Marlowe's Shade

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Narnia "In the beginning..."

Did you see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this weekend? Maybe you read the book?

My oldest has a picture-book version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and we have the Focus on the Family audio version of all the Chronicles of Narnia on CD. By getting her hooked on the stories, I feel I've already fulfilled one of my major duties as a parent. We plan to take her to the movie next Friday.

There are few successful Christian sagas. Certainly there are great works like Paradise Lost, Pilgrim's Progress, and The Divine Comedy. There were only two epics that established a Christian ethos in the rich mythopoetic world of Faerie. Isn't it interesting that the authors were good friends in their early years?

The modern fantasy tale that treats magical abilities as a goal is a literary anomaly in that the acquisition of power knows no bounds. Even in ancient tales of the pagan world, Faerie was a perilous place for mortals and even the heroes of best character usually didn't escape unscathed.

One reason the modern tale lacks a moral undergirding is that it isn't established at some point of origin. Like the Judeo-Christian beliefs they reflect, both Tolkien's pantheon and Lewis' Narnia have their own version of the Creation Story. If more than three of our readers have finished Silmarillion, I'd be impressed. Few outside of Tolkien's most hardcore fans have read it and even these scholars admit that it is somewhat esoteric. However the Narnian version of Genesis contained in The Magician's Nephew is very accessible and satisfying to readers of his other books. It is the story of two children, Polly and Digory who wake an ancient evil that pursues them to this world and beyond. It was written last in the series but occurs first chronologically in the narrative of the Chronicles. It answers many of the questions that Jack Lewis received from fans regarding the origins of the key characters and features of the other stories. Where did Queen Jadis come from and what makes her so wicked? Why was there a lampost in the middle of nowhere in Narnia? How does the wardrobe get there, and what makes it magical? What connection did the professor have to Narnia?

The highlight of the book is in witnessing the creation of Narnia itself. Like Tolkien's Creator, Iluvatar, Aslan literally sings this world into existance. The result is both metaphysically satisfying and easy for even the youngest children to conceive. And as in Genesis there is transgression and a great moral dilemma to be solved. As in the best of Lewis' works these ethical object lessons not only teach values but enhance the enjoyment of the tale. And of course the lessons are not for children alone, as we see in the end when Aslan warns the Polly and Digory of the dangers of becoming like Charn, the world of Jadis, before returning them to our world:

[Polly asks,] "But we're not quite as bad as that world, are we Aslan?"

Not yet, Daughter of Eve," he said. "Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware. That is the warning..."

If you haven't seen The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I hope this whets your appetite. If you have seen it and are anxious to go on to the next in the series, my suggestion is to wait. And go back. To the Beginning.
papijoe 10:49 AM