GUEST POST: Alex Stump on The Chronicles of Narnia

Thursday , 19, October 2017 12 Comments

I never read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. The movies were good but I didn’t read the books until early this year. And after reading them all I wish was still a kid.

Okay, a lot of people know the story so I’ll make it quick. It’s World War 2, the Nazi Germans are bombing Britain, and bunch of kids take refuge in the countryside. One of the kids goes inside a wardrobe and finds a portal to another world called Narnia, a world of mythical creatures, talking animals, magic and Christian symbolism. The sequels continue the children’s adventures alongside their friends, relatives and some schmuck and his talking horse.

“So what exactly is so great about these books,” I asked myself while reading. I think it’s because one, it’s a fantasy. Not the popular Tolkien fantasy of elves, dragons, wizards and dark lords, it’s a fantasy that explores the imagination and the unknown – specifically the fantasy that amazes a child: magic, Greek mythology, talking animals and colorful worlds. All of it is in the Chronicles of Narnia and they bring a great scent of childish charm and innocence to them and I think that’s why the books are great for kids. Second is how surprisingly mature the Chronicles are. It’s not just the symbolism, there are some strong themes of responsibility, redemption, loss and some pretty dark moments. Narnia does a good job at making a bridge between kids and adults.

Of course I can’t discuss Narnia without talking about Christianity. You know a certain somebody once said, “The chronicles of Narnia is a bunch of Christian propaganda.”  Of course it’s propaganda you hedonist! It’s good propaganda. It’s the “Hello I’m Christian! Would you like to know some interesting facts about the Bible,” kind of propaganda. Like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, Narnia firmly accepts its Christianity and unlike a lot of books takes the huge risk of integrating Christianity with its fantasy world and succeeds without being offensive. That alone deserves respect.

But Christianity is not the only religion Narnia touches on. I notice some…interesting nods to Islam. In the Magicians Nephew, we learn the witch is the offspring of a jinn, a supernatural being found in Islam. A Horse and His Boy is set in Calormen which is basically a fantasy Middle East. Slavery exists, the Warriors wield scimitars and their ruler is called the tisroc (great name by the way) who’s both a religious and a political figure who whenever they say his name they always add “may he live forever”. And in The Last Battle, the villain leads a Calormen army and invades all of Narnia and is asked, “Why should we follow you? You worship a false God named Tash.” And the villain’s response, “You fools! Tash and Aslan are one and the same, they just have different names.” Hmm…

(Okay maybe going too far, I must be missing something. I heard the Calormenes are actually based on pre-Islamic paganism and ancient Egypt I think. What do you think? Comments welcome.)

Alright, I’ll quickly give each book my honest opinion.

  • “The Magicians Nephew”; I like it, it’s not quite grand like the other books but it’s enjoyable. It gives you a taste of what’s to come if you’re reading the series in chronological order.
  • “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” It’s great. Very well written,  very memorable, a bit short though.
  • “A Horse and His Boy” Pretty good. It’s definitely the most pointless of the series but i firmly enjoyed it.
  • “Prince Caspian” Pretty good. It’s not as good as The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but a decent sequel.
  • “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” My personal favorite.
  • “The Silver Chair” This one is my least favorite of the series. When it comes to Christian symbolism though, this one’s the most profound in my opinion, but aside from that I found it so boring.
  • “The Last Battle” A good ending to a good series. However, the story uses the symbolism a little too much and I found it to be so dark that it broke the bridge between kids and adults. But it was still good.

So in conclusion, the Chronicles of Narnia is a classic for many reasons. It’s great because of its fantasy world, it amazingly spins Christianity into the story and does a great job at appealing to adults and children.

What more can I say?

8 out of 10

  • PC Bushi says:

    It’s nice to revisit these. I actually never read any of them aside from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Thinking maybe I should sometime.

  • Anthony says:

    I think the philosophical and theological depth of the Chronicles is really astonishing. I appreciate it more and more the older I get.

    I have no idea how people find “The Silver Chair” boring. Giants! Giant snakes! Rising fires in a subterranean underworld! Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle!

    (I also think that the whole Calormene thing, whole as you point out draws on pre-Islamic Paganism, also pretty clearly draws on Indian and Hindu mythology and culture.)

  • Anthony says:

    Also, never read the series in chronological order, but publishing order.

    The proper order is 2, 4, 5, 6, 3, 1, 7. You’ll enjoy it more that way.

    • Hrodgar says:

      The picture shown does put them in publication order, for what it’s worth. Looks like the same edition my folks have, actually.

  • Cambias says:

    It sounds as if you read them in the internal-chronology order, which the current publishers decided is the “correct” numbering even though it’s kind of retarded.

    If you read them in publication order, I think he series has more punch: The Lion . . . introduces you to Narnia, Prince Caspian takes you and the characters back, Dawn Treader (my personal fave) starts to show you the bigger world around it, Silver Chair continues that and wraps up the “Caspian saga.” Horse and His Boy shows us Calormen and Archenland, then Magician’s Nephew gives us the “backstory” of the whole place before Last Battle rings down the curtain.

  • Dan Wolfgang says:

    I wouldn’t say it’s going too far. CS Lewis used to be a pagan.

  • Cailla Cameo says:

    I vehemently agree with Anthony and Cambias. I should think reading them in chronological order, as they were never intended to be, would ruin the whole thing.

  • Perplyone says:

    I read these a couple of years ago because Vox Day mentioned one of the books in passing on his blog. I need to reread them.

  • Jim Hamilton says:

    Can’t remember where I read it before, but someone worked out that Lewis, a keen medievalist, wrote each book to be a flavour of one of the Spheres of Heaven.
    The Magician’s Nephew, with its hot villain and illicit magic, is Venus;
    LWW, with its glad Aslan, is Jupiter;
    The Horse and His Boy, with its epic journeys and mad dash towards the end (to warn the Archenlanders about the Calormene attack), is Mercury;
    Prince Caspian, with its themes of overthrowing an illegitimate leader, is Mars;
    Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the Sun, obvs.;
    The Silver Chair, with its dark journey and coming up to Narnia in a moonlit snowball fight, is the Moon;
    The Last Battle is Saturn – old age and death.

  • Nathan says:

    Jim, I found this article supporting Lewis using the spheres of heaven to plot the Chronicles of Narnia. Does this match you recollection?

    “In The Lion [the Pevensie children] become monarchs under sovereign Jove; in The Dawn Treader they drink light under searching Sol; in Prince Caspian they harden under strong Mars; in The Silver Chair they learn obedience under subordinate Luna; in The Horse and His Boy they come to love poetry under eloquent Mercury; in The Magician’s Nephew they gain life-giving fruit under fertile Venus; and in The Last Battle they suffer and die under chilling Saturn.”

  • Cambias says:

    Nathan: That’s an interesting hypothesis . . .
    . . . but I don’t believe it.

    Primarily because I don’t think Lewis had planned the series as a series when he started. There are too many obvious “retcons” in the books for them to have been planned out in advance. Narnia, initially, is the whole world, but then shrinks to a single kingdom within an (unnamed) parallel universe. The White Witch’s origin changes, and so on.

    Second, some of those interpretations you quote sound a bit strained, to put it mildly. The Last Battle is a Christian apocalypse, which means it’s not “chilling Saturn” but a universal Resurrection at the ending. Horse and His Boy isn’t about poetry so much as it is about horses.

    Finally, Lewis _did_ write about the planets in his Space Trilogy. He’d hardly go back to the same well.

  • Frank Luke says:

    An omnibus edition has pride of place on my bookshelf. It was with great joy that I introduced my boys to it, and the joy they expressed whenever Aslan came on the page would melt even the coldest heart. I don’t know how many times I’ve reread it (I can say the same for Prydain). However, I have never read them in the “chronological” order. Publishing order only for me.

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