The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis, 1950 – 1956

I was just going to add notes to the listings in the monthly round-up (November and December 2019), but they started getting long! Looks like I last re-read these 18 months ago, which is probably a typical interval for me over my lifetime as I love them so much. For such short books it’s amazing how they still elicit new reactions and thoughts

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1950. I craved making Mr. Tumnus’ tea—I thought the sugar-topped cake would be a pound cake, but most of the recipes dreamed up online are more of a fruit cake. I might make the cinnamon tea cake here and dig into some of those other posts!
  • Prince Caspian, 1951
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952
  • The Silver Chair, 1953. This time around I noticed how the suspense often resolves quickly, not the typical ratcheting-up, things-get-worse-and-worse techniques I associate with modern fiction (even for children). Near the end, this little drama happens in one paragraph: “The tide was running up the valley like a mill-race, and if it had come to swimming, the horses could hardly have won over. But it was still only a foot or two deep, and though it swished terribly round the horses’ legs, they reached the far side in safety.” And earlier, when the witch-snake almost overpowers Rilian, similarly it’s wrapped up in one page. The suspense still works but it’s not gory or drawn out. It reminded me of Lucy resisting the temptation to cast the “become the most beautiful” spell in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the world of Narnia our protagonists encounter perils and make wrong choices without the worst quite happening. It makes sense that Lewis wrote Perelandra, an Eve story with a happy ending.
  • The Horse and His Boy, 1954. Calormen is clearly larger and more populous than Narnia. It took a long time for the Narnia-centrism (beyond the general racism) to jump out to me, partly I suppose because Narnia is cognate to England and that cultural viewpoint is the water I’ve been bathed in since childhood. On the mostly accurate charges of sexism and racism, Devin Brown tries to marshall a defense of Lewis, but it goes deeper than he admits. [note from future (Jan 2020) reading: Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book nails it]
  • The Magician’s Nephew, 1955. Same thought writ large: this is the creation story of “Narnia” (ie this whole world and possibly universe), with Aslan singing the very mountains into existence—but what about all the other lands/nations we’ve encountered: Archenland, Calormen, the Lone Islands, even Bism deep in the earth…?
  • The Last Battle, 1956. Again the end of Narnia-the-world is centered on Narnia-the-tiny-country. But on the good side, I noticed afresh how important this book was to me in shaping my ability to identify and avoid/deflect a certain kind of person. The monkey Shift manipulates his friend Puzzle the donkey by playing the martyr, telling him he’s doing things “for your sake,” asserting his special ability to do or know certain things. My impression is that Shift must be modeled on Mrs. Moore (a very interesting aspect of Lewis’ life, although there’s plenty of controversy about her character), but I only find references to her inspiring the “all-I-want” woman in The Screwtape Letters. Lucy defends Puzzle against those who blame him for going along with Shift (bringing disaster), but the text is ambiguous enough that I took away the need to develop and trust your instincts. Combined with the storyline of Emeth (the Calormen soldier who’s told that his sincerity in searching for truth meant that he was really a follower of Aslan rather than Tash), The Last Battle actually contributed to my religious skepticism/atheism.

Someday I want to write an essay about Narnia and Christianity—a topic that’s been explored in depth by many, but I’ve never seen my take fully represented. That will entail yet another re-read. I’m already looking forward to it!

One thought on “The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis, 1950 – 1956

  1. A lovely set of mini-reviews of the Narnia tales, Hilary; now I hope you get round to your essay soon — I’d love to read that even though I’m not religious!

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