Narnia: Syllogisms that Demand a Verdict

Narnia Recap: Edmund has eaten and drunk the White Witch's magical food and is now compelled by an unnatural hunger for more magical food -- he will obey her orders unquestioningly in order to procure more Turkish Delight. The Witch has also ordered Edmund not to tell anyone of their meeting together. Now he has met up with Lucy and they return to the wardrobe door and step out of Narnia.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 5: Back on This Side of the Door

   BECAUSE THE GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK was still going on, it took Edmund and Lucy some time to find the others. But when at last they were all together (which happened in the long room, where the suit of armor was), Lucy burst out:
   "Peter! Susan! It's all true. Edmund has seen it too. There is a country you can get to through the wardrobe. Edmund and I both got in. We met one another in there, in the wood. Go on, Edmund; tell them all about it." [...]
   And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story. Up to that moment Edmund had been feeling sick, and sulky, and annoyed with Lucy for being right, but he hadn't made up his mind what to do. When Peter suddenly asked him the question he decided all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he could think of. He decided to let Lucy down. [...]
   And Edmund gave a very superior look as if he were far older than Lucy (there was really only a year's difference) and then a little snigger and said, "Oh, yes, Lucy and I have been playing -- pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true. Just for fun, of course. There's nothing there really."

As a child, of course, this scene felt like a dreadful betrayal: Lucy has been deeply depressed for days that none of her siblings believe her fantastical tale of a magic world on the other side of the wardrobe door, and now against all chance, one of her siblings can verify her story. And instead, he calls her a liar all over again.

As an adult, however, I find this scene to be interesting for a number of new reasons. First off, I don't consider this to be "one of the nastiest things in this story", contrary to what Lewis tells us. Indeed, I consider this scene to be so saccharine in comparison to what is to come that I'd almost suspect him of self-parody here. A little boy telling a tale on his younger sister for various potentially-valid-reasons doesn't distress me nearly so much as a world where God has decreed that little boys can and should be turned over for brutal execution if they engage in bad behavior. I hold God to a rather higher standard than I hold Edmund, you see.

Second off, I actually see Edmund's betrayal here as an unintended consequence of the White Witch's order in the last chapter not to tell anyone about their meeting. Let's run through this logically: Edmund has been infected with a magical food that will cause him to do anything -- including gorge himself to death -- in order to obtain more of it. He's incredibly hungry and he wants more now, and the only way he can get some is to bring his siblings to the Queen's castle. The smartest thing he could therefore do is say, oh, yes, the magical world is absolutely real, come see now! and lead the others to the Queen's house immediately. He doesn't do this highly logical thing, and thus we must ask "why not?"

It is my belief that he doesn't confirm his being in Narnia because he realizes -- consciously or otherwise -- that the older children will ask him questions. Lucy just assumed that Edmund stood around in his shorts and shirt in the snow for 30-60 minutes, but Peter and Susan are smarter than that. Edmund isn't totally blue-skinned and shivering, which would indicate that he's been wrapped in something warm and eating something heated -- just as Lucy has been doing at Mr. Tumnus' house. Who did Edmund visit and how has he kept warm all this time? Edmund isn't going to be able to lie his way out of this because he doesn't have enough of an idea of Narnia to know what will or won't be plausible -- Lucy has been incurious up to this point, but once he starts spinning tales, she will call out any lies she spots. ("Oh, ah, I went to a... um... naiad's house, and she fed me sugar cakes and..." "Mr. Tumnus said the nearest naiad community is a mile away, and they haven't had sugar since the Calormen trade embargo last year!")

So while Mr. Lewis would have you believe that Edmund acting completely against his self-interest and against the magical-compulsion-spell-order the Witch put on him a few minutes ago is evidence of him being a selfish jerk, I believe it's more realistically read as evidence of a magical command backfiring because the commander (The Witch) didn't think through the logical implications of her command.

   Edmund, who was becoming a nastier person every minute, thought that he had scored a great success, and went on at once to say, "There she goes again. What's the matter with her? That's the worst of young kids, they always -- "
   "Look here," said Peter, turning on him savagely, "shut up! You've been perfectly beastly to Lu ever since she started this nonsense about the wardrobe, and now you go playing games with her about it and setting her off again. I believe you did it simply out of spite." [...]
   "You didn't think anything at all," said Peter; "it's just spite. You've always liked being beastly to anyone smaller than yourself; we've seen that at school before now."

And now I should explain something I said last time in the comments where I accused Peter of being a bully and indicated that his behavior pushes Edmund even more into the Witch's camp.

I don't think Peter is wrong in being frustrated here. The children have been sent away from their parents and Peter seems to be trying to fill the "jocular father" role where he tries to keep everyone with high spirits and focused on adventure and lovely distracting things. Instead, his plans have backfired: every "hide-and-seek" game or exploring day he tries to organize ends up with Lucy in tears over some ridiculous fantasy world and then she goes and sulks for days because no one believes her obviously made-up story. And none of it is allowed to tide over because Edmund keeps teasing her and whipping her up into a frenzy. That would be very frustrating indeed.

However, Peter doesn't limit his criticism of Edmund here to (a) the specific, near-term examples provided, and (b) to immediately correctable behavior. Instead he lashes out at Edmund with broad accusations that are unfair, inappropriate, and are unfixable. Peter levels the broad accusation that Edmund "always" has bullied "anyone smaller" than himself, but this almost certainly is unfair and untrue - it is not possible that the Edmund we have seen gently teasing Lucy is the terror of his school and preys equally harshly on every smaller classmate.

Since I get the strong impression from the text that only Edmund has been to the "bad school" that will later be blamed for causing him to go wrong, the accusation is also uncomfortably inappropriate in that Peter seems not to have first-hand knowledge of this bullying: are the Pevensie parents reading Edmund's report cards at the dinner table ("does well in maths but bullies every child shorter than himself") or has Peter been listening at doors? Either way, the accusation will be embarrassing for Edmund, who will feel that Peter has breached a private issue, and thus reconciliation becomes much less likely.

Last of all, the accusation is utterly unfixable: how can Edmund alter his current behavior to please Peter? If the argument were kept to the immediate need ("Look, I know Lucy is taking this move too hard, but you need to stop talking to her about this magic world business."), then Edmund could respond with an attempt to mend the offending behavior, but once the argument has been cast to the broad and complex past ("You're a beastly spiteful bully and you always have been."), there's not an immediate solution that everyone can live with. Then, also, "beastly" and "spite" aren't words that most people are going to easily back down from.

I don't blame Peter for his actions here, because Peter is a child in a difficult circumstance with no training in constructive argumentation. My goal is not to move the Villain Hat from Edmund to Peter -- I think they're both victims in this story. However, I do certainly feel that Peter's behavior is a form of (inadvertent) bullying and I don't blame Edmund for not being thrilled with Peter for the next few chapters, because frankly I wouldn't be thrilled with him myself.

   It was an unpleasant evening. Lucy was miserable and Edmund was beginning to feel that his plan wasn't working as well as he had expected. The two older ones were really beginning to think that Lucy was out of her mind. They stood in the passage talking about it in whispers long after she had gone to bed.
    The result was the next morning they decided that they really would go and tell the whole thing to the Professor. "He'll write to Father if he thinks there is really something wrong with Lu," said Peter; "it's getting beyond us." So they went and knocked at the study door, and the Professor said "Come in," and got up and found chairs for them and said he was quite at their disposal. Then he sat listening to them with the tips of his fingers pressed together and never interrupting, till they had finished the whole story. After that he said nothing for quite a long time.

It's worth pointing out at this stage that this novel -- Lewis' first in the Narnia series -- was written and dedicated to his god-daughter Lucy Barfield. It's also worth pointing out that the cool, treats-the-kids-like-adults-and-is-delightfully-eccentric professor whose house they've been sent to live in is very clearly (at least to my eyes) an author insert character for Lewis: he's the hip, with-it elderly uncle who has a big exciting house and leaves the children alone to amuse themselves and get into all kinds of magical adventures. He's emotionally distant, which is a very convenient plot device in that it provides the children autonomy, but it also means that they have zero emotional support during this trying period in their lives.

   Then he cleared his throat and said the last thing either of them expected:
   "How do you know," he asked, "that your sister's story is not true?"
   "Oh, but -- " began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man's face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, "But Edmund said they had only been pretending."
   "That is a point," said the Professor, "which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance -- if you will excuse me for asking the question -- does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?"
   "That's just the funny thing about it, sir," said Peter. "Up till now, I'd have said Lucy every time."
   "And what do you think, my dear?" said the Professor, turning to Susan.
   "Well," said Susan, "in general, I'd say the same as Peter, but this couldn't be true -- all this about the wood and the Faun."
   "That is more than I know," said the Professor, "and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed."
   "We were afraid it mightn't even be lying," said Susan; "we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy."
   "Madness, you mean?" said the Professor quite coolly. "Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad."
   "But then," said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn't know what to think.
   "Logic!" said the Professor half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth."

And that's how The Professor proved the divinity of Jesus, too.

The Professor has set up a rather silly syllogism which goes something like this:

Major Premise: All statements are either true, or lies, or madness.
Minor Premise: Lucy's statement is neither a lie (based on past behavior) nor madness (based on obvious sanity).
Conclusion: Lucy's statement is therefore true.

Can we play a game in the comments called "Spot the Problem"? There are several that I can see right off the bat. First and foremost, the major premise is far too limited: all statements are not either unadulterated truths or outright lies or mental illness: Lucy may well believe her make-believe stories to be true without being a liar or mentally ill. (Indeed, this statement rather reminds me that Lewis didn't have children of his own -- a few nights of looking for the monster that Junior just saw before you brought the light in, I swear, dad! under the bed and in the closet would have clarified this truth/lies/madness issue up in a hurry.)

Second, while a charge of lying/illness is a serious accusation to level at a person who has otherwise always been truthful/well, it should also not be lost on The Professor that Lucy is a very young girl who has undergone a serious shock to the system: she's been evacuated from her home because the city she lived in all her life is being bombed heavily by a war that is currently reshaping the continent next door and she may never see her mother or her father or her home ever again. That sort of thing carries with it the possibility for a few changes in character.

Thirdly, beyond that, we simply cannot logically say that past behavior is enough evidence to satisfy a syllogistic statement: I do not believe it is sound reasoning to logically infer that there are monsters in the closet that can appear and disappear at will just because Junior wholeheartedly believes there are and he's such an honest and intelligent boy in all other respects.

Of course, Lewis probably didn't live his life genuinely believing in the fantasies of his darling god-daughter, but this Truth/Lies/Madness argument will pop up in quite a few Christian writers in an attempt to logically infer the divinity of Christ. This particular argument usually looks like this:

Major Premise: All statements are either true, or lies, or madness.
Minor Premise: Jesus'/The Apostles' statements of Jesus' existence/divinity/resurrection were neither lies (based on willingness to die for their beliefs) nor madness (based on obvious sane behavior/writings).
Conclusion: Jesus'/The Apostles' statements are therefore true.

The argument, expanded out, is that neither Jesus nor the Apostles could have been lying about Jesus' divinity because who sacrifices their lives for something they know to be a lie?

This argument contains as many or more issues than believing in the Closet Monster. Once again, statements cannot be boiled down to Complete Truth, Complete Lies, Obvious Mental Illness. A tremendous number of people have had experiences -- in some cases shared experiences -- that seem not to have happened in the literal, physical sense. It would be foolish to argue that every person who has ever been abducted by aliens or who has seen Bigfoot or who has met Elvis post-1977 is either a liar, obviously mentally ill, or telling the complete, unadulterated truth.

The issues with the minor premise are legion. We do not actually know what Jesus or the Apostles said or did -- assuming they all actually existed -- since there is no one living today who witnessed their statements or actions. We have a body of literature that claims certain things about Jesus and the Apostles, but in order to take that body of literature at face value, we'll have to climb through another Truth/Lies/Madness syllogism. We do know that many people have been willing to die in support of something they knew to be a lie, because they felt the greater cause was more important or because they felt they had no other choice at that point -- look at, say, the Jonestown massacre and how many people died knowing that they had helped Jim Jones fake his many miracles. We know also that intelligible writings do not indicate a completely clean bill of mental health, just as we also know that people can experience hallucinations and "life-like" dreams without necessarily being or acting mentally ill in any other respect.

To make an argument like this is to argue in bad faith. Five seconds of deliberation would have been enough to provide examples of children who say false things without being Habitual Liars and of children who believe fantastical things without being Obviously Ill. Five minutes of research into history would be enough to provide examples of people who die for false things without being Illogical Fanatics and of people who believe extremely unlikely things without being Obviously Ill. If your argument only works when you've already made up your mind -- for instance, that Lucy is correct or that Jesus is divine -- then it's not a logical argument at all: it's a statement of faith. And that's fine, but you need to own up to that.

It is possible, perhaps, that The Professor is a satirical character: a "learned" man whose learning leaves him hopelessly stuck in his ivory tower, and who applies fallacious syllogisms to simple problems involving lonely children. But it's worth noting that in this very particular instance, The Professor is right -- Lucy's Narnia experience is true -- and it would seem that Lewis expects us not to argue with the result.

Let's continue on.

   "Well, for one thing," said Peter, "if it was real why doesn't everyone find this country every time they go to the wardrobe? I mean, there was nothing there when we looked; even Lucy didn't pretend there was."
   "What has that to do with it?" said the Professor.
   "Well, sir, if things are real, they're there all the time."
   "Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter did not know quite what to say.
   "But there was no time," said Susan. "Lucy had had no time to have gone anywhere, even if there was such a place. She came running after us the very moment we were out of the room. It was less than a minute, and she pretended to have been away for hours."
   "That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true," said the Professor. "If there really is a door in this house that leads to some other world (and I should warn you that this is a very strange house, and even I know very little about it) -- if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time. On the other hand, I don't think many girls of her age would invent that idea for themselves. If she had been pretending, she would have hidden for a reasonable time before coming out and telling her story."

It's the oddest thing, but almost every night I move into another world -- a world which only I can enter and which never seems to be available for other people to step into. Indeed, the world only lets me in when it wants to -- I can't enter the world willy-nilly whenever I want. The most fantastical things occur in this world, and the time seems to pass differently there -- I can spend hours or even years there with only a few minutes passing in this one.

I am, obviously, talking about my dreams, but I would expect The Professor to nod and say that this alternate universe was one he himself predicted in some long-distant thesis.

Looking over the last passage I feel a twinge of doubt. I initially said that Lewis/The Professor probably wouldn't take at face value claims of alien abduction and Bigfoot sightings, but his "nothing is more probable [than other worlds all over the place, just round the corner]" statement makes me think that maybe he would believe in Bigfoot. If so, I have a Bridge to Terabithia I'd like to sell to The Professor.

Interestingly enough, reading through this entry, a lot of this puts me in mind of James Randi's writings in "Flim Flam" where he discusses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Cottingly Fairies incident. Randi writes in his usual heavy style:

England at that time was not yet ready to mature out of the mindset that Queen Victoria had left as her hallmark: the notion that the world was a rather predictable place and that everything was secure and stable. Little girls were always innocent and frivolous. Evil men had heavy brows and wore black. People were forever classified by birth and education. And so it went. It was the tenor of the time.

Holmes himself, though apparently an intellect of huge proportions, could not have survived outside the fictional world that Doyle wove about him. For his deductions to be correct, the consistency of his world was absolutely necessary. People in particular had to conform to type; otherwise Holmes would have been hopelessly wrong. It was just this rather naively invented universe that Doyle imagined into existence and projected about himself, and it accounts in large measure for his fanciful interpretation of phenomena that he came upon only late in life -- the wonders of spiritualism.

Doyle lost his son Kingsley in World War I, perhaps another reason for his tum toward spiritualism. In any case -- and in common with others of influence -- he was drawn to this latest fad, which had been started in America (by two other girls, the Fox sisters) and had taken not firmly in England. It had-become a recognized religion under the general term "spiritualism," and it flourished during the war, with so many available spirits to call upon. Doyle became one of its most ardent supporters, and his heir often remarked on the sad fact that he spent some £250,000 in his pursuit of this nonsense.

An excellent and popular author, yes. A great thinker, no. Doyle was dependent on a special, manufactured world for his conclusions to be correct. Such a special world was entirely fictional, for as we shall see, little girls are not always truthful, experts are not always right, and authorities do not always see with unclouded vision.

Randi is heavy-handed, as always, but his attack on Sherlock Holmes' usual deductions from people's outward appearance, behaviors, and habits is well taken. It is possibly rather dangerous to subscribe to a world-view where "generally truthful" little girls are to be taken at face value and assumed to be honest, regardless of the likelihood of the things they say. This is not to say that there aren't magical worlds just around the corner, but rather that instead of dispensing the advice "Let's believe Lucy until proven otherwise," The Professor might have been more helpful to say, "Let's be nice to Lucy and provide her some distance on the issue. How about a picnic this evening and maybe some charades?"

Interestingly, Randi also ties in to another issue that bugged me about this chapter, the "Narnia time" being "evidence" in Lucy's favor. When Randi enumerates out "the major hallmarks of paranormal chicanery", he writes for #4:

4. Faults discovered in the story or performance tend to prove the phenomenon real, it is agreed, since a clever trickster would not make such basic errors. Examples: It was said that if Elsie had been really trying to make photo number one a good fake she would have posed Frances looking at the fairies, not at the camera. Consider the other possibility: If Frances had been looking at the fairies, it would have been hailed as perfectly natural! Either way, Frances wins. And when Jeane Dixon, the alleged prophet, predicts an event that does not come to pass, she is acclaimed for having been honest enough to give it a good try anyway

Presumably if Lucy had been gone for hours and hours, her story would have been equally credible.


Personal Failure said...

You know what? Let's give Edmund a lot more credit than Lewis did and assume he lied to protect his siblings.

Think about it: the magical Turkish Delight is already giving him withdrawal cravings* and he was never really comfortable around the White Queen. If he tells his siblings that yes, there is a fantastical fairyland beyond the wardrobe, they'll go rushing right in to look- and get caught by the Queen just like he did, fed magical candy and made into her slave.

That was my thought when I first read the book, that rather than being spiteful or selfish, Edmund was instead being self sacrificing, but in a way that seemed cruel because Lucy didn't know the whole story. I like my story better, personally.

*Even if you've only experienced withdrawal from coffee, it's vicious and awful and you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy, let alone your siblings.

Personal Failure said...

Ugh, read further and came across Liar, Madman or Lord. The fact that Lewis considers this the height of logic, and that others are so impressed with this, is laughable. Who has not said a thing they believed to be true that turned out not to be? Were you a liar? Of course not. Lying requires malice, the intention to deceive. Merely passing along untrue information that one believes to be true is an entirely different thing.

Lewis also seems to believe that the mentally ill are always raving nutters, all the time. Plenty of people suffering from delusions, hallucinations or even seizure disorders that cause hallucinations, can appear to be rational and logical even while discussing their delusion. The average person simply isn't equipped to tell mentally ill from not 100% of the time.

Also, if the professor believes that there may indeed be a portal to another dimension in his wardrobe, why doesn't he go look for himself? Why on Earth would he encourage four children to go exploring another dimension? That's moving beyond mere neglect straight into attempted murder.

Ana Mardoll said...

Also, if
the professor believes that there may indeed be a portal to another
dimension in his wardrobe, why doesn't he go look for himself? Why on
Earth would he encourage four children to go exploring another
dimension? That's moving beyond mere neglect straight into attempted

Now I'm sad that Peter and Susan don't know more about Narnia to tell him.

"A not-tame lion, a satyr that kidnaps little girls, and an evil witch you say? Yes, yes, you should definitley go back there. Preferably soon, so that I can finish my latest thesis. Run along now, and have fun being eaten, er, having adventures."

Will Wildman said...

The extent of my actual knowledge of Narnia omes from seeing the first two movies (which I really enjoyed for their visuals and acting, while rolling my eyes at the plotting so hard that I caused measureable perturbance in the rotation of the planet) so I am totally biased in favour of Edmund at all times while reading this deconstruction.  Edmund is awesome.  Of course, this also leads to me having questionable ideas stuck in my head, like thinking that the professor actually has been to Narnia?  And thus knows perfectly well that the wardrobe might take them there, but he's instead playing a 'logic' game with the intent of looking really smart and indoctrinating the children to his philosophy?

I'm desperately waiting for a story in which someone works according to Forgery Error #4, and then it turns out that a really clever trickster would in fact make that particular decision because it would make a skeptic think that a clever trickster wouldn't have done that.  The whole 'a forgery wouldn't have factor X' thing is no more reliable than trying to follow a chain of I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know-that-you-know and then suddenly we're looking up iocaine suppressants on wikipedia.

MJSS said...


The Magician's Nephew is all about the Professor (as a boy) going to Narnia, and its ending suggests that he shouldn't be at all surprised if the wardrobe takes people there. I'd be surprised if Lewis had any of this in mind when he wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes, MJSS, is correct: it's official cannon that the Professor went to Narnia as a child AND the wardrobe is made out of a tree that has a magical connection to Narnia. (It grew from the apple that child!Professor brought back).

HOWEVER, there are those who believe this to be a retcon rather than a planned-all-along. We may never know the truth. :P

Will Wildman said...

Aha!  Validation!  Thanks, MJSS.  Though you make a fair point that Lewis may or may not have had any such backstory in mind for the Professor when writing this scene.  (Especially since it's such an incredibly obvious parallel to his god/conman/delusional argument for Jesus.  But I don't know chronology there either; when did he state said Jesus argument relative to writing these books?)

Ana Mardoll said...

I should clarify that I don't know that Lewis ever used the "Liar, Madman, Lord" argument in a Jesus context -- I'm most familiar with Josh McDowell using it in "Evidence that Demands a Verdict".

The theory has been around for FOREVER, though, so it seems almost impossible that a theologian like Lewis wouldn't be aware of it. Whether or not he used it, though, I can't say -- can we get a confirmation from someone who has read one of Lewis' non-fictional works recently?

Will Wildman said...

And while I don't have any particular beef with Jesus if he lived (it's hard to plan two thousand years ahead) I'm not clear on what is supposed to make it so obvious that he wasn't crazy.  There's nothing inherently bad about crazy.  I would dare to take the stance that the world could be improved by a greater number of people believing they had an inborn responsibility to dedicate themselves to the less fortunate, chastise those who misuse power, and tell everyone that they believe it's vitally important to be kind to each other.  This is a crazy I can get behind.

Lunch Meat said...

I don't know about the suggestion that The Magician's Nephew is a retcon; it makes more sense to me if the Professor's "logic", like Lewis's, is a justification for what he already knows/believes. The Professor has been to Narnia; he knows about weird things like talking animals and weird time and the fact that real things aren't always perceivable, but he can't come right out and say that to the kids: they'd think he was really crazy and it would totally ruin his eccentric and mysterious but intellectual image. So maybe he's coming up with all of this on the spot. As you said, Ana, most reasonable adults would doubt this story just like a closet monster story, no matter how much they like or trust the child or how logical they are.

Ana Mardoll said...

As you said, Ana, most reasonable adults would doubt this story just
like a closet monster story, no matter how much they like or trust the
child or how logical they are.

True, but this is Lewis' exact justification for why you should believe in Jesus, so I rather think he was slipping some theology in here rather than a character backstory. Lewis does not otherwise seem interested in providing character backstories (even Edmund's "bad school" is tacked on in, IIRC, Chapter 16!), so I'm not sure why the guy who has two pages of dialogue, tops, should get a detailed foreshadowing backstory. :D

Seems like if he said, "Oh, yeah, I've totally been to Narnia," Peter and Susan might still have taken him seriously. Why wouldn't they? He owns the wardrobe, after all. Sure, it's preposterous, but it wouldn't be too hard for him to provide some details that Lucy knows about (like the lamp in the forest).

John Magnum said...

The trilemma is annoying on a bunch of levels. 

One thing that really galls me is Lewis's writing about how Jesus didn't leave us any interpretive wiggle room but clearly and definitively forces us to pick one of his three options. It embodies a couple pernicious elements of contemporary Christianity.

First, it embodies the whole "if any of it is true, all of it is true"/"if any of it is false, all of it is false" stuff, where Lewis says that our opinions regarding Jesus's moral teachings must be in utter lockstep with our opinions regarding Jesus's metaphysical status. The attitude isn't just blatantly silly thinking, but outright harmful and destructive to people's faiths. It's the sort of nonsense that turns anti-homosexuality and young-earth creationism into integral parts of Christian faiths, and when those tenets are demolished by the slightest interaction with the real world the rest comes down too.

The second annoying thing is that the line of argument treats Jesus as a didactic, propositional figure and the authors of the books of the Bible as biographers or reporters. Lewis acts as though Jesus came out and stated "I, Jesus of Nazareth, am the same person as God, and all the things I say are wholly contingent on my metaphysical identity with God." Jesus, as recorded, was never that transparent or straightforward. Above and beyond that, it's annoying to see the Bible treated as a textbook,especially one in which doctrinal propositions originating in the early church or the medieval period or the Protestant reformation or the late nineteenth century  are retroactively considered to be clearly and obviously stated in the text.

This second problem is particularly circular. You can't reach Lewis's conclusions unless you start approaching the Bible with an enormous load of preconceptions about how the Bible is read and what it says and how reliable a source of historical/literal information it is.

Ana Mardoll said...

There's also the problem in how the Liar, Lunatic, Lord theory interacts with OTHER religions. If there are no "honestly mistaken" and "partially right, but not completely so" categories for religious leaders, then anyone with a theology that is in conflict with (Lewis') Christianity, is automatically a Liar or a Lunatic.

It's very difficult to have an inter-denominational discussion if you're starting from the stated belief that everyone else's religions were founded by liars and lunatics.

Kadia said...

I think Lewis's 'logic' comes from the fact that he reached his conclusion first and then worked backward to create a logical structure to defend it (without using physical evidence or credible witnesses). Narnia does in fact exist; two characters that we know of have entered it very recently. This lowers the reader's skepticism level  -- we already saw Narnia, so any argument that supports something we already know is true will sound pretty reasonable.

Same with Liar, Lunatic, or Lord -- Lewis already believes that Jesus Christ is Lord. His trilemma is pretty much a description of those beliefs rather than evidence. It won't convince anyone who doesn't already agree with the conclusion, and people who already do agree with the conclusion won't worry too much about it. Either they'll accept it as logical or agree that, yes, it doesn't make sense but the underlying point is valid.

Lunch Meat said...

It's very difficult to have an inter-denominational discussion if you're starting from the stated belief that everyone else's religions were founded by liars and lunatics.

Isn't that the whole point? I don't remember what your background is but in fundamentalist thought that's really the goal. I mean, my background was not as fundamentalist as some, but even I grew up hearing (TW for christianism/demonizing of other religions) Muhammed married little girls --> Muhammed is evil --> Islam is evil. Joseph Smith was a drunk womanizer who claimed to have had a vision --> Joseph Smith was either evil and a liar or crazy --> Mormonism is evil. When your religion is based on an authority you're required to obey without question, you have to tear down all the other authorities as much as possible.

I think I agree with you about Lewis/the Professor - I don't think that Lewis would necessarily have enough introspective understanding to portray a self-insert as intellectually flawed. My explanation is just going to be my personal in-universe ret-con of the situation.

Ana Mardoll said...

Lunch Meat, I lol'd. Yes, my background is Fundie and I heard much the same things. Inter-denominational shut-down is definitely a feature, not a bug, for some Liar-Lunatic-Lord proponents.

I think there are differing opinions, though, on whether or not Lewis was "above the fray", and I think this particular "Liar, Lunatic, Lord" theory is a problem to be reconciled -- I don't know if Lewis ever called Mohammed a liar or Smith a lunatic, but there does seem to be that implication there when he's assigned only 3 options to religious leaders and 1 of those options is really only viable for one religious leader.

Although, now that I say that, since Mohammed and Smith both came after Jesus, they could have been Truthful as well... Mormonism is definitely built on a foundation of Christianity, and Islam acknowledges the "prophet" status of Jesus and many other important Jewish and Christian characters. I suspect, however, that Lewis wouldn't endorse that view, though.

depizan said...

You know what? Let's give Edmund a lot more credit than Lewis did and assume he lied to protect his siblings.

I always had a huge problem with the story line around Edmund.  He's a designated villain, trapped by the events and the author never seems to realize that.  As Ana pointed out, he met the villain almost the moment he landed in Narnia.  And, while she was a bit creepy, she wasn't wearing "Hello, I'm the Villain" pinned to her shirt.  By the time he might have worked that out, she's got him hooked on drugs (essentially) and gives him no choice but to work for her.  Which he never does all that effectively, if I remember right.  He also never seems to intend any actual harm to his siblings.  (Being a bit mean at times is not the same thing.)  And yet he's treated as though he willingly joined the White Queen and was completely in on her plans.

But he wasn't.  He was set up, quite possibly by Aslan or Narnia itself.

That, and the fact that our heroes are heroes solely because they're human, and not because of anything they do (They do remarkably little.) or have done, turned me off the stories when I read this one as a kid.  I never read the others.  They were clearly not my thing.

keri said...

He was set up, quite possibly by Aslan or Narnia itself.

That is because Aslan is cruel and evil.

It always always surprises me that anyone can read these books and not come to that conclusion.

I'd say "of course Edmund was protecting his siblings!" because it never occurred to me otherwise, but now I can see Ana's arguments for other options. But I've mentioned in other threads when I drop in (I'm awful at remembering to come back to continue conversation, I'm sorry!) that I've always empathised with pre-conversion Edmund, so perhaps my view of things is clouded that way.

Loquat said...

Lewis's Trilemma, meet Hong Xiuquan, who believed himself to be God's second son and Jesus's younger brother* on the basis of several interesting visions he'd had. I can't vouch for his truthfulness or sanity myself, but he managed to persuade so many Chinese people to follow him in the mid-19th-century that they were able to mount a moderately successful rebellion against the ruling Qing dynasty, keep it going for some 15 years, and even conquer Nanjing.

*European Christians who came to meet Hong were perplexed, to say the least. His ideas of how God and Jesus lived in Heaven must have been heavily informed by traditional Chinese family values, as he claimed that both of them were living in some kind of divine family compound with their respective wives and children. Hong wasn't sure if the Europeans really knew anything about Jesus, so he tested them with questions like "How many sons and daughters does Jesus have?" and "What is the name of Jesus's wife?" I don't think anyone came away from that encounter happy.

Steve Morrison said...

To answer the chronological question, Lewis first posed the "trilemma" in his WWII-era radio broadcasts which became the basis for his book "Mere Christianity". In other words, some years before he wrote the first Narnia book.

aravind said...

@Loquat:disqus Ah, but as Ana mentions at the end, the fact that his claims were somewhat popular in China only prove them to be "peasant hogwash" or another disparaging (or even racist) thing. Meanwhile, guess who's claiming that Christianity is clearly the right religion because it has a global plurality...

Baron Scarpia said...

It's worthwhile teasing out an aspect of the trilemma that isn't always made as explicit as it could be. By concentrating on Jesus/Lucy, it concentrates on their mental states and says nothing about the external world.

Consider what Lucy says -

- There is a magical land covered by eternal winter
- It's populated with fauns
- She spent hours there, but only seconds elapsed in our world
- You can find it in a wardrobe

Now if the ONLY alternatives were that Lucy was truthful, lying or mad, our knowledge of the world would dictate that it is much more likely that she was lying or mad. The situation she describes is miraculous in the worst sense; it conflicts with everything we know about the world.

The trilemma essentially treats any claim's truth as relying on the mental state of the person making the claim. No wonder it fails.

Trekelny said...

Just checking in before an interview of mine goes up this morning. I must say in all HONESTY (!), this hate-parade on CS Lewis is one of the most amusing, sometimes dispiriting things I've read in a week. A few points, just to clarify what you're doing here:
- CS Lewis is without doubt one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th century, more learned and erudite than you could readily imagine. He swapped ale and tale with Tolkein and others for relaxation- anybody up for calling him uninformed?
- EVERYTHING CSL wrote was intentional and prefigured, he didn't go back and retcon anything because he was always writing to the essential truth of the Christian story. All of Narnia (and some of you evidently did not realize that there were seven books in this series), all of his space triology, and all of his theological writings such as Mere Christianity were composed from this consistent point of view. I read many of these comments and I can assure you they strike against the body of his work about as effectively as raindrops on marble. You guys got nothing, he's pre-answered all of it.
- The syllogism that is causing endless "annoyance" here goes considerably deeper than anyone seems willing to entertain, and it all starts with the premise that Lucy's story, like Jesus', inherently involves things that science, logic, human reason cannot touch. Many of you paid lip-service to that, but then proceeded to examine as if, for example, a lie detector detected truth, when in fact it only detects whether a person THINKS they are. A person cannot be MISTAKEN about whether they have been to another world, or if they are the Son of God. If they tell you such a thing is so, and they clearly believe it to be so, your options are just as limited as CSL says they are. Some of you even say it's "annoying" and you want "wiggle-room"- what for? Because, JUST as Lewis has written, something inside you can sense how difficult it will be to accept one of those three premises. And that, as they say, is your problem, not his. Your journey to faith begins.
-I imagined monsters under my bed. Who says they weren't real? Not me. The Pixar people didn't even need Christianity to explain the whole thing (and to make those working class guys decent "people" too). But there are PLENTY of explanations- unless you don't believe in the White Witch... in which case, why are you even here?
- You can have your opinions, of course. I would simply like to warn you, particularly if you were unaware of the body of his work, that Lewis' thoughts are not moved in the slightest by anything I've read here today. Anyone I know would be punching out of their weight class to take this man on. He wouldn't even have to come back from the dead to answer you. Just read on- at the worst, you will come through some smashing good stories and really enjoy them.
-Final word- Edmund is to my mind the greatest hero of the entire seven books. I love him, and it's for what he went through, the real character development we see in him. Don't try to make this horrid lie into his shining moment, he did it because he was mean (already, before the taffy) and couldn't bear the harder course. Later he learns the truth through suffering- what other preteen boy on THIS earth would have the character to take on the White Witch and break her wand?

Amaryllis said...


To answer your more obvious points, yes, everyone here is aware that there are seven books in the series, and most of us have read them all, several times. Nor is it accurate to say that none of us are Christians. There are Christians who don't believe that C. S. Lewis was the greatest thing ever, despite his undoubted intelligence and erudition. I personally think that you'll find more helpful Christian fiction in Tolkien or Rowling, and I understand that there are those who find  a large helping of Christian morality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

To say that The Magician's Nephew is a "retcon" is not to say that TLTLATW was not informed by Lewis's Christian philosophy or intended to tell a complete Christian story. All he's retconning in that book is tha fictional details of the fictional story; it changes nothing of the "essential truth" that Lewis was trying to convey.

Actually, would you call it a retcon, or merely a prequel? And it suffers from prequel-itis; by which I mean that it doesn't always help and it's not always interesting to produce a book whose major purpose is to Explain It All.

I read the books in publication order as a child, and several times in the ensuing decades. And I have to agree that there's nothing in TLTWATW to indicate that the Professor has been to Narnia. In fact, I think it would be more meaningful if he hadn't. In that case, he'd accept Lucy's story on faith, as it were, because his education and his cogitations have made him open to the possibility that "there are more things in heaven and earth" than we know. That's the way I understood it when I first read it.

As it is, if we take TMN into account, the Professor knows that Lucy's story is factually accurate. He knows because he's had similar experiences in his own youth. He's asking Peter and Susan to take her story on faith, but that's something that was never asked of him, in canon. And since he knows that Narnia is literally, physically real, why doesn't he explain anything about it to the children? If you take it as a Christian allegory, isn't it the duty of the Christian to share his own knowledge of the Good News to those who ask? And if you take it as a straight-up adventure story, he's an adult who knows that children in his care are running into danger, and does nothing to warn them or protect them.

No, it's a more sensible story if he hasn't been to Narnia. And TMN was indeed a retcon; it changes the meaning of what was written before it.

I shall leave it to those who are more qualified to take you on about the trilemma, but I will say that it's an argument that's been demolished on many more places than this blog, and that many Christians don't find it all helpful.

As for Edmund's lying,  the only reason this scene seems to be included is to give the Professor a chance to trot out the trilemma. Edmund has every reason in the world to back up Lucy's story and get the whole group back to Narnia: he's addicted to the Turkish Delight, he wants the other rewards the Queen promised him,  he doesn't know for sure that the Queen means them ill. No, Lewis wants to slip in his favorite argument, and does it by creating another instance of evil Edmund being evil for evil's sake.

And literature is full of stories of heroic children.

Baron Scarpia said...

Trekelny, I'm afraid your defence fails to convince. Let's take it in order.
First, arguments stand or fall on their own merits. It really doesn't matter what Lewis's reputation or virtues are, we're discussing ideas and not personalities. Even Nobel Prize winners can have really stupid ideas.

Second, though you say that Lewis's pre-answered all complaints about the trilemma, you don't show that he has.

Third, Lucy's story CAN be touched by empirical observation - the other children eventually go into the wardrobe and find Narnia. If God is beyond human reason and science and logic, then the analogy with Narnia breaks down.

What's more, what is the trilemma if it isn't an attempt to reach god through logic? Lewis uses it to try to convince us that Jesus is the son of god and hence the Christian god exists. But if god is forever unknowable through logic, that Lewis's attempt is futile from the get-go.

Or perhaps you mean that Jesus's/Lucy's claim is so unbelievable and illogical that it actually counts in the story's favour. Well, no. As I said above, if the ONLY alternatives were that Jesus were telling the truth, lying or mad, I would go for one of the last two. It's the more reasonable explanation.

Of course, as we know, those are NOT the only alternatives.

Fourth, you think people can't be mistaken? I mistakenly believed once that a close relative of mine was a nice person. I would have told you he was, despite all evidence to the contrary. In such a case, was I lying? Was I mad?

A huge number of Americans believe the universe was created 6,000 years ago. Are they all mad? Are they all lying, pretending to have the belief? Or would you say that they're telling the truth?

Fifth, you write 'something inside you can sense'. It's best not to make assumptions about what your opponent believes in an argument, because it would be just your luck if you were wrong. The assumption might also annoy. ('who is this guy, presuming to tell me that I don't really think what I'm telling him I think?', etc)

Sixth, I must admit I don't get your point about monsters udner the bed. However, I would make a bet that yes, they weren't real.

Seventh, your penultimate paragraph is just a rehash of your third paragraph. You say he has the answers, but you don't demonstrate it.

Eighth, since I've not read the books, I can't comment on Edmund's development. However, from what I've read in these deconstructions, I'd imagine that quite a few would be happy to disagree with you. 

Katharina Gerlach said...

I think this discussion is becoming rather heated. Maybe we should go to the pool now. I think, most of us agree that CSLewis was a great author and a devoted Christian. He wrote his stories just as laboriously as any author today does.

What makes his stories different from todays is that people today tend to question everything -- especially everything that is connected to religion and personal believes. Imho, many things Lewis included were considered a given at his time, but are questioned today.

Personally, I loved his stories. As a kid, I never even realized how much they resembled stories from the bible. I only "discovered" that in my teen on a re-read.

So, please credit him with what's due, he paved the road for stories that entertained kids. Before him (and a few others like Edith Nesbit), kids literature had to be educational, which usually equaled boring. Now, kids have a wide variety of heroic stories to choose from, all have interesting heroes and adventure kids can relate to. Most don't put their believes up on their flags like he did because times have changed. Books where the author tries to "teach" something to the reader aren't en vogue any more.

Oh, by the way, did you know the man is long dead? So whatever you suggest, he can't rewrite his novels any more. They are here to stay, and kids (and other readers) alone will decide if they will still be classics in years to come or if they will be replaced by something newer (better?).

Now, please let's go to the pool. I'll pay for ice cream...

Lunch Meat said...

Wow. A hate-fest? Really? You seem to think that there is only one way to approach any writer/thinker: either one must agree with everything they say and never question, or one must hate them and think they are evil. That's silly. I am a Christian, have read many (but not all) of Lewis's work, love most (but not all) of it, but just because I love someone and just because I know he is smarter than me doesn't mean I am not allowed to analyze and find flaws with his work, if I find them. It's irresponsible to assume that because he's smarter than me, the things I think are flaws aren't really flaws and I'm just incapable of understanding. That way lies the emperor's new clothes.

CS Lewis is without doubt one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th century, 
How many of these writers have you read? On what empirical basis do you say this? Can you give me an analysis of, say, twenty of these writers (since there have been far, far more than that, you ought to be able to come up with twenty) and explain where they fall short or why they're among "the greatest"?

Also, please explain when Jesus personally came to you in physical form and said "I am the son of God." If he has not, then you have no way of knowing whether he said what he did in the New Testament. All your assumptions about his character and state of mind, all the assumptions which "rule out", in your mind, liar and lunatic, are based on the writings of someone else, 2000 years ago. Can you state anything about their character and state of mind with any accuracy? Do you even know who they all were? Just their names, can you give me that?*

*Hint: You can't. (Hebrews.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Huh. I really always thought that the first real flare-up on a deconstruction would be Twilight-related.

Here's my 2 cents: I loved the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, and for all their faults, I still enjoy the series now for nostalgia's sake. I've read all the books several times over, to the point where I have several passages practically memorized. For me therefore to say that I don't like the books would be obviously false, so it's rather a shame that I've somehow created that impression.

However, I'm not going to say Lewis was a "Great Author" because I don't think any such assessment can be objectively made about any author. I love Atwood but find Austen tedious; my Mother is a devout Christian but would not enjoy Narnia even a little bit. And so on. Lewis was an author, that's a fact, but a "great" author? That depends solely on the reader. About the only thing you can objectively say about Lewis is that he had very good spelling and grammar.

Also, any assumption that I and nearly everyone else on this board isn't
aware of the full series is rather uninformed, given that we've
actually had trouble keeping the comments to TLTWATW, rather than
skipping ahead to The Last Battle! The deconstruction is attempting to
deal with the text as it occurs, and not with knowledge of the end in
mind because I think it's more interesting that way. Similarly, it's very naive to barge into the Chapter 5 deconstruction and announce that Lewis is dead and can't fix his work at this point -- I feel safe saying that everyone on this board (a) knows that and (b) has demonstrated that knowledge in their comments on previous chapters.

Finally, Trekelny, I have no idea if you're the author that is going up today or just someone trying to discredit him (since I have an actual calendar linked to the Interview Policy page, it wouldn't be hard to impersonate someone), but on the off chance that you ARE an indie author, here's a pro-tip for you: it probably isn't a good idea to insult everyone on a blog full of potential readers.

And one last thought about Edmund's character development: child!Edmund will not speak again after Chapter 10 in a book that is seventeen chapters long. He literally does not speak from the moment that the Witch decides to sacrifice him. This makes me particularly sad because up to that point, Edmund was one of the heavier talkers in the book and by robbing him of a voice at the crucial point of the Narnia Passion Play, we do't get to hear at all what he thinks about the event, nor how he develops after. We don't see him again until AFTER he's grown up and is in his 30s (imho) and now "Edmund the Just". This tells me that Lewis was uncomfortable with developing Edmund's character at all, if he needs a 20-year skip to get past the Heel-Face-Turn.

Incidentally, this is how Edmund manages to end the novel with only a few words more than Our Lady Of Perpetual Silence, Susan, despite being such a chatterbox in the first chapters.

Trekelny said...

I am sincerely sorry if anyone found my comments insulting. I read the comment string, saw the apparent naivete in them and reacted emotionally. I credit the thoughts with their due, but the parting of the ways that we come to is one of equals. The idea that Lewis' thought, or the body of Christianity that he represents can be... well, patronized is frankly somewhere between alarming and amusing!

I love a good argument, and the fact that I cannot carry it as far as it deserves should not be taken as a sign of its inadequacy, but mine. I would not hesitate to call Lewis great, and I could go into the standards whereby I make such a judgement. Why should anyone care? But I am also content to let the statement stand in the same way I insist the NY Football Giants are "great"- as a fan. Is that fair?

As for dismissals of the gospels and their authors regarding their account of Jesus' life, I can say this with some confidence having studied ancient and medieval history all my life. We would salivate, we would jump at the opportunity to study TWO sources regarding the same life, of any person who was not a king, queen or general. There is absolutely no basis to doubt the historical accuracy of the gospels, as far as the events which are not miraculous, than for ANY source that comes to us from 2,000 years ago. By the standard of "we weren't there", all history is fantasy. And I find that... well, troubling to say the least. It's all out, or it's ALL in.

And on the miracles, Jesus' divinity and in an echoing way the Professor's logic, I would maintain that the dismissals posted here don't play fair at best. You cannot entertain an argument that super-natural events have occurred, and then judge them empirically.

I boiled over at what I viewed as rather easy patronization of a rather imposing intellect- not mine, I assure you! As for whether "he wrote seven books", I saw two comments asking the question, so I concluded the authors weren't lying and were not insane! BTW with any statement I may make on this blog or elsewhere, I'll hope to be taken as telling the truth- but there are many cases where I can accept a verdict of insanity. Just not lying.

Ana Mardoll said...

There is absolutely no basis to doubt the historical accuracy of the
gospels, as far as the events which are not miraculous, than for ANY
source that comes to us from 2,000 years ago. By the standard of "we
weren't there", all history is fantasy.

I highly recommend Robert Price's "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man". If nothing else, it should at least clear up the misconception that doubt on the historical accuracy of the gospels is based on "we weren't there".

Dav said...

"There is absolutely no basis to doubt the historical accuracy of the gospels, as far as the events which are not miraculous"

Whoa, I'm going to need a [ref] on that one.  For example, I think there is fairly good to excellent evidence that the gospels weren't written down for a considerable period of time; stories told orally change and grow, especially when spread amongst devotees.  That seems like adequate basis to call into question historical accuracy, not even touching some of the questionable facts that slipped in, like people returning to their home towns for census.

Let's look at Pliny (the elder) as an example - a learned man, writing about the same time as the gospels were being constructed.  He was writing to educate, and probably entertain as well, but he was serious about actual documenting of facts.  His Natural History has beautiful, insightful passages on how amber is formed, he dismisses many of the mythologic creatures as fantasy.  On the other hand, we have passages like this:

"Africa produces elephants, they are found also in the. countries of the
Æthiopians and the Troglodytæ. But it is India that produces the
largest, as well as the dragon, which is perpetually at war with the
elephant, and is itself of so enormous a size, as easily to envelope the
elephants with its folds, and encircle them in its coils. The contest
is equally fatal to both; the elephant, vanquished, falls to the earth,
and by its weight, crushes the dragon which is entwined around it. [From
Book 8, Chap. 11.]"

There's much more of Pliny remaining, both in reference and his original works, so it's much easier to get a read on his personality.  My take is that he was delighted with the natural world, and a little too credulous to the stories of travelers, which came back a little garbled or exaggerated; he was just wrong on some things, not lying or mad.  I think that's a best case scenario for the gospels, which have more writers, more distance from the events, and less incentive to keep things totally factual (rather than convincing people to convert, say). 

Trekelny said...

Dav, that is a marvelous response and I appreciate it. Pliny is a good, rather singular example of someone who wrote soon after the fact and in other ways imitated the modern journalistic approach. But that was hardly the only approach- and note that he was writing about natural phenomena. The Romans and Greeks had some ideas about living people, biography, etc. that we would find strange. Among them was the strong idea that no physical tribute of any kind like a statue should be attempted while the person was still alive. You see that in Greek comedy too- their "frowny-face" mask was for comedy, because you left the theater not knowing what had happened to the protag, not really! Only with a tragedy when  he or she is dead or asking to die, can you really know... and smile!

So there's nothing unusual with the fact that the gospels were written anywhere from 30 to 110 years later, by ancient standards. Only by ours. And again, practically everyone (I can think of Thucydides and the satyrists as exceptions) wrote about human events previous to their own lives. Often hundreds of years later.

We can't be sure this was ALL there was, but it's all we have that survives, in case after case. So once again, this is the rule we apply in ancient history.

Credulity is another issue, and Herodotus probably falls into the same bag as you put Pliny. I tend to agree, but I would say they were very willing to believe the tales they heard were true, and leave it there. I don't think they applied modern standards of skepticism (look around the Enlightenment and after) to their writing. Marco Polo is the best example of a guy who told whoppers that need to be squared. Not an expert on him, but I'd say again he repeated tales he'd heard and put himself in the title role of tale-teller. Not a sin by old standards, but we live ina  world where plagiarism is probably the most mortal of sins.

BrokenBell said...

I was recently directed to an essay - which I've since lost, and can't seem to find, damn it all - that discussed the idea that a large part of the early Christian church did not actually believe in Jesus as a physical, flesh-and-blood man at all, but as a spiritual entity who existed purely outside of the material world, interacting with people through visions, visitations, and so on, and that the gospels were written long after the church was established. There were several examples of essays and debates written by Christians that would have been contemporary with Jesus, that seemed to disagree with or overlook entirely the concept of an Earthbound Christ. There's even an argument that Paul, in his letters, seems to believe that Jesus Christ exists, but had yet to appear as a living, breathing person. It's an interesting angle on the question, I think. 

Ana Mardoll said...

I've seen that theory, too, I believe in the same book as above. (I love Price's book and would buy everyone a copy if I could.)

Even among the Jesus-as-human camps, there have always been intense arguments about when he became The Christ: birth? baptism? death? resurrection?

Price lays out a compelling case that many parts of the gospels are written to let the author put in his say on these theological issues. As opposed to, you know, history.

Trekelny said...

The theories you are describing here, Ana and BrokenBell, were so popular in ancient times they became known as Apollinarianism (and then the opposite view Arianism). These were heresies and suppressed in their day, though it's worth pointing out they had serious historical as well as theological flaws.

We tend to empathize with oppressed minorities in the age of the First Amendment. But the early church, as with Catholicism and other sects today, have made a pact if you will around authority. As both an historian and a believer, I accept authority about many major issues. Probably why I'm so high on CS Lewis! I guess it gets back to your view of human nature. Can the truth ever really be defeated? I see this as "history having spoken". That's probably just my self-interest- I want to be comforted, I want to be shown a path I can follow. Jesus as only-god cannot offer me the latter, and Jesus as only-man cannot provide the first. I'll cop to being an optimist, thinking that this has been squared by a mystery which escapes the confines of science and human logic.

depizan said...

Before him (and a few others like Edith Nesbit), kids literature had to be educational, which usually equaled boring.

Dav said...

Right.  My point wasn't so much that it was *unusual* as we have good evidence that these practices don't make for the most accurate reports.  I think the best response is to recognize these shortcomings and leave a lot of gray area, but then I'm not someone who's inclined to appeals to authority, especially authority that isn't verifiable, cross-referenced, or even founded on something firm.  I like the gray area; agnosticism is comfortable for me.  But I don't hate Lewis - he's just not sacred, and he doesn't get a pass on criticism just because lots of Christians like him.  In fact, that seems like the best place to start.

Trekelny said...

:: grins :: I meant popular as in "tea party" popular, not as in "Justin Bieber" popular.

And I certainly did not back up my points, at least not to your satisfaction. As I said, I accept authority rather more than some, evidently more than most here. It's a great time-saver! But the flaws I was referring to don't require any real expounding- some who came after Jesus said he was only a man, others only a god. But Jesus himself (IF we accept the authority of the Gospels!) said he was both, and must be accepted as both. So we're back to the Professor's syllogism. And the fact that "the church" selected, inter alia, the Gospels as, well, gospel, is part and parcel of the situation. Can you root back up the Gnostics, et al, and go by their teaching? Sure. Free country and all that. But you'll need to take note of the petard you are hoisting- they are no earlier on balance, have no better scholarship on the whole, DO have other axes to grind in terms of the similarity with other beliefs of the day, and so on. In short, they have been judged, to use an unpopular word. And in the end, they leave you believing that "life sucks and then you die"- earth is a prison, heaven a jail-break. Not for me.

My point was not to convince anyone, but to warn them. I've been apprised in no uncertain terms that the people who were (universally) raining on CSL are quite conversant with his works and teachings. I accept that if folks say so, because I apply the syllogism and assume they are telling the truth! The facts appeared otherwise, including the question asked more than once whether he had written more books (and/or in what order). I mistakenly believed I was in a position to inform, not to convince. I have less and less interest in convincing folks these days- the house with many mansions, and all that. But if you had never posted here before, wouldn't the unanimity of opinion over thirty posts strike you as curious? It was my mistake, but if the room's on fire, you ring a bell.

Kit Whitfield said...

The 'liar, lunatic or lord' thing is utterly inexcusable.

You see, I've been a lunatic. So have quite a few people I love. So have a lot of people I've spoken to in the capacity of a volunteer counsellor. Mental illness is one of those things that happens to a lot of people. It is possible to be 'mad' in lots of different ways. 

Of all the mad people I've known, none of us have come anywhere near the idea of being a poached egg.

Because a poached egg - how funny! Ha ha. Obviously that's what mad people are like. Not people with delusions of grandeur: that would look far too like Jesus to be comfortable. And not people with the more common mental illnesses, because those illnesses involve agony and demand compassion, not mockery. Nope, this is a joke to Lewis: madness is obvious, dismissable, and laughable.

Which is to say, he's prepared to 'prove' the truth of Christianity based on a psychological diagnosis he makes despite proudly wearing on his sleeve an utter ignorance - and in many Narnian side-swipes, a virulent contempt - for actual psychology. And he's prepared to consider himself qualified to argue theology while in the same breath mocking the suffering. 

Lunatic? Lewis, don't use big words you don't understand. 

Ana Mardoll said...

Now, he
may have paved the way for kid's fantasy. I admit I can't think of any
books in that particular genre that predate his work. But that's a
little different that saying he paved the road for non-educational
children's fiction.

depizan, I had forgotten that Nancy Drew was that old. :D

The Narnia books were published in the 1950s. "Treasure Island" dates back to the 1880s, if I'm not mistaken. Andrew Lang was collecting fairy tales and "arabian nights" tales and publishing them for childrens' consumption in the 1890s and early 1900s. Lewis DEFINITELY was not the first fantastical children's writer, as dezipan correctly notes.

depizan said...

Gah, not only did I overlook Treasure Island (1883), but I completely forgot about Alice in Wonderland (1865), which is another example of children's fantasy.  And - though arguments go on as to whether it's fantasy or children's fantasy - the Hobbit was published in 1937.

JohnK said...

I think -- especially outside of a democratic country with liberal social and political freedoms -- something can be quite popular and suppressed. Take the Solidarity movement in Poland; pretty darn popular (it counted nearly a third of the adult population of the country as members, and it was supported by the Catholic Church and most democratic governments in the world) but its leaders were frequently imprisoned, its strikes crushed by military action, and its very existence made officially illegal.

That kind of thing is pretty common in human history. Beliefs can spread like wildfire among the underclass even though the official government and political elite try to suppress them.

Ana Mardoll said...

True, but that kind of suppression-by-force has little to do with the merit of the ideas involved.

If the implication is that a theological tenet was suppressed-by-reason -- I.e., everyone had a good sit-down and decided it didn't make sense -- then it's popularity is a little more odd.

Still, I do agree if the point is that just because something was suppressed, it doesn't mean the theory was untrue or without value.

The "it was suppressed" argument is either an appeal to authority (force or credentials) or an appeal to popularity. Neither addresses the merits of the theology.

Nick the Australian said...

"And one last thought about Edmund's character development: child!Edmund
will not speak again after Chapter 10 in a book that is seventeen
chapters long. He literally does not speak from the moment that the
Witch decides to sacrifice him. This makes me particularly sad because
up to that point, Edmund was one of the heavier talkers in the book and
by robbing him of a voice at the crucial point of the Narnia Passion
Play, we do't get to hear at all what he thinks about the event, nor how
he develops after. We don't see him again until AFTER he's grown up and
is in his 30s (imho) and now "Edmund the Just"."

I can't believe I never noticed that before!

Nick the Australian said...

I would say that The Hobbit is children's fantasy (Tolkien made it up for his own kids, after all) but that doesn't mean it's not intelligent, or not accessible to adults. It's "for all ages" in the proper sense of the phrase.

Ana Mardoll said...

I hadn't either, until I went through and highlighted everyone's speaking parts. I think you are not meant to notice it - there's a lot of passages about Lucy observing Edmund (Edmund wounded, Edmund looking better, Edmund walking with Aslan) but he has no voice of his own.

From a practical standpoint, I get this. It's very hard to write a redeemed character, especially when their only characterization up to that point has been "villain". That's why there's a Redemption Equals Death trope - it's easier to kill Darth Vader than try to work out his new place in the Rebel Alliance and how Leia is going to feel about her torturer being the "real" dad she didn't know she didn't have.

But from a theological standpoint, I find Lewis' punt here indefensible. Edmund as Sinner should be the most important character in the drama, NOT Aslan. To rob the Sinner of a voice waters down the analogy considerably because the Sinner very clearly does not matter anymore - now the story is about Aslan and Satan and they might as well be fighting over a model train set for all the difference it makes.

Mostly, though, I think Edmund's silence just reaffirms how ambivalent Lewis was about Edmund as a character.

Josh G. said...

When the first book is read in isolation, the Professor's statements
just come off as silly. But (and I know I'm not the first one on this
thread to point it out) they actually seem much worse when you know the
backstory that Lewis lays out in The Magician's
. Professor Digory is flat-out lying to Peter and Susan
in this scene. He's pretending to infer from first principles that Lucy
is telling the truth, when he's actually arriving at that conclusion
based on his own knowledge (that other worlds exist and it is possible
to visit them, and that the wardrobe is made from the wood of a Narnian
tree) which he refuses to impart to them.

What he should have done at this point is sit all four of the Pevensie
children down and tell them his own story. Who knows, maybe that would
have gotten Edmund to fess up; after all, he would hardly come off
looking any worse in his dealings with Jadis than the Professor himself
did. Worst-case scenario is that Peter and Susan think he's crazy, but
they already seem to have doubts about what he's saying here in canon,
and if they do wind up back in Narnia, at least they'll have some idea
of what they're up against. Withholding the truth from the children
seems irresponsible and dangerous.

Sailorsaturumon said...

Well, first of all, there is an important point about deconstruction - NOT EVERYTHING deserves to be deconstructed.  Just like a puppet house can be a source of joy despite being essentially colored paper and plastic, so a fairy-tale can be entertainimng AND educating despite falling apart by a scrutiny we apply here. Kipling's stories (like "How the Camel got his hump") are replete with factual and logical inaccuracies, but the clear moral makes them important for children nevertheless.  So yes, TLTWATW IS a great story, despite this.
The whole book,  for example, is a take on Snow Queen - a woman that controls winter and makes a child her servant. Remember Kai? he was essentially punished for a single remark about the Queen - she responded by planting that splinter in his eye aand thisa was responsible for all his evilness afterwards.  That story wasn't about Kai, it was about Gerda - and here the whole  "rescue Edmund" part is just about other Pevensie siblings.  THEREFORE edmund is silenced after wards

Sailorsaturumon said...

Now, he may have paved the way for kid's fantasy. I admit I can't think of any books in that particular genre that predate his work. But that's a little different that saying he paved the road for non-educational children's fiction.
Lewis pawed the way for "Trapped in another World" fiction, which basically didn't exist before (save for few obscure examples and "Gullivere"). This is also the point in Edmund's story - Narnia is a different world, and what constitutes only a minor transgression here is NATURALLY punishable by death there.

Ana Mardoll said...

I think someone already mentioned that Carroll predated Lewis by about 100 years. And fairy tales for children - including alternate worlds - have been around for pretty much all recorded history, so I think this is an example of the Older Than They Think trope. ;)

I'm not an expert on the evolution of childrens' literature, but I'm not sure I believe that Lewis was a way-paver of ANY childrens' literary trends. But that doesn't and shouldn't make his books any less important or enjoyable to people who find them important and enjoyable. :)

Kit Whitfield said...

 I think, most of us agree that CSLewis was a great author

Nope. His talent as an author is often criticised.

Now, he may have paved the way for kid's fantasy. I admit I can't think of any books in that particular genre that predate his work. But that's a little different that saying he paved the road for non-educational children's fiction.

Um, fairy tales? 

Peter Pan? 

Or how about The Water Babies? That was first published in 1863 - and if you exclude it for being 'educational' on the grounds that it's morally didactic, you have to exclude Lewis as well. Fantasy as we understand the term now is more or less a Victorian genre, and the Victorians were directing it at children from early in its history. 

Lewis wasn't a literary innovator: he was a syncretist. His Narnia books are essentially a cobbling together of images from classical mythology, European folk and fairy tales, Christian dogma, and Edith Nesbit's style. He owes a massive debt to Nesbit in particular, who was a great deal more pioneering than him - in fact, there's a good argument to be made that he was, in literary terms, reactionary: taking Nesbit's refreshingly un-didactic stories and re-working them back into the old moral allegory form.

Narnia is a patchwork, and very few of the patches are new. Undoubtedly it was influential, but it was deeply influenced and derivative in its turn. The fantasy artist Lewis probably bears most resemblance to is George Lucas: both are creators of works that have passionate advocates, whose appeal lies not so much in the creation of anything really new as in the creation of an attractive re-combination of the already familiar. Lucas, or rather Lucas's team in its prime, had the merit of being visually stylish and technically innovative where Lewis's writing style can't compete, so Lucas has the edge when it comes to status as an innovator (he undoubtedly revolutionised special effects, for instance). But Lewis wasn't breaking new ground in the same way. He was not even new in his success: both he and Nesbit are still in print, for instance. 

Lewis-as-innovator just doesn't work. You could mount a defence of the books on the grounds that they're entertaining, but 'great' just isn't the right word for him. 

Ana Mardoll said...

Good grief, I can't believe I forgot about Peter Pan. (1906, Wiki says.) That was my favorite book growing up -- I think I had it almost permanently checked out from the school library.

I liked Nesbit dearly, too, although I did find some of the books confusing. There were several scenes in "The Five Children and It" where pictures would have helped me immensely.

It's interesting how the Older Than They Think trope can hit us all -- I'd completely forgotten that Barrie, Nesbit, and Carroll were so dated. I mean, I *still* read those books for pleasure. ;)

Kit Whitfield said...

There's nothing new under the sun, just innovative ways to stick the old stuff together. (Hence my love of TV Tropes and fan fiction.)

I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you. :-D 

Or, less antagonistically: human beings always influence each other and many works of art have things in common with other works of art. But there's a difference between a work that's heavily derivative and a work that's influenced. Writing isn't just a question of choosing and shuffling pieces: it also involves turning inwards to your own imagination. Some people come up with things that closely resemble other things; other people come up with things that are more unusual. And people are now, always have been and always will be capable of coming up with new things. If we weren't, the old stuff wouldn't have been created in the first place. It's rare, but so is almost anything valuable. 

Lewis is definitely in the first category - a recombiner whose original stuff isn't very unusual. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. There is, in my opinion, a lot wrong with Lewis, but recombining is a reasonable enough way to make a work of art - as long as you add something of your own, and what you add is attractive in itself. That's why I don't like Lewis: the bits he adds are ugly. Johnson's attributed 'Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.' comes to mind. And to my taste, his recombinations feel tacky, partly because he's so relentlessly cosy in re-imagining them. 

Recombining is fine. I pointed it out because Lewis was being described as a pioneer, and that denies credit to all the people who broke the ground he was comfortably settling. 

I do hate TV Tropes very much, though. 

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm going to set that as my new Ramble status: Killed by Kit. :D

Kit Whitfield said...

Oh, and adding Rowling - well, there's certainly a case to be made. She combined the school story with the epic fantasy, which proved to be a winner. I like her better because the stuff she adds of her own is more humane: she writes with a genuine compassion for ordinary humanity and a cheerful sense of humour, and her inventions of magic are livelier, more consistent and wittier than Lewis's. She has a classic feel because the stories she tells are stories that have been successful for a very long time, but she somehow feels fresher. 

Ana Mardoll said...

Husband and I were in a book store one day and I found a book that looked interesting. Flippde it over and read the description and was just about to put it back as an obvious Harry Potter knock-off (the description was incredibly similar to the first book as was the set-up of "Harry's" character) when I realized that it was published BEFORE Philosopher's Stone.

Turned to Husband and said, "Would you not just HATE to be the guy who wrote Harry Potter before Rowling?" Poor guy. I wish I'd bought the book just to see how similar they were, but my brain took leave of absence and now I can't remember the title.

Which isn't to say that I think Rowling is a plagiarist, because I don't. (Or rather, I have no reason to believe it because I haven't looked into the matter but I assume she's not.) But more that I think Narnia and Star Wars and Harry Potter would have been written even if Lewis and Lucas and Rowling weren't with us, I think.

Maybe not in the same words or the exact same details, but I imagine that if an infinite number of monkeys can eventually type out Shakespeare, I have to think that a bunch of skilled human authors could eventually make a stab at something very similar to pretty much any ground-breaking work, if the author was inadvertantly killed pre-publishing date via an unfortunate time machine accident. But now I'm just navel gazing. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

Amaryllis, I think that may have been it, yes! The "Trottle" family name particularly stuck with me. Thank you! :)

Kit Whitfield said...

*waves at a fellow doesn't-like-TV-Tropes person.* We're a rare species on the Internet. :-)

Lia said...

May I add some very old and beloved books to the "earlier than Narnia"-discussion:E.T.A,. Hoffmann: The Nutcracker (1816) Selma Lagerlöf: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906/1907)Astrid Lindgren: Pippi Longstocking (1945)Jules Verne: Off On A Comet (1878)Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Books (1894)Carlo Collodi: Pinocchio (1865)Waldemar Bonsel: Adventures of Maja the Bee (1912)Hugh Lofting: The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920)P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins (1934)Frank Baum: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)I am sure, there are a lot of other books that are older and have not been published later anymore.

Ana Mardoll said...

Lia, thank you for the list!! I'd forgotten about Oz, too -- that would definitely count as "trapped in another world", I think. :)

Lia said...

It seems, I can't edit this post. Sorry, there were a lot of space between sentences and all the books.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'll get it for you. Disqus is a little weid with white space about 10% of the time, it seems.

Lia said...

Thank you very much!

Lia said...

I love the books of Eva Ibbotson, too. She lived in Vienna before she had to emigrate to Great Britain. Some of her books are located in Austria and sometimes there are little hints to her austrian origin. Like the familiy-name "Trottle". The german word "Trottel" sounds exactly the same and means "Idiot".

Ana Mardoll said...

That's awesome -- a bi-lingual bonus. :D

Sailorsaturumon said...

Ah, this is not quite what Lewis had. The setup of Lewis is that people from our world come in some other world, and that world is a "Sword and Sorcery" So it is more precisely Fantasy with heroes coming from our world, which is right now standard setup for most fantasy stories written online. . Oz and Gulliver do count, but Fairy-ales, "Maya the bee" (which I like) and Pinoccio don't

Timothy (TRiG) said...

I'm sure I recall reading a children's version of Pilgrim's Progress written by Enid Blyton, but I have read the real thing too. (I've also been driven past the prison John Bunion was in, near Bedford, where I have relatives.)

I must admit the book annoyed me, probably because of my over-literal cast of mind. The journey to heaven is literal and physical: an actual journey, step by step. And yet the man who dies along the way is there in heaven to great the rest of the travellers. I was young at the time (early to mid teens, at a guess), and this failure of the analogy got on my nerves. I'd probably be more forgiving these days.


Will Wildman said...


A person cannot be MISTAKEN about whether they have been to another world, or if they are the Son of God. If they tell you such a thing is so, and they clearly believe it to be so, your options are just as limited as CSL says they are.

Are you fo' cereal?

I'm SUPER-HONESTLY trying to figure out how to even begin to approach this assertion.  You appear to be asserting either that no one can possibly be sincerely mistaken about anything or that there is something special about, e.g., the idea that one has been to another world which makes it impossible to be mistaken about that.  I'd like to think that it's the latter special case that you're arguing, but some further clarification would help.

Because, JUST as Lewis has written, something inside you can sense how difficult it will be to accept one of those three premises. And that, as they say, is your problem, not his. Your journey to faith begins.
I cordially request that you spend some time today - maybe around lunch - considering the possibility that you are deeply unpleasant.

I imagined monsters under my bed. Who says they weren't real? Not me. The Pixar people didn't even need Christianity to explain the whole thing (and to make those working class guys decent "people" too). But there are PLENTY of explanations- unless you don't believe in the White Witch... in which case, why are you even here?
As above, some clarifications from you would be helpful before we continue here:

1) Are you stating that there actually physically were monsters under your bed, or are you arguing that the imagined concept of monsters being under your bed is a sufficiently 'real' concept that it is appropriate to approach it on its own terms (e.g., barricade the edges of the bed to prevent the monsters under there from escaping)?  I'm going to assume that the bit about Pixar's movie Monsters Inc was basically a non sequitur.

2)  Did you just tell everyone who doesn't believe in the White Witch that they have no business joining in a discussion about the works and logical assertions of CS Lewis?  (It will, again, be necessary for you to clarify what you mean by 'believe', because as I understand use of the term, she's really obviously fictional and you would therefore have to conclude that you are a liar or a madman.  I mean, if you're going to assert that she's not fictional, then you're going to be up against one of the Greatest Christian Writers of the 20th Century.)

Will Wildman said...

I liked definition of 'children's fiction' that I think I got from Kit Whitfield some time back - it means 'accessible to children', not 'solely of interest to children'.  And the majority of the people I know would certainly include The Hobbit in that.  But I am odd and I may know a disproportionate number of odd people.
Then, too, I've not yet heard a good case for why we wouldn't pick liar or lunatic if we absolutely have to pick one.
I'm increasingly comfortable with lunatic.  Potential slogan "Lunatics: May Be Extremely Nice People, May Also Benefit From Some Help Depending On The Circumstances."
I mistakenly believed I was in a position to inform, not to convince.

Out of curiosity, what is it about this circumstance that gives you the option of 'Mistaken' rather than 'Lying' or 'Crazy'?

Amaryllis said...

I submit George MacDonald and At The Back of the North Wind (1871). And he  says right in the text that he based his description of that country on Herodotus,  Dante and James Hogg's "Kilmeny."  Nothing new under the sun, although I suppose that the first two at least couldn't exactly be counted as "children's literature."

Fond as I am of the Potter books, I've no objection to numbering Rowling among the re-combiners; she has herself referred to her own mind as a "ragbag."  A description with which I feel considerable sympathy, although I loathe TVTropes and regard fan fiction with skepticism. It's what she made out of the bits and pieces that matters.

@Ana Mardoll : Would that book have been  The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson? I thought the "feel" of the two books was entirely different, although I liked both of them, but the plot similarities to HP1 were noted at the time.

Reviewer Amanda Craig writes:
The similarities between the two are astounding: Ibbotson's novel describes a door at Platform 13 of King's Cross opening onto a magical world of wizards, ghosts and giants. The hero is a young boy who belongs to this world but who is ignorant of his true nature, and bullied by the grotesquely rich and nasty Trottle family, and made to sleep in the servants' quarters until magic comes to rescue him. Ibbotson would seem to have at least as good a case for claiming plagiarism as the American author currently suing JK Rowling, but unlike her, Ibbotson says she would "like to shake her by the hand. I think we all borrow from each other as writers."

Edited because DIsqus is weird with quotes and I can't be trusted with italics.

BrokenBell said...

The theories you are describing here, Ana and BrokenBell, were so
popular in ancient times they became known as Apollinarianism (and then
the opposite view Arianism). These were heresies and suppressed in their
day, though it's worth pointing out they had serious historical as well
as theological flaws.
Describing a sect as both popular and suppressed initially seems like a contradiction, but I suppose I can think of a few ways how that might work. Again, though, prime example of why I am completely unimpressed by your arguments, thus far. Flatly stating that the beliefs of a sect were seriously flawed, while completely neglecting to even briefly summarise what even one of those flaws might have been. As you did earlier, declaring that C.S. Lewis was far smarter than anyone else in the conversation, therefore it was pointless and laughable to even try to disagree with his premise. Without demonstrating that you have any understanding of what the problems people had with his ideas are. Or that you have any understanding of what Lewis' ideas were, for that matter. You probably do understand them - they're not that complicated, after all - but so far, there is literally no way to tell one way or the other. Nor am I particularly convinced that you know what the word "naivete" means.

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