Gnomon: Narnia Notes

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This is a collections of facts, opinions and ideas about the world of Narnia. I may take some sections of this and make them into separate entries if they are good enough and interesting enough.

Publication

The seven books were published one per year between 1950 and 1956. The first five were published by Geoffrey Bles and the last two by The Bodley Head.

CodeBookPublishedWriting completed byPublication OrderWriting OrderChronological Order
LWWThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe16-Oct-1950Mar-1949112
PCPrince Caspian15-Oct-1951Dec-1949224
VDTThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader15-Sep-1952Feb-1950335
SCThe Silver Chair07-Sep-1953Mar-1951456
HHBThe Horse and His Boy06-Sep-1954Jul-1950543
MNThe Magician's Nephew02-May-1955Feb-1954671
LBThe Last Battle05-Sep-1956Mar-1953767

The order in which they were published is not the order Lewis wrote the books. He wrote five of the books quickly over about two years from 1949 to early 1951. This meant that he could publish one per year and choose the order.

HHB was written before SC, but it was decided to publish SC first. The stated reason was that it kept that the three books about the time of Caspian (PC, VDT and SC) together, although Caspian himself hardly appears in SC.

LB was written before MN, but it makes sense to publish the book which features the end of Narnia last so MN was published first (for some reason in May rather than September/October as all the others were).

Adoption of the 'Chronological Order' and the title 'Chronicles of Narnia'

CS Lewis died in 1963. The decision to publish the books in "chronological" order seems to have been made after he died.

When was the name "The Chronicles of Narnia" first used? I'm pretty sure that the set of them we had in the late 1960s did not have that title.

A Puffin Books1 box set from 1976 is interesting:

  • The box (which is undated) says "The Complete Chronicles of Narnia" and lists the books on the back in Publication Order without numbers.
  • The books themselves, dated 1976, do not mention the term Chronicles anywhere on them and are not numbered. The blurb on the first page of MN states that it is the first of the books, and the "Other books in the series" list in each book shows them in Chronological Order.

American editions started using the present "wrong" order in 1994 when the rights were bought by Harper Collins, but clearly British editions were already using the wrong order in 1976.

I've seen a cover of an American edition of 'The Magician's Nephew' (price $1.95) which says "Book 6 of The Chronicles of Narnia" so the title "Chronicles of Narnia" was already being used in America before the decision to renumber.

The Narnia Timeline

CS Lewis's series of books about the fantasy world of Narnia, known as 'The Narnia Books', provided lots of details of the history of Narnia, but were rather short on dates. Lewis was not a stickler for detail like his friend JRR Tolkien - he was quite happy to get things roughly right, but it's probably not a good idea to search too much for internal consistency in his stories.

Nevertheless, he did write out a timeline, showing various events in the history of Narnia, and their correspondence with events in England. This has been published on the web.

There are some interesting details revealed, although it's up to the reader whether they accept this as part of the 'canon' of the Narnian world.

  • As predicted in The Magician's Nephew, the descendants of the original King and Queen of Narnia (Frank and Helen) inhabited and ruled Archenland.
  • Surprisingly, the Calormenes started out as outlaws from Archenland. This seems unlikely given their dark-skinned appearance and their rich non-Narnian culture.
  • Even more surprising, the Calormenes spread to Telmar to the west of Narnia, but misbehave there so badly that Aslan turns them into dumb animals. Telmar is therefore uninhabited when the pirates arrive from our world to become the Telmarines.
  • King Gale of Narnia defeats a dragon which was threatening the Lone Isles and in gratitude is acknowledged as Emperor by the islanders.
  • Two characters mentioned in Narnian legends are given specific dates - Moonwood the Hare (570) and Queen Swanwhite (1502), but there is nothing else said about them.

The other events in the timeline are all ones that are detailed in the books.

Dates

The other interesting thing is the dates that are provided. These allow us to work out how long the various periods in Narnian history were:

  • 900 years from the creation of Narnia to the return of the White Witch and the beginning of her Long Winter.
  • 100 years of winter before the Pevensies arrive.
  • They stay in Narnia for 15 years.
  • Almost another 1000 years until the Telmarines invade Narnia.
  • 200 years later, Caspian summons the Pevensies again and regains the throne. A few years after this, Caspian sails to the end of the world with Edmund, Lucy and Eustace.
  • 50 years later, Eustace returns to Narnia and rescues Rillian, Caspian's son
  • 200 years later, Shift the Ape revolts against Aslan and Narnia ends.

The Problem of the Calormenes

The world of Narnia is a world outside of our own. It can only be reached by magic. There are a number of magical gateways between our world and Narnia2. In six of the seven books, children from our world travel to Narnia, sometimes through a magical gateway and sometimes by being 'called' - in one they are called by a magical horn, in another the magical lion Aslan sings a note to call an adult woman to his world.

A Land of Animals Ruled by Humans

We are told in The Magician's Nephew that Aslan created the world of Narnia, and peopled it with Talking Animals, as well as mythical creatures such as River Gods, Naiads, Dwarfs and Centaurs. He appointed a human couple from our world, Frank and Helen, to rule over the Narnians. Humans are known as 'Sons of Adam' and 'Daughters of Eve', which as mentioned above seems to specifically exclude Jadis. Aslan said that Frank and Helen and their descendants would rule the country of Narnia and later Archenland, another country to the south.

The Calormenes

Two of the books are set about a thousand years later: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy. In the first of these, four English children travel through a magic gateway in a wardrobe to Narnia. They find that there are no longer any humans living there. It is ruled by an immortal Witch (Jadis, who may or may not be human). With the help of Aslan, they defeat the Witch and become Kings and Queens of Narnia themselves, living there for many years until they are adults.

In The Horse and His Boy, which is set at the time when the four English children are adults ruling Narnia, we find that Archenland is still ruled by humans. There are also humans of a different sort living far to the south across a hot desert. These are the Calormenes who live in the land of Calormen. They are dark skinned. They have clothes, architecture and mannerisms like an Arab from the Arabian Nights. The Calormenes do not recognise Aslan as the creator of the world; instead, they worship the evil god Tash.

Calormen is described as an Empire so it is presumably fairly large, although we're not really told much about the geography of it.

So where did these Calormenes come from? It seems that when the world of Narnia was created, the only two humans in it were Frank and Helen, who were white-skinned Londoners. Where did a completely separate race of dark-skinned people come from. We're not told, but it seems most likely that they found a gateway from our world, and wandered through. We are told in Prince Caspian that a similar thing happened to a group of South Sea Pirates, who wandered in to a part of the world of Narnia far to the west of the counry of Narnia itself. They named it Telmar, and later invaded Narnia from Telmar.

If the Calormenes are from our world, it seems reasonable that they came from Arabia and brought their clothing, customs and architecture with them.

Time Flow

One of the features of the world of Narnia is that time does not flow at the same rate there as in our world. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the children go into Narnia a few times, and each time when they return to England they find no time has passed in England while they were gone. In the most extreme case, they spend at least 10 years in Narnia but still find no time has passed (or at most a few seconds) when they return to England.

When they return to Narnia the following year, about a thousand years have passed in Narnia. So Narnian time seems to pass faster than "English" time. But in The Last Battle, King Tirian has a vision in which he sees a group of people who are in England and they see him, although they can't hear each other. A couple of minutes later, two of the English people, Jill and Eustace, arrive in Narnia. But from their point of view a whole week has gone by between the vision and arriving in Narnia. So in this case, English time flows faster than Narnian time.

It's reasonable to assume that although the two worlds have their own times, they both flow in the same direction. By this reckoning, each time in England has a corresponding time in Narnia. If I go into Narnia and some time later you follow me, it is reasonable to assume that from the Narnian point of view I arrive in Narnia first, followed by you. This is certainly the case in all the travels between England and Narnia mentioned in the book.

Digory and Polly are the first to reach Narnia (accompanied by Jadis the White Witch, Frank the Cabby, Uncle Andrew and a horse). They travel from Victorian England in 1900 and arrive as the world of Narnia is being created. The last to travel to Narnia are Jill and Eustace who leave England some time in the late 1940s and arrive in Narnia in time to witness the end of the world. So the entire span of Narnia's history takes place between 1900 and 1949.

Why Tash?

This means that whenever the Arabians wandered into the Narnian world, it happened between 1900 and 1949. It seems odd, then, that they worship a god called Tash rather than Allah. I doubt there were any Arabs in our world after 1900 who did not believe in Allah.

There are a number of possible explanations:

The Long Spring of Narnia

The later history of Narnia is fairly clearly laid out - it is about 1,000 years from the defeat of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the arrival of the children in Narnia in Prince Caspian - the palace of Cair Paravel from the earlier story is a ruin in the later book, but not completely disappeared. This fits in with similar ruins found around Great Britain so 1,000 years seems reasonable. We're also told that The Last Battle is only a few hundred years after Prince Caspian. But we're never told how long it is from the creation of Narnia in The Magician's Nephew to the time of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Many websites state categorically that it is also 1,000 years, and this is based on Lewis's published timeline, which also says that the Calormenes were Archenlanders who wandered south. Since this seems extremely unlikely, we're also free to dispute the timing - 1,000 years doesn't seem enough. In the Long Spring theory, we speculate that it was in fact 10,000 years from the creation of Narnia until the time when the White Witch took control. The Arabs wandered through a gateway into Narnia around 1901 our time, but this was, say, 5,000 years after the creation of Narnia, giving them another 5,000 years for their belief in Allah to change into the belief in Tash.

The Calormens Got There First

Perhaps some Arabs from our world from about the year 1 AD wandered through a gateway into the world of Narnia as it was being created. They arrived before Digory and his group, and stood in the darkness because the stars and sun had not yet been created but in Narnian time only a few minutes went by before Digory arrived in another part of the world and soon after that the stars and sun were created. In this theory, the Arabs did not believe in Allah because they dated from a time before the Prophet; Islam had not yet been invented.

Lewis's Timeline

Lewis published a timeline showing various events in Narnia and the corresponding times in England. It is from this that the figure of 1000 years between the creation of the world and the overthroing of the White Witch comes. In this timeline, Lewis says that the Calormenes were not Arabs. They were outlaws from Archenland (that is, of the same race as the Narnian ruler) who fled south about 200 years after the creation of the world. Their dark skin is therefore due purely to constant exposure to the sun, and the correspondence between their Calormene culture and our Arabian culture is pure coincidence. This is not a very satisfactory explanation. Since the timeline is not part of the Chronicles of Narnia, we can feel free to disregard it.

Time Travel

We've assumed all along that Narnia is "out there somewhere" and that time is passing in it, even if it passes at a different rate. What if this assumption is wrong? What if Narnian time passes at the same rate as our time, but that the gateways between the two worlds, such as the Wardrobe, or Aslan's Doorway in the Air (at the end of Prince Caspian), can connect any time in our world to any time in Narnia?

In this theory, the Calormenes were indeed Arabs, from some time before the invention of Islam. The gateway they discovered connected, say, Arabia of 500 AD with Narnia of, say, 500 years after the creation of Narnia.

So Digory's journey to Narnia linked 1900 Earth time to 0 Narnian time, while this Calormene incursion linked 500 Earth time to 500 Narnian time.

This opens up the possibility of travelling backward in time by using two of these gateways.

Travel to Narnia

Six of the seven books outline a number of different ways of travelling to Narnia, and each has its own features. The Horse and His Boy is set entirely in the world of Narnia.

  • The Wardrobe acts as a gateway from England to Lantern Waste in the northwest of Narnia. We're told in MN that Aslan caused a magic apple tree to grow in Lantern Waste. Digory brought an apple from this tree to England and planted the core in his back garden. A tree grew from this and the wardrobe was made from the wood of this tree. Presumably the wardrobe linked England to the spot in Narnia where the apple originally grew. The wardrobe isn't just a gateway - when the four Pevensie children had spent many years in Narnia, they had become adults, but when they returned to England through the wardrobe, they were changed back into children. The exotic court clothes they were wearing were turned back itno the children's clothes they had arrived to Narnia in. This is the only Narnia gateway that showed this sort of effect.
  • Queen Susan's horn summons the children from England to Narnia. They are taken from a railway station platform and find themselves on a beach on the island of Cair Paravel, a place they had lived for many years.
  • Aslan tells us that the Telmarines entered Narnia through a gateway somewhere in Earth's South Seas.
  • Aslan makes a door in the air. This was a gateway from Narnia to two different places simultaneously. Telmarines walking through it were brought back to the South Seas, while the Pevensies were brought back to England. This gateway did not restore the children's possessions. Edmund's torch was left in Narnia.
  • In VDT, Edmund, Lucy and Eustace are brought to the world of Narnia by staring at a picture of the Dawn Treader which is on the wall of Eustace's bedroom. It's not explained how it got there. Presumably Aslan put it there. At the end of their adventures, Aslan sends them back to England but I can't remember how.
  • In The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace walk through a doorway in a wall in the grounds of their boarding school, expecting to find themselves in a different part of the grounds. Instead they find themselves in Aslan's Country, at the top of a very high cliff. Aslan transports them to the country of Narnia on his breath. At the end of the book, ...
  • The Magician's Nephew uses magic dust from Atlantis to travel to other worlds. Uncle Andrew has separated the dust into two types and put it into magic rings. Touching one type of ring brings you to a special place called the Wood Between Worlds, where you emerge from what a pool of water without having got wet. There are many pools in this wood, each one connecting to a different world. Stepping into a pool while wearing the other type of ring brings you to the world connected to that pool.
  • Also in the Magician's Nephew, Aslan summons the Cabby's wife, Helen, to Narnia by singing a single note. She and the Cabby are offered the position of Queen and King of Narnia and they accept.
  • At the end of the adventure Aslan sends them home.

Overarching Structure of the Books

JK Rowling's Harry Potter series has seven books, but these are highly structured. Each book represents one year in the school of Hogwarts. Each book advances our knowledge of the enemy Voldemort, until he is finally defeated in the last book. This structure was achieved by the Author planning the series from start to finish. Lewis's books, on the other hand, were not planned. He didn't know when he wrote the first one that there was even going to be a second one.

So is there any overall structure that Lewis might have added later? Here are two, one suggested by readers and one by Lewis himself.

The Seven Deadly Sins

Each of the Narnia books illustrates a different 'deadly' sin:

  • LWW = Gluttony. Edmund's desire for the bewitched Turkish Delight leads him to betray his own family.
  • PC = Lust, in this case a Lust for Power. Miraz wants to be King above all else.
  • VDT = Greed. Eustace's greed for gold turns him into a dragon
  • SC = Sloth. All Jill and Eustace have to do is follow the signs, but they neglect them. Not an exact match - it is more a wish for their own comfort and not wanting to do things that will be hard. Is that sloth?
  • HHB = Pride. Bree, Aravis and Rabadash are all proud and have to be humbled by Aslan.
  • MN = Anger. It is as a result of a fight between Digory and Polly that Jadis is woken and becomes the evil enemy of Narnia.
  • LB = Envy. Shift is an intelligent ape and is envious of the respect that Aslan gets from the other Narnians.

It is somewhat a strain to match all the sins to the different books. They oviously weren't designed with this in mind.

Different Aspects of Christianity

Lewis said that the books illustrate different aspects of Christianity. The only one I've been able to find an explicity statement about is Prince Caspian "the restoration of the true religion after a corruption".

The other books all have CHristian elements in them, but they are not as obvious as one per book.

Names of Narnian Places

Lewis wrote very quickly, borrowing concepts wholesale from other books and not worrying too much about internal consistency. For example, The Magician's Nephew features scenes from H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and E Nesbitt's Xxx.This was completely different from the writing style of his friend JRR Tolkien, who spent years agonising about details and getting everything just right.

Lewis and Tolkien were friends for many years, although they broke off their friendship in later years as Tolkien didn't like the company Lewis kept. At a time when they were still friends, Lewis and Tolkien showed each other their books as they wrote them. Lewis read all of The Lord of the Rings in installments as it was written and Tolkien read both the Narnia books and Lewis's 'science fiction' offering, Out of the Silent Planet and its sequels. He liked the science fiction but didn't like the Narnia books - they were too heavy on allegory, something Tolkien disliked.

It's sometimes said that Lewis borrowed ideas or names from Tolkien's work. Is this true?

Many of the place names in Lewis's work are just English words, so they are clearly not borrowed. For example Lantern Waste, the Lone Isles or Dancing Lawn. Some others are also English but old forms so they're not immediately recognisable: Aslan's How (there are a few Hows in the South of England). Chippingford in The Last Battle is clearly from the same Old English root ceping as Chipping Norton, an actual English town. Here, Chipping means 'market'.

There actually aren't very many place names despite there being seven books. Let's look at some of the non-English placenames:

  • Narnia - Lewis took this name directly from a town in Italy, although it is usually now called Narni. It is about 80km north of Rome.
  • Calormen - formed from the Latin 'calor' meaning heat.
  • Telmar - probably related to Greek 'tele' meaning far and 'mar' meaning sea in Romance languages. The Telmarines were originally South Sea pirates.
  • Anvard - this name has a mediaeval feel to it. The "-ard" ending suggests Norman French and the "An" at the start looks like Angevin (the 12th and 13th-century French-speaking Kings of England)
  • Terebinthia - clearly named after the terebinth tree, also known as the turpentine tree
  • Cair Paravel - Caer is a Welsh placename word meaning a fortress. Paravel seems to be an invention but suggests both paradise and peacock (pavo in Latin).
  • Harfang - although this name has a Germanic feel to it, it is French and means a snowy owl, a suitable name for a castle in the snows of the north.
  • River Shribble, forming the northern border of Narnia, appears to be inspired by the Ribble, a river in Northern England
  • Other Names without Derivation

  • Archenland
  • Beruna
  • Mount Pire
  • Tashbaan
  • Galma

So Which Ones Were Borrowed from Tolkien?

The moors to the north of Narnia are called 'Ettinsmoor'. Tolkien had a place to the northeast of Arnor called 'Ettenmoors'. Is this coincidence?

  • Ettinsmoor - an ettin is an evil spirit. It's an old English word, although a rare one. Careful readers will have seen it used in the list of dread creatures that turned up for the sacrifice of Aslan in LWW. The name Ettinsmoor clearly means a moor inhabited by ettins, so it's a reasonable name for a place.
  • Ettenmoors - Tolkien also is using the word 'etten' to mean some sort of a monstrous creature. It's the same word and 'moor' is also the same; he's just combined it better.

So was this name borrowed? Looks like it. Are there any others? Don't think so.

Aslan

Aslan is the talking lion god who created the world of Narnia and who watches over it.

He is a very big male lion who can talk (with a Nordie accent, apparently - CS Lewis himself was a Nordie so this is appropriate).

Aslan as Jesus

Aslan is the Narnian embodiment of Jesus Christ as understood by Christians:

  • He is the son of the Emperor Overseas, an unspecified person who appears to be as powerful and important as Aslan himself. Jesus is the son of God the Father who created our world.

  • Aslan allows himself to be killed in order to save the soul of a sinner and then comes back to life, as Jesus did.

  • Aslan demands personal sacrifices from his followers - for example in The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace must turn away from the comforts of Harfang Castle and search in the snow for an underground tunnel. Jesus also demands sacrifices from his follower, demanding that they give away all their possessions and leave their friends to follow him.

  • At the end of VDT, he appears in the form of a lamb. Jesus is often represented as the 'Lamb of God'.

There are differences - it was supposedly Jesus's father who made our world, while Aslan creates the world of Narnia himself, singing it into existence. While Jesus spent about 36 hours dead3, Aslan was dead for less than 16 hours (having died after sunset and having come back to life at the following sunrise).

So was Aslan actually Jesus? He says he is in our world too, but that he is not easy to find - the strong implication is that he is actually Jesus.

Aslan's Appearances

Aslan appears in all the books. Usually he appears as a giant lion, but sometimes he is in other forms:

At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader he appears as a
lamb, closely echoing the depiction of Jesus as the 'Lamb of God'. In the same book, a giant bird flies past Lucy and whispers in her ear with Aslan's voice. In The Horse and His Boy, Aslan appears at one point as a large cat who comforts Shasta when he spends the night beside the ancient tombs.

Aslan's appearances are almost always in the world of Narnia. He does step briefly into the Wood Between Worlds in MN. In SC he is in his own country 'Aslan's Country', which seems to be loosely connected to the world of Narnia - it can be seen in the distance beyond the sun from the easternmost parts of Narnia. In this book, he also is visible from our world through a magic doorway although he doesn't enter our world.

Aslan's Powers

As a god, there are no limits to Aslan's powers. He creates the entire world of Narnia by singing. He can bring the creatures Jadis has turned to stone back to life by breathing on them. He can transport Jill and Eustace from his own country to Narnia by blowing them there. He can transport a woman from 19th century London to Narnia by singing a single note. He can turn Rabadash into a donkey and back into a man. He can open a gateway between worlds for people to pass through.

On the other hand, Aslan obeys the laws set down by himself and his father. In LWW, he can't deny the Witch the right to execute the traitor Edmund, except by offering himself in his place. In VDT, when Lucy speaks the spell to make invisible things visible, the spell acts on Aslan and makes him visible too.

1The branch of Penguin Books that dealt with children's books.2The name 'Narnia' is used both for the world and for a small country within that world. Lewis didn't make up the name - it is a town in Italy, although it is usually called 'Narni'.3He died on a Friday evening and came back to life on Sunday morning.

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