Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Three!
And Welcome to Narnia Day: The Return!
What better day for this celebration of C.S. Lewis' fantastic settings than today? Remember that Narnia's curse used to be that it was "always winter but never Christmas." I'd say most people who live in countries that see snow will admit that it is the winter holidays--from Christmas to Candlemas--which make these freezing months most bearable. I'm glad to be in a world that knows both Christmas and Narnia.
Please note that our cheesily named (Yes, I admit it!) "Worlds of Tomorrow" Challenge for futuristic settings is set for 8 January. If you think I'm going to shoot myself in the focus by scheduling it for New Year's Day, when everyone who has a life will either be partying or asleep, well, you were right a few weeks ago. =P
But now that I have another setting in mind for 1 January, it gets to be a special extension of "Wild Card Month".
The Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis has a poem about beauty which contains the lines: ". . . We cling/ Fast to her flying skirts and she will fade,/ Even at the kiss of welcome, into deepest shade . . ." What a perfect description of today's featured setting!
Cair Paravel is possibly the most wonderful castle in all of literature--if only because (but this is the least of the reasons) we never see it the same way twice. It is the sort of place we could live in and be happy in forever: I think Lewis knew this, which is why he took pains to make this castle as elusive--and transitory--as it is desirable.
"Down at Cair Paravel--that's the castle on the sea coast down at the mouth of this river which ought to be the capital of the whole country if all was as it should be--down at Cair Paravel there are four thrones and it's a saying in Narnia time out of mind that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit in those four thrones, then it will be the end, not only of the White Witch's reign, but of her life, and that is why we had to be so cautious as we came along, for if she knew about you four, your lives wouldn't be worth a shake of my whiskers!"
The first time we see this great castle, it is through a kind of icy haze which gives it all the enchantment of a princess under a powerful spell: Sleeping Beauty in the thrall of the Snow Queen. And it comes with its own long-awaited prophecy! You have to love a place like that.
Yes, it also happens to be a "dark, horrible, fusty old castle" in a country where it is always winter and never Christmas, and it is filled with frightened-looking stone statues that were once living creatures. And it has been this horrible way for thousands of years.
But we're not allowed to care about that too much; we see this only for a moment, and at its best angle--because Aslan is finally here to harrow this hell.
To use fairy tale jargon, once Cair Paravel has been kissed awake, it reveals its full beauty. It becomes the castle of all our dreams: standing tall and white on a hill by the sea, with waves breaking endlessly on the rocks below and seagulls crying out in counterpoint in the skies above--the sound blowing in with the salty breezes through the eastern door, which opens directly onto the sea. And then there are the mermen and mermaids!
But while the Pevensie children call it their home for many years, all this time passes in the blink of an eye for the reader. A built-in Narnian time paradox, just for us, I suppose--but nothing next to what we experience with our four heroes during their own Return to Narnia.
"Have none of you guessed where we are?" said Peter.
"Go on, go on," said Lucy. "I've felt for hours that there was some wonderful mystery hanging over this place."
. . .
"We are in the ruins of Cair Paravel itself." . . .
"But, I say," replied Edmund. "I mean, how do you make that out? This place has been ruined for ages. Look at all those big trees growing right up to the gates. Look at the very stones. Anyone can see that nobody has lived here for hundreds of years."
The next time we see Cair Paravel, we almost do not recognise her. It has been six hundred years since the Pevensies have been to Narnia, and it is almost a new world. The great castle, once the seat of the High King, has long lain abandoned. Its apple orchard has become a wild forest; its great hall lies open to the skies; and even the gold in its treasure room has been completely forgotten.
Cair Paravel has been broken, yes, but it is not unbowed at all. All the "stuff" of fairy-tales is still here. And as the story unfolds, we get the sense that the castle has simply been waiting patiently all those centuries--as it had waited patiently under the rule of the White Witch--for the kings of Narnia to return to their proper seat.
Not waiting precisely for the Pevensies, no; but for the Telmarine kings. A new age has begun, but the castle still stands, staunch, strong, and (seemingly) eternal. Ah, but Narnian time, like Bilbo's road, goes ever on and on . . .
Through a cleft in those mountains which Jill had seen far inland as she approached the land, the sunset light was pouring over a level lawn. On the far side of the lawn, its weather-vanes glittering in the light, rose a many-towered and many-turretted castle; the most beautiful castle Jill had ever seen.On the near side was a quay of white marble and, moored to this, a ship: a tall ship with high forecastle and high poop, gilded and crimson, with a great flag at the masthead, and many banners waving from the decks, and a row of shields, bright as silver, along the bulwarks. The gangplank was laid to her, and at the foot of it, just ready to go on board, stood an old, old man.
When the young Prince Caspian, no more than a boy, was crowned Caspian X of Narnia, Cair Paravel was a ruin half swallowed by the wilderness. It must have taken the rest of a very long reign to restore it to its former glory. And now we see that he has added a new marble quay to (one supposes) its eastern side.
This addition that makes perfect sense. King Caspian X is also known as King Caspian the Navigator: he loved the sea so much that, at the end of his first adventure, Aslan had to order him back to his kingdom. And it is hardly surprising that even Cair Paravel seems to pale in comparision next to the ship moored to its quay. It might be the castle we would all set sail for at once, if we only knew how to get to it; but Caspian has already sensed his eternal home in Aslan's Country, far across the sea. Cair Paravel is not to him what it is to us.
He has the right idea, of course. We have great expectations of Narnia because it is so often closed to us and our longings are powerless to take us where we feel at home . . . but someone who has lived all his life in Narnia, who actually calls it home, would understand that there are some longings that are too great for even this wonderful world to fill.
"Two sights I have seen," said Farsight. "One was Cair Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Calormenes: the Tisroc's banner advanced on your royal battlements: and your subjects flying from the city--this way and that, into the woods. Cair Paravel was taken from the sea. Twenty great ships of Calormen put in there in the dark of the night before last night."
No one could speak.
. . .
"So," said the King, after a long silence. "Narnia is no more."
We read about the taking of Cair Paravel about halfway through the last of the Chronicles. I still remember sitting in shock after reading Farsight's news and King Trinian's pronouncement. But what was it about the Calormene invasion that was so irrevocable? Cair Paravel outlasted the White Witch's endless winter and the Telmarines' six centuries of forgetfulness: why is the very idea of the Calormene banner flying on the Narnian battlements so horrible?
Perhaps it is the fact that the castle was taken from the sea? That the invaders rush in through the legendary eastern door that opened onto waters that were once as indisputably Narnian as the lands behind them?
Or maybe it has something to do with the utter lack of magic involved. Narnia should be able to stand against the forces of another country. That she falls so easily means that she was handed over, like her lord before her, to honour more of that "deep magic from the dawn of time."
It took me more agonised reading before I accepted that Lewis had written an Apocalypse. Cair Paravel had finally fallen. Narnia was no more. And I truly believed that that was going to be the very end. Because I had forgotten about that "deeper magic from before the dawn of time."
The best thing about The Last Battle is that it is not the Last Chronicle--just the last one we can read.
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I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D
This Week's Other Narnian Loci:
Charn @ This Miss Loves to Read
The Beavers' Den @ Birdie's Nest
Image Sources: a) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, b) Prince Caspian, c) The Silver Chair, d) The Last Battle