#Narniathon21: Farewell?

Durham Cathedral sanctuary knocker

The Chronicles of Narnia come to a conclusion with The Last Battle, a title which raises strong feelings in readers, not all of them good. And theoretically we come to an end with our #Narniathon21 – though as I’ve already indicated there is a chance to extend it, for those for whom the sudden dissipation of magic is too painful!

As with the previous titles in the septad I shall pose three questions for you to consider, though as usual you are free to ignore them in any comments you may wish to add below; either way, your reactions and opinions will be of huge interest – especially for this, often regarded as the most problematic of the Narniad.

There is no rush for you to join the discussion, particularly if you have yet to finish (or indeed to start) The Last Battle; but do, if you want, add links to your own reviews or discussions, or add pointers to related literature you’ve come across that may add to our appreciation and enjoyment!

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The heart’s desire

Red jasper ‘thet’-girdle amulet: to grant the protection of Isis. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Story of the Amulet
(third in the Psammead Trilogy)
by E Nesbit.
Illustrated by H R Millar.
Puffin Books 1999 (1906).

One summer holiday in the country four London siblings Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane discovered a strange creature, a Psammead or sand-fairy who granted wishes – a mixed blessing as they soon found out. The Christmas that followed found them lumbered with a Persian carpet and a Phoenix which got them into further scrapes.

Now it’s the next summer and they are staying in a London house owned by their old Nurse; left to their own devices, the heart’s desire of all four is to have their parents return home from abroad, one from reporting from the Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria, the other recuperating in Madeira. When the bored children start visiting shops selling caged animals they come across an old friend in dire straits who needs rescuing.

It is the Psammead, of course. And he has a plan to help each and every child achieve their heart’s desire.

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Jack and Daisy: #Narniathon21

Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Split, 1764

[Amabel] went straight to the Big Wardrobe and turned its glass handle. ‘I expect it’s only shelves and people’s best hats,’ she said. Of course it wasn’t hats. It was, most amazingly, a crystal cave, very oddly shaped like a railway station. It seemed to be lighted by stars…

E Nesbit, ‘The Aunt and Amabel’

Having previously reviewed The Magician’s Nephew (1955) – but in advance of a scheduled review of E Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet (1906) – I now want to discuss C S Lewis’s indebtedness, both generally and specifically, to his predecessor for not only details but also his general approach to the Chronicles of Narnia.

Not the least of his indebtedness is to Nesbit’s story ‘The Aunt and Amabel’ in The Magic World, in which a well-meaning little girl goes through a wardrobe to a place called Whereyouwantogoto and meets The People Who Understand – does this not sound a teensy bit familiar? I also want to enlarge a bit on aspects of the themes which Lewis introduces to The Magician’s Nephew that weren’t borrowed from Nesbit but yet which mattered enough for him to include in the novel. (When I say “a bit” it appears I mean “quite a lot”. Sorry about that.)

And here, as an aside, I shall just mention in passing other titles that play on aspects of Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet, namely Diana Wynne Jones’s The Homeward Bounders (1981) which heads in a very different direction from that which Lewis took, and Edward Eager’s Half Magic (1954) which while very much sharing Nesbit’s sympathy for the child also involves some North American children discovering a mysterious talisman not unlike the amulet.

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#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.

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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!

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Rich in themes: #Narniathon21

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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?

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#Narniathon21: equine friends

Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms
Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms (Sawrey Gilpin, 1769)

We’re really galloping through the Chronicles of Narnia in our Narniathon readalong, and have now arrived at the fifth published volume, The Horse and His Boy.

Below are the usual trio of prompt questions to get you started on a discussion … should you need them! Feel free to go off at a tangent if there are different points to raise or issues you want to discuss.

As ever I look forward to a lively response to this instalment, frequently cited as readers’ least favourite – but of course you may disagree and want to put up a spirited defence!

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Talking beasts: #Narniathon21

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A few special years

A selection of classics

1872, 1922, 1954. Three years. What do they have in common? They all feature in this post, for a start!

1872. A century and a half ago George Eliot’s Middlemarch was first published in book form, after being serialised by Blackwood magazine. I began this a year or so ago but got distracted, so I’m determined to get back to it this special year. How can I not read this, a classic that’s so highly regarded, not least by Virginia Woolf?

1922. A hundred years ago two particular writers were born whose work I want to explore this year. One was Kurt Vonnegut whose birthday in November I want to mark with a read of one or other of his titles; the other is Sam Youd — who’s better known as SF author John Christopher but also wrote under other names in other genres — and his centenary occurs this month.

1954. A week this month is being set aside to read a book or two from a more recent year, as part of a reading event called — not unnaturally — the 1954 Club. And the whole month is set aside for Reading the Theatre, so as it happens I have possible titles to pick for both of these events.

But have I bitten off more than I can chew? Interestingly, in March I managed to complete books for Reading Wales, Reading Ireland, March Magics, and Narniathon, so there may be hope!

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Throneless under earth: #Narniathon21

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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.

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#Narniathon21: the Lost Prince

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Esteemed Narniathoners, we are now at the halfway point in our readalong of the Chronicles of Narnia. The Silver Chair (1953) is the fourth published title in the septad of titles C S Lewis set in his portal world although, chronologically speaking, it’s actually the penultimate story.

You will, by now, have hopefully read The Silver Chair but, if not, never fear! It’s never too late to complete it and return here to add your comments.

As is usual, in this #Narniathon21 post I shall pose three general questions to get you started on a discussion — but of course it’s not compulsory to answer them! Feel free to state your thoughts or respond to others who’ve expressed themselves, for this is yet another tale rich with images, ideas and emotions. And don’t forget to link to your own posts and reviews.

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The Utter East: #Narniathon21

Illustration by Pauline Baynes

“Where sky and water meet, | Where the waves grow sweet … | There is the utter East.”

Chapter Two

I promised I’d discuss some of the possible influences on C S Lewis’s conception of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. You may remember that this instalment in The Chronicles of Narnia featured a journey by sea eastwards, ostensibly on a quest to locate seven missing Telmarine lords but which stopped at the World’s End before reaching Aslan’s country.

It is generally accepted that Lewis’s own Christianity played a large part in the symbolic import of the story: with Aslan as a parallel to Christ where else would he be found than in an Eden-like place to the east? That this would require some form of pilgrimage towards the dawn seems to be implied in Matthew’s gospel:

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Matthew 24:27, King James Version

But Lewis framed his Narnian pilgrimage to the east not as a trek but as a journey by sea; and he drew on a variety of exemplars from mythology, literature and history for the form and detail of his children’s fantasy. In this extended essay I want to mention a few of the concepts that fed into Lewis’s fictional odyssey.

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Dawn-treading: #Narniathon21

Everhardus Koster: Viking ships on the river Thames (1847)

The Dutch artist Everhardus Koster, who died in 1892, in 1847 painted a fanciful picture of Viking ships in the river Thames. This being a while before any sleek clinker-built Viking era vessels were scientifically excavated Koster’s imagined ships appear somewhat clunky, but at least they feature the familiar square sail and single mast, together with the animal head prows we know from the Oseberg longboat (a serpent’s head ornament found with other detached animal-head posts) and from depictions of Norman ships on the Bayeux tapestry.

What I find interesting though is the fact that their appearance closely resembles the illustrations that Pauline Baynes drew for C S Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952).

In this post for #Narniathon21 I want to say a bit about the sea journey undertaken by the Dawn Treader (this name somehow feels typical as a kenning for a ship of the early medieval period in Northern Europe); but I want to leave the kinds of sources and influences Lewis very likely drew on for his narrative to a later post.

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