Susan of Narnia: #Narniathon21

Illustration by Pauline Baynes

“Oh, Susan! She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”


“Grown-up, indeed. I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

Jill and Polly ¹

In successive books of the Narniad Susan Pevensie, Queen of Narnia, also known as Susan the Gentle and Susan of the Horn, slides from grace to such a degree that she is no longer considered a “friend of Narnia”. The consequence of this is that in The Last Battle she is not in the fatal train crash that ensures her siblings go “further up and further in” to enter the “true” Narnia.

In many ways this seems dreadfully unfair on the poor girl – not only is she not to know the joy of entering Aslan’s Country with the others, but she is to be left without a family. And this for many readers feels like a betrayal.

What is the reason Lewis denies Susan her reward at this stage, the culmination of his grand design? Do the persistent rumours, that he planned to write a further volume entitled Susan of Narnia, have any foundation in fact? Or is there a practical reason why she’s not on the roll call of the Friends of Narnia?

Continue reading “Susan of Narnia: #Narniathon21”

Twilight: #Narniathon21

WordPress Free Photo Library

For many readers The Last Battle in C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is either a triumph or a letdown. I’ve already given some of my thoughts on its successes and failures in a review, and intend later to look at Lewis’s vision of the world of Narnia as depicted in the previous six chronicles, before going on to that final Narnia which is further up and further in.

Lewis as usual draws his imagery and his themes from several sources: the Bible – of course – but also from myth and medieval cosmology, from history and archaeology, and from his favourite reading in childhood as well as academia.

In this post I intend discussing the aspects that naturally interest me, leaving those points that interest readers with a theological bent for them to expound on. In a future post, along with the several Narnias I’d like to examine the issue of the Pevensie child who never returned to Narnia and hopefully come to some conclusions regarding Susan; but now I want to consider Puzzle, Tash, and the end of Narnia.

Continue reading “Twilight: #Narniathon21”

#Narniathon21: the apple orchard

Louis Tiffany window design

It’s #Narniathon21 discussion time again, and we’re now considering the sixth Narniad title, The Magician’s Nephew (1955) even though this is now placed first in the chronological order publishers advertise.

You’ll know the drill now. I pose three general questions about the book. You either answer them or ignore them, should you choose to comment. You may also, whenever it suits, post a link to a review or discussion you’ve posted.  I’ll endeavour to respond to every one.

Then you have a month to read and consider The Last Battle, the last title to be published and the conclusion of the saga. If you’re having withdrawal symptoms there’s a further option to consider Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom to War Drobe, her adult response to her childhood obsession with the Narniad, including a detailed look at each of the titles.

Continue reading “#Narniathon21: the apple orchard”

A quicksilver tale: #Narniathon21

As I promised in a previous post I shall be examining the taint of alleged racism that C S Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy has acquired, and ascertaining if it’s justified. I also promised to look at the planetary aspect by which this novel is ruled, according to Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, namely Mercury, which seems to go towards determining Lewis’s overall schema for the Narniad.

But I shall start by also briefly (?) mentioning novels that reveal a glancing relationship with some of this novel’s characteristics.

Note that there’ll be spoilers. Also that most links here will take you to one of my reviews or threads. And now, farther up and farther in!

Continue reading “A quicksilver tale: #Narniathon21”

Rich in themes: #Narniathon21

WordPress Free Photo Library

Lewis mines material from his own huge learning, drawing on theology, Renaissance geography, myth, folktales, medieval writings, and even earlier children’s books…

Diana Wynne Jones (2012:48)

Where fans of Narnia are concerned The Horse and His Boy (1954) doesn’t rate as highly among their favourites as others in the series (though usually, it must be admitted, higher than The Last Battle). For many this instalment has issues surrounding racial and/or cultural stereotypes, intermixed with disappointment for some that the expected protagonists take a back seat in the narrative and the action.

However, in common with the previously published titles The Horse and His Boy is rich in themes and motifs which C S Lewis borrowed freely from literature, mythology and folklore.

In this, perhaps overlong, post I want to consider some of these influences, leaving discussion of the issues and of Lewis’s overarching schema to another time. Is it needful to say then that there will be plenty of spoilers ahead?

Continue reading “Rich in themes: #Narniathon21”

Talking beasts: #Narniathon21

WordPress Free Photo Library

The Horse and His Boy
by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2009 (1954).

With its quizzical title – how exactly does an equine creature somehow own a boy? – the fifth book in the Narnia sequence proves itself a bit of a puzzle but, luckily, also offers unsought delights, unspotted during a first read. How unspotted? Probably because mild prejudice blinded me as to this instalment’s merits.

And that prejudice? Twofold, I think: as a first-time adult Narniad reader I could only see painful proselytising and xenophobic slights; now I have a more nuanced view of the text, one where I switch back and forth between young and old eyes, revealing a novel which is more deserving of my admiration than derision.

The puzzle of course comes with an opening where, unexpectedly, we don’t start with youngsters from 1940s England but are thrown straight into a story seemingly straight out of the Arabian Nights. Reader, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Narnia anymore.

Continue reading “Talking beasts: #Narniathon21”

The wild lands: #Narniathon21

Hay-on-Wye castle gate © C A Lovegrove

In a companion post (following a review) I discussed the basic plot structure as well as some literary and mythological influences on C S Lewis’s Narnian tale The Silver Chair. I then promised I’d talk a bit about the emotions and ideals I’d detected behind this instalment of the saga.

I’ll focus on a few of the characters who are likely to elicit – or even repel – our sympathies, and consider the messages Lewis may have been overtly, as well as covertly, trying to get across. Along the way I’d also like to consider the influence of the Moon in The Silver Chair, bearing in mind that it’s been plausibly theorised that Lewis quietly set each of the chronicles under the sign of one of the seven traditional ‘planets’ in medieval cosmology, with the moon assigned to this instalment.

So let us, like Eustace and Jill, open the door in the high stone wall at the top of the shrubbery in the youngsters’ school grounds and emerge from out of our whole world into That Place.

Continue reading “The wild lands: #Narniathon21”

Northernness: #Narniathon21

Illustration by Stephen Lavis for the Diamond Books edition of The Silver Chair

For at the top of the shrubbery was a high stone wall and in that wall a door in which you can get out in to open moor. […] But when the door actually opened, they both stood stock still. For what they saw was quite different from what they had expected.

Chapter One

Now, after reviewing C S Lewis’s portal fantasy The Silver Chair (1953), I want to dedicate a couple of posts to discussing two related aspects: the emotions and philosophies which a reading reveals, and — for this post — the kinds of influences that may have been absorbed by the novel.

The Cambridge University chair in Medieval and Renaissance English — a professorship in English literature — was especially created in 1954 for Lewis, a year after this novel appeared. I won’t even attempt to compete with the range and quality of the texts this erudite scholar would have known and loved, instead identifying from my limited reading the literary resonances and form that I believe can be detected in The Silver Chair.

If my discussion seems a bit random or episodic that’s because it is, as suits a There and Back Again tale. Warning: there are spoilers galore coming up.

Continue reading “Northernness: #Narniathon21”

Throneless under earth: #Narniathon21

WordPress Free Photo Library

The Silver Chair by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Diamond Books 1997 (1953).

‘Though under Earth and throneless now I be,
Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me.’

Chapter Ten

After escaping bullies two children from a coeducational school in 1940s Britain find themselves in a strange and extraordinarily vivid land — only to then be blown off a high cliff. They are to be sent on a quest to find a lost prince, but it will require inner resources, courage and imagination to achieve the quest, and it all hangs in the balance if they don’t recognise the signs they’ve been given.

The theme of The Quest may be a staple of myth, fairytale and fantasy but it has its strengths and weaknesses as a narrative driver. If the quest isn’t achieved it runs the risk of disappointment for the audience; if it is too easily accomplished it may seem preordained; only if there is a sense of peril and uncertainty can we feel that the task may have been a worthwhile one.

The Silver Chair (it seems to me) aims to fulfill the third of the criteria, but there are inklings of the first two which could potentially ruin one’s enjoyment of the story as a whole. And yet there is much that satisfies in terms of characterisation, drama and mythic resonances which may well overcome potential stumbling blocks to whole-hearted acceptance of this episode in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Continue reading “Throneless under earth: #Narniathon21”

All at sea: #Narniathon21

The Dark Island by Pauline Baynes

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Puffin Books 1965 (1952)

When an author takes many of their childhood obsessions — and not a few of their adult ones too — and stirs them around in the cauldron of their imagination they may well produce a dish similar to that which Lewis has concocted for us here. Some may consider it a mess of pottage, others a culinary triumph, but there’s no doubting that there is richness here, drawing on many different and mostly complementary flavours.

As he did in Prince Caspian Lewis plunges us in medias res with a call to adventure, the context for which we are told in a backstory. The fact that, after a brief preamble, that call requires three youngsters to be summarily thrust into the middle of an ocean is daring enough; that there is a ship conveniently passing by proves fortunate; and that from the start there is conflict to be resolved is sufficient to entice us to join the youngsters in their unexpected dunking.

If what follows may at first be seen as a series of random episodes, it soon becomes clear that there are patterns to be discerned and processes to be revealed as the voyage of many weeks and leagues wends its way towards a final goal. And we may be sure that, as this is Narnia, Aslan will be coming back into the picture.

Continue reading “All at sea: #Narniathon21”

#Narniathon21: the World’s End, and beyond

The picture in the bedroom, by Pauline Baynes

It’s time for the next stage in our exploration of C S Lewis’s Narnia, but now we are no longer in the company of Peter and Susan. Instead, it’s just Edmund and Lucy returning, with the addition on this trip of Eustace Clarence Scrubbs (whose middle and last names, note, have the initials of the author’s own forenames).

No horn-call this time however, nor even a wardrobe: it’s a picture in a bedroom that provides the portal in this Narniathon, now that we’ve reached the third of C S Lewis’s chronicles. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader first appeared in 1952 following on from Prince Caspian the year before. As is the established pattern I am posing three general questions which you can answer or evade, depending on whatever you may be bursting to say.

And as ever, feel free to to share here and elsewhere on social media your thoughts or your reviews, your favourite quotes or your photos, remembering to include the hashtag #Narniathon21 to let like-minded readers in on it all.

Continue reading “#Narniathon21: the World’s End, and beyond”

Narnia revisited

Cair Paravel, by Pauline Baynes

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Puffin Books 1962 (1951)

It is a year after the events in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and  Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter are waiting at a train station to go to their respective boarding schools for the summer term. Suddenly they find themselves in a thicket, and after extricating themselves from that they discover that they’re on an island amid some castle ruins.

Clearly they’re back in the magical world of Narnia — but why and, in particular, when? Because they soon work out that this is Cair Paravel where they reigned as sovereign queens and kings, but the castle’s ruinous state suggests that much time has passed, certainly more than the year since they’d been evacuated to the Professor’s house back (we may assume) in 1940, or even 1944.

And then they see a boat with two soldiers in chainmail about to drown a dwarf, and by rescuing him they are precipitated into a sequence of actions when they hear the story of Prince Caspian and the dire straits he and the Old Narnians are in.

Continue reading “Narnia revisited”

#Narniathon21: Back to Narnia

© C A Lovegrove

Narniathoners! Here we are again, with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy back on Narnia soil, called back by the sounding of Susan’s horn. But all is not as it should be, is it, as the Pevensie children soon find out after emerging from a thicket.

Our Narniathon now takes us to the second of C S Lewis’s chronicles, Prince Caspian, published in 1951 a year after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As before I shall pose three general questions which you can answer or evade, depending on what you may want to say.

And as ever, feel free to to share here and elsewhere on social media your thoughts or your reviews, your favourite quotes or your photos, remembering to include the hashtag #Narniathon21 to let like-minded readers in on it all.

Continue reading “#Narniathon21: Back to Narnia”

#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.

Continue reading “#Narniathon21: Through the door”

#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.

WordPress Free Photo Library