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Peter T Chattaway

the Narnia books

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I don't think they encroach on Lewis's novels any more than Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh storybooks encroach on the books of A.A. Milne. 

Is it this horror to which you refer? I haven't kept up with Winnie the Pooh controversies, which probably merit their own thread (do we already have one?), but I thought I'd drop this bombshell here and see where it leads. Maybe it's old news?

My connection to the character of Christopher Robin was never very deep as a child -- I was more of a Piglet man, myself -- but that changed when the first girl I fell for (hard) nicknamed me "Christopher Robin."

So I feel like a small part of me has been cut out and tossed aside.

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Alison Lurie reviews 2 books about the Narnia Chronicles and uses the occasion to tell us a lot of the same old stuff about CSL, and to repeat "the books are sexist" line," though she says CSL couldn't help it--he was a man of his time and culture, and to say essentially the same thing as Ms. Ayn-Rand-Wannabe's review posted to the Narnia film thread, but in a more measured and somewhat better-informed way.

She's right to some extent, but she can't have read the books recently, if she really believes that

By implication, they suggest that we should and will admire and fear and obey whatever impressive-looking and powerful male authority figures we come in contact with.

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Anybody familiar with Neil Gaiman's short story 'The Problem of Susan'?

This story appears in Gaiman's new collection, Fragile Things

My nephew has read most of Gaiman's novels & requested the anthology for Christmas. I discovered "The Problem of Susan" in the book through reading Gaiman's introduction. Frankly, the story creeped me out. Ew. I'd rather read Pullman's rants than this. Now I wish I didn't have to give the book to my nephew, but he'll probably just get it for himself eventually. In the interview, Gaiman says someone called the story "blasphemous," but I wouldn't say that. Just "morbid and creepifying." I wish I hadn't read it, and I rarely say that about anything.

Edited by BethR

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What's creepy about it? What happens?

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Oh dear! And I do so love Gaiman. Usually his stories are anti-climactic in ways that steer attention away from the 'big" final confrontation, which is sometimes frustrating, but fits his style. And he's known for being "creepy," but I've found most of his work to be not-so-very-creepy, but maybe that's just me. The thing I love about him is the often playful and inventive sense of magic he brings to his stories and the sense that he really loves telling a story.

I was planning on picking this one up at some point, but now I might spend a few breaks at the bookstore reading this.

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The story in question is available at various places on the web - I found it quickly via Google.

It's beyond creepy! (Beth, I think you were soft-pedaling it. ;) )

And by "beyond creepy," I don't mean macabre. (Though, FWIW, I'm not a Gaiman fan.)

I've enjoyed several of Gaiman's books, including Stardust, Neverwhere, and even American Gods, and people are certainly free to read anything they wish, but SDG is right about this one. I repeat--I wish I hadn't read it. Once again: morbid, i.e., "unwholesomely gloomy; gruesome; affected by, causing, or characteristic of disease [in this case, spiritual]" and creepifying--in the sense of causing one's flesh to crawl.

You know that scene in Time Bandits where there's one last steaming chunk of the Enemy left in the microwave, and

Alex shouts to his parents, "Don't touch it! It's EVIL!"--whereupon they immediately reach out, touch the charred lump, and explode?

That's what I suspect I've done simply by reviewing this hideous little story.

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I should not have read it.

I should have listened to you gals.

When Nicholas Berg was beheaded, I wondered to myself if I should see the video, and I decided to watch it. Those images were burned in my head for months, and I was crushed by what I saw. This story is like that. I pray that I can forget it, that the pictures Gaiman draws will fade quickly from my mind.

It's awful.

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OK. Read it. Still wouldn't call it creepy. But I would say it's disturbing. I can see where he was going with the primary idea, but honestly, I just didn't get the parts about the lion and the witch unless he was just writing it as some sort of macabre counter-point to the Narnia we know. This seems likely to me, but unnecessary.

I can't say I'm as outraged(?) as others here, I'm just terribly curious to have seen Lewis' reply to this.

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I read American Gods a few months ago and am not sure why I finished it - Gaiman clearly has a lot of talent, but the

presentation of ritual violence - especially human sacrifice - plus the focus on darkness (some of the deities and spirits portrayed, etc.) was pretty disturbing to me. I liked the premise in many ways, but I don't think he worked that to its full potential, and couldn't help noticing that all too often, the old "gods" bring death. There really is no getting around that, as seen in the story about the Cornish immigrant woman who believes in piskies/pixies.

FWIW, I also feel this way about his more "serious" works, such as American Gods. I like pretty much everything the man does, but I think Gaiman is at his best when he's at his lightest and wittiest, i.e. Neverwhere and especially Stardust. Of course, those books have their dark moments as well, but overall, their tone strikes me as lighter and perhaps more hopeful.

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I think Gaiman was trying to say that

Aslan and the Witch are a half of one and six dozen of the other

if you know what I'm saying. That they are

in league, or at least that Aslan is just as bad as the witch.

Gaiman seems to believe that the type of God portrayed in the Narnia books is harsh, unjust, and cruel. That he sanitizes his own image (

notice that Aslan licks the blood off his face at the end

) and portrays himself as the hero when he is, in reality, just as much a villain as the Devil.

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Thought I'd post this here, because it fits as well here as anywhere. This is a piece I just did for a Secret Santa gift exchange...

UndressYou02.jpg

Click on the image for a larger version.

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Narnia's Secret

In the context of the "overlookability" of God, the necessity of atmosphere to successful story-telling, and the usefulness of the pagan gods, let us now turn to the Narnia tales and attempt to see how they hold together.

Far from being a hotch-potch, they are, I think, held together as a unified work by Lewis's use of one particular class of gods: the gods of the seven heavens of medieval cosmology. He had a lifelong fascination with these planetary deities and a very high view of their symbolic value.

Michael Ward, Touchstone, December 2007

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A spy in the house of Narnia

Salon's Laura Miller on how the imaginative world of C.S. Lewis inspired her love of reading, as well as her career as a critic. . . .

When you read what scholars have written about it, you realize that unlike with Lewis Carroll or J.M. Barrie, the people who write about the Chronicles are only interested in the Christian aspect of it. I wanted to read a whole book that treated the Chronicles less as message delivery system than as a work of art. That book really didn't exist. . . .

I tried to track down everything in his biographies, in his letters, a few diaries and other types of writing that would tell me other things that contributed to Narnia. I came to see how my own relationship with the Chronicles continued, even though I didn't realize it. I was an English major and read a lot of the books that Lewis loved and inspired him, and that I also loved -- Dante, Milton, Spenser, Austen. When I thought about it, I realized I have always been coming back to this experience, because he put all of those things into Narnia. These books made a reader out of me not just in wanting to read more books but in preparing my mind for an imaginative experience that would last for the rest of my life. . . .

But Lucy is him. Lucy is the ideal version of himself. I personally feel that a writer who does that has major aspects of himself that he does not want to acknowledge, and one of the ways you create distance is by making the character another gender. Now that's a psychoanalytic way of looking at literature that Lewis would have hated. But when I sat down and really thought about it -- why is his most appealing protagonist a little girl? -- the more I realized that when I read about Lewis, and read things he had written, I don't think I could have stood to be in this guy's company. But that little girl is in there somewhere. She wouldn't be so real if she wasn't in him.

It's so weird that I can not like someone who wrote Chronicles of Narnia, which is at the total center of my heart. You can be upset about it or you can wonder at what a miracle of sympathy it is to be able to be a soul mate with this person who maybe I wouldn't have been able to have lunch with without losing my temper. . . .

Salon.com, December 6

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A spy in the house of Narnia

Salon's Laura Miller on how the imaginative world of C.S. Lewis inspired her love of reading, as well as her career as a critic. . . .

When you read what scholars have written about it, you realize that unlike with Lewis Carroll or J.M. Barrie, the people who write about the Chronicles are only interested in the Christian aspect of it. I wanted to read a whole book that treated the Chronicles less as message delivery system than as a work of art. That book really didn't exist. . . .

...

It's so weird that I can not like someone who wrote Chronicles of Narnia, which is at the total center of my heart. You can be upset about it or you can wonder at what a miracle of sympathy it is to be able to be a soul mate with this person who maybe I wouldn't have been able to have lunch with without losing my temper. . . .

Salon.com, December 6

John Granger deconstructs Laura Miller's distress at Hogwarts Professor:

Long story short: child loves the Chronicles of Narnia until she learns they are largely allegorical. She returns to them years later to demonstrate they really aren’t Christian books but works of remarkable imaginative artistry....

...To all those writers of books reducing imaginative literature to cardboard, tit-for-tat allegory, shame on you....{I}s it too late for [Miller] to get that she lives in a false dilemma (”A poem or novel can only be either Christian allegory or profound artistry, not both, just one or the other”)?

Edited by BethR

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Nardis, I think the Laura Miller interview you quote from is the same Peter linked to as "A spy in the house of Narnia."

I think most adults may notice things about books that they enjoyed uncritically as children, or realize that attitudes that were acceptable in the past are not-done now. But take that kind of thing too far, and we're not going to allow ourselves to read Shakespeare, that elitist, sexist, racist, nationalist pig, just for example.

Lucy Mangan of The Guardian indirectly tells Laura Miller and others who think the Narnia books are "too Christian" or otherwise politically incorrect, to get over it. She admits being "allergic to allegory" herself:

but ... the tale of Lucy Pevensie discovering the secret world beyond the wardrobe door is a story about courage, loyalty, generosity, sacrifice and nobility versus greed, conceit, arrogance and betrayal. You can call the former Christian virtues, or you can just call them virtues and let the kids concentrate on the self-renewing Turkish delight, magically unerring bows and periodic Bacchanalian rites in the forest. The risk of them haring off in search of their own Aslan-a-like is, I assure you, minimal.

As for misogyny, this charge always seems to be based on a disdainful reference in The Last Battle to elder sister Susan succumbing to the lure of face powder and stockings. But her brother adds regretfully, "She always was in too much of a rush to grow up." This is not an objection to femininity - it is the author sorrowing over the passing of innocence, making the lament that to wish childhood away is, Christian or not, a terrible sin.

Edited by BethR

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Nice little piece of writing titled: Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie?

By Matthew Alderman there at the First Things Journal...

I certainly think this shows greater insight than the Neil Gaiman version, which I wish I had never read.

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Nice little piece of writing titled: Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie?

By Matthew Alderman there at the First Things Journal...

I certainly think this shows greater insight than the Neil Gaiman version, which I wish I had never read.

I wish I could wash it from my mind. But alas, I can't. It's horrible.

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Narnia's Secret

In the context of the "overlookability" of God, the necessity of atmosphere to successful story-telling, and the usefulness of the pagan gods, let us now turn to the Narnia tales and attempt to see how they hold together.

Far from being a hotch-potch, they are, I think, held together as a unified work by Lewis's use of one particular class of gods: the gods of the seven heavens of medieval cosmology. He had a lifelong fascination with these planetary deities and a very high view of their symbolic value.

Michael Ward, Touchstone, December 2007

And now someone's made a documentary about Ward's findings:

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The ominous "DaVinci Code" vibe is hysterical.

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My son and I are reading "The Magician's Nephew" together at the moment, and I'm reading it with an eye towards its adaptability to film. Some parts of it certainly are - Charn would be a sight to behold, and the madcap adventures with the horse and hansom in London, and the Wood between the Worlds. But the key part, the core part, the Lion singing Narnia into existence - I just can't for the life of me believe that would be filmable. It's one thing to write that the music was colder, higher, and more beautiful than anything they had ever heard, and the reader can imagine it - not imagine the music itself, but rather feel the effect that that kind of music would have on one - but in a film, a composer has to actually sit down and write it. And when the audience hears it, it almost certainly won't be those things.

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Which editions of The Chronicles of Narnia have the best illustrations?

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