All Things Charn (Part IV)

” She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, ‘Victory.’ “
— From The Magician’s Nephew

Now we get to what is, for me, one of the most compelling features about Jadis and Charn: The war with her sister.

[ You can read previous parts of this essay here:    Part I,   Part II,   Part III ]

Lewis doesn’t say if the sister is older or younger, a twin, a half-sister or stepsister; he doesn’t say how the war started, or why. We know that one sister eventually holed up in the city of Charn (Jadis) while the other attacked it (the nameless sister) because, at the end, Jadis is on the stairs of the palace as her sister walks up, triumphant, to gloat her victory. But beyond that, we don’t know much and that’s just as well. The scenes in Charn, vivid as they are, are only a small part of a small book. But they’re the most memorable ones, for the fierce battle, the dying world, the titanic city, and the Deplorable Word, uttered by Jadis, that extinguishes all life from it forever.

Jadis utters the Deplorable Word

The sparseness means there’s a lot of room there for imagination to room, as in these Charn fanfics. 

We don’t know who was in the right, who was in the wrong in the conflict. Jadis tells us (through the story she tells to Digory and Polly) that it was her sister’s fault, for using magic when the two had promised not to… forcing Jadis to use magic in turn, and employing the Deplorable Word at the end when her defeat was clear. Yet, we can’t really believe Jadis is telling the truth, because of the self-serving nature of her tone, how she justifies her choices to serve her narrative of being the wronged, reasonable one. She might be fighting to save Charn from a more wicked ruler than herself, or fighting to keep Charn from a more judicious and enlightened one. We don’t know and we don’t have to know for the purpose of the story, which is to point out the futility of all wars.

(My take was always the rulers were twins, one dark haired, Jadis, one blonde and fair (sister) with their personalities matching their hair, as they did in old fairy tales. Sis wanted a less harsh and more humane rule, Jadis wanted to keep her boot down, so Sis ran away and raised an army, believing she was in the right. She had actually won, but for… )

It’s really a masterful turn by Lewis.

The peculiar thing about this tale of warring sisters is that it resonates so powerfully with the reader, more so than if Jadis were fighting her brother, one of her parents, or another relative such as a cousin. I thought it was due to historical precedent. But in my research I found there were, over the centuries, very few rivalries between female siblings for the throne.

One was Boran, who took the throne of the Sasanian Empire from her sister Azarmidokht (that’s a tongue-twister) during a period of civil war between the Persians and Parthians, with each faction supporting one sister over the other. The other female rivalry was between Cleopatra and her half-sister Arsinoe IV for the throne of Egypt, Cleo eventually aligning with Julius Caesar. Yet no one outside of Persian historians has heard of Boran, and Arsinoe isn’t even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, the go-to guide for Egyptian political maneuvering in 16th and 17th century England. So where do the feuding sisters come from again?

The answer is right before us in the cradle of the English-speaking world: Elizabeth I and Mary I (more commonly known as Bloody Mary) who were half-sisters, and, after she became Queen, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, who were cousins. All three women were ferocious combatants for power in the Tudor age, the core of their power struggles centering around religion – Protestant Elizabeth, who was to found the Church of England, vs. Catholic Mary I and Mary Queen of Scots. To the irreligious, it’s all rather silly; but very real for Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, who endured periods of imprisonment and threat of death. Their story is one C. S. Lewis would have known well, as all English schoolchildren would. In the end, Elizabeth solved the problem by beheading her cousin, and not as coldly as one would think.

Cordelia's Portion, by Ford Madox Brown, another pre-Raphaelite.

Cordelia’s Portion, by Ford Madox Brown, another pre-Raphaelite.
Goneril and Regan are glaring at each other over Lear’s right shoulder while Cordelia, dressed in light green to the right, gestures prettily.

The popular Shakespeare play King Lear also presents female rulers vying for power. The King, having divided his kingdom between his three daughters, sees two of them go to war over it while the third stays faithful to him, dying later after she and her father are captured. It’s a tragedy, and like a lot of Shakespeare very robust and adaptable – I have seen a version set in Shogun Japan, and another during WWI. Most college-educated Englishmen would be familiar with the play as well as the tale of Elizabeth and the Marys.

There are also many depictions of female rivalry from the fairy tales of Europe which Lewis praised so much, and if they were not warring Queens, they were warring rivals. Such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and their stepmothers, and the Snow Queen and Gerda, to name a few. There were also likely many fantasy tales of powerful female rivals in early pulp magazines now crumbling to pieces; She by H. Rider Haggard, has been cited by Lewis scholars as an influence on the creation of Jadis, as Ayesha, the She of the title, vies with a native girl for a handsome explorer’s attentions.

Wraparound cover for the 1974 Ballantine paperback edition of The Lost Continent by Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne

Wraparound cover for the 1974 Ballantine paperback edition of The Lost Continent by Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne

The similar pulp novel The Lost Continent contains a love triangle too, Empress Phorenice seeking to destroy her rival Nais for the love of the hunky Deucalion, former viceroy of Yucatan. It’s an upcoming project of mine to read the latter, and I can comment further on its influence on Lewis when I’m done. Both stories form the basis of a collective cultural memory that stretches from Victorian England up to Heavy Metal magazine, and beyond, to video games, manga, and anime, of women at war with each other.

And yet, there’s still something else that makes the Jadis-sister war resonate so strongly in the Chronicles, and it’s this: the sibling rivalry between Susan and Lucy. The rivalry was touched on in the first two books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, and made clear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by Lucy’s temptation over the beauty spell in the spellbook of Coriakin the magician.  Not only that, there’s yet another female rivalry in the books, stated by the Beavers in LWW: that of Eve and Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who is said to be the ancestress of Jadis. The Jadis who infatuates Digory (at first, let’s note he wises up quickly) and causes Polly to deride her (” ‘Beast!’ muttered Polly. “)

These unspoken rivalries may be par for the era, in which girls and women were expected to compete for the best male possible to marry and procreate with, having few other choices in middle-class England among citizens of the “proper” class. But I also think it’s deeper than that. It’s an acknowledgement of the power of attractive, magnetic women with their own plans have over men, and the fear disguised as disdain they inspire in commonplace women who cannot or will not act the same way.

I will also note that traditionally in Lewis’s time countries were referred to as female – Britannia, Mother Russia, etc. – or shes, as boats and cars were. He must have absorbed that way of speaking and thinking as well.

At any rate, in Charn, Jadis had the last word.

Ancient City

Could this have been the ruins of Cair Paravel in some alternate timeline? Or the famous Lost City of the Giants past the Northern Moors?


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.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/18/21: Narnian Horse Names
xxxx(Narnia XXVII)


The horses Bree (front, gray dapple) and Hwin (back, brown) are my favorite animal characters from the Chronicles. Not only are they featured throughout the whole of The Horse and His Boy, they play vital roles in the plot. Both were stolen as foals from Narnia and raised in Calormen, where normal non-talking horses are the norm, until they both, simultaneously, take the chance to escape along with their human riders.

Bree’s full name is actually Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah, as he explains to Shasta when they meet. These sounds, of course, are descriptive of the ones horses make. The mare Hwin has a similar onomatopoetic name, which brings to mind “whinny,” and though we don’t get to find out her full name it may be derived from Houyhnhnm, which is a race of intelligent horses in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

From these two names we can derive that all Narnia horses have personal names of this sort, and map out some randomgens.


Narnian Horse Names

Horse language


Hway-Hwee-Heesh chf’ chf’


Hahwoo-Pwah’sh Hay-Bhroo-Hroo































The Sacrifice

Aslan’s Sacrifice Remade, by Through the Movies

A very original take on the episode from the book. This artist has a great underground style straight out of a 1990s zine.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/11/21: Narnian Islands
xxxx(Narnia XXVI)

The Water-Babies, 1909, illustrated by Warwick Goble

If you are like me, you probably wish The Voyage of the Dawn Treader had gone and on, with Caspian and crew exploring ever more exotic places. That book remains unwritten, but here’s some randomly generated islands they might have explored, if they’d had time.


Other Islands of Narnia

Ashvows: Several Star People live on this tropical island which, from above, looks like a bird in flight.

Aslan’s Spire: An island said to lie in an ocean off the west coast of Narnian with a central mountain several miles high… so high it actually pierces the sky.

Birdburn Island: A smoking volcanic island off the northern coast of Narnia that erupts every few years. Just visible on it are the remains of a great city half-buried in the lava flows.

Bottlemarch: A group of low, humped rocks ten leagues to the east of Cair Paravel. They resemble floating bottles which is how they got their name.

Butterhelm: A two-lobed, roughly heart-shaped island consisting of a flat, grassy tableland between high hills. It was settled by centaurs during Narnia’s Golden Age.

Carafaine: An island kingdom in the south-central part of the Great Eastern Ocean, roughly circular with a trailing irregularly shaped peninsula. It was settled by Narnians around the year 600. The climate is tropical yet comfortable and the kingdom self-sufficient, so few traders come.

Churmadon: A sandy islet in the north of the Great Eastern Ocean. The only plants are sea grasses. Some primitive humans live here in small huts, surviving by fishing and harvesting mussels.

Fox Rock: The reddish peak of an extinct volcano that pokes above the sea to the east of Terebinthia. A haven for pirates who utilize its sea caves.

Goldjoust: A legendary island with a kingdom that hosts continual jousting contests, the prize being the winner’s mount’s weight in gold. Any kind of mount is accepted, not just horses.

Hag’s Tangle: A southern atoll surrounded by seaweed and sea plants of all shapes and sizes in which boats can become trapped. The only Calormene explorers to reach the actual island report it was filled with lizards, poisonous snakes, and sea crocodiles.

Hermit’s Hell: A vegetated sandbank off the eastern coast of The Great Desert. No hermits, but plenty of wild pigs which meant humans once lived there.

Kingsands: A small atoll with a blue saltwater lagoon lying to the southeast of The Lone Islands. It has sparse, bushy vegetation. The sand is sparkling white and many rare shells wash up on the beaches. The only things living here are shorebirds.

Loudfolly: A lightly forested, rocky island. It is covered with mountains in its eastern part out of which a large, noisy waterfall cascades down to the beach.

Nymph’s Heart: This cross-shaped small island is thickly forested and inhabited by Talking Beasts. It is located off the coast of Galma.

Penandia: A large island to the northeast of the Seven Isles, a two days’ journey according to sailors, that is home to seabirds and marine mammals like sea lions. No one has ever penetrated its interior because of the rough, jagged cliffs that surround it, but some visitors have seen humans waving from the top.

Pinekeep and Blistercast: Two small islands that are part of the Lone Islands group, and thus part of Narnia. After King Caspian retook the islands, the slaves that were freed settled them.

Puddleglum’s Rock: Named in honor of the brave Marsh-wiggle, this tiny island lies just off the marshes and is reachable on foot during exceptionally low tides. Currently Talking Owls and Talking Eagles live there.

Queen’s End: Only Galman explorers have ever visited this large northern island. They have never sailed completely around it, giving rise to the speculation it is a microcontinent and not an island. What little of it that was seen was bare and rocky, dusted with snow.

Raven Island: A medium-sized hilly island twenty miles off the coast of Archenland. Many Talking Beasts live here. Nominally it is under the guardianship of the Kingdom of Narnia.

Reepicheep’s Rush: Some legends say the noble Talking Mouse Reepicheep spent the night here fasting and praying before sailing to Aslan’s Country. The island is small and bar-shaped, covered with green grass and copses of trees, and lies off the coast of Ramandu’s Island.

Rhince’s Cairn: A small islet said to have been discovered by Rhince, the first mate of the fabled Narnian Ship Dawn Treader, when it was returning to port. It held a clear, sweet spring and a mysterious shaped pile of white, polished rocks with strange carvings on them.

Sweetstone: A small island on which a clan of Dwarves has a mine. The climate is semi-tropical and much of it is farmed. Dwarves also mine guano from the seacliffs on the eastern side. Some fauns and satyrs live here also, helping to herd the sheep and tend the vineyards.

The Harewealdhs: An isolated island chain in the central-north Great Eastern Ocean. Heavily forested, with pines, cedars, and other evergreen trees. The animals that live here are dwarfed versions of their mainland counterparts. Though in rough, subarctic seas the climate is mild because of a warm current. No kingdom has ever claimed these islands.

The Lion’s Maze: A volcanic island chain of the far south. The islands are made of black and dark brown solidified lava twisted into spires or worn by the sea into domes and pillows. Only small boats can navigate between the islands because of the sharp underwater rocks. Some islands have tropical forests but all remain unexplored. Calormene sailors are deathly afraid of this place while followers of Aslan feel at peace.

The Redcastles: A small island chain named for its rock formations, which at sunrise and sunset look like the red-gold towers of a fantastic castle shimmering above the sea. The islands themselves are bare and rocky with tufts of grass growing between the cracks. There is no animal life here, but the largest island has a freshwater spring.

Wyglade: A small spindle-shaped island lying at the center of the Bite of Calormen. Dryads and Naiads are said to live there, casting spells on the currents so they carry away any human ship that tries to approach it.

Zhedad: A tropical island that lies in the center of an atoll with an extensive coral reef around it. A wizard lives there, researching the secrets of the sea. Close to this lies the tiny island of Fireferry, on which dwell a group of good-natured witches. Both islands are filled with parrots and other tropical birds, as well as small tapirs and deer, wild spotted cats, and Talking Coatimundi.

In the Great Desert

Calormen Outpost, by Gkaida

The Great Desert of the world of Narnia held a few surprises, such as this Calormene fortress.

Tashbaan and its Protector

Tash the Inexorable by Leonard Ismos

A beautifully rendered view of the city of Tashbaan, top, and the God Tash, bottom. It wasn’t until The Last Battle that the reader finds out Tash is real, and evil, and received sacrifices of human beings.

Narnia in the Real World

Last year, while researching Narnia, I found out about the existence of a Florida rock band called White Witch. I don’t know if the name was inspired by Narnia or not. But there are plenty of other musical groups and even companies who looked to Lewis for inspiration.

The Australian rock band Silverchair was perhaps the most famous of these, pictured above in its very young grunge phase.

Jadis inspired the name of a British prog-rock band.

Beruna, or be-Runa, is a company that makes sprouted seed salt and heirloom popcorn.

Charn(ia) is an ancient lifeform from the pre-Cambrian period that looked like a leaf or a feather. The place where its fossil was found was named Charnwood.

Pevensie, the family of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, lent its name to a tract of retirement homes. The house plans are named after the kids; this is the Edmund.

Aslan Brewing, maker of craft beers, is based in Bellingham, Washington.

… while Narnia is also the name of a Swedish rock band.

Jazz musician Kris Berg wrote this piece titled “The Gates of Tashbaan.”

Lastly, a nail polish manufacturer called Pahlish came out with this collection in 2014 titled “The Wood Between the Worlds.”




Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/4/21: Let’s Talk About
xxxxCair Paravel (Narnia XXV)

Yes, I know this is a Disneyland Castle photoshopped into the scene.

Just where the land of Narnia met the sea—in fact, at the mouth of the great river—there was something on a little hill, shining. It was shining because it was a castle and of course the sunlight was reflected from all the windows which looked towards Peter and the sunset; but to Peter it looked like a great star resting on the seashore.

— from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


Cair Paravel is Narnia’s ruling seat, a great castle on the edge of the eastern sea. It’s unclear in the books if it had a town or city attached to it (which, logically, it must have had) but it did have a treasure room, an orchard, a harbor, and a throne room/hall with an “ivory roof and the west door all hung with peacock’s feathers and the eastern door which opens right onto the sea.”  Very grand indeed. I always picture the castle like a smaller version of Neuschwanstein, one of the pet projects of Ludwig the Second, The Mad King of Bavaria, which I had visited as a child.  At the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the Pevensies are crowned kings and queens in the Great Hall (There are a lot of great this-and-thats in Narnia, Hall, Waterfall, River, etc.) in the four thrones which are there conveniently waiting for them.

The descriptions of the castle are magical, but the name is even more so. It sounds graceful and light, French or Italian, unlike the mouth-twisting chewiness of Neuschwanstein. But the word Caer is from Old Welsh. In Medieval times it meant fortress, castle, or stronghold — it still exists in Wales, in place names like Caerphilly Castle. Paravel, on the other hand sounds Latin, in which para means “beside” — a preposition of placement — as in the modern  English words paranormal and parallel. Vel could also be a Latin preposition, comparable to the English “or” … it could also derive from velum / veli, which can mean the sail of a ship. Given that that Cair Paravel stands by the sea and has a harbor, I think it’s the latter – the castle beside the sails (of the sea-going ships.)

Other scholars have their own ideas. In Middle English, Cair Paravel means “court” and “lesser than” — the idea that Aslan is true ruler of Narnia and the humans merely rule under him. This concept is never discussed by Lewis in the books, however, so I like my more concrete etymological analysis better.

In addition the words of Cair Paravel call up other allusions. Paravel sounds very close to paragon — in that the castle was a pinnacle of aesthetic and courtly perfection — and paradise. Switch the p for a c and you get caravel, a type of swift sailing ship. All of which allude to the castle’s role.

Looking to name a castle with something that has the same feel ?


Other Cair Paravels

Caer Tilphoniel

Charer Luravel

Cair Perafoil

Caer Cathadrul

Carre Pasvogel

Cair Murravel

Caer Carrovay

Cair Pallraven

Cair Paraveth

Cuer Pintagal

Kaer Pastvaal

Ceyen Shekiv

Khaer Parhokh

Caer Shervil

Couer Madret

Cer Eurville

Cith Ragasha

Cayhr Tareevel

Cahr Trivel

Céich Parvem

Ceuer Taravel

Carre Cureros

Chaere Tirysel

Ker Gracedel

Kaere Pasivod

Cyr Paraves