Charming print of Aslan, Lucy, and Susan by artist Dave Quiggle.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
|The Silver Staff
The Slivered Chair
Silver Key and Golden Key
The Copper Splice
The Silver Sextant
A Seed of Silver
A Chair with Silver Cushions
The Silver Flag
The Silver Twins
The Silver Chalice
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!
I admit Prince Caspian has its moments, like the madcap romp with Bacchus and the maenads. But compared to the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia, I don’t like it very much.
In fact, I’d rather it didn’t exist at all. There’s no need for it to. The same themes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are rehashed and so is the same plot. If you’re reading the series for the first time and skip it to go on to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you wouldn’t be missing much. In fact, the latter book makes a far better sequel. In it, the reader gets to relax and explore Narnia, not futz around retreading what’s gone before.
(If I-the-writer could do a restructure of the series I’d excise Telmar altogether and make Caspian the prince of a later dynasty that lost its connection to true Narnia. The why and how aren’t that important. The journey of the Dawn Treader would then be a way for him to find it and the seven lost lords. There! I solved the problem with a few strokes of my keyboard.)
Prince Caspian was the last book of Narnia that I’d read. I had just turned 14 and wanted to complete the series, having read the other books multiple times. It was a disappointing send-off. Looking at it now with adult eyes, it’s just not a good book.
To begin with, it’s ill-conceived. Narnia was restored to its glory at the end of LW&W, and now we have to go through all of that again? WTF is that? It makes more sense to me, as a writer, to do a sequel that explores what Narnia is. That’s what a reader would want, having had their appetites whetted by the previous book. Not some dull stuff about politics, feuding lords, and foreign colonization.
The book even begins dully, with the Pevensies waiting for the train that will take them back to school. Their holiday is over and they’re bored, uncomfortable, gloomy. I guess the point of this scene was that Aslan (God) can call you to action at any time, any place; still it’s a less than dramatic beginning, especially compared to walking through a wardrobe and meeting a faun in the snow.
And when they get there, they futz around for three entire chapters discovering the ruins they’ve been dumped in are really Cair Paravel. Talk about disappointments. Nevertheless, it’s a hook.
But… after more poking around, nostalgia for glory days, and camping out, we switch POV over to a kid named Caspian we don’t know, who is used to convey yet more disappointments: real Narnia has been dead for 500 years, and even worse, turned into some drab, generic European country with pointedly satiric, odd-sounding names! And those names are the most interesting thing about the invaders, because they’re dull too, unlike the Calormenes who appear in the next book. There is nothing distinct about them. They don’t have the militarism of the Spartans or the tartans and clans of the Scottish. They’re not Viking analogues, or Huns, or Romans. The closest I can call them are Normans, who came from France in 1066 to conquer England and unite it, yet even the Normans had their own culture – they were descendants of Vikings who had settled down and become Christianized.
It is telling that the land of Telmar was never developed as Calormen was. Telmar still existed post-Caspian X, as a passage from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader makes clear, but its culture and governance remained vague up to The Last Battle. I don’t think Lewis himself knew exactly what it was. It remains a plot device, clear and simple, which is a shame because so much of the story concerns it.
In the 2008 movie, the producers chose to give it a Spanish feel, with Conquistador helmets, Latino actors, and 15th century battle technology. Personally, I didn’t like it; but it’s as good a choice as any. If it were up to me, I’d go the Twelfth Night route: Shakespeare’s imaginary land of Illyria receives a new look with each staging of the play to let us know it’s strange and foreign. There’s nothing wrong with fresh-eyed scriptwriters and designers filling in what Lewis left unsaid.
Then there is the novel’s odd structure. We start off with the Pevensies who putter around for three chapters, then switch over to Caspian’s POV, but as conveyed by Trumpkin, who is telling them what happened prior to their summoning by the Horn. This is confusing in itself, as it’s also clear it’s not from Trumpkin’s POV – the voice is the omnipresent narrator’s, the POV Caspian’s. It’s like the beginning narrator of The Worm Ouroboros where the astral-traveling narrator disappears after a few hundred words, letting the story carry itself. Caspian’s story is conveyed in this way up to Chapter VIII, where we pick up again with the Pevensies, which is a letdown for the reader as the main plot is sidelined.
Lewis’s mistake here, I think, is assuming that readers cared more about the Pevensies than Narnia itself. He handled the story-in-a-story much better in The Horse and His Boy, where Shasta/Cor’s backstory is given in conversation by Arsheesh to Anradin, and Aravis narrates her flight from home disguised as a bit of Calormene storytelling art.
Another thing to hate in the book is all the obvious derision poked at schooling, from lies being taught (e.g. Narnia has no talking animals or mythological creatures) to blunt parodies of Shakespeare (“Pulverulentus Siccus at the fourth page of his Grammatical Garden or the Arbour of Accidence pleasantly open’d to Tender Wits?”) to Miss Frizzle and her class of dumpy, wool-stocking wearing girls to an odious child threatening another teacher with investigation by the school board. It’s stale, and it doesn’t belong, like Mrs. Beaver’s sewing machine. How the hell did the Narnian Telmarines develop an educational system so like early 20th century Britain? They were founded by pirates, and developed as Normans, most likely in isolation as no other Western countries are mentioned. Would they really have turned into stuffy British types?
Then, there’s the issue of character. I can’t fault the talking animals or the mythic Narnians — they are some of the best-sketched of the series — but the Pevensies and Caspian come across as thick. Like Telmar, they serve as plot devices to demonstrate belief and lack of belief, and there’s a lot of bickering and back-and-forth about that. (There is a LOT of bickering in this book.) Lewis should have let Trumpkin and Nikabrik carry that function and let the kids become Kings and Queens again. That’s what this reader wanted, anyway.
Actually, the novel might have been more tolerable if it had been written entirely from Caspian’s viewpoint. His reactions to the reappearance of the Pevensies would have been interesting, and his issues with belief and faith more upfront.
Then there’s the weird business of Aslan’s How.
Lewis was clearly thinking of the whimsically named Stone Age triliths, tombs, and other monuments that dot the English countryside, that accreted myth and magic over the centuries; yet, we-the-reader has just visited that stone table in the previous book. It’s off-putting to discover it’s turned into this old, weird relic… like magical Narnia has somehow turned into present-day Britain. There’s so much about Prince Caspian that’s precious, ingenuous, and satiric that it has an altogether different tone than the other books, like Lewis didn’t take it as seriously. Even the Pevensies are underwhelmed by witnessing the complete wreck of their former home. The most pressing concern any of them have is Edmund losing his torch (flashlight for U.S. readers.) To Susan’s credit, she shows the most emotion and sadness of any of them.
By the time we reach the middle of the book it’s just tedious. Lucy sees Aslan and the trees dancing and the others don’t believe her and deride her and blah blah blah doubtcakes. It’s very dull compared to the plotline of LW&W, where, at the same rough point, Edmund is betraying his siblings to the White Witch to presumably be turned into statues.
There are a few good things in the first half of the book, like the poetic mentions of the kids’ former lives as grownup kings and queens, worldbuilding sneaking in as nostalgia; we also find out the world of Narnia is larger ** than it appeared to be in LW&W, setting things up for the epic voyage of Dawn Treader. But it’s mostly camping and wandering around the woods.
It’s only in the last third that we get any action. Aslan returns, everyone sees him, and he roars; the dryads, naiads, and river-gods go into action, as does Bacchus.
Despite PC being my least favorite of the books, it contains one of my favorite passages of description:
|Bacchus and Silenus and the Maenads began a dance, far wilder than the dance of the trees; not merely a dance for fun and beauty (though it was that too) but a magic dance of plenty, and where their hands touched, and where their feet fell, the feast came into existence—sides of roasted meat that filled the grove with delicious smell, and wheaten cakes and oaten cakes, honey and many-coloured sugars and cream as thick as porridge and as smooth as still water, peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries—pyramids and cataracts of fruit. Then, in great wooden cups and bowls and mazers, wreathed with ivy, came the wines; dark, thick ones like syrups of mulberry juice, and clear red ones like red jellies liquefied, and yellow wines and green wines and yellowy-green and greenish-yellow.
But for the tree people different fare was provided. When Lucy saw Clodsley Shovel and his moles scuffling up the turf in various places (which Bacchus had pointed out to them) and realised that the trees were going to eat earth it gave her rather a shudder. But when she saw the earths that were actually brought to them she felt quite different. They began with a rich brown loam that looked almost exactly like chocolate; so like chocolate, in fact, that Edmund tried a piece of it, but he did not find it at all nice. When the rich loam had taken the edge off their hunger, the trees turned to an earth of the kind you see in Somerset, which is almost pink. They said it was lighter and sweeter. At the cheese stage they had a chalky soil, and then went on to delicate confections of the finest gravels powdered with choice silver sand. They drank very little wine, and it made the Hollies very talkative: for the most part they quenched their thirst with deep draughts of mingled dew and rain, flavoured with forest flowers and the airy taste of the thinnest clouds.
It also contains my least favorite scene, the one where Nikabrik and his cronies attempt to convince Caspian to resurrect the White Witch with dark magic. I know it was stuck in for drama, and perhaps as a cautionary tale for young readers, but like Mrs. Beaver’s sewing machine, it just doesn’t fit. Necromancy is never mentioned again in the series.
Speaking as a writer, though, it is a good scene: it wouldn’t be out of place in an adult novel. Even now Nikabrik’s partisanship cuts close to home. He has his reasons, and they are valid ones; so does Trufflehunter in opposing them. I admire the dialogue. But it doesn’t belong. (I have not seen Prince Caspian the movie so I don’t know how it went down there)
Not only that, it is presented as being overheard by Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin – just voices, no visuals – and comes to a head as the three burst into the room (see the picture above.) Lewis then hedges things by having the light go out, so we’re not sure who killed who! Trumpkin lopped off the head of the hag, and Caspian was bitten; that’s all the reader knows. It seems a coy bit of presentation so the boys aren’t marked as murderers, even of evil creatures. And a sorry excuse for why Caspian can’t fight his own one-on-one combat with King Miraz and must let Peter do it.
And actually, the Pevensies do squat-shit in this book. They save Trumpkin from drowning (or rather Susan does) and bring him back to the rebel camp at Aslan’s How; that’s about it. The girls partake in the Wild Romp, while the boys serve to save Caspian from the evil creatures and be his champions with Miraz. Even that swordfight is described with coyness, Edmund commenting to Dr. Cornelius as if he’s watching a football match through binoculars.
And let’s not go into Miraz’s convenient stumble and Sopespian’s and Glozelle’s way too convenient insurrection that finishes him off and leads to the tourney becoming a free-for-all, and then the convenient charge of Aslan and the living trees. Both Tolkien and Lewis were members of the Inklings, and I have to wonder who copied who with this.
So, add plot devices, whitewashing, and convenient coincidences to the book’s long list of sins. And tone. Lewis’s narration moves between whimsy and darkness, unable to make up its mind about the proceedings.
I think part of the problem with all the above is that, for Lewis-the-writer, there were just too many characters to keep track of. There are five major ones – Pevensies plus Caspian, and five semi-major ones – Nikabrik, Trumpkin, Trufflehunter, Reepicheep, Dr. Cornelius. By semi-major, I mean characters who do things in the plot, who change and grow. Then there’s Aslan, who admittedly doesn’t change and grow, but is perhaps the most involved in the plot here of all the books, though that’s to his and the book’s detriment, IMO. Add to this all the minor ones, Bacchus, Silenus, the Telmarines, Pattertwig, etc. and it’s a very overstuffed book. It feels like it should be a lot longer and more epic than it was.
The end of the book is wrapped up in a novel way. Instead of having the good guys triumph and ending it there, with the Pevensies magicked back to the station, the very valid problem of what to do with a hostile, conquered people emerges. I don’t blame Lewis for wanting to address it, but as in all the other plot points of the book, it’s made into a test of faith: the embittered losers must trust that Aslan’s magic doorway leads them to an island paradise. As an allegory, this shows God’s mercy towards those who are not yet ready to receive his message. But again, it’s dull. The kids must don their by-now grubby school clothes and march through the doorway with the exiles, a less than transcendent homecoming. They are left on a dull railroad bench going back to a dull boarding school.
And what of the former Telmarines? If they were sent back in the same timeline, that means they wound up on their South Seas island in the middle of the WWII Pacific Theater, where they were sure to be discovered by American or Japanese forces. And if not, it was only a matter of years before the modern world would find them, and presumably marvel.
This odd problem was never addressed and adds to my feeling Prince Caspian was thrown together without a lot of thought or logic.
Re-reading it as I wrote this, as an adult, it also struck me that while LW&W had the right mix of fantasy, adventure, and catechism, in PC the instruction comes too heavy-handed. It’s a novel about doubt and faith, and instead of one or two central examples it has many: the kids doubt they’re really in Cair Paravel while Trumpkin doubts the existence of them, and their abilities; Nikabrik doubts Aslan’s aid; Susan, Edmund, and Peter doubt Lucy; and the whole of Telmarine Narnia doubts the existence of Old. It’s a downer and gets tiring, as does the bickering about it. Out of all the other books, PC is the most like The Last Battle which is also dull. Even worse, if Lewis’s timeline of Narnia is reckoned, the land will exist for another 500 years or so before going kaput.
There. See why I hate it?
** I was surprised to find on a re-read that Calormen is mentioned, but it’s spelled Kalormen. The mention of this, and Archenland… and later on Galma, Terebinthis, The Seven Isles and the Lones Isles (in The voyage of the Dawn Treader)– implies the world of Narnia is larger than just Narnia.
I’m going to round out these posts with some depictions that, while they don’t depict the White Witch, would make very nice White Witches.
The first would-be witch is the Winter Carnival Snow Queen. These depictions are common in the English theater form known as the Pantomime, or panto for short. Pantomimes are usually performed during the winter holiday season. The character is also available for hire to entertain at holiday parties or fetes. The lady above, if she had a sterner expression, would do Jadis proud.
What all the above have in common is that the costumes are made to appreciated in close quarters, and it’s the performer’s responsibility to bring the character to life. But sometimes all the performer just has to do is simply be decorative, or march in a procession.
There’s a subset of the Goth community called White Goth whose models, with their stark black-and-white aesthetic, would make novel White Witches for a modern production.
In last weeks’ Worldbuilding Wednesday I took a look at the etymology of Prunaprismia and how other women of Telmar might have been named. This week, I’ll look at the men.
I think Lewis designed his names with French and Spanish in mind. The pronunciation of them, glottal and oily, recalls spoken Italian as well. There’s satire packed in them with how unpleasant they sound — Glozelle, Rhoop, Mavramorn — which harks to a cultural animosity only a native Britisher could understand. Caspian is the most normal of any of them. But even as a child I thought the character’s name was a big question mark. What’s a Russian lake doing in Narnia? But I think Lewis just liked the sound of it. (The relationship between boy-Caspian and the real-world one was never explained or even mentioned, which is odd because children of Lewis’s generation were expected to know their geography.) The -ian at the end of the name denotes “of” or “belonging to” in Armenian, so logic dictates that centuries ago there was a Casp or Caspin who founded this line. Some other names, like the tongue-twisting Sopespian, follow this form, so we can deduce that men’s names were short, no more than two syllables, and fairly simple: Sopesp.
Rh is another distinguishing mark of these names and one that harks back to German. Lord Rhoop and Rhince both use this combination. Since Rhince was a sailor in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he was most likely one of the Telmarines who had chosen to remain in Narnia (and one who overcame his fear of the sea.) Another feature of Telmarine is names that end in z, as in the Spanish words Cadiz and Inez.
Amongst Narnia fans opinion is divided whether the Telmarine lords ** opposing Miraz in Prince Caspian are referred to in the text by their first or last names. I say these are surnames. Some could serve as either, such as Octesian. The names could also refer to ancestral lands or other places; at times it seems Lewis tore some pages out of The Worm Ourobouros with how outlandish they are.
Telmar itself is an obvious play on the Spanish del Mar, “of the Sea.” This is reflective of the nation’s founders, who were South Sea pirates from Earth. Lewis never mentioned a Western Sea or Narnian west coast in the books, despite what the wikis say.
** Includes “The Seven Great Lords of Narnia” — Bern, Octesian, Restimar, Rhoop, Mavramorn, Revilian, and Argoz — as well as Belisar, Uvilas, Arlian, Erimon, and the Passarids, who seem to be a whole family.
In 1984 The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe received its first official stage treatment, and it’s been staged regularly ever since. In fact, it’s become a staple of children’s theater. It’s easy to see why. The story is simple, the characters memorable, the action clear-cut. Though it seems it would be difficult to do with the fantastic settings and animal characters, theater magic can easily do its thing with scrims, lighting, sound effects, and clever costumes.
The witch character above is very effective. All she wears is a shaggy white fur coat and a black and silver crown made of some bendable material like plastic or feathers. She has pale skin and red lips, and a regal, mean look. She’s Jadis in a way an illustration can’t be.
This witch has the same kind of crown — tall and feathery — but looks more futuristic with the formed helmet and mirrored chestpiece. This kind of crown is cool because it moves in sympathy with the witch’s actions, adding to her magnetism on stage.
Edmund is in the foreground here played by a young man of color, and the witch in the back. But again she has the same crown and in addition a flowing fur cape/coat which I bet she flicked around imperiously on the stage. A cape can also become a tool for conveying character.
Here the witch herself is black. But she’s still the same character by her expansive gestures and cackling laugh.
Another witch in action. Depending on the staging and the director’s conception, the witch may be statuesque and regal, or full of action as she struts, wrestles with Aslan, and goes into battle.
Not all depictions are successful. Here Aslan looks like Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre while the witch has become a crone.
Here Lewis’s own text is used to form the trees and forest! Not a fan of the witch’s costume though … it’s too fussy and baroque.
The white witch at the Stone table. Aslan’s body is tastefully concealed by her gang of werewolves, hags, and other frights. But her costume is ill-fitting and not appropriate for a bloody sacrifice.
A White Witch with the glamor of Elizabeth Taylor poses with a fan…or Lucy, perhaps? The wonderful thing about the witch, for an actress, is that she can be played at any age and any body type.
A White Witch wearing a pants ensemble, not a gown, with a crown that looks Asian.
A very effective theater poster that cuts to the heart of the story. If you’ll notice, both enemies have fangs!