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A Celebration of Joy: Christian Romanticism in the Chronicles of Narnia, by Mike Bellah
Abstract and Table of Contents
Introduction
Definitions
Myth and Imagination
Children's Stories
The Ideal Reader
Fantasy and Realism
Friendships: Love in Narnia
Quest and Adventure
The Eucatastrophe
Romanticism in the Chronicles
The Failure of Romanticism
The Triumph of Chrisitian Romanticism
The Baptized Imagination
Works Cited
 

CHAPTER IX: THE EUCATASTROPHE

In addition to the love story, the quest, and knightly adventures, Lewis borrowed heavily from other motifs in the romance tradition. Peter Schakel points out the major ones in the Chronicles. They are the cyclic movement from winter to spring in The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe (8), the initiation tale in Prince Caspian (33), the journey narrative in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (50), the lost and regained identity in The Silver Chair (66), the lost child and missing twin motifs in The Horse and His Boy (81), the autumn to spring cycle in The Magician's Nephew (98), and the winter to spring cycle in The Last Battle (98).

According to Schakel, these last two stories, which contain the beginning and ending of Narnia respectively, also move through the cycles of literary genres themselves and culminate in romance or summer:

Thus The Magician's Nephew moves from tragedy to comedy and reflects the archetypes of autumn and spring. And The Last Battle moves from antiromance to romance, through the archetypes of winter and summer. Approaching the two books through the four phases of the monomyth illuminates the artistry and themes of the stories, clarifies their deeper significance, stresses their unity, and indicates the importance of that unity. (98)

The conclusion of the Chronicles in the archetypal summer (or romance) is what Tolkien called the eucatastrophe and is itself one of the most recognizable and important romantic motifs. However, before examining Lewis's ending in more detail, it would be well to consider the use of all these stock motifs themselves. Do they show a lack of ingenuity and creativity on Lewis's part? Did he borrow too heavily from traditional romantic motifs?

Perhaps the best way to answer such questions is to consider Lewis's own words in The Discarded Image. Lewis was a professor of medieval literature for most of his adult life, and the aforementioned book was one of the many that sprang from his study. In it he explains the heavy borrowing from previous authors and the seeming disregard for originality on the part of medieval writers like Chaucer or Lazamon:

I doubt if they would have understood our demand for originality or valued those works in their own age which were original any the more on that account. If you had asked Lazamon or Chaucer "Why do you not make up a brand-new story of your own?" I think they might have replied (in effect) "Surely we are not yet reduced to that?" Spin something out of one's own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve? The originality which we regard as a sign of wealth might have seemed to them a confession of poverty. Why make things for oneself like the lonely Robinson Crusoe when there is riches all about you to be had for the taking? (211)

In Lewis's inaugural address as the Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at the University of Cambridge, he told his audience that he belonged far more to the Old Western order than to theirs (Selected Literary Essays 13). Thus he urged these future students and colleagues to take him seriously, if not as an up-to-date literary critic, then as a specimen of men rapidly approaching extinction. After all, "there are not going to be many more dinosaurs" (14).

Lewis not only studied and taught medievalism, he often thought as a medievalist. And so, as an author, he did not consider originality the supreme virtue--not when there are "riches all about you to be had for the taking." So once again, one sees that Lewis does not choose haphazardly in constructing the Chronicles of Narnia. Even his borrowings have purpose. They are stock romantic motifs that have possibly not "yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve."

Of these the most important romantic motif, certainly the one which produces the most joy, is the happy ending or what Tolkien called the eucatastrophe (good Catastrophe). "All complete fairy-stories must have it," writes Tolkien ("On Fairy-stories" 81). The eucatastrophe, is "the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function" (81). The joy of the happy ending is "one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well," and is "a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to recur" (81).

Tolkien continues,

It does not deny the existence of dycatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium [good news], giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. (81)

Tolkien believed that the Gospels themselves contained "the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy" (83).

Each of the Chronicles ends in eucatastrophe. At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Aslan defeats the White Witch, thaws winter, and returns Christmas and spring to Narnia. Prince Caspian ends with the usurper Miraz killed and the rightful King Caspian on the throne. At the conclusion of The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" all seven of the noble lords are accounted for, and the crew reaches the remote end of the eastern sea (the very beginning of Aslan's country).

The Silver Chair concludes with Prince Rilian released from his enchantment, the enchantress destroyed, and King Caspian restored to his youthful self (albeit through death and resurrection). In The Horse and His Boy the sojourners reach free Narnia, the Calormenes are defeated, and Shasta and Aravis live as Crown Prince and Princess of Archenland. The Magician's Nephew ends with the expulsion of evil Jadis, the creation of Narnia itself, and healing for Digory's dying mother.

Yet the best eucatastrophe Lewis saved for last. The Last Battle serves not only as eucatastrophe for this but as a final happy ending for all the Chronicles of Narnia. Here a Narnia-gone-bad is itself destroyed while saving all that is good (beast and man) and transporting them to Aslan's land, a country like Narnia in every detail yet infinitely better in every way. Tolkien wrote that a good fairy-story accompanied by a skillfully crafted eucatastrophe "can give to child or man that hears it, when the `turn' comes, a catch of breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears . . ." ("On Fairy-stories" 81). Certainly the conclusion to The Last Battle has done so for literally millions of readers:

Then Aslan turned to them and said:

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands--dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning." And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (183-84)

To chapter 10

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