27 November 2010


Locus Focus: Take Twenty-Nine!

Welcome to Narnia Day!

I didn't realise it until I challenged myself to write about a Narnian setting for this week, but C.S. Lewis has an amazing gift for setting, doesn't he? That should have been obvious, from the fact that his greatest fictional creation, Narnia itself, is a setting--but I didn't see it as plainly as I should have. Mea culpa. To make it up to him, I shall be happy to put Locus Focus at his service whenever another movie based on his stories comes out.

This week, we anticipate the premiere of The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader". Accordingly, I give you one of the many islands our Narnian crew visits on their great sea journey.

Deathwater Island
The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"
by C.S. Lewis

". . . We may as well test it."

[Caspian] stooped down and wrenched up a spray of heather. Then, very cautiously, he knelt beside the stream and dipped it in. It was heather that he dipped; what he drew out was a perfect model of heather made from the purest gold, heavy and soft as lead.

"The king who owned this island," said Caspian slowly, and his face flushed as he spoke, "would soon be the richest of all kings of the world. I claim this land for ever as a Narnian possession. It shall be called Goldwater island. And I bind all of you to secrecy. No one must know of this . . . on pain of death, do you hear?"

Two characters who are good friends nearly cross blades for the wealth this island promises, but Aslan ex machina shows up yet again (Sigh!), and what we are left with is the classic moral that gold can often mean death.

Of course, long before Lewis wrote this novel, we regular muggles (Ooops! Wrong MG Fantasy series!) already knew that, thanks to the myth of King Midas. The Narnians, on the other hand, don't just listen to or read stories, but actually live them--and so they have a Midas setting for their own adventures. Well, in a way, we are luckier, because we get the moral without the threat of the peril, while the Narnian crown has the added obligation of keeping this island a secret so that its waters "poison" no one else. But I'm just rationalising now to make myself feel better.

For in the creation of Deathwater Island, Lewis is drawing not just from the Midas myth, but also from the great tradition of adventure stories set on the high seas. Whether or not we realise it, we expect far-flung, obscure islands to hold secret caches of gold. Lewis knows that and seems happy to write to our expectations--even if he does use a heavy-handed (heavy-pawed?) approach. Indeed, there is one other island our characters discover with a cave full of treasure, a moral about greed, and (Double Sigh!) another appearance from Aslan.

I know it's kind of silly to write about Narnia and moan about Aslan, but really . . . Having him hover over the kings and queen he has virtually hand picked (paw picked?) to rule his realm doesn't make him look good. He's like a parent showing up at his son's workplace to make sure junior is doing a good job. There is a reason my favourite of all the Chronicles of Narnia is the one in which he doesn't do anything to affect the events of the story at all . . . but I should save that post for another time.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

This Week's Other Locus Focus:

Truman Capote's Depression Era South @ Birdie's Nest

Image Source: The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C.S. Lewis


Birdie said...

I'm with you on the whole Aslan thing! I thought I was the only one who got irritated with the deus ex machina nature of the lion.
I need to re-read Dawn Treader now! I had virtually forgotten all about this!

Belfry Bat said...

Lewis's great friend John Ronald "Tollers" (as Clive Staples "Jack" liked to call him) was always very wary of, and nurtured a "cordial dislike for" allegory in all its forms. I think that, more than the haste of their writing, may have put Tolkien off the Narnia books --- though whether he would have said so I just don't know.

But anyways, I think we must understand the Narnia books as allegory; and it makes sense at least that those sons and daughters of Adam and Eve called by Aslan to Royal Office, would be in most need of his providential paw. The allegorical way to write that is to have Aslan actually appear to them and say "hey! don't go there!"

And I remember also that, though we don't seem to name Solomon a prophet, 2Kings seems to suggest that he conversed with God direct, and had an intimate knowledge of Divine Wisdom.

On the other hand, yeah, it's not so much a plot-driven story, and can't really be read that way.

Lindsay said...

You know... I really need to reread the books. I haven't since 3rd or 4th grade! It's been so long. I don't remember Aslan messing around with things, but I guess I don't remember a lot from the books!

Enbrethiliel said...


Birdie: I think Aslan started to get annoying in this book. Honestly, I like him best when I don't see him!

Battie: I'm not sure if Tolkien said so directly to Lewis, but I can never read anything he has to say about allegory without thinking of Lewis! At least I think of Lewis first and Louisa May Alcott next: she was even worse. =S

It really does hurt both plot and character development to have Aslan hovering all over the place. I don't know whether Lewis realised that the history he was writing was far too big to be contained in the allegory form. I suppose its strengths save it in the end.

Lindsay: I'm going to reread this third book properly next week, before I see the movie. But it has been a long time since I've read the whole series as well, and that's something I'd like to do soon, too. =)

Suburbanbanshee said...

Oh, c'mon. Standard operating procedure for mentors, wizards, and Puck of Pook Hill. A consistent mentor framing device allows the situation to get REALLY BAD, much worse than children's literature would normally allow, because in the end the mentor will pull everybody back to sanity and point out the lesson they'd better have learned. (And medieval romances are indeed fond of the reset button, in many cases, so Lewis is following his model.)

See, Dawn Treader isn't a novel. It's meant to be an episodic medieval romance, much like the Immram of St. Brendan, or the Immram of that other non-saint Irish guy I can't remember, or the voyage tales in the Charlemagne and Arthur legends. The mentor, the episodic islands, and the end where not everybody backtracks to Narnia -- those are not bugs but features.

And yes, Tolkien really really didn't like immrams or most other Irish genres and literary ornaments, or most medieval romances (except the really strong, organized ones like the Green Knight). Old English lit is just not the same kind of lit that Lewis studied, and there's some fairly large differences in personality expressed by their preferred fields of study and writing techniques.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm starting to think Lewis vs. Tolkien is a bigger (and therefore better!) minefield than Austen vs. Bronte. I shall get the new tab ready. =D

Anyway, thanks for the context, Banshee. But I still think Aslan is tiresome. =P