Summer of Narnia

There’s a lot of upsetting stuff going on in the world right now. COVID-19. Racism. Unemployment.

So, to preserve my own sanity, this summer I’m going to go back to where it all began for me, as a writer and a fantasy fan — Narnia.

There will be posts on the books, my opinions of them, naming conventions, and art, and what they meant to me and still do. Let the Narnia trumpets sound! Begin the feast at fair Cair Paravel! Let the revels begin!

All Things Charn (Part II)

Lewis heavily drew on pulp SF and fantasy tropes to create the masterpiece that is Charn; but he also drew on the good old-fashioned fire and brimstone of The Bible.

Since it was, and may still be, the most-read book in Western Civilization, it’s natural that many of its stories influenced fiction of a fantastic bent that came later.  Westerners who never even picked up a Bible still know it through cinema epics, church sermons, and Sunday School… not to mention contemporary allusions, satires, and parodies. It’s safe to say the big, bad Biblical cities of Ninevah and Uruk, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Alexandria, Byblos — and especially Babylon — still bubble in the subconscious of most Westerners and create eerie resonance upon reading the descriptions of Charn.

Which, I think, is what Lewis wanted. Charn is an ancient city, a desert city, filled with temples, pyramids, chariots, slaves. It was intended to invoke humanity’s first city, the largest and grandest of them all, of which all subsequent cities are but a pale copy.

As for the actual Biblical cities, the jury is still out on which is the oldest or how populous they were. All we have are ruins to go on today, which are much less impressive than Charn’s as they have not lain undisturbed in a sterile planet for millennia.

To the original, uncredited writers of the Bible, however, the  first cities must have filled them with awe. From within they might have seemed to stretch out forever, as Charn does. The feeling of hugeness, human variety, luxury and vice must have been overpowering. When they went to describe it to the farmers and shepherds back home, they must have used superlatives, not objective descriptions that could be quantified.

Lewis the storyteller took those gasped-out superlatives and made them real. Like those ancient witnesses, he waxes into hyperbole. Charn isn’t just huge; it covers the Earth. It really is that massive, that rich, that wicked. Charn is Babylon on steroids.

Babylon has a bad rep in the Bible, of course, especially in Revelations; but most of that is due to the authors’  politics. In actual history, it was learned and cosmopolitan, the New York City of its day. And like that present-day city, it had a reputation for excess that translates into irredeemable wickedness and punishment from God.

Let’s take the Tower of Babel, an Old Testament story that tells of a city of humans seeking to reach heaven by building a gigantic tower. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, God smites them, by destroying the edifice and, furthermore, scrambling their capacity to all speak the same language. The Book of Genesis does not mention the city’s name, but modern archaeologists equate it with a ziggurat built to honor the god Marduk in Babylon. Babylon strikes again!

Two versions of the Tower.  The one at top is a modern digital creation, the bottom one the famous depiction by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The modern one is ominous yet sterile, with oversized architecture and a dull, red atmosphere that would serve well as Charn’s. Bruegel’s Tower is, in contrast, wildly out of proportion and uses forced perspective, to no avail, to give a sense of the tower’s height. But it’s delightful nonetheless, giving the impression of an immense building that sort of… folds back into itself, and into the clouds, rather than proceeding upwards. Again, very Charnlike.

Artwork by Soenke Maeter.

Some fans picture Charn as a version of Egypt. This is just wrong, IMO. Egypt never fell into disaster, it remained robust and its own entity into the modern day. Egypt was too religious and ceremonial a model for freewheeling Charn. Charn’s models are Assyria, Sumer, the cities of the Levant.

When Charn was alive, it may have looked like this.

This is assuming, as per my private hypothesis, that Charn’s sun was bright and yellow when the city was at its height.

Charn with a redder sun.

Like Babylon, Charn inspires gravid, potentuous prose: “Such was Charn, that great city, the city of the King of Kings, the wonder of the world, perhaps of all worlds.”

“I have stood here when the whole air was full of the noises of Charn; the trampling of feet, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves… “

“This was the old banqueting hall where my great-grandfather bade seven hundred nobles to a feast and killed them all before they had drunk their fill. They had had rebellious thoughts.”

As the last Queen of Charn, Jadis embodies another trope of the Bible: The Whore of Babylon.

whore of babylon

“Bottoms up!”

Raised a Catholic (as Lewis was) I know exactly where he was coming from with Charn and its Queen. She’s at once the inspiration of all the unnamed wickedness and also part and parcel of it.

Jadis is not literally a whore, of course. Lewis doesn’t mention sex, so Jadis could be a virgin Queen for all we know. But the emphasis on her superhuman beauty and physique, and penchant for luxuries, is certainly female and sensual. She’s also a Warrior Queen, her Empire swallowing up other nations and enslaving or destroying them, and as the last Queen, a prefigure to End Times. She even requests a dragon to ride in The Magician’s Nephew, a symbol of female power, while her archetype in Revelations makes do with a seven-headed horned beast.

Queens Jezebel, Zenobia, and Semiramis certainly played a role in Jadis’s conception as well, and it’s telling that these powerful female rulers  were assumed by later, male-dominated eras to have let their sexual appetites fly.

Lest we get too serious about Jadis and Biblical scholarship, I’ll close with this:

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/16/20: Narnia XVI

Aslan investigates the famous pools of Kallumia on Tashbaan’s west side.

Lewis never again got as exotic in the Chronicles as he did in with Calormen. The Valley of Ten Thousand Perfumes, Lake Mezreel, the crossroads city of Azim Balda, the Flaming Mountain of Lagour… these places don’t come into the plots, they are mentioned only in passing. But they do add to the richness.

Writing fanfic set in Narnia’s south and need some local color? Here’s a list.


Calormene Local Color

The Ruby Cliffs of Rekayet

Princess Shiralan

The Iron Whips of Al-Arazhka

The Tale of Tarkheena Tabna and the Ghostly Maiden

The Weeping Cliffs

The Pools of Kallumia


Desert of Pyrheel

The five daughters of Chaldmash

The Floating Gardens of Tarkhaan Kallak

Spring of the Blind Stallion

The Salt Pans of Minzhez


Gardens of Tiszrush


Scirocco of Qazar

Muhmet the Frugal Tarkhaan

Temple of the Divine Fakir

The Nine Peaks of Anshanu


The Widow’s Barge

The Prophetess Lajandra

Zorbya of the Griffon

Battle of El-Mashyd

Prince Dariq the Madman

City of Chiraz

Tursheen the Lunar Dancer

The Ivory Dunes

Cheminhara, the Wasteland of the Lost Camel


How About This White Witch?

And why not?

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/9/20: Narnia XV

The City-State of Estom, by Findara McAvinchey

The City-State of Estom, by Findara McAvinchey

One of the questions I always wanted answered about Narnia-the-world is that of other civilizations. Sure, we had Narnia; then Telmar, dull and problematic as it was, and Archenland in Prince Caspian; in the next book Galma, Terabinthia, Calormen, and the Seven Isles came along, then Ettinsmoor and the Underworld in The Silver Chair. But there must have been more. The lands of the west were never explored, nor the far north or far south, or the whole of the Great Eastern Ocean.

Only a few fans have ventured into these territories. Jamison Harley added the imaginary countries of Einuno, Dosnii, Tatlodrei, Vierneige, and Femvissi to the south of Calormen on his comprehensive map. (The odd names are the numbers 1 – 5 in different languages.) Another group of young fans created an entire wiki around their Narnia expansion, which includes whole continents and new species of creatures:

The Alicorn Is a Horse-like creature cross between a Unicorn and a Pegasus. 4 species of Alicorns sided with Aslan, Chestnut, Palimino, Golden, Rainbow and White. While Black Alicorns sided with the white witch.

Alicorns are one of the mightiest horse species in Narnia they are a size of a full grown draft horse.

The White Alicorns are known to fall in love with the Elephants because of their wisdom, great intelligence, manners, and compassion. The Bull Elephants would mate with the female White Alicorns creating a new species of Elephant. the flying Elephants have beautiful silverish gray skin, and have a body, ears, tail, and trunk of an Elephant, but have wings and their tusks have stronger magic like the Alicorn, and a Unicorn’s horn.

I was ten years old too, once.

Here are some other countries that might have been, going by how Lewis named those that already existed.


Other Countries of the Narnian World









































Narnia First Editions

First editions of the Narnia books, grouped all together.

All Things Charn (Part I)

This wasn’t intended by the artist to be Charn; but it could be.

Charn is my favorite Lewisian creation … more than Aslan, more than Narnia itself. No other place in fantasy embodies such grandeur, sinisterness, and decadence … which is quite the accomplishment, as Lewis only gives hints of it.

Jadis herself says, in a reflective moment:

I have stood here when the whole air was full of the noises of Charn; the trampling of feet, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves, the thunder of chariots, and the sacrificial drums beating in the temples. I have stood here (but that was near the end) when the roar of battle went up from every street and the river of Charn ran red.

As a child my mind connected the dots: the slaves were prisoners of war being marched by militia to the temple where they would be sacrificed en masse.  Sixth grade, ghoulish  me loved to imagine the evil, wicked goings on there under Queen Jadis. Of course, who knows if that’s what Lewis meant by this passage; but it’s amazing how so evocative and rich a place was brought to life by such spare, off-handed dialogue and a few well-chosen similes.

Lewis’s fellow Inkling J. R. R. Tolkien, in contrast, spelled things out. From reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy I knew exactly how the city of Minas Tirith was constructed and how it works to repel invaders. I can picture the Tower of Saruman the White and the Great Hall of Rohan. The POV characters — the Hobbits — were out of their element and everything was new to them and needed to be explained, and very kindly on the part of the writer to the reader. I can’t say the same thing about Lewis and Charn. As a narrator he was in control and let you know it. Everything he gives the reader is through his editorial lens, yet he also gives the benefit of a doubt, through the characters whose POV he chooses. Both writers had commonality in their subject matter and the omniscience of their voices, and both were prone to an English sense of coziness. But compared to Middle Earth, Charn is more fun for me to think about. It’s the perfect collusion of Bible tales and Weird Tales, SF and Fantasy. Any gaps that are there are for my imagination to fill in.

The concept of a city in ruins, destroyed for its sins, has precedents of course, going all the way back to Sodom and Gomorrah. Atlantis, which Tolkien also drew on for his isle of Numenor, is another source. The  cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, hotbeds of Roman vices buried in pumice from Mt. Vesuvius, might also have influenced Lewis, and let’s not forget Shelley’s well-known poem Ozymandias, of a ruined statue and a ruined kingdom.  Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, a castle so vast its inhabitants have forgotten they even live in a castle, might have been another wellspring for world-covering Charn.

What makes Charn unique, however, is its titanic scale and utter desolation.

[Polly and Digory ] went quietly up to one of the big arched doorways which led into the inside of the building. And when they stood on the threshold and could look in, they saw it was not so dark inside as they had thought at first. It led into a vast, shadowy hall which appeared to be empty; but on the far side there was a row of pillars with arches between them and through those arches there streamed in some more of the same tired-looking light. They crossed the hall, walking very carefully for fear of holes in the floor or of anything lying about that they might trip over. It seemed a long walk. When they had reached the other side they came out through the arches and found themselves in another and larger courtyard [… ] into another doorway, and up a great flight of steps and through vast rooms that opened out of one another till you were dizzy with the mere size of the place. Every now and then they thought they were going to get out into the open and see what sort of country lay around the enormous palace. But each time they only got into another courtyard.

There are no furnishings in the rooms the two explore, no glass, drapes, or other decorations; all looks hundreds or thousands of years old. The untold implication is that whatever riches there have long since decayed into dust. Only the stone remains, some tiles, and “a great stone monster with wide-spread wings” a centerpiece of a long-dead fountain, and  “the dry sticks of some sort of climbing plant which had wound itself round the pillars and helped to pull some of them down.”

The action moves from the (comparatively) small rooms of their entry point to the Great Hall of Images, where Jadis is freed by Digory ringing the bell, then opens out into even grander halls and chambers right up to the palace’s entry in “a hall larger and loftier than any they had yet seen” with colossal doors of a strange black substance “fastened with great bars, most of them too high to reach and all too heavy to lift. “

All the while Lewis keeps us moving, ever “onward and upward” to cop a phrase of his, into greater scale and greater strangeness. When Jadis takes the children’s hands and leads them onto a balcony overlooking the city they see:

…a great landscape spread out below them. Low down and near the horizon hung a great, red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group.

And on the earth, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen. And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges cast long, disastrous-looking shadows in the light of that withered sun. Once a great river had flowed through the city, but the water had long since vanished, and it was now only a wide ditch of grey dust.

I believe that Lewis received inspiration for Charn’s sky from the paintings of 1950s space artist Chesley Bonestall. The huge red sun and white star sound like a red giant star and its white dwarf companion, an image both beautiful and desolate.

Artwork by Chesley Bonestall

Red giant star and its white dwarf companion

The white dwarf, though much smaller than the red giant, is the dominant one, siphoning away its companion’s outer atmosphere. It’s a symbiotic relationship, or more to the point, a parasitic one.

If Lewis did indeed base his solar system around the Mira model, the relationship of the stars could be a comment on Charn itself – a small class of magic-using rulers exploiting and draining the greater populace.

That there are no other stars in Charn’s sky implies its universe is even older than it is and at the end of its life as well.

(Growing up I saw a painting of a red giant-white dwarf system many times in the NJ State Museum’s planetarium, done in groovy day-glo paint and displayed under ultraviolet lamps. It was one of the highlights of each visit. If I was wearing anything white that day, I was sure to glow a groovy lavender color as well.)

Alternately, Lewis may be copping a scene from the H. G. Well’s The Time Machine where the device’s inventor, having finished his adventure with the Morlocks, springs ahead through the centuries to an unearthly shoreline over which hangs a bloated red sun… our sun, Sol… grown monstrously huge, staining the sky in odd colors. Lewis describes Charn’s sky as  “… extraordinarily dark—a blue that was almost black” a phenomena observable at the border of manned flight – 70,000 feet or so – resulting from the lack of oxygen. It seems from this Charn’s atmosphere is being drained away as well.

View of Saturn from Titan, by Chesley Bonestall

“A blue that was almost black.”
Saturn as Seen from Titan, by Chesley Bonestall.

Thus, it must be magic that lets any living being still breathe. The air is dry and stale, and there is no water and no life. Not even any hints of life, like moss or lichen. The sense of displacement in Charn is huge. It’s as close as Lewis comes to cosmic horror in the Narnia series. I have to wonder again if he again copped some atmosphere from H. P. Lovecraft, whose fiction included huge, alien cities serving as tombs for eldritch horrors, awash in the light of distant stars. Like Lewis, Lovecraft only hinted at what these alien cities were like.

In fact, Lovecraftian artwork gives a far better picture of the dizzying, dead ruins of Charn than the actual depictions of Charn that I’ve seen.

Illustration of a castle from H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands that is bizarre enough for Charn.

(NOTE: This isn’t to say I didn’t like Pauline Baynes’s illustrations for the original edition of The Magician’s Nephew. Her Charn has a sorta Norman, sorta Italianate feel, like the engravings of ruined cities done by Renaissance artists to prove their mastery of perspective. Her  depiction is distinctive and memorable, and unfortunately never improved upon. Which is sad, because Charn just cries out for other depictions. I’d love to see what modern CGI can do with Charn if Nephew ever gets filmed.)

It is also a shame that Lewis shied away from cosmic horror by having Jadis’s awakening be without irony. She’s destroyed her entire world rather than let someone else rule it and enspells herself to sleep in hope of rescue, only to find out that rescue comes too late by a few hundred million years. What a blow to her self-esteem. Imagine her surprise and shock when she sees that huge, dying red sun instead of the smaller, brighter one she remembered.

“Was it the Deplorable Word that made the sun like that?” asked Digory.

“Like what?” said Jadis.

“So big, so red, and so cold.”

“It has always been so,” said Jadis. “At least, for hundreds of thousands of years. Have you a different sort of sun in your world?”

No, no, no. Methinks Jadis was just disconcerted, and lied rather than admit it. When I first read the book, I was sure that’s the way it happened, Lewis making a telling point about Jadis’s vanity and inflated self-importance. She wasn’t the hot catch she thought she was.

Whatever the case, after the bell is rung the whole palace begins to fall apart, either from the sound of the bell working on the palace’s age and fragility, or the spell preserving Jadis and the Hall of Images being dispelled. Here we have some of Lewis’ crazy humor, Jadis treating the kids like minions, unable to conceive of any different scenario for her resuscitation than infatuation from a powerful wizard (as narcissists tend to do) and giving them orders to convey her to their world, where she barks at Uncle Andrew: “Procure for me at once a chariot or a flying carpet or a well-trained dragon, or whatever is usual for royal and noble persons in your land. Then bring me to places where I can get clothes and jewels and slaves fit for my rank.” It’s amusing and tells us yet more about Charn.

One thing that remains unclear is the Deplorable Word itself. Jadis states that she was left the “only living thing beneath the sun” but did that include plants? After all, a climbing vine was seen to have pulled down some pillars. What about bacteria and fungi? For organic matter to disappear, there must have been decomposition, which requires mold and microbes. And what happened to the world’s water supply?

The sheer age of the world and the loss of its natural processes and atmosphere might explain that; but for the plants, I’ll say the Deplorable Word left seeds and spores intact. Those plants and other organisms ran wild for a few thousand years, but without pollinators, they declined year by year, century by century, until none were left. Furthermore, as Lewis does not say how the Deplorable Word worked and it’s messy to imagine large quantities of corpses everywhere (that alone might have induced Jadis to put herself to sleep) I’ll say the Word, like Jadis’s door-dissolving spell, turned living things into frail heaps of dust that blew away on the wind.

I’ll also posit that, freaked out by what she had done (not for the loss of life, but for a city-world to lord over and the luxuries of her station) she took her place in the Hall of Images, waiting for a rescue from some other world. Though the hitch there is she doesn’t seem a romantic sort or the kind to wait for reanimation by a powerful male. The message on the bell is a bit too coy, her position with the other images too easy to be overlooked. Perhaps she had tried other means of egress, and it was a last resort.

There’s yet another model for Charn and its decayed grandeur: The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance. Vance’s stories take place on a far-future Earth that also has a red, dying sun, but unlike Lewis, his adventures are sprightly, whimsical, ironic, and often gleefully wicked. They are not allegories, and any grandiosity is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. The first collected book of Dying Earth stories was published in 1950. It’s within possibility to imagine Lewis reading it or the stories that appeared first in the SF and fantasy magazines of the time.

But perhaps the greater influence on Charn was the Bible.

Worldbuilding Wednesday
9/2/20: Narnia XIV

The Last Battle first edition cover, artwork by Pauline Baynes

Original hardback edition, 1956. The more traumatic aspects of the plot were passed over in favor of this cover featuring Mr. Tumnus and Lucy conversing in Aslan’s Country.

So, with The Last Battle, we come to the end of the Narnia series, and of Narnia. There’s not much to say, except “Everybody dies.”

Or sort of. Really, it’s not as bad as all that.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

A more recent cover depicting a pensive yet bloodied unicorn, alluding to the book’s theme of a childhood innocence lost. And does that unicorn have a penis?

I actually started to read Battle immediately after LW&W, and was rather confused, as you can imagine. I wanted to read about Jill’s character and it seemed she hadn’t been properly introduced in that book, so I gave up and picked up the series with The Silver Chair. Back then I had no idea the Chronicles were sequential. I thought they were like Nancy Drew in that the events of the previous book didn’t carry over and influence the next. When I picked up Battle again it was after I had finished The Magician’s Nephew  so I had a better idea of who all the characters were.

As for the plot… well. As an adult, it’s still painful for me to read how the Antichrist arrives in the person of Puzzle/Switch, how the Calormenes invade and despoil and kill the dryads, how even the Talking Animals turn on each other. It also had the most overt violence I can remember — Jill being pulled along by the hair and thrown into the stable.

Ah, that stable. It only occurred to me a few weeks ago that it’s an allusion to Jesus Christ turned inside out — death in a stable, rather than birth. Still, in the book they spend way too much damn time there and around there. It’s like that overgrown forest in Prince Caspian. In fact, structurally, Battle shares the most similarities with that book than all the others: there is no physical journey like the other five, the journey is that of endurance and faith. In that, it’s a downer. It lacks the exoticism we expect of fantasy. For that reason, I suspect, it’s not rated among the most loved books of the series by most fans.

I do like, however, the apocalyptic nature of Narnia’s end, beginning with the stars falling from the sky, turning into people, and walking through a makeshift doorway into a larger land:

Stars began falling all round them. But stars in that world are not the great flaming globes they are in ours. They are people (Edmund and Lucy had once met one). So now they found showers of glittering people, all with long hair like burning silver and spears like white-hot metal, rushing down to them out of the black air, swifter than falling stones. They made a hissing noise as they landed and burnt the grass.

Then, over the next few chapters, the Earth humans in Narnia realize that, though Narnia is destroyed, they’re actually in a richer, truer, larger Narnia, and the reason for that is… they’re all dead. On Earth, in a terrible railway accident, on trains in which they were traveling to meet, having sensed something was amiss in Narnia.

As a child, my face went WTF when I read this, because, while not being arbitrary for the purposes of the book — which was about death and endings —  seemed an awfully convenient way for everyone to die at once. As a child of the 1970s living in the US, train accidents on that scale were unimaginable, and smacked of author contrivance. But in doing the research for this series, I found that this part of the book was in fact based in reality: the Harrow and Wealdstone rail disaster of 1952. This lends Battle a new poignancy, as its possible whole families may have been wiped out in the wreck. Even asserting this, however, that plot twist is just too damn convenient and skims over what has happened to those who were left to pick up the pieces.

Like Susan. Queen Susan, Susan Pevensie, who wasn’t on that fateful train trip because she was trying too hard to be grown-up and and had dismissed her Narnia experiences as childhood make-believe. Three of the other characters even sneer at her for it.

One might be shocked (as I was on my first read) that a such beloved character could so easily lose her faith, and wind up missing out on all the niftiness of Narnian Heaven. There are plenty of other readers and even  writers who were outraged, from J. K. Rowling to Phillip Pullman, at the notion that Susan went to Hell for being interested in being an adult and dating boys. (Girls were not an option.) I’ll write more about that later; but I will say, that as a Catholic, I felt the message wasn’t that Narnia abandoned her because she grew up. It was because she dismissed her faith as silly and childish, and the “she’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations” comment of Jill’s was supposed to convey shallowness, not SEX!!! in giant flashing capital letters.

Lewis wrote Battle at a time when England was still recovering from WWII.  Austerity rations (food rations) existed well into the 1950s, and it follows that cosmetics would have been expensive as well and highly prized by young women. (Battle was set in the Earth year 1949 according to Lewis’s timeline of the series.) Nylons, too, were an expensive indulgence, not something to be bought at the local five and dime. Though Lewis wrote the book in the early 1950s, his mindset was still that of wartime, when nylons and lipstick would have been unthinkable vanities for those struggling to eat, keep the economy going, and avoiding Hitler’s V-bombs.

As for invitations, I assume that’s for coming-out parties where one might meet the “right” people and make a good marriage, as the Pevensies were presented as middle upper-class sorts. Which raises the question of how complicit Susan’s parents were in encouraging her to make a good match. Or it may have been for frivolous parties where young adults listened to jazz and smoked newfangled reefer cigarettes, which would have probably outraged Lewis. We don’t know.

At the end of it, Susan was shallow and self-delusional, and she was “punished” for it by staying alive while the rest of her family dies. The book doesn’t go into the horrible part: SHE JUST LOST HER WHOLE FRIGGIN’ FAMILY.

(To Lewis’s credit as a writer, it takes a lifetime with the books and some hard thinking to reach that realization.)

After the Susan business, we discover that the walled mountain garden where the silver apples grow is actually another Narnia in miniature scale, going about its own business independent of the larger one. I still don’t know what Lewis meant by this. I think it was to illustrate “farther up and further in” but in reverse. For child-me it was creepy to think of a mini-world that could be easily destroyed by someone stomping all over it.  The epic last paragraphs of the book make up for it though.

And soon they found themselves all walking together—and a great, bright procession it was—up towards mountains higher than you could see in this world even if they were there to be seen. But there was no snow on those mountains: there were forests and green slopes and sweet orchards and flashing waterfalls, one above the other, going up for ever. And the land they were walking on grew narrower all the time, with a deep valley on each side … Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.

I’ve looked and looked and have yet to find any artist who has taken it on himself or herself to illustrate these concepts.

What other books like The Last Battle might have been written?


Variations on The Last Battle

The Last Sign

The Last Prophecy

The Last Victory

The Final Challenge

The Long Vengeance

The First Curse

The False Mask

The Darkness Calls

The True World

The Realm of Chaos

The First Age of Man

The Blood Feud

The Seeking of the Great Beast

The Eternal Bond

Prince Doofus

I am not sure what language this is (Czech?) but the book seems to be Prince Caspian, going by the prominence of Susan’s bow and horn, Reepicheep, and Trufflehunter on the borders. The second creature from the left could be one of the Bulgy Bears, or a de-maned Aslan. The goofy “wizard” of the central panel is, I’m guessing,  a cartoony Dr. Cornelius, with  a crystal ball. This is the oddest Narnia cover I’ve yet to see.

Worldbuilding Wednesday
8/26/20: Narnia XIII (Let’s
xxxxTalk About Charn)

The ancient city of Petra in Nabatea. Compare the facade in this pic to Pauline Baynes’s drawing of Charn below.

Illustration by Pauline Baynes, colorized for a later edition

Charn vies with Tashbaan as my favorite Narnian fantasy setting. Not that I’d want to live there, of course. It’s dead, dry, and spooky. But Charn in its prime… well! It must have been something to see.

One of the reasons it’s so evocative is the name. It’s short and blunt, like a location of the Bible — Kish, Nod, Punt.

But also, that char- sound. It sounds like an animal’s snarl. Not only that, it recalls to the reader char (as in burnt) charnel (a place filled with death and destruction) Charon (the ferryman of the dead, in Greek myth) and, perhaps inadvertently, charm, alluding to the magical nature of the place and its ruler’s reliance on magic.

Charn only appears in two chapters of The Magician’s Nephew, but the shadow it casts is  long, both in the book and the series. The Deplorable Word Jadis uses to kill all life is widely taken to be an allegory for nuclear war, and the dry depression where once its gateway lay in The Wood Between the Worlds is meant by Aslan to be a stark warning to the people of Earth.

Here’s some names that sound like Charn and would also make a good ruined city in some fantasy work.


Variations on Charn


















I was not only fascinated by Charn, but also by its sister cities. These places are named by Jadis on her rampage through Edwardian London, aimed at the policemen who are trying to stop her: “Scum! You shall pay dearly for this when I have conquered your world. Not one stone of your city will be left. I will make it as Charn, as Felinda, as Sorlois, as Bramandin.”

These are strange names, seemingly made up by Lewis on the fly, but they do sound Biblical in the same way that Charn does, at least to my ears. Sorlois has a French ring, while Bramandin brings to mind India and its Brahmin caste. Felinda has a similarity to Felimath, a name of one of the Lone Islands. Felix is also a Latin word  for “happy” so we can surmise Felimath was a happy place until the ancient Charnians were done with it.


Variations on Charn’s Sister Cities

























Dry, dead Charn


Liberating the River God, by Justine Sweet. Concept Art for the 2008 movie Prince Caspian. But… there was nothing in the text about a waterfall at Beruna. And surely, when Aslan did this, it was clear, sunny day … ?