C.S. Lewis speaking in accents clear but stilled

"Good evening," said Lucy. But the Faun was so busy picking up its parcels that at first it did not reply. When it had finished it made her a little bow.

"Good evening, good evening," said the Faun. "Excuse me – I don't want to be inquisitive – but should I be right in thinking that you are a Daughter of Eve?"

"My name's Lucy," said she, not quite understanding him.

"But you are – forgive me – you are what they call a girl?" said the Faun.

"Of course I'm a girl," said Lucy.

"You are in fact Human?"

"Of course I'm human," said Lucy, still a little puzzled.

"To be sure, to be sure," said the Faun. "How stupid of me! But I've never seen a Son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve before. I am delighted. That is to say – " and then it stopped as if it had been going to say something it had not intended but had remembered in time. "Delighted, delighted," it went on. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tumnus."

"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr Tumnus," said Lucy.

"And may I ask, O Lucy Daughter of Eve," said Mr Tumnus, "how you have come into Narnia?"

"Narnia? What's that?" said Lucy.

"This is the land of Narnia," said the Faun, "where we are now; all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel on the eastern sea. And you – you have come from the wild woods of the west?"

"I – I got in through the wardrobe in the spare room," said Lucy.

"Ah!" said Mr Tumnus in a rather melancholy voice, "if only I had worked harder at geography when I was a little Faun, I should no doubt know all about those strange countries. It is too late now."

—C.S. Lewis, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", ch. 2.

It's obvious. It stands out a mile. How could any reader (at least, any reader in the British Isles) possibly miss it? To miss it, surely, is equivalent to being within a mile of the ear-deafening, glare-blinding and ground-shaking of a moon-shot rocket launch yet being unaware.

I was a late reader of the Chronicles of Narnia; approaching 22. And I simply read the passage above. And, of course, the brilliant thing about reading, over and against television, film or theatre, is that our own head-pictures – including the imagined voices – are so much richer, so much more vivid.

At the fourth line, Tumnus' "But you are – forgive me – you are…", I had, without realising, begun to settle on my "head voice" for Tumnus.

By the sixth line, Tumnus' "You are in fact Human?", that realisation had drifted towards consciousness.

And by the eighth line, Tumnus' double-statement "To be sure, to be sure", I almost burst out in joy "Oh, yes, of course!" Now, many people burst out in joy. But my nature is more (as I would 'connect' from a later chronicle) Puddleglum; not particularly given to such outward exclamation. Which is why, over forty years later, it still remains so vivid.

Seen it yet? Or, better, heard that head-voice yet?

Try it again. Think about various regional accents around the British Isles. Think about C.S. Lewis growing up. But recall that this was not in England but, rather, in Ireland. And recall, too, his deep love of folklore, myth and legend.

Got it yet? In case not, imagine now that Tumnus is one of Lewis' deeply beloved characters from his own Irish folklore. Now read again the passage above.

Each and every one of those lines, and further, different cues in later lines, quietly communicates to readers in the British Isles that the specifically "Home Counties" English Lucy is meeting someone from a very different region, in this case, for this innocent children's story someone from over the sea in Ireland. Even the line "if only I had worked harder at geography when I was a little Faun" plays on perceived stereotyping across the water… and remember that the astonishingly brilliant Lewis should here be seen self-identifying with his fellow-countryman, the Irish Tumnus.

Oh, and in Tumnus' line "You are in fact Human?", did you spot the capitalisation of "Human" rather than "human"? Very subtle. But present nonetheless, like a near-invisible comma punctuation mark. Just enough to cause a subliminal pause in our head-voicing of the Irish Tumnus.

Have we stilled the lively aspect of accent in Narnia?

Lucy and Tumnus: two people (initially) separated by a common language.[1]

(To be continued… a lot! After all, various episodes across the (poorly named) "Space Trilogy" are about translating English into English! Admittedly that aspect is much more about content and philology rather than accent, but the principles seem similar.)

[1] From a famous aphorism by Lewis near-contemporary Oscar Wilde