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Dark Side of Narnia

11.09.2007


I've always enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia (not the newer film, however), but Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series (The Golden Compass) raises an interesting point in an interview with Atlantic:

"Pullman gets annoyed whenever he recalls a passage in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia: In the final book of the series, Lewis excludes Susan Pevensie, the oldest sister, from what is essentially paradise because she is "interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations." Pullman, in an essay called "The Dark Side of Narnia," cites this as evidence that Lewis disliked women and sexuality and was "frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up."

Clearly Lewis liked females--Lucy is his main character in the Narnia books. I wouldn't ever classify him as a misogynist. But I was always saddened by his denial of Susan to paradise based on her liking lipstick and stockings and a social life. Thoughts?

17 comments:

Mr. Head said...

I'm not sure what to make of this, but I thought I would mention that there was a Christian Scholars Review that came out sometime in the past couple of years with an article that discussed Lewis' latent misogyny. I don't know if I buy it, but it's kind of weird that this criticism is found in a number of places.

lindsey.overstreet said...

my love of lewis may lead to my gracious understanding of this portion of narnia, but i have always presumed susan's rejection to be more in relation to a form of idolatry. perhaps it isn't that lipstick, stalkings, and social life are bad, but if they are the only thing...
i also do not have a theological perspective that embraces the "once saved, always saved" mentality. this is always an on-going disagreement between brandon and i, but i can't quite accept that if i choose to believe at one point in my life that i don't have the ability to reject that belief later in life. there are flaws with my thinking to be sure, but i believe that our faith means most in our freedom to choose--each moment.

Maryann said...

Wow! I'd like to read that. It is weird that is something multiple people have picked up on.

Maryann said...

You're right Lindsey--Susan's exclusion could have to do with idolatry. I guess I just wish that Lewis had gone into more detail about it, perhaps explaining himself and this beloved character a bit more. I can't quite remember--it's been a while since I read the series, but does Aslan or any of Susan's siblings express grief about her exclusion. It just feels heartless to me.

Kristen said...

Philip Pullman on the Christian church: "... given the slightest chance, they'd be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches."

If that is his perspective of Christianity, I'm not sure I'd give much weight to his understanding of CS Lewis and his body of work.

Maryann said...

That's a good point Kristen--Pullman has already predisposed himself to dislike and distrust anything Christian, which is really sad. But I don't know if that means none of his critiques are valid.

Jenny said...

I think C.S. Lewis really was trying to make the point that Susan doesn't make time for Aslan & Narnia anymore, rather than making a point about what she does spend her time on...(like Lindsey touched on above). of course, i am rather biased in Lewis' favor. Good questions though - I should go back and re-read those books mostly because they are so enjoyable!!

Spiro said...

hey, great post.
i read the dark side of narnia article, and I think it a riveting conversation to have about a text that people hold very closely. Pullman's arguments are a bit overkill, but I think that much conversation could be had out of his claims:
(for lewis) "Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on."

i am most intrigued by the death is better than life argument. The last thing to come to me while reading the last battle. of course, i already have an echatological working model, and it isn't 'death is better than life' it entails resurrection-- not escapism from this life. thought provoking!

Spiro said...

i might just have to blog about this :)

Kristen said...

I didn't mean that nothing he says could ever be valid - just that he apparently has no interest in an honest examination of Christianity, and yet he wrote an essay that tries to malign a Christian author whose body of work focuses primarily on Christianity. His inflammatory language makes it pretty clear that his critiques of Lewis and Christianity in general are more meanspirited than constructive or scholarly.

Actually, now that I think about it, if he really believes that the Christian church desires nothing more than to physically assault homosexuals, maybe it makes sense that he thinks that Lewis hated women.

Maryann said...

Spiro--please blog about it! I know you'd have lots of insight and so do your readers. Kristen, it's true, he may be looking for anything and everything that could possibly make Lewis sound like a misogynist or a bigot or racist or homophobic. And not just Lewis, but any Christian. And yes, conversation does not seem like Pullman's goal at all. I think it's fascinating that he could have written a novel as good as the Golden Compass (or so I hear) with a motive to merely create a non-Christian alternative to Tolkien and Lewis. Who would think that creativity could come from such negativity. I will try to find the Christian Scholar's Review article and see what the perspective of that writer is. I'm really glad you've contributed to this, you always give me stuff to chew on.

And Jenny--did you get your cards???

kristen said...

In other news, can I steal your kitten?

Maryann said...

Yes. We've had to package tape our carpet under our doors because it rips it up when they're closed. It's very classy looking to have plastic floors these days.

But we'd miss him if he was gone...

Fosterface said...

I read that article too, and was stunned by the quote that Narnia is misogynistic, racist, death-obsessed.... Like you said, Lucy is the main character, quick to befriend Mr. Tumnus, who would be of another race if anything in the story is, and Aslan's death is not the end of the story at all. May as well call Rocky IV "death-obsessed" because Apollo Creed dies. Sorry for the bad analogy.

Regarding Susan's fate, perhaps the children's fantasy angle of the book can provide an insight: Susan is the fastest to grow up, and that may imply that she would be first to reject children's stories, fantasy, etc. Such "pragmatic" rationalism, rather than awakening, sexual or otherwise, would undermine faith in the stuff of Narnia.

Any thoughts?

Maryann Shaw said...

True, Susan's growing up may mean she rejected children's stories/fantasy and therefore Narnia, but look at all of us 'adults' who still love this series and other fantasies written for children?

Maryann Shaw said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of a two year research project on the argument that Pullman has attempted to start with CS Lewis and the Narnia books and happened to come across this post. I think it interesting that so many are willing to debate a topic that has consumed my life for so many months. So if you will accept my input I will gladly give it. The issue with Susan being rejected from the Stable (which is a metaphor for Heaven) has nothing to do with lipstick, nylons, or invitations. Lewis believed that the greatest sin one can commit is to fall prey to Pride. It was for pride that Satan rose up against God and through pride that man fell. After all the argument that led Adam and Eve to sin was that they may become "like God." It was through pride that the anti-God state of mind came into existence. Thus the issue here is Susan's pride, namely through vanity. If you've read The Horse and His Boy you have met the adult Susan, she is beautiful and sought after by the kings of all the surrounding lands. She becomes vain, and that vanity seeps into life when she is home in her own world. There she falls prey to the attention she is getting and quickly rejects Narnia. it can be assumed that though she hasn't forgotten, for who could ever truly forget an encounter with Aslan, but she has rejected. She has walked away from all that she once cherished. And that is consistant with Lewis's High Church Anglican theology. Just some thoughts, hope they help.