The Beavers of Narnia

I couldn’t remember if I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid until I got to the scene about Turkish Delight. (How many little, American kids trudged through that chapter wondering, “What the heck is Turkish Delight? And if it’s so delicious, why haven’t I tried any?!”)

Anyway, I was inspired to pick the book up again recently for two reasons: 1) An event at the amazing independent bookstore, The Open Book; and, 2) BEAVERS!

I just finished the book (again), and I’ve got thoughts…

I kept reading the same little snippet in various beaver-related writings that blamed C. S. Lewis and this book for the erroneous belief that beavers eat fish. Not only do the characters named Mr. and Mrs. Beaver eat fish- they also eat buttered potatoes, ham, onions, and bread- thanks to the oven in their lodge! They drink beer and enjoy steaming hot tea with sticky marmalade roll. (Not to mention the pipe smoking!) How do people accept as fact that beavers eat fish but somehow reject that they indulge in this other quite human fare? Real beavers are far more likely to dig up roots, tubers, and bulbs like wild potatoes and onions than they are to grab a trout, bare-pawed, at an ice hole. Are the selective imaginations of readers not also to blame for this misunderstanding? I think it’s time we let our buddy Clive Staples off the hook for this one.

There are many things he got right. The Mr. and Mrs. build and maintain a dam (which isn’t ever really finished…how truly beaverish), live in a lodge from which “a hole in the roof smoke was going up,” and are kept warm during the eternal winter by layers of fur. And while Narnian beavs speak with bad grammar when they are excited, indeed, “in our world they usually don’t talk at all.”

Usually.

There is another similarity between these fictional furbearers and real ones. By helping the four children find Aslan the lion and defeat the White Witch, the beavers bring spring- most importantly water and greenery- to the landscape of Narnia. I once stood at the edge of a beaver pond at winter’s end, and the sound of melting snow, and water dripping and trickling through the dam was some of the most delightful music I’ve ever heard. Like Narnia in early spring, beaver ponds are filled with the sacred sound of water dancing across the land.

Winter at the beaver pond

Furthermore, as the ice thaws, biodiversity returns to Narnia in the form of wildflowers, kingfishers swooping, and thrushes singing- just like real beavers and the wetlands they create, providing habitat for so many species.

As the book nears its conclusion, Aslan the lion says, “Peace, Beaver,” and that is indeed what these two loveable characters help restore to Narnia. Beavers are bringers of water, greenery, and life- in fantastical fiction, and here in our own, also-magical world.

“I think it’s a nice beaver,” said Lucy.

I couldn’t agree more.

Illustration from pg. 72 of the HarperTrophy 2007 paperback edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

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