The Wild Lands of the North
(and a bit about Giants)

Let’s continue to explore Narnia’s four corners by moving from the Utter East to the Wild Lands of the North.

The north has always been a wild, untamed place in Lewis’s mythos. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, giants live there, which High King Peter battles as part of his royal duties. In Prince Caspian, it’s still the abode of giants, who are said to live in mountain castles; the Telmarines now do giant-fighting duties along the frontier. A few decades later, in The Silver Chair, we visit one of those castles, The House of Harfang, where the inhabitants intend to bake Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum into pies for their Autumn feast celebration.

Narnia’s north has been pretty consistently mapped over the decades. Here’s a series of three maps, the first by C. S. Lewis himself, the next two by Pauline Baynes, from Prince Caspian and The Silver Chair, respectively.

This map dates from Prince Caspian, yet note how the gorge where Jill, Eustace, and Puddlegum encounter the giants at their rock game is delineated.

Lewis’s original fleshed out and rendered more decorative. Archenland is not detailed. That will have to wait until The Horse and His Boy.

Northern locations for The Silver Chair. The area above the Lantern Waste is left blank. There wasn’t any attempt to fill it in with generic forest or hills or whatnot, the terra incognita disguised with an overly fussy compass and sign. As a child, this drove me batty. I wonder if the artist wanted to put something there, but Lewis said no. Maybe he wanted to reserve it for another book?

A word on Ettinsmoor. For those of us in the U.S. who don’t know what a moor is, it’s a habitat that is poorly drained, wet in season, open upland, and commonly overgrown with heath, a type of low, scrubby bush. It’s not a common ecosystem in U.S. The closest analogy would be a temperate riverine scrubland that dries in the summer, freezes in winter, and becomes muddy each time it rains.

An Ettin is a giant of British folklore who had two heads, though Lewis’s giants had only one. (There was a two-headed giant in Archenland, though.)

After Ettinsmoor and its moors, the land rises. From The Silver Chair:

They came to the northern edge of the moor and looked down a long, steep slope into a different, and grimmer, land. At the bottom of the slope were cliffs: beyond these, a country of high mountains, dark precipices, stony valleys, ravines so deep and narrow that one could not see far into them, and rivers that poured out of echoing gorges to plunge sullenly into black depths. Needless to say, it was Puddleglum who pointed out a sprinkling of snow on the more distant slopes.

These same mountains were sighted at Narnia’s creation by Digory and Polly flying on the back of Fledge, who see “tiny-looking jagged mountains appearing beyond the northern moors.”

But, there are more mountains after these.

[…] the gorge in which they were travelling widened out and dark fir woods rose on either side. They looked ahead and saw that they had come through the mountains. Before them lay a desolate, rocky plain: beyond it, further mountains capped with snow.

These mountains are not described as floridly as the Western mountains of The Magician’s Nephew, which are likened to the Alps. But they do have snow, and since the mountains the trio had just gone through are only dusted, they must be higher. Lewis may be copping an element from Tolkien, who also had tall mountains shielding the north of Middle Earth. Then again, it’s probably a pretty common concept for imaginary lands.

The kids and Puddleglum sojourn on the plain, at Harfang / the ruined city of the giants, and their journey northward ends. Those snow-capped mountains remain unexplored, as does the northern sea (above the Seven Isles on Bayne’s canon map, here) and whatever northern area sits above the Western Wild that the compass and sign occupies. Somewhere around here must be a tundra, as the White Witch and her dwarf wear polar bear fur in LW&W, and they ride in a sleigh pulled by (presumably non-sentient) white reindeer.

Despite what the Narnia wikis say, Lewis never mentioned a tundra, taiga, or polar ice cap in the books. We can only assume one or more existed.

Any discussion of the wild lands of the north has to include, of course, the giants, who in the Chronicles may be divided into three types. There are the friendly giants who live in Narnia with the Talking Beasts and the other mythological creatures; Lewis is always very careful to point out that they are good, if dim-witted (as Rumblebuffin is.) Then there are the evil Northern giants who the Narnians must protect themselves from, some of which were allies of the White Witch back in the day.

The Northern giants can be divided further into the castle-dwelling kind and the peasant kind. The castle giants are typified by those of Harfang; they have settlements and human intelligence. The peasant kind are the wicked, even more dim-witted cousins of Narnia’s Rumblebuffin and Wimbleweather. They are unpredictable, regarding humans as insects or objects of amusement, and, in Chair at least, laze around all day playing games with rocks, then grapple with each other and collapse into tantrums.

Neither kind sound like much of a threat to Narnia, do they?

This is odd because it’s said over and over in the books that the kings, both Narnian and Telmarine, wage war with the Northern giants, yet it’s never said what the giants do that the humans must defend themselves against. Think about it. Narnia is a land of Talking Beasts and pastoral mythological woodfolk; there are no settlements, farms, trade… no roads, even. The most any giants could do in such a land is poach an occasional talking game animal, which, because of their size, would be like a human trying to catch a small rabbit. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

Then there are the extinct, highly civilized giants who built the ruined city of The Silver Chair and the arched stone bridge over the Great North River. This may be Lewis’s tribute to the Roman ruins that yet dot the countryside of Britain. In the Dark Ages, with that sort of engineering technology forgotten, the peasantry must have thought the builders of the temples and aqueducts were titans or gods. They couldn’t conceive of them being mere men like themselves.

In a sly tip of the hat, Lewis references H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos in a description of the arched stone bridge:

The balustrade had apparently been covered with rich carvings, of which some traces remained; mouldering faces and forms of giants, minotaurs, squids, centipedes, and dreadful gods.



Heee!

Lewis was to known to have read H. Rider Haggard’s She, and from the description of the ruined giant city, and ruined Charn, plenty of other Weird Tales fodder as well. In fact, just looking through a collection of Weird Tales covers could have provided Lewis with inspiration for many of his story elements.

From left to right, possible inspirations for: the White Birds of the Sun (Voyage of the Dawn Treader); the Green Witch (The Silver Chair);  and the Phoenix in Aslan’s garden (in The Magician’s Nephew.) I’ve no doubt Pauline Baynes knew these covers as well. With their bright colors, fairy-tale subject matter, and complicated compositions, they bring to mind the great children’s book illustrations of the early 20th century, which themselves were a little odd and off-putting.

To end this, I’ll quote Lewis himself regarding Weird Tales, fairy tales, and writing tales for children:

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

— C.S. Lewis

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  1. […] The Wild Lands of the North […]

  2. […] and His Boy) as my Chronicles favorite for the Weird Tales awesomeness that is Charn. As I wrote in The Wild Lands of the North, Lewis was more than a little influenced by the pulps (and the pulps influenced by Lord Dunsany and […]

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