Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

On October 16th, 1950, C.S. Lewis released the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia. The world had never seen that type of novel before. The idea of a few children hopping into another world where allegorical figures told timeless truths was an original one in the ’50s.

It isn’t anymore.

In all the years since I’ve been reading, I cannot count the amount of Narnia-style books that I have read. All could be summarized like this:

A child (or a couple of children) happen to find themselves in another world (usually after being upset for some reason) where they are prophesied to save the world. They find a European-style society with mythical creatures and oftentimes talking animals, and an allegorical representation of God and Jesus.

Though some add or take away minor elements, all of these “Pseudo-Narnias” as I like to call them follow the same basic pattern.

Authors have been called over the years some of the greatest thinkers in the world. We have imagination like no other type of people. We have the ability to critically think through problems and find solutions. We find it entertaining to create whole new worlds—so why have we churned out so many reproductions of the one most well-known book in children’s literature?

I am not a huge fan of world hopping. Even when I was seven years old and reading through The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, The Horse and His Boy was always my favorite of the series because it lacked moving between two worlds. Even when I was that young, I hated the feeling that I had seen all there was to see of world hopping—I would rather just be rid of it altogether.

Since then, I’ve read more books and eased off slightly on my no world-hopping rule (though it grew dramatically in between this time and that before it lessened). I’ve read some books where portals and other worlds were masterfully done.

The difference in these novels?

They lacked allegories. They lacked prophecies. They didn’t have random small children wandering into other worlds in order to save them without the slightest bit of strain or PTSD on the kids.

Personally I am of the opinion that if an author wishes for people to read The Chronicles of Narnia enough that they would be willing to write a book, they should instead firmly but politely direct them to the series. Instead of creating a Pseudo-Narnia, they should create their own stories, craft their own worlds, and leave clichés behind.

Ways to Avoid Creating Pseudo-Narnias

Avoid eight to ten-year old children who are upset about moving. Instead, try a thirty-two year old secret agent who was apparently born with a semi-automatic in his hand and an unending supply of bullets (but please, watch out for how many times he can shoot a gun in a row without having to reload).

Not all cultures are even vaguely European. Try creating your culture from scratch. Make things drastically different for your hero who just stepped out of modern America and into a strange land where the people are forbidden to eat round fruits from trees and children are expected to carry knives in their bags with their dip pens. Better yet, have your culture so incredibly different from ours that your character experiences culture shock.

Please, please don’t stick an allegory in there. I have nothing against allegories—indeed, one of my favorite books (Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl) is an allegory. However, with world-hopping people slipping off to other worlds from our own in order to save the world, sticking an allegory in is just the thing you need to be branded as yet another Lewis-impersonator.

Avoid—at all costs—prophecies, chosen ones, random children being picked to be a part of an elite fighting force when they have had no training and no particular skills, and people deciding quite randomly to have a ten-year-old be their commander. These things have been used to the point of being beyond cliché.

Better yet, turn the clichés on their heads. Flip them around. What if the prophecy that the young child believes turns out to be a fake one constructed by the villain just months before they arrived in the world? What if the person your character is fighting for is really the villain and your character is just the person your villain needs to get the people over to his side—someone from another world is working with him, so clearly he’s a good man, and shouldn’t the peasants he needs in his army decide to follow him, too?

In the sixty-five years since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published, hundreds of Pseudo-Narnias have been written. Thankfully, most didn’t make it to publication. Yet even with those missing, you could still probably find a Pseudo-Narnia for every day of the year with no problem.

You are a writer. You use your imagination for a living.

Don’t fall into the trap of creating yet another book that so closely mirrors that which was once your favorite novel in your childhood. You may draw inspiration from it. You may wish to give people the same feelings that you had while you were reading it.

But please do avoid recreating it entirely.

Have you ever started to create a Pseudo-Narnia? Are there any that you’ve read recently? What are some ways you know of that people can avoid copying Lewis?

Single Post Navigation

11 thoughts on “Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

  1. I actually really like world-hopping and I feature something like it in my book. It’s really time travel, but the times are so different it feels like different worlds. I think I steered clear of the Pseudo-Narnia. I have written some Pseudo-Narnias, however, though mainly Fanfiction.

  2. Pseudo-Narnia book ideas were a thing of when I was eleven and twelve. xP I’m no longer striving to create any type of story like that. I have no problem with world hopping, but writers do need to be original about it.
    However I do think that a couple of these types of books are masterfully done, like The Archives of Anthropos or the Hunter Brown series. (The former I think in some respects may be better than Narnia.) So I think that not all books which are copies of Narnia are incredibly bad. Just writers need to be more careful to provide original circumstances in these types of novels.

    • The Archives of Anthropos is definitely a good one, and the other world that I fell in love with as a child. If I was searching for another world, I would have been looking for Anthropos instead of Narnia; Anthropos was always way cooler. xP However, John White did intend for the books to be like Narnia for his children, and I think that some of the parts of the books could have been better. I think I particularly liked those because, even though they put children into other worlds to save it, they were honest about how things would work (for example, when John cursed in “Gaal the Conqueror” as a result of a stressful situation).

      As you say, stories similar to Narnia could be good if the writers were more careful to be original in them. I feel like writers are barely scratching the surface of the potential of that style because they stick too close to the way Narnia is.

  3. I am currently working on my own fantasy world novel right now, and you just burst my bubble by making me realize that it might be a little like Narnia. Except, no world hopping (my teens are natives to the world 😛 ), no allegory, and no “world prophecy”…

    • I think a little like Narnia is fine, as long as you make it your own story. And, to be honest, if your teens are natives to the world, that usually makes it about ten times better. I’ve seen your teaser, and your novel looks like it has a lot of potential on it’s own… I don’t think, from what I know of it, that I would consider it a Pseudo-Narnia. 🙂

  4. The Horse and his Boy was my favorite too.
    I’ve noticed the pseudonarnia is really bad in Christian literature, though I think few aspects of it make it into the mainstream. For one thing, it’s lazy writers, and I don’t mean lack of imagination either. It’s so much easier to get readers to relate to someone from this world, and secondly, it makes descriptions much easier since the narrator notices things that aren’t like Earth. I’m currently writing a sci-fi involving a character who has never been to Earth. It makes description difficult because I cannot say, “the animal looked like a cross between a dog and a cat” or even say someone had chestnut colored fur. (Who knows what a chestnut looks like?)
    The “Child Chosen One leading an army of more experienced veterans” is my most hated cliches. It’s even worse when it’s a Narnia-like situation and the kid is from a different world. Who in their right mind would stick a foreign kid, who knows nothing about the combat of that world or even the culture, in charge of a battle? This is lazy author syndrome to its full extent. (Maybe this could be turned on its head by having a child soldier fall through a portal into a peaceful culture that’s at war for the first time.)
    In Mockingjay, the leaders used Katniss as a figurehead, not a real leader. This was handled quite well and made sense for the story. In The Clone Wars, there was one instance of a prince who had little experience. This kid had advisors and looked for help. He didn’t do it all on his own.
    I think if a kid is leading, the author should at least show some problems in the ranks. For example, maybe some older person ends up trying to take over because he’s a veteran who thinks he’d be better suited for the job. (And he might be right too.)
    Also, language would be an interesting thing to play around with, or at least have characters wonder about. (I can’t easily believe that every fantasy world speaks modern English, which means there must be some kind of universal translation going on, so that might be fun to play around with.)

  5. Natasha Roxby on said:

    Oh my goodness, yes! My first proper false start was a Pseudo-Narnia, although without the allegory. My second false start would have been a Pseudo-Narnia/Heartless had I made it past the prologue. My third false start: also a Pseudo-Narnia. And I’ve had two other false starts that were based off of other books that weren’t Narnia. Yeah… It’s a very good point, Athelas! Thank you!

  6. I have actually never written a Pseudo-Narnia. Which is surprising, as that was one of my favorite books as a child. No, my childhood writing was more along the lines of time travel and DWish things. Which is weird because I’d never heard of DW at age eleven. 😛

    My current novel features an incredibly odd/complicated world-hopping. And it’s not really a world hopping in the sense that Narnia is. It’s more like…fantasy world-ception. Also time travel happens. So really nothing like Narnia or any other “Pseudo-Narnia” I’ve ever seen. And I have seen a lot. I’ve also never written/attempted to write an allegory. Those have never really been my type, aside from Narnia.

    Anyways, I liked this post. Good points.

  7. Oh, yes, I have seen a ton of Pseudo-Narnia books. At times it can be a little bit annoying, but being a writer I understand how difficult it is not to fall to the usual cliches. I try to pay close attention to my plots so that I avoid cliches, or at least make them new. Like you said, there’s nothing wrong with cliches such as allegories as long as those cliches have a unique twist.

I love hearing your comments. Please add to the discussion! (It'd be awesome if you could keep the comments G Rated. Thanks. :p)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: