The Underworld, Otherworld, Faerielond, and Underland

The Unbridled Warhorse poses a query about The Silver Chair:

Scrubb, Pole, and Puddleglum fall down to the Underworld.

I’ve been struck this go around about the obvious parallels to Hades. It isn’t meant to be a hell I don’t think because the creatures there aren’t damned. There are certainly death-like themes though. The conflation seems not straightforward, but the construction is too obviously classical don’t you think?

The classical underworld, for example in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as told in Virgil (Georgics IV.456 ff.), Ovid (Metamorphoses X.1-85), and even Boethius (Consolatio Philosophiae III, met. xii.49-58) evolves into a mere otherworld in the Middle English poem Sir Orfeo. Rather than subterranean, it is more of a “parallel” world of fairy, and rather than containing shades it is inhabitted by people that seem dead, but aren’t (“thought dede, and nare nought”). This in turn seems to become the “faerielond” of Spenser.

So while the Underland of The Silver Chair resembles Hades geographically, its non-ghost inhabitants suggest an “otherworld” rather than an infernal parallel. But its derivation from Orfeo is clinched, I think, by the fact that Prince Rilian’s mother is killed while taking a daytime nap under a tree, and Rilian himself is later kidnapped from the same location. Similarly in Sir Orfeo, Queen Heurodis is abducted by the Fairy King while she is taking a nap under a tree at midday, an event Lewis merely distributes between queen and prince. Yet Lewis also associates his version with the original myth in that his queen is, like Eurydice, killed by a serpent.

So Narnia’s Underland is related to the classical underworld, I think, largely because Orfeo‘s fairy world is an analogue of the underworld. The Earthmen enslaved in Underland, however, seem more like dwarves, and they come from an even lower world which is very hot and inhabited by fire salamanders and stuff, more like the Norse Muspellheim I suppose. So Lewis’ geography, like the rest of Narnia, is an eclectic amalgam: concentric like the Inferno, but filled with living creatures proper to each realm rather than fit only for the afterlife.

Incidentially, the theme of abduction to an otherworld had been previously attempted in The Dark Tower, Lewis’ abandoned sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, in which (according to editor Hooper’s speculation, pp. 97-98) the girlfriend of Scudamour had been switched with her doppleganger from Othertime. Also according to Hooper, the girlfriend’s surname was originally Ammeret, as in Sir Scudamore and Amoret, who is kidnapped in Book III of the Faerie Queene. The Dark Tower fragment itself ends (pp. 90-91) with Scudamour reading about an experiment in Othertime in which a child is exchanged between the timelines, a twist on the classic “changelings” of fairy stories.

In fact, Saint George himself — the Redcrosse knight — was a changeling, in an explosion of intertextuality that brings us back not only to Spenser but (etymologically) to Virgil’s Georgics, where we began:

From thence a Faerie thee vnweeting reft,
There as thou slepst in tender swadling band,
And her base Elfin brood there for thee left.
Such men do Chaungelings call, so chaungd by Faeries theft.

Thence she thee brought into this Faerie lond,
And in an heaped furrow did thee hyde,
Where thee a Ploughman all vnweeting fond,
As he his toylesome teme that way did guyde,
And brought thee vp in ploughmans state to byde,
Whereof Georgos he thee gaue to name;

Faerie Queene I. x. 65. 6 – 66. 6


4 thoughts on “The Underworld, Otherworld, Faerielond, and Underland

  1. Ryan says:

    Mike Mignola likes to tap all four ideas in his Hellboy books.

    There’s a great story about switching babies (sort of — the one the faeries give turns out to be an impish changeling in baby-disguise) in The Corpse.

    Let’s see if I can remember (and correctly label — my definitions may be way off) examples of all four from Hellboy:

    Underworld – Pamcakes story. The reaction to Hellboy trying the “pamcakes” is seen in a city in Hell (IIRC).

    Otherworld – Baba Yaga stories and ygdrassil. Maybe the Oggdru Jahad.

    Faerielond – The Corpse (above)

    Underland – Would the mermaid story from the newest book count?

  2. MWS says:

    Helpful indeed!

  3. […] See his most constructive and insightful answers here. […]

  4. […] The Horsey for Most Outrageously Informative Response to a Question Posted Here goes to Nobody at Any Eventuality for his comments on The Silver Chair and pagan ideas of the underworld. Nobody wins GBP 5 for raising the international standard of this site and posting from the UK. And $5 from Amazon probably doesn’t help a UK resident much. […]

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