The Furry Canon: The Chronicles of Narnia

20 Jul 2016 | Guest Poster

Guest post by HuskyteerHuskyteer writes stories and poems about talking animals. Most of these are published within the furry fandom, but sometimes one escapes into the wild. She enjoys motorcycle adventures, aviation museums, karate and cider.

It's one of the most iconic moments in literature. Even if you haven't read the books, or seen a TV or cinema adaptation, you're probably familiar with the image of a little girl walking through the back of a wardrobe into a snowy forest lit by an old-fashioned streetlamp. Both the scene and the title of the book - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - are sufficiently recognisable to be used as shorthand and appear in parody.

If that scene is all you know, it’s worth delving deeper. As well as the wise and noble, but also slightly terrifying, Aslan - ‘not a tame lion’ - there are creatures ranging from sublime unicorns to ridiculous but heroic mice. Badgers, bears, moles, mice, not to mention non-humans like centaurs, fauns and dryads (the Narnian mythos tends towards the classical).

(A small confession here: despite the plethora of gorgeous talking animals Narnia offers, my own favourite character is Puddleglum, the pessimistic Marsh-wiggle of The Silver Chair.)

Then there's the world of Narnia itself, introduced in the glorious, freewheeling fantasy of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, where Man may be no more than a myth. The four children, despite their credentials as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, are intruders on this domain. Narnia was created by Aslan for the benefit of its nonhuman inhabitants; humans blunder in by accident, or are summoned by Aslan to undo the deliberate or accidental harm done by other humans.

I cannot be the only reader who found Narnia less appealing in the later books, when the map has expanded and there are humans all over the place in Calormen, Archenland and the rest.

There’s a sense throughout the series that animals and semi-animals are more consistent than humans, with simpler desires and morality; a lion might eat you, but he’ll be honest about it. This ties in nicely with the idealism that goes with creating a fursona to be a better version of oneself, free of homo sapiens’s nastier traits.

Although humans come in various hues of morality, non-human characters are more likely to be evil the more they resemble humans, as is specifically called out by Mr Beaver’s warning not to trust anything that looks human but isn’t; see the giants of The Silver Chair for a good example.

Much of Lewis's philosophy lines up nicely with a furry way of thinking. Cruelty to animals, for instance, is a sure sign of evil. There’s an early indicator that the eponymous magician of The Magician's Nephew is a bit of a bounder in his callous indifference to the guinea pigs he uses in his research: “Some of them only died. Some exploded like little bombs…” The young protagonist, and the reader, are rightly disgusted.

Lewis neatly tackles the problem of feeding a world's anthropomorphic carnivores: there are Talking beasts, from bloodlines uplifted by Aslan at the creation of Narnia, and there are the ordinary sort, who are, quite literally, fair game. Consuming a sentient being is taboo, and the diner, if a Narnian native and the right sort, is likely to feel as if they have eaten a baby.

The author’s gifts to the furry community just keep on giving. As well as the inhabitants of Narnia, Lewis offers us a race of cute, anthropomorphic aliens, the otterlike hrossa of Mars in Out of the Silent Planet (the first book in the science fiction Cosmic Trilogy). I’m surprised that these creatures aren’t better known and loved in the fandom.

Then there's this quote from the essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

I feel all furries should aim to be courageous adults, maturing without letting go of the most magical things about childhood.

First and foremost, though, and right at the start of his series, C. S. Lewis offered countless children the possibility of a door into another world where magic is real, animals talk, and adventure awaits. As furries, many or most of us are still searching and hoping for that door. Like many such portals, it is supposed to close at childhood’s end, but surely there can be exceptions…

So, do the Chronicles of Narnia belong in the furry canon? Let's check those three criteria again.

Quality: Famously, C. S. Lewis read the first few pages of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to a friend at Oxford and enquired whether it was worth going on with. He received an emphatic yes, and went on for seven books.

These are well-written, often funny, and moral in a way that’s inspiring rather than preachy (who in their right mind would want to be like Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who almost deserved a name like that?), with page-turning plots and memorable characters. They don’t talk down to children, and they’re realistic about how an ordinary person might actually feel when called upon to perform heroics in a magical world.

Longevity: The postwar years saw a huge boom in children’s literature, with the newly-established Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin, supplying quality works both fantastic and realistic at affordable prices. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, first published in 1950, was one of the books that helped cement Puffin’s reputation.

Many of the Puffins which were praised on publication for their relevance and modernity now feel dated, yet Narnia’s popularity never seems to diminish. There have been Disney movies, stage plays, and a much-loved 1980s BBC series, but it is the source material, Lewis’s words and Pauline Baynes’s illustrations, that goes on and on, unchanging like the White Witch’s beautiful, endless winter (which I always found a much more striking image than Aslan’s spring).

Relevancy: Sadly, this is where the Chronicles of Narnia fall down. Although I know plenty of furs who have read and loved the books, the context is almost always that of a childhood favourite, rather than a gateway into the fandom. I've never heard anyone say that they were inspired to create a fursona by Reepicheep, or Maugrim. I have never - and if it’s out there please don’t tell me - encountered Aslan/Lucy slash.

Perhaps the problem is the religious themes that run through the books. This is the most common complaint to be thrown at the Chronicles, and, according to Furry Survey data, a high proportion of furs identify as atheist or agnostic.

I, as a longtime atheist, find that Lewis, perhaps more than any other human being, makes me feel favourably disposed towards religion, by imbuing it not only with sound reason but with joy, wonder and awe. And, while the Chronicles can be read as a series of parables, it is the plots and characters that shine through. The religious tail never wags the dog of the story.

Then again, maybe it’s the way wolves are always baddies that turns the furry reader off.

I don’t think the Chronicles of Narnia belong in the furry canon. But I do think that furries can get a lot out of the books, and that you’re missing out on something wonderful if you dismiss them because they’re religious or aimed at children.