Tor.com content by

Matt Mikalatos

The Story King: How The Chronicles of Narnia Shapes the Worlds We Create

Our journey began with two friends—Jack and Tollers—walking together, and reflecting that if they wanted to find stories they loved—the kind of stories they wanted to read—then they themselves would have to write them. They went on to create a variety of works that caught our imagination and set us out walking through the woods and saying to ourselves, well, if I want more of what I love in stories I suppose I’ll have to write it myself…

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Worlds Beyond: How The Chronicles of Narnia Introduced Us to Other Authors We Love

I had come to Narnia as a kid after spending an entire year working my way through the Fellowship of the Ring. When I said “more!” to my dad, he took me to the living room and showed me seven books in a box set. I sat down and immediately thought, “Well, these are easier to read” and devoured them over the course of that summer. It had been very much like discovering a magical wardrobe in the guest room. I kept thinking, those were sitting in the living room the whole time! When I finished Narnia, I demanded to know what would be next and set out to find more books about magic or space or talking animals or time travel.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Problem(s) of Susan

C.S. Lewis failed. He failed to clearly say what he was trying to say. He failed his readers. He failed Susan.

When I read The Last Battle as a kid, and got to the moment when Susan was “no longer a friend of Narnia” I was shocked. Well, I thought, there are still some pages left to go. I’m sure she’ll be back before the end. But she wasn’t. And all of her siblings and friends, her cousin, even her parents, were romping along through New Narnia without ever mentioning her again.

It felt strange, and dismissive, and horrible. Much of the end of the book is about catching up with old friends, with cameos and reunions with beloved companions from previous books, even those who were dead—Reepicheep and Fledge and Puddleglum and Caspian—and yet somehow Susan never gets a moment. We don’t even peek in on her back on Earth, and no one thinks to ask, “Is Sue alright?”

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

A Short Detour: C.S. Lewis’ “The Shoddy Lands” and “Ministering Angels”

Seven months before The Last Battle was published, C.S. Lewis had a short story appear in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was called “The Shoddy Lands,” and—believe it or not—it and another short story are key pieces in understanding what exactly is happening with poor Susan Pevensie in The Last Battle. Our next article in the C.S. Lewis Reread is going to be about “the problem of Susan” so first, we need to take a little detour and explore these two stories.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Stumbling Into Heaven: Emeth, Aslan, and The Last Battle

I grew up in Christian church and Christian school, and although I was still in grade school when I read the Narnia books, there was one particular piece of theology I knew very well: It’s easy to get to Hell, and hard to get to Heaven.

In fact, the year I read The Last Battle, I was going to a school that taught you could lose your salvation, too. Meaning that if you died at the wrong moment—sometime between messing up and asking for forgiveness—you were still going to Hell, even if you believed in Jesus and had all the right theology and so on.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Calling Evil Good, and Good Evil: Spiritual Abuse in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle

Content warning: This article discusses manipulation, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

Shift was already a manipulator and an abuser when they found the lion skin. But it was the lion skin that opened up a new and more powerful tool for his abuse: the devotion of the Narnians to Aslan.

In the book’s first paragraph we get a good idea of the abuse that Shift is piling on his “friend” Puzzle the donkey. They were neighbors, we’re told, but Puzzle was treated more like a servant than a friend. Puzzle did all the work, at Shift’s direction. When Puzzle brought home food, Shift took his pick of all the best things first. If Puzzle objected Shift would tell him it was “only fair” that Shift should get the first pick, since (poor Shift!) he couldn’t eat all the same things that Puzzle could. If Puzzle persisted, Shift would shame or humiliate or insult Puzzle, and remind him that he “wasn’t clever” which Puzzle would eventually agree to, sigh, and then do what Shift said.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Better Things Ahead: The Last Battle and the End of Narnia

We’ve been doing the C.S. Lewis Reread here at Tor.com for over a year, and I’ve felt mounting dread about re-reading The Last Battle. As a kid it was my favorite of the Narnia books, and one that—even though I read it when I was eight—has shaped some significant theological thought in my life that still has an impact on me today. On the other hand, there’s the “problem of Susan” (and don’t worry, we’ll definitely be looking at this aspect of the book in detail). There’s the reality that the Calormenes play a significant role in this book, which means we’re going to see the worst of Lewis’ ethnocentrism (and, let’s be frank…racism) on display.

So, for me, it’s the most troubling of the Narnia books but also one that has been the most transformative for me personally. So I picked it up last week with a decent amount of trepidation. I was afraid that the wonderful things I remembered would be worse than I remembered, and that the troubling things would be worse than I remembered, too.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, and The Magician’s Nephew

Before we dive in this week, make sure to check out last week’s article by author Ferrett Steinmetz, who asks the question, “Is there such a thing as a necessary prequel?” Some great thoughts about prequels and, of course, focusing on The Magician’s Nephew as an example of a prequel that gets it right!

In 1958, C.S. Lewis recorded a series of radio interviews about love. These would go on to become the basis of his 1960 book, The Four Loves. The Narnia series were all in print by this time, so I’m not going to pretend here that The Four Loves was in any way in the back of Lewis’s mind as he wrote The Magician’s Nephew. However, what is clear is that The Magician’s Nephew is also intended as a sort of “tour” through the world of love as well. It’s not surprising that some of Lewis’s core insights and thoughts about love exist in both books (in fact, as we’ll see when we get to Perelandra and again in ‘Til We Have Faces, some of these themes are touchstones he returns to over and over again in his work).

So, I thought it would be interesting to use Lewis’s later thoughts as a framework to explore what he’s up to in this one. Being Lewis, of course he’s going to use ancient Greek concepts of love as the basis for his philosophical experiments…

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“Would You Like Wings?”: An Invitation to Transformation in The Magician’s Nephew

It was the horse who chose Narnia, that much is clear.

His name was Strawberry, and he had been in the middle of a long and troubling day. First he had been out doing his daily work with his cabby on the streets of London when an otherworldly half-giantess had taken control of him and made him her “royal charger” and then it was all galloping and crowds and shouting.

Then a moment of rushing speed, and Strawberry and a number of human companions (and the otherworlder) found themselves in the wood between worlds. And it was there that Strawberry “shook his head, gave a cheerful whinny, and seemed to feel better.”

[Then he stepped into one of the pools…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Finding Paradise in The Magician’s Nephew

The Magician’s Nephew is about paradise. It’s a creation myth, and it draws heavily from the myths that Lewis knew best. Milton’s Paradise Lost is echoed throughout, as is the Hebrew creation story from the book of Genesis. And of course it wouldn’t be Lewis if it didn’t reach into some pagan myth as well, so we have the garden of the Hesperides and their precious apples making an appearance, too.

The word “paradise” winds its way into English, most likely, from Avestan—an early Iranian language—that gifted itself into many ancient languages, including Assyrian, and then Hebrew and Greek. It went on to French and then eventually English. Of course, in different languages it took on different flavors, being used early on to describe the great walled gardens of the first Persian empire, whereas in Greek it was used for parks designed to hold animals, and in Hebrew could simply mean “orchards.” In modern English our first thought on hearing the word might be heaven or something like it, but for the majority of the word’s life the primary meaning would have been something like “a walled garden belonging to royalty.”

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Deplorable Word: Power, Magicians, and Evil in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew

C.S. Lewis didn’t care for magicians.

In fact, as Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, he saw the core problem that magicians were trying to solve one that was at best distasteful, and at worst something that led to actions “disgusting and impious.” That core problem: “how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” (We won’t get into this much yet, but he saw magicians and scientists as related in this sense…something we will discuss more when we get to the Space Trilogy.)

For the “wise men of old” the core question of the universe was “how to conform the soul to reality,” but for magicians the question was how to bend Nature to one’s own desires (or, at best, humanity’s desires). “It is the magician’s bargain: give up your soul, get power in return.” The process was clear: the magician “surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power.”

Where the wise sages of old bent their soul to reality using “knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue,” the magician embraces a core selfishness, a willingness to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to attain greater power.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Magician’s Nephew: The Creation of Narnia and the Coming of Evil

The last time I read The Magician’s Nephew was thirty years ago.

Before I sat down to read, I tried to bring to mind all the things I could remember, and I was surprised by how many there were: Aslan singing, the Wood Between Worlds, the witch grabbing Polly’s hair (yes, okay, that one is on the cover of my edition). I had a vague memory of the rings, and of Strawberry coming into Narnia, as well as the illness of Digory’s mother and the adventure to get the apples.

When I finally started reading, I was delighted by the relatively straightforward adventure, the piercing commentary on the sort of people who become magicians, the terrifying world of Charn, as well as the largely humorous tone of so much of the book. The White Witch was—at least to me—more terrifying and much funnier in this book than in her earlier appearance. Lewis’s commentary both on people and the way we interact with Nature was more piercing and overt than I remembered.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Horse and Her Girl: C.S. Lewis and Aravis

We tend to take questions like “Was C.S. Lewis sexist?” and place it in a binary: yes or no. We could do that, certainly, and we would have a simple and rather uninteresting answer, because if we’re going to boil right down to it, yes, for sure, obviously, much of Lewis’ work matches nearly any definition of sexism we’d like to use.

We could also spend a great deal of time putting Lewis’ views of women into the various contexts which he inhabited and investigating why he may have come to the conclusions that he did: the age he lived in, his lack of regular interaction with a diversity of women at various times in his life, the death of his mother when he was a child, the world of elite scholars in the 1940s and ‘50s in Britain, or how shaped he was by medieval and, yes, Christian thought.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“A Second Rabadash” — C.S. Lewis and Dangerous Leaders

C.S. Lewis had strong political opinions and in many ways they undergird his work, though he’s slow to make them overt, unless he’s talking about the way schools are run. His earliest works (the world of Boxen that he invented with his brother) is filled with stuffy politics, mostly because he thought that’s what the adult world was: people endlessly talking about things he himself found boring. But as we saw in Prince Caspian, Lewis’ political thoughts often came down to a question of order versus disorder: Is the right person in charge and are they rightly responding to those in authority above and below them in the organizational chart?

In The Horse and His Boy we get an interesting and rather detailed look at Lewis’ ideas of the dangerous political leader, and what the most effective responses are in the midst of the disordered world that comes as a result of bullies and peacocks in power (Lewis, of course, says “pajock” rather than peacock). Nowhere is this clearer than in the poor young man named Rabadash.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Growing Up in Narnia: The Pevensies as Young Adults in The Horse and His Boy

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the first anniversary of this column! Many thanks to everyone for creating the wonderful and interesting community that’s been building around the comments here over the last year.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells us in the final chapter that our main characters—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—grew to be adults in Narnia, and lived their lives as kings and queens. This all takes place in the space of a few paragraphs, and though it’s referred to often enough in other books, the “Golden Age of Narnia” mostly unfolds between the stories recounted in the books, not within them.

Except in The Horse and His Boy, where we see the siblings (save Peter) as royal adults in Narnia. It’s a fun and inventive bit, giving us a little flavor for what we missed of the larger stories through our former heroes’ generous cameos in this tale.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

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