This is another of those posts that is informational rather than a set of randomly generated names.
Say “mythological creatures” and “Narnia” and most people even with a passing knowledge of the series are likely to think of dryads, naiads, satyrs and fauns. (And centaurs, but for this post I’m going to stick with fauns and nymphs, of which dryads and naiads are but two members.)
Lewis took inspiration for his dryads and naiads from the mythology of Ancient Greece, where nymphs were considered nature spirits, tied to a specific location or specific type of location. In this they are similar to the Japanese concept of kami, a place or thing that has such imposing or aesthetic qualities it is literally alive. Nymphs take the form of comely maidens and came in a variety of flavors. They were not immortal like the Greek gods, nor did they have special powers. What they did have was, via their youth and beauty, an all-access pass to the doings of the greater deities, from hunting with Artemis to getting drunk with Pan.
Lewis styled his dryads after specific kinds of trees: birches, elms, oaks, ashes, hollies, willows, and rowans, the appearance and behavior of each dryad referencing the tree in some way. There are males and females both. Though both dryads and hamadryads are mentioned in the text Narnian dryads are more like hamadryads in that the dryad *is* the tree, she or he doesn’t just live there. Chop that tree down, and the dryad dies. Lewis was never consistent with his terminology, so what are clearly dryads/hamadryads are also referred to as a wood nymphs, tree people, silvans, or simply trees.
In reality, the word dryad meant, in Ancient Greek, an oak tree nymph only. Other types of tree nymphs had their own names: Daphnaie were laurel trees, Epimelides fruit trees, Leuces poplars, and Meliae, ash trees. All looked like humans, no green hair or snapping off parts of their bodies for tinder as Lewis depicts in Prince Caspian.
Naiads in Narnia, like those of the Greek myths, were tied to fresh water: rivers, streams, wells. They are not mentioned in the Chronicles as much as the dryads are and did not receive as vivid of a description. Like the dryads they had a male counterpart, called a river-god. These male naiads are different from the river-god deities of the Greeks, the Potamoi, who appeared as man-headed bulls or a bull-headed man with a serpentine, fish-finned lower body. (It’s interesting to note that in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a man-headed bull is mentioned as being one of Aslan’s followers.) At the end of The Magician’s Nephew, the daughters of King Frank and Queen Helen are mentioned as marrying river-gods, thus giving rise to the human population of Narnia, so I think it’s safe to assume Lewis’ river-gods did not have any disquieting bull or fish parts. Like the dryads, he also called his naiads river-nymphs and just plain nymphs.
Here’s a list of all the types of nymphs that could be included in Narnia. Only the ones tied to a general nature or landscape element are here, not the ones associated with a particular Greek location. Because Greece ain’t Narnia, right?
Types of Nymphs
|Glens and groves
Mountain pastures and valleys
Fountains and wells
Trees (General term)
Freshwater marshes, wetlands
Evening and sunset
Wine, revelry, followers of Bacchus
Bodies of fresh water (General term)
Wells and springs
Rivers and streams
A word about the marvelous painting above. It’s by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, dating from 1901, a few years before he died. Bouguereau was old-school Academic painter, dependent on showing paintings at the annual Salon de Paris to collect clients and sell his work. The standards of the Salon were rigidly Classical, described, with some derision, by an art teacher of mine as “a bunch of nymphs and satyrs running around” and not inclined to embrace newfangled art movement of Impressionism. Of course, Impressionism had the last laugh, and artists like Bouguereau had their masterpieces languish for decades.
Anyway, Les Oreades, or The Mountain Nymphs, with its three dozen pink, weightless, vaguely lesbian party girls, was perhaps the apex of the old Classicism which was soon to be swept away… delightful, silly, cheesy fun. I can’t say the same of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Next week I’ll look at satyrs and fauns.