Farewell to Narnia

Guess I can’t stretch this summer out any further, can I? It’s time to say farewell to Narnia, at least for this year.

I still have some articles to finish and will be doing that.

Tash the Inexorable

Tash is the antithesis of Aslan the lion. In The Last Battle he’s the principal god of Calormen,  a horrid epitome of an ancient Middle Eastern deity who receives sacrificial victims in bizarre and novel ways, like being tied up inside a brass bull which is heated by a wood-burning fire from below. He’s cut from the whole cloth of the Bible as much as Jadis is. Historically, he’s Moloch, Marduk, and Tanis combined… though in truth Lewis must have have been most influenced by Nisroch, an Assyrian deity with an eagle’s head.

Nisroch

Pauline Baynes was the first to illustrate Tash and her vision is the iconic one. Her Tash is skeletal yet ornate, wearing a wide metal collar, earrings, and a headress, with a fancy loincloth covering his privates and a tattered, fluttering cape. He has cat’s paws for feet but his hands are the talons of a predatory bird, and though unwinged he bristles with sharp, curving spines. Though described in the text as vulture-headed, his beak resembles that of an ibis, like the Egyptian god Thoth.

Tash, ink drawing by Pauline Baynes

It’s not a bad depiction of an ersatz-Middle Eastern god. But Baynes’s depiction owes more to Aztec than Assyrian history. Her Tash looks more like an Eagle Warrior, the elite of the Aztec Emperor’s fighting force.

Aztec Eagle Warrior

All those spiny things coming out of Tash’s back are really decorative feathers like those on a Las Vegas showgirl. I guess the part about a bloody human sacrifice on an altar influenced her. And the mass blood sacrifices of the Aztecs certainly were horrifying, though they did not think of them that way.

In any case, Rishda Tarkaan is correct to be out of his mind in fright at seeing a being he had long dismissed as a plebian conceit in the live and actual flesh. Bayne’s drawing is horrific, but it’s humorous too. A dark humor and perhaps the darkest she got in the series.

Tash
This version of Tash adheres to Bayne’s in its depiction of the god’s feet, collar, and headdress, but here he seems a more active, wily, and athletic opponent, like a giant crow. Not bad but also not as alien and horrific.

This Tash is more Nisroch than Aztec warrior, even being modeled in stone. It’s creepy to think of a giant stone statue gliding slowly through the forest without means of propulsion. I like it.

A nearly-naked Tash with a vulture’s head as described in Lewis’s text and zombielike, rotting flesh exposing his ribcage.

A humorous but very angry Tash wearing chain mail. Again, he keeps the headress, earrings, and collar.

This takes the prize as the weirdest Tash… a giant skeleton that is crumbling apart even as it advances, and a head resembling a Styracosaurus skull.

Tash regards his enemy face to face in this Lovecraftian depiction. Note the pyramid and eye symbol on his belt buckle lifted from American currency.

This must be an Indian edition of The Last Battle, as Tash looks more than a little like Garuda.

A supremely weird but effective Tash with his head covered in a cowl of barnacles or pebbles.

Woodpecker Tash? But I like the energy of this one even though he’s missing the extra pair of arms.

This idol isn’t Tash — it’s a god of Carthage from the 1914 Italian silent film Cabiria. But with its golden plating, oversized scale, and army of spectators watching a sacrificial rite, it could be straight from the book.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/30/20: Narnia XVIII

Eustace keeps Jill from falling into hysteria as Tash passes by

In The Last Battle, Lewis introduces the reader to Narnia’s equivalent of Satan: Tash. Tash is the foremost deity of the desert nation of Calormen, mentioned first in The Horse and His Boy. However, in that book we are not told what he looked like, only his temple: it has a silver-plated roof and sits at the apex of the royal city of Tashbaan, which is named after him.  That he is the most powerful god of the Calormene pantheon is evident, but in the text, he’s just a bit of Orientalist window-dressing.

In The Last Battle, though, we get to see more.

They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar.

I’d forgotten about the human sacrifice bit, thinking it was fanon. The idol that oversees this bloody business  is said to be “… carved in stone and overlaid with gold [with] solid diamonds for eyes.”

It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak. It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers—all twenty of them—were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails. It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it.

This apparition appears ahead of the physical manifestation that pops out of the stable. It’s smoky and translucent and emits a deathly smell that makes Jill – but not any of the other characters – physically sick.( I remember thinking less of Jill, who still remains my favorite protagonist, at this mention.)

The illustration above depicts this moment, albeit takes liberties with it: it’s a statue of Tash rather than Tash himself, and is not smoky like the text says. Furthermore, it seems oversized. But this makes it all the more spooky, IMO.

In another world, perhaps one accessed through the Wood Between the Worlds, there might have been manifestations of Aslan and Tash like this.

 

Aslan vs. Tash

GOOD

Isphom, a kindly gray wolf with long, hairy eyebrows

Alona, a giant, good-natured snail with long, tufted ears and a pearly shell that reflects the light

Asbia, a beautiful bird with an ivory horn on her forehead

Umlan, a powerful bear with a flowing golden mane

Avnaa, a mischievous white dragon with the power to change his size from small to large

Asperi, a wise silver-scaled serpent with tufts of long, silky hair on his jaws and chin

Uslan, a gentle white lioness with eyes that are all white with no pupil or iris

EVIL

Mshver, a maiden with the head of a baboon and eight clawed arms N

Nanju, a terrible, armored human warrior with the head of a centipede that has a huge mouth and mandibles

Vash, a crocodile with the tail of a scorpion

Sharaz, an apelike skeletal being with bat’s wings

Bhranu, a demonic centaur with the head of an elephant and six legs

Khaph, a giant black horse with the scaly legs of a fowl and a flaming mane and tail

Dzach, an obese human man dressed in rich robes, with the head of a hyena

 

North African Charn

If Charn was modeled on the cities of North Africa, it surely would have looked like this.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/23/20: Narnia XVII

Lewis ended the Narnia Chronicles after seven books. Not only that, he burned that bridge behind him: In The Last Battle, both Narnia and the child protagonists are destroyed.

But what if he made a never-ending series of Narnia, or allowed other writers to carry on his work, as L. Frank Baum did with Oz?  We now might be reading books like these.

 

Narnia, continued.

A Proud and Stupid Kingdom

Journey to the Silver Forest

The Sweet Wager of Walter the Sailor

The Mouse Trainer and the Mouse

Reepicheep and the Singing Donkey

Wood to Wood

Anian, the Prince of Stags

Aslan of Cair Paravel

Tash the Hawk

Snowgray the Unicorn

The Iron Gem

Horatio the Outlaw

The Glass Stable

The Adventures of Susan in the Utter East

A Witch of the Northern Woods

A Princess of the Sun

Queen Valida of Terebinthia

Prince Rabadash and the Magic Feather

Jill the Lioness

Rumblebuffin is Missing

The Hills of Telmar

A Fire-Winged King

Hamadryad Wood

The Tisroc’s Slave

The Invisible Storm

Rhince of Galma

Prince Percivalian

The Parchment Hound

Queen Safarra of the Brass Horn

All the Orchards of Glasswater

 

Tapestry

Tapestry designed by Narnia illustrator Pauline Baynes for Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. It was part of a series that took 40 years to stitch, and the subject of recent controversy.

All Things Charn (Part II)

Lewis heavily drew on pulp SF and fantasy tropes to create the masterpiece that is Charn; but he also drew on the good old-fashioned fire and brimstone of The Bible.

Since it was, and may still be, the most-read book in Western Civilization, it’s natural that many of its stories influenced fiction of a fantastic bent that came later.  Westerners who never even picked up a Bible still know it through cinema epics, church sermons, and Sunday School… not to mention contemporary allusions, satires, and parodies. It’s safe to say the big, bad Biblical cities of Ninevah and Uruk, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Alexandria, Byblos — and especially Babylon — still bubble in the subconscious of most Westerners and create eerie resonance upon reading the descriptions of Charn.

Which, I think, is what Lewis wanted. Charn is an ancient city, a desert city, filled with temples, pyramids, chariots, slaves. It was intended to invoke humanity’s first city, the largest and grandest of them all, of which all subsequent cities are but a pale copy.

As for the actual Biblical cities, the jury is still out on which is the oldest or how populous they were. All we have are ruins to go on today, which are much less impressive than Charn’s as they have not lain undisturbed in a sterile planet for millennia.

To the original, uncredited writers of the Bible, however, the  first cities must have filled them with awe. From within they might have seemed to stretch out forever, as Charn does. The feeling of hugeness, human variety, luxury and vice must have been overpowering. When they went to describe it to the farmers and shepherds back home, they must have used superlatives, not objective descriptions that could be quantified.

Lewis the storyteller took those gasped-out superlatives and made them real. Like those ancient witnesses, he waxes into hyperbole. Charn isn’t just huge; it covers the Earth. It really is that massive, that rich, that wicked. Charn is Babylon on steroids.

Babylon has a bad rep in the Bible, of course, especially in Revelations; but most of that is due to the authors’  politics. In actual history, it was learned and cosmopolitan, the New York City of its day. And like that present-day city, it had a reputation for excess that translates into irredeemable wickedness and punishment from God.

Let’s take the Tower of Babel, an Old Testament story that tells of a city of humans seeking to reach heaven by building a gigantic tower. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, God smites them, by destroying the edifice and, furthermore, scrambling their capacity to all speak the same language. The Book of Genesis does not mention the city’s name, but modern archaeologists equate it with a ziggurat built to honor the god Marduk in Babylon. Babylon strikes again!

Two versions of the Tower.  The one at top is a modern digital creation, the bottom one the famous depiction by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The modern one is ominous yet sterile, with oversized architecture and a dull, red atmosphere that would serve well as Charn’s. Bruegel’s Tower is, in contrast, wildly out of proportion and uses forced perspective, to no avail, to give a sense of the tower’s height. But it’s delightful nonetheless, giving the impression of an immense building that sort of… folds back into itself, and into the clouds, rather than proceeding upwards. Again, very Charnlike.

Artwork by Soenke Maeter.

Some fans picture Charn as a version of Egypt. This is just wrong, IMO. Egypt never fell into disaster, it remained robust and its own entity into the modern day. Egypt was too religious and ceremonial a model for freewheeling Charn. Charn’s models are Assyria, Sumer, the cities of the Levant.

When Charn was alive, it may have looked like this.

This is assuming, as per my private hypothesis, that Charn’s sun was bright and yellow when the city was at its height.

Charn with a redder sun.

Like Babylon, Charn inspires gravid, potentuous prose: “Such was Charn, that great city, the city of the King of Kings, the wonder of the world, perhaps of all worlds.”


“I have stood here when the whole air was full of the noises of Charn; the trampling of feet, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves… “

“This was the old banqueting hall where my great-grandfather bade seven hundred nobles to a feast and killed them all before they had drunk their fill. They had had rebellious thoughts.”

As the last Queen of Charn, Jadis embodies another trope of the Bible: The Whore of Babylon.

whore of babylon

“Bottoms up!”

Raised a Catholic (as Lewis was) I know exactly where he was coming from with Charn and its Queen. She’s at once the inspiration of all the unnamed wickedness and also part and parcel of it.

Jadis is not literally a whore, of course. Lewis doesn’t mention sex, so Jadis could be a virgin Queen for all we know. But the emphasis on her superhuman beauty and physique, and penchant for luxuries, is certainly female and sensual. She’s also a Warrior Queen, her Empire swallowing up other nations and enslaving or destroying them, and as the last Queen, a prefigure to End Times. She even requests a dragon to ride in The Magician’s Nephew, a symbol of female power, while her archetype in Revelations makes do with a seven-headed horned beast.

Queens Jezebel, Zenobia, and Semiramis certainly played a role in Jadis’s conception as well, and it’s telling that these powerful female rulers  were assumed by later, male-dominated eras to have let their sexual appetites fly.

Lest we get too serious about Jadis and Biblical scholarship, I’ll close with this:

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/16/20: Narnia XVI

Aslan investigates the famous pools of Kallumia on Tashbaan’s west side.

Lewis never again got as exotic in the Chronicles as he did in with Calormen. The Valley of Ten Thousand Perfumes, Lake Mezreel, the crossroads city of Azim Balda, the Flaming Mountain of Lagour… these places don’t come into the plots, they are mentioned only in passing. But they do add to the richness.

Writing fanfic set in Narnia’s south and need some local color? Here’s a list.

 

Calormene Local Color

The Ruby Cliffs of Rekayet

Princess Shiralan

The Iron Whips of Al-Arazhka

The Tale of Tarkheena Tabna and the Ghostly Maiden

The Weeping Cliffs

The Pools of Kallumia

Quareera

Desert of Pyrheel

The five daughters of Chaldmash

The Floating Gardens of Tarkhaan Kallak

Spring of the Blind Stallion

The Salt Pans of Minzhez

El-Dukhaat

Gardens of Tiszrush

Chalaq

Scirocco of Qazar

Muhmet the Frugal Tarkhaan

Temple of the Divine Fakir

The Nine Peaks of Anshanu

Turammdaz

The Widow’s Barge

The Prophetess Lajandra

Zorbya of the Griffon

Battle of El-Mashyd

Prince Dariq the Madman

City of Chiraz

Tursheen the Lunar Dancer

The Ivory Dunes

Cheminhara, the Wasteland of the Lost Camel

 

How About This White Witch?

And why not?

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/9/20: Narnia XV

The City-State of Estom, by Findara McAvinchey

The City-State of Estom, by Findara McAvinchey

One of the questions I always wanted answered about Narnia-the-world is that of other civilizations. Sure, we had Narnia; then Telmar, dull and problematic as it was, and Archenland in Prince Caspian; in the next book Galma, Terabinthia, Calormen, and the Seven Isles came along, then Ettinsmoor and the Underworld in The Silver Chair. But there must have been more. The lands of the west were never explored, nor the far north or far south, or the whole of the Great Eastern Ocean.

Only a few fans have ventured into these territories. Jamison Harley added the imaginary countries of Einuno, Dosnii, Tatlodrei, Vierneige, and Femvissi to the south of Calormen on his comprehensive map. (The odd names are the numbers 1 – 5 in different languages.) Another group of young fans created an entire wiki around their Narnia expansion, which includes whole continents and new species of creatures:

The Alicorn Is a Horse-like creature cross between a Unicorn and a Pegasus. 4 species of Alicorns sided with Aslan, Chestnut, Palimino, Golden, Rainbow and White. While Black Alicorns sided with the white witch.

Alicorns are one of the mightiest horse species in Narnia they are a size of a full grown draft horse.

The White Alicorns are known to fall in love with the Elephants because of their wisdom, great intelligence, manners, and compassion. The Bull Elephants would mate with the female White Alicorns creating a new species of Elephant. the flying Elephants have beautiful silverish gray skin, and have a body, ears, tail, and trunk of an Elephant, but have wings and their tusks have stronger magic like the Alicorn, and a Unicorn’s horn.

I was ten years old too, once.

Here are some other countries that might have been, going by how Lewis named those that already existed.

 

Other Countries of the Narnian World

Affa

Andulmar

Araghan

Astarlun

Bramay

Brithgal

Falosha

Felir

Galdyr

Gerdlund

Harnem

Hertlund

Hydea

Jemek

Kandalarm

Korplain

Limand

Mamadan

Norolen

Orania

Ostdar

Palam

Pelica

Pernothia

Phaevel

Rhasvia

Rhunia

Samaskad

Sanethia

Scorma

Sodlom

Solarva

Sovia

Thaldark

Thelbia

Trakos

Vespithia

Vevois

Werelm