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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary

Nota Bene: I will be summarizing in chronological order of events according to Narnia, not according to the order in which the books were published. (My book set, when rearranged chronologically, becomes 6, 1, 5, 2, 3, 4, 7.)

The Magician's Nephew (Originally Book 6)

This is the story of Polly and Digory and how Narnia came to be. (Okay, just for the record, I just wrote "this is the story of Cedric and Diggory and how Narnia came to be. WHOOPS! Cedric's dead and now he's a vampire.) Digory and Polly are neighbors, and while exploring their neighborhood, they end up in Digory's Uncle Andrew's secret attic. He uses them as guinea pigs for his magic rings, which he postulates send people to other worlds. Uncle Andrew sends off an unwitting Polly, and then he bullies Digory into going after her. The children end up in a "wood between worlds" which is quiet and dreamy and has many pools. Each pool sends you to a different world. They explore one world (which turns out to be Charn) and accidentally awaken an evil witch named Jadis who has frozen her whole world in time. She follows them back to London, causes a ruckus by trying to take over and causing a carriage accident, and eventually the children, Jadis, Uncle Andrew, the carriage driver, and a horse all end up in Narnia. Here they meet a talking lion, Aslan, who tells them that to make up for bringing evil to Narnia (a new land) they must fetch an apple which, when planted, will protect Narnia. Digory and Polly travel on a flying horse (of course!) to fetch said apple, where they run into Jadis, who tries to convince Digory to steal an apple for his mother (who is very sick) instead of taking it to Aslan. Digory ultimately resists and returns to Aslan with the apple, but they find out that the witch will continue to exist in Narnia and will cause future trouble. The two children and Uncle Andrew are sent back to London, Polly and Digory become great friends, Digory is allowed to bring the apple back to his mother and heal her, and Digory becomes the quirky professor featured in the next book.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (Originally Book 1)

This one is definitely the classic of the series. If you've read one of them, you've probably read this one. It features the four children of the Pevensie family - Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter - and their adventure into Narnia. They are sent to stay with the Professor (aka Digory from the previous novel) during WWII, and in exploring the house, they discover a wardrobe that leads to Narnia. Lucy discovers it first and is befriended (and almost betrayed) by a faun named Mr. Tumnus. When she returns, however, none of the others believe her. They think she's gone mad until Edmund stumbles into Narnia later on himself. While he's there, though, he befriends the White Witch, who convinces him that he should bring his brothers and sisters to her and she will make him a Prince of Narnia. (She also treats him to some Turkish Delight! Who can resist a witch with Turkish Delight? Actually, I think Turkish Delight is quite gross. But perhaps you would be swayed!) Edmund (the nasty boy that he is at first) tells Lucy he's gotten into Narnia, but when asked to tell Susan and Peter the truth, claims he was only playing a joke on Lucy. Eventually, all four children gain entrance through the back of the wardrobe and Peter and Susan realize Lucy has been telling the truth all along. Lucy finds her friend Mr. Tumnus has been kidnapped by the White Witch (for befriending her, a daughter of Eve) and the children eventually are led by a series of animals to a friendly talking beaver couple. Edmund slips off to the White Witch and tries to reveal the children's plans to meet up with Aslan and the other talking animals to rebel against the Witch, but the Witch enslaves him and he sees that she really is evil. Aslan sacrifices himself on the Stone Table to save Edmund. The Witch kills Aslan (and in a way that is totally NOT reminiscent of Jesus at all) and then SOOPRIZE! Aslan comes back to life. He defeats the Witch in a battle and the children become kings and queens of Narnia. They reign for decades until one day they chance back upon the lamppost by the old wardrobe. They return to London, only to find that no time at all has passed in their world.

The Horse and His Boy (Originally Book 5)

This story, unlike the others, does not focus mainly on children from our world. It centers around a boy named Shasta who is living in Calormen, a country near Narnia, and is poor and mistreated by his father. He dreams of Narnia and loves the stories of talking animals, but feels trapped. He decides to run away with a horse, Bree, who turns out to be a talking horse. During his flight, he runs into Aravis, a Tarkheena girl who comes from a well-off family but was promised to a creepy old dude. (Gross!) Aravis's horse, Hwin, is also a talking horse. Shasta is mistaken for Corin, a prince of Archenland (another neighboring country) and taken in by Susan and Edmund, who are visiting Tashbaan (a town in Calormen) because Susan is being courted by the vizier, Rabadash. Shasta eventually escapes from the Narnians (though he is sad to leave them) and meets back up with Aravis, Bree, and Hwin. They have uncovered a plot to attack Narnia (while Aravis was in Tashbaan she had to hide with a friend and they overheard) and so they ride as fast as they can to Archenland to warn them. Aravis is clawed by a lion just as they reach a hermit's house, but they make it, and Shasta is sent on to warn the Archenlanders. He meets Aslan on the way and learns all about Narnia, and when he tells the Archenlanders, he sneaks into the fight with Corin (whom he met and bonded with earlier just before escaping from Susan and Edmund). Everyone realizes that (TA DAH!) Shasta is really Cor, Corin's twin (but slightly older) brother who went missing at birth. Rabadash is captured and Aslan turns him into a donkey temporarily (with instructions on how to turn back into a man), and warning that if he ever strays too far from Tashbaan, he'll be turned back into a donkey.

Prince Caspian (Originally Book 2)

This story is all about how Prince Caspian takes his rightful place as heir to the Narnian throne. His uncle, King Miraz, has taken a page out of Hamlet and killed Caspian's dad. Caspian's tutor, Doctor Cornelius, tells him all about Narnia and the truth, and he sends Caspian away to save him because his uncle Miraz has a son and Cornelius knows Caspian will be killed. Caspian ends up gathering up the talking beasts (bit by bit) and getting some help from Trufflehunter the badger and Nikabrik and Trumpkin the dwarves. They are no match for Miraz's army, though, so Caspian blows Susan's ancient horn for help, and meanwhile the Pevensie children are called back to Narnia. They're confused at first because their castle is in ruins and Narnia is unrecognizable (a great deal of time has passed) but they figure things out and gather up their swords and armor. They find Trumpkin, who was sent to look for them but had been captured by Miraz's men. They convince him they are former queens and kings of Narnia, and they go to Caspian's aid. Because they are outnumbered, Peter challenges Miraz to one-on-one combat to settle the battle. Miraz assents, Peter wins, but Miraz's men betray him and continue to fight. The trees come to life (with Aslan's help) and scare Miraz's men away, winning the battle for Caspian and the rest of the Narnians. Prince Caspian takes his rightful throne and the children are sent back to London.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Originally Book 3)

This one starts out with Lucy and Edmund visiting Eustace, their annoying and snobbish cousin. The three of them are pulled into Narnia through a painting, and they find themselves at sea and being pulled onto the Dawn Treader, Caspian's ship. Caspian has been ruling Narnia with great peace and joy, and so he has gone off to search for several lords who were friends of his father and never returned from a trip sailing to the end of the earth (IMAGINE that). They find many adventures along the way, including some very silly Monopods, some frightening nightmare monsters, mermaids (the scary kind; think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), people who used to be stars, and, at last, the end of the world. Eustace is turned into a dragon for awhile (every boy who is bad should be at some point) and then he meets Aslan and is turned back into a much more penitent and pleasant version of himself. They find all of the lords (though not all of them are alive) and Reepicheep leaves them at the end of the world to go into Aslan's Land. Caspian wants to go, but it's not his time, so he returns to Narnia and Lucy, Eustace, and Edmund are returned to London.

The Silver Chair (Originally Book 4)

Our main characters in this novel are Eustace and his friend Jill Pole from school. They are pulled into Narnia unexpectedly while trying to escape some bullies, and sent on a mission to rescue Prince Rilian, Prince Caspian's son, who disappeared many years ago. They are joined by Puddleglum, a rather depressed Marsh-Wiggle (of COURSE you know what that is, so I won't explain), and they journey forth with a set of commands from Aslan. They inevitably forget the commands along the way, and end up almost getting eaten by giants. They end up trapped underground in the hands of an Emerald Witch (no relation to the White Witch, I think. I'm only partially joking.) who tells them that her prince (who they don't realize is Rilian at first) has fits of madness at night and must be tied up in a silver chair that restrains him. They witness one of his fits, and after some uncertainty, they realize that he is in fact the Prince Rilian they have come to save and they set him free. The Witch finds them and tries to trick them into believing that no other world exists, and her magic almost works, but Puddleglum refuses to forget Narnia (by burning his foot; long story) and when the witch turns into a serpent, Eustace, Puddleglum, and Rilian manage to kill her. They escape from the underground and return to Narnia, only to reunite Rilian and Caspian on Caspian's deathbed. But Aslan does his magic tricks (like ALWAYS) and pseudo brings Caspian back to life so he can say hi to Eustace (who traveled with him in the Dawn Treader) and then Eustace and Pole go back to London (and Aslan comes back and helps them scare off the bullies).

The Last Battle (Originally Book 7)

Prince Tirian is now ruling Narnia, and Jewel the Unicorn is his bestie pal (unicorns make the BEST friends, I always say). Meanwhile, an ape named Shift (who is shifty) convinces an unwitting donkey (who thinks he's his friend) named Puzzle to put on a lion's skin and pretend to be Aslan. Shift eventually does all sorts of nasty things, and teams up with the Calormen and turns the talking beasts into their slaves. Tirian calls for help from the daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, and Eustace and Pole come to his aid. They team up with a few other talking beasts and one dwarf and rescue Jewel and the donkey, Puzzle, who is very apologetic. They wage war with the Calormen, but the Calormen launch a sneak attack and kill a great deal of Narnians. The Calormen believe in a god called Tash, but when he actually appears, they are very surprised and frightened. He's some sort of scary demon bird/man. Shift and the Calormen tell the talking beasts (who are still suspicious about Aslan even though Puzzle has been revealed as a fake) that they can meet the real Aslan in the stable, but that he is "no tame lion", so they should beware. Eventually, pretty much everyone ends up in the stable, and Tirian is surprised to find that it is not scary, but it is a link to Aslan and his country. The dwarves (who decided to stand alone and fight both the Calormen and the Narnians) are there but they are stuck seeing just a stable, while Tirian sees all the daughters of Eve and sons of Adam that have visited Narnia (except Susan, who apparently was BAD). Then Aslan takes the stars out of the sky and ruins the earth and brings creepy dragons and then all the animals go through something that is totally DIFFERENT from ascension, and he chooses who will come to his country and who will be stuck in dead Narnia. Tirian and all the children go on to Aslan's country, which is a like a better version of Narnia. They want to stay, and then, guess what? They can, because they DIED IN A TRAIN ACCIDENT. Yes. The end.

Spoiler Over: Continue Here

So, I loved the humor and levity of the earlier books, and I still love the overall series, but the Christian overtones are really heavy-handed, especially later on, which I found a bit annoying and unoriginal.

Here are my thoughts, book by book (I'll try to keep them somewhat short!)

The Magician's Nephew:
-Uncle Andrew is a jerk, but the line he feeds Digory to get him to follow Polly is pretty funny: "Oh very well then. Just as you please. Go down and have your dinner. Leave the little girl to be eaten by wild animals or drowned or starved in Other World or lost there for good, if that's what you prefer. It's all one to me. Perhaps before tea time you'd better drop in on Mrs. Plummer and explain that she'll never see her daughter again because you were afraid to put on a ring."
-When Jadis breaks the lamppost in the carriage accident, she accidentally brings it to Narnia and it gets planted. Because Narnia is new, the lamppost grows, and it becomes the lamppost of Lantern Waste by the wardrobe.
-The talking animals in Narnia don't know what to make of Uncle Andrew, and he is very dirty and unconscious, so they plant him. Like a tree. And then they water him. A.m.a.z.i.n.g.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
-Of all the scenes in Narnia, I think I will always love Lucy's tea with Mr. Tumnus the best. It's a very short scene, and not particularly memorable, but I have very fond feelings about it.
-When the children fight and they want to reconcile, they say "Make it Pax." Thought you'd like that tidbit, Mommy!
-When the children think that Lucy is lying, the Professor asks them whether Edmund or Lucy is usually the one to tell the truth. Since Lucy is normally truthful, the Professor accepts that there must be other worlds that Lucy has discovered. I always thought the Professor was so COOL for a grown-up, but now it makes sense knowing that he's Digory, and of course he knows about Narnia - he helped create it!
-When the animals plan their attack for the battle, Aslan refers to "us lions", and the other talking lion is exceedingly pleased. "Did you hear what he said? Us lions. That means him and me. That's what I like about Aslan, no side, no stand-offishness. Us lions. That meant him and me." I love this moment.

The Horse and his Boy:
-Tumnus and Corin are close friends and they talk about going to dances and festivals and it's super adorable.
-Who is the King of Archenland? King Lune. OF COURSE! (Alexis, please tell your husband that he needs to tend to his people. The Archenlanders. If he needs directions, it's just between Calormen and Narnia. MMkay?)
-So, the lion that clawed Aravis? That was Aslan. He was "teaching her a lesson" because she got her servant whipped when she was making her escape. I understand the moral lesson, but hrm.....a little too eye for an eye for my taste.
-Bree is most concerned about whether or not Narnian horses roll. He used to live in Narnia, but he can't remember if talking horses roll, or if it's a common animal thing he picked up in Calormen. He agonizes over this. A-dorable.

Prince Caspian:
-Lucy decides to call Trumpkin their D.L.F. (dear little friend). He's not wild about the nickname (being a VICIOUS and brave dwarf and all) but he allows it.
-When Peter needs marshals for his one-on-one battle with Miraz, one of the Three Bulgy Bears asks to be a marshal. Trumpkin whispers to Peter, "Don't let him. He's a good creature, but he'll shame us all. He'll go to sleep and he will suck his paws." Peter says he can, as long as he doesn't suck his paws. The bear promises not to, at which point Trumpkin points out that he is doing it right at that very moment. (Incidentally, in the battle, the bear does in fact suck his paws.)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
-The Monopods (or the Dufflepuds) are silly and not very smart dwarves who a magician has turned into one-footed dwarves that look like they have mushrooms stuck to their feet. In explaining to Lucy why he has made them one-footed (and why he made them invisible), he relates, "You wouldn't believe the troubles I've had with them. A few months ago they were all for washing up the plates and knives before dinner: they said it saved time afterwards. I've caught them planting boiled potatoes to save cooking them when they were dug up." Tee hee hee. Silly dufflepuds!
-Reepicheep shows the Monopods/Dufflepuds that they can use their mushroom feet like boats. They love this, and they have boat races all night long for bottles of wine.
-After the Dufflepuds are renamed Monopods, they love the name but can't quite get it right. "That's what we are,' they bellowed, 'Moneypuds, Pomonods, Poddymons. Just what it was on the tips of our tongue to call ourselves." MONEYBAGS!

The Silver Chair:
-Just for the record, I couldn't find this book just now. Where did I find it? UNDER A SLEEPING SUZY.
-Puddleglum is my FAVORITE character. He is absolutely hilarious. When the children first meet him, he tells them they can try to light a fire. "You could light it inside the wigwam, and then we'd get all the smoke in our eyes. Or you could light it inside, and then the rain would come and put it out. Here's my tinder box. You wouldn't know how to use it I expect?"
-When Eustace comments on the weather, Puddleglum replies, "Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we'll hardly notice the weather. And if we don't get far enough to do any good, we may get far enough not to get back in a hurry."
-Puddleglum claims the other Marsh-Wiggles think he's too chipper, to which he responds, "Now a job like this - a journey up north just as winter's beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn't there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen - will be just the thing. If that doesn't steady a chap, I don't know what will."
-The Witch tells them to find Giant-Land to join them for their upcoming festive supper. What they don't realize until they read the entries in the cookbook -- Mallard, Man... -- is that they are to be the supper. Whoops!

The Last Battle:
-Jewel comforts Puzzle when he first joins them by talking about things they "have in common", like sugar and the care of one's hoofs. Adorable.
-Susan doesn't make the final cut. Cautionary tale, much, Lewis? Apparently she's too into herself. Not a great reason to miss out on heaven (I mean, ASLAN's COUNTRY! SOO not the same thing.)
-In Aslan's Country, all the old familiar faces are there -- the Bulgy Bears, Reepicheep, Caspian, and PUDDLEGLUM!
-Not to be a downer, but Lewis wraps things up by KILLING the children. He's all, oh, whoopsies! There was a railway accident in your world, so you died but it's okay because now your REAL existence begins. And it's so amazing and wonderful but I can't tell you about it because you've never been there and I've never been there. Mmm hm.. SUUUUUUURE.

All told, some moments of brilliance, and some really fun characters and fantastic humor. If I had to rank the series so far, I'd say (1) Harry Potter, (2) Lord of the Rings, (3) Chronicles of Narnia. Although I told Diana that I'd like to raise my children not on explicit Christianity but on a regimen of novels and morals, so I think they'll have a chance at enjoying them without the overwhelming Christ and God metaphors. And also hopefully they won't catch on to the xenophobia/latent anti-Muslim feel to some of the books...

Onwards to a world in crisis, a beautiful lady, and mavens of industry.