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?