CS Lewis (Was: Favourite books)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon Dec 13 17:39:15 EST 2004

Katta wrote:

>As for the Narnia books, I like many others on this list read them and loved
>them before I realized the mythology was Christian-based. Then I realized
>that it was and hated the books for a while, but ultimately I couldn't let
>that stop me from enjoying the story. But it's probably telling that my
>favourite is The Horse and His Boy, which IMO is less interested in
>religious issues than some of the others.

'Strewth, I always thought that the most religiously/culturally dubious of
the whole lot!  Nasty people in turbans wearing scimitars and talking in an
elaborate way treacherously attack a country they are ostensibly at peace
with, in order to annex it and use it as a springboard from which to invade
another with no declaration of war; fathers are happy to have their very
young daughters sold into marriage with old men the daughters detest and
their ambitious sons killed in any way that doesn't involve them,
villainous viziers scheme and plot and stab in the back, there's slavery
and extremes of poverty and constant mention of people smelling bad because
they don't wash, don't you find Calormen just a little hard to stomach at
times?  Especially given that the message is that this is all because they
are benighted enough to worship the horrible Tash instead of the nice (if
non-tame) Aslan.

In fact, properly speaking there ought to be moves afoot to have the book
banned for incitement to racial and religious hatred.  (Please don't anyone
point it out to their imam, that wasn't meant to be taken seriously...)

>I do like stories with myths and symbolism in them, but I suppose what upset
>me once upon a time was the hidden agenda - not that the elements were there
>but that I was supposed to react a certain way to them...

Well, probably one is supposed to react in favour of telling the truth and
washing and standing up for oneself and getting on with the job in hand
from reading *Swallows and Amazons* too, so the hidden agenda is "people
who are the heroes/heroines of books wash and tell the truth and so on, so
should you" even though nobody in S&A ever goes anywhere near a church and
God is never mentioned, so it isn't a wicked Christian agenda, just a
wicked middle-class one.  Or something.

>And as people have said, nowadays the religious elements are less troubling
>to me than the sexism and general conservatism.

Sexism is less rife in Narnia than in the SF, I think (though quite the
most grotty character in *That Hideous Strength* is the futile piffler
Mark).  Polly has far more sense than Digory and behaves on the whole
rather better, the most sympathetic and also the most venturesome and
interesting person in the Pevensey ones is Lucy, Aravis is a far stronger
character than Shasta, Jill certainly isn't a wimp or a waste of space --
in fact the one female character who's not much cop is Susan, and she's in
a minority like anything.

I except the various witches from this because they are strictly speaking
not people, they are another species, or something: I'm not sure quite how
it works, but they're non-human because of not being descended from Eve.
I'll cheerfully agree that the villains are the witches, if the nastiness
is magical -- but there is also the awful Uncle Andrew, who's wicked
because he has deliberately chosen to be and not because he doesn't descend
from Adam, so he doesn't even have the excuse of unhumanity.

It's true that in TLtWatW the girls get given bows and Peter gets given a
sword, and when Lucy says that she *thinks* she could be brave enough to be
in the battle Father Christmas says that battles are ugly when women are in
them, but I'll set that against it being the two girls who have the guts to
go with Aslan when he sets out in the middle of the night to his meeting
with the White Witch.


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