Chronicling Narnia

Tineida by Ernst Haeckel, 1900

School begins again. N claimed there were monarchs and luna moths in her belly this morning — big ones. She’s going into Grade 4 French immersion, so this will be her first year with some English instruction in the curriculum. I’m curious to see how she does with it. As much as I appreciate the opportunity for her to learn another language as part of her schooling, I’ve missed our own language being part of the mix.

I remember being a kid, and recognizing the crazy spelling patterns of English, and the exceptions too. I loved grammar — I remember thinking I get this, and not knowing why I got it — understanding that I had a feeling for the language from a very early age. And because I was not a child who excelled at a lot of things, it felt wonderful to understand at least this in a deep and natural way. When to use I or me. Color vs colour and zed vs zee. The sing-song rhymes that help you remember odd rules: i before e, except after c.

Reading with N as much as we have over the years has given her a good grounding in the language. She already has a rich vocabulary, and she’s curious about meanings. The other day she heard something on the radio about a “chronic illness,” and she said “Mom, mom, chronic! Get it? Chronic-les of Narnia!” So we talked about the connection between chronic and chronicle as things that go on and on.

We’re reading The Horse and His Boy right now, the third in the series of seven if you follow the story chronologically rather than in the order the books were published. We chose to read that way just because that’s how the series we bought was packaged, but it’s quite a debatable topic for fans of Narnia. According to wiki:

When Harper Collins took over the series rights in 1994, this numbering was revised to use internal chronological order at the suggestion of Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham. To make the case for his suggested order, Gresham quoted [C.S.] Lewis’ 1957 reply to a letter from an American fan who was having an argument with his mother about the order:

I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So 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.

Scholars far and wide seem to disagree with this view, and suspect Lewis was just being gracious to his fan when he replied this way. “The only reason for reading The Magician’s Nephew first,” writes Peter J. Schakel, “is for the chronological sequence of events, and that, as every storyteller knows, is quite unimportant as a reason. Often the early events in a sequence have a greater impact or effect as a flashback, told after later events which provide background and establish perspective. So it is, I believe, with the Chronicles. The artistry, the archetypes, and the handling of Christian themes all make it preferable to read the books in the order of their publication.”

Well — too late for us. But we are enjoying the series nonetheless. We liked The Magician’s Nephew, and we loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, though I must admit there are long passages in The Horse and His Boy that are difficult to get through.

For those who don’t know the story, a poor young boy named Shasta escapes from his cruel father-who-isn’t-really-his father with a talking horse named Bree, who longs to return to his native land of Narnia, where animals and people are equals. Along the way, they encounter a rich girl named Aravis, on her talking horse, Hwin. Aravis is running away because her father wants her to marry a wealthy and powerful old man with a hump back, who talks like this:

“How blessed is Calormen … on whose ruler the gods have been pleased to bestow prudence and circumspection! Yet as the irrefutable and sapient Tisroc has said it is very grievous to be constrained to keep our hands off of Narnia.”

When these passages come up (and sometimes they go on for a whole chapter), I steal glances at N to make sure I’m not losing her. I try to read as clearly as possible to  make sure she understands. And for the most part I’m pretty impressed. She gets what’s happening. But I can see she’s less engaged than she was during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

N’s response to Aslan’s death in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was extreme. As we read the chapter that saw Aslan sacrificed by the witch on the stone table, I could feel N tensing beside me. When they shaved his mane, hit him, spit on him and called him names, she gripped my arm a little tighter. When they bound and muzzled him, even though he wasn’t resisting, she looked up at me to see if I was getting what she calls “touchy.” And  when the witch finally killed him and told him to “despair and die,” we closed the book and laid together a while.

“So he’s dead?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

She paused. “I’m going to brush my teeth,” she said, and she scooted from the room and closed the bathroom door behind her. A few minutes later she came rushing back and wrapped her arms around me. She was sobbing and sobbing, inconsolable.

The only fix was staying up late and reading the next chapter, to see him rise again.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Chronicling Narnia

  1. Marilyn

    This series was written after my childhood so I have never read the books, but it is interesting to see how they affect N. I hope her Luna moths and Monarchs have settled down.

  2. Lenny

    If you can beleive it, it was from you I learned the rule for I and me. It has not failed me since.

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