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The Odd Geography of the Utter East
So we come to the last unexplored region of Narnia – The Western Wild. It’s an area of rugged wilderness, without law or human rulers, as opposed to the south, which is dominated by Persian / Indian / Arabic Calormen, and the east, which has the sea and the island nations of Galma, Terebinthia, and the Seven Isles with which Narnia trades and intermarries with. Narnia proper can also be thought of as being part of the East, since it’s Aslan’s sacred direction, and Narnia is close to Aslan.
Each part of Narnia got to shine in one of the books of the series. Narnia itself in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian; the Eastern Ocean in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; the north (and underground) in The Silver Chair, and the south in The Horse and His Boy. The last two books of the series, which detail Narnia’s beginning and end, involve Narnia’s west, in what Lewis called the ice-mountains and the garden of the silver apples. Strangely, this garden never got a proper name. The garden sits on the apex of a tall green hill and exists partly in the Narnia world, partly in some other. It’s an allegory for both Heaven and the Garden of Paradise, since there’s a serpent there to tempt innocents in the guise of Jadis.
The first mention of Narnia’s western parts occurs in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus near the Lamppost.
|“This is the land of Narnia,” said the Faun, “where we are now; all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel on the eastern sea. And you—you have come from the wild woods of the west?”|
Note that the region is referred to as the wild woods, not the western wild as in the rest of the series. Which is understandable, as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first book of the series and the geography was yet to be mapped.
And why “the wild woods” and not just “woods” or “forests?” Well, it flows off the tongue nicely. But I think it’s also because Lewis, being the proper Englishman he was, also retained the proper Englishman’s cultural disdain for America, seeing it as wild and uncivilized compared to Europe’s long and stately history. It’s notable that Susan begins her estrangement from Aslan in America, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — she’s the “grown-up” one who will get more out of her parents’ trip there than Lucy and Edmund. This is not to say Lewis had planned Susan’s arc in advance, but since it is the last time in the Pevensie books that Susan is mentioned, it’s telling. Perhaps Lewis was influenced by media reports of a frivolous youth culture beginning to take root in the states. Add to that the influence on England of American cowboy movies (which also influenced a young Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s songwriting partner) and it’s pretty clear that in Narnia, of course the west is wild, as the south is an Arabian Nights desert empire and the north is full of trollish giants. That’s the basic English child’s view of the rest of the world, from a certain generation.
That this wild west has mountains is mentioned in Prince Caspian, when Dr. Cornelius tells young Caspian “You are all Telmarines—that is, you all came from the Land of Telmar, far beyond the Western Mountains” and, on the night of the meeting of the planets, the two face south to see the event, and Caspian observes for himself that “Away on his right he could see, rather indistinctly, the Western Mountains.” Since Lewis on his own map indicates Miraz’s castle is close to Lantern Waste and the Great River, one could a make a case that Telmar is due west as the crow flies. (Incidentally, this part of Narnia has a title that is only mentioned once: The Western March.)
Reading only the first two books (Narnia’s west is not mentioned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which concentrates on the Eastern Ocean) one might think the Western Mountains are an isolated range and not a chain. This has led to some confusion on fans’ maps, which stick them in odd places or omit them altogether.
This busy yet charming map, rendered in Spanish, couldn’t be further away from canon, yet going on the information from the books, could be how the geography really lay. Except a western ocean was never mentioned, of course.
This map, appropriating Narnia for some wargaming purpose, indicates the mountains running north to south as in the master map and takes creative license with the rest, again delightfully.
A “Google Earth” rendition that gets it mostly right, I think.
Let’s talk about the length of the western range. In The Silver Chair Jill observes, from her tower room in Cair Paravel:
|The window looked west into the strange land of Narnia, and Jill saw the red remains of the sunset still glowing behind distant mountains. It made her long for more adventures and feel sure that this was only the beginning.|
(Be careful what you wish for, Jill.)
Aside from being another of my favorite passages, we can deduce that the mountains Jill sees part of the same chain that Caspian saw from his family’s castle, so they extend north to south from at least these two points.
These same mountains extend all the way down to Archenland, as The Horse and His Boy states the river Winding Arrow pours “from the higher mountains at the western end of the range” – the range in question being the mountains that divide Narnia from Archenland. Later in the same book Duffle the dwarf tells Shasta: “I’ll show you the lie of the land. You can see nearly all South Narnia from here, and we’re rather proud of the view. Right away on your left, beyond those near hills, you can just see the Western Mountains.”
Confusion is still present, however. The Hermit of the Southern March can see all over Narnia through his magic pool, including “what robbers or wild beasts stirred in the great Western forests between Lantern Waste and Telmar” where the mountains aren’t mentioned at all, even though earlier it was stated Telmar lies beyond the western mountains. But it also indicates, indirectly, that Telmar is closer to Lantern Waste and Miraz’s Narnian castle than to Calormen, as Pauline Baynes’s master map indicates.
Telmar is a puzzle. In the last post of this series, I felt sure it lay somewhere to the west of Archenland, accessible through some pass or valley from Calormen. Lewis’s unpublished but accepted Narnian history timeline states that Telmar was first settled by Calormenes before the Earth pirates came. But now, I am not sure it’s where Baynes’ pass is indicated. The canon evidence just lies against it. Unless the southern pass was very long, or Telmar was a long and skinny country like modern-day Chile.
In the last two books of the Chronicles, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, we finally get to see what lies in those western mountains. Both also, in Narnia, take place in the vicinity of Lantern Waste, or what was to be Lantern Waste. (Jeez, what was it about that area that so many major events took place there? Only The Silver Chair and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader skip it.) What lies in those mountains, is specifically, the Garden of the Silver Apples, to which Digory Kirke heads on a mission.
In the last third of The Magician’s Nephew Aslan tells Digory to look to the west and tell his what he sees. They are standing in what will become Lantern Waste as the lamppost has already grown from the iron bar that Jadis threw.
|“I see terribly big mountains, Aslan,” said Digory. “I see this river coming down cliffs in a waterfall. And beyond the cliff there are high green hills with forests. And beyond those there are higher ranges that look almost black. And then, far, far away, there are big snowy mountains all heaped up together— like pictures of the Alps. And behind those there’s nothing but the sky.”
“You see well,” said the Lion. “Now the land of Narnia ends where the waterfall comes down, and once you have reached the top of the cliff you will be out of Narnia and into the Western Wild. You must journey through those mountains till you find a green valley with a blue lake in it, walled round by mountains of ice. At the end of the lake there is a steep, green hill. On the top of that hill there is a garden. In the centre of that garden is a tree. Pluck an apple from that tree and bring it back to me.”
A little while later, Aslan says:
|“Do not fly too high… Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places and fly through them.”|
These passages clear up a lot about the west, but also raise more issues.
First, Digory says he sees great mountains, then accurately describes Caldron pool, the Great Waterfall, and the cliffs as according to the seminal map and Baynes’ last, complete one. But, has Digory said he sees mountains, then over these, the pool, or he just says mountains in general, then describes what’s at hand leading up to them? It’s probably number two, but it’s not explicit.
Then, Digory sees big, snowy mountains like the Alps heaped up all together. Which he would say, as it’s likely what he knows. But what Digory calls mountains with snow and ice, Aslan calls mountains of ice, or ice-mountains. Is this just a different, more archaic way of saying high, glaciated, snowcapped mountains, or did Aslan actually mean mountains made of ice?
Baynes seems to have thought so, as her illustration of the garden indicates.
For all its picturesqueness, mountains of ice don’t seem very likely as a geological feature, and even if Narnia is a fantastic world, Lewis is always careful to base the terrain on what exists in real life. I’ll say that this is one of the cases where Baynes took the text too literally despite the closeness of their working relationship.
Also, in The Last Battle Lewis states about Caldron Pool “It is liveliest in the early spring when the waterfall is swollen with all the snow that has melted off the mountains from up beyond Narnia in the Western Wild from which the river comes.” So… chances are, the mountains are ordinary rocky ones and not made of solid ice. And remember somewhere in all this is Telmar, which the kids, flying into the sunset according to the text (“They were flying over a wild country of steep hills and dark forests … But the sun was now in the travellers’ eyes and they couldn’t see things very clearly in that direction”) somehow miss. Well, Lewis did state they couldn’t see clearly, and the area that became Telmar hadn’t been civilized yet. But I’ll come back to Telmar later.
Anyway, it’s all up in the air (to make a pun.) I will say, these are Alp-like rocky mountains and pretty high, at least 8,000 feet which is where non-acclimated mammals begin to feel altitude sickness. Tibetan yak, which can be the size of Fledge, can live up to 16,400 feet, but their biology is designed for it. Of course 8,000 feet is small as far as titanic mountains ranges go; the average height of the Alps is around 15,000 feet, so let’s say that is par for the Western Mountains, and high enough to sustain the glaciers from which the streams that feed the river arise. When Fledge flew, he heeded Aslan’s advice and threaded through the valleys.
We’re not told how long the journey took, but when they leave The Garden of the Silver Apples, around late morning, they arrive back at Lantern Waste when the sun is setting again. So, I’ll say eight hours at the stately pace of a flying horse. But since they followed the valleys, it wasn’t as the crow flies, and the garden’s location might not be as immediately west of caldron pool as some maps indicate.
The green hill lies at the end of a blue lake in the heart of the mountains surrounded by “icy peaks” which act as a barrier to intruders. By the description, I think it’s reasonable to assume these peaks are the highest of the chain. The garden has gold gates facing east (Aslan’s direction) where Digory-as-Adam is tempted by the fruit of not knowledge, but eternal youth and vitality, with Jadis filling the role of the serpent. The silver apples also echo the tale of the Golden Apples from Greek myth, which I understood when I first read it.
Later in The Last Battle the garden serves as a gathering place for the resurrected Narnians and friends of Narnia after the apocalyptic end of shadow-Narnia and the train accident, respectively. (Here Edmund also calls them ice-mountains, so I guess I guess it’s a synonym not a literalism.) Its here that Lewis does some puzzling things with geography and that surpass even the oddness of the standing wave of the Utter East.
|But when you looked down you found that this hill was much higher than you had thought: it sank down with shining cliffs, thousands of feet below them and trees in that lower world looked no bigger than grains of green salt. Then she turned inward again and stood with her back to the wall and looked at the garden.
“I see,” she said at last, thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the Stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.”
“Of course, Daughter of Eve,” said the Faun. “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”
Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.
“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and, more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door! I see … world within world, Narnia within Narnia….”
“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”
As a child I found this very confusing. I accepted that in this hyper-Narnia everything was better, because they were in a heaven of sorts. But how could the garden be a Narnia as well, in miniature form? What would happen if you set foot in it and decided to stomp all over it, Godzilla style? I still can’t reconcile the imagery, and the metaphors, and I really wish the author had explained it better.
However this does make me feel that, metaphorically, this is Narnia’s western limit. As the sandy shore and standing wave led Reepicheep into Aslan’s country in the east, The Garden of the Silver Apples serves the same for the west. I can imagine that the tall peak from which Digory and Polly see the sun set behind really is as thin and flat like cardboard it’s described as, and should they have traveled further and looked behind, they will see it’s no more than a stage prop hiding where the sun disappears at night.
Anyway I was not too happy about this onion explanation.
Now let’s move on to Telmar.
It is quite possible that one of the valleys Fledge, Digory, and Polly fly over in their journey is the future location of Telmar. Aslan told them to avoid the higher mountains and follow the valleys, so it’s likely their journey was convoluted and not straight-arrow. Or perhaps Telmar was on a plateau, with passes that led north to Lantern Waste and south to Archenland. Lewis had died before Baynes prepared the complete map, and I think that she, with access to his unpublished timeline, surmised that Telmar was closer to Calormen.
But then “beyond the Western Mountains” implies exactly that, over and on the other wide of the mountains, not in them. This fact is repeated several times in the series. If the Garden of the Silver Apples, situated in the highest part of the mountains, serves as the western end of Narnia-as-world, how can Telmar be on the other side of those mountains? Or perhaps the garden is an umbilicus of sorts, at the center of the world.
Hmm, I like that idea.
Aside from Telmar, not much is known about who or what lives in The Western Wild. Mention is made of a human hunter killing a lion in The Last Battle. Who he is, and where he came from, are explicitly left out of the story. Later in the book, at Narnia’s Last Judgement, there comes, streaming through Aslan’s door, “strange unearthly things from the remote islands or the unknown Western lands.” Lands implies there were more than one, and since only sentient creatures come through the door, the “things” were intelligent. But there was no elaboration. And indeed, that’s all we know.
So, I can conclude there was a west beyond the mountains; all the evidence points to it.
Lewis does NOT say, however, that there was a western ocean, as many maps depict. The wikis or maps that put one in there are based on a misreading of the above quote; I suspect that in some editions of the book “Western lands” was misprinted as “Western islands,” or readers misread it as “remote islands of the unknown Western lands.” But, Lewis did not mention a tundra either, yet there were reindeer and polar bears, in the first book at least.
He also did not write about the path from Telmar to Narnia being along a gorge, or Telmar trading with Calormen. That’s an invention of the movie, or the movie producers. In all of these posts, I’m sticking to what Lewis actually wrote. Anything from the movies is just an AU.
In a later post on Narnian geography, I’ll be pulling everything together.