Stone Knife and Stone Table

Even in contemporary children’s and YA books (as of 2020, when I am writing this) it’s hard to think of a more shocking passage than the White Witch killing Aslan at the Stone Table.

Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table. The Witch bared her arms as she had bared them the previous night when it had been Edmund instead of Aslan. Then she began to whet her knife. It looked to the children, when the gleam of the torchlight fell on it, as if the knife were made of stone not of steel and it was of a strange and evil shape.

At last she drew near. She stood by Aslan’s head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad.

Not only is shocking, but I’m also getting a strange sexual vibe from it.

The world of Oz had nothing like this. Though a pioneer in children’s fantasy, it was a more homey, folkloric, fluffy series of books. The Lord of the Rings trilogy might have come close, with Gandalf’s presumed death in the mines of Moria by the whip of the Balrog. But that took place offscreen. Gandalf wasn’t trussed up and shaved and sacrificed like Aslan was, to the accompaniment of the White Witch’s cruel words.

First, a page from a graphic novel.

The childish lettering style makes this all the more disturbing, as do the skulls on sticks, the sobbing girls, and the black-cowled figures in the background who resemble devil worshippers. It’s intense.

Pauline Baynes’s illustration from the original The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe. It’s busy, ambitious, compositionally complex, and almost too awful to look upon.

A more abstracted and less graphic image by Elys Dolan. I’m seeing Picasso’s Guernica in this, which I had the privilege of beholding in person. In re-reading LW&W, I noted Lewis’s reference to “evil apes” which seems fitting as one hastens the end of Narnia in The Last Battle.

A version similar to Baynes’ by artist Michael Hague with inspiration from Arthur Rackham. There’s some bizarre beasts here, like the human-handed antelope.

Concept artist Henrik Tamm’s portrayal of the witch at the Stone Table. Where did the arch come from? And that statue? Myself, I had always pictured the Stone Table as being rougher, more like a Bronce Age trilith — a flat slab of stone supported on three or four boulders.

Justin Sweet’s version, showing his original dark-haired concept of the White Witch.

Another piece of concept art showing a very detailed, beautifully crafted table.

Lewis himself always denied that this scene was not a crucifixion allegory. But what he did instead was to take that page from the Bible, treat it as folklore the same way he treated the satyrs and dryads, and created something new from it. The scene was meant to invoke the feelings one should have when reading of Christ’s ordeal on the cross, and such apprehend it in a new light. Same concept, different clothes.

Did it work? Yes.

Worldbuilding Wednesday
8/19/20: Narnia XII

Two covers for The Magician’s Nephew.

The Magician’s Nephew ranks third (tied with The Horse 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 E. R. Eddison, his British forbears.) Elements from stories of this ilk began to creep into Narnia around the time of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And as long as we’re at it, let’s add Gothic to the list. There was something very daring and transgressive in his mixing two innocent, likable Victorian-age children into this wild weirdness that is borderline too-kinky-for-kids literature.

I’ll get into Charn in a later post, however.

Like The Silver Chair, Nephew has inspired a diverse group of cover illustrations, but as the text is less grim than Chair, they are more attractive: winged horses, gardens, mountain landscapes. I’ve seen variations on Fledge and the kids’ travel to the Phoenix Garden, Charn and Jadis, Jadis and the Kids, Uncle Andrew in his laboratory, the green and yellow rings. The 1970 Roger Hane cover featured an enraged Jadis pulling Polly’s hair as they float above the Wood Between the Worlds. The original edition from 1954 had Baynes’s illustration of Digory and Polly peeking into Uncle Andrew’s magic workshop.

Speaking of Baynes, the book also featured one of her most distinct illustrations.

“Who has rung the bell?”

I don’t know about you, but it seems Baynes must have read the same H. P. Lovecraft stories Lewis had, for Jadis looks like she has a cephalopod sitting on her head, and her cloak is covered with eyes, Shoggoth-style. Her slinky pose here, with its narrow silhouette, is more 1920s than 1950s. The kings and queens behind her wear a variety of crowns, but they all look kind of Norman, as did Baynes’s illos for the humans of Narnia.

Here’s another Jadis to the left, also with a slinky pose, an exposed navel like Cher in the 1970s, and long clawlike fingernails. Actually, any photo of an unsmiling Cher in one of her TV show getups might have made a good Jadis back in the day.

Lewis himself said, in the scene where Digory and Polly come upon the Hall of Images in Charn:

This time Polly took the lead. There was something in this room which interested her more than it interested Digory: all the figures were wearing magnificent clothes. [ … ] The figures were all robed and had crowns on their heads. Their robes were of crimson and silvery grey and deep purple and vivid green: and there were patterns, and pictures of flowers and strange beasts, in needlework all over them. Precious stones of astonishing size and brightness stared from their crowns and hung in chains round their necks and peeped out from all the places where anything was fastened.

Though it’s Digory that rings the bell — and is piggish about it — and thus later ruins the virgin birth of Narnia, it’s Polly that takes the first step into the room, for reasons of vanity. Vanity is part and parcel of female ruin in Lewis’s canon. It’s mentioned pointedly in The Last Battle that the pursuit of youthful frivolousness is what makes Susan turn away from Narnia (and God), and also what tempts Lucy to cast a spell in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

There might have been another story, somewhere, like The Magician’s Nephew, but a little different…


Variations on The Magician’s Nephew

The Goblin’s Best Friend

The Minotaur’s Aunt

The Angel’s Nephew

The Magician’s Father-in-Law

The Necromancer’s Cousin

The Mage’s Half-Brother

Hiccup’s Grandfather

The Naga’s Assistant

The Weird Guy’s Friend

The Viking’s Grandson

The Troll’s Unbirthday

The Storm King’s Beasts

The Demigod’s Guardian

The Temptations of Temptation

The Dastardly Dragon’s Dear Son

The Frost Giant’s Unwanted Sibling

The Wise Old Wizard’s Anachronistic Ally


The Dawn Treader mock-up used in the movie, looking less than impressive next to modern dock equipment.

Worldbuilding Wednesday
8/12/20: Narnia XI

Tashbaan, by concept artist Alexandra Semushina

The Horse and His Boy ties for my third favorite of the Chronicles with The Magician’s Nephew. Perhaps Nephew has the edge, because of the awesomeness of Charn, the Wood Between the Worlds, and  Aslan’s Garden. But Horse has Tashbaan and the desert. It’s a close call.

The flavor is different from the rest of the Chronicles; it’s more of an Arabian Nights pastiche, complete with wry comments on that pastiche by Lewis himself. Some readers take this as him poking fun at Middle Eastern cultures and putting them down, but he’s really making fun of the whole literary tradition of Eastern folktales, which is also shared by author Tanith Lee who gets up with snarky commentary of her own… though Lee is definitely for grownups. The story is different in theme, too. Like the best Narnia books it’s structured as a journey, but it’s also a tale of escape for Shasta and Aravis, then a rollicking adventure after  they become mixed up with the Narnians in Tashbaan. (When I first read the book, the twin thing came as a complete surprise. Now I recognize it as a trope.)

But I wasn’t in love with the characters so much as the setting. If I could visit any part of Narnia, I think it would be Tashbaan, which is in many ways a dry run for the dead city of Charn. Charn can be considered Tashbaaan taken to excess. The picture above by Alexandra Semushina gives an idea of how one reader has imagined its majesty. Though for me, Tashbaan will always be Pauline Baynes’s illustration pictured below.

Tashbeen, by Pauline Baynes (script added later)

H&HB is also one of the books where the cover illustration is straightforward and doesn’t vary much. It’s mostly Shasta and Bree, sometimes together with Aravis and Hwin. One edition had a picture of the beehive-shaped ancient tombs on it outside the city, where Shasta spends a restless night. Then there’s this.


I don’t recall anything in the text about Bree being a pinto.

(This is a dappled horse, as Lewis said.)

Lewis developed Calormen  more thoroughly than Telmar (which wasn’t developed at all) but there are mysteries to it. One is its exact size. Lewis lets us know it is much larger than Narnia, but how much so, we are left to wonder.  There’s a difference between “much larger” and “completely dwarfing” and the official map by Baynes is not very helpful, as the unknown parts of the continent are either not shown or eclipsed by cavorting creatures. In the book itself Edmund states “My guess is that the Tisroc has very small fear of Narnia. We are a little land. And little lands on the borders of a great empire were always hateful to the lords of the great empire,” while Prince Rabadash says to the Tisroc, his father, “It is not the fourth size of one of your least provinces. A thousand spears could conquer it in five weeks,” but even as a kid, I always took the latter to be an example of the untrue Calormene hyperbole the natives tend to spout (like the untrue bit about Aslan being a demon that comes later) mixed with Rabadash’s fawning flattery, and Edmund’s statement more about, say, the size of Belgium compared to France, not Belgium compared to Russia.

Of all the characters, I like King Lune, Aravis and Hwin the most. Over the years, Hwin has in fact become one of my favorites. Shasta, like the young Caspian, seems thick, and a whiner to boot.  I’d bet, in fact, that Lewis starting writing Horse immediately after Prince Caspian; some of the humor is similar, like Prince Rabadash kicking the ass of Ahoshta, Aravis’s decrepit husband-to-be — I read it around 12 and even then thought the scene immature. Lasaraleen is also ridiculous with all her “darlings” and serves as rather broad poke at some spoiled society woman somewhere in read life, a farce that detracts rather than enhances.

After this list of alternate titles, I’m adding some names that could be used for Calormene characters. As with the Talking Beasts and the mythological beings, the named male ones greatly outnumber the female named ones. (Bree and Hwin don’t count because they have names in Horse language.)


Variations on A Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His Dwarf

The Horse and His Blacksmith

The Otter and Her Scholar

The Whore-Boy

A Hippogriff and a Boy

The Unicorn Becomes a Soldier

The Horse, His Dwarf, and One Boy’s Lie

The Horse’s Knight

The Foal and Farmer Monk

The Horse Trains

Horse vs. Valkyrie

The Horse that Was Big

One idea for the ancient tombs where Shasta spent a restless night.

Calormene Names






















Calormen and the South

Other posts in this series:

The Odd Geography of the Utter East

The Wild Lands of the North

When speaking of Narnia, the name can mean both the country, and the world. Narnia-the-country’s boundaries are straightforward. This is a Baynes map from Prince Caspian.

North: That line of hills that has a V-shape at the top of the map. Beyond it, Ettinsmoor.

South: The Archenland mountains.

East: The sea.

Northwest: Lantern Waste. (Not visible: Cauldron Pool and the Great Waterfall.)

West: The Western Wild (Not visible, but referenced in the text.)

Holy Cow! Examining these maps for the first time in many years, I’ve realized that I misremembered them, and filled in some blanks on my own. I was so sure that the Great Waterfall and Cauldron pool were in the southeast of Narnia-the-country, not the northwest; and that the hills between Narnia-the-country and Ettinsmoor ran straight east to west, and didn’t dip down as Baynes, and Lewis himself, indicated on their maps. Likewise, I assumed the castle of Miraz lay in the west of Narnia as well, west off the map where Trufflehunter’s cave is labelled, and not so close to Beaversdam. What rock have I been under?

(Caveat: I didn’t like Prince Caspian the book much anyway.)

I also added, in my mind, forested foothills all along Narnia’s western border that merged into tall, imposing mountains. I’ve seen these on many fans’ maps and some editorially-approved ones, but not consistently on Baynes’. But the Western Wild is going to be the subject of my fourth post on Narnia’s Four Corners.

Now let’s look at Narnia-the-world. This is Baynes’ most complete map, compiled of all the ones she did for the books, which had met with Lewis’ seal of approval. It’s been embellished with little frou-frou drawings but it’s still the most complete canon one.

narnia map

As seen, Narnia-the-world’s boundaries are:

North: The unnamed northern mountains and some blank space.

East: The Great Eastern Ocean; the Silver Sea, stationary wave, and sky-wall (not on map.)

West: The Western Wild, text visible just barely at the left. Fault of the photo cropping.

South: Calormen … and more of those frou-frou pics. The southernmost map feature is a truly huge mountain which isn’t labelled. Interesting. Methinks this might be The Flaming Mountain of Lagour. **

The question here is, how far does Calormen extend to the south and west? And what, if anything, is beyond these borders?

The text in The Horse and His Boy gives no indication of the Empire’s limits. A few places are mentioned but with no markers that would let a reader place them, so their locations are open to interpretation. Calormen’s size is mentioned in relation to Narnia, Narnia being “… not the fourth size of one of [Calormen’s] least provinces.” But since Calormenes tend to bend the truth when they want to flatter or frighten someone, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. Lewis indicates as such, if indirectly.

As for Bree’s and Shasta’s journey north, Lewis says it took “weeks and weeks past more bays and headlands and rivers and villages than Shasta could remember” but again, this doesn’t necessarily indicate Calormen’s size. What it does tell us is that Calormen’s eastern coastline is very convoluted. When Shasta sees the sea for the first time, he also notes it as well. Their trip thus zig-zags back and forth with the terrain, up hills and down, gaining latitude only slowly.  There was also another good reason they followed the coast  — the interior of the land was too harsh. Being closer to Narnia’s equivalent of an equator and thus in its desert zone, the majority of the country would be dry plains and scrublands. Lewis knew this either consciously or unconsciously. Even Tashbaan is situated close to the sea and is itself a major port.

I imagine the east coast of Calormen looked like this.

The text also tells us there are many villages and people in the hilly terrain Bree and Shasta traverse.  Which again makes sense: any settlements in an arid land like Calormen would cluster around water sources: rivers, lakes, the tops of high hills and mountains where water vapor rises and falls as rain or dew.

In fact, it’s reasonable to expect that Calormen is an empire where resources — namely arable land and water — are scarce and therefore fought over. In such a place, green, wooded Narnia must look like a paradise. But one that inspires greed and domination, not spiritual yearning. Though the Tisroc and his cronies may brag about Calormen’s wealth, size and might, at its heart it barely holds together. There must be roads such as the Roman empire had, with military outposts along those roads to keep order and enhance communication, yet even so, warfare is a constant. No other countries are mentioned, so the fighting must be internecine, between the Tarkaans, with the throne intervening when things get out of hand.

What lies south of Shasta’s home? Anradin, Shasta’s would-be owner, is said to have come from further south where he has an estate. There’s also a village to the south where Arsheesh, Shasta’s “father,” sells his fish. Lewis doesn’t tell us how far this south extends.

We are not told told, either, how long Calormen stretches to the west, only that there is a “far west” where there are rebels. As far west as Telmar, perhaps. Lewis had written, in his unpublished but accepted-as-canon Narnian timeline, that Calormen was the original colonizer of this land, which in Prince Caspian was said to lie “far beyond the Western Mountains.”

Let’s take a closer look. In Lewis’s original map of Narnia, the castle of Miraz is placed near Beaversdam and Lantern Waste, so it seems he intended for the Telmarines to have invaded close to that point. It makes sense for an invader to build a settlement at their entry point — which was most likely a fortress complex — to stage further forays. But on Baynes’s canon map above, Telmar is now indicated as being to the west of the eastern border of Archenland. If you squint you can see the tiny letters that say “Pass to Telmar.”

The exact location of Telmar will be a subject for my upcoming post on the Western Wild, but for now, let’s assume it’s closer to Archenland, over the mountains lying to its far west. In Lewis’s own imagined history of Narnia-the-world, the Calormenes colonized it in the year 300, only to be turned into “dumb beasts” by Aslan for their wickedness two years later and vanishing from the scene. So, somewhere, the two lands connect, and since no western sea is ever mentioned, the connection has to be by land.

So the upshot is, Calormene does extend to the west a good deal, I’d say half again its size at least. Again, this ties into why it has never successfully invaded Archenland or Narnia, until the The Last Battle. Most of its armies and resources are just too far off and too hard to gather and organize and march across the desert and then the Archenland mountains.

Telmar the country already exists during the timeline of LW&W and The Horse and His Boy, according to the Hermit of the Southern March in Horse (“There, as in a mirror, he could see, at certain times, what was going on [ … ] in the great Western forests between Lantern Waste and Telmar”) but is uninvolved in Narnia ‘s doings. Some of the wikis say Telmar and Calormen shared trade, but this isn’t in the books. It may be fan invention, or mentioned offhandedly in the movies.

The original Telmar continued to exist at least up to the reign of Caspian X.

The map above is interesting for its completeness, supplying new countries to the far south for Calormen to battle and absorb, as well as a southern branch of the western wilderness through which Calormen has  access to Telmar. It’s interesting to speculate that southern Narnia-the-world had a whole life and history independent of the north. But, though the idea is delightful, there’s nothing in canon about it.

This fan imagines Narnia-the-world as being  completely surrounded by sea. This makes sense if my hypotheses about the world being sealed in a globe is correct. Travel to the limit of any part of this sea, and you’ll find a sandy beach, short grass plain, and sky-wall of the same kind that was found The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ensuring intrepid explorers  go so far and no further. Of course, Aslan also didn’t plan on the ingenuity and determination of humans.

There’s an excellent fanfic called The Corners of the World, by Elizabeth Culmer, that’s about the journeys of Jadis before she settled down to become the White Witch. In the far north, she attempts to climb over the northern mountains, but is hampered by the lack of oxygen at their heights… and the unearthly smell that comes from Aslan’s Country, invigorating to humans but poisonous to her. It’s a fanfic and not sanctioned by the estate, but to me, as reader and writer, it feels right; in the west and south, somewhere, must be similar barriers and passages. As a child, I supplied a limit to Calormen myself. At its south was another desert, wider, hotter, more inhospitable than the one in the north, with huge sand dunes that impeded further progress.

Perhaps, at the limits of this hypothetical deadly desert, there is a huge stationary sandstorm that acts as a curtain between Narnia-the-world and the next one?

Or, assuming the Flaming Mountain of Lagour is a volcano located at Calormen’s southern barrier, it might the beginning of a desolate land of cinder cones, boiling mudpots, lava wastes, and ultimately a river or sea of molten rock. If any living thing manages to reach this area, they will be cooked many times over.

Or, after the dunes of the Greater Desert, one finds a Great Jungle, full of impenetrable vegetation, heat and humidity, and deadly beasts, and a Great River that leads to Aslan’s Country.

The rainforest biome is one that Lewis never wrote about. I wonder why.

Let’s take leave of Narnia’s south now, and as Lewis himself said, further up and further in…


** Mentioned by Emeth in The Last Battle. This might be an actual geographical landmark, or a feature of a  story like Moses and the Burning Bush.

A Deeper Magic

Charming print of Aslan, Lucy, and Susan by artist Dave Quiggle.

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.


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

The Odd Geography of the Utter East

Of all the places in Narnia, I’m most fascinated by the Utter East, that area of Narnia-the-World that lies over the Eastern Sea. It’s one of the most transcendent of Lewis’s creations – full of so much rich, mystical bizarreness that those passages remain one of my favorite pieces of writing, any writing, to this day.

First off, though, here’s the Lewis-sanctioned map of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, drawn by Pauline Baynes of course.

The “About here they joined the ship” refers to the novel’s beginning when Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy travel through the magic picture and are fished out of the sea by King Caspian. (I was going to call him a Prince, then remembered the events of the previous book.) Try as I might I couldn’t find Baynes’s map of the second part of the journey, though I’m sure one existed, and probably was printed on the endpapers of the hardcover edition of Voyage, as this one was inside of the front cover. It’s OK, even though it seems Caspian dilly-dallied a bit before getting down to the business of finding the lost lords.

Click to see larger

This map is not correct according to Lewis’s canon above; but the journey is closer to how I imagined it,  at least up until the Land of the Duffers. The track then changes to the southeast, which seems wrong. Frankly, I think whoever drew it was hampered by the fact it had to fit across two pages, and they took the lines about the sun getting hotter and brighter to mean the ship was going southward.

This map, by a fan, is how I always envisioned the whole trip, a meandering but straighter progression from west to east. The map also handles Narnia’s size in relation to Calormen well.

Click to see larger

After the ship leaves Ramadu’s island, the sun becomes more intense, the sea changes from salt to freshwater and becomes sweet in taste: they are approaching a sacrosanct area.

… there had been too much light ever since they left the island of Ramandu—the sun too large (though not too hot), the sea too bright, the air too shining. Now, the light grew no less—if anything, it increased—but they could bear it. They could look straight up at the sun without blinking. They could see more light than they had ever seen before. And the deck and the sail and their own faces and bodies became brighter and brighter and every rope shone. And next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it.

I am pretty sure Lewis took the bit about the sun appearing larger and brighter, not to mention hotter, from the accounts of early European explorers as they approached Earth’s equator. The sun was not really bigger, it only seemed to be. But in Narnia, is really is bigger and hotter (and we’ll get to why, later.) Adding to those early explorer’s feelings of awe and displacement were the appearance of new Southern hemisphere stars in the sky and changes in the ecliptic, making the moon seem to change position. I think Lewis does a great job of evoking the same feelings of awe and strangeness.

Then they reach a sea of water lilies, all along the horizon from north to south as far as the eye can see. At this point the sea still has some depth so they deduce these are not ordinary water lilies, or lotuses, which need to be rooted in the mud. In Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes the state of Enlightenment, and the white lotus, purity – an interesting choice of flora on Lewis’s part. But he refers to the flowers as lilies throughout, bringing to mind Easter Sundays and Bible quotes.

All this time the ship has been sailing along briskly without wind in a strong current. At the Silver Sea, as they call it, they discover the current is only 40 feet wide, as if Aslan has prepared it as a highway for them.

Very soon the open sea which they were leaving was only a thin rim of blue on the western horizon. Whiteness, shot with faintest colour of gold, spread round them on every side, except just astern where their passage had thrust the lilies apart and left an open lane of water that shone like dark green glass. To look at, this last sea was very like the Arctic; and if their eyes had not by now grown as strong as eagles’ the sun on all that whiteness—especially at early morning when the sun was hugest—would have been unbearable. And every evening the same whiteness made the daylight last longer. There seemed no end to the lilies. Day after day from all those miles and leagues of flowers there rose a smell which Lucy found it very hard to describe; sweet—yes, but not at all sleepy or overpowering, a fresh, wild, lonely smell that seemed to get into your brain and make you feel that you could go up mountains at a run or wrestle with an elephant. She and Caspian said to one another, “I feel that I can’t stand much more of this, yet I don’t want it to stop.”

This is another one of my favorite passages from the series and I can’t resist showing it off. The reason why the sun looks so huge  [ SPOILER! ]  is that the ship is getting closer to its rising point.

Onward the current takes them; Lewis is coy about the exact number of days. But finally the water becomes so shallow the ship scrapes the bottom and can go no further. After some dull bickering about Caspian’s kingly duty and Reepicheep’s prophecy and whatnot it’s decided (or rather Aslan decides) that only Reepicheep and the kids can go on to the world’s end. Caspian must return to Ramandu’s island and his bride-to-be, and then on to Narnia.

The kids and Reepicheep take the ship’s rowboat and continue on in the current. On the third day, shortly before dawn, they see a marvel, a 30-foot high (this was before the metric system hit the UK, obviously) wall of water right in front of them.

This is the part of the book I struggled mightily with for years and years. Lewis calls the wall of water “a wave endlessly fixed in one place as you may often see at the edge of a waterfall.”  But this isn’t a good way to put it at all. Those waves are formed when swift-flowing water hits an obstacle in its path, like a rock just below the surface, so it skips up and over it. It’s not really a wave like ocean waves are. Stationary wave might have been a better: a flowing wave that has reached its full height, yet does not crash. Some waves in Hawaii and Chile can get very large, up to 100 feet. Thirty feet doesn’t seem that epic for the end of Narnia-the-World, but that’s another story.

Then, the sun rises behind the wave, and at that moment, behind the sun, they catch a glimpse of the paradisical mountains of Aslan’s country.

What they saw—eastward,beyond the sun—was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter or a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, “It would break your heart.” “Why,” said I, “was it so sad?” “Sad!! No,” said Lucy.

After this sight the boat suddenly runs aground, and here is where things get confusing, at least for me.

The children got out of the boat and waded—not towards the wave but southward with the wall of water on their left. [ … ] The water was warm and all the time it got shallower. At last they were on dry sand, and then on grass—a huge plain of very fine short grass, almost level with the Silver Sea and spreading in every direction without so much as a molehill. And of course, as it always does in a perfectly flat place without trees, it looked as if the sky came down to meet the grass in front of them. But as they went on they got the strangest impression that here at last the sky did really come down and join the earth—a blue wall, very bright, but real and solid: more like glass than anything else. And soon they were quite sure of it. It was very near now.

As the sea of lilies ran along the horizon north to south, the reader must assume this wave does as well, correct? Yet it has a fixed width. Or… is the piece of land to the front of the wave, as in the movie?

It seems the producers were just as confused as I was. They went with a sandy spit of land stretching away to the north and south, with the normal sea on one side, a wave-about-to-break on the other. But it’s facing the wrong direction — about to break into Narnia, not into Aslan’s country! Nevertheless, the film made the best of a very unclear text.

At any rate, there’s a kind of watery passage out of the world, and a solid wall both. Narnia is a flat world that both spills its sea over the edge, and contains both it and the land within a hollow sphere.

Whenever I read this passage I’m reminded of the Flammarion engraving.

The man is crawling through a rent in the sky of what he thinks is the real world, only to discover heaven, or a realer world, beyond. (This was a theme for The Last Battle as well.) It’s always been a favorite image of mine.

We can came to a few conclusions about Narnia’s odd cosmology here. Narnia-the-world is inside a sphere, with sea level at the globe’s equator. When the edge of the world is reached, the rocky walls of the bottom hemisphere rise up to meet the blue-glass wall of the sky hemisphere – that is why the sea has gradually become shallower. The sky hemisphere is thinner than the earth hemisphere so when they meet, an inside rim forms to provide a place for a sandy beach and grass plain. The wave functions as a drain for the waters of the Eastern Sea, the current passing up and over the wave, and then into wherever. Aslan’s Country is visible through this wave when the sun hits it at the right angle – from behind it — so there must be an opening in the Narnian sky there as well.

The questions then are: How long is the stationary wave? How big is the cleft in the sky? And what is the size of the Narnian Sun, because it must pass through this cleft and into the sky from wherever it comes from?

Since the width of the ocean current is 40 feet, logic might say the wave must be 40 feet wide as well, and so must the opening in the sky through which the sun enters, shining through the wave as it does so.

These measurements are… a little less than epic, I guess. For one thing, the sun has valleys and an ecosystem on it. Surely it must be more than 40 feet wide? OTOH, if the size of the Narnian Sun is less than epic, the stars are as well—they’re the size and shape of humans.

(Personally, I’d say the Narnian Sun is at least 10 miles in diameter, and should be more.)

Still, the sun rising behind the wave doesn’t mean it’s right there up against the wave. It could be many miles off.

The text doesn’t tell us one way or the other. The Chronicles are, after all, partly allegory, and Lewis as a writer was a pantster as opposed to Tolkien’s plotter, which means Lewis threw in anything that sounded good for his story, whether or not it all hung together.

But for me, longtime fan of Narnia and SF/Fantasy writer, I am going to figure out a way this all makes sense going by what we are told and filling on what we haven’t been told, without the interference of an author who is long dead.

Narnia resides within a great globe perhaps a few thousand miles in diameter. This globe rests on a spur of the mountains of Aslan’s Country. The sea level of the world is at approximately halfway up the globe. Bism, and perhaps other lands, lie in the buried bottom half of the globe. The stars dance every night across the solid sky, forming constellations. They, and the sun and moon, rise in the east, in the area of the stationary wave which hides a great hole, cleft, or cavern from which they emerge. Because the sun is its own minor world and many miles in diameter, the stationary wave matches its size. The kids’ rowboat just happened to hit it at its southern point, and southern current. There are other currents, spaced evenly across its length, that also provide access and drainage.

It’s too cruel to think that the current and wave carried Reepicheep over some titanic waterfall crashing down over the rocks that form the outside of the Narnian world-sphere; so I’ll say the wave empties out into a huge lake on Narnia’s crag of Aslan’s mountains, and out of that lake, each morning, comes the sun, rejuvenated by its waters and catching fire as it meets the air. It rises along some invisible track through the opening in the Narnia’s sky, and follows that same track along the top of its curved shell-sky. The sky of Aslan’s Country and the sky of Narnia look the same, which is why the opening can’t be seen. Alternately, it’s hidden by magic, or closes each morning after the sun’s rising is done.

Though the sun follows the curve of the solid sky as it travels, I imagine there are still many miles between it and the sky itself, creating a sort of troposphere for Narnia.

Here’s some unused concept art from the movie, showing, in the background, Aslan’s Country of crags and waterfalls, the rising sun in front of it, and the Dawn Treader on some great precipice that hangs over, mired on the lily-filled waters. A pity this wasn’t realized!

As for what lies in Narnia’s north, south, and west… that’s for another post.


Worldbuilding Wednesday
8/5/20: Narnia X

The 1970 version  and a more recent one (right)

The Silver Chair is my favorite Narnia book. The protagonists travel across and into many worlds — the mountains of Aslan’s country, the swamp of the marsh-wiggles, the bleak moors and the bleaker ruins of the giants; then the cavernous underworld and the subterranean city of the green witch, followed by the molten world of Bism. In this respect it’s like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But unlike that book, the kids, Pevensie cousin Eustace and his friend Jill Pole, have a more clear-cut quest, even though Jill, the most tested and most hard-ridden of the series’ child protagonists, manages to louse that up, for perfectly valid, human reasons. The dangers, she faces, too, are more immediate and life-threatening: a city of giants that wants to bake them into pie, a long fall into a dark cave, the threat of brainwashing, attack by a lunatic, earthquakes. It’s Lewis’s penultimate Narnian adventure. The peril has an immediacy in this book that was lacking in all the others put together. Whimsy is rare.  A new seriousness makes itself known.

In fact, there are so many different elements to the book illustrators have a hard time choosing which one to put on the cover. I’ve seen a chair, a serpent, a chair and a serpent, Rilian and the serpent fighting, Rilian as the Black Knight, with or without the green witch; an owl and a castle, a scene from the underworld, Jill on Glimfeather’s back, the city of Harfang, or, most creatively, Rilian writhing on the chair shown in shadow as Puddleglum and kids cower in the doorway. This last is the most clever, considering the witch’s Platonic speech about shadows that she gives when Rilian is freed.

But to my mind the most iconic image is of the Silver Chair itself, being smashed, as in the cover illustration of the book to the left above. It was done by Roger Hane, who did all the other covers in the Collier boxed set of the books. The second cover shows Rilian taking aim at the chair, but not smashing it. It’s a far less dynamic image. He also looks about 14, far younger than he is in the book.

The book also has that most fun, and problematic of archetypes: woman as serpent / dragon. An adult reading the book would egg on right away that the witch keeps the prince as her lover by spell and guile, like a combination of Circe and  Snow Queen. She’s the most poisonous femme fatale of the series and a perfect bookend for the White Witch.

The seducing serpent, the Lilith, Lamia, Laidly Worme, goes back a long way as an archetype. Even Rudyard Kipling drew on it for his children’s tale of Rikki Tikki Tavi wherein Nagaina is far worse and maleficent a cobra than Nag, her mate.

The kids’ journey from Narnia back to the real world is epic also. The two visit first Aslan’s country where Caspian is restored to youth, then the three of them set upon the bullies at Eustace’s and Jill’s school and thump them soundly, an incident which embarasses the administration enough to make changes for the better.

There were some parts of the book I didn’t like as much as the others. Puddleglum, for example. As a kid I always wanted to tell him to STFU. As an adult, however, I appreciate his conclusion. (And no actor could ever make a better Puddleglum than Tom Baker.) His plainspokeness contrasts well with the flowery High Medieval speech of the enchanted Rilian and the green witch, which becomes more and more obnoxious as the story goes on, providing a foil for the earlier heroic declarations of Reepicheep, which are meant to be admirable. Ah! That came to me right now as I was typing this, and just proves what a wonderful writer Lewis really was.

The other thing that annoys me even now is the kid’s concern about freeing Rilian and trying to trust he won’t murder in his madness. It seems belabored. I mean, they have Puddleglum to defend them and there are swords in the room, which they grab later to hack apart the serpent.

Nevertheless, Chair is still my Narnia apex.

How might it have been named in some other dimension?


Variations on The Silver Chair

The Silver Staff

The Slivered Chair

Quicksilver Chains

Silver Key and Golden Key

The Copper Splice

The Silver Sextant

A Seed of Silver

A Chair with Silver Cushions

The Silver Flag

Silver Scales

The Silver Twins

Silver Livery

The Silver Chalice


The Many Faces of the White Witch – Part IV

Let’s finish this series about the White Witch with some odds and ends. First up, this depiction of Snow White’s evil queen by artist Colleen Doran. She’s holding up a bloody heart by a string. Though not Lewis’s character, she could very well be her, and the heart would be Edmund’s or Aslan’s.

Next, a “living statue” Snow Queen. These characters busk on street corners by remaining still as long as possible, periodically changing their poses. Their clothes are treated with paint and stiffeners to remain rigid.

Keeping in the theme of icicle crowns, here’s a very icy, very crystalline White Witch whose image as Empress might be hampered by the fact she’s wearing no clothes. In the text of the book, though, Lewis specifically says she wears a gold crown.

An abstracted illustration by fan artist Rachel Elese Morales.

The witch hams it up with the Pevensie children, resplendent in her gown of white fur.

Very spooky bird-faced White Witch. It’s a high-fashion getup meant to be seen on the runway and nowhere else.

Below are three horny White Witches, all in Heavy Metal magazine getups.  I am sure the crucifix witch #3 wears is meant ironically.

In a bit of stage magic, the witch below rises above the competition in a gown whose skirt is emblazoned with images of spooky monsters.

Concept artist Justin Sweet’s White Witch, looking more a vampish Dragon Lady. Pity this depiction was shelved in favor of Tilda Swinton’s.

The White Witch meets her demise in the 2005 movie. We don’t see what happens to her after Aslan knocks her down (the book doesn’t say either) but the movie suggests Aslan eats her.

That’s all, folks!