This is the end. The Last Battle wraps up our review of the literary genres that inspired C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago this month.
“Ragnarök,” George Wright illustration from Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas, by Hamilton Wright Mabie (1902).
It would make sense to write about the final Narnia book—the one where the world ends—in terms of eschatology, the study of “last things”. Most religions have ideas, teachings, or mythologies concerning the end of humanity, the world and the universe. Some believe everything will end in cataclysm, while others view history as a series of recurring cycles: birth-death-renewal. Lewis’ conception of the end times in Narnia was certainly influenced by several eschatologies, as David C. Downing notes in Into the Wardrobe—
“The closing chapters of The Last Battle offer a seamless blend of Greek philosophy, Christian eschatology, and Norse mythology, […] great beasts devour the landscape, and the world ends in a rising sea and a blast of cold, as in the Norse Ragnarok. But this is only the end of the time-bound Narnia. As Digory explains, quoting Plato, that created world was only a copy or image of the eternal Narnia, as our earth is an image of the new heaven and new earth mentioned in the book of Revelation. Night may have fallen on the created Narnia, but there will be no twilight, only eternal morning” (55).
Yes, it would make perfect sense to examine The Last Battle as an example of eschatology.
But I’m not going to.
It’s the penultimate post in our month long celebration of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and this time we’re exploring The Magician’s Nephew as a traditional creation story. The Magician’s Nephew is most clearly and most simply a creation story in that it shows us the creation of the world the whole series centers on, Narnia. But the novel also takes us to places beyond the ones we thought we knew; it shows us the nothingness before a world and lets us witness the birth of the physical and spiritual elements of a new world. And in doing so, it echoes the many creation myths and folktales around the world.
illustration by Pauline Baynes
Our November celebration of the literary genres behind C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia continues with The Horse and His Boy. The story’s hero, Shasta, is a classic example of the mythic figure-type known as “the orphan child.” According to Dr. Verlyn Flieger, the orphan tale begins when a mysterious waif arrives over the water. He is adopted by those who find him on the shore, and grows up to be a great leader. Figures of this type appear in folklore and mythology from many cultures and time periods: Moses, Perseus, Tennyson’s King Arthur, and the Northern European Ing (Yngvi /Ingui), a figure related to the Danish hero, Scyld Scefing, whose story is recounted at the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Flieger notes that even Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins fits this motif. Frodo becomes an orphan when his parents die in a boating accident. He is subsequently adopted by his older cousin, Bilbo, and brought to live at Bag End in the Shire.
Today, November 22nd, is the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. I thought it an appropriate time to discuss our favorite works of Lewis and perhaps share what influence, if any, he has had on us. Plus, that all adds up to a perfect chance for another giveaway too!
The winner will receive a copy of On Stories, The Screwtape Letters, and Till We Have Faces. So, there’s a lot to be gained by entering the giveaway! To do so, leave a comment here telling us about your favorite work by C.S. Lewis and/or telling us what influence, if any, he has had on your life. The giveaway will run through November 29th.
“Sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said”
-C.S Lewis ‘Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories’
“There is indeed no better medium for a moral teaching than the good fairy story”
-J.R.R. Tolkien ‘The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays’
Last week Kris Swank explored the ways in which Silver Chair pulls from traditional English fairy poems like “Tam Lin” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” But the dark and enchanting Faerie world that we glimpse in C.S. Lewis’ novel also echoes the “Perilous Realm” of medieval tales like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Lanval, and Sir Orfeo, where mortals are not only confronted by a fay, but also actively seek out the land Faerie. Like Prince Rilian they are tricked, seduced, and enchanted by the land of Faerie and its inhabitants. Continue reading
The other day John Granger and Elizabeth Baird Hardy from our sister site, Hogwarts Professor, appeared on MuggleNet Academia to talk about C.S. Lewis and his influence on the Harry Potter novels. Check out John’s brief on it here and check out all the previous podcasts for MuggleNet Academia.
Our November celebration of C.S. Lewis continues to look at the literary traditions behind the Narnia books. This time, Kelly Orazi and I are going to share one of our favorites, The Silver Chair, Lewis’ best example of a traditional fairytale. I’ll look at some ways in which Lewis tapped into traditional English fairy poetry, while Kelly will compare the novel to the Arthurian tradition (look for Kelly’s post in a few days).
In “On Fairy-stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that good “fairy-stories” are not concerned primarily with the fairies themselves, but with “the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches” (113). That’s precisely what Lewis’ Silver Chair is about: the adventures of humans, Eustace and Jill, in the “fairy realm” of Narnia, but it’s also a classic fairy-story of a lost prince and his encounter with “beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril” (Tolkien 109). While it’s a decidedly modern fairytale, Lewis firmly rooted The Silver Chair in tradition.
In looking at the literary traditions of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, we last explored the beast fable that is Prince Caspian. While the beast community of Narnia is at the heart of the novel, one of the things Prince Caspian also does is set up Caspian as a young hero and king. The next book in line, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, explores what happens after Caspian establishes himself as king and secures peace in Narnia. The spiritual, romantic, and religious quests of King Caspian and his company in Dawn Treader recall elements of the medieval romance quest found in the Arthurian stories of the middle ages as well as later stories such as Spenser’s Faerie Queen.
In A Characterization of the English Medieval Romance Dorothy Everett defines Medieval romances as “stories of adventure in which the chief parts are played by knights, famous kings, or distressed ladies, acting most often under the impulse of love, religious faith, or, in many, mere desire for adventure. The stories were first told in verse, but when, later, prose versions were made, they were also called romances.”