All posts by Kris Swank

About Kris Swank

Kris Swank is Library Director at Pima Community College, Northwest Campus, and studies fantasy literature at the Mythgard Institute. She has contributed to Tolkien Studies, Mythlore and Silver Leaves journals, has published fantasy poetry, a Minoan murder mystery, and co-authored an epic fantasy short story for the Swedish music CD, Radio Rivendell Compliation, Vol. 2: The Book of War.

The Last Battle as “End”…or “Beginning”

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.

Ragnarok
“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.

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The Horse and His Boy as “Orphan Tale”

The Horse and His Boy
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.

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The Silver Chair as ‘Fairytale’—part 1

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).Faerie is a perilous land

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.

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Prince Caspian as ‘Beast Fable’

We continue our celebration of C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago this month, by looking at the literary traditions behind the Narnia books. Kelly Orazi (who we hope is having a happy birthday today!) started things off by examining how The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fits into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

Trufflehunter
“Trufflehunter” illustration
©Jef Murray 2012, all rights reserved.

Prince Caspian is also a hero’s journey, as well as a fairy-tale and a beast-fable. A key thematic element in Caspian is the ability of some animals to talk. The difference between “dumb” and talking beasts is crucial, for one thing, because dumb beasts can be killed and eaten. Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara note that in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Even the beavers eat ham (as well as trout)” (172), and that in The Silver Chair, Puddleglum becomes horrified at the giants’ dinner “only after he discovers that meat he was eating comes from a talking stag” (274). In Prince Caspian, Susan becomes upset over the shooting of a bear. “I was so afraid it might be, you know—one of our kind of bears, a talking bear” (116). Trumpkin assures her, “Not he […] I saw the face and heard the snarl. He only wanted Little Girl for his breakfast” (116). When Nikabrik accuses Caspian of having hunted animals for sport, the prince admits it—

“Well, to tell you the truth, I have,” said Caspian. “But they weren’t Talking Beasts.”

“It’s all the same thing,” said Nikabrik.

“No, no, no,” said Trufflehunter. “You know it isn’t. You know very well that the beasts in Narnia nowadays are different and are no more than the poor dumb witless creatures you’d find in Calormen or Telmar” (76-77).

It’s immoral to eat Talking Beasts because, well, they can talk, and reason, and make moral choices. Talking Beasts in Narnia are less like animals and more like humans. … in fact, they are us.

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The Scariest Harry Potter… the Goblet & the Graveyard

“Little Hangleton Graveyard” © Willi Wiegand 2013, all rights reserved. Used with kind permission of the artist. http://williamsnape.deviantart.com/
“Little Hangleton Graveyard” © Willi Wiegand 2013, all rights reserved. Used with kind permission of the artist. williamsnape.deviantart.com .

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire – Book 4 – has the absolutely scariest scene in the entire series… forget the vicious Hungarian Horntail… forget the grindylows and the merpeople with their grey skin, broken yellow teeth and wild green hair leering at Harry and shaking their spears… forget the eerie disappearance of nearly everyone Harry cares about: Ron, Hermione, Cho… the SCARIEST thing about what I think is the scariest volume in the series is that just when Harry and Cedric appear to have victory at their fingertips, they are jerked away from the maze, from Hogwarts, and portkeyed to the creepiest, most dangerous location yet: the Little Hangleton graveyard.

“They were standing instead in a dark and overgrown graveyard; the black outline of a small church was visible beyond a large yew to their right… It was silent and slightly eerie.”  Dark shapes approach, walking steadily through the graves, and Harry’s scar explodes with pain. Cedric is struck and Harry is captured. “The short man in the cloak… was dragging Harry toward the marble headstone. Harry saw the name upon it flickering in the wandlight before he was forced around and slammed against it. TOM RIDDLE.”
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J.K. Rowling will write screenplay for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

From J.K. Rowling’s official website today:

Warner Bros. announced on 12th September 2013 that J.K. Rowling would be making her screenwriting debut with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a new film series which is part of their expanded creative partnership with J.K. Rowling.  The films will be inspired by Harry Potter’s Hogwarts textbook of the same name, and will feature the book’s fictitious author, Newt Scamander.

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Hobbits & Gaming & Film, Oh My!

Consider submitting a paper proposal for Mythmoot II, to be held in the Baltimore, MD area December 14-15, 2013. Moot-goers will view a special screening of the 2nd Peter Jackson Hobbit film, and attend informative and entertaining sessions with scholars and fans. Papers can be on any fantasy topic (Harry Potter anyone?), with areas of special interest including The Hobbit (naturally), fantasy games & gaming, and adaptations of fantasy in television, film, art & music. Proposal deadline is August 18th. Read the #mythmoot CFP here!

Harry Potter Numerology: Thirteen (Misfortune)

[This is a bonus essay to my series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. I had originally intended to stop at seven essays, but some people have asked me to write about a couple additional numbers. The previous essay – “Harry Potter Numerology: Twelve (Abundance)” – was published on November 4, 2012.]

Since I began writing this series, several people have asked me if I thought J.K. Rowling intended for her numbers to have specific meanings? Or if it’s coincidence (e.g. coincidence that every time an Eleven pops up something transforms)? Or if I’m just seeing things where I want to see things? Well, there is no stronger case for Rowling’s intentional use of number symbolism (that I have found) than The Number Thirteen.
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