The glistening citadel of this dateline does not in fact exist, but to children it can be more real than many an actual place: Cair Paravel is the capital of Narnia, the setting of what was, until Harry Potter, the world's best-selling fantasy series. The seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, by the mid-century Irish writer C. S. Lewis, has some 65 million copies in print in thirty languages. In the books several English schoolchildren are transported to a realm where a human society modeled on the Arthurian court coexists with strange creatures, intelligent animals, and magic. Always the young visitors perform some improbable feat to rescue the kingdom from sinister forces. Presiding over events is Aslan, an enormous supernatural lion who called forth Narnia, loves English schoolchildren, and appears whenever hope seems lost.
Although Narnia has survived countless perils, the Chronicles themselves are now endangered. On one front they face the dubious honor of corporate marketing. On another literary voices have begun to denounce them as racist and sexist works. What's in progress is a struggle of sorts for the soul of children's fantasy literature.
American readers may already know of the corporate designs on Narnia. The New York Times reported in the spring that the publishing conglomerate HarperCollins, which recently acquired the rights to Lewis's work, plans a major marketing push for the Chronicles. Toy stores will be inundated with Narnia plush, and HarperCollins will commission new volumes for the series. Any parent who has encountered one of the odious Winnie-the-Pooh movies produced by Disney—sitcom and psychobabble invade the Hundred Acre Wood—will gasp at the thought of the HarperCollins marketing department's deciding it knows better than C. S. Lewis did what constitutes The Chronicles of Narnia. Besides, Narnia's world was destroyed when its dying sun exploded, in the final volume of the Chronicles. This would seem to preclude sequels—but hey, who wants to be a stickler?