Totnes, twinned with Narnia

Another reflection jumping off from TEDxExeter, this time Rob Hopkins’ talk about Totnes, “My Town in Transition”.

Rob poked a bit of fun at Totnes, showed this image, and we the audience laughed. But a few hours later I found myself questioning assumptions and thinking about misrepresentations.

Totnes twinned with Narnia

According to the Herald Express, the sign was painted in 2006 and 2011, and returned again in March this year. A previous version has been used as an illustration in a PhD thesis, “Twinned with Narnia? The postcapitalist possibilities of a countercultural place”. Narnia itself is used as an eye-catching title, and is not explored at all in the thesis, but to quote: “The amended sign … is an indication of [Totnes’] reputation as a centre of ‘New Age’ or ‘Alternative’ cultures, some of which might be criticised as verging [on] the realms of fantasy.”

The Herald Express called Narnia a “mystical town”. Mystical, maybe in a sense, but a town? Had the journalist actually read CS Lewis’ books?

Yet I wonder whether the Doctor of Philosophy and the wags who changed the sign had read them either. Yes there are some twee elements to Narnia: tea and toast, talking squirrels and golly-gosh dialogue. But Narnia is by no means a fairy fantasy land. CS Lewis’ stories include powerful myth, in the sense of narrative telling a deeper truth – myth of creation, redemption, repentance and apocalypse.

So in a way, the implication of this ‘twinning’ also does Totnes a disservice. The Transition movement is another powerful story, of addiction (to oil and carbon-intensive lifestyles), repentance (‘metanoia’, turning away from our addiction) and community. Totnes is its cradle, and thankfully celebrates and is proud of that. There are many ideas worth spreading.

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