Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children written by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children's literature and is the author's best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages. Written by Lewis between 1949 and 1954, illustrated by Pauline Baynes and published in London between October 1950 and March 1956, The Chronicles of Narnia has been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, stage, and cinema. In addition to numerous traditional Christian themes, the series borrows characters and ideas from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales.
The Chronicles of Narnia presents the adventures of children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the fictional realm of Narnia, a place where animals talk, magic is common, and good battles evil.

The series

Lewis originally conceived what would become Narnia in 1939. However the vast majority of the text was written by between 1949 and 1954. The books were written in neither the order they were originally published nor in the chronological order in which they are currently presented. 
Lewis was awarded the 1956 Carnegie Medal for The Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series.

The seven books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia are presented here in the order in which they were originally published:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magician's Nephew (1955)
The Last Battle (1956)

Christian parallels

C.S. Lewis was an adult convert to Christianity and had previously authored some works on Christian apologetics and fiction with Christian themes. However, he did not originally set out to incorporate Christian theological concepts into his Narnia stories; it is something that occurred as he wrote them. As he wrote in Of Other Worlds:
Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out 'allegories' to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.
Lewis, an expert on the subject of allegory and the author of The Allegory of Love, maintained that the books were not allegory, and preferred to call the Christian aspects of them "suppositional". This indicates Lewis' view of Narnia as a fictional parallel universe. As Lewis wrote in a letter to a Mrs Hook in December 1958:
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim's Progress] represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality, however, he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all.
Although Lewis did not consider them allegorical, and did not set out to incorporate Christian themes in Wardrobe, he was not hesitant to point them out after the fact. In one of his last letters, written in March 1961, Lewis writes:
Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He [Christ] would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called "The Lion of Judah" in the Bible; (c) I'd been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.
The Magician's Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia.
The Lion etc the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Prince Caspian restoration of the true religion after corruption.
The Horse and His Boy the calling and conversion of a heathen.
The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep).
The Silver Chair the continuing war with the powers of darkness
The Last Battle the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgement

Influences on Narnia

Lewis' life

Lewis' early life has echoes within the Chronicles of Narnia. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1898, Lewis moved with his family to a large house on the edge of the city when he was seven. The house contained long hallways and empty rooms, and Lewis and his brother invented make-believe worlds while exploring their home – this influenced Lucy's discovery of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Like Caspian and Rilian, Lewis lost his mother at an early age. Lewis also spent much of his youth in English boarding schools similar to those attended by the Pevensie children as well as Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole. During World War II, many children were evacuated from London because of air raids. During this time, some of these children, including one named Lucy, his goddaughter, stayed with Lewis at his home in Oxford, just as the Pevensies stayed with the professor.


Interior of the Eagle & Child where the Inklings sometimes met. Image via wikimedia
Lewis was the chief member of the Inklings, an informal literary discussion group in Oxford which at various times included the writers J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Lewis' brother W. H. Lewis, and Roger Lancelyn Green. Readings and discussions of the members' unfinished works were one of the main activities of the group when they met, usually on Thursday evenings, in C. S. Lewis' college rooms at Magdalen College. Some of the Narnia stories are thought to have been read to the Inklings for their appreciation and comment.

Influences from mythology

The fauna of the series borrows from both Greek mythology and Germanic mythology. For example, centaurs originated in Greek myth, and dwarfs have origins in Germanic myth. 
Lewis had also read widely in medieval Celtic literature, an influence reflected throughout the books, most strongly in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Medieval Ireland also had a tradition of High Kings ruling over lesser kings and queens or princes, as in Narnia. Lewis' term "Cair," as in Cair Paravel, also mirrors the Welsh "Caer", "fortress" (appearing as Car- in the English versions of place names such as Cardiff (Welsh Caerdydd)). Reepicheep's small boat, the coracle, is also the traditional boat of the Celtic countries.
Some of the elements of the books are more generally medieval, such as the shape of the one-footed monopods or Dufflepuds in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which reflects a type of people medieval sources claimed lived somewhere in the wondrous East.


The origin of the name Narnia derives from a town in Italy, today called Narni, and in Latin Narnia. Concerning Narnia and Narni, Roger Lancelyn Green writes about C.S. Lewis and Walter Hooper: "When Walter Hooper asked [C.S. Lewis] where he found the word 'Narnia', Lewis showed him Murray's Small Classical Atlas, ed.G.B. Grundy (1904), which he acquired when he was reading the classics with Mr Kirkpatrick at Great Bookham [1914-1917]. On plate 8 of the Atlas is a map of ancient Italy. Lewis had underscored the name of a little town called Narnia, simply because he liked the sound of it. Narnia - or 'Narni' in Italian - is in Umbria, halfway between Rome and Assisi".
There is also the possibility (but no solid evidence) that Lewis, who studied medieval and Renaissance literature, was aware of a reference to Lucia von Narnia ("Lucy of Narni") in a 1501 German text, Wunderliche Geschichten von geistlichen Weybbildern[mod. Ger. Weibsbilder[n]] ("Wondrous stories of monastic women") by Ercole d'Este. There is no evidence of a link with Tolkien's Elvish (Sindarin) word narn, meaning a lay or poetic narrative, as in his posthumously published Narn i Chîn Húrin, though Lewis may have read or heard parts of this at meetings of the Inklings.
Source: wiki
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