Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
C. S. Lewis was a celebrated academic in the field of medieval literature, first at Oxford University, then at Cambridge, where he held the first chair in medieval and Renaissance literature. He also was a noted convert to Christianity who in the 1940’s established himself as a popular Christian apologist with a series of wartime radio talks, later collected under the title Mere Christianity (1952). Between 1938 and 1945 he wrote a trilogy of science-fiction books (the Space Trilogy, consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, 1938; Perelandra, 1943; and That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grownups, 1945) with underlying Christian themes. He was still unmarried in the early 1950’s, living with his brother and an elderly widow and her daughter.
It is perhaps surprising, then, that Lewis is best known by those other than academics as a children’s writer. The seven novels in his fantasy series the Chronicles of Narnia have remained consistent best sellers ever since their publication, and have inspired several film and television series. Although children evacuated from London did stay at his house in Oxford during World War II, the main inspiration for the stories came from memories of his own childhood reading, as recounted in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), as well as by certain recurring images he had had, some for many years. Lewis had once bemoaned to his colleague J. R. R. Tolkien (a fellow Christian academic at Oxford and later author of the Lord of the Rings series) the lack of stories he had enjoyed as a boy. Such books included the animal stories of Beatrix Potter and the children’s stories of E. Nesbit. The only solution, they felt, was to write such stories themselves.
The result for Lewis was the publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1950. Lewis wrote six more stories over the next three years. However, the publishers, Geoffrey Bles, like today’s filmmakers, decided to space them out to one per year. He had found a young illustrator, Pauline Baynes, for the first book and asked her to stay with the series. After the series was published, Lewis received the 1957 Carnegie Medal, Britain’s most prestigious award for children’s literature, for the last chronicle, The Last Battle. Some have argued the award was really for the whole series, but in many ways, The Last Battle really is the best of the seven stories.
The order of reading the Chronicles which Lewis recommended is not the order in which they were written or published. Lewis suggested that new readers start with The Magician’s Nephew, which tells of the creation of Narnia. This should be followed by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then The...
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Magician’s Nephew begins with Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer meeting in the yard of some London row houses. Digory is miserable because his mother is seriously ill. The two friends explore the attics of the connected houses, accidentally stumbling into Digory’s horrible uncle Andrew’s study. Uncle Andrew fancies himself a magician, and he gives Polly a magic yellow ring that transports her to a wood containing many tranquil pools. Digory is blackmailed into using a yellow ring to find his friend and give her a green ring that will bring her back.
While in the “wood between the worlds,” the children discover that they can use the green rings to visit other worlds through different pools. They jump into a pool leading to a strangely quiet land called Charn. In the ruins of this apparently ancient place, they find motionless people dressed as royalty. Nearby is a bell with a sign that simultaneously warns and dares the children to ring it. Digory cannot resist, and when the bell sounds, one of the figures awakens.
The awakened figure is Jadis, a strikingly beautiful but terribly evil queen. The children escape from Jadis using the green rings, but they accidentally bring her with them. After a chaotic ruckus in London, they finally get Jadis back to the magical wood, but again they have brought uninvited guests: Uncle Andrew, a cab driver, and his horse. They enter a pool hoping to get rid of Jadis in Charn but instead witness the beginning of a new world: Narnia. Aslan is singing the world into existence. Jadis throws a metal bar from a London lamppost at Aslan, but he doesn’t even seem to notice that it hits him squarely in the head. The bar grows into a full sized lamppost.
Aslan gives the power of speech to some of the animals and tells Digory to obtain an apple from a magical tree. To get to the apple, Digory is to ride the cab driver’s horse, which Aslan transforms into a flying and talking horse named Fledge. When Digory and Polly reach the apple tree, they find that Jadis has beaten them there. She has eaten an apple and now has eternal youth. She tries to convince Digory to steal an apple to give his dying mother, but Digory resists and returns to Aslan with the apple. Aslan tells Digory to plant the apple, which grows into a tree that will protect Narnia from evil for a time. He then gives Digory another apple, telling him he can use it to cure his mother. Aslan transports the cabby’s wife to Narnia then crowns the couple the first king and queen of Narnia.
Aslan returns Digory, Polly, and the miserable Uncle Andrew to their own world, making Uncle Andrew forget everything that happened in Narnia. Digory gives his mother the apple, and she is healed. He and Polly bury the apple core and the magic rings. An apple tree grows from the core, and years later, Digory—grown into old Professor Kirke—uses the wood from the tree to make a wardrobe.
When The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe begins, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie have been sent to the country home of the eccentric Professor Kirke during World War II. Expecting their stay to be rather boring, they break up the monotony by playing games such as hide and seek. During one of the games, Lucy discovers Narnia through a wardrobe. While there, she meets a fawn named Mr. Tumnus near a lamppost. At first, Mr. Tumnus tries to hypnotize her and give her to the White Witch. He loses his nerve because he is surprised at how pleasant Lucy is, and he goes on to tell her all about the White Witch’s reign, a time of perpetual winter without Christmas in the land. When Lucy returns, she excitedly tells her siblings about her discovery, but they don’t believe her. She also realizes that while she spent hours in Narnia, no time at all has passed in her own world.
Later, Edmund makes his way into Narnia, where he meets the White Witch. She plies him with Turkish delight to secure a promise to turn his brothers and sisters over to her. The White Witch is worried about the presence of four humans in Narnia because of a prophecy that four humans will eventually become rulers in Narnia, ending her evil reign. Edmund falls under the witch’s power.
Later, all four children enter Narnia and discover that the White Witch’s police force of wolves has captured Mr. Tumnus. Soon, the children meet up with the Beavers, talking animals that tell the children about Aslan, a lion that is the rightful and just ruler of Narnia. During the visit at the Beaver’s dam, Edmund sneaks out to notify the witch that his siblings are in Narnia. This time, he is offered no Turkish delight. Instead, he is mistreated and frightened by the lifelike statues displayed throughout the witch’s courtyards. Edmund later learns that the White Witch turns innocent creatures into stone.
The other three Pevensie children rush to meet Aslan at the Stone Table. The White Witch’s hold on Narnia is beginning to loosen, as is evidenced by the onset of spring. Also, Father Christmas visits Narnia for the first time in years, bringing special gifts for the children. Peter receives a sword and shield; Susan is given a bow, arrows, and a magic horn; Lucy gets a dagger and a vial of healing potion.
The children and Beavers reach Aslan’s encampment after several close calls with the wolf police. There, they meet Aslan for the first time and are awestruck by his strength and majesty. The White Witch arrives with Edmund and her own army of hideous creatures. She bargains with Aslan privately. Aslan trades his own life for Edmund’s. Edmund is then reconciled with his siblings.
Susan and Lucy follow Aslan that night, and witness the White Witch and her cohorts kill Aslan on the Stone Table. Soon after, Aslan comes back to life, more powerful than before. He takes Susan and Lucy on a joyful ride on his back, leaping through Narnia to reach the icy castle of the White Witch. There, he breathes new life into the statues. The group gathers strength as they head back to the battle site. There, a bloody conflict results in victory for Aslan’s army. Lucy uses her healing potion to cure many of the injured, including Edmund.
The children are crowned kings and queens of Narnia, and they reign for many years in peace. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ends with the Pevensies returning to the human world through the wardrobe portal. They are children again, and no time has passed in their world.
The Horse and His Boy is the story of Shasta and his talking horse, Bree. The story is set in Calormen. Shasta is miserable in his life as the adopted son of a cruel fisherman. When he overhears the fisherman offering to sell him as a slave, he and the horse decide to flee to Narnia. During the adventure across Calormen, Shasta and Bree meet Aravis and her horse Hwin. Aravis is of noble Calormene blood, and she is trying to escape an arranged marriage. At one point, Shasta is mistaken for Prince Corin of Archenland and the group discovers that an attack on Narnia is planned.
The four companions continue their trek across the desert, now pursued by the Calormene army and a huge lion. They find out later that the lion was Aslan, who chased them only to give them the strength to escape to Archenland, an ally of Narnia. While in Archenland, Shasta is recognized as Cor, the lost prince and heir to the throne of that country. This true identity explains why he was mistaken for Prince Corin, who is actually his younger twin. Shasta is restored to his rightful place and later marries Aravis.
In Prince Caspian, Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund are suddenly transported to Narnia while waiting for their train to boarding school, approximately a year after their last trip. When the four children arrive this time, they find themselves near the ruins of a castle. They piece together that they are actually at Cair Paravel, where they once ruled as kings and queens. Since time does not work the same in Narnia as it does in their own world, they reason that at least a thousand years must have passed since their reign. They are amazed to find the gifts that they once received from Father Christmas, dusty but intact, in the castle keep. Only Susan’s horn is missing.
Soon, the Pevensies see men throw something alive from a boat into the water that now surrounds Cair Paravel. The children rescue a dwarf named Trumpkin. Trumpkin updates the children on the happenings in Narnia over the centuries since they were last there, and they learn that talking animals and the Narnia of old have been relegated to the stuff of fairy tales. The wicked King Miraz, a Telmarine, has stolen the throne from the rightful heir, Prince Caspian, by murdering Caspian’s father. Prince Caspian has fled under the advice of his kindly old teacher, Cornelius. Cornelius gave Caspian Queen Susan’s horn, which has the power to summon help when it is sounded. It is revealed later that the blowing of Susan’s horn was what called the four children to Narnia from the railway station.
Caspian has joined forces with the old Narnians, and they have set up a fortress at Aslan’s How. Their army is not faring well when they decide to blow Susan’s horn and send Trumpkin to Cair Paravel to meet help. Trumpkin and the four children meet with various misadventures on the way to Aslan’s How, but first Lucy and later the others see Aslan leading their way. When they finally reach Caspian and the other Narnians, they discover a dwarf, a hag, and a werewolf who want to call upon the White Witch’s power for aid. The three treacherous creatures are killed.
Peter and Miraz duel for victory, and Miraz loses. Two advisers to Miraz claim that the Narnians have stabbed their king while he was down, then they themselves stab him when no one is looking. A great battle ensues, and the Telmarines are defeated when the trees of the forest come to life and join forces with the other Narnians. Aslan creates a portal between the worlds. He returns the children to the railway station and offers the Telmarines the opportunity to return to the world from which their ancestors came.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy and Edmund have been sent to stay with relatives in Cambridge. Their annoying cousin Eustace makes their stay miserable. They enjoy looking at a painting in one of the bedrooms because it reminds them of Narnia. Eustace says he hates the painting,...
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Chronicles of Narnia traces the experience of a number of modern children in their encounter with a “medieval” world. Lewis apparently envisioned key scenes in the story when he was in his adolescence but may have had no thought of developing a series of stories until he was well into them. Into the stories flow memories of the works of authors such as Kenneth Grahame, E. Nesbit, and George MacDonald. Each story portrays the growing maturity of the children who find their way into Narnia, and the plots are, in that respect, very similar. Each child must confront wickedness, spiritual evil localized in some individual, and overcome it. Perhaps more significant than the plot, Lewis creates settings that are richly...
(The entire section is 1045 words.)