Literature / The Chronicles of Narnia

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"Listen," said the Doctor. "All you have heard about Old Narnia is true. It is not the land of men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts."
Doctor Cornelius, Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia are a series of seven books by C. S. Lewis, telling the history from its creation to its ending of a land where animals talk, where a varied collection of creatures from European folklore lives, and where a number of children have heroic adventures under the guidance of the great Lion, Aslan. Though "Narnia" is sometimes used to describe the whole world, it is strictly speaking a northern mediaeval European-style kingdom of that world; it is bordered by Archenland on the south (beyond which lies the quasi-Arabian empire of Calormen), by Ettinsmoor on the North, by Lantern Waste on the West, and by the Great Eastern Sea on the East, beyond which is Aslan's Country.

In publishing order, the seven books are:
  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
  2. Prince Caspian (1951)
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
  4. The Silver Chair (1953)
  5. The Horse and His Boy (1954) (written 1953, before the previous book)
  6. The Magician's Nephew (1955)
  7. The Last Battle (1956)

The first four books are in chronological order, but the fifth takes place between the last two chapters of the first, and the sixth is a prequel to the series. The Chronicles of Narnia were actually not originally intended to be a seven volume series. After the success of the first book, Lewis wrote two more, to complete a trilogy. Thus Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader form a natural pair, telling a single more or less connected story within the larger series. When demand continued, Lewis wrote another two books, then a "prequel" describing Narnia's beginning, and finally The Last Battle, in which the land of Narnia is brought to its own close, giving the series a definite ending.

Many recent printings number the books in chronological order. For many, however, reading in publication order is more satisfying, as The Magician's Nephew has many references that make sense only if you've read the earlier published books, and reading in chronological order can spoil certain elements of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Lewis writes the novels with a rather casual, conversational tone. In a letter to a young reader, Lewis stated that a chronological reading seemed to make more logical sense but affirmed that he had no particular reading order in mind when he wrote. Furthermore, if he'd really intended for people to read the books in chronological order, he could have easily arranged for that in his lifetime.

C.S. Lewis (re-)converted from atheism to Christianity and wrote many works of apologetics and theology; the Narnia series, his only work directly targeted at children, is at once a work of creative fiction and applied apologetics, even dealing with atheism. Narnia borrows creatures and myths from many different cultures and ages, from the Edwardian adventure stories of Lewis's youth to the Arabian Nights, from Shakespearean tragedies to the Grimms' fairy-tales, from the Classical and Germanic mythologies that were Lewis's avocation to the mediaeval literature that was his professional study, interwoven with creatures of Lewis's own imagination (as found also in Lewis's so-called Space Trilogy) — a profusion of fantasy highly unorthodox in the prosaic, "realistic" Machine Age, post-war '40s and '50s — all undergirded with a solid structure of Christian doctrine. By the third (published) book, it is clear that Aslan is a fictional version of Jesus — yet, as Lewis insisted, the works do not form an allegory of Christian life, as some have assumed, but rather an adventure-tale in which God is a fellow-adventurer. He also said that he didn't set out to include any religious elements in the story, it just ended up that way.

The books display the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, not surprisingly since the authors were friends at the time — indeed, Lewis's Space Trilogy was written as a result of a friendly wager with Tolkien. While The Chronicles of Narnia has not had the colossal cultural impact of Tolkien's epic, the series has remained the best-known and most beloved of all of Lewis' works.

Television Serial adaptations of the first four books have all been televised by the BBC and released on DVD (in some places as Compilation Movies), and the first three (by publication order) have been filmed as the start of a series intended to adapt all seven books. Lion was also the subject of an earlier TV adaptation on ITV in 1967 (now largely lost) and an Animated Adaptation in 1979. Unfortunately, the BBC master of Lion was apparently lost to unknown causes several years ago, so the best quality copies of that series left are the DVDsnote . More recently adapted into movies by Disney (later 20th Century Fox) and Walden Media through the work of Perry Moore spending several years acquiring the rights for Walden. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out in late 2005, Prince Caspian in 2008, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in late 2010.

The books are the Trope Namer for Narnia Time, in which the relative flow of time between two separate worlds changes according to the needs of the plot.

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The series as a whole provides examples of: note 

  • All Myths Are True: Aslan may be Jesus, but that doesn't stop river-gods existing, and Bacchus popping up in the second book.
  • The Anti-God: Tash, as he is literally the antithesis of Aslan. All that is vile and evil is Tash's domain, all that is noble and good is Aslan's. It is explained by Aslan himself that he and Tash are such opposites that anyone who does good in the name of Tash is actually serving Aslan, and anyone who does evil in Aslan's name is actually serving Tash.
  • Arabian Nights/Days: The culture of Calormen is clearly inspired by the Arabian Nights version of the Middle East; notably, C. S. Lewis is on record as being a fan of the English translation and even borrowed the name "Aslan" from the footnotes to one edition. It's Turkish for "Lion."
  • Archer Archetype: Susan is the graceful, ladylike, slightly haughty Queen famous for her archery, though she hates to use it in actual combat. Queen Lucy is the tomboy who goes to war with the men and fights alongside the other archers in Narnia's army. Jill Pole, by the last book, develops into a scaled-down version of the Forest Ranger; King Tirian notes both her accuracy with the bow and her skill at moving silently through the woods, especially at night.
  • Author Avatar: Professor Kirke, admitted by Lewis himself, although Kirke is also an avatar of Lewis's own old tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick, (as is MacPhee in That Hideous Strength).
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Aslan" and "Tash" mean "lion" and "stone" respectively in Turkish. "Jadis" means "witch" in Persian.
  • Black and White Morality: Aslan stands for good, those who would oppose him are evil, and it's generally made quickly obvious to the reader who's on which side. Recurring characters not clearly committed to either cause when introduced will end up joining one side or the other (human protagonists always ending up on Team Good, of course) before the end of the book.
  • Clever Crows: Corvids are for the most part benevolent or jokers at worst. The wise raven Sallowpad served as a royal advisor for the Pevensies, as shown in The Horse and His Boy, while a pair of jackdaws are comic relief in The Magician's Nephew.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Averted. Aslan literally is Jesus according to C.S. Lewis' answer to a fan letter regarding a conversation near the end of Dawn Treader. This in turn means that the so-called "Emperor Beyond the Sea," mentioned as Aslan's father, is the Abrahamic God.
  • Destroyer Deity: The dragons and salamanders, as well as the giant Father Time, who were all introduced in earlier books, are awakened to destroy Narnia at the end of The Last Battle.
  • Deus ex Machina: Aslan, who is a Jesus/God Captain Ersatz so it's not that surprising, spends the entire series behind the scenes, spinning the adventure and coming before them only when they need him most.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Actually lots of characters, including The Hermit of the Southern March, Coriakin, Ramandu, possibly Ramandu's Daughter, Shasta, Queen Jadis and, at some point, the Pevensies themselves (especially Lucy). It's a bit subverted with Shasta several times when the burning desert sand or the freezing dew-covered grass makes him wish he had shoes like Aravis.
  • Dragons Are Demonic: Dragons appear to be representative of vice, such as in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace is turned into one after indulging his greed.
  • Eat Dirt, Cheap: The Walking Trees. Prince Caspian even describes a tree feast made of different kinds of dirt.
  • The Empire: Calormen. Charn was an even worse one.
  • Ethnic God: Aslan is considered the ultimate king of all Narnians, whereas Tash is the god worshipped by all Calormens. However this is subverted in The Last Battle, which explains that these two are the gods of good and evil respectively, and anyone who adops these aspects worships their respective being, regardless of the name they use.
  • Evil Chancellor: The Space Arabs of Calormen have an Evil Vizier, although the Tisroc himself isn't all that pleasant to begin with.
  • Expansion Pack World: The first book published was focused only on the kingdom of Narnia. The next four books cover cardinal directions - west in Prince Caspian, east in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (as well as some asides about the inhabitants of Narnia's skies), north in The Silver Chair as well as two levels of 'underworld', and south in The Horse and His Boy. The last two books cover chronal directions, with the extreme past detailed in The Magician's Nephew and the end of time featuring in The Last Battle.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: Lewis describes both Fauns and Satyrs as inhabitants of Narnia. Although he describes fauns as having the hindlegs of goats, long tails, curly hair, and small horns, the only description for the satyrs is that they are red as foxes or reddish-brown in color. The book illustrations depict fauns and satyrs as basically identical, with the exception of Mr. Tumnus, who is drawn with a long tail. The movies expand the difference by making fauns goat-legged and human bodied, with regular goat tails instead of long tails, and satyrs as basically human sized goats that walk on their hindlegs.
  • Flat World: The world which contains Narnia is flat, with waterfalls on at least one edge (though they fall up). This is eventually Lampshaded in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Caspian is surprised to hear that there's such a thing as a round world, and thinks Eustace and Edmund are kidding.
  • Going Cosmic: The series has Christian analogy from the get-go, but it becomes more and more heavy-handed with each sequel.
  • Greater-Scope Paragon: Aslan the lion plays the most prominent role in supernaturally aiding the heroes, while only brief influence is felt from his father, the Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea. As the books are Christian allegory, it is generally assumed that Aslan represents Jesus Christ (aka God the Son) while the Emperor is God the Father.
  • Growing Up Sucks: A lot of people accuse Lewis of promoting this, partially because the kids can't go back to Narnia when they're older, and partly because of Susan's fate (see Mis-blamed, in YMMV). But we see other characters grow up without it being a bad thing, most notably Caspian, Cor, and Digory. The Pevensies, in fact, do all grow up for some time, and Aslan makes it clear that outgrowing the need to visit Narnia in favor of living in their own world is a good thing. It seems to be more "Growing up sucks if you forget your childhood in the process."
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Several cases, even with at least one star, of all things. A couple decades after Narnia's beginning, the children of King Frank and Queen Helen wedded non-human Narnians. The sons married wood nymphs and river nymphs, and the daughters married wood gods and river gods. The peoples of Archenland and Calormen are descendants of these unions, despite the fact that they physically look completely human. After the Telmarine Conquest in Narnia, some of the dwarfs disguised themselves as humans and married humans and spawned a few half-dwarfs, Dr. Cornelius being one of them. It is debated whether Ramandu's daughter (Named "Lilliandil" in the film) is a full star or only half-star, though her son Rilian and his descendants, like Tirian, at least count as part-star. If you put the beavers' account of the White Witch's origins to her story of being queen of Charn and being brought into Narnia, it can be assumed that the race of Charn are descended from Jinn (demons) Giants.
  • In It For Life: "Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia." Important because it is not unknown for children from Earth to be taken to Narnia, installed as king or queen, returned to Earth, and then be returned to Narnia years, decades, or centuries later at which time a new ruler may be in place.
  • Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Inverted and combined with the fact that making East the cardinal direction is a characteristic of mediæval Christian maps (because that's the direction Jerusalem is from Europe). Aslan's Country is in the distant East (contrast Tolkien's Valinor being "West of West") and he is said to be the "son of the Emperor over the sea." It is likely in this case that Lewis was particularly influenced by the first book of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, in which Una's father is King of the East and the evil Duessa (who has some affinities with the White Witch) is associated with the West. (Note that the two are allegorical representations of Protestantism and Catholicism, respectively.)
  • Light Is Good: Played with. Most of the villains are not "dark", and while Aslan arguably fills the "light Big Good" niche the only truly light-oriented creatures, the stars, don't play a big role - nor do they seem any more morally conventional than any other race. The inhabitants of Narnia's underworld are mostly good, and the very first villain is a witch dressed in white (although not explicitly light related).
  • Loads and Loads of Races: Besides numerous species of talking birds and beasts, the world of Narnia is full of mythological creatures, monsters, and magical beasts. LWW Introduces fauns, dwarfs, dryads, naiads, centaurs, minotaurs, ghouls, werewolves, boggles, hags, ogres, spectres, wooses, cruels, sprites, people of the toadstools, orknies, ettins, efreets, jinn, giants, horrors, incubuses, unicorns, winged horses, and merpeople. PC introduces maenads, male tree and river spirits, half-dwarfs, and telmarines. VDT introduces people of the islands, star people, monopods/duffers/dufflepuds, sea people, dragons, sea serpents, and birds of the morning. SC introduces marshwiggles, gnomes/earthmen, and (sleeping) giant lizards.
  • Mad Lib Fantasy Title: Most likely the Trope Maker for all the later fantasy series that include "Chronicles" in their title. The books themselves also count, with their titles' invocations of such stock fantasy elements as "Magician," "Prince," "Battle," "Dawn", and so on.
  • Medieval Stasis: Very strongly. Dwarfish smiths create crowns for the first royalty of Narnia on the first day of its existence, and almost four thousand years later, the last day of that world still involves people fighting with sword and bow.
  • The Multiverse: The books mainly feature travel to and from the titular Narnia, but in The Magician's Nephew it's explained that our world and Narnia are only two of a Multiverse of worlds. We only ever see three, though. Four, if you count Heaven, although this it is portrayed as being as clearly and obviously different from the rest as a cube is from a square.
  • Nature Spirit: Narnia is full of these. Wood-Nymphs/Dryads/Hamadryads/Silvans, Naiads, Wood Gods(male versions of wood nymphs since wood gods have been mentioned as being husbands and brothers to them), River Gods (same species as naiads, since one river god is mentioned rising out of a river with a group of naiads who are described as being his daughters.), Bacchus, Maenads, and Silenus. The stars and sea people may possibly count also.
  • Nice Mice: Mice are the only race of Talking Animals that gets a racial storyline of their own.
  • One-Gender Race: Although Narnia has races from Classical Mythology that are depicted as one gender only (male centaurs, male fauns, male satyrs, male dwarfs, female dryads, female naiads, etc.), Lewis is rather ambiguous about these races as being either one-gendered or not. Lewis mentions male tree and river gods that are implied to be the male versions of the tree and water nymphs of Narnia. And Lewis never states that female fauns, centaurs, satyrs, and dwarfs do not exist, yet some centaurs have centaur sons. Why, when the children of King Frank and Queen Helen go out and marry, the sons marry dryads and naiads, and daughter marry male tree and river spirits instead of any of the dwarfs, centaurs, satyrs, or fauns. Lewis does however mention races with both males and females such as giants and giantesses, and mermen and mermaids. In the films, they do depict female dwarfs and centaurs along with the males, the large river god is depicted, but without naiad daughters, and in a deleted scene, when the Pevensies and Trumpkin see a dryad die because its tree was cut down, when it screams, it has a man's voice. All the on-page Dufflepuds are male but one mentions his daughter.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Queen Helen and Helen Pevensie.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: These are actually good guys, and quite heroic, too.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Grumpy and aggressive metalworkers and miners. Subverted in one detail: the weapon of choice for Narnian dwarves is not the axe or hammer, but the bow.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: Instead of dwarfish sprites, they look like bizarre human-animal mixtures, but mostly humanoid, and no two are alike.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Narnia has two varieties of merfolk. The ones that live in the cost of Narnia are the traditional merfolk with the heads, arms, and torsos of human men and women and long fish tails below the waist. They are friendly, can breathe the air of the surface, can leave the water, and have beautiful, sireneqsue/angelic singing voices. The other kind that dwell in the oceans at the world's end are completely humanoid in appearance with regular human legs, have ivory white skin, dark purple hair, wear no clothing except for royalty, who wear cloaks and coronets, and ride of the backs of spiny sea horses (that's gotta be painful if you are riding butt naked.). They are apparently unable to leave the water (either they are unable to breathe air, or they don't know what might happen to them if they do), and are very fierce and hostile to the Dawn Treader crew, except for one fish shepherdess girl who waved to Lucy when she saw her. In the film version of VDT, the Sea People are replaced by Naiads, who weren't featured in the first two films (Unless you count the River God), and they are depicted as basically mermaids made out of liquid.....
  • Recursive Reality: All universes are connected to the Wood Between The Worlds, a forest dotted by puddles. Each puddle is a portal to a universe.
  • Red Is Heroic: All good dwarfs have red hair and all evil dwarfs have black hair.
  • Royal Cruiser: During the Golden Age of the Narnian kingdom, under High King Peter, the rulers would travel aboard a galleon carved to resemble a giant swan, named the Splendor Hyaline.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • The rulers of Narnia and Archenland are expected to be "first in every charge and last in every retreat" as well as have lean tables during famines. One gets the impression that descent is an unimportant part of being royalty: Aslan appoints a random cab driver from London the first King of Narnia. When the cabbie objects, Aslan asks him if he would remember that the Talking Animals of Narnia are free subjects, avoid holding favourites, bring up his children to do the same, et cetera. His answers are between "yes" and "A chap can't know that, but I hope I'd try," and Aslan tells him "You will have done all that a King should do."
    • The Calormen royalty as well; whatever other faults you can lay at their door, are also directly involved in politics and battles. When the Jerk Ass prince (unable to leave his city because of a curse) becomes Tisroc (king), he makes peace with his neighbors, because he knows better than to let his lords win glory in battle while he's stuck in the palace - "for that is the way Tisrocs get overthrown".
  • Sapient Steed: Inevitable when you have sentient and Talking Animals, and particularly important in The Horse and His Boy, where two of the protagonists are horses. However, it's noted that this is something not done except in times of need.
  • Smurfette Principle: Averted. Every single one of the seven books features at least one female in a prominent role. Most, if not all, feature more than one.
  • Talking Animal: Narnia is full of them and some like the Beavers act like Civilized Animals. It's important to note however that there are ordinary "dumb" animals which can be used for labor and be butchered for meat; but killing and eat a talking beast is a grave offense, and so is mistreating them — King Tirian kills a Calormene solider who dared to whip a talking a horse. Aslan was one the who create the Talking Beasts; they were originally ordinary animals that he granted the gifts of speech and intelligence and he still does so centuries after Narnia's creation - Reepicheep and his followers are descended from the mice that freed Aslan from the White Witch's ropes, and were given the gift of speech in gratitude. However, Aslan can also take the gift of speech away; In "The Last Battle" those talking animals that reject him or betrayed Narnia to Calormen become dumb beasts.
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe: Aside from Dawn Treader, all the books' antagonists' plans involve Narnia in one form or another. Justified, in that Narnia was the first country made in the other world, and therefore the one most special to Aslan.
  • Trapped in Another World: With the slight twist that characters who stay in Narnia age normally— quite considerably in the Pevensies' case— but Snap Back to their original ages when they return to Earth. Also, finding a way back home is never a goal of anyone's quest in Narnia.
  • Waterfall into the Abyss: The world has this feature described in some detail in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Continually sailing to the east doesn't bring you around to the west again, but to The End of the World. If you go over the edge, you end up in Aslan's Country - one of the few ways to get there without dying first.
  • Wish Fulfillment: Arguably, the two instances in the entire series when Narnian magic intervenes directly in the real world: In The Magician's Nephew, when Aslan gives Digory the means to save his mother, and in The Silver Chair, when Aslan, Caspian, and the children teach the bullies at the boarding school a lesson. This becomes clear when one reads Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and sees that he lost his own mother at a young age, similarly to Digory, and that he had attended a realistic Boarding School of Horrors, where he experienced bullying.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Averted in discussing how high Aslan's country is. If you take Lewis' clues as to its height literally, in both The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair, they add up to the same figure: approximately 1,500,000 feet above sea level.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Narnia's time moves far more quickly than our universe's. Characters spend years in Narnia but then return to find it is the same day as when they entered. They revisit Narnia a year later, and find that centuries have since passed.

Older adaptations provide examples of:

  • Evil Is Hammy: The White Witch in both the animated and BBC adaptations. Both have No Indoor Voice, with their lines rarely dropping below a deafening screech, and both are prone to Chewing the Scenery. Barbara Kellerman's acting in the BBC version is hammy enough (especially when she tries to sound angry) that a Big "NO!" serves as an answer to a simple question. Probably an example of Ham and Cheese.
    • BrainwashedPrince Rillian qualifies too.
    "WHAT??? Is our maiden A DEEP POLITICIAN?!?"
  • Loads and Loads of Sidequests: The first Nintendo DS entry has around 70 sidequests. The creatures of Narnia will ask the player to do things for them in exchange for new skills. Most are fairly simple, and can be ignored without a hassle... At least until the very end of the game, where it turns out that to face to White Witch one has to complete ALL of them.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the animated film, after Aslan's murder and subsequent resurrection, he spends about half a minute just jumping around playing with Susan and Lucy. Granted, it happened in the book too (over the course of a sentence or two), but the way it's presented here is just startling.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: In the earlier installments of the BBC series, a lot of the magical creatures that couldn't be played by people in costumes are animated.

Alternative Title(s): Narnia

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