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