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Peter T Chattaway

the Narnia books

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Links to threads on the film versions of these stories, including the pre-release buzz (2003-2005), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

I just realized that we don't have a thread on the Narnia books, per se, though of course we have isolated threads on lectures and Lewis in general and, of course, the upcoming movie.

Anyway, remember that big stink that was made a few years ago over the commissioning of brand-new Narnia books NOT written by C.S. Lewis? The news in that department got mixed up with another bit of news regarding HarperCollins' plans to downplay the Christian elements in Lewis's books in their marketing, and somehow this got interpreted by many, many people as an indication that HarperCollins was actually going to eliminate the Christian themes from the books THEMSELVES.

FWIW, I am proud to say that I was one of the more cautious, skeptical people to report, however briefly, on that whole affair (here); and a week or two later, the much more thorough CT Weblog shared my caution and skepticism.

Sinc then, I'd largely forgotten about the plans to commission new Narnia books. Until today. Today, I received an e-mail that happened to mention this book, which came out five months ago.

0060083611.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Note whose name is bigger. "C.S. Lewis" is no longer a person, he's a brand name. Then again, maybe the difference in typefaces owes something to the fact that many readers wouldn't have a clue how to pronounce "Hiawyn Oram".

But I wonder if this -- a 40-page illustrated young-children's book -- was really what all the fuss was about. It's not exactly a NOVEL like the books that Lewis wrote.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Note whose name is bigger.  "C.S. Lewis" is no longer a person, he's a brand name.  Then again, maybe the difference in typefaces owes something to the fact that many readers wouldn't have a clue how to pronounce "Hiawyn Oram".

But I wonder if this -- a 40-page illustrated young-children's book -- was really what all the fuss was about.  It's not exactly a NOVEL like the books that Lewis wrote.

OK, I admit I haven't read it, and I'm a purist about this type of thing. Seriously--no one needs this book. Children who are too young for Narnia books have PLENTY of other, original books that are very good for their age. When they're ready to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, give it to them.

But I'm thinking book may be exactly what the fuss was about. As you point out, it's not a novel, and it's aimed at "young children," which leads me to suspect the content to have been dumbed down generally and theologically. And the market-branding of Lewis's creations is just grotesque. Ew.

And yes, it is different from "action-figure Edmund!"

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FWIW, I just blogged this, and there I say that I'm actually kind of in favour of short stories -- not novels, but short stories -- that flesh out Lewis's world.

Granted, I'm only halfway through the third of Lewis's books so far, but one of the things that disappoints me sometimes about his books -- and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ESPECIALLY -- is that Lewis seems far more interested in slapping together a pastiche of his favorite myths and legends than in creating a world with any sort of internal reality.

So, to the extent that stories like this can enhance that reality, I am, in principle, in favour of stuff like this. But I say this without having actually read the book in question.

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I'm actually kind of in favour of short stories -- not novels, but short stories -- that flesh out Lewis's world.

Allow me to introduce you to the exciting world of fanfiction, where anything goes! Actually, this site is fairly restrained.

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Granted, I'm only halfway through the third of Lewis's books so far, but one of the things that disappoints me sometimes about his books -- and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ESPECIALLY -- is that Lewis seems far more interested in slapping together a pastiche of his favorite myths and legends than in creating a world with any sort of internal reality.

I can't remember where I read it, but I think that was an objection Tolkein made about the books.

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Granted, I'm only halfway through the third of Lewis's books so far, but one of the things that disappoints me sometimes about his books -- and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ESPECIALLY -- is that Lewis seems far more interested in slapping together a pastiche of his favorite myths and legends than in creating a world with any sort of internal reality.

I accept the accuracy of the observation, but I don't regard it as a critical objection per se.

As a matter of personal taste, anyone has a right to a preference for another sort of world-building over the kind of mythological pastiche Lewis was doing in the Narnia stories, or even not to like at all the kind of art Lewis was doing. But I don't see any grounds for disparaging this sort of narrative on its own terms. They're different.

Tolkien was writing something closer to myth. Lewis, though dependent upon myth, was writing something closer to fairy tale. Anyone who goes to the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Anderson looking for rigorous world-building is barking up the wrong tree.

Where was Cinderella's fairy godmother all those years before the night of the ball? Why did she show up only then? Why does the wicked witch take Rapunzel from her parents, then just lock her up in a tower? What's her motive? Why does the prince come night after night with silk for Rapunzel to weave into a ladder -- why not just bring some rope and get her out in one night?

The story isn't interested in those sorts of questions, any more than Lewis is interested in where Tumnus got his packages or where the books on his bookshelf were printed.

I believe it is correct that Tolkien didn't like Narnia in part because of the way it ran stuff together. In the same way, he didn't like Arthuriana because of the juxtaposition of mythological and Christian elements. I can appreciate that as an aesthetic preference, but I don't think it amounts to a critical objection.

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One of the interesting differences between Narnia and Middle Earth is that the denizens of Narnia, like most people I know, don't feel the need to explain the history of something when they refer to it. That's not a knock on Tolkien -- in Middle Earth, the history of the lands is integral to understand what's going on in the "now" of the story -- but in Naria, things just *are* to the everyday creatures, and they don't need explanation except for when the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve have no idea what's going on, and then it's just to give them the information they need to move on.

As the series progresses you learn more about the world around Narnia, especially Tashland in _A Horse and His Boy_, but it isn't really as important to the story...

Edited by The Baptist Death Ray

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As a matter of personal taste, anyone has a right to a preference for another sort of world-building over the kind of mythological pastiche Lewis was doing in the Narnia stories, or even not to like at all the kind of art Lewis was doing. But I don't see any grounds for disparaging this sort of narrative on its own terms. They're different.

Tolkien was writing something closer to myth. Lewis, though dependent upon myth, was writing something closer to fairy tale. Anyone who goes to the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Anderson looking for rigorous world-building is barking up the wrong tree.

Your very articulate post states much more clearly and profoundly something like what I was trying to get at in this Narnia film thread posting. Thanks.

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Has anyone been to a Christian bookstore recently? There are like two dozen Christian companion books out to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Blessed are the timely and the opportunistic?

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Has anyone been to a Christian bookstore recently?  There are like two dozen Christian companion books out to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Blessed are the timely and the opportunistic?

I dunno. I'm really pleased to see the heightened interest in Lewis and Narnia as a result of the film. So what if it makes a few people rich at the same time?

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I, for one, am not going to point fingers at timely and opportunistic writers cashing in on the Narnia movie. I mean, I've already started writing articles of my own on the subject -- though at least I can truthfully claim to have been exchanging e-mails with Douglas Gresham off-and-on going back to the days when Paramount and Kennedy/Marshall were talking about making a modernized version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe back in the mid-'90s; so, y'know, I've got some BACKGROUND that some new-to-the-beat writers might not have.

BethR, I'm familiar with -- or at least aware of -- the world of fanfiction, and I think it's great; and to me, an apocryphal story is an apocryphal story, regardless of whether it was distributed in electronic or photocopied form by its author, or whether it was published with the imprimatur of the C.S. Lewis Estate. If the new Narnia books are only 40-page illustrated storybooks for very young readers, then I don't think they encroach on Lewis's novels any more than Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh storybooks encroach on the books of A.A. Milne. (Then again, they don't encroach any LESS, either; so I suppose my analogy may not mollify the purists!)

SDG wrote:

: I accept the accuracy of the observation, but I don't regard it as a critical objection

: per se.

I'm not sure I intend it as "critical" either, except that there is a noticeable difference between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- in which Narnia is a mere accessory to the Pevensies -- and the sequels, in which Narnia is a world in its own right and the Pevensies, if anything, are mere accessories to IT. As it stands right now, I very much see LWW as less a classic and more the story that needs to be told in order for the other, more interesting stories to be told -- kind of like how I put up with Spider-Man so that I can get to Spider-Man 2.

But as you say, when it comes to personal taste, we all have a right to our own preferences; this just happens to be one of my own.

: Where was Cinderella's fairy godmother all those years before the night of the ball?

: Why did she show up only then?

I did indeed ask myself this question when I watched the brand new DVD of Disney's 1950 version of this story, yes. smile.gif

: The story isn't interested in those sorts of questions, any more than Lewis is

: interested in where Tumnus got his packages or where the books on his bookshelf

: were printed.

Hmmm, either you are stealing a line from me, or you and I have read the same essay, or some such thing -- I've had those examples kicking around in the back of my brain for years, too.

There is also the implicit continuity problem where none of the Narnians in LWW seem to think humans even EXIST in their world, and yet Prince Caspian reveals that the Pevensies were receiving ambassadors from neighbouring lands populated by humans -- and presumably those humans were ALWAYS there.

There is also an interesting possible "continuity" glitch in the way that LWW ends with the grown-up Pevensies speaking a sort of parody (and a fun parody it is, too) of medieval English, as though this is simply how kings and queens talk; yet none of the other royals we ever meet in the following books talk that way. But perhaps that is attributable to the thousand-year gap between the Pevensies and Caspian X, and the evolution of Narnian English (if that term even makes sense) in that time.

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: Where was Cinderella's fairy godmother all those years before the night of the ball?

: Why did she show up only then?

I did indeed ask myself this question when I watched the brand new DVD of Disney's 1950 version of this story, yes.  smile.gif

laugh.gif Ok, I just laughed out loud into my coffee because that is SO you, Peter. I love it!

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I'm not sure I intend it as "critical" either, except that there is a noticeable difference between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- in which Narnia is a mere accessory to the Pevensies -- and the sequels, in which Narnia is a world in its own right and the Pevensies, if anything, are mere accessories to IT.
Edited by SDG

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Not much news in Julia Duin's article today, but this, toward the end, caught my eye:

Others are joining the bandwagon: publishing giant HarperCollins has readied a massive printing of 140 Narnia-themed books, with special editions earmarked for thousands of Christian bookstores via Zondervan.

140 BOOKS? Fer cryin' out loud...

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SDG wrote:

: Wow. Once again, I accept your observation about Narnia becoming more a world

: in its own right as the stories go on -- the same thing happens in Star Wars, though

: Lewis does it much better than Lucas -- but LWW, like the original Star Wars, has a

: special magic of its own -- perhaps in both cases precisely because the sub-created

: world is as yet much more potentiality rather than actuality.

Good point.

: And I find that analogy preferrable to your Spider-Man one. smile.gif

I'm partial to both, actually, now that you bring up Star Wars. Although Star Wars WAS conceived with a much bigger story in mind, however much Lucas may have revised it, whereas LWW was clearly originally intended as a one-off, as Lewis himself stated. Let's say, then, that LWW is somewhere between Star Wars and Spider-Man, for me.

: : There is also the implicit continuity problem where none of the Narnians in LWW

: : seem to think humans even EXIST in their world, and yet Prince Caspian reveals

: : that the Pevensies were receiving ambassadors from neighbouring lands

: : populated by humans -- and presumably those humans were ALWAYS there.

:

: No way. They are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. They got into the unnamed

: Narnian world from our world, somehow; either they are descendants of King

: Frank, or one of the other breaches between the worlds, I forget the details.

King Frank was there from the beginning, and thus, if those non-Telmarine humans were indeed descendants of his, my point stands: humans were ALWAYS there. (Although I suppose someone could argue that the dark, swarthy, slave-trading, crescent-symbolled Calormenes were descendants of some Arab group that landed in Narnia for reasons unknown. And I have no idea what relationship, if any, exists between the Calormenes and Archenland and the worshipers of Tash, etc.)

But now that I think about it, I think my actual point was meant less literally. I don't think it's necessary to insist that humans have existed in that world at every stage of its development; however, I think it highly unlikely that the humans who paid tribute to the Pevensies only arrived in that world -- and became a nation big enough to have tribute worth paying -- in the decade or two when the Pevensies reigned.

Hmmm. Another thought occurs to me. Does LWW say that men came from neighbouring lands seeking the hand of either Queen Susan or Queen Lucy? I can't remember. If so, though, it would seem this problem pre-dates Prince Caspian.

: I wouldn't call it a continuity GLITCH, exactly. The expanded picture simply reveals

: that the Narnians under the White Witch were unaware of the lands outside their

: own frozen, enchanted country.

This is possibly true. Then again, note the White Witch's reaction when she meets Edmund. "A door from the world of men -- I have heard of such things!" She doesn't exactly stop to rule out the possibility that he's from one of these neighbouring countries. (And never mind that the Witch herself has not only HEARD about portals from the world of men but has actually TRAVELLED through one or two!)

: Actually, King Lune, the father of Cor and Corin, does have a somewhat archaic

: manner of speech . . .

Ah, haven't come across him yet.

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Anybody familiar with Neil Gaiman's short story 'The Problem of Susan'?

And I am surprised to read in Time magazine that J.K. Rowling "hasn't even read all of C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot. There's something about Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves." And here I thought I'd read that she was a fan, and perhaps had even plotted a seven-book series in emulation of Lewis's seven-book series.

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I work at a Barnes & Noble, and the Narnia merchandising blitz there began weeks ago. The illustrated children's books aren't so bad, in my opinion; I'm more troubled by the board game and the stuffed Aslan (he can't get much more tame than stuffed, can he?) But I can't help but feel pleased to see so many people buying the original books for their kids and themselves as a result- and I have yet to see anyone buy the board game or "Narnia: the Official Movie Cash-in Book", so that's something.

And I am surprised to read in Time magazine that J.K. Rowling "hasn't even read all of C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot. There's something about Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves." And here I thought I'd read that she was a fan, and perhaps had even plotted a seven-book series in emulation of Lewis's seven-book series.

You aren't wrong. She even described him as a genius in one interview.

FWIW, John Granger of hogwartsprofessor.com responds to this interview at length here: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/home.php?...cacac323c3e5a4b.

I think the conclusion he comes to (that it's part of an orchestrated effort to mislead the press about the final revelations in the HP series) is a bit farfetched, but he's right to point out how inconsistent this interview is with her previous comments on Lewis.

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FWIW, John Granger of hogwartsprofessor.com responds to this interview at length here: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/home.php?...cacac323c3e5a4b.

I think the conclusion he comes to (that it's part of an orchestrated effort to mislead the press about the final revelations in the HP series) is a bit farfetched, but he's right to point out how inconsistent this interview is with her previous comments on Lewis.

Interesting (and very long) essay. He also tosses in this comment regarding "spin-off" Narnia stories, which I liked:

Those wanting more Narnia adventures I urge to reflect on Maritain
Edited by BethR

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For what it's worth, here's a part of an essay I published in the newspaper where I work:

--

The Narnia Chronicles, for the uninitiated, take place in the eternal Kingdom of Narnia, which is a magical land populated by fairies and satyrs and a big ole lion named Aslan. Earth children can even visit there by means of a magical wardrobe.

The Narnia Chronicles were written by CS Lewis, arguable the most influential Christian theologian of the 20th century. His books, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity are considered classics of Christian literature and the Narnia books were written not only to enthrall generations of young readers but also to serve as allegories to Christian faith. Aslan, for example, is an obvious Christ figure who sacrifices himself for the well-being of others.

JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was a contemporary of Lewis's and was instrumental in the latter's journey to Christianity. I suppose that means that Tolkein is responsible for two series of fantasy novels.

But despite reports that Tolkien's family remains antagonistic towards film adaptations of his work, the same can not be said of CS Lewis's descendants. One of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's co-producers is Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, who was charged with ensuring that the film's message didn't stray too far from the spirit of the book.

Not surprisingly, the film is being aggressively marketed towards evangelical Christians. Walt Disney Studios is surely hoping that the movie will prompt church youth groups around the world to include a trip to the theatre among their list of outings this Christmas season.

And if you can't get enough of Aslan at the theatre - or at the book store - you surely won't be faced with an absence of Narnia kitsch. McDonalds restaurants will include Narnia toys in their happy meals, Nintendo has manufactured a Narnia video game, and bookstores are replete with Narnia stuff that was written long after CS Lewis died.

A Field Guide to Narnia, the Companion Guide to Narnia, Finding God in the Land of Narnia, even CS Lewis and Narnia for Dummies are available alongside the original volumes. Truly, where there's a need, there's greed. Am I the only one wondering if CS Lewis is spinning in his grave?

I'm a longtime admirer of CS Lewis, who died on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. If I meet him in the afterlife, I'll thank him for his books and how they shaped my imagination as a boy and my faith as a man.

I intend to see the Narnia movie but that will be the extent of the money I spend on anything Narnia related. For some reason, I think that would make Mr. Lewis proud.

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Excellent article Peter. It will be interesting to see if the neo-pagan movement picks up on these elements of Narnia and is therefore interested in Lewis and begins to read all his works.

It also reminds me of a comment a friend of mine made a couple of decades ago. He pastored in England and was amazed at the whole-hearted acceptance so many American evangelicals made of Lewis. He said that in many ways his writings were incomplete in their integration of Christian faith with his love for literature and literature's myths.

Denny

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FWIW, my article on "the paganism of Narnia".

Peter, you might be interested in this book: Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis. I finished it a month or so ago and really enjoyed it. It seems to be a pretty good summary of Lewis' mystical influences, as well as how these relate to his own life and his writing. I found it to be excellent.

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I don't know...you don't seem to read me any more clearly than you think I've read you. smile.gif

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