Category Archives: Fairy Tales

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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Meanwhile, in Diagon Alley…

In case you every wondered what writers do all day–well…we write, mostly. Even when there’s boggarts in the closet and nargles in the pub, we still scramble around and find ways to write and edit and do other writerly, blog-type things. To put it another way, the Blogengamot has all found ways of keeping busy while the Pubs been undergoing its exorcisms (if that’s the word I want).

Let me introduce you, if I may, to one of those other projects, a joint venture between Mr Pond (speaking!) and Jenna, as well as remarkable people like Katherine Langrish, friend of the Pub. Revgeorge has also been known to wander in from time to time. It’s a blog and literary journal called Unsettling Wonderdevoted to folklore and fairy tale of all types, but especially the slightly stranger, lesser-known, more unexpected types.

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Christmas Ghosts and Goblins

“And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn.
Come in, she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.”
~ Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm”

“It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world.”
~ Charles Dickens, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton”

goblinsGhosts and Christmas go together suprisingly well. There’s the common imagery: the icy, white and desolate setting of Christmas, with a few lights shining but not wholly dispelling the darkness parallels the cool, white, spectral images of souls clinging to the world but not able to overcome the death it dealt them. Dickens seems to be primarily responsible for ghost stories making their way into the Christmas tradition, and certainly we all know his most famous one. In addition to ghosts, he has a lesser-known but equally-potent story about goblins at Christmas: The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton. It’s short, and if you have time over the next few days of Christmas celebration to read it, I commend it to your careful attention. It puts into our mind the many beautiful paradoxes of Christmas and what this day says about our world.

Christmas is neither the unadulterated, raucous party that TV’s commercials show us, nor is it something to be “Bah Humbug-ed” away, like Scrooge. It’s a bittersweet mix of gloom and joy, darkness and light, death and life, indifference and that most mysterious of all magics, love. Continue reading

Always Winter, Never Christmas

Always winter, and never Christmas, said Mr Tumnus. Think of that.

When I read these words as a small boy, I would try to imagine. And the most horrible part to me, then, was the thought of not getting any presents. Seemed a bit selfish of the White Witch, keeping the Narnians from their Christmas presents with her enchantments. No summer baseball was bad enough, but using some magical jiggery-pokery to keep Christmas out of winter was just bad form. In that sense, I guess I imagined the White Witch as first cousins to the Grinch: The Witch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season

But this year, as I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), a different idea struck me.

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Around the Common Room: November 30, 2012

As this post goes up, it’s still November 29 by my clock, on account of which: Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle! Born exactly twenty years apart–Lewis in 1898 and L’Engle in 1918–the two authors must have shared a trace of magic along with a birthday, for few children’s books have been more loved than The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time. Here’s to Jack and Madeleine, both of whom have been loved by many of us for nearly all our reading lives.

Fairy tale writer and aficionado L.C. Ricardo, has written a beautiful piece on symbolism and meaning in fairy tales, which was just published on the webzine Enchanted Conversation. From L.C.:

That is not to say that fairy tales are mere allegory. Perhaps this one-sided interpretation carries some blame for people’s frustration in“telling the same story over and over again.” If a tower is always a phallic symbol and the maiden either imprisoned or protected from the masculine, we rob the tower of its first childhood impression. That of something tall, stone, unreachable. Something enchanted, according to that which makes up its very definition. And from there—who knows what it could be?

Do you agree with her on the openness of interpretation, or disagree? What do you think of the universality and personal appeal of fairy tales and fantasy literature? Feel free to hold forth in the combox.

Here’s the news from the week:

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Lilith: George MacDonald’s Tale of Demons, Darkness, and Death

A Hog’s Head Halloween Book of Spooks

Edom’s streams shall be changed into pitch,
its soil into sulfur,
and its land shall become burning pitch;
Night and day it shall not be quenched,
its smoke shall rise forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste,
never again shall anyone pass through it.
But the desert owl and hoot owl shall possess it,
the screech owl and raven shall dwell in it….
Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts,
satyrs shall call to one another;
There shall the lilith repose,
and find for herself a place to rest.
–Isaiah 34, NAB

From her vague origins as she-demon and development through Hebrew midrashim and other ancient texts, the Lilith of legend became the first wife of Adam, rebellious long before Eve listened to a snake. Through another turn of history, she’s identified with Lamia, a child-killing Greek monster and vampiress. In MacDonald’s Lilith: A Romance, which is far more horrific than romantic, she is both.

The book doesn’t begin with Lilith herself. It begins with a young Englishman, a mutilated book, and a ghostly librarian. The latter morphs into a raven and leads the Englishman, Vane, through a mirror into a strange fairyland, where Vane is immediately invited to die.

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Around the Common Room: July 20, 2012

Welcome to this week’s Around the Common Room! Owing to the temporary absence of at least one of my usual informants, this is likely to be on the short side, but there’s good stuff here nonetheless.

First, a couple of great pieces on fairy tales:

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