Category Archives: Fantasy

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 Book is… Prisoner of Azkaban

Prisonercover[1]There’s no doubt in my mind that the title of this post is true. Sure, the Harry Potter books get more angst-ridden as the kids get older, and sure, the stakes get higher when Voldemort is trying to take over the world and generally deploy his Evil Schemes. But you can keep your graveyard incantations and Departments of Mysteries, your snakes and corpses and lakes full of zombies. Harry Potter is never as scary before Prisoner of Azkaban, and it never gets quite that scary again.

Because the scare quotient (if I can use that phrase) of Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t depend on gross images or Gothic idioms, it doesn’t depend on dark magic or evil ideologies. The story does more than just startle or alarm us. It unsettles. It gnaws away at us with a, creeping, oozing fear that pricks under your fingernails and round your eye sockets. And it’s the only book with scary not just as decoration or set design; the fear is embedded in the story itself.

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The First (Annual?) Mythgard Institute Webathon

The Mythgard Institute was founded in 2011 to bring rigorous, dynamic and interactive educational experiences to students around the world through the latest online course tools while also boasting challenging and engaging classes taught by world-class teachers and leading scholars of literature and language. The Institute’s courses welcome both auditors and students working towards an M.A. degree. Now, two years after this unexpected journey began, Mythgard’s students would like to give something back to this groundbreaking organization.

On Sunday September 22nd, Tolkien Day, Mythgard will host its first-ever student led webathon to support the Mythgard Academy Indiegogo campaign. The Mythgard Academy offers free content on literature and language to everyone in the form of courses, lectures and podcasts. You know how these things work: The more they raise, the more free stuff we all get! There are great perks for the various donation levels, including votes towards what course topics will be offered.

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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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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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