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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Narnia Part II

The Silver Chair

I think of this as the final book in the Prince Caspian Trilogy. It's also an introduction to Jill Pole, one of my favorite characters - she's smart and capable and courageous, and it's not her fault Dr. Lewis subscribed to the conventional wisdom that girls are always weaker than boy. I figure she and Eustace are on the cusp of puberty at this point, and therefore she'd actually be stronger than Eustace, but that's not something Lewis would know. She's also stubborn and it took her a while to listen to Aslan. And, honestly, that's prefectly reasonable - she's been whisked to this strange land and this huge Lion is telling her to drink some water.

(That's pretty much, from what I could see, the only real religious aspect of this story - the language Aslan uses. "If you are thirsty, come and drink.") I liked that the Earthmen's first thought upon being released from their spell is, "How come I haven't danced or sung?" It's a nice reversal in many ways.

I also like to think that the Giants were actually relieved that they wouldn't have to eat the little girl who charmed them so, even if they were less happy about losing Eustace. Poor Jill, though - she traded her so-practical shorts and Girl Guide (Scout) knife for a dress too long for her. And yet she managed.

Once again, though, we see that the presexual "tomboyish" little girl is preferable to the adult woman who is clearly using her sexuality to control Prince Rilian.

The Horse and his Boy
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this book. I love the pure adventure aspects, and the Horse is delightful in his pride and care for Shasta, and it was more than interesting seeing Susan, Edmund and Lucy in the middle of their joint reign - the only time we see them as adults other than the brief glimpse at the end of LWW. For that matter, Aravis is also a great character in the mold of, but not identical to, Lucy and Jill. Lewis does seem to like the tomboyish young girl.

But this is, and here I'm speaking as a person of my generation with full understanding that Lewis came from a different time and place, balanced by the overt racism. The Calormenes, with only a few exceptions, are as dark as their features. They can be very good looking, but the only decent one was Aravis. Shasta's foster-father was all-too willing to sell him. For that matter, Aravis's father was doing approximately the same thing. Shasta instinctively likes the Narnian contingent because they looked different (lighter) than the Calormenes - this can be mitigated somewhat because they were the first people he'd seen who looked like *him*.

But they're also presented as people with honor - Prince Corin, when he returns, can't think of a reason NOT to tell his friends what had happened, and Shasta can't think of a reason to do so.

There's also the ethnocentrism of Shasta smelling a traditional English breakfast for the first time and Lewis's hope that his readers had done so, often. But then, that was was his presumed audience, so forgivable.

Then we have the sexism again. There are five female characters in this novel with any role at all - Aravis, Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, Hwee (Aravis's Horse) and Lasaraleen, Aravis's friend. Hwee is presented as having a bit more sense than Bree, and less pride, but she essentially follows his lead. Queen Susan is an adult, ready to get married. In fact, her sexuality - her desire to possibly marry Prince Rabadash - is what puts them in such a precarious existence. Rabadash goes to war only to acquire her for himself when she turns him down. Sexuality is a dangerous thing.

And yet, when the fighting comes to Archenland, she stays back home - even though she's a champion archer, would be useful in the field and the battle is about her. Why? Not becuase that would be a dangerous thing for her to do - which would be an excellent reason - but because she's a grown-up lady. Grown-up ladies don't fight. Their adolescent sisters do. This, of course, wouldn't be the last time Susan would stay behind with her sexuality as a reason.

Queen Lucy, of course, joins the battle with her bow and arrow - her bow and arrow which aren't even the gifts from Father Christmas. But she, it's implied, isn't a grown-up lady yet.

Larsaleen is the same age as Aravis, but she's married and frivolous and scatter-brained. Married = sexual.

However, when Aravis absconds to Archenland, she becomes, in effect, chatelaine of the royal castle. She has to stop being the headstrong girl who ran away from home so she wouldn't be married to a man she didn't love or even like and settle in to being a housekeeper. Eventually, she becomes queen, marrying Shasta/Cor, but it's written more...huh. "So they could continue arguing more easily." Which - she's living in the same castle and her duties wouldn't change that much, so...? Okay, here he was being cute and funny, so I'll let him get away with it.

I also liked that Bree and Hwee didn't marry each other.

One other point - the Calormenes have brought story telling to a high art, with set phrases and rhythms that enhance the tales - making them almost poetic - whereas their poetry is basically lists of aphorisms and quite boring. This makes no sense. It makes even less sense for a warlike people, who one would assume would enjoy epic recitations of battles that suit neither form. It seems it was just another way to make the Narnians better.

The last two books have their own problems.

The Magician's Nephew
This is, of course, the creation story. And it again has a spunky tomboy as one of the child-leads, and an adult woman with a fully realized sexuality as the villain. We, of course, know that this is the future White Witch (Jadis, after all), but it's the bachelor uncle (exactly as Professor Kirke was destined to be) who calls her a "Dem fine woman."

It's a clear retelling of the Genesis story, with the interesting stfnal addition of a interface between the worlds. We learn of the origin of the Lamp-post,and I remember that "ah-ha!" moment that I think would have been lost if this book were read first. I'm less bothered by the Jadis thing, since I think the "ah-ha" would have been about the same.

In a series of books which makes a big deal of noble blood, I find it intersesting that the King and Queen come from ordinary English country stock - interesting message there, I think. There's also the fact that no one ate the Apple (other than Jadis) without permission. If Jadis is a Lilith reference - I think it's a probablity - there is no snake. In many ways, Narnia is an Eden, which was invaded by foreigners (Calormenes, Telamarines) from our fallen world.

Too bad the toffee-fruit tree never seemed to reproduce. :)

As the entire book is a retelling of Genesis (with the odd-to-me idea that it was the Son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea who created it, as opposed to the Emperor Himself, but it makes sense, I believe, from a Christian worldview. If I'm wrong, I'm open to correction), bringing up religion is actually superfluous.

The Last Battle

This is a different box of Turkish Delight. As the first was a retelling of Genesis, this seems to be a retelling of Revelations (as best as I can remember - the only time I even tried to read Revelations was in college.) So commenting on the religious aspects is difficult for me at best.

Clearly the Donkey Puzzle is, at best, a reluctant anti-Christ, lead astray by the Ape. And I'm not sure what the symbolism here is, except we once again see the evil of the Calormenes, except for one good and honorable (and handsome) man. I found the idea that good actions, even if dedicated to a "Demon", are really accrued to Aslan to be...well. From the rules of Narnia, that's very good and makes perfect sense. In my universe - well, I know that if I told a Wiccan that the good things they did in honor of their God and Goddess were really to the credit of the One I worship, they'd be insulted, and rightfully so.

And then we get to other parts that bother, I think, many people. Susan is forever barred, or seems to be so, from the afterlife because she's forgotten Narnia and Aslan. She's also been left completely alone in the world, as everyone else - parents, siblings, family friends - are gone. All that seem to be left are Eustace's grieving mother and father. And it does seem to because she has become a sexual adult - just as they had to leave Narnia because marriage was immanent for her.

The Kings and Queens are excused because they have a duty to continue their lines, and the Pevensie parents had to produce (and pretty much abandon) their children. On the other hand, the Professor and Polly never marry - not even each other - and so in effect remain pre-sexual friends their entire life, while the Pevensies (excepting Susan), Eustace and Jill die before it becomes a factor. Which makes an interesting statement about Peter. I'm also interested that all of them are out of school at this point, because Dr. Lewis never made it clear what their ages really were, but Lucy, Polly and Jill never really change their personalities.

Huh. I know that the Apple is linked with sexual experience in Christianity (not so much in Judasism), and this seems to have not happened to Polly or Digory. I wonder.

The three Pevensie children never actually reach, so far as I can see, the age in which they leave Narnia to return to England, either.

It's actually rather sad - Caspian gets to grow up, get married and have a son. Corin and Aravis marry and have, I presume, children. Our Heroes never do.


you appear to have a broken italics tag.

I remember discussing The Magician's Nephew with my husband, because I had no idea what it was an allegory for, and learning that it's actually about the difference between Catholicism and Protestanism. The Ape is supposed to be the Pope, iirc. I may be getting this wrong, it's been a while since I read the books or discussed them in any detail, but that is what I recall.

Fixed. Thank you.

I had not heard that theory before - it does sound plausible.

In my comment I totally wrote the ape was the Pope and then took it out. That was my impression upon reading the book, but then I thought I was being unfair to think Lewis would be so specifically anti-Catholic. But when I read it (having been raised Catholic, fwiw) I thought the ape was the Pope.

It does show what different upbringings can do. The pope never once crossed my mind while reading this book.

All comments on The Last Battle, my favorite Narnia book by far:

I always thought the Dwarves were Lewis' take on how he saw the Jews in our world. Clannish ("the dwarves are for the dwarves") Stubborn to the point of willful blindness (it is illusion) and at the end transported to heaven and unable to accept the gift they are given.

I rather like the idea that noble deeds are counted to the user's credit regardless of in whose names they are done. Most of my neopagan friends would have little problem with the idea - they'd just disagree about Who the principle behind the deeds was.

I never actually made that connection about Dwarves and Jews. Is it relevent, do you think, that there are two groups of Dwarves - the Red ones who seem to be good guys and the Black ones who, well, don't?

I would like the idea better had it not been phrased as "Any good ded you do for Tash, you are really doing for me."

See, I never went there with the dwarves in my reading. I always took it as those people who are so stuck on their opinions being the only "right" opinions that they will ignore any facts in opposition. And that reads as a strong condemnation of many Christians, in Lewis's age as well as our own.

Then again, I'm strongly enmeshed in the various Christian traditions, so it's naturally where my brain goes.

Or alternatively, I see references to Jews everywhere, even where the author has no such thoughts. I thought I saw a slighting reference to Orthodoxy at the beginning of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.

I always thought the Dwarves were Lewis' take on how he saw the Jews in our world.

I've always assumed that they were atheists (or even communists). Aslan/God keeps giving them beautiful gifts and they come up with rational explanations for them, and they declare disbelief in anything higher than themselves. "The dwarves are for the dwarves" I interpreted as something similar to the way "humanist" has (at least in Swedish) come to mean a form of atheist who has faith in human's ability to help and govern herself.

Actually, Susan isn't barred from Narnia forever--if she repents, that is if she changes her mind and believes in it again, she could go there when she dies. And as somebody said, hey, perhaps with her entire family dead she'll be less interested in those evil nylons and lipsticks. Blech. Yeah.

I have a Narnia companion that tries to get the ages down, or at least guess at them. I think Peter was maybe in his early 20s with Edmund being 19 or so? I'll have to look at it.

The Last Battle is my favorite for some reason. I love it when Tash flies through the sky. Though of course that whole "Oh, anything good you did was done for me!" is condescending, but from Lewis' pov you can see it's actually a compliment. He's trying to wrestle with the idea that just being born to people of the "wrong" religion should send you to hell.

I would also agree that from a Christian perspective it's fine to have the Son of the Emperor create the world, since the Trinity are three that are all one. Jesus is God is the Holy Spirit.

It wasn't the nylons and lipstick that were the problem. They were simply symbols of the real problem: She'd forgotten her stories, the truth of her experience.

She'd let other people convince her that it was all a childish game, that Narnia wasn't real, and that she wasn't a great archer and a queen, but simply a rather stupid pretty face.

She lost her stories and she lost herself. And I've seen dozens of girls do it about the time they turn 15. "They rush ahead as fast as they can to the silliest time in their lives and then try to stop there as long as they can."

I know women my age (40) who still try to act like they're 15 or 16.

I actually like the take on service to Aslan and Tash. if Lewis is right, I know a LOT of Christians who are serving Tash in the name of Aslan, so to speak.

I like this interpretation. (And, again, one has to consider what it did to Susan to grow up *twice*.)

Interesting take on the Tash vs. Aslan thing.

I've written some Narnia fic over the years.

You might like "Cold Beauty." It touches on the growing up twice thing.

I didn't like Susan when I was reading the books as a kid. I had the beautiful older sisters, and was the "smart plain one." As I've grown up, I just feel sad for her. Not angry, since it was her choice to grow vain and silly, but sad, as I feel for the other girls ducked in by the idea that they are only worth their boyfriends.

I basically read Tash and Aslan that you can't do good in the name of an evil deity, nor can you do evil in the name of a good one. They won't accept the deeds.

It wasn't the nylons and lipstick that were the problem. They were simply symbols of the real problem: She'd forgotten her stories, the truth of her experience.

Yes, that's the real problem, but Lewis chose *those* symbols for a reason I think. If it were Peter and he became only interested in stocks and bonds I think it would be natural to assume he's focused on material and wealth. If he'd gotten into dry books about science I'd take it as a criticism of too much science making him arrogant so that he thought he could explain everything and didn't need faith. (Think how odd it would be to say, "Oh, she's just focused on her children now and doesn't want to play games about Narnia with us" or "She's a hospice nurse caring for the terminally ill and almost never thinks about Narnia...")

Susan is focused on two symbols of female sexuality and vanity--lipsticks, nylons and invitations--and has chosen the "silliest" time of her life which is characterized by that, the era of her greatest sexual power, as symbolized by these trappings of vanity. Ironically, Susan is probably about 21 or so, so is acting her age. But while I can believe that Lewis would, as an older man, look back on his own youth and see some silliness there, I don't think he'd judge this area in a man's life the same way Polly judges Susan's.

This is exactly what I wanted to say, only better than I was planning on saying it myself. Thank you.

I'm really glad I read this comment, because the treatment of Susan always bothered me (although this was my favourite Narnia book) - but this makes a lot of sense.

And yes, I like the take on service to Aslan and Tash too. It was always one I found comforting, because I, and many others, never really feel that I've *known* the truth about God or Gods - but the implication to me was that if one attempts to live a virtuous life as best one can, then it will be alright in the end, even if one never has that flash of revelation that leads to belief.

I'm thinking that Susan may well feel betrayed by Aslan. She was a Queen, but only in name - after all, the proper title for the King's sister is "Princess." And she was going about the proper business for an unmarried princess - seeking out a man of equal power to consolidate the rule of her brother - preferably one she'd at least be able to live with. But she had position and power and wealth.

And then she was a schoolgirl again, and, okay. She adjusted. She did well in archery as a remembrance of her days as Queen, and possibly in her schoolwork as well. She put Narnia in the back of her mind and went on with life.

And then she's whisked back to Narnia again, and even though she stays a teen-ager, the air of Narnia makes her remember she was a Queen again. Her bow and arrow obey her will, and her skills as a swimmer are valued for more than winning prizes.

And yet, Aslan, whom she still loved, only appeared to her little sister, as if Susan wasn't worth the trouble. She'd been there as well when he was killed - surely she meant as much?

And she is told she will never go back there again. And she believes it, and acts on it. Why torture yourself about the time when you, if only through your brother and at times when he was busy, ruled a land if you're now a schoolgirl again? And suddenly, schoolwork doesn't seem so important, either - note that she was doing poorly in school, which was one of the reasons her parents took her to America.

So, they expect her to become sexual and adult and get married. I don't know about that last, but she certainly does the first. Adults don't play silly games about Lions and fairy lands. Especially ones that might as well be pretend because you've been assured you won't see them again. I do see a lot of anger there.

And now her family - both those who believe in Aslan and those (her parents) who do not - is dead. And why shouldn't she try to stay the most attractive age she can? She's done the adulthood thing, and had to do it all over again, and she's basically been told that she has nothing else to give.

I can accept Lewis's thing about Tash and Aslan when I suspend my disbelief - it's a very charitable way of thinking. It's only when I'm in the real world that it jars.

I would also agree that from a Christian perspective it's fine to have the Son of the Emperor create the world, since the Trinity are three that are all one. Jesus is God is the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, the way I was brought up, it's sort of like how I'm a ficcer, a librarian and a film scholar, but I'm still always me. In comparative religion, I find it easiest to think of it in terms of avatars.

My favourite book is The Horse and His Boy, which makes me blush since I'm the daughter of an islamologist and should know better. But I love Aravis so much I can't see reason. :-)

I honestly don't remember the Narnia books well enough to discuss them. But I do remember, even at the age I read them, thinking that Susan becoming a sexual adult was treated as being against the good, and being really bothered by that.

Love the Icon.

It's a sticky thing, isn't it?

Salon had an interesting article a few years ago about Lewis, Tolkien, and religion in their works.

Every time I read someone's thoughts on The Last Battle, I'm glad that I never got around to reading it. I think it would've made me very angry. I do sort of like the idea of all good works being a credit to Aslan. But then I am a Universalist (philosophically anyway).

A Horse and His Boy was my favorite of the ones that I read, but then I was very young and didn't really get the unpleasant racial implications.

with the odd-to-me idea that it was the Son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea who created it, as opposed to the Emperor Himself, but it makes sense, I believe, from a Christian worldview

It does make sense from a Christian worldview. God and Jesus are the one thing.