Three eternal modern gospels PART FIVE

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PART FIVE C.S. LEWIS, The Chronicles of Narnia in Shadowlands










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The first step up the tree

It is the beginning of it all and yet it was written long after the first published book. C.S. Lewis felt he had to give to his successive and successful stories that had already been published for some of them a fundament and it is this novel.

Two children manage to go on the other side of reality by using, but rather as victims, the tricks of an old selfish and both irresponsible and incoherent uncle who believes himself a magician. The rings he has manufactured lead them to the antechamber of many different worlds. And since curiosity kills the cat, but not children, they jump from that antechamber into a dying if not already dead world, actually killed by its Empress.

But this Empress is a witch and she kidnaps the kids into taking her to their own world. When she arrives she has lost her magic but not her size and strength, and she wants to conquer without stooping. I guess stooping must have sounded too stupid to her. Within hours she has created havoc and she has to be brought back to her world.

Unluckily again the uncle, a cabby, a horse and the two kids are thrown back into the vestibule to the many worlds along with her. But they land in a new world that is just being created by Aslan, the lion, Narnia. The witch is chased away and she gets refuge in the wild west while everyone is busy with the new world that is appearing.

The boy, Digory, is entrusted with the mission of collecting a special apple in the West that will protect Narnia once it is planted. They find the witch there and have to fight against her because she tries to lure Digory into taking her back to his own world for her to conquer it. But temptation is long-lived and peters out.

Then the apple is brought back, it is planted, the tree will protect Narnia, Digory can go home with an apple for his sick mother and life goes back to normal, except that the mother is now saved from cancer, the father comes back from India with a rich inheritance. All is well that ends well. Yet the novel lacks the free-wheeling atmosphere of the others because it is a sort of order: it has to bring together in the most logical way the adventures of later books that have already been written. So it is at times slightly artificial.

Yet the book is essential for the meaning of Narnia. Aslan, the lion, crowns as King and Queen the Cabby, Frank, and his wife, Helen, brought to him by super-magic. This new world has a creator, Aslan, and a king and a queen, hence is a kingdom with the problem that the king and queen are entrusted with managing the kingdom properly, generation after generation, and that goes against the grain of democracy.

This is particularly true when Aslan gives a warning to the race of the Children of Adam and Even the human race, that they have to learn how to manage their world properly otherwise it will die out like the world of the witch because one day a bad and evil person will come and conquer and destroy it. That warning goes along with the command to bury away the rings of the Uncle.

C.S. Lewis even manages to invent a source for the future wardrobe connected to Narnia to explain its magic power: it was made with the wood of the tree that grew out of the seeds of the core of the apple fed to Digory’s mother to heal her, a magic tree though limited in its magic but powerful nevertheless as a door to Narnia.

That sounds good to be standing on two strong feet, but the story is a little bit artificial, even if the language is so fluent and flowing that we just let ourselves be carried by the flow, or should I say the flux.


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Go freeze your fingers on the other side

The wardrobe made from the wood of the Narnian apple tree planted in a garden on earth and brought down in its old age by some storm is going to be the door to Narnia in the old and magnificent mansion or maybe castle where four kids, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, have taken refuge away from the bombing of London by the Germans in 1940.

Lucy first goes through the door and spends a few hours there having tea with the faun Tumnus. Her brothers and sister make fun of her. Edmund will be second and he meets the Witch, Queen Jadis, who has taken over the country. She charms him with Turkish Delight and makes him promise to come back with his brother and sisters.

One day, when the children are trying to fly away and hide from a group of visiting tourists in the mansion, they hide in the wardrobe and find themselves in Narnia. They all discover that Mr. Tumnus has been captured and his house ransacked due to the blabbering Edmund had done with the witch.

They are all taken into their homes by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and it is then that Edmund escapes and goes back to Queen Jadis. He will have there the strongest and most interesting surprise in his life.

That leads to the confrontation between Aslan and his human and Narnian supporters on one hand, and Queen Jadis and her own supporters on the other hand. The real stake is Edmund, the traitor Queen Jadis used to get the information she needed. The Queen demands from Aslan that the old tradition of the execution of the traitor be implemented. Aslan negotiates and takes Edmund’s place.

He’s sacrificed but an older tradition resurrects him and he recovers his power because he himself had done no mischief. Then the battle is a victory because Edmund gets his vengeance and destroys the Queen’s magic wand. She is then powerless.

The four kids are crowned kings and queens of Narnia till one day a White Stag, like the Celtic messenger from the other world or the Arthurian quest-announcing messenger, leads them back to the lamp post and they come back to this side of the wardrobe door. But though once a king of Narnia always a king of Narnia, they can’t go back the same way. That rule seems to have been broken though since three passages took place, Lucy first, Edmund second, and the four children third, and what’s more they all ended up in the same world in the same time period.

The most interesting aspect of this book is the secularizing of religious — deeply Christian, though not only — elements in the legend. The origin of Queen Jadis is Adam and his “other” wife Lilith, a Jinn, and then later taking some giant blood in her stock.

We have to think of the Beast when dealing with Jadis, but she is a female witch whereas the Beast of the Apocalypse is a male monster devouring pregnant women, and its number is 666. We also have to think of the French meaning of Jadis which is “once upon a time”, the past in fairy tales. The future is in the hands of Aslan and the kids.

Aslan has to be sacrificed to be resurrected to save Narnia. A common vision from the Gospels as much as from Saint John’s Apocalypse. This motif of the savior being a resurrected sacrificed person is quasi-universal in many religious traditions, and C.S. Lewis uses many of them. The sacrificial altar is found in many cultures, among others the Celtic culture, or the Roman or Greek cultures, and even the Jewish tradition, to remain within the Eurasian geographical zone.

The resurrected savior is well known in many mythologies and religions, the Christian for one example. The traitor is more Christian and yet there are traitors in Sumerian and Mesopotamian traditions. C.S. Lewis regenerates the motif by making the traitor the hero who will save the day by destroying the magic of the witch.

We must also think that the four kids around the Lion are reminiscent of the four animals or living creatures around the altar, a lion, a bull, a human-faced animal and an eagle, hence of the four Evangelists in Saint John’s Apocalypse. That number four is crucial in the writing and style as opposed to three that seems to represent disorder. Four is like order re-established beyond disorder when the traitor or stray sheep comes back to the fold.

The charm of the book is, of course, the transmuting of that more or less religious magic into a secular marvelous sorcery that can also be magical, white or black, in a way.

Finally, the Queen/Witch with her secret police is, of course, a political discourse to children and it exposes tyrannical means and situations as unacceptable because inhumane.


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Don’t forget the horse speaks

This is the third story in the chronology of the saga (not its publishing). An episode during the reigns of the four children who came to Narnia through the wardrobe’s door and became Kings and Queens for a lifetime that lasted hardly a second in earth time.

The story is packed with gentle and nice events and military and picaresque rebounding details with an invasion, a war, a victory and many other adventures.

The main interest of the story is the comparison and confrontation of the slave kingdom or Calormen to the peaceful and humane kingdoms of Narnia and Archenland. Slaves are the greater part of the population in Calormen and the country is governed by an absolute ruler, the Tisroc, who is also shrewd and cruel. His main minister is a Grand Vizier who is nothing but a clown and a humbler sufferer, uttering all kinds of maxims, proverbs, and apothegms to make a point that will always get him reviled and rebutted. That Grand Vizier is particularly humiliated by the Tisroc’s son, Rabadash.

The story is that of the escape of an abducted Narnian boy and of a local lord’s daughter who does not want to marry the old Grand Vizier. They escape together after some chance meeting along with two talking horses from Narnia that had been abducted in their time to become slave horses.

On their way they have to cross the capital city of Calormen and that leads them into some adventure in which the girl, Aravis, gets the opportunity to eavesdrop a conversion between the Tisroc, his son Rabadash and the Grand Vizier in which Rabadash explains his plan to invade, with two hundred horsemen, Archenland and Narnia in order to capture Queen Susan with which he is deeply in love.

The escaping boy is revealed to be the older twin brother of Corin, the son of King Lune, the King of Archenland.

Rabadash is defeated thanks to the alarm raised by the two escapees, then humiliated into becoming a donkey in the paws of Aslan and then publicly revealed as such when he turns back to his human form in some ceremony in Calormen. He will be forced by Aslan’s magic to be peaceful.

The story is pleasant and light and the contrast between a slave state and a democratic kingdom is quite clearly stated and explained for the better education of the readers, particularly young readers of course.

I will only regret the “Arab” allusion on the side of the slave state with the Grand Vizier for instance. This is a rather dated detail today that has to be handled with care. But with some explanation we can easily bring a younger audience to the understanding we are dealing with a detail that has to be overlooked due to the time when the story was written, that is to say, the 1950s when the myth — but is it a myth? — of Lawrence of Arabia was going on full swing.

It is very difficult to write literature for a younger audience and stories that are not trapped by what is happening in the real surrounding world and hence such literature most of the time ages slightly if not a lot, at times.


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Aah! Knights and swords!

This fourth novel starts with the abduction into Narnia by the magic horn Susan had received in the second novel and she had left behind, lost if you prefer, of the four kids from the railway station while waiting for the train to take them back to their boarding schools after summer-recess.

They find themselves in their old Cair Paravel palace and the old treasure chamber where they recover their swords, bows and arrows, and other magic presents, except the horn that has been lost, misplaced if you prefer. On the following morning, they save a dwarf to be drowned in the river by two soldiers who run away after a first and only arrow reached them.

The dwarf Trumpkin tells them the situation. Narnia has been conquered by the Telmarines from Telmar. The legitimate king Caspian 9th was assassinated by his brother and the lawful heir marginalized, and finally was going to be executed because his usurping uncle had just had a son of his own.

With the complicity of Professor Cornelius, he escapes just in time and goes back to the old Narnians who had disappeared when the Telmarines had arrived. He is able to rebuild some kind of an army, but the usurper is on his tracks and war breaks out. The untrained and undisciplined old Narnians under the command of Prince Caspian are routed in no time and have to escape and find refuge in Aslan’s How, a sort of monument built over the old Stone Table where Aslan had been executed by the White Witch to resurrect afterward.

During these battles, Caspian had blown the magic horn that abducted the four kids.

With the help of the dwarf, they try to join forces with Caspian. But they get lost on the way because they don’t listen to Lucy, the youngest child, because she is too young, and yet she is the only one to see Aslan who has come back because she is the only one to believe in him. Edmund will be next, Peter quite later, and Susan will be last and reluctant.

They come just in time at Aslan’s How when a bitter dwarf was going to call the White Witch back with the help of a Hag or bad witch, and a werewolf. They suggest to propose a single combat to solve the strife and that proposal comes from Peter who is the High King of Narnia and many other things.

In spite of all logic, the usurper accepts the challenge and is on the verge of losing when two of his courtiers cry treachery, kill the usurper and lead the Telmarine army into combat. The battle turns to Caspian’s advantage when trees appear and walk and frighten the Telmarines. These come to a ford where there should be a bridge but that bridge has been demolished during the battle by Aslan and the girls with the help of some giant ivy.

The army is made prisoner and Aslan reinstates Prince Caspian on the throne as King Caspian X. The Telmarines are proposed either to stay and accept the new rule, in fact, the re-instated old rule or to go to a land of their own. We discover that they were able to rule over Narnia because they were humans, marooned pirates in some South Sea island where they had found a door to Narnia.

Aslan builds a door in the air with three sticks and suggests that the Telmarines go through back to their South Sea island. They do it only after the four children do it first, though the children will find themselves back on their railway station platform and the Telmarines in their island.

This novel makes it clear that Narnia can only be ruled by a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve. This simple fact has to be understood and it is not simple. These primitive populations of dwarfs and other non-human humanoids plus all kinds of magical beings, beasts that speak and trees that walk have to be colonized by people connected to Adam, humans. The first kings were four children, then the White Witch, one-fourth daughter of Adam, took over. Then another human race, the Calormenes try to take over, but the kings and queens are still the four kids. And finally, here some humans who got stranded in Narnia had taken over and had to be pushed back to their island by the four kids.

Does it mean only human beings can rule the world, this one or the other world or worlds? Or does it mean that the only humans can rule this Narnia world respectfully, at least for the general ecology of nature and life, and yet all humans are not necessarily good for that, respectful of differences and of democracy, even if the only form of government can be a monarchy? Or, since Peter and Susan are excluded for the next episode because they are too old, does it mean only human children can rule Narnia?

That’s the aspect of the saga that is most surprising and it can only be explained by the fact that this saga is written for children and the four children are the go-between for the readers to be able to identify with the heroes, the action, and Narnia itself. And the aim is to nicely encourage positive values in these readers, certainly not sever them from what definitely looks like western established ideas. After all, these novels were written during the Cold War and C.S. Lewis refused science fiction, a genre for adults. He stuck to fairy tales after all.

But could the same situation have produced a de-westernized story that could have accepted that non-humans could perfectly well govern themselves in a democratic and humanistic way? We will of course never know.


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There is always a good tempest on the sea

It may start like the film — or rather the two films — made after this book, but the films part from the book when Eustace becomes a dragon.

It is the story of a long sea voyage looking for seven Narnian Lords who had been sent away by Caspian’s usurping uncle.

First, the two elder Pevensie brother and sister, Peter and Susan, have to be gotten out of the way since they were announced as not taking part in the next mission by Aslan himself. Simple. They go to the USA with their parents for the summer during which the father has a lecturing tour to perform in universities. The two younger brother and sister, Edmund and Lucy, are trapped for the summer at some uncle and aunt’s, and they have to bear their local cousin, Eustace.

The three of them are swallowed into a maritime picture in some bedroom and they find themselves in the end aboard Caspian’s ship on his self-assigned mission: looking for the seven Lords who went North towards the end of the world.

We could follow the story and just consider the fate of the seven Lords. But that you can read, discover and appreciate all by yourselves. We could concentrate on the change in Eustace who from being a self-conceited nuisance becomes a courageous and even adventurous being, though he still is a human being somewhere rather than a talking beast.

We could also insist on the importance of magic in these adventures, black magic, but also good magic. What’s surprising about this aspect of the novel is that C.S. Lewis does not try to make us suspend our disbelief. He presents that magic as what it is, an extraordinary way to perform something that can be a punishment of some sort against someone who does not respect a simple rule, even if it is a bad rule, but rules have to be abided by. But it may also be a way to perform something good or that leads to a good ending.

It is where we find the models at work behind the novel. The first model is the Odyssey and several allusions are made to it. But there is another model, the Voyage of Mael Duinn, an Irish traditional tale that C.S. Lewis could not ignore in his days, due to his Irish roots and his academic specialization, but here the model is extremely black and C.S. Lewis makes it all the more full of light, though some darkness can prevail here and there.

That’s where Lewis’ children’s literature is best. It does not try to teach children good and evil. It aims at making children experience good and evil and situations in which the choice is most obvious and he leads the children into making the good choice or identifying with those who make the good choice, always based on the temptation for evil and pro and con arguments for good. And when the good choice is made there is always a reward, just the same as if the evil choice were made there would be a punishment.

This novel ends on a sad note because Aslan announces Edmund and Lucy won’t come again. They have become too old. And he refuses to commit himself about Eustace, which corresponds to a “maybe” or maybe even a “probably” for his coming.

That sense of aging is ever present in C.S. Lewis’ novels. Caspian, for instance, marries after this adventure and becomes the grandfather of many generations of kings and queens. This sense of aging based on the distance the author introduces now and then and regularly in the text with references to our world with “you” and “we” and “I” and even things like the lions of Trafalgar Square, is most of the time what is missing most in children’s literature. C.S. Lewis seems to be an exception. His children heroes are grown-ups in the becoming. But Aslan will always be alive for them, including in their adult world though Aslan does not tell his name in this adult world of ours.

This book then crosses an important stage since afterward the four original children will no longer be able to visit Narnia and also because it closes the illegitimacy introduced in Narnia by Caspian’s uncle by bringing back the seven Lords, in a way or another. Then we can wonder what else could happen in the next volume? Have we reached the end? Of course not since there are two more novels to come. But for the readers, it is a farewell, at least for the older readers who are intended to join the adult world like the fours original children of the saga. Growing up again. The natural turnover of the audience of children’s books is here embedded in the book itself. And we can wonder why the two films change the ending of this story.


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Never, ever sit on a silver chair.

This sixth volume of the saga is also the one I consider, so far, the deepest and the bleakest. Abd there is only one to run still.

It starts with some kind of experimental mixed boarding school in which bullying is slightly more than tolerated. It is considered as an expression of the psychological freedom of the bullies and thus it should not be meddled with and in anyway controlled. The two favorite victims of this band of bullies are Eustace Scrubb, the cousin we have already met in the previous episode and a certain Jill Pole who has no connection with Eustace, though we will learn that in this quarter after the summer recess he has become quite more tolerable than before.

They are in the midst of a bullying chase, whose targets they are when Aslan calls them off to Narnia where they find Caspian X on the verge of dying, his son Rilian having disappeared, probably kidnapped in the north. Aslan gives the two kids the mission to find the Prince and bring him back. He gives them four signs, four instructions if you prefer that they have to remember and keep all the time.

They recuperate a partner in some marsh. He is a Marsh-wiggle and his name is Puddleglum.

And the three go north looking for Rilian. They have to go to a ruined giant city and Rilian is supposed to be under it. They will be welcomed by the giants of Harfang over that ruined city who see them as some delicatessen for their fall celebration sent by providence to enrich their banquet tables. They manage to escape and they finally go back on the trail of the Prince, a trail they had slightly neglected, which had led them into some kind of a snare from which they do have a very narrow escape.

That’s when the story gets bleak. They find refuge in an underground cave but hundreds of gnomes are waiting for them and they have to follow in corridors and tunnels that get narrower and narrower and finally open onto a deep sea without any light what so ever. We are underground and going down. They are brought to a castle in a distant subterranean city where they find Rilian who is under some kind of charm and does not remember anything. His Lady, the Queen of this Underworld, is absent for the moment and they discover Rilian is supposed to be tied up to a silver chair every night officially to prevent him from becoming dangerous, in fact from being able to escape.

That’s during that séance of tied up enslaving to the Silver Chair, that the children and Puddleglum discover he remembers who he is in that fatidic hour. The three salvation pilgrims liberate him, destroy the silver chair and it is then the Queen arrives and she tries to enchant them back into obedience and she nearly succeeds but Rilian and Puddleglum manage to behead the Queen who was becoming a snake, the snake that had killed Rilian’s mother.

This death liberates the underground world from the charm or curse and the gnomes she was using as slaves liberate themselves and the bottom of this Underworld opens to reveal a world of fire and melting gems or previous metals, the Land of Bism to which all the gnomes run and in which they take refuge.

Then the four heroes, Jill, Eustace, Rilian, and Puddleglum go away along an underground road that leads them eventually to the exit the Queen was building to invade Narnia and reconquer it under her control of Rilian, the legitimate heir.

They manage to be saved from this dark underworld by fauns and dryads, dwarves and centaurs and be brought back to Cair Paravel where the two children can see, from a distance, the arrival of Caspian X, his last meeting with his son Rilian and his death.

Then Aslan takes them to his own country where they discover Caspian dead and buried in a lake but going back to his young age, the teenager he was in the previous book. He recognizes Eustace and Aslan authorizes him to go to the children’s world for five minutes and there the three teenagers can settle some accounts of C.S. Lewis’s against the school system and get rid of an incompetent Head by implementing Peter’s Principle at a double degree of incompetence and the incompetent head becomes an incompetent inspector and she ends finally as an all the more incompetent but inoffensive Member of Parliament.

The story is bleak not only because most of it is underground and because the danger and menace come from that underground dark world, but also because Rilian’s mother is killed by a witch, Rilian’s father dies as soon as he reaches Cair Paravel, and in our world the parents’ substitutes in boarding schools are incompetent and cruel. There is only one escape which is the collaboration of children from our world and from Narnia to regulate events into some acceptable form in both Narnia and our world. But that can only be achieved by children with the help of the Lion Aslan who is discretely identified as love in our own culture. But love is difficult, isn’t it?

So much suffering and disorder in everyday life because love is absent from our hearts and minds, not to speak of our souls.


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Funniest and last

C.S. Lewis wants to terminate the series, like all good sagas, The Lord of the Rings for instance. To close that story he has to bring Narnia to an end and at the same time to a new beginning.

He brings the end from an internal strife of an ape which uses a donkey to play the lion, Aslan, with the skin of one lion. This ape is manipulated by the Calormenes into enabling a total invasion and conquest of Narnia by the Calormenes. Since the ape is speaking in the name of Aslan that he presents to everyone every night he is believed and his orders prepare the enslaving of the Narnians and the conquest of Narnia itself.

Aslan, of course, brings his favorite kids to Narnia to save the situation which they do not really help and in fact they become the witnesses and even the in-between go-betweens of the current king Tirian and the end of Narnia. We do have battles and fighting but it leads to deception upon deception, treachery upon treachery and the dwarfs severely impair any chance of a turnaround and even speed up the fall by deciding to fight against both sides.

How can this complete destruction of Narnia be witnessed by the current king, two children, Jill and Eustace, and a few others and yet lead to a complete revival of Narnia away from the danger of inner strife and outside enemies? That’s where the tale turns both surreal and amazing. The survivors and then all those who will be saved from utter destruction cross a symbolical door that leads them from sure fatal lethal end to resuscitation, survival, rebirth, to Aslan’s country.

Then they go ever further and upper into this country which is some kind of messianic Jerusalem after the apocalypse of Narnia which is very clearly inspired by The Book of Revelation. But this very direct Christian inspiration is weird because the end of Narnia is in the pattern of a totally inverted Genesis. Narnia disappears in flames and destruction and is abandoned to beasts and monsters, even a dragon, which die in the end and that destroyed world is taken over by darkness, cold and water. We are back to the very first verse of Genesis when the universe was only water in darkness with God and his spirit hovering over it.

But C.S. Lewis resuscitates Narnia beyond that portal of his and our heroes go up and away always deeper and always higher in this world to the inner garden of Aslan where they meet with all the previous heroes of the saga and the kings and other famed characters of Narnia. In fact, this whole seventh book is governed by the seven human heroes of the saga: the original ones, Polly and Digory who witnessed the birth of this world, then the kings and queens Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and the latest two heroes Jill and Eustace. Suzan is absent because she has chosen the real world instead of Narnia. These seven are finally reunited with Narnia in the inner garden of Aslan. And the best secret of this new Narnia is that the deeper you go the wider the circle in which you find yourself and this circular pattern is at the same time transcended by a star image in which each world is a spur on the central mountain of Aslan.

But the book seems fine so far though sad somewhere. Why does the author want to kill that world of dream and epic Fantasy? You can imagine there is no easy answer. Of course, he makes our human heroes all be the victims of one train accident, a train on which they were all present at that particular moment. But that’s rather easy in the story. Aslan could have done better and he did not.

Of course, C.S. Lewis projects his own grief for the loss of his own mother to cancer, and then his second grief for the dying Joy Gresham who was his very late love in life. He is projecting the trauma himself and his brother lived when they lost their mother, but also the trauma Joy’s two sons must have lived when they were in the rather long process of losing their own mother to cancer too.

This last volume though seems to have another dimension: it is a legacy to the world, some inheritance given to the author’s survivors. It is the vision of a difficult period for the world divided into antagonistic blocs that could only be humanized via imagination and C.S. Lewis’ imagination merged together the fantasy of Nordic epics or sagas and the Christian vision of such human and historical crises as seen and depicted in the Book of Revelation or Genesis and some other Biblical books. That merging of Christian and non-Christian inspiration is a real treat for the readers and the children, but the end of that world not in physical rebirth or survival but in mystical rebirth and survival after the drama of a collective death of seven people in a train accident is bleak in a way, even if there is a lot of sugar on those very final ten paragraphs of the last volume of this saga.

It is this end that explains probably why this last volume was never adapted to the screen, and the first (in fact the last but one in writing chronology, the one before this last one) was not adapted either because it appears slightly artificial, as if the saga needed a beginning to have an end, as if Narnia could not die without being born first, as if the author wanted a group of seven human children mourning — and rejoicing in — the birth and death of Narnia. Seven is a magic number and C.S. Lewis used it as the salvaging symbol. Poor Suzan in a way.


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Hours of dreamlike mesmerizing watching

Product Description: in the BBC”s words

It is a quiet sort of a day in the heart of the English countryside when Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy stumble through the back of an old wardrobe into the enchanted land of Narnia. They embark on an extraordinary adventure discovering talking fauns, friendly beavers, giants and flying horses. When the White Witch learns of their presence in Narnia their lives are in danger, but there is talk that Aslan, the Great Lion, is on the move.

Originally broadcast in 1988, this adaptation of C S Lewis’ powerful fantasy for all ages uses live action, animation and special effects to recreate the most thrilling adventure of all. Relive the excitement of this memorable production in this magical DVD.

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (Dir. Marilyn Fox, 1988): A production of C.S. Lewis’ powerful fantasy for all ages using live action, animation and special effects to recreate this most exciting and enchanting adventure in the magical world of Narnia; a land of dwarves, nymphs and giants and also the land’s arch-enemy the White Witch…

Prince Caspian (Dir. Alex Kirby, 1989): Evil King Miraz and his Queen Prunaprisma are making plans to take over the kingdom. Heir to the throne Prince Caspian is forced to flee to safety…

The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (Dir. Alex Kirby, 1989): Edmund, Lucy and Eustace travel to Narnia to help King Caspian find the seven missing Lords…

The Silver Chair (Dir. Alex Kirby, 1990): Eustace Scrubb and his bullied school friend Jill Pole, find themselves on a perilous quest to find the lost Prince Rilian, aided by their newfound reptilian companion Puddleglum (Tom Baker). Their travels lead them to the Giants of Garfang and underground to the land of the earthmen. Here they must face the fearful Queen of the Deep Realm, combat her magical powers, and break the enchantment of the Silver Chair.

My Review, in my own words

This collection of four DVDs gives us the complete set of the BCC adaptations of the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis in three separate DVDs and in three miniseries of six episodes each, plus some extras. The first adaptation is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” about the city Wardrobe in the country Spare Room. The second brings together “Prince Caspian” (two episodes) and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (four episodes). The third adaptation concerns “The Silver Chair”. They were done in 1988, 1989 and 1990.

The first adaptation is capital since it sets the tone and the main characters. The tone is that of the novel and it is done for children. There is no attempt at making it for older audiences. It sounds slightly naïve at times because the storyteller is no longer constantly present and is not C.S. Lewis at all when there is a voice over. The regular touches of this storyteller adding here and there a remark about “we” or “this world” or even the “lions of Trafalgar Square”, meaning the real world, addressing the children’s audience from an external adult point of view, reminding us of the fact that this is all a story, disappears and I think it is a loss.

The second double adaptation makes the two full novels into one story with a shift from the first one to the second that is at least abrupt and the packing up of the two in six episodes makes psychological details and even descriptive details scanty and rare. The story becomes in a way a storyline more than a fully developed story. The dragon though is a good nice creation, and it was necessary to do a good job with it since it was an essential element and it had to fly properly, which is not the case with other flying animals, particularly Aslan when it moves in the air. They are kind of simple and stiff. We must note it keeps the story of the Dawn Treader the way it is in the novel and the end is the real end including the final pilgrimage of the mouse Reepicheep and the return of the children. It is a lot more respectful of the spirit of the story than the ending of the recent long feature that can be seen in cinemas right now.

The last adaptation is long enough to give details and the witch is a marvel though her becoming a serpent and being killed is less impressive since no green blood is shed and only Prince Rilian takes part in that execution. I like the idea of Eustace and Puddleglum taking part, but that is in the novel. The escape from the underground city does not try to explain the even deeper world of fire and incandescence into which all the gnomic slaves of the witch jump back happily. Puddleglum is of course slightly too fat for the part as seen by C.S. Lewis but that’s a detail. I miss the big celebration outside the hole from which they extract themselves, with fauns and dryads and satyrs and dwarves all dancing together. But well at least they keep the details of King Caspian X’s death and his resurrection in Aslan’s country though they soften the harsh commentary of C.S. Lewis on the English school system and the incompetence of headmasters and headmistresses, school inspectors and Members of Parliament.

But this set of adaptations is interesting in spite of the shortcomings and the rather primitive special effects. They insist on the fact these stories are not heroic fantasy in any way but only children’s literature. That is important because then the values that are presented in the films are pedagogical and not only entertaining. It is also important because it avoids, like the books, any subject that is not childlike or child-friendly. No love is wasted on anyone and friendship even is rather kept as lily pure as possible. Even C.S. Lewis was not that pure.

The set also defends the basic humanistic values of the books in fair contrast with the situation of the world at the time or with the literature of Lewis’s time. There is a fair and clear condemnation of slavery and the exploitation of animals. But since the novel “The Boy and His Horse” is not there the rejection of political totalitarianism is absent. The allusion to the usurping uncle in Prince Caspian is by far not enough. Lewis’s books are deeply committed to a democratic system. The films are far from being as clear as the books. The Calormenes are absent for one example.

In the same way the films are a lot less clear than the books on the fact that only humans or people having some human blood can rule Narnia, including the White Witch of the first film who is a descendant of Adam, mixed with other bloods, including jinn blood by the sexual partner Adam had to procreate that line of descent. The absence of “The Boy and His Horse” also deprives us of the description of the four initial human kings and queens of Narnia, including Queen Suzan, and Suzan is definitely not served very fairly.

But for me the main absence is in fact the last novel “The Last Battle” because it reveals two essential things in these seven novels: the idea that all worlds have a beginning and an end, including Narnia, that this end can only come from both inner strife, invasion from outside and political manipulation of the masses that are shown as basically easy to manipulate into divisions or into obeying absurd commands. The masses sure make history but only when some individuals and foreign forces join their efforts to conquer the minds and imagination of these masses.

This last novel was Lewis’s testament in a way and he showed in it that he did not really believe in democracy, that is to say the power of the people, for the people and by the people, because he did not trust political parties of any sort and preferred an aristocratic monarchy in which the kings and queens are of a different sort and kind as compared to the people and the masses. The main difference between Calormenes and Narnians is that The “master” (who is a Calormene by birth and genes) of the Calormenes governs them as slaves, with a very narrow aristocracy, and the “king (who has to be genetically different from all the Narnians by having at least some human genes) of the Narnians grants them freedom and the right to diversity.

They wanted to avoid in any way the bleak atmosphere of “The Lord of the Rings” or of “The Time Machine” but they produced a brave new world that lacked most of its pith and marrow. The series is interesting but only as entertainment for children and they lose the didactic and pedagogical dimension the books constantly keep.


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Just get in your armchair and listen to the dreams and nightmares of the past

The Complete Chronicles of Narnia: Starring Maurice Denham & Cast (BBC Radio Collection: Chronicles of Narnia) Audio CD — Audiobook, 30 Nov 2000 by C. S. Lewis (Author) []

My Review in my own words

The BBC 4 radio did a pretty good job with these Chronicles of Narnia. They are stories that have to be told in words and music, in pure sound effects and dialogues. The magic of these books is in the imagination of the listeners that have to accept to believe what they are told and to fill in the images they are not given with their own images if they can.

And that goal these radio dramatizations perform perfectly.

You have to take the seven books in Narnian not in publishing chronological order. That’s the only way to make sense. The general meaning then comes up and after fifteen hours of listening, you see the whole project C.S. Lewis had in mind. Narnia is only the key to his real tale, not the real tale itself. It is only the cover and title page of the real tale.

The real tale is that life always has a beginning and an end and that during this life you start young and end old, you start nimble and end stiff, you start a believer and too often end an unbeliever, and if you learn how to believe again at the end it is only out of fear and not out of belief, faith. One has to believe life is only one transient phase of our existence and that we live a long time before and a long time after our birth and death.

But this is not any Christian easy fable. We live before our birth because we are born what other people, our parents and many other people of their time, have imagined we will be and they provide us with a tremendous inheritance. It is the wardrobe of the beginning, that door to our future. At the same time, we live a long time after our death because first we will remember forever what our life was and we will give the next generations all we have done and achieved.

And that’s the next lesson. What we will give the next generation is not what we were but what we did. Too many people just live their life as if it were some chore, some unbearable load without seeing that the harder their life is, the more adventurous it is too and the more creative it is. The lesson is always further up and further in and life is like an onion the deeper you get the wider each circle becomes. You may peal as many skins as you want from the onion each peal will reveal a wider world than the peal that has just fallen.

So life is not to serve a god or a demon. It is to serve others, to do good to others and for others, and that is always an exacting and exhausting task and mission we are given not by some extraterrestrial god or demon but by our absolutely deepest and most spiritual mind and benevolence. Those who want to get everything are wrong. The best reward people can get in this world is to give others a chance to be better, to improve, to give even more than we can give.

That’s probably the ethical and moral message of this visionary author. We are in what we give to the younger generation and not to our bank accounts. And this Narnia fable can find an end and be rejuvenated only in death, in our death that gives way to younger people who will go further, further in and further up, always deeper and wider. The real problem for us, who are bound to die and who will our heritage to the next generation, is that we might not be understood, at first at least, by this next generation. That’s what Narnia is all about. If we really have something to will to the world we will probably not be understood long before or after our passing away.

That is probably what fascinated C.S. Lewis in Jesus. He was only understood after, long after his death, and that is true of all visionary people in the world. They are not prophets but they are achievers. Unluckily their achievements will only become visible after their going on to another world. C.S. Lewis was known in his time for his ethical and literary books, and now he is mostly known for his children’s tales. His lasting fame is Narnia and not his medieval and philosophical writings. No one can say ahead of time what will survive them and be their eternal fame. And if anyone tries to do that, he will turn up a pretty criminal mind because he will try to force history instead of enhancing it.



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Walt Disney nearly distributed it.

This latest episode of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is bringing to an end a generation of children who have been confronted with that magic world. In the present context, the original meaning of WW2 is put aside, particularly for children.

For children, it is, first of all, a magic world where animals speak and can be your friends, where children can become heroes and fight fundamental battles for a better future for everyone. These adventures are dangerous but marvelous and the final destination of these adventures is to liberate the world of evil forces.

The objective is to defend Narnia against external menaces but in this film, maybe even more than in the previous films the menace against this marvelous world comes from the inside of those who want to defend it. The evil forces are over there far away in some distant island but they have no power by themselves and they find all the power they need to dominate the world in the greed, envy, jealousy and other negative attitudes that reside and develop in the minds of the defenders of Narnia.

That is the main lesson for the children: you have to learn how to dominate these negative feelings you nurture day after day in your egotism.

Then all the rest is nothing but adventure and its dangers are not real dangers, at the worst they are temptations. But in this world there are some guides you have to follow, a blue star like a blue fairy in some other old story, the lion Aslan who can intervene to save a lost situation at the very last minute, the mission and its objective of bringing the seven swords of seven old knights to the table of Aslan, and the goal of that mission which is to liberate people who have been taken hostage by the evil forces. But these forces don’t have any human or physical form, at best a vapor in the air and an image that springs from our own phantasms.

The trick of the story is to put it upside down from beginning to end. The grouchy unwilling participant at the start will become the hero who saves the situation. He will take the form a dragon, an allusion to Siegfried’s dragon Fafner, but a good dragon, an allusion to other dragons in many stories. His worst enemy is a mouse at the beginning who will become his best friend at the end.

That’s the second lesson for children. One day comes with that important change you must accept: not to be children anymore and to assume the responsibilities the world has entrusted you with or is going to entrust you with as adults. A sad change but inevitable.

For adults this film, like the original story, has to be put in perspective with T.S. Eliot and his “Murder in the Cathedral” where he denounces human evil forces, the fascists, and Nazis and calls us to fight against them, and with H.G. Wells who develops a Marxist form of social Darwinism in which the working class becomes an underground species that are the predators of the bourgeoisie that has become another species on the surface. The answer of H.G. Wells to that evil is a severe eugenic policy eliminating all racial and social groups that may endanger the balanced development of civilization. C.S. Lewis believes we are all different, each one of us must accept what they are and what all others are. Differences are the richness of this human vision.


LA MAGIE D’UN AUTRE MONDE. Ces histoires ont été écrites dans le contexte de la deuxième guerre mondiale et les films viennent en salle dans un tout autre contexte. Le sens est modifié. Et encore il faut comparer celui des enfants et celui des adultes.

Pour les enfants c’est un monde magique où les animaux parlent et sont vos amis, où les enfants grincheux deviennent des enfants héroïques, où les enfants tout court sont emportés dans des aventures à la fois dangereuses et merveilleuses.

Il s’agit de défendre un monde, Narnia, contre des menaces extérieures mais dans ce film plus encore que dans les autres la menace contre ce monde merveilleux vient de l’intérieur de ceux qui veulent le défendre. Les forces du mal qui existent bien là-bas très loin dans une île mystérieuse n’ont que le pouvoir que nous leur donnons avec nos envies, nos défauts, nos peurs, nos impatiences. C’est là la leçon principale pour les enfants.

Tout le reste n’est alors qu’aventure et les dangers ne sont pas de vrais dangers, tout au plus des tentations. La tentation de la cupidité, celle de la jalousie, celle de vouloir être belle, etc. On a dans ce monde des guides qu’il faut apprendre à suivre : une étoile bleue, le lion Aslan, la mission et son objectif, ici réunir les sept épées de sept anciens chevaliers, le but à atteindre par cette mission, ici libérer des personnes qui ont été faites prisonnières par les forces du mal. Mais ces forces du mal n’ont pas figure humaine. Elles n’ont d’ailleurs aucune figure sinon une silhouette vaporeuse parfois, mais évanescente et sans densité et encore qui trouve sa source dans nos propres fantasmes.

Cette histoire, comme d’ailleurs un peu les précédentes, retourne la situation du début à la fin. Le grincheux emporté dans cette aventure sans son consentement, deviendra celui qui tranchera le nœud gordien. Un dragon sera la forme qu’il prendra, allusion directe au dragon Fafner de Siegfried, mais un bon dragon, allusion à de nombreux films pour enfants où le dragon est un ami personnel. Et sa pire phobie sera une grosse souris qui deviendra son meilleur ami.

C’est la seconde leçon pour les enfants : un jour vient où vous ne serez plus des enfants car il vous faudra grandir et choisir entre un monde imaginaire pour toujours où le monde réel où vous avez reçu des responsabilités, où vous allez recevoir des missions humaines.

Pour les adultes, tant en son temps ancien d’écriture qu’en son temps actuel de mise en écran, le sens est simple : ce sont les différences qui font les hommes et chacun de nous doit accepter ce qu’il est et ce que sont les autres. Bien sûr que les pires ennemis de chacun de nous ce sont les envies et les cupidités ou jalousies que nous nourrissons au fond de nos âmes trop souvent envahies d’une obscurité parfaitement égoïste et que nous appelons lumière.

C.S. Lewis est à comparer à T.S. Eliot qui dans « Meurtre dans la Cathédrale » dénonce les forces négatives de l’humanité et appelle à les écraser, ainsi qu’à H.G. Wells qui développe un darwinisme social marxiste qui pose que les ouvriers deviendront une race souterraine prédatrice de la bourgeoisie qui survivra en surface comme un simple gibier ou bétail de la race souterraine. T.S. Eliot dénonce le fascisme. H.G. Wells en appelle à un eugénisme contre toutes les entités raciales et sociales inférieures. C.S. Lewis prêche un monde de la différence et de l’entraide entre les individus différents où le mal est avant tout en nous-mêmes et nous pouvons l’extirper de nos esprits parfois troublés.


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A discreet and tamed story

The author is very careful not to psychoanalyze C.S. Lewis. That would bring nothing new in the picture and that would not in any way explain the career and life of C.S. Lewis. It would at best explain some dark sides of his personality but in no way the bright sides of it.

The book is trying to bring together the two essential dimensions C.S. Lewis saw in life. Strangely enough love and death are these two dimensions, and strangely enough love is what he was most deprived of in his life and at the same time death is what was most present all along his life and love is finally found and experienced in an inseparable intertwining with death.

And that is or was the happiness and the curse of C.S. Lewis. Happiness because he finally discovered what love really was, existed, and a curse because that love was doomed and developed within death itself, a death that was arriving, already here or a death that was promised for the nearest future imaginable.

Why did love come so late and in such dramatic conditions?

First, because he met death in his own mother when he was a child along with his slightly older brother. The two boys were scarred for life by this cancer and this suffering and this end. One will make a military career heavily accompanied with alcohol and alcoholism. The other will make a career in academia, Oxford and Cambridge, heavily accompanied with cultural and artistic enquiry and research, with a deep faith in God and Christ that came rather late in his life as a compensation for his loss, and with a heavy habit forming practice of writing books and especially books for children.

His whole life is thus punctuated with self-imposed duties. A duty to his own friend Edward Courtnay Francis “Paddy” (for Patrick) Moore, that made him look after and take care of Paddy’s mother and sister after World War I that brought death to this Paddy who must have been cherished by C.S. Lewis, Jack for most people.

A duty to his own brother when this one retired from the armed forces and came to live with C.S. Lewis in the Kilns in Oxford.

A duty to his newly discovered God and that duty will make him write book upon book on God, religion, sins and prayer, repentance and the end of it all which is a liberation. His religion is so personal that at times we just wonder if he is not haunted by his God and his faith and belief, haunted as if by a ghost that he had turned into a Holy Ghost, but a ghost nevertheless, and we have quite a vast array of ghosts in his life: his mother first, his friend Paddy second, later on, his friend Joy, and those are only the most important ones.

A duty to love the world, other people and to share that love with everyone and first of all children. And this love for children is expressed in the most reserved and yet luxuriant style and imagination. He brings together several lines of inspiration: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, but also “Winnie the Pooh”, “Peter Pan”, “Gulliver’s Travels” and probably many more. Yet his style and his other world that he calls Shadowlands or Narnia, are a fascinating mixture of escape, evasion, imagination, magic, wonder, marvelous, teenage innocence and yet teenage vanity, and so many other elements in a world of fiction, action, power, justice, love, and beauty. If these seven volumes have been turned into four films, and the last one has been remade very recently, it’s because of this alliance of antagonistic and yet always extraordinary circumstances, adventures, dangers, and pleasures.

I am one of those who have read, and written, books for children or stories for children all my life and yet I discovered C.S. Lewis rather late and I still wonder why Alice in Wonderland is so much more famous than Aslan and Narnia and why Alice in Wonderland would be considered for adults as well as for children whereas Narnia is only for children. We just wonder why Johnny Depp did not attach his name to Narnia and preferred Alice in Wonderland.

I think personally the difference is in the fact C.S. Lewis was inspired in his life by the worst imaginable tragedies and crimes of all human history and that he lived these events with his friends of all types. H.G. Wells representing the most extreme white eugenic approach of cultural diversity. T.S Eliot representing the deepest ethical vision of terrorism, totalitarianism that made him concentrate an important part of his life on Thomas Beckett rendered as a murder in a cathedral (play, film, book). The First World War was a trauma for C.S. Lewis. The Second World War was a simple crime against humanity that no religious or simply ethical mind could envisage completely, understand in any way, explain in no way at all. In that postmodern vision of his of a world not even worth living for, he built a Christian faith and a Shadowy world of Narnia to set some truth and some love in that permanent cemetery that the world is. Shadowlands is the world of light and sunshine and this world is the world of death and crimes.

Another of his friends was J.R.R. Tolkien who took refuge in some old Norse saga and tried to bring some finality in this world of violence and war with his rings that come finally reunited, whereas the other great Ring, the one of the Nibelungenlied will always lead to some more blood shedding.

In that world, there is only death that counts. As Macbeth would say: “Men must endure their going hence.” Shouldn’t he have said, “Men must enjoy their going hence.”


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There is something emotional in this film

This is a very strange film, a most extraordinary film. C.S. Lewis and his brother are two unmarried professors in Oxford, living together in the same house. They are living in this haven of peace that Oxford is, entirely dedicated to learning and knowledge, to the maturation of men in the teenagers they get every year, year in and year out. It is their function, their aim, their target and they cannot be derailed from this perspective. Oxford is their own territory and their own world and the world has no limits within these limits of Oxford, and an eventual trip to London for a lecture, but never beyond. C.S. Lewis is a special case in that entirely ghettoized intellectual world. He writes stories for children, for the children he will never have.

These stories are about a strange world beyond the bottom of a wardrobe in the attic of his home. A world of bad and evil, of fighting for good and against evil. And yet his life is a routine that would kill thinking out of any human being. But not him, and plenty others around him. They are righteously living in the comfort of academia. The top echelon of that academia. Till one day when an American woman and her young child comes up and asks for an autograph. And the ghetto implodes. The peace is gone, love takes its place.

The diplomatic marriage will eventually give way to a real marriage, but on a sick bed in a hospital. She finds out, too late of course, she has bone cancer and will eventually and soon die. And that’s how C.S. Lewis discovers there is another love he had never really thought of and certainly not experienced: love for another human being that becomes your horizon and for whom you are dawn and dusk at the same time. That love that makes you mute and talkative in the same minute, so much the one and so much the other that your tongue trips on your muteness and your words get strangled in your talk.

Love as a feeling of the total gift of yourself to the other and of the other to yourself, with the tremendous responsibility that goes along with it. And death then becomes an unacceptable step away from this reality. Death comes and love will never go away and will turn into suffering, longing, wanting, needing and never getting the satisfaction you could ever wish to get. Love is for life I was going to say, oh yes, love is for life and even beyond life, for death if it comes and when it comes.

Love never turns into ashes and never goes back to dirt because it is not dirt, it is the soul of the heart and the mind of life. And that’s what C.S. Lewis actually discovers late in his life and never forgot after that. He finally learned how to be a fully blooming man, but it hurts so much when you learn love from within the death of your beloved. I must say the slow rhythm of the film, the very intimate scenes, the delicacy of the language and the acting, and the art of Anthony Hopkins serve that theme so well, so beautifully. It seems to be able to last forever and ever, and yet the young son, now step-son is there to remind you the show of life goes on forever and ever on the stage of the strutting human beings we are.

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Remember the beginning It all started with Hollow Men

Written by

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, PhD in Germanic Linguistics (University Lille III) and ESP Teaching (University Bordeaux II) has been teaching all types of ESP

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