It’s been a long time since I wrote here – well over a year, in fact. I imagine most of those who still follow this feed are expecting the answers to some pretty obvious questions. I’m not here today to talk about those, but at the same time, I think it would be unfair to leave them unacknowledged. Therefore:
- Yes, I’m still working on the OS X Internals book. For various reasons there have been some delays (to say the least!), but the project is not dead or forgotten. More will be said on this subject soon.
- Yes, I’m also still intending to finish my port of Missions of the Reliant. For several of the same reasons, that got very back-burnered, but I haven’t left that project behind either.
With that in mind, I turn to the subject that first inspired this post: C.S. Lewis’ famous Chronicles of Narnia. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW! If you are one of the unlucky souls who hasn’t read the books but wishes to, don’t continue!
I had occasion of late to run across the debate regarding whether the original Narnia books should be published in story-chronological order (based on the timeline of events in the novels) or original publication order (based on the order in which Lewis wrote them). I therefore did a little research on C.S. Lewis’ own opinion on the subject, and it seems to be generally accepted that he said they should be read in chronological order.
That, as close as I can understand the information I’ve found, is not what he said.
What he said (again, limited to what information I’ve found with my lackadaisical efforts) was that he personally liked that order, but that it doesn’t really matter. That it’s a matter of preference on the part of the reader. There’s also some mention that the idea of putting a numbering on the books in the first place was based on the demands of American publishers, and never intended by him at all.
I like that point of view. Personally, I’m ecstatic that my first copies of the books were presented to me in publication order, and that I read them in that way. It is my opinion that everyone should read the novels that way the first time, so that they can experience the gradual sense of revelation that culminates only in The Magician’s Nephew, rather than coming into it (as one Amazon reviewer quite astutely put it) already knowing about the lamppost and the Professor and the manner in which Narnia began. After you’ve seen it that way, you can read it after that however you like – I’ve gone back and read it both ways, and I’d be hard-pressed to decide which I prefer now that I already know the secrets.
But then that brought me to another point of contention I find often with Narnia. This is one that I encounter in many other series as well (Wheel of Time, in particular, comes to mine), and it’s another one to which any answer must be considered subjective at best: How to interpret the story.
It’s largely accepted as fact that Narnia is an allegory for various events described in the Christian faith – that Aslan, the magical lion, the Son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea and the one who both calls Narnia into being and sinks it into its final eternal night, is meant to represent Jesus. That the progression described of how the children experience that world is representative of growing up, and there’s a whole separate debate as to what’s intended by Susan’s absence in The Last Battle.
I am not here to stir up a religious debate. I have no interest at all in questioning the allegory, any meaning it might carry, or anything of the kind. What I do want to comment upon is the oft-seeming requirement that the existence of that allegory be acknowledged by all readers.
As a child, one who was not raised in the Christian faith, I had no understanding of the allusions made in the text. Aslan was to me simply a kindly, if often stern, magical creature. The mysterious Emperor-Over-the-Sea was only a name, one about which we never learned anything. And when Aslan closes the door at the end, what I saw was a world whose time had come, and that they’d gone to another. In short, I accepted the universe of Narnia on its own terms, without reference to anything else at all. It had never occurred to me to consider that it was similar to any other story. Indeed, even now, many years later, I only barely understand a very few of the references!
No one has forced me to accept that this was not C.S. Lewis’ intention. It’s not, in fact, clear to me what his intention was! But nonetheless, it’s cited so often that I tend to feel like the idea of enjoying it by itself is lost in the noise, and I find this disappointing. I think there’s great value in both ways of seeing the story, and I only hope that the people who speak so much about its likening to Christianity feel the same. I prefer – and remember, this is my own opinion, with which no one else has to agree – to see Edmund’s betrayal and redemption stand on their own, to see the coming of Father Christmas as simply a manifest of the joyful spirits that come with such a world. For Susan’s absence to be simply a matter of luck (good or bad), and not say anything about who she was or what she did (am I the only one who spared a thought for the pain she’d end up living through, back in the so-called “real” world?). And for Aslan’s description of the relation between him and the vulture-like Tash to be significant only of a particular way of working magic.
That’s not to say I want to set aside the meaning of the story, or sidestep the issues it raises. It just means I want to be able to appreciate it for itself in addition, and I hope that there are others who agree.This has been my rant about Narnia. I hope you will find it not entirely foolish.
Addendum: I always adored the Wood Between The Worlds. I’ve yet to ever encounter a more appealing representation of the concept of a De Sitter Space.