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What is Narnia?

In the Narnia books, centaurs are associated with wisdom and learning.
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Narnia is the mythical place created by writer C.S. Lewis for his seven book series The Chronicles of Narnia, which was written between 1949 and 1954. This series begins, at least in order of writing, with the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW), but the country of Narnia and its beginning is actually detailed in the prequel novel The Magician’s Nephew. In this prequel, the country is one of many worlds, a new one with a young sun that is called into life by the Christlike lion Aslan.

Magical creatures that originate in numerous mythologies populate the world of Narnia, and the country should be understood as part of a world and not a world in its entirety. Books in the series explore the different “lands” that grow up around Aslan’s country but these aren’t mentioned in Narnia’s creation story. In Narnia’s land, there are talking animals, dryads, dwarves, flying horses, satyrs (called fauns), unicorns, and even figures like Bacchus. Lewis draws on several mythologies to populate his mythical kingdom but it is clear, as is the case with the Biblical creation myth that humans, at least rulers, are given dominion over these creatures. Such dominion means to recognize these creatures as equals and citizens, and to rule them justly.

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The first ruler of the land is a former London cabby, Frank, who is drawn into the world through the adventures of two children, Diggory and Polly, and by the evil Queen Jadis from the dying planet Charn. Diggory is familiar to fans of the series as the “Professor” with whom the Pevensie children stay during the first published book. Jadis’ presence in the world creates the “first evil,” a significant parallel to Judeo/Christian creation myth. It is foreshadowed that she will in the future gain power in Narnia, though she is effectively kept from it for a long time by taking and eating the forbidden fruit, an apple, which then repels her from the land.

Time in the land functions differently than that on Earth. In LWW, at least several centuries have passed since humans ruled Narnia, and the land has been taken over by the White Witch (Jadis) who makes the land perpetually winter, but never Christmas. Restoring rule to “sons of Adam” in this case, Peter Pevensie, his brother Edmund and their two sisters Lucy and Susan, is the only way to defeat the witch.

LWW features direct parallels to the sacrifice of Christ, with Aslan returning and sacrificing himself to save Edmund, who has betrayed the plans of reclaiming the land to Jadis. Aslan, like Christ, is reborn, the Witch is defeated, and the four Pevensies rule Narnia into their early adult years. They are returned to our world through a hunt for a white stag, and remain as children on Earth. The Pevensies return to Narnia again in Prince Caspian, must again reestablish sound rule, and rescue the beasts and mythical creatures of the land from the deniers of Narnia’s magic, and the usurper King Miraz.

Throughout the series, Lewis expands on his description of the world, adding different people, different lands, and describing the land as a flat earth, with an actual edge. He also sets up the opposing country of Calormen, which does not recognize Aslan and instead has a polytheistic-based society, and the nearby county of Archenland. Calormen seems Arabic in description but is likely more based on the various religions that competed with early Judaism.

In all, eight children, beginning with Polly and Diggory, visit Aslan’s country. After the Pevensies visit several times, the last two children to come to the country are Eustace, a cousin of the Pevensies and his friend Jill. In a surprising move, but perhaps one predictable because of the Christian beliefs held by Lewis, the final book in the series, The Last Battle, details the fall of Narnia, and disturbingly describes the end of the planet, and the deaths of all but one of the children or former child visitors.

Only Susan Pevensie, who has stopped believing in Aslan and her experiences in childhood, is left to cope with the human world, while not only her siblings but her parents die and migrate to a paradisaical Narnia where there can be no more evil, suffering, or death. The profoundly sober tone of the last book especially with the exclusion of Susan from the kingdom is disturbing to many readers, and some fans of the series skip the book, preferring to allow the fantasy kingdom thrive in their imaginations, rather than witnessing its demise.

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