About a year ago, as I was working through the revisions of Axon, Inc., I got into an intense discussion with my brilliant and beautiful wife Ali about the Chronicles of Narnia. It’s a series I adored when I was younger, but when I read it again to my kids when they were very young, I began to notice some serious issues with it. Then Ali and I read Dr Michael Ward‘s excellent book Planet Narnia, about the medieval inspirations for the seven books and their symbolism, and it inspired us to read the series again together.
What we found was, frankly, kind of horrifying. It wasn’t that the books had a strong Christian message; Harry Potter also has a strong Christian message, as does the Lord of the Rings, and they’re awesome. It also wasn’t the glorification of violence, or even bullying (which is tacitly accepted in some places, even while it is explicitly denounced in others). It was the sexism. Ye gods, the sexism!
We both considered writing in-depth blog posts on the subject, but we found that other people had done much more in-depth studies. (A quick google will show you a bunch of them, as well as a taste of the huge controversy about the topic.) And in any case, what we wanted, really, was not for Narnia to be taken down, destroyed, and shamed. We wanted a Narnia that we could proudly read to our children; a Narnia that fully explored the amazing potential of a world where women could be both queens and witches, where animals could talk and be treated as citizens equal to humans, where the intersection of Christian redemption and the wild beauty of naturalistic deities was explored properly. We wanted a Narnia we could believe in again. We wanted Narnia as it should have been.
I wanted to write a special kind of fan fiction. I would leave the original seven novels untouched — there was no point in going back and trying to ‘fix’ them; that would be boring for everyone. No, I wanted a new Narnia story, a story that would (a) explain, in some way, why the original stories were ‘wrong’, and (b) redeem Narnia, make it whole. And the most natural person to perform this redemption was, of course, Susan — the lone character in the original books who is not redeemed, who rejects Narnia, and who, ironically enough, actually survives past the last chapter.
I made a start on this, but it quickly grew into a rather complex project and I decided to set it aside while I finished Axon. Now that Axon, Inc. is out for beta readers, it’s a good time for me to take a break and work on something completely different. Plus, it’s National Novel Writing Month!
Here, then, is the first paragraph of this fanfic:
Sarah Patrick was her name, although that was not how she was known to most of the world. In fact, if you told most people the basic facts of her life — aged 22, from London but spent most of her summers in the countryside during the War, lost her two brothers and sister in a tragic train accident six years ago, now graduated Oxford and engaged to be married to Mark Weybridge next month —none of this would trigger any recognition of her identity. If you mentioned that she’d spent those summers sequestered in a lonely rambling house, full of secret rooms and passages, looked after by a strange professorial man and a strict housekeeper, still, no one would know who she was. Oddly enough, though, the mention of one piece of furniture in that rambling old house — a completely ordinary piece of furniture, to be sure, although an excellent example of its type, and handcrafted from a maple that once grew on the property, used primarily for storing fluffy winter coats — one mention of this piece of furniture, and almost everyone in the world would know exactly who she was. For it was, of course, a wardrobe.