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Peter T Chattaway

Narnia: Pre-release discussion of LWW

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Posted this on my blog yesterday, but I think it's worth noting here:

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, the author of The Golden Compass attacks C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia as "racist" and "misogynistic."

If you think Pullman's accusations are interesting, wait until you read the comments following the article.

On my blog, Neb commented:

Pullman amazes me yet again with his abundance of sour grapes. I've read the Narnia chronicles, and I've read the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. If the Narnia stuff is love-less and misogynistic, then Pullman's trilogy is positively nihilistic and even more misogynistic. Love, real love, abounds throuhout the Narnia series. There are evil women AND men.

What is Pullman's problem? He is a gifted (if neurotic) writer who's prose is a delight to read. On the other hand, I found his trilogy to be, on the whole, depressing, especially the final chapter. Does he feel superior because he is darker and edgier? Are we supposed to see his world view as superior because he makes God out to be a third-rate hack angel on His last legs? Is the world he created a better one because the Church is founded on lies, there is no good or evil (only relative utilitarian objectives), and love only leads to misery? I'll take Lewis or Tolkien any day.

At another link we see the full Pullman quote:

"If the Disney corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they'll just have to tell lies about it. It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue. The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books."

Isn't it interesting that an author whose anti-Christian novels include heroic characters coming right out and saying, "Christianity is a lie," is criticizing the Narnia chronicles because they apparently "lack Christian virtue"?

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As I am in the middle of reading the Narnia books, I do think the "racism" charge has some merit, depending on how seriously we take the remarks of the Beavers that I quoted a few posts back. I get into this more at your/Jeff's blog (depending on who I'm addressing here!), and I've been discussing it with a couple friends here.

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Caveats about racial attitudes in the Narnia stories pursuant to the White Witch I find unpersuasive. In mythology, some races are simply evil -- e.g., orcs and trolls in Middle-Earth -- just as demons are evil. It's true that demons are actually a subset of angels, just as in a way orcs are derived from elves, etc., but it's also true that orcs, like demons, are just pure evil, not a mixture of good and evil.

The White Witch is described by Mr. Beaver as half Jinn (from Lilith, the matriarch of the Jinn) and half giantess. The jinn for Lewis are presumably wholly evil, while giants, like angels, come in good and bad varieties (but they seem to be different clans or breeds, not just individuals with different moral polarities). Presumably Jadis's giant father would be one of the evil sort.

Interestingly, there seems to be some dispute whether subsequent revelations about Jadis's origins undermine Mr. Beaver's story. FWIW, I went to the NYC Narnia "event," and when I asked Doug Gresham about Jadis's ancestry, he described Mr. Beaver's account as an "old wives' tale" and stated that Jadis's ancestry was not from Earth, but from Charn. Similar interpretations can be found on Wikipedia (though Wikipedia actually seems to have conflicting accounts on this point).

Personally, I find Gresham's claim unconvincing. To begin with, I'm not sure that importing the concept of an "old wives' tale" into Narnia isn't a kind of category mistake. The whole idea of Narnia, as I understand it, is summed up in that quote from Perelandra about how "what is myth in one world might always be fact in some other." Narnia is the place where all our stories about fauns, dryads, Father Christmas, monopods, the world being flat, etc. are all real. Why should there not also be a place for Lilith?

Okay, true, Lilith is messier because she's supposed to be wrapped up in our own history (Adam's first wife). Still, nothing in the books leads us to regard the Beavers' views on these things with suspicion -- certainly not her origins in Charn. Why should Charn not have been populated by the offspring of Lilith? I can't begin to think.

(Dr. Cornelius as a dwarf who is both good and human-like is not a very persuasive rebuttal to the Beavers' views of human-like dwarfs. After all, he is half-human.)

Now, having said all that, I think it's more reasonable to raise questions about racism in Narnia vis-a-vis the clearly Middle-Eastern Calormenes. Certainly the (mostly) good northern European Narnian/Telmarines (?) and the (mostly) bad Arabic Calormenes is perhaps a bit more jarring than it once was. Even so, I think Lewis's point was cultural and (even more) religious, not racial. And certainly there could be good Calormenes (e.g., Emeth) and bad Narnian/Telmarines (e.g., Miraz).

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SDG wrote:

: To begin with, I'm not sure that importing the concept of an "old wives' tale" into

: Narnia isn't a kind of category mistake.

Heh. I finally got around to finishing Prince Caspian last night, and on page 177 of my copy, Miraz says the stories about "Peter and Edmund and the rest" are "old wives' fables".

Incidentally, I think this book just may be Exhibit A in that "paganism of Narnia" article I keep threatening to write. The book is very much about the revival of the pagan past and the defeat of the modern present -- the way Aslan tells Bacchus to set free the river-god so that he can destroy the bridge of Beruna and make that place the FORDS of Beruna once again, the way Aslan destroys those schools that teach very "dull" forms of history that are not as true as adventure stories, etc., etc.

I am also intrigued to see how Lewis describes the children at those schools as being very fat. The girls at the girls' school "were mostly dumpy, prim little girls with fat legs." And the boys' school is attended by "a number of boys who looked very like pigs," and who seem to have been turned into pigs by Aslan within a few paragraphs (though Lewis seems willing to allow that THIS last detail might be, uh, an old wives' fable).

I am intrigued by this because J.K. Rowling's mercilessly comical depiction of fat cousin Dudley (and probably a few other overweight characters) in the Harry Potter books was one of many, many things that Richard Abanes criticized her for, before turning around and singing the unqualified praises of Lewis and Tolkien. And this was one of the few Abanes criticisms that I actually thought might have some merit! To quote my review of Abanes's book:

Although he makes some valid points, Abanes is so determined to find evil in Rowling's books that he neglects their better qualities; and when he assesses Lewis and Tolkien, he has nothing but praise -- even though their writings contain many of the things he finds so offensive in the Potter books.

References to pagan gods? Juvenile heroes who use words like 'damn' and other mild profanities? Centaurs who practice a form of astrology?
Narnia
has them all. Disrespect for authority? Lewis hilariously mocks both modern English schools and the British parliament in the closing pages of
The Silver Chair
. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy? Tolkien playfully wrote as though hobbits still lived among us, albeit in hiding; and Lewis -- who was not above making himself a character in his own fiction -- was quite clear that the Aslan of his books was no mere symbol for Christ but, within the framework of his stories, was actually Christ himself, in Narnian form.

Some of Abanes' criticisms, however, are worth considering. Rowling's sometimes merciless depiction of Harry's fat, cruel cousin Dudley could pose problems for younger readers who are overweight. . . .

So I guess we can add fat-children-as-comic-relief to the list of things that Narnia and Potter have in common, and which Abanes found so problematic in Potter yet was oh-so-ready to overlook in Narnia.

: (Dr. Cornelius as a dwarf who is both good and human-like is not a very persuasive

: rebuttal to the Beavers' views of human-like dwarfs. After all, he is half-human.)

Well, yes, that makes thing a little more complicated.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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: (Dr. Cornelius as a dwarf who is both good and human-like is not a very persuasive

: rebuttal to the Beavers' views of human-like dwarfs. After all, he is half-human.)

Well, yes, that makes thing a little more complicated.

Except that racist thought traditionally places "half-breeds" at an even lower level than the ill-favored race.

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Heh.  I finally got around to finishing Prince Caspian last night, and on page 177 of my copy, Miraz says the stories about "Peter and Edmund and the rest" are "old wives' fables".

Ha! But does that refute my point, or prove it??!

After all, even in its own unnamed world, the realm of Narnia is markedly different from other countries such as Telmar and Calormen, which are much, much more like the "real world" than Narnia (parse that how you like).

In fact, Narnia exists in its world in a way not entirely unlike almost like Rowling's "magical zones" in our world, such as Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.

(You also get into "mythic" territory out past the Lone Islands. And way up north where the giants live, and deep underground in the realm of the Earth-men. Oh, hm, and maybe away in the uncharted east as well, if that primeval garden where Digory picked the golden apple is still there? Hm, maybe it's only the south that's demythologized and real-world-ish!)

Anyway, when Miraz dismisses King Peter and the rest as "old wives' fables," I can't help wondering if that isn't maybe an awfully Telmarinish concept that simply doesn't apply in Narnia. smile.gif

Incidentally, I think this book just may be Exhibit A in that "paganism of Narnia" article I keep threatening to write.

Heck yes. There's just as much mythology, or maybe more, in some of the subsequent books, but Prince Caspian is certainly where you see it at its most, uh, thinly baptized.

(Incidentally, Peter, in mid-November I'm going to be writing an article for a Catholic publication that will certainly touch upon the "paganism/mythology in Narnia" theme. Should we collaborate? Quote each other? WDYT?)

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: (Dr. Cornelius as a dwarf who is both good and human-like is not a very persuasive

: rebuttal to the Beavers' views of human-like dwarfs. After all, he is half-human.)

Well, yes, that makes thing a little more complicated.

Except that racist thought traditionally places "half-breeds" at an even lower level than the ill-favored race.

Um, thereby making this case even stronger evidence in Lewis's favor, since Dr. Cornelius is an exemplary character -- and is wrongly looked down upon for his ancestry by "racist" dwarfs, IIRC. Edited by SDG

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: (Dr. Cornelius as a dwarf who is both good and human-like is not a very persuasive

: rebuttal to the Beavers' views of human-like dwarfs. After all, he is half-human.)

Well, yes, that makes thing a little more complicated.

Except that racist thought traditionally places "half-breeds" at an even lower level than the ill-favored race.

Um, thereby making this case even stronger evidence in Lewis's favor, since Dr. Cornelius is an exemplary character -- and is wrongly looked down upon for his ancestry by "racist" dwarfs, IIRC.

Yeah, that's what I meant smile.gif Sorry for not being clear. Thanks. blush.gif

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SDG wrote:

: : Heh. I finally got around to finishing Prince Caspian last night, and on page

: : 177 of my copy, Miraz says the stories about "Peter and Edmund and the rest" are

: : "old wives' fables".

:

: Ha! But does that refute my point, or prove it??!

I don't think it does either. It's just a nice coincidence. smile.gif

I note that, when Aslan comes to the boys' school, Lewis writes: "And it was said afterwards (whether truly or not) that those particular little boys were never seen again, but that there were a lot of very fine little pigs in that part of the country which had never been there before." That "whether truly or not" might leave room for some aspects of Narnian lore to be mere legend, or it might not, who knows.

: In fact, Narnia exists in its world in a way not entirely unlike almost like Rowling's

: "magical zones" in our world, such as Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.

Hmmm. FWIW, I have only read the first two books so far, so I am not far enough into the series to have encountered this yet. In the first book, Narnia IS the world in question, pretty much, and it is only in the second book that we become aware that there are other countries besides Narnia in that world. But even then, the action takes place almost entirely in Narnia.

: (Incidentally, Peter, in mid-November I'm going to be writing an article for a

: Catholic publication that will certainly touch upon the "paganism/mythology in

: Narnia" theme. Should we collaborate? Quote each other? WDYT?)

Ha! Well, I wouldn't presume that you and I would take this in the same direction, but we could certainly confer with one another (and thus quote each other, perhaps). smile.gif

FWIW, as I think I mentioned at one of my blog posts on the subject, it is not only Narnia that I am thinking of here, but also an essay of Lewis's that appears in God in the Dock -- the one where he talks about how Britain isn't really turning "pagan" if they haven't gotten around to sacrificing bulls in Parliament, etc.

And FWIW, when I refer to the giants as "half-human and half-divine", I realize some people would argue that the "bene ha'elohim" who sired the giants in Genesis 6 should be translated as "angels" instead of as "gods" (the exact Hebrew is "sons of the gods" or "sons of God", depending on whether you think "elohim" is intended as a singular name or as a plural noun), but since Lewis supposes in his science-fiction trilogy that the pagan gods WERE angels, I think my description suffices.

(Strictly speaking, of course, Genesis 6 makes no claims at all about GIANTS; it is only LATER passages, specifically in the Book of Numbers, which tell us that the half-human offspring of the gods were so big. Similarly, the ancient Greek heroes were reputed to be "larger than life" in some literal way. But I digress...)

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An official movie photo-guide has been released into book stores (much like the one for the first LOTR movie). I thumbed through it, and it has a few neat stills, but nothing too revealing. No pictures of Aslan or of the final battle, but plenty of shots with the kids and that half-goat/half-human fellow (I haven't read TLtWatW in a while; isn't his name Tumnus?).

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An official movie photo-guide has been released into book stores (much like the one for the first LOTR movie). I thumbed through it, and it has a few neat stills, but nothing too revealing. No pictures of Aslan or of the final battle, but plenty of shots with the kids and that half-goat/half-human fellow (I haven't read TLtWatW in a while; isn't his name Tumnus?).

Yep, that would be Mr. Tumnus. He's a Faun.

I flipped through the movie storybook this afternoon at Bolen Books, and while it looks ok, I still say it suffers from too much similarity to LOTR's design. Probably on account of the fact that it IS the same design crew for the most part. It looks nice, but I would have liked something a little more like Pauline Baynes illustrations.

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There are a few "Hollywood-ish" moments in the trailer. Then again, there are also a lot of shots that gave me hope. The talking animals looked like animals, not like cartoons - when the wolf turned its head and spoke in that early shot, it took me by surprise. There are clearly shots from the sacrifice scene, and they look to be staged very dramatically. I fear that the battle scene that follows is intended as more of a climax than Aslan's sacrifice, but maybe that's just the trailers. There is a brief shot of Susan and Lucy riding on Aslan, which looks joy-filled. I'm trying to not get my hopes up too high, but also to give the film the benefit of the doubt. I'm having to end all my thoughts about it with "but we'll see. We'll see."

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Yeah, I liked that scene with the wolf as well. Actually, I liked the fact that the trailer started off on a darker, slightly more ominous tone. Up until now, things have looked a little too bright and cheery for me. The darker tone lends it a bit more seriousness. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that's in the movie, but it does give one hope.

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opus wrote:

: I liked the fact that the trailer started off on a darker, slightly more ominous tone.

So would I, if it weren't for the fact that the "ominous" stuff concerns episodes in the book that were a little more, what's the word, random, accidental, naturalistic, etc. In the book, the children don't boldly, purposefully, deliberately venture forth into yon wondrous wardrobe; instead, they simply duck into the wardrobe to get away from Mrs McCready, and then one of them says, "Hey, look, I'm sitting on some snow..."

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Hope MattPage doesn't mind a bit of chronological tweakery. smile.gif

MattPage wrote:

: Prince Caspian starts of with a paragraph summarising TLTW&TW, and then says

: "that all happened a year ago". So there's clearly a year or so's gap there. . . .

: At the start of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader it refers to Peter studying with the

: Professor in whose house they had "wonderful adventures long ago in the war

: years", so the war has clearly been over for several years now. There's mention of

: the Mum not having had a holiday for 10 years, so it would probably be safe to

: assume that that is because of the war itself, and then the aftermath. This book is

: probably circa 1949 then (give or take a year. . . .

Not so! I recently started reading Dawn Treader, and at the very beginning of Chapter 2, Edmund tells Caspian, "It's a year ago by our time since we left you jut before your coronation. How long has it been in Narnia?" (And Caspian replies, "Exactly three years.") So, adding "a year ago" and "a year ago", we may deduce that "long ago", for these children, apparently means two years.

Therefore, since the European war was over by the spring of 1945, LWW must have taken place during the summer of 1944 at the ABSOLUTE latest, and thus Prince Caspian would have taken place during the summer of 1945 at the absolute latest and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader would have taken place during the summer of 1946 at the absolute latest.

But were the air raids still a going concern in London in 1944? The D-Day invasion took place June 6 -- would the children have already been sent to the professor's house by then? Did the British school year end prior to June 6 back then? Either way, were children still being sent to country homes for the summer in 1944?

: But the Silver Chair happens at the start of the next school term, so only a few

: months later, as we hear about Eustace's change from brat into a "different chap"

: between the two terms which has obviously been the result of his Narnian exploit.

Therefore, The Silver Chair takes place in the fall of 1946 at the absolute latest.

: Then the last battle doesn't introduce the children until quite late, as it's no so much

: written from their PoV, but it's been "more than a year ago".

So presumably The Last Battle takes place no earlier than 1948.

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I wish I had that Brian Sibley book of mine with me (unfortunately it's back with my stuff at my parents house in Saskatoon), because it had an excellent chronology that would settle all of these questions in one simple layout. I'll dig around and see if it's online.

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Hmm, this Narnia timeline suggests that the events of the novels all take place during the war years. However, that make the statement about "long ago in the war years" all the more puzzling, especially in light of Peter (Chattaway)'s evidence that this is only 2 years after the initial journey to Narnia in LW&W.

Then again, perhaps this is the kind of internal inconsistancy and "sloppy continuity" that drove Tolkien bonkers about Lewis's stories.

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darn it - that will teach me to flick through a series of Lewis books in the hunt for accurate chronology.

Have to agree with Anders. I don't think anyone would cite something as significant as WW2 as "long ago" just 2 years later, particalrly not if they were kids.

And I would have though that all the kids would have been evacuated from London long before 1944.

Matt

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dry.gif

Tolkien may have disliked the "sloppy continuity" of the Narnia chronicles, but I never gave it a thought when I read them as an actual child. I read LotR when I was in high-school, and at that time I was fascinated by JRRT's intricate alternate history & chronologies for Middle Earth, but I don't think most children, the primary audience of the Narnia chronicles, give a rip.

The problems you're having attempting to generate a workable timeline seem to stem from insisting that the Pevensies' War must be consistent with the real WW2. Why? Can't it also be a fictional war? Simply posit that in the fictional world of the books, the London Blitz happened later than in our real world history, and the problem is solved.

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Other than a bit of expected Hollywood license with respect to the gaps in Lewis's account of Peter, Susan and Lucy's grown-up years in Narnia, the film sticks quite close to the original story.

user posted image

Edited by SDG

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