis describes how Narnia came to be. The Magician’s Nephew is set around 1900, the heyday of Sherlock Holmes and Edith Nesbit’s Bastable family adventures, in a suburban London street perhaps similar to Nesbit’s Lewisham (the place recalling the Narnia author’s own surname). Here Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke make friends in a walled garden behind a house terrace before explorations down a secret attic passage lead them in unexpected directions.

There can be few readers who haven’t read, or at least heard of, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, even if they’ve only encountered the first (and possibly the best) instalment, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Less familiar perhaps is the genesis of this world, and The Magician’s Nephew fills in these details admirably.

Biblical imagery is mingled with motifs drawn from classical mythology (such as winged horses) and some overt moralising, all leavened with attempts at humour; but to me what comes over strongest in a second reading is a depiction of different aspects of human love.

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