Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creative Swearing—Trumpkin Style

As I read the Chronicles of Narnia, I love discovering little gems hidden throughout the books. In Prince Caspian, I was intrigued by the creative swear words of the red dwarf Trumpkin (aka – Dear Little Friend, or DLF as Lucy refers to him). The explatives are paired alliterative words that are dissimilar in nature, which, when combined, are always followed by an exclamation point—turning them by inflection or tone into swear words. Trumpkin’s expletives include:

- Beards and bedsteads!
- Horns and halibuts!
- Bulbs and bolsters!
- Whistles and whirligigs!
- Soup and celery!
- Thimbles and thunderstorms!
- Lobsters and lollipops!
- Giants and junipers!
- Tubs and tortoiseshells!
- Bottles and battledores!
- Bilge and beanstocks!
- Cobbles and kettledrums!
- Wraiths and wreckage!
- Weights and watterbottles!
- Crows and crockery!

What fun it must have been for C.S. Lewis to concoct such clever swear words. I remember when I was young, my sisters and I did the same thing. Our parents didn’t permit swearing in our conservative Mormon home (an occasional “darn” or “shoot” might slip out), but our friends were already showing their independence through colorful language. In an effort to “join the movement,” and because we couldn't use the commonly used swear words, my sisters and I decided to come up with our own words that could be used in situations where swearing seemed appropriate. My personal favorite was “Rumpelstiltskin.” However, I couldn’t say it without smiling, which unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) broke the mood of whatever caused me to want to swear in the first place.

I remember my mother explaining that using swear words was an indication of an uneducated person: if someone truly had a knowledge of the English language, he or she should be able to express their feelings without resorting to swear words. That seemed to make sense. I prided myself in having a good fourth grade vocabulary but somehow when I felt like swearing, I couldn’t come up with the right words to express what I was experiencing, hence my resorting to “Rumplestitlskin!” I must have resorted to it once too often because Mom also told me that any word could be used as a swear word if said in the right tone (which she—through the magic of motherhood—could recognize regardless of the word!) and that I wasn’t to use “that tone” in our home. My swearing life was short lived.

Unlike when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when swearing was not universally accepted, many children today actually learn swearing from their parents who often use it without even realizing the words are swear words. When I was young, swearing was a form of youthful rebellion; today swear words are part of the routine, accepted vocabulary of daily life. In addition, swear words (as well as taking the Lord’s name in vain) are often used to express happiness or surprise, not just anger or hate. Movies and books are filled with swear words, and swearing is becoming more prominent on television. Today it is hard to comprehend the furor that was created when, in the movie Gone With The Wind, Rhett Butler exclaimed, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” At the time it was scandalous. Today no one notices.

I wonder if many people reading Prince Caspian consider Trumpkin’s above-mentioned alliterative words a form of swearing, or have “hard core” swear words become such a part of society that these creative couplets are not recognized for what they are? Or maybe it’s just me reading a certain “tone” into the words like my mother explained. Either way, I appreciate Lewis’ creativity in word selection, and love visualizing the pairings. It almost makes me want to create alliterations of my own just for the fun of creating them. However, after my “Rumplestiltskin!” experiences, I definitely won’t be verbalizing them!

Note #1: Definitions

As often is the case when reading British literature, a dictionary comes in handy to define the occasional unknown word. On the list of Trumpkin’s creative alliterative couplets are the following, which may not be generally known:

Battledore: badminton racket
Bedstead: frame of a bed on which the mattress in placed
Bilge: lower part of the hull of a ship where water collects, or the rank odor of collected water
Bolster: pillows that are oblong and cylindrical in shape
Kettledrums: largest drums in an orchestra that must be played while standing up
Whirligig: Anything that whirls, such as a toy top, carousel, or a decorative object that spins in the wind
Wraiths: Scottish ghosts

Note #2: Other “Creative” Swearing

Writing this post brought to mind two other instances of creative swearing. The first is the boy wonder Robin, Batman’s trusty sidekick. I recall that in the Batman television series, which ran for two and a half seasons from 1966 to 1968, Robin was always exclaiming: "Holy (insert words such as “bill of rights,” “haberdashery,” “heart failure,” “demolition,” “costume party”), Batman!" whenever he encountered something startling.

The other instance is how swear words are handled in cartoons—a collection of miscellaneous keystrokes, known variously as “profanity ideograms,” “taboo avoidance characters,” “obscenicons,” and “spiral thingy lightening bolts.” Here are a few examples:

Note #3: Is Swearing All That Bad?

I also recall a Sunday School lesson I heard at Brigham Young University where the topic of swearing came up. A student in the class said (with a sly smile) that he didn’t think swearing was all that bad, and supported his views with a quote by J. Golden Kimball (1853-1938), a colorful, folksy leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who said: “I won’t go to Hell for swearing because I repent too damn fast!” (I bet he had a sly smile on his face, too, when he said it!) The legendary “Uncle Golden," as he was known, is to Mormons what Will Rogers or Mark Twain are to the general American public—irreverent, but beloved.

So, is swearing all that bad? Well, it must be if Uncle Golden says he repents of it so *##! fast.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Potpouri of Thoughts on The Horse and His Boy

Before moving on to the next book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there are a few random thoughts on The Horse and His Boy (TH&HB) that I want to mention. All are short so I’ve clumped them together here.

Longing for Home

The setting of TH&HB is different than all the other books in the Narnian Chronicles. The story takes place in a land adjacent to Narnia known as Calormen, whose description conjures up visions of Arabian Nights, old Persia or the Middle East. There are great desserts, exotic trees and flowers, lavish palaces, and dirty, impoverished slums. In Narnia, all the characters speak British English, but the language spoken by humans in Calormen is not English and the animals don’t speak at all. This creates a foreign environment that makes it easy for us to understand why the talking horses, Bree and Hwin, long to return to their homeland of Narnia where animals speak. The boy, Shasta, who unknown to him was born in Narnia, also has feelings of longing for the land over the hills to the north (Narnia).

Lewis often wrote of longing for home. Here are two quotes I especially like that refer to longing for our “ultimate” home:

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.” --Mere Christianity

“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” --The Problem of Pain

Self Motivation

Quote: “But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power to force yourself.”

I’ve noticed the truth of this in my life…that when I no longer HAVE to do something, it is sometimes hard to do it all. For example, the past two years I’ve kept a “Words of the Prophets” journal in which I recorded notes by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I set the goal to accomplish this and, at the end of each year, I ended up with a wonderful compilation of quotes from the Ensign, Church News, and Conference talks. I started out to do the same in 2009 but didn’t get very far. When my mother passed away in March, my routine was turned upside down and I got behind in my reading and recording. Then in May, when I was given the challenge to participate in what Elder M. Russell Ballard calls “new media,” I started this blog and abandoned the journal (both were very time consuming and I found I could only do one). I switched my discretionary time to blogging from journaling. I still read the words of the prophets from same sources, but not with the same attention to detail; and I definitely don’t spend the time thinking about their words like I did when I kept a journal. After our stake conference broadcast last weekend where Elder Russell M. Nelson encouraged us to listen to and follow the prophets, I realized how much I missed really digging into their comments. I need to evaluate how I use my time to see if I can both blog and also journal the words of the prophets.

Life’s Roads

Quote: “After all,” said Shasta, “this road is bound to get somewhere.” But that all depends on what you mean by somewhere.

This quote reminded me of the one from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland that I often used years ago when teaching Young Women:

“Cheshire Puss,” [Alice] began timidly…Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—“ Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Both quotes address the fact that just because we’re moving along a path doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to get where we want to end up. We need to have a clear goal in mind (ultimate life goal: exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom) and know the path that leads there (faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for remission of sins, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, keeping commandments and covenants and enduring to the end). Christ has marked the path and shown the way; we need to listen to his voice and follow him. If we don’t, we’ll surely get somewhere (like Shasta and Alice commented) but chances are our destination will not be the one for which we hoped and planned. This also applies to our daily lives and the choices we make with our time and resources.

Two Types of Communicating

Quote: "For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you're taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays."

I had to smile when I read this. My mind went back to my high school days when I was taking both Advanced Placement English and Journalism at the same time. I enjoyed reading classical books and leading-edge poetry, but the essays I had to write about them drove me to distraction. Having to analyze everything to death killed my enthusiasm for the works themselves. On the other hand, writing articles for the school paper was great fun and provided a wonderful creative outlet. I doubt whether anyone (including the teacher) enjoyed reading the essays, but I know lots of people (including the teacher) enjoyed reading the stories that appeared in The Spectator. I appreciate the discipline learned through writing essays, but I wish there were some way to make essay writing as entertaining as writing newspaper stories, fiction, and blogs.

I also thought about the New Testament and how Jesus taught timeless principles through parables, or stories. The stories are easy to understand and remember, while straight exposition often takes more effort to understand and apply to our daily lives. There is power in a story well told.

Taking It One Step Further

Quote: "And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could, which is not quite the same thing."

There have been times in my life when I’ve thought: “Enough is enough! I can’t take on one more thing. I’m doing everything I can do. Anything else and I will collapse.” This was particularly true during my 20 years working for an environmental consulting firm, where I advanced from typist to Vice President of Marketing. At each stage of my career, I thought I was doing all I could and couldn’t do anything more. Thankfully, I agreed to continually take on new assignments that allowed me to move up in the company to a position I absolutely loved. I realize that what I thought was “all I could do” actually wasn’t, and that with the push and encouragement of my boss I was able to progress and advance, just like the horses did when chased by Aslan. I think this is true in our spiritual lives as well: we can always do more to draw closer to God and Jesus Christ, and to serve others than we might think possible. If we truly want to follow Christ’s example of unselfish service and devotion to God, a means will be provided that we can accomplish it. Like a marathon runner, we often have to push beyond what we think is our limit in order to accomplish every needful thing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moses (Biblical Exodus) and Shasta (The Horse and His Boy)

C.S. Lewis was a dedicated Christian by the time he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia. While his academic pursuits focused on medieval and renaissance English, much of his personal writing addressed religious topics, so it is not surprising that religious themes appear in most of his books, including his science fiction and fairy tales. As mentioned in a previous post, Lewis said of his Narnian characters: “At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.” I believe Lewis’ testimony was such an integral part of who he was and how he lived his life that his beliefs easily spilled over into his writings.

I also imagine Lewis must have gotten tired of being asked about the similarities between Biblical people and events and his characters and storylines in the Chronicles of Narnia. In one letter, Lewis sounds like he would like to put an end once and for all to the questions about the Chronicles being allegorical when he wrote:

"The whole series works out like this: The Magician's Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia; The Lion etc. - the Crucifixion and Resurrection; Prince Caspian - restoration of the true religion after a corruption; The Horse and His Boy - the calling and conversion of the heathen; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep); The Silver Chair - the continuing war against the powers of darkness; The Last Battle - the coming of Antichrist (the ape), the end of the world and the last judgment."

I have always considered the Chronicles of Narnia more of an allusion to the New Testament because of the central thread of Aslan, the Great Lion, the Christ figure in the Narnian world. However, in reading The Horse and His Boy (TH&HB) this time around I found an additional allusion that added another layer of enjoyment to the book—that being the similarities between Shasta and Moses of the Old Testament. This seems to fit in with Lewis’ above-mentioned theme for the book—“the calling and conversion of the heathen.”

Shasta’s journey across the desert and into wilderness areas is similar to Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and wandering in the wilderness. Also, in both cases, precious water was provided during the trek: Aslan produced water from his footprint in the turf, while Moses drew water from a rock. In addition, there are similarities between Shasta and Moses:
  • Shasta and Moses were both sent away from their families at birth.
  • Both babies were found floating in water: Moses was found in a basket on the Nile (with his protective sister hiding nearby), and Shasta was found in a boat in the ocean (with a dead Archenlandian knight who had been his protector).
  • Both turned away from the country in which they were raised: Shasta from Calormen, Moses from Egypt.
  • Both turned out to be saviors of their true countries: Shasta of Archenland, Moses of Israel.
In one aspect, the roles of Shasta and Moses are reversed: Moses was raised in nobility and wealth and eventually became a shepherd. Shasta was raised in a poor fisherman's home, and eventually became a King (although Moses also eventually became the leader of the Israelite nation).


I am continually amazed at how the Chronicles of Narnia take on different or additional meanings with each successive reading, and how readers at different ages and stages in life find similar enjoyment and personal reward. This is only my second time reading the Chronicles from beginning to end. During the 25-year interim, I have experienced a lot of “Life,” and grown in many ways. I wonder what the Chronicles might hold if I reread them in my twilight years? I must add this to my “bucket list”!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Aslan's Influence on The Horse and His Boy

When C.S. Lewis began to write the Chronicles of Narnia, he didn’t have a master plan for a series of seven books. He simply wanted to tell a good tale, and as he finished each book the idea for another one had already come to him. This explains why the books were generally published in the order they were completed rather than in chronological order as far as Narnian history. Also, when he began to write the Chronicles, he didn’t set out to incorporate Christian theological concepts. As he explained in Of Other Worlds:

“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out 'allegories' to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images: a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

Lewis further clarified in a December 1958 letter to a Mrs. Hook that the story of Aslan’s experiences in the Narnian Chronicles was not an allegory but that Alsan “…is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?'”

Aslan appears or his influence is felt in all the Narnian books. I particularly enjoyed the role he played in The Horse and His Boy (TH&HB)—that of being intimately involved although rarely seen, of being felt even though the feeling was not completely understood.

Synopsis of The Horse and His Boy

TH&HB is the story of an adventure that took place while the Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund) were kings and queens of Narnia. Shasta is a Narnian boy who has been raised as the son of a fisherman in Calormen. When he hears that his "father" is going to sell him into slavery to a wealthy Calormen noble, he confers with the nobleman's horse (Bree) who is actually a captured talking horse from Narnia. The boy and horse decide to run away and head north for Narnia.

Along the way they are forced by lions (so they think) to meet up with a young runaway noblewoman, Aravis and her Narnian horse Hwin. Aravis is running away to avoid a marriage of state her parents have arranged for her. Along their way they have several adventures as Shasta finds he is an exact double for the Prince of Archenland (a small buffer country between the larger Narnia and Calormen). When Shasta is mistaken for his double, Prince Corin, he is brought to the palace where he learns that Queen Susan is visiting Calormen to be wooed by a Prince. But she has refused him and he does not want to let her leave. However she is planning to leave secretly.

Aravis also learns that the Prince is planning a secret attack on Archenland and Narnia through the desert. When Aravis and Shasta join up again, they manage to cross the desert in a race against time to warn the King of Archenland about the attack. Just as they are getting too tired to continue on their way they are attacked by a lion and chased to Archenland where they stop at a hermit's cottage.

Shasta goes on alone to find King Lune to warn him of the attack. He gets lost on the way and receives guidance from Aslan who he finds has been protecting him the entire time. It was Aslan who forced him to meet up with Aravis and Aslan who chased them to give them that last push to Archenland. Shasta warns the king in time for him to gather an army to defeat the invasion. As the battle comes to an end, Shasta finds that he is in actuality the long lost son of King Lune and twin to Prince Corin, his double. Indeed he is the older twin, so Shasta will some day be king. Aravis decides to remain at the court of Archenland and eventually she and Shasta marry and reign over the kingdom together.

Aslan’s Presence

Throughout TH&HB, there are recurring references to “big cats” or lions that influence how the characters act. It may take first-time readers of the Narnian Chronicles a while before they guess that all these feline contacts are with Aslan, the Lord of their world. Towards the end of the book, Aslan finally makes this point clear to Shasta:

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. I was the lion who you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

Aslan is not the center of the action in TH&HB, but rather is a behind-the-scenes influence that directs the outcome of the adventure. Even though Shasta has been unaware of Aslan’s presence in his journey (up to this point), he is able to acknowledge the debt he owes to him. “I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him. And now I am in Narnia.” Because Aslan was actively involved in their world, there really was no luck involved. Aslan guided and protected the group the entire way.

Scriptural Comparisons

The story of Aslan leading a group of people is a theme that runs through the Bible as the Lord interacts with his people (e.g., Moses, Noah). Similar stories appear in The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

Jaredites. At the time of the Tower of Babel, when the tongues of all nations were confounded, the Lord acceded to the desires of Jared and his brother so that their language, as well as that of their families and friends, was not confounded, and they were granted a land of promise. The people were guided by God through the wilderness, and were eventually directed to cross the sea in sealed, watertight "barges” built so air could be obtained from outside the vessels as needed. After 344 days, the group landed in the Americas, where they grew into a great civilization of more than 2 million people.

The full story of the Jaredites can be found in the Book of Ether:

Lehi and Family. Another example of the Lord leading his children is that of the people whose history is told in The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ, who also came to the New World. According to the narrative, the families of Lehi, his friend Ishmael and another man named Zoram left their homes in Jerusalem sometime before its destruction by the Babylonians in approximately 587 BC. Lehi's group traveled southward down the Arabian Peninsula, then in an eastward direction across the desert until they reached a fertile coastal region they named Bountiful. Here Lehi's son Nephi was instructed by the Lord to build a ship for the purpose of sailing across the ocean to the "promised land” in the Americas. Their experiences were written on metallic plates, which Joseph Smith translated through the power of the Lord. Printed as The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the book details the Lord’s interactions with people in South, Central and North America.

The full account of Lehi’s journey can be found in First Nephi:


Throughout time, the Lord has directed his people. Proverbs 16:9 states that “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” Or put in other terms: “A man determines in his heart the plan he will pursue but the Lord directs the path he follows.” Shasta knew he needed to escape from the land of Calormen and wanted to go to Narnia, but it was through Aslan’s influence that he was guided to meet the people he did, when he did, and it was Aslan who provided protection and encouragement along the way.

Like Shasta, we can enjoy the direction of the Lord in our lives. Because we have been blessed with free agency, we can determine the path we want to travel. If we are worthy and seek the Lord’s blessings, his Spirit will guide and direct us in the way we should go.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”’—Proverbs 3:6

In TH&HB, it was clear that Shasta did not recognize Aslan’s influence in his journey back to Narnia. When Aslan explained his involvement (as quoted above), I thought of a very short essay I have loved since I was a youth: Footprints in the Sand by Mary Stevenson.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spring Foliage in Narnia

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (TLWW) is a fast-paced fantasy that usually ends each chapter with the reader wanting to know what happens next. One thing that moves the story along so quickly is that C.S. Lewis doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time describing the environment behind the action. When he does provide details, there is a good reason to do so. Probably the longest description of setting appears approximately two-thirds of the way into TLWW when Lewis paints a picture of spring’s arrival in Narnia.

As you read about Narnia’s spring, listen to the following musical selection entitled "Spring," from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (See note #1, below):

Narnia has known winter for a hundred years, during which time the evil White Witch has wielded great power. With the arrival of the four Pevensie children and the return of Aslan, the witch’s powers are diminishing. Evil is being replaced with good. Hopelessness is becoming hopefulness. Winter is turning into spring.

It’s interesting that we see spring being restored to Narnia while reading about the wintry witch and her dwarf (with Edmund in tow) racing a sledge across the frozen earth in an effort to overtake the humans before they reach the appointed meeting place with Aslan. The juxtaposition of cold and evil with warming and good is striking. Spring provides a thematic shift of power between the witch and Aslan. Lewis devotes nearly three pages to the description of this environmental transformation, which itself foreshadows other transformations.

I think perhaps Lewis intentionally took a few pages to describe spring’s arrival so we could adapt to the importance of the changes (although in Narnia, it only took “a few hours or so from January to May”). Edmund is the first to notice things are not as they were: “…as he looked at one tree he saw a great load of snow slide off it and for the first time since he had entered Narnia he saw the dark green of a fir tree.” Then “…patches of green grass were beginning to appear in all directions.” And “Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms.”

In TLWW, Lewis uses familiar backgrounds and props rather than creating alien items in his Narnian fantasy world. This familiarity especially helps children relate to the story. (In contrast, Lewis created entirely new geography, botany and biology for the characters in his science fiction book Perelandra.) I also believe Lewis carefully selected each tree and flower in Narnia because of its significance to winter turning into spring in England and most of the Northern Hemisphere. Following are the trees and flowers Lewis uses to usher in the Narnian spring, along with their meanings and significance to Narnia.

Fir—Hope and Joy
As quoted above, the first tree mentioned is fir. This is the tree most closely associated with winter and Christmas (Father Christmas had just presented his gifts to residents in Narnia). It seems significant that Edmund first sees snow falling off a fir tree, revealing its evergreen needles. The fir is itself a promise of continual renewal, hope and joy.

Oak—Strength and Endurance
The Oak tree is known for its strength and endurance so it only seems fitting that it should grow in Narnia. It can rise to great heights (up to 100 feet), have large canopies (85- to 130-foot spread), and live 200-300 years. The oak is mentioned in several mythologies, including Celtic where it is the “tree of doors,” believed to be a gateway between worlds, or a place where portals could be erected—fitting for a tale about worlds linked by wardrobe doors.

Boards of oak have been prized since the Middle Ages for use in interior paneling of prestigious buildings such as the debating chamber of the British House of Commons in London, and in the construction of fine furniture. Oak wood was used in Europe for the construction of ships, especially naval men of war, until the 19th Century, and was the principal timber used in the construction of European timber-framed buildings. Today oak wood is still commonly used for furniture making and flooring, timber frame buildings, and for veneer production. Barrels in which red wines, sherry, brandy and spirits, such as Scotch whiskey and Bourbon whiskey, are aged are made from European and American oak. The use of oak in wine can add many different dimensions to wine based on the type and style of the oak.

(Serendipity Sidebar: The oak is the national tree of England and the United States, as well as other Northern Hemisphere countries, states, and governmental agencies. In England, the Royal Oak is the name given to the oak tree within which King Charles II of England hid to escape the Roundheads following the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The original tree is recorded to have been destroyed during the 17th and 18th centuries by tourists who cut off branches and chunks as souvenirs. The present day tree is believed to be a 200-to-300-year-old descendant of the original and is thus known as “Son of Royal Oak.” In 2000, Son of Royal Oak was badly injured during a violent storm and lost many branches. Another oak sapling was planted near the site of the original Royal Oak in 2001 by Prince Charles; it was grown from one of the Son's acorns and is thus a grandson of the Royal Oak. The United States also has a famous oak tree, the "Charter Oak," which stems from a local legend in which a cavity within the tree was used in late 1687 as a hiding place for the Connecticut Constitution charter granted by King Charles II. The oak was blown down in a violent storm about 150 years later and made into a chair that is now displayed in the Hartford Capitol Building. The Charter Oak is the symbol selected by the state of Connecticut to appear on the reverse side of a 1999 U.S. quarter.)

Beech—Warmth and Light
The third tree mentioned in the description of Narnian spring is the light gray bark beech tree with “delicate, transparent leaves.” The beech is an ornamental tree native to Europe. The wood is tough but dimensionally unstable so it is used primarily for furniture or as plywood in household items like plates. It is also an excellent firewood, easily split and burned for many hours with bright but calm flames. This tree would have been very valuable in Narnia where it was always winter.

Pressing oil from the beechnut was in common use in Europe in times of abundant labor but scarce food sources, such as in Europe in the years immediately after World War II; because it was labor intensive, beechnut oil production dwindled when other oil sources became available. (The beechnut could have provided oil in Narnian lamps.) Today, beech is widely planted for hedging and in deciduous woodlands. Mature, regenerating stands occur throughout mainland Britain.

Elm—Community and History
The next tree mentioned in Narnia’s transformation to spring is the elm. From the 18th Century to the early 20th Century, elms were among the most widely planted ornamental tree in both Europe and North America. They were particularly popular as a street tree in avenue plantings in towns and cities, creating high-tunneled effects. Because elms have been closely associated with gathering places, many hold historical significance:

  • In England’s fabled Sherwood Forest, the "Langton Elm" was a large tree that was for a long time so remarkable as to have a special keeper.
  • "Joe Pullen's Tree" was planted in about 1700 by the Rev. Josiah Pullen, vice president of Magdalen Hall, Oxford (C.S. Lewis’ college). Several scholars and essayists were said to have studied beneath its boughs. The tree, which became diseased, was slated for removal when it was burned to the ground in 1909. Only a commemorative sign remains.
  • The “Treaty Elm” in Pennsylvania was made famous by artist Benjamin West who commemorated the signing of a treaty between Pennsylvania founder William Penn and the local Indians. The tree was blown down by a great storm in 1810 and the wood was made into furniture, canes, walking sticks and various trinkets that Philadelphians kept as relics.
  • The Liberty Tree, an elm tree on Boston Common, was a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of England over the American colonies.
  • George Washington is said to have taken command of the American Continental Army under the “Washington Elm" in Cambridge on July 3, 1775. The tree survived until the 1920s and was thought to be a survivor of the primeval forest. In 1872, a large branch fell from it and was used to construct a pulpit for a nearby church.
The elm’s inclusion in Narnia’s spring, which occurs as all the creatures head to the Stone Table to meet Aslan, contributes to the significance and the historic nature of the event.

Silver Birch—Renewal, Adaptability, Stability, and Utility
In Celtic mythology and lore, the birch tree deals with growth, renewal, stability, initiation, and adaptability—all characteristics of Narnia’s historic transformation from winter to spring. The birch is highly adaptive and able to sustain harsh conditions, and it is often used to repopulate areas damaged by forest fires or clearcutting. Paradoxically, while the birch is a symbol of renewal, it is also symbolic of stability and structure. It is also said that the druids carried birch bark with them as kindling because it will start to burn even when damp, which made it a prized fire starter over most other wood types. (This characteristic would have been prized in Narnia as well!)

Historically, the pale colored, satin-sheened, ripple finished bark was used as paper or used in making paper, footwear, and furniture. It is suitable for veneer, and birch ply is among the strongest and most dimensionally-stable plywoods, although it is not suitable for exterior use. Extracts of birch have been used for medicinal purposes (diuretic tea), flavoring, and in cosmetics such as soap or shampoo. In the past, commercial oil of wintergreen, glue, and waterproof tar were made of birch bark. The Native American Indians valued canoes made of the lightweight, waterproof birch bark.

Larches are deciduous trees that are valued for the wood’s tough, waterproof and durable characteristics. The top quality knot-free timber is in great demand for building yachts and other small boats, for exterior cladding of buildings, and interior paneling. The timber is resistant to rot when in contact with the ground, and is suitable for use as posts and in fencing. Larch seems an ideal tree for use in Narnia, especially during its years of winter.

I found the inclusion of Laburnum trees in Narnia curious because all parts of the plant are poisonous and can be lethal if consumed in excess. However, the yellow spring flowers are striking and have led to the tree being called a golden chain tree. Also, the heart-wood of a laburnum is very hard, and is sometimes used as a substitute for Ebony or Rosewood. This duality of beauty and poison in one plant supports a theme of TLWW that things are combinations of both good and bad, so I suppose for this reason the Laburnum belongs in the forests of Narnia.

Narnian Flowers—Harbingers of Spring

All the flowers Lewis mentions in his description of spring in Narnia are also the traditional messengers of spring in Europe and North America.

Celandine. The first flower mentioned in Narnia’s spring is the yellow celandine, native to most of Europe and western Asia. The low-growing perennial has dark green, heart-shaped leaves. In England, the plant is so invasive that it is often considered a weed. According to Gilbert White, a diarist writing around 1800 in the Hampshire village of Selborne, the plants came out on February 21st, but it is more commonly reported to flower from March until May, and is sometimes called the "spring messenger," which it certainly was in Narnia.

Snowdrop. Celebrated as a sign of spring, the white perennial snowdrop can form impressive carpets of white in areas where they are native or have been naturalized. In England and Ireland, these displays attract large numbers of sightseers, and several gardens open specially in February for visitors to admire the flowers.

Crocus. Cheery crocuses are synonymous with spring and they are tough plants, often blooming in the snow. Flowering in an assortment of bright spring colors, these early perennials—often popping through the snow—brighten the mood of winter-weary gardeners. The “gold and purple and white” crocuses in Narnia definitely brightened the moods of Narnians and humans alike.

The showy five-lobed primrose is a woodland plant, native to Europe, and has abundant pale yellow flowers in spring. Over the years, perennial primroses have been hybridized to include several bold colors, including yellows, reds, pinks and blues. The flower stalks of primroses shoot up from low, ground-hugging rosettes of thick green leaves, staying in bloom for weeks. Primroses have become an American favorite as well, and are planted as ornamental spots of color in spring gardens.

Note #1: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons is a set of four violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. Composed in 1723, the set is Vivaldi's best-known work, and is among the most popular pieces of Baroque music. The texture of each concerto is varied, each resembling its respective season. Each concerto is in three movements, with a slow movement between two faster ones.

Vivaldi wrote individual Sonnets to accompany each movement of The Four Seasons. What's amazing is how accurately he musically portrays each Sonnet without losing the overall quality and balance of the work. Following is the text of the sonnet to "Spring":

La Primavera (Spring) – Concerto in E Major

1. Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

2. Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

3. Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Notes: Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), nicknamed "The Red Priest", was a Venetian priest and Baroque music composer, as well as a famous virtuoso violinist; he was born and raised in the Republic of Venice.

Vivaldi's The Four Seasons especially appealed to the French. King Louis XV took a liking to “Spring” and ordered it to be performed at the most unexpected moments.