Charn

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Charn is a fictional city appearing in the 1955 book The Magician's Nephew, book six in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, written as a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Charn, and the planet and possibly entire "World" (in the books World refers to universe) of which it is the capital city, are the birthplace of Jadis, the evil White Witch who later takes over Narnia. When visited briefly by Digory and Polly, the protagonists of the novel, the city is totally deserted, lifeless and crumbling, under a dying sun. Rivers have dried up, and not even weeds or insects live. All life on the planet of Charn had been destroyed by Jadis through an evil magic spell. In the novel the city stands as an example of the dead end that can result if a civilization succumbs to evil.

During their visit, Digory accidentally wakes Jadis from suspended animation, and she is able to leave the planet with them.

History[edit]

According to Jadis, Charn was once the greatest city of her unnamed world, "the wonder of all worlds". It was ruled by a line of magically-adept emperors and empresses, of whom Jadis was the last. By the time the protagonists enter, the world is now an arid wasteland, with no living organisms to be seen anywhere, and the city on the brink of collapse.

Magic may have been widely used in Charn; Jadis referred to the common use of magic carpets for transportation. However, its use was apparently limited to the nobility, who inherited inborn magical powers. Jadis dismissed Andrew Ketterley, Digory's magician uncle, as an amateur conjurer without a drop of real magic blood in his veins, saying, "Your kind was made an end of in my world a thousand years ago."

Apparently dragons were also once abundant in Charn, and in the service of the royal and noble families.

The Hall of Images in the royal palace exhibits lifelike images of the past rulers of Charn, all remarkably tall and incredibly beautiful, and all crowned and seated upon thrones. The sequence of these images, through the expressions on their faces, tells a story of a world which was once benevolent but degenerated into a cruel, tyrannical empire. The early Emperors and Empresses of Charn were kind and decent, but as the centuries passed their lineage evolved into one of malevolence, corruption and evil, and even despair, seeing their subjects as property to be killed if they deemed it necessary. Slavery was once common in Charn, as was human sacrifice. The last queen of Charn was Jadis; however, there are numerous empty thrones after her, symbolising a premature end to the dynasty of Charn.

As Jadis leads the children through the decaying palace, she describes the cruelty of Charn and its leaders. She points out dungeons and torture chambers to them, and recounts that her great-grandfather invited seven hundred nobles to a banquet and slaughtered them all "before they had drunk their fill", for they had "rebellious thoughts."

The destruction of Charn[edit]

Jadis is responsible for the eradication of all life on Charn, but blamed the destruction on her sister. Jadis and her sister fought a war for the throne, which Jadis lost. Jadis claimed she had offered to spare her sister's life if she surrendered, so the resulting destruction was the nameless sister's fault. Jadis obliterated her kingdom and all its people rather than relinquish her power over them.

According to Jadis' own account, her sister had started a long and murderous civil war. There was a solemn oath between Jadis and her unidentified sister that neither side would use magic; a pact broken by the sister. After a three-day battle in the city, the sister won and came to take her prisoner.

In the ruling family of Charn, there was knowledge of an evil spell, the Deplorable Word, which would destroy all life except the one who spoke it, but they did not know the word itself. Although her ancestors had bound themselves and their descendants with oaths never even to seek knowledge of this spell, Jadis had sought it out and learned it, saying she paid "a terrible price" to learn it. Her sister knew she had discovered the Deplorable Word, but did not think she would use it. Facing defeat, Jadis spoke the Deplorable Word which annihilated all living things under the Sun apart from herself.

After this, she put herself into an enchanted sleep in the Hall of Images. During her enchanted slumber all water in Charn dried up, and the once magnificent city crumbled into ruin.

The waking of Jadis[edit]

The spell that bound Jadis was broken when Digory Kirke, arriving in Charn with Polly Plummer, succumbed to temptation and rang a bell in the royal palace where Jadis slumbered, along with images of her royal ancestors, after reading a verse which hinted that he would be driven mad by curiosity if he did not do so.

Charn's Sun is a red giant described as red, large, and cold. When Digory asks Jadis about the sun's appearance, she asks him about our world's Sun. When informed that our sun is yellow, brighter, smaller, and "gives off a good deal more heat," she remarks with sudden interest, "Ah, so yours is a younger world."

Charn was completely destroyed after Jadis and the children left. Later, when Aslan and the children are in the Wood between the Worlds, Aslan shows them that the puddle leading to Charn is dried up, as the empty world has been destroyed. Jadis entered Narnia with the humans from Earth, and 900 years later appears as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, ruling that land for 100 years until Aslan returned and defeated her with the aid of the four Pevensie children.[1]

Commentary[edit]

Some[who?] believe that Charn stands for the natural progression of human depravity. There is a striking similarity between Jadis's description of the life and death of her city and the text of the prophetic book of Nahum concerning the Biblical city of Nineveh. There are also similarities between the world of Charn, and the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities whose depravity and wickedness resulted in their own devastation. Judging from the expressions of the waxwork images of Jadis' ancestors, it is apparent that while her race started out being gentle and wise, they later became corrupt. This has a parallel in J. R. R. Tolkien's depictions of the Kings of Númenor (Lewis and Tolkien were friends). The hall of waxworks may also be inspired by the underground grotto of mummies in King Solomon's Mines, an image which Lewis found very powerful.[2] The name "Charn" suggests "charnel house," a repository for human skeletal remains.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sammons, Martha C. (1979). A Guide Through Narnia. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers. pp. 110–111. ISBN 0-87788-325-4. 
  2. ^ See his essay "The Mythopoeic Gift of H. Rider Haggard", in Of This and Other Worlds.