The Wood Between the Worlds

He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. [ … ] The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others—a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach.

 — from The Magician’s Nephew

You’d think with this general but precise descriptive passage all artists would on the same page about depicting this scene, but there are a surprising number of variations. In the picture above, for example, the trees are sized to be in proportion with Digory and Polly and the ponds are very small, perhaps only 40 inches in diameter. This one shows Charn glimmering in the waters and the children are about to jump.

This depiction is more lonely and epic, with the ponds spaced tightly and no undergrowth in the forest. In Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001 he makes mention of an “intergalactic Central Station” that David Bowman passes through on his journey through the monolith, a place where spaceships enter, choose their wormhole, and exit. The Wood Between the Worlds serves the same purpose for realms of fantasy, or Christian fantasy, perhaps.

This forest is more epic yet, with towering oak trees and substantial ponds. It’s full of majesty.

This more abstract, woodcut-like piece puts the emphasis on Digory and Polly, who is lying down playing with the guinea pig who was the first of Uncle Andrew’s experimental subjects. These ponds look more like puddles.

A nice balance here between the size of the ponds, the trunks of the trees, and the children.

Art by Jef Murray

Here the ponds are sizable and circular, with barely space to walk between then. The illustration captures the place’s rich, green, growing ambience, but it also begs, where are those shafts of light coming from? Is there a giant sun somewhere?

A dark wood with thick-trunked oaks and irregular but deep blue ponds, and again, mysterious shafts of light.

Trees that serve as a neural network, creating a mass consciousness with their intertwined branches and roots, repeated like a giant fractal into infinity? I say YES.

Lastly we come to Roger Hane’s psychedelic, Yellow Submarine-inspired cover for The Magician’s Nephew, which was part of this boxed set. The forest with its lollipop-cum-Michelin Tire Man trees receives less emphasis here than the figures of the children, who are flying up into the sky as they emerge from Charn’s pond with an angry Jadis pulling on Polly’s hair with all her might. This Jadis is very different from Pauline Baynes’ version. She’s got red, or reddish, hair for starters, and with her chess piece crown she brings to mind The Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. But her costume with its triangles and stripes seems African, and addition, she’s wearing a red cape or maybea  fox fur cloak. Many fanfic writers tackling Charn depict Jadis with red hair, and I think this is the source. It’s an exciting, but hardly pivotal, moment from the book.

In all of this, I have to wonder. If the Wood contains access to infinite worlds, are all of them like Earth and have trees, grass, and ponds? Why is the Wood so… European? After all, an Arabic fantasy world, like Lewis’s own creation Calormen, would likely NOT conceive of a forest filled with ponds as a transfer station. They’d have their own analogue, as would an underwater fantasy world or a Lewis Carroll one. Does the Wood appear in the form its users expect to see? Say, a desert oasis with a number of little springs?

And also, why is Jadis so weakened when she is there? What makes the Wood “positive” as opposed to Jadis’s “negative?” I-the-writer can say Lewis used it as a plot device, to get Jadis into Victorian England, and then back to the Wood, and then into newborn Narnia; but the question still begs, Why? Was this how the cosmos puts limits on evil, grasping individuals, like Jadis?

Food for thought.

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