Tuesday 27 July 2021

Concerning a Narnian fish



After I’d thanked the Hertfordshire gentleman whose thoughtful letter prompted my post of last week – and yes, it was a real letter that came through a real letter box – he has written to me again. And I have to share it with you. This time it concerns a Narnian fish called a pavender, which is mentioned not only in Prince Caspian, but also in The Silver Chair when Jill and Eustace enjoy one of the few good meals of their adventure, a royal feast in the great hall of Cair Paravel.

The banners hung from the roof, and each course came in with trumpeters and kettledrums. There were soups that would make your mouth water to think of, and the lovely fishes called pavenders, and venison and peacock and pies, and ices and jellies and fruit and nuts, and all manner of wines and fruit drinks.

I’d sometimes idly wondered if there really might be a fish called a pavender – after all, there are plenty of strangely named English fishes, such as gudgeon, chub, dace, roach, etc – or whether Lewis had simply invented it. Well, the answer is neither, and it’s far more fun! Here is the Hertfordshire gentleman to explain it all:

"In Prince Caspian, as you may remember, Trumpkin catches and cooks for the Pevensies some delicious little fish called pavenders. This, I believe, is a private scholarly joke of Lewis’s. It is a reference to a poem published originally in Punch, called ‘A False Gallop of Analogies’, by one Warham St Leger. The conceit of the poem springs from a reference to ‘the chavender, or chub’ in Isaac Walton’s The Compleat Angler. So it begins:

There is a fine stuffed chavender,

A chavender, or chub

That decks the rural pavender

The pavender, or pub,

Wherein I eat my gravender,

My gravender, or grub…

And so on, with references to ‘sweet lavender, or lub’ and administering a snavender, or snub, to an intrusive young cavender, or cub; and the ravender, or rub, of having to return to town. If you are interested, you can find the whole poem in full at: http://www.poetrynook.com/poem/false-gallop-analogies."

(In fact I suggest you visit this link without delay and read the poem in full; it will make you happy!) The Hertfordshire gentleman continues:

"I am only aware of the poem through encountering it in the Festival of Britain issue of Punch, which I was given by my father at the time. As well as topical items … it contained an anthology of notable cartoons and other snippets, from issues over the past century. Lewis would no doubt relish the reference to the ‘pavender, or pub’ and have stored it away for future use"

I don’t need to tell you how delighted I am to have learned the origin of this obscure Narnian fish (or dish) and (in the words of the other Lewis, Lewis Carroll) to have un-dish-covered the fish and dish-covered the riddle.


Find my book, "From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my nine year-old self"  at Hive.co.uk, at Amazon.co.uk, and at all good bookshops.




  1. So like one of my favourites - the monkey flower or mimulus, the mimulus or musk etc..
    I wonder which came first?

  2. Replies
    1. This is awful! I can’t find it online. It goes something like this:
      The monkey flower or mimulus, the mimulus or musk,
      Is daintily subfimulus, is tenderly subfusk
      It grows beside the Immulus, the Immulus or Usk.
      And when at evening dimulus, all at the fall of dusk,
      Down to the stream I bimulus
      All eagerly I busk,
      I think of thee oh mimulus
      The mimulus or musk.
      Top quality poetry eh?

  3. This post and the poem it quotes (thanks for the link) is indeed much fun! It reminds me of another bit of doggerel which played fast and loose with words and rhymes, written by my late friend W M S Russell. He once sent me what he called ‘A tribute to English spelling’, an amusing poem in rhyming couplets which he entitled ‘Choughed’ (and which I quoted here, https://wp.me/s2oNj1-covid):

    "All over Cornwall, through and through,
    They think King Arthur is a chough,
    And so he is not dead, although
    Surviving changed into a chough.
    What is that sound, so like a cough?
    The call of Arthur as a chough.
    See how he sits on yonder bough,
    King Arthur as a handsome chough.
    And now I think I’ve said enough
    About King Arthur as a chough."

    Chris Lovegrove

  4. Wonderful! Thankyou for this splendid addition!

    1. You're welcome. Bill Russell, by the way, was president of the Folklore Society between 1979 and 1982 and was a frequent contributor to its newsletter. As editor of Pendragon, an amateur Arthurian journal, I was pleased he agreed to be president of the Pendragon Society, a position he held till his untimely death.

  5. What a great guy, what a great friend.

  6. How interesting. I heard only very recently that in Cornwall choughs are said to be an incarnation of King Arthur. We have them in the garden in Switzerland quite often.