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.

TotnesAccording 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.