#Narniathon21: The Return to Narnia

Narniathon21 is a seven-month project hosted by Calmgrove. We’re reading the seven Chronicles of Narnia in publication order, followed by the new book From Spare Oom to War Drobe by Katherine Langrish. Join at any time!

When C.S. Lewis first began the story that became The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he didn’t have further installments in mind. And ending as it does with the children returned to the exact moment they left our world through the magic wardrobe, that book has a circular structure that does not necessitate further episodes. However, by the time the book attained its final published form, Lewis had begun writing more books — naturally addressing the burning question, “Do the four children ever get to go back to Narnia?”

Illustration by Pauline Baynes

A secondary question is “What was it like for them to be kings and queens there?” — and though some misguided marketers want to place The Horse and His Boy second in the series for this reason, the question is much better answered by the second book published, Prince Caspian, which neatly combines the two concerns. On their way to boarding school, a year after the events (in our world) of LWW, the four Pevensie children are dragged back by magic to what is at first an unfamiliar landscape. Soon they recognize it as Narnia, but hundreds of years after the time they first visited, and become involved in placing a rightful king upon the throne once again.

When they arrive, they are grubby schoolchildren prone to quarreling and sulking, but gradually the atmosphere of Narnia recalls to them their kingly and queenly natures, through which they once wisely commanded and communed with the elemental spirits of the land. Courage and insight fill them, although not all at once. Their more mundane selves are still the basis for this adventure, and they keep breaking through, and sometimes interfering.

This is typified when Lucy sees Aslan (it’s a return for him as well as for the children), and the others don’t. They have to decide whether to believe her and follow what she says are Aslan’s instructions. Susan is the most reluctant, although later she says she really did believe Lucy. However, some part of her was resistant, and this causes a setback for the group, until events prove Lucy was right.

This might seem an unfair and arbitrary test for Aslan to make upon the children. Why not reveal himself to all of them right away? I think it has less to do with Aslan’s will, and more to do with the state of mind of the children and their gradual re-integration into their Narnian selves. Lucy, the youngest, who significantly has never yet been away to school, is still most open to wonder and to seeing with the heart. As we grow up, we lose this ability — but it can be recovered. Faith is not a groundless belief in things unseen, but perseverance in trusting a reality that was once experienced but is now obscured or hidden. Lucy never loses her faith, while the others, like most of us, falter and struggle with it at times. This is a natural human quality and not an insoluble failure; we are challenged to find the right path out of ourselves, not to be always led and commanded from outside, and this is harder for some than for others. This struggle forms the inner counterpart to the outer battles and conflicts that also take place in the story.

The other characters in PC have the added challenge that they did not consciously experience the old Narnia and have never met Aslan. Some, like the dwarf Trumpkin, scoff at the old stories and yet, when they come to life before their eyes, gladly accept and join forces with them. Others, like the badger Trufflehunter, have an instinctive sense for the truth in things they have not personally seen, but can grasp as an ideal all the same. Still other characters have lost all sense for anything other than their own greedy impulses and selfish desires, or would turn away from the good that seems ineffective and absent from the world, and align with the evil that appears to be more powerful.

Frontispiece by Pauline Baynes

The placement of a true prince upon the throne has little to do with bloodline (Caspian comes of a race of pirates, after all), and everything to do with his inner nobility, his faithful vision which can bring a new world to birth out of the ruins of the old. Prince Caspian is a first draft of the “second coming” motif that would be more fully developed in The Last Battle. Less apocalyptic than the later book, more buoyant and hopeful, it ends with the resurgence of nature rather than its destruction. Even the pagan gods of ecstasy and plenty make an appearance, and though their more frightening and dark aspects are suppressed, as they must be in a book for children, their wildness and intemperate joy are celebrated; these provide the counterforce we need to throw off the numbing chains of so-called civilization.

This is my own favorite thread of the story. I love the scene in which Lucy imagines the trees as the living spirits she once knew, though now fallen into a deep sleep; the ride of the girls and Aslan to shake up a town that has become far too dull and conventional; and the banquet for which nourishment is provided through a magical dance. But there are also exciting battles, lots of survival tips (don’t eat carnivorous bears!), a touch of political satire, wonderfully characterized talking animals, and an ending that promises more adventures in Narnia. What’s not to like?

If this your first time in Narnia, how did you enjoy this return trip? Or if you’re a frequent visitor, what was your favorite part of this installment? I’m looking forward to hearing about your responses.

Visit this month’s discussion post here at Calmgrove.

Naiads by Pauline Baynes, from A Book of Narnians

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13 thoughts on “#Narniathon21: The Return to Narnia

  1. What a fine review, much more positive and accepting than mine! And such wonderful aperçus too, such as “Faith is not a groundless belief in things unseen, but perseverance in trusting a reality that was once experienced but is now obscured or hidden.” I like your evocation of the pagan forces of nature, much more insightful than me seeing it as another version of the later mobilisation of Fangorn in The Two Towers. Do link this by pingback to today’s #Narniathon21 post!

  2. I don’t know how to do a pingback, but I’ll link up in a comment!

    Overall, the evocation of the pagan forces of nature was always what I liked best about Narnia. And I later wondered whether Lewis really thought through the implications, for example when one knows what Bacchus and his maenads actually represent in mythology, his moral strictures elsewhere start to seem a little out of joint… But it’s my hypothesis that Narnia comes out of the hodgepodge of Lewis’s literary mind rather than an airtight logical system, and that leads to some strange mixtures indeed. As would most of our minds, if turned out on the table for rummaging.

    1. I mention in my Goodreads review (scheduled in a couple or so days on my blog) a possible echo of The Box of Delights and in Bacchus and the Maenads I suspect a memory of the Pan scene from The Wind in the Willows with its similar delicious yet gentle hint of something wild and potentially unpredictable. All part of Lewis’s hodgepodge as you suggest, I think!

      Pingbacks? I think that automatically happens if a WordPress post gets linked to by another WP site, but it may not be the case with sites hosted otherwise. But thanks for the promise of a comment to link to your review!

  3. Thank you, Lory, for this review – you have reminded me that the journey of the children in Prince Caspian is so relevant for the times we are in. I also particularly appreciate your thoughts on faith.

    1. The great fantasy books never lose their relevance for me. They just reveal more and more of their wisdom as we move on through life.

  4. Chiming in to say I also love the way you put it: “perseverance in trusting a reality that was once experienced but is now obscured or hidden.”

  5. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the Narnia series. Maybe this summer I’ll do a re-read? I never even knew about the books until I was an adult, but I was happy to introduce them to my girls when they were growing up.

  6. You make an interesting remark about Lucy’s openness coupled with she hasn’t been to school yet. This is also the book where Peter and Susan hear from Aslan they will not be returning to Narnia, because they are too old. This always bothered me, because what does age have to do with belief?!! But I think in the context of this cosmology, it’s the job of (some) adults to remember and the job of children to have the experience.

    1. I know, Peter and Susan’s exclusion seems a bit unfair. But if you think of them having a new task of remembering even without active experience, it makes it more palatable. (Not that that was spelled out in the books, but I think it is implied. That’s why it’s important to first encounter the surprisingly understanding attitude of Professor Kirke in LWW BEFORE knowing why he’s so open to the children’s tales of Narnia.)

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