Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis is an allegorical series of seven novels that chronicles the story of the magical land of Narnia and its residents, as well as select humans that have the opportunity to visit and interact with the world.
The story begins with young Digory Kirk and his friend Polly accidentally traveling first to the world of Charn and then to Narnia with the aid of Digory's uncle's magic rings. The two accidentally bring Jadis, a villain responsible for the demise of Charn, to Narnia to witness Aslan, the Great Lion and God of Narnia, singing the land into existence. Jadis escapes into the world, vowing to rule it one day and destroy Aslan. Digory must travel to find a magical fruit to save his mother's life; having completed that task, he eventually buries the rings near his home on Earth. A tree grows where they were buried, and it is used to create a wardrobe.
Many years later, the Pevensie children are staying at elderly Professor Kirk's estate during World War II, and they stumble upon the wardrobe, finding that it leads into Narnia. Lucy, the youngest, enters first and meets with a faun, Mr. Tumnus, who tells her that the White Witch has kept it in perpetual winter for over a hundred years. Edmund, the second-youngest, eventually ventures in and sells the family out to the White Witch, starting a war during which Aslan is killed to secure Edmund's safe return. Aslan comes back to life, and the winter ends in Narnia after he kills the White Witch. The children are crowned kings and queens.
Many centuries later in Narnia, the children are called back to help the young Prince Caspian as he attempts to overthrow his uncle, King Miraz. The men are descendants of human pirates who stumbled into Narnia on an island upon which they had been shipwrecked. The children successfully overthrow Miraz and return home. Eventually, Lucy and Edmund return with their cousin Eustace and voyage to the edge of Narnia alongside Caspian. Eustace is temporarily transformed into a dragon.
Eustace later helps save Caspian's son from the bottom of the world with his school friend Jill Pole. During this time they hear prophecies about the end of Narnia, which they will eventually witness. When the two are called back by Tirian, a descendant of Caspian, they see that Narnia has been ravaged by its enemies. Aslan returns to the land and calls up Father Time to end the world. All of the "Friends of Narnia"—the Pevensies, Digory Kirk, and others who have traveled there throughout the series—are called to the Narnian Paradise, which is a heavenly land connected with perfect versions of every other world in existence.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1151
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 Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and finally The Last Battle, which tells the story of the Narnian world brought to an end. Four of the stories deal with children entering the parallel, or secondary, world of Narnia, setting disorder to right, and then returning to their own world, only to find that no time at all has elapsed there. One of the novels presents an adventure that happens purely within Narnia; one tells a story of secondary world spilling over into the children’s primary world of England; and in one, The Last Battle, all the previous “friends of Narnia” (except for one) never return to their own world but find themselves in an after-death state in a new Narnia.
The entrances to the world of Narnia are different each time: magic rings; a wardrobe; a picture of a ship at sea; a gate in a wall; a waiting area at a railroad junction. Three are journeys, two of which are quest journeys, one an escape. All feature the rulership of humans over a land of talking animals and mythical creatures, but the rule is still largely democratic and consensual, a pastoral and medieval acceptance of a certain order. From the start, however, evil—in the form of a series of witches or piratical invasion—threatens and usurps this order. Lewis leaves as a mystery the hostile southern land of Calormen: how its inhabitants got there and how that society evolved.
One of Lewis’s recurring images was of a huge lion. The image became the character Aslan, the divine being who creates Narnia and overlooks its affairs. He appears in each of the Chronicles to guide and encourage the children. He is also the one who ends Narnia. Another fascination for Lewis was talking animals, as in the Beatrix Potter books; hence, the Chronicles are populated by talking animals, though nontalking animals exist as well. A final image was of a faun walking through woods, carrying parcels. This image became incorporated into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
In that chronicle, the Pevensie children have been evacuated from London during the bombings of World War II to live in a rambling old country house. (Lewis was also evacuated, though the house of the novel is more like his boyhood house in Belfast, Northern Ireland, than the residence to which he was relocated.) Temptations of the various children take place, the most famous being when Edmund, one of the Pevensies, is deceived by the White Witch. Aslan has to sacrifice himself to save Edmund from the curse laid on Narnia by the witch and to redeem him from her. Aslan is resurrected, however, and defeats the witch in a pitched battle. Narnia is now ruled by the Pevensies as kings and queens until it is time for them to return to earth. Other battles take place in Prince Caspian and The Last Battle, something for which Lewis was criticized by non-Christians, usually left-wing critics. The Chronicles of Narnia have themselves become sites of conflict in the world of children’s literature.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair are quests. Eustace Scrubb, an obnoxious cousin of the Pevensies, is featured in both, being transformed by an encounter with Aslan in the former. Eustace and Jill Pole are unhappy students at a boarding school, and in The Silver Chair they have to rescue a lost prince. The Horse and His Boy has no time travel at all, being set during the Pevensie reign within the neighboring countries of Calormen and Archenland. This chronicle is again about a lost prince rightfully restored. Prince Caspian and The Last Battle involve miraculous interventions when the rightful young ruler is usurped and Narnia seems lost. In the latter, Narnia is indeed ended, as Aslan intervenes to roll up the Narnian universe, then takes those who acknowledge him into a heavenly Narnia, which joins a new earth. In fact, all the human entrants to Narnia, apart from Susan Pevensie, enter this new Narnia/earth, because on earth they have all simultaneously been killed in a train wreck.
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