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...
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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...
(The entire section is 4275 words.)
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 described, in which magic is possible and everyday actions may have deeply symbolic value. If any of his fiction succeeds in creating that longing for “Joy” that he experienced in his own life, the Narnia stories do.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe introduces the Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, who discover Narnia, where the White Witch has brought a hundred-year winter without Christmas. Although the children enter Narnia apparently by accident, they are expected, and welcomed. Humans are meant to rule in Narnia, despite the fact that its chief inhabitants are talking beasts and creatures such as centaurs, satyrs, nymphs, and dryads. When the children learn that a prophecy of their arrival...
(The entire section is 1045 words.)