The Chronicles of Narnia (Series) | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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The Chronicles of Narnia (Series) | 10 Things You Didn't Know


C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series captured the hearts and minds of readers across the world with its depictions of the fantasy world of Narnia—a beautiful land full of magic and mythical creatures. Beginning with the 1950 publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis crafted his mythological series around the experiences of the Pevensie children, four siblings who find themselves wrapped up in a prophecy in the strange, otherworldly realm.

Scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia have become instantly recognizable: the mysterious wardrobe that acts as a portal into Narnia, the sight of the faun Mr. Tumnus standing by a lamppost in the snow, and the epic battles for control of the land, led by the lion Aslan's mighty roar. Many fans have read The Chronicles of Narnia as Christian allegory, with Aslan's sacrifices emulating those of Christ, but the series can also be read simply as a fantasy quest and exploration of childhood wonder. Throughout The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis provides a full history of his magical realm, from its mysterious creation in The Magicians Nephew, published in 1955, to its ultimate end in The Last Battle, published in 1956.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia was inspired by three children who moved into Lewis's home, fleeing World War II.

At the start of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children fled wartime London for a mysterious countryside manor. Lewis was inspired to start his series this way by a similar occurrence—when three children took refuge in his home during World War II (1939–45). Three girls, named Margaret, Mary, and Katherine, sought asylum in the house where Lewis was staying. At the time many rural households in England were temporarily caring for children who had been orphaned by the war, whose fathers were off fighting, or whose parents wanted them to be safe in the event that the cities were attacked by Nazi Germany.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia owes its existence to an image from Lewis's childhood.

Lewis frequently recalled that the creation of The Chronicles of Narnia was due to one particular mental image that stayed with him throughout his life. As a child Lewis had a vivid imagination and "painted" detailed images of mythical scenes and creatures in his head. One of these images, which he treasured well into his 40s, was of a faun (later to be named Mr. Tumnus) carrying an umbrella through a snowy forest. This later became one of the most iconic scenes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy is first introduced to the magic of Narnia. Lewis explained:

All my seven Narnian books ... began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself, "Let's try to make a story about it." At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it.

3. The name Narnia comes from a tiny, ancient town in Italy.

To find the appropriate name for his magical fantasy realm, Lewis turned to an old atlas of Italy. He chose the name of a small, rural town—Narnia—simply because he liked how it sounded. Narnia is an ancient village in the Italian region of Umbria, and it is noteworthy for being very near to the exact geographic center of the country.

4. Critics have cited both sexist and racist undertones within The Chronicles of Narnia.

Contemporary critics have seen some of Lewis's characterizations in The Chronicles of Narnia as troubling. Lewis's portrayal of Susan, the older Pevensie daughter, has drawn the ire of feminist critics. The author Philip Pullman argues that in Lewis's Narnia:

Boys are better than girls, light-colored people are better than dark-colored people and so on ... Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn't approve of that. He didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in life when he wrote the Narnia books.

Pullman also describes the novels as "blatantly racist" for their portrayal of dark-skinned populations—particularly the characterization of the Telmarines in Prince Caspian (1951) as evil and untrustworthy. Scholars have noted that the fact that Aslan (representative of God) disapproves of the Telmarines' rule in Narnia insinuates that Lewis believed white people had an inherent divine claim to the world.

5. Some readers have criticized the Narnia books for having more to do with the occult than Christianity.

Although The Chronicles of Narnia books are most frequently discussed within the framework of Christianity, some readers have been offended by the use of magic within the novels. Lewis identified as an atheist in his youth and underwent several spiritual changes over the course of his life. Despite his later career as a Christian theologian, Lewis often shied away from directly referring to his novels as Christian allegory. Some evangelical religious organizations, however, went so far as to insinuate that The Chronicles of Narnia promotes paganism and occultism.

6. The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien knew Lewis personally—and hated The Chronicles of Narnia.

Lewis and Tolkien had a long—albeit complicated—friendship and often walked around the campus of Oxford University together, discussing literature and theology. In fact Tolkien was partially responsible for Lewis's conversion to Christianity. Tolkien was not a fan of his friend's fantasy series, however, despite the bond the two shared and the similarities often drawn between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien believed Lewis had "ransacked" too many conflicting mythologies with his creation of the world of Narnia. Tolkien's goal had been to create his own mythical world that was quintessentially English, whereas Lewis borrowed from Northern European, Greek, and Middle Eastern traditions. Tolkien was apparently particularly offended by the appearance of Santa Claus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe since this added yet another incongruous mythological element.

7. There's been heated dispute over the proper reading order for The Chronicles of Narnia series.

The Chronicles of Narnia were not written in chronological order. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was Lewis's first novel in the series, but his later novel The Magician's Nephew predates the Pevensie children's arrival in Narnia and explains the realm's creation. This sequence has led to intense debate among fans regarding the proper order in which to read the novels. Though the dispute continues, Lewis did once weigh in, responding to a child's letter asking him the appropriate reading order. Lewis explained that, while he recommended reading the books chronologically, starting with The Magicians Nephew:

Perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I'm not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published. I never keep notes of that sort of thing and never remember dates.

8. J.K. Rowling has cited The Chronicles of Narnia as a major inspiration for her Harry Potter series.

The Chronicles of Narnia provided inspiration for another beloved children's fantasy series: J.K. Rowling's hugely popular Harry Potter novels. In particular, Rowling's notion of her protagonist, Harry Potter, journeying into another realm that was full of magic and wonder was inspired by Lucy's first steps into the wardrobe. Rowling noted:

I found myself thinking about the wardrobe route to Narnia when Harry is told he has to hurl himself at a barrier at King's Cross Station—it dissolves and he's on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and there's the train for Hogwarts.

However, Rowling has also explained the key distinction that, while Narnia is an entirely separate realm, the magical world of Harry Potter is technically part of the real world.

9. The actress who played Lucy in the 2005 film of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe set up a "swear bucket" for older cast members.

During the filming of the 2005 film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, cursing was apparently quite a problem on set. English actor Georgie Henley, who starred as Lucy, the youngest Pevensie child, set up a swear bucket for older cast members to put money into whenever they slipped up and said a bad word. Apparently Scottish actor James McAvoy, who played the sensitive faun Mr. Tumnus, had to pay the most over the course of production.

10. Aslan means "lion" in Turkish.

When Lewis needed a name for his mighty lion character, he looked to the Turkish language. Aslan translates to "lion" in Turkish. Some scholars have also noted that the prefix As- means "God" in old Scandinavian languages, and Aslan is often seen to be a divine figure in the Narnian world. Lewis may very well have been aware of both meanings since he was an avid reader of Old Norse mythology and incorporated many tropes from these myths into The Chronicles of Narnia series.

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