Summer of Narnia 2024

The White Witch (AI generated)

Summer dawns once again in Narnia’s sky, and with it, articles, fanfic reviews, visual essays, and other analysis of this timeless classic fantasy series. Put on your buskins, clean and sheathe your sword, eat some (non-Talking) bear meat, and let’s explore!

Wardrobe Warnings

This looks like a painting, but I think it’s a still from a theatrical production.I’ve never seen it before and wanted to highlight it for the children’s early 1940s clothing and the tchochtkes to the side as set decoration.

She immediately stepped into the wardrobe and got in among the coats and rubbed her face against them, leaving the door open, of course, because she knew that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe.
She did not shut it properly because she knew that it is very silly to shut oneself into a wardrobe, even if it is not a magic one.
“She thinks I’m Susan come to catch her,” said Edmund to himself, “and so she’s keeping very quiet at the back.” He jumped in and shut the door, forgetting what a very foolish thing this is to do.
Peter held the door closed but did not shut it; for, of course, he remembered, as every sensible person does, that you should never, never shut yourself up in a wardrobe.Peter held the door closed but did not shut it; for, of course, he remembered, as every sensible person does, that you should never, never shut yourself up in a wardrobe.

Why so many warning about this in the early chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

When Lewis sent a draft of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to friend and fellow Inkling Owen Barfield, Barfield’s wife Maud was concerned that children reading the story would accidentally lock themselves in a wardrobe. So Lewis added these warnings, framing the first two in Lucy’s thoughts because Lucy Barlowe, the real-life inspiration for Lucy, was Barfield’s daughter.

So, there’s the answer in case any of you ever wondered the same thing.

The Lady of the Green Kirtle:
Vert-de-Gris

Previous parts of this series:  Part I, Part II,  Part III, Part IV,  Part V

 

When it came to the color green, Medieval artists and crafters had a rough time. Unlike the warm colors – reds, oranges, yellows – long-lasting green pigments were not so easily available from nature. Mostly, these artists resorted to verdigris.

Verdigris is a general name for the green to blueish green patina that develops on copper and copper alloys – copper, bronze, brass — over time, the greenish hue of The Statue of Liberty being the most familiar example. Verdigris is a copper salt of acetic acid, which is as poisonous as it sounds. Though not as deadly as the arsenic contained in Scheele’s Green, it can cause nausea, anemia and even death if ingested in large doses. In my Narnia fanfic story Misogyny and Verdigris, I used it as a deadly element of the Underworld, a pigment that gradually poisoned everything it touched.

Yet, outside of rare minerals like malachite, it was the only pigment available. Ancient Romans used it for their villas, Renaissance painters for their portraits. Preparation was extremely tricky. One way was to bury strips of copper glued to wood in a pile of dung. After a few weeks the block was dug up and the verdigris scraped off. Perhaps Lewis knew of this method and applied it to the foulness of the Green Witch?

Another way was to stack copper plates in clay pots which were then filled with wine, the acid of the wine causing the plates to develop crystals which formed verdigris, which were scraped off and sold. This method was popular in France and quite profitable. Interestingly, this business was controlled in the main by women, which creates another resonance with Lewis’s Lady of the Green Kirtle. It also makes me think of the Radium Girls, hapless female employees who ingested radium by licking paintbrushes containing luminous paint intended for watches.

Depending on the way it was prepared, verdigris yielded a variety of green shades, some stable, some not so stable. The odd, off-color appearance of many old paintings is, in fact, due to the deterioration of verdigris pigment, which can turn darker or browner if not sealed correctly. It gave the best greens in oil paint.

And where does that pretty name come from? Old French: Verte Grez, which can mean either “green of gray” or “green of vinegar (d’aigre)”.

AI art – Midjourney

Above, The Lady of the Green Kirtle in her aspect as a Copper Witch.

Passing Obsessions 7-24

Scandal strikes the SFF world again. Writer Neil Gaiman accused of, but denies, sexually assaulting two women, one of whom was the nanny of his child.

The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim, an animated film by Warner Brothers based on Tolkien’s work, releases some preview artwork. (It’s anime style.)

In related news, Tales from The Shire, a Hobbit sandbox farming game, will soon be released. It’s on my wishlist.

The oldest cave painting by humans (or perhaps Denisovans or some other branch) discovered. And it’s not in Europe, but in Indonesia.

Romantasy readers share their complaints about the genre and I have to say I agree with all of them.

Soviet Communist Cat Food. (AI art)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 7/10/24: Narniaworld, Part 2 (Narnia LV)

From topleft corner, going clockwise: Dragonsflight, Telmar Warrior, Tash’s Topple Tower, and Silver Sea Spin.

What makes a theme park? RIDES!

So far my musings have carried me to a basic outline of Narniaworld. It’s quite large, located by the inlet or bay of a coastal area, and surrounded by forest through which a river runs. There’s a campground for guests. The location is likely a temperate one, but like some European parks, it would be open on weekends and holidays during the off season. There would be lots of special events to keep people coming back (season pass material) and character actors walking around.

The castle of Cair Paravel, located by the bay, would the park’s focal point. I haven’t decided yet what’s inside. The park would likely be laid out according to the Narnian map that’s widely available, or, alternately, by book.

The Chronicles have so much in them that I didn’t need to stretch my brain to think of rides. (Note: I’m an amusement park freak, I have 100+ videos of rides I saved on YouTube playlists.) Here’s a bunch I thought of and there are likely more. I give ChatGPT credit for coming up with Aslan’s Roarer Coaster and the Underworld drop ride.

 

Narniaworld Rides

Aslan’s “Roarer” Coaster This state-of-the-art roller coaster simulates the wild ride Susan and Lucy take on Aslan’s back after he returns from the Stone Table. Riders will dash through trees and over brooks and sail over giant boulders as they dip and corkscrew across springtime meadows.
Dragonsflight A ride for kids. Fly with Eustace in dragon form above the wild, rocky island where he was transformed into a dragon and later untransformed. (Similar to the Dumbo ride at Disneyland.)
The Dwarven Mine
A basic roller coaster not as wild as Aslan’s Roarer. Runs through a mountain similar to the Swiss Matterhorn bobsleds in Disneyland, with plenty of dips and drops in near total darkness. At the end of the ride it passes the iconic scene where Dwarven smiths strip off the branches from the gold and silver trees to create the first crowns for King Frank and Queen Helen.
Grand Tourney Carousel This large carousel near Cair Paravel castle features hand-carved horses and other noble steeds such as gryphons, big cats, dragons, unicorns, and pegasi. This is the only place in Narniaworld where you can ride a centaur! As guests ride, photographers dressed as courtiers take pictures and sell snacks. A notable feature of this coaster is that décor and animals can be rotated in and out for holiday themes; at Christmas, for example, there are reindeer, polar bears, and Arctic owl steeds, golden and silver sleighs with bells, and the carousel is wrapped in evergreens and lights.
Hackney Carriages A carousel type ride for young children where they ride in replicas of the horse-drawn cab that Queen Jadis hijacked from Frank the cabby in Victorian London. A statue of Jadis with her whip, based on the iconic illustration by Pauline Baynes, surmounts the attraction.
Passage to the Underworld A combination drop tower/dark ride where guests ride up to the apex of the giant’s bridge then are plunged 100 feet down into the misty gorge where the Narnian Underworld begins. At the bottom the journey continues as a dark ride through the fungi forest, cave of creatures, and Father Time’s slumber before plunging, as a flume, into the Sunless Sea and going around a curve into the city of the Earthmen. After witnessing an earthquake, fireworks, and a glimpse of Bism, riders emerge into daylight near where the ride began.
Reepicheep’s Coracles For young children. Facsimiles of the brave Mouse’s little hide boat move gently along a current past an island landscape on which scenes from The Voyage of The Dawn Treader are recreated.
Silver Sea Spin
A waltzing turntable ride for children with cars shaped like lotus flowers that spin around blue waves and green lilypads.
Snowball Dance A winter themed ride similar to the Breakdance with lighted, whirling cars that tilt and spin amongst dancing satyrs, dryads, and woodland creatures. The ride operator controls music, speed, lighting effects, strobes, and smoke.  
Tash’s Topple Tower This rotating ring carries visit up a tower for a panoramic view of the park then starts to lower dramatically and weave side to side for spooky thrills.
Telmar Warrior A vertical spinning flat ride similar to the Huss Enterprise with a Medieval warfare theme.

I tried to strike an even balance with these rides, making sure there was something for everyone.

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A Not So Wonderful Tea with Tumnus

There was a nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake.

— from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Let’s see how well AI can recreate this iconic scene. I specified “Cute whimsical faun carrying a tea tray” then listed the items above, including a teapot, teacups, sugar, and honey of course.

I said “faun” not “rabbit!” Or kangaroo, as the case may be. The food and porcelain looks good, but I don’t know about that jumble of items on the plate the bunny is holding, which includes a fried egg, sunny-side up.

Poor Mr. Tumnus. The witch stoned him before he could get around to eating.

This jolly, rustic satyr/faun is a new take. But he’s not the slightly built, black-bearded, goateed creature of the book. The food looks appetizing with lots of crackers and wafers but no toast.

Then, there’s this nightmare with a flayed goat. Don’t sit down to tea with the Devil, or you might take on some of his habits…

Dogs Through the Ages

Pauline Baynes did artwork apart from the Chronicles of Narnia, of course, like this tapestry I posted back in 2021. Recently I found this charming poster by her titled Dogs Through the Ages. If it’s not available commercially, it should be!

All Aboard! Images from the Golden Age of Rail Travel [Review]


All Aboard! Images from the Golden Age of Rail Travel

by Lynn Johnson & Michael O’Leary
Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1999

If you were a graphic artist in the 1980s and 1990s Chronicle Books of San Francisco was your crack, publishing tons of art, art history, design and architecture books every. All were beautifully designed and printed using the latest computerized technology of its time, and as a designer myself, I drooled over their catalogs. (No online shopping back then.) Though not hardcover the books were made to last and be referred to again and again. The paper was heavy and slick, perfect for detailed art and true color. Of course I owned a bunch of them and still do.

But times change, and gradually the internet became the tool of choice for art research and creation. There wasn’t a need for artists to keep libraries of reference material anymore. But I kept much of mine. For both sentimental reasons and just because these books are such a sensual delight. I even like the spicy smell and feel of that heavy, thick, almost plasticized paper.

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Worldbuilding Wednesday 7/3/24: Narniaworld, Part 1 (Narnia LIV)

What if The Chronicles of Narnia inspired a theme park similar to Disneyworld in Florida?

Of course, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Or ever perhaps. But think of the possibilities. That’s the theme I’m going to riff on for this July’s Worldbuilding Wednesday posts. What rides, events, eating places, and attractions would it have?

Let’s start with the food.

Luckily Lewis wrote at length about the foods his characters ate so there’s no shortage of inspiration. The basic menu would be English fare, with side forays into Middle Eastern cuisine (Calormen) Greek (Bacchus and the Maenads) Seafood (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and high-end gourmet (Ramandu’s Feast.)

The following restaurants were randomly generated by me with some help from ChatGPT. But mostly me.

 

Places to eat in Narniaworld

Bacchus’s Wild Romp  A rustic, lively tavern serving both English and Mediterranean-inspired pub fare with plenty of wine, beer, and ale. There is a dance floor with music nightly. Specialties include gyros and moussaka, Shepherd’s pie, Irish stew, Greek salad, and roast meats.

NOTE: I picture Narniaworld being more of a European park in that alcoholic beverages are available in some restaurants inside, along the lines of Parc Asterix or the Bavarian Oktoberfest in Munich. Not all restaurants; just this one, and Ramandu’s Island which is detailed below.

Bulgy Bears’ Sausage Station A cart selling hotdogs including kielbasa, chorizo, bratwurst, vienna, braunschweiger, vegan and andouillie sausages that travels throughout the park where needed to feed guests.
Dancing Lawn Picnic Grounds A wooded area with picnic tables for guests who want to bring their own food. It’s next to Beruna Campground and after dusk, the area is closed so Narnian character actors can entertain overnight campers with bonfires, stories, swordfight displays, and music.
The Great Souk of Tashbaan
Due to open next year, this open-air marketplace will feature a variety of food stalls selling Middle Eastern foods such as shish kebab, flatbreads and hummus, baklava, shawarma, and, of course, Turkish Delight.
Miss Prizzle’s Cereal Bar Open in the mornings over by the campgrounds at Beruna. A food truck specializing in cold and hot cereals served with fresh fruit and the milk or plant milk of your choice. Try River God’s Granola or Caspian’s Raisin and Cinnamon Oatmeal.
Pavender Pancake House
All kinds of pancakes served 7 am – 8 pm every day, plus English breakfast food items like kippers on toast, Scottish oatmeal, Irish soda bread, roasted tomatoes and mushrooms, and organic hams, sausages and bacons.
Queen Susan’s Butterhorns A cart that moves throughout the park selling freshly made Narniaworld butterhorns with different fillings and other kinds of pastries. (The butterhorns are also available in all the restaurants.)
Ramandu’s Island The most upscale sit-down restaurant in the park, inspired by the décor and menu of the nightly feast on the island of Ramandu and his daughter. Outdoor dining with long banquet tables on a private terrace can be reserved for weddings and other special events. This restaurant is located on an artificial island overlooking the bay a short distance from Cair Paravel.
Tea with Mr. Tumnus A themed restaurant set in a facsimile of Mr. Tumnus’s cave with rustic wooden tables, shelves full of books and knickknacks, and a cheerful crackling fireplace. Afternoon tea is served from 1 – 5 pm** and features finger sandwiches, quiches and omelets, toasted breads and over 100 different varieties of teas and coffees to choose from. For dessert try pound cake, syllabub, honeyed scones, and freshly made gelato in seasonal flavors. Character meals with Tumnus and Lucy are given on weekends. Regular lunch and pastries are available from 11am – 3pm. By far the most popular of Narniaworld’s restaurants so reservations are suggested.

** Yes I know a proper afternoon tea starts at 4 but this is a commercial endeavor.

The Wild Sea Serpent Shanty  A snack bar with lunch items by the water park, shaped like the dangerous yet goofy creature of the book. Features freshly made tropical fruit smoothies, grilled fish and shrimp wraps, and sweet potato and plantain fries.

Not the best design for a sea serpent-shaped snack bar, but good enough. The beast’s scales look appropriately fiberglassy.

I am sure there would be more than what’s listed here. Note that I left out The White Witch’s Frozen Delights. This would have been far too obvious.

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Narnian Triptych

Three highly stylized scenes from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, done in a style that, to my mind, imitates the Ballets Russes sketches of designer Leon Bakst.  (I’ll be going more into the Russian influence on depictions of Narnia later in the Summer.)

The first seems to show Lucy in the woods with the lamppost, even though there’s just a lantern and no post (but plenty of grapevines); the second,  the White Witch  commanding Mr. Tumnus; the third, a humanoid Aslan tied up on the Stone Table in a woe-is-me-pose. He’s only tied at the ankles so he could escape if he wanted to, but he doesn’t.

The Silver Chair, Macmillan HC 1988

One of the things I love about these Summers of Narnia is that I’m always discovering something new.

Take this illustration on the cover of the 1988 Macmillan hardback edition of The Silver Chair, depicting the climactic moment when the Green Witch snakeifies herself and wraps around Prince Rilian. There’s a distinct aesthetic about it that’s of its time, static and folklorish, slightly Slavic perhaps; Mary Engelbrite was doing a variation of the same thing, and Leo and Diane Dillon before her.  It’s dated compared to modern depictions, but still interesting for the artist having his or her own vision.

Rilian, for example, seems closer to Eustace’s age than the nearly 30-year-old man he is in the book while the serpent is comparatively tiny and doesn’t feel like much of a threat despite Eustace’s and Puddleglum’s consternation. (Where’s Jill?) The reptile does have some interesting fins and flanges though, that hints at it being more than the usual python or adder. Note Puddleglum’s webbed hands. (!)

I do wonder what Rilian is supposed to be wearing, though. It looks like an oversized sweatshirt with a white hood and borders covered with Russian folk designs. At the back of his left elbow is an outpuff of fabric that looks almost detached, like some kind of bustle, or one of those sleeves with a slit in it so the forearm can emerge at the elbow while the rest of empty sleeve hangs free.

I think the font is all wrong for the text though. It should be something more pagan and grander. What we have is too much like a wedding invitation.