C. S. Lewis’s pictures in The Chronicles of Narnia—the few times they occur—of those on whom the course battle has not been kind exhibits a strong edge of realism, most likely born of his time on the front.
For all the fighting and killing that takes place in Narnia and despite the fact that Lewis generally adopts a straightforward approach to war, readers see very few close descriptions of the wounded. This, of course, is probably due to Lewis’s expressed desire not to inflict “any haunting dread in the minds of children” (Of Other Worlds 31). He includes these descriptions only when necessary, and pushes them only to the extent he must.
Still, when the wounded do appear, their injuries are frighteningly real. The most obvious of these is Edmund, after his battle with Jadis. Lucy finds him “in the charge of Mrs. Beaver a little way back from the fighting line. He was covered with blood, his mouth open and his face a nasty green colour” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 176). In Prince Caspian Reepicheep is, if anything, even more gravely wounded that Edmund. He was borne to Aslan on a small litter after the battle. What Lucy saw there was “little better than a damp heap of fur; all that was left of Reepicheep. He was still breathing, but more dead than alive, gashed with innumerable wounds, one paw crushed, and, where his tail had been, a bandaged stump.” Even after Lucy tended him with her miracle cure, there was “a long and anxious silence” before it became clear that the chief mouse would survive (Prince Caspian 201).
While Lewis does not regale his reader with many disgusting firsthand accounts of what he saw at the front, what little he does say makes plain that he had probably seen his share of horribly wounded men. His brief but disgustingly brilliant description of them quoted in my previous post (“half-crushed beetles”) can hardly be more real. He would not have had to venture too deeply into his memory to dredge up a very genuine picture upon which to base his description of Edmund and, with a few necessary modifications, Reepicheep. If anything, his self-imposed literary limitations would have to moderate his memory and prevent him from including too many of these details. This does not mean that he is “posing” at all, and some authors have claimed. We must remember that he has made no claims to writing a “real” war history.
Lucy’s cordial itself may be an example of wishful thinking regarding the wounded. That small crystal vial is nothing more or less than a soldier’s ideal. Lewis, jolting his way painfully from the front in an ambulance or laying frustrated in some hospital bed, may well have wished for something like it. While he no doubt wanted to avoid returning to the trenches, in hindsight, with the end of the war so near, it would make sense for him to wish vaguely for some deus ex machina to rescue him from the frustration of hospital life, which he later called disagreeable. He almost certainly would have wished for something that could have saved all of his wounded friends.
A more specific correlation between the war in Europe and war in Narnia comes from Shasta, though it may not be very significant. It is interesting that Shasta has only one wound to show for his trouble when he meets Aravis after the fight at Anvard. When he arrives, announced by his true name of Cor, Aravis notices that his “left hand…was bandaged” (The Horse and His Boy196). While this cannot be pressed too far, it is notable that of Lewis’s wounds, the one on his own left hand gave him the most trouble throughout the rest of his life. Shasta, like Lewis, found the injury to be merely annoying and not serious, though he did not receive his injury in nearly so dramatic a fashion as Lewis. Shasta scraped his knuckles, while Lewis survived an explosion.
Up next week: We take a short break from Lewis to join guest blogger Robert Weaver for some thoughts on battlefield medicine, and what that means for your characters and writing.
The content of this series of posts was first presented to the world in the excellent little Lewis journal, The Lamp-Post 31:4 (Winter, 2010): 3-23, and was given in a talk at the 41st meeting of the Mythopoeic Society in Dallas, TX, in July 2010. A greatly expanded version is under consideration with the journal Mythlore.
Lewis, C. S. The Horse and His Boy. New York: Collier, 1970.
________. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Scholastic, 1987.
________. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. San Diego: Harvest, 1994.
________. Prince Caspian. New York: Collier, 1972.
Posts in the War in Narnia Series: