Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Story Synopsis: Tales Within Tales

What child, while waiting for the bus to take him to school, hasn’t wished to be whisked away to another world—a world without exams and bullies and teachers lurking over your shoulder, ears pricked for the slightest whisper.

Well, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have just experienced this very thing. And Jenn is here to tell you what happens to them when they are pulled from the local train station back into Narnia...

Like any siblings, each blames the others for the tugging that eventually deposits them in a different world, but the accusations soon stop as they recognize the opportunity for exploration in this new place (which everyone agrees takes precedence over the grand adventures of arithmetic and penmanship). Following the sound of water, they soon find a beautiful beach, and, shoeless, walk the shore until they find fresh water. By this time, they have discovered an important feature of this place—it is an island, and there does not appear to be any way to leave it.

After eating lunch, the quartet heads into the woods to explore the island, and much to their delight they stumble upon an apple orchard in the middle of the forest. Having satiated their appetites (two lunches split four ways don’t quite do that), they note their true surroundings: the ruins of a castle.

Following their apple supper, they begin exploring the ruins, and notice that they are somewhat familiar with the layout of the castle. When Susan finds a ruby-eyed chess piece, it is clear: they have been brought back to Narnia, and are exploring the ruins of their own palace, Cair Paravel. Armed with this knowledge, they find the treasure house to retrieve the gifts Aslan gave them so long ago—but Susan’s horn, which promises instant help with a single blow, is nowhere to be found.

After a rather uncomfortable and restless night, and a breakfast of (you guessed it) apples, the children head back down to the beach to try to find a way off of the island. They notice a boat just off shore with three people in it; two tall men appear to be trying to wrestle a third shorter man into the water. Susan takes up her bow and shoots, hitting one of the tall men in the helmet and knocking him overboard. Rather than wait to be shot off the boat, the second tall man dives overboard of his own volition, leaving the tied-up third man alone in the boat. The children swim out to the boat and pull it back to shore, curious to hear the story of the rescued little man.

And I’m tired now, so Greg can tell you the story of Trumpkin the dwarf.

Right. You see, Narnia is no longer the happy-go-lucky place it was under the Pevensie Kings and Queens. In fact it’s ruled now by the Telmarines who, contrary to the way their name sounds, have nothing to do with the sea. In fact, they hate it. In fact, they hate just about everything that Narnia ever stood for. Why they wanted to live in a place they hated, I’m not really sure.

Anyway, the rightful Telmarine heir to the throne of Narnia, orphaned young Prince Caspian, is being taken advantage of by his ruthless uncle, King Miraz. This despot conspires to persecute and repress the “Old Narnians,” even going so far as promoting a campaign of disinformation about the past of this magical land. But at the real top of his agenda is making sure that his own, illegitimate line stays on the throne. Fortunately for Prince Caspian, Uncle Miraz has made the mistake of handing his nephew’s education over to a deep-cover Old Narnian, a half-dwarf named Doctor Cornelius. This wise old boy fills Caspian in on the truth of things in Narnia, and has enough of his wits about him to spirit Caspian away when Miraz is lucky enough to have a son of his own.

Caspian dashes away on his favorite horse, taking with him the famous magical horn that the Doc gave him. Yes, that horn: the one that Queen Susan left behind somehow those many centuries ago when the very High Kings and Queens tumbled back through the wardrobe. You know.

As luck would have it, I guess, Caspian’s horse dashes him against a branch, knocking him out cold and leaving him to be found by a troupe of Old Narnians that includes Trufflehunter (a talking Badger) and two dwarves, the grumpy Nikabrik and our friend Trumpkin. When Caspian recovers from his knock-down, they fill him in on the incipient rebellion of the Old Narnians. None of the old guard is very happy, and they’re just looking for a leader. Or at least a figurehead. And in Caspian, they think they’ve found one. Under the influence of Glenstorm the Centuar, Reepicheep the very fiesty Mouse and a handful of other very likable if contentious insurgents (including Doctor Cornelius, who joins the gang), Caspian agrees to lead an open rebellion against King Miraz.

They dash off to Aslan’s How, a sacred tunnel-riddled earthwork mound that houses the broken stone table upon which Aslan was sacrificed to save Narnia oh-so-long-ago. Miraz is right on their heels, of course, with a real Telmarine army, and things do not go so well for Caspian and his host. Soon they become convinced that loss is imminent unless help arrives. Caspian agrees that the only course of action is to use the magical horn to summon help—help of an indeterminate nature, arriving Aslan-only-knows where. They decide to cover three possible sacred sites: Aslan’s How itself, Lantern Waste and Cair Paravel. Trumpkin draws the assignment for the ancient site of the Thrones of Narnia, and as he sets off through the woods he hears the call of the horn, a sound he’ll never forget. He’s not particularly sure it’ll do any good, but it sounds impressive enough.

While taking an ill-advised shortcut, Trumpkin is waylaid by some loyalists to Miraz, and the louts decide on a devilish execution: to take him to the dreaded ghost-laden coasts and send him to his death in a few feet of nasty seawater. Of course, they end up bringing him with haste, and in good time, right into the arms of the waiting children. As we have seen.

And now, it is time for another tale. Back to you, Jenn.

As Trumpkin finishes relating his story to the children, he wistfully recalls once again the beauty and power of the horn’s blast. It is unfortunate, he sighs, that it brought none of the promised help. Now, thinking such a thing in the presence of the High Kings and Queens of Narnia is fallacy enough; to utter such ignorant nonsense aloud ensures that the poor dwarf will be humbled by these “children.” After weapons challenges with Susan and Edmund, and a healing drop of Lucy’s ointment to a shoulder wound, Trumpkin is, indeed, humbled, and acknowledges the royal quartet for who they are. This being established, the five set off in the boat toward the upper reaches of Glasswater Creek (a significantly shorter route than over land). From there, they will take to the woods until they come upon the Great River, and ultimately Aslan’s How and King Caspian himself.

When they reach the mouth of Glasswater, they go upstream a ways until they find a place to roast some bear meat and apples, and rest for the night. Lucy, however, being the only one not subject to the hard physical labor of rowing (her minimal stature preventing her from being able to handle the oars sufficiently), cannot sleep; she walks a short distance from the camp, and looks up to see the Narnian stars, recognizing the constellations and enjoying the peacefulness of the night. She calls out to the trees to awaken them, and indeed there is a gentle rustling, as if they might have been responding, but not for certain. She returns to bed, restored by her reconnection with Narnia.

When the group awakens in the morning, they begin their hike toward the Great River in earnest. Since there are no clear trails, they move by following what look like potential trails, but without any certainty. When they come to a precipice, Peter laments that this could not be the Rush, a tributary of the Great River, since it ran over flat ground. Trumpkin, however, reminds him that it has been hundreds of years, and the landscape is bound to have changed dramatically since the children were last here. While Peter and Trumpkin are discussing how to proceed—whether to go down and cross the river or go up and find a different place to go across—Lucy looks up and sees none other than The Great Lion Himself. Instantly, Lucy understands that they are to go up, not down as Peter and Trumpkin have concluded. Excitedly, Lucy points out Aslan to the others—who do not see Him, and do not believe that she did, either. However, Lucy persists, explaining to them that Aslan wants them to go up, not down, as Peter and Trumpkin have decided to do. Still unconvinced, they take a vote, and the party heads down with a bitter Lucy bringing up the rear.

As the day wears on, it becomes more and more clear that the group will not reach King Caspian by dinner as they had hoped—in fact they may not even make tomorrow’s breakfast. The slope down the Rush is getting steeper and more dangerous, and they are just about to lose hope when they look up and see the Great River. Such a view renews their hope in joining King Caspian in time to help in the battle, but before they can get far at all, they are ambushed with arrows. It becomes abundantly clear why they were meant to go up, as Aslan had instructed Lucy, and Peter humbly acknowledges this as they turn around to head back up the steep rocky slope they just hazarded down, and take to the high ground instead.

At camp that night, exhaustion pulls everyone into a deep sleep almost immediately. Lucy, however, is awakened from her slumber by hearing someone calling her name. She crawls from her makeshift bed, just in time to witness the movement of the trees. Making her way through them, she comes to a clearing, where she finds Aslan waiting for her.

She runs to Him. In their embrace, He chastises her for her complicity in going down in to the gorge with the others, instead of following His directions to go up. Lucy tries to blame it on the others—after all, she couldn’t go alone, could she?—but Aslan reiterates His desire for her obedience (alone or not) and then instructs her to wake the others, tell them of His presence, and lead the others by following Him, regardless of whether they see Him or not.

This time, Lucy obeys, and as difficult as it is for the youngest member of the party to take the reins and insist they follow her as she follows Aslan, she awakens the others, telling each of them of her meeting with Aslan. When they are all awake, she recounts the experience one more time, concluding with the assertion that she would follow Aslan this time, even if the others choose not to. Finally the others comply (Susan rather bitter and none too quiet about it), and begin the day’s journey.

As they walk along the top of the precipice, Lucy remains the only one able to see Aslan. Soon, however, Edmund catches a glimpse of a shadow, and Lucy acknowledges that it is, indeed, Aslan’s. He leads them down the precipice and across the river—where Edmund finally sees Him, and Peter sees His shadow. After crossing the river and climbing up the other side, they find themselves in view of Aslan’s How—with the Great Lion standing resplendently in full view.

Each of the children (including Susan, finally) approach Aslan, who is overwhelmingly glad to see them, but is also acutely aware of their doubt and disobedience. True to His nature, Aslan forgives them, then addresses Trumpkin, who is scared witless of the giant feline. Fortunately, the dwarf goes toward Aslan, rather than running away, and their friendship is playfully sealed.

As dawn breaks, Aslan sends the boys and the dwarf to the field to await battle; Susan and Lucy are left to watch. Suddenly the Great Lion tilts His gloriously maned head back and roars with a force unlike anything ever heard. Susan and Lucy watch, and see movement where there had been stillness before, as the trees come out around Aslan. Other creatures appear in order to join the dance, and a joyous time ensues before the battle begins, a scene which Greg will relate to you now.

Well, the real complicating factor at this point is that Nikabrik has brought in some rather unsavory characters to advise Prince Caspian and company on an alternate course of action. From the beseiged Old Narnian perspective, help has not come; the call has gone unanswered. So the ever-sour Nikabrik brings a Hag and Werewolf to Aslan’s How in an attempt to summon dark powers to Caspian’s aid—the spirit of the White Witch, in fact. Naturally, this suggestion doesn’t sit too well with Aslan’s faithful, never mind the fact that Doctor Cornelius rightly observes that the final judgment on Aslan’s ability to help can’t really be judged yet.

Just as Nikabrik’s, um, friends are about to force themselves on Caspian and company, Peter, Edmund and Trumpkin spring into the council chamber and slay the malcontent traitors. Prince Caspian has narrowly averted an enormous disaster.

Peter quickly takes charge, though showing proper deference to the royal prerogatives of the crown Prince. In an effort to buy time for whatever Aslan has in store, he dashes off a challenge of single combat to King Miraz, who is disingenuously manipulated into accepting by two of his more ambitious lords. A formal truce is declared and the armies convene to watch the two kings match each other in a contest of arms.

In the early going, Peter fares well against Miraz, though he truly expects to meet his fate at the hands of the Telmarine. In spite of his surprising showing, however, he injures one of his wrists and is unable to properly wield his shield. Fortunately, a rest break is called and Peter is able to find a makeshift solution to allow him to continue.

Peter again does well, pressing Miraz hard. After landing a near-fatal glancing blow, and then being pulled off balance by an alert Peter, Miraz stumbles—and his conspiratorial lords jump at the opportunity to slay him while he is down, trying to make it seem as if they are coming to his aid. Bedlam ensues and battle is joined.

It does not go well for the Telmarines, for Caspian’s weakened army is now joined by vast numbers of tree-spirits: the woods have awakened in response to Aslan’s—and Lucy’s—call. The horn has now been fully answered. Aslan, the Pevensie children and the full force of Old Narnia have all been roused. The Telmarine army is in full retreat, only to find its escape route via the Bridge of Beruna destroyed.

While Peter and Caspian have been managing the front, Aslan—with the girls, Bacchus and a host of others in tow—has been working in the rear to conduct a massive party of deconstruction. The entire Telmarine infrastructure has been pulled down behind the army in a chaotic yet purposeful joyous procession. The army has no choice to surrender. They are cowed and awed and dumbstruck by Aslan’s presence.

Though he feels wholly inadequate to the task—a prerequisite for the job, says Aslan—Caspian assumes leadership of Narnia as its king. Lucy uses her diamond vial, that ancient gift from Aslan, to heal Reepicheep, and Aslan restores his severed tail. Many knighthoods are bestowed, the surviving Telmarines are made captive in Beruna and the victorious host of Old Narnians settles in for a wild and glorious celebration.

The next day, Aslan delivers an ultimatum to the defeated Telmarines: if they are unable or unwilling to submit themselves gladly to the authority of King Caspian, they will be provided with a new home if they present themselves to Aslan. Those who come to avail themselves of this unique mercy discover an amazing fact. Aslan tells them that they are not native to either Narnia or Telmar, and will be sent back to the place from whence they came: a remote desert island in this, our very own world! Aslan constructs a doorway from Narnia to our world, and the dispossessed Telmarines find their way home after many long centuries.

Following them, not far behind but bound for a far different destination, are Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. They find themselves once again back at the train station where their strange journey started, older for a while and now younger again, but still a little wiser and more mature. Peter and Susan will never visit Narnia again.


Blogger Kathy Bledsoe said...

Fabulous, you two! I really enjoyed the "trading off" and the evidence of snide humor. I think one of the things that gets in Lewis' way sometimes is that he did read so much and retained so much of it. The whole Bacchus/Silenus bit with that whole "romp" across the river is like a beast that just had to come out because he didn't or hadn't found anywhere to include it yet. He almost seems driven to insert things whenever they occur to him - like stream of conciousness writing, or the term paper writer who wants to include all the research whether it fits or not! One thing those episodes do say, though, is that Lewis believed what he said about a children's book not being worth reading if it didn't appeal also to the adult. No child would catch or understand the literary implications unless well-schooled in Greek mythology and trying to figure out why this stuff is even in the book at least sparks some thought/discussion.

6/09/2005 5:13 PM  
Blogger Greg Wright said...

In preparing this synopsis, what struck us was how difficult the job was in comparison to the previous three books! I wonder if what George has perceived in this story is not so much overcontrivance as overcomplication. Lewis just may have bit off more than this structure of this story could really support, to mix metaphors!

6/09/2005 9:55 PM  
Blogger Kathy Bledsoe said...

Exactly what I was saying to a friend recently. It's almost as if he had too many story lines running around in his head and decided to put a bunch of them together rather than extend the series of books. I have this picture in my mind of Tolkien going really bonkers when he heard or read this one!

6/10/2005 6:54 PM  
Blogger Teacher24_70 said...

The following articles don't list which book they're related to:
Story Synopsis: Tales Within Tales
Short of the Standard
An Invitation to the Dance

The other articles were all titled with the name of the book. Why are these different and why isn't the specific book referred to?

Not complaining, just confused.

6/21/2005 10:54 PM  
Blogger Teacher24_70 said...

Ignore my last post. I had clicked on the "Prince Caspian" article which didn't include the 3 components that I later found in separate articles. I somehow accidently located the complete article with all components.

Anyway, I'm just curious as to where the illustrations come from? Are they all from a specific publisher's version of the books? Or are they from various sources?

6/21/2005 11:35 PM  
Blogger Greg Wright said...

Hello there! Yeah, the article indexing can be a little confusing once you get to link-clicking, but we're trying our best to make use of the available technology without having to reinvent the wheel. And, unfortunately, once we're committed to a certain methodology, we're kind of stuck with it. But I think it's working out okay! Sorry for the minor confusion.

The artwork is all original stuff by Dawn D. Davidson. There's a link to her information in the sidebar. She's been wonderful to work with!

6/22/2005 7:03 AM  

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