Narnia: When The Narrative Is Stacked Against You

Content Note: Abuse (Emotional / Family / Physical / Religious)

Narnia Recap: Lucy has met Aslan in the middle of the night. Aslan has told Lucy to get the others to follow her, though they cannot see Aslan themselves, or leave them alone in the forest.

Prince Caspian, Chapter 11: The Lion Roars

I'm just going to go ahead and be upfront about this: Chapter 11 is one of my least favorite chapters in this series.

I don't mean that in a bad way. I didn't start this series to bash on it, and I don't feel like I'm bashing on it now. If I had more time and more energy and more spoons, I would have more posts about all the nice things in the series, the stuff that I love and still do, but I have a limited number of spoons and frankly all that has been done to death. There's about eleventy-billion books, blogs, and articles about the awesome stuff in Narnia and the yummy descriptions of dirt and the tear-bringing moments of sad and everything else that is lovely, so that's not a gap that I feel specially called to fill. I'm here to talk about the stuff that I consider problematic, and to talk to it in a very genuine, detailed way that's more than just grr Lewis-flavored Christianity.

Because I've been there. I may not be a Christian now, but I was one once, and I know very well that it is perfectly possible to be a Christian and a Good Person and a Lover of Narnia all at the same time. Yet we remember through all this that it's perfectly possible to be a Good Person, and yet remain unaware of, say, White Privilege or Male Privilege or Religious Privilege*. And those are things that I am very interested in writing about, and so here we are.

* Religious Privilege is a tricky term because there is no religion-or-lack-thereof that is universally privileged in all areas of the world. However, in the USA (where I reside) one almost has to profess some brand of Christianity if one wants a serious career in politics, and I consider that to be strong evidence in favor of a Religious Privileged class in the USA. However, it's worth remembering that one of the odd things about privilege is that it's not an invincible shield: it can provide substantial benefits in some situations but it doesn't mean you'll never be unfairly criticized or stereotyped. That is why privilege is complicated.

And so here we are, staring down Chapter 11 in the face and trying to figure out what to coherently say about a chapter that is essentially a long walk, badly spoiled, but in this case not by golf but by a god

   WHEN THE WHOLE PARTY WAS FINALLY awake Lucy had to tell her story for the fourth time. The blank silence which followed it was as discouraging as anything could be.
   "I can't see anything," said Peter after he had stared his eyes sore. "Can you, Susan?"
   "No, of course I can't," snapped Susan. "Because there isn't anything to see. She's been dreaming. Do lie down and go to sleep, Lucy."
   "And I do hope," said Lucy in a tremulous voice, "that you will all come with me. Because -- because I'll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not."

There is so much here that I'm not really sure where to start. Well, first, I'll just jump ahead a bit and congratulate Peter for pointing out that it makes no sense for Aslan to be doing all this. He doesn't belabor the point, but I will: Aslan has woken Lucy up in the middle of the night in order to play another game of The Others Can't See Me. He's put the onus on her to wake everyone and start out seemingly at random, and that's a lot to ask of a very little girl dealing with an entire group of people set against her.

And the command that she go off on her own is entirely designed to manipulate the other children into doing what she says, because the urgency of waking them all up in the middle of the night -- I'll just pre-spoil this for you -- is that King Peter and King Edmund and Trumpkin need to save Prince Caspian from assassination with their pointy swords. Which Lucy doesn't have. So her going off alone wouldn't solve things and is instead just a threat to get everyone to fall in line. Stellar.

I want to point out, also, that none of this is adequately explained in the book. When the kids meet up with Aslan, he shuffles the boys off immediately to go use their pointy swords. Then there's a duel. (With pointy swords.) Then there's a battle. Finally everyone gets a chance to breathe and stop for a minute and Peter and Susan walk up and reveal that they had an off-text conversation with Aslan and Everything Makes Sense Now.

So the Deep Theological Point here is so deep that it can't be clearly laid out for inspection by the reader. Either the reader "gets it" or they don't, and I think that's a bit of a dodge because it means you can fill in just about anything and everyone can be certain that they have the "right" interpretation and everyone else has it "wrong". And while I'm sympathetic to the idea that this is analogous to post-crucifixion Jesus-sightings among the True Believers, I'm not sure how well the analogy holds up given that Aslan will eventually forcibly make himself seen by the Non Believer in the group by literally pouncing on him. I feel that's the point where the analogy breaks down, and hard.

But we'll get there, I guess.

   "Don't talk nonsense, Lucy," said Susan. "Of course you can't go off on your own. Don't let her, Peter. She's being downright naughty."

Then there's also here the odd use of that word, naughty. I trip over it every time I read this passage, and I genuinely do think there's a reason why that word is used there, and by Susan. A search of the word "naughty" reveals that it occurs not at all in my version of LWW and only this once in PC. The word therefore does not seem to be a common part of the Pevensie children's vocabulary, despite the fact that they've had opportunity to use it in the past. (For example when Edmund ran off in LWW, someone could have said he's not a bad child, but rather just being a bit naughty. Indeed, this would have been appropriate to mention when Mr. Beaver was going on about how "treacherous" Edmund was.)

The word sounds like something an adult would say, and sounds like something that the children would avoid using against each other for fear of sounding like a know-it-all condescending adult. In the first chapter of LWW, Edmund accused Susan of "trying to talk like Mother"; in The Last Battle, Susan will be castigated by Jill, who claims that "She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." I think that the use of the word naughty here is intended to sound like an adult (or a wanna-be adult) talking down to a child. And -- because we know that this child is right -- we know already that this not-quite-adult is terribly wrong.

The word "naughty" does occur in the series beyond this book. In The Horse And His Boy, King Edmund will scold Prince Corin (who is really Shasta in mistake) for being "naught" and the narrative notes that he uses that word instead of "naughty". Edmund in mistaken in this case, at least in part, for although Corin has been naughty, Shasta himself is merely the victim of a case of mistaken identity. The word gets heavier use for a total of three times in The Magician's Nephew: twice by Uncle Andrew who is a perpetually silly and barely sober man, and once by Polly's unnamed parents who refuse to believe her truthful story about the Wood Between The Worlds.

If there's a pattern here, it's that the people who accuse children of being "naughty" in the Narnian books are people who are (a) adults, (b) quite wrong, and (c) almost disastrously silly to not believe the outlandish stories of these children. Susan's unwillingness to believe Lucy's story could have ended in Prince Caspian's untimely death, Edmund's unwillingness to look closely into the Corin/Shasta matter might have prevented a lot of international trouble, and the adults in The Magician's Nephew cause so much trouble that if I started now, I'd not be able to stop.

So all in all, I find this to be an interesting word choice, and one of the reasons why I do feel the narrative is somewhat stacked against poor Susan who is, after all, no less cross than Peter and Edmund and is stating an otherwise non-controversial fact: telling everyone that you're going off into the woods alone in the middle of the night and they can follow you or stay here kind of is naughty. Except that here the naughty party is, in my personal opinion, Aslan and not Lucy.

   "I'll go with her, if she must go," said Edmund. "She's been right before."
   "I know she has," said Peter. "And she may have been right this morning. We certainly had no luck going down the gorge. Still -- at this hour of the night. And why should Aslan be invisible to us? He never used to be. It's not like him. What does the D.L.F. say?"
   "Oh, I say nothing at all," answered the Dwarf. "If you all go, of course, I'll go with you; and if your party splits up, I'll go with the High King. That's my duty to him and King Caspian. But, if you ask my private opinion, I'm a plain dwarf who doesn't think there's much chance of finding a road by night where you couldn't find one by day. And I have no use for magic lions which are talking lions and don't talk, and friendly lions though they don't do us any good, and whopping big lions though nobody can see them. It's all bilge and beanstalks as far as I can see."
   "He's beating his paw on the ground for us to hurry," said Lucy. "We must go now. At least I must."

Once again, Trumpkin is stripped of a name and of any kind of identity besides being shorter than the rest, here reduced to "the D.L.F." and "the Dwarf". But once again he utterly steals my heart because, like Trumpkin, I too have no use for magic lions which are talking but do not talk and friendly yet do not raise a paw to help their subjects and huge yet who choose to be invisible until suddenly they choose not to be so. Bless your heart, Trumpkin.

And it makes me a little sad, because these are actually pretty common atheist objections when they've been backed into a corner at a party and aggressively proselytized to and are trying to explain why they, personally, do not believe in the god being sold to them. Saying flat-out that a god who does not demonstrably provide benefits above and beyond what chance would provide is not far off from saying "okay, but your religion doesn't have added value for me, but thank you", and that's actually a pretty polite objection as far as it goes considering my own feelings on proselytizing and the harm I feel it causes. But here the narrative is stacked against Trumpkin, too, because we already know he's wrong.

Atheists in this world might be wrong, too. But most atheists aren't anti-theists; they just don't believe in something that they don't see evidence for. There's a big, talking, friendly lion in the room with you, only you can't see it or hear it or measure it any way? Well, they'll reserve belief for, ah, when it actually manifests itself, okay? This is not, in my opinion, an unreasonable position to take, and indeed is my own position on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But when Aslan finally manifests himself to Trumpkin, it won't be to give presents or bright candies.

And it's also interesting that Trumpkin is barely allowed to say his piece before Aslan starts stamping his foot for everyone to SHUT UP and MOVE IT. 

   "You've no right to try to force the rest of us like that. It's four to one and you're the youngest," said Susan.
   "Oh, come on," growled Edmund. "We've got to go. There'll be no peace till we do." He fully intended to back Lucy up, but he was annoyed at losing his night's sleep and was making up for it by doing everything as sulkily as possible.

And it's a very interesting narrative aside that Edmund is excused for grumbling at Susan because he really does intend to back Lucy up. The framing seems to indicate that Edmund's grumbling causes some small harm to Lucy, but it's okay because he's genuinely on her side. But his grumbling almost certainly causes as much or more harm to Susan, who is being roughly overruled and largely un-listened to.

Susan is the Sensible One; this has been nothing if not well-established, and indeed the last chapter actually called her "the practical Susan" in the narrative. She knows, because it's her narrative job to know these things, that marching at night is more dangerous: they're more likely to trip on exposed roots, more likely to get lost without adequate bearings, more likely to be hunted by night animals now that they've left their campfire, more likely to stumble into a human stronghold and held for questioning.

Susan's objections aren't listened to, and are barely given a hearing at all, because Edmund is growling at her to shut it and move it. But it's okay... because he fully intends to back Lucy up. And I don't see the same cause-and-effect flow that the narrator (dispenser of all pardons for Peter's and Edmund's recurring abusive tones, attitudes, and words) seems to see here. "It's okay... because he loves Susan and intends to apologize for his tone later" is something that makes a degree a sense to me. "It's okay... because he's right and she's wrong" doesn't. (Why, hello there Twilight. What are you doing here in a Narnia post?)

   "On the march, then," said Peter, wearily fitting his arm into his shield-strap and putting his helmet on. At any other time he would have said something nice to Lucy, who was his favorite sister, for he knew how wretched she must be feeling, and he knew that, whatever had happened, it was not her fault. But he couldn't help being a little annoyed with her all the same.

It's a shame no one can be arsed to say something nice to Susan, knowing that she must be feeling pretty wretched too at this point. After all, she's only been told in the last two days that her opinions are best kept to herself and that she's too empty-headed to navigate properly, despite the fact that she's been walking without complaint and rowing boats with the rest of them and is now missing out on much-needed sleep after a truly wearying day and nearly being skewered by arrows. But I guess she's no one's "favorite sister". Can we really at this point blame her for wanting to "grow up" and get out of this family? I can't. 

   Susan was the worst. "Supposing I started behaving like Lucy," she said. "I might threaten to stay here whether the rest of you went on or not. I jolly well think I shall."

"Susan was the worst."

Let's just linger on that one for a moment.

The Chronicles of Narnia doesn't let you make up your own mind about the narrative. Well, that's not true. You can make up your mind on the little stuff, like why exactly Aslan went through this whole "you can't see me" game when apparently he can make himself visible to non-believers any time he wants, as we'll see later in this chapter. That stuff is stuff you can make up on your own time, and who is to say that your subjective opinion is wrong?

And you can also, quite frankly, figure out on your own time what Greek gods are doing in this Christian fairytale allegory, because the author isn't going to take time out to tackle that one for you, nor what repercussions their inclusion might have on the overall Christian message. It's not an important point, it shouldn't be taken seriously, it's a fairytale, it's like Mrs. Beaver's sewing machine. Let the fanficcers clean it all up with some deft world-building, but don't expect the narrative to get involved because that stuff is not important and everyone can have their own interpretation and their own opinion. The narrative isn't here to tell you what to think about all that.

But the important stuff, like how to interpret Edmund's growling and Peter's annoyance and Susan's legitimate-objections-to-coercive-tactics (like, for example, someone waking you up in the middle of the night and saying that if you don't do what they say right now without further discussion or explanation, they will leave you there on your own), that stuff has to be told to us, because it's vitally important that we understand right off the bat who is the "worst". Edmund is best, because he fully intends to back Lucy up. Peter is alright, because Lucy is his favorite sister. But Susan?

Susan was the worst. True fax.

   "Obey the High King, your Majesty," said Trumpkin, "and let's be off. If I'm not to be allowed to sleep, I'd as soon march as stand here talking."
   And so at last they got on the move. Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan.

Oh, don't worry, Lucy. The narrative is saying all that for you.

More on Chapter 11 next week. I've run out of steam on this chapter. Here's your teaser: Next week, Aslan will pounce on Trumpkin for being a non-believer while the children smilingly look on, and Bacchus will show up for a wild romp that totally-isn't-an-orgy. Probably.

110 comments:

BrokenBell said...

And, naturally, the reason why "Susan was the worst" of them all is because she talks hypothetically about doing the unreasonable and coercive and obstinate thing Lucy is literally doing at that very moment. But it's completely fair and justified that Lucy's doing it, because Aslan told her to. Obviously. Even though it makes her feel awful. And causes some measure of friction between everyone in the group. And has literally no purpose other than making some vague, frustrating theological point. But it's fine! No, it's not fine, it's good. Best, even! Because Jasper Aslan.

At this point, you could replace every single instance of "Aslan" in the text with "Cheshire Cat" and it would legitimately be a better story. Wonder how far that could go?

Ana Mardoll said...

At this point, you could replace every single instance of "Aslan" in the text with "Cheshire Cat" and it would legitimately be a better story. Wonder how far that could go?

o.O

You. Have. Broken. My. Brain.

I seriously can't un-see it now. Cheshire Aslan, yes.

Gelliebean said...

This is begging me for some re-ficcing.... Which I haven't had the energy for in quite a while. :-) I may have something for you in a bit.

I guess this is supposed to be representative of the 'leap of faith' touted by many of the churches I've been to - Take up your cross and follow Me. Sell your house and become an African missionary. Jump off with no safety net because God will provide everything and cheerfully enduring hardship is glory to His name, anyway, and if it all goes pear-shaped you can be sure that you fulfilled some grand, mysterious divine purpose that you may never know about.

I think all this plot-thread as presented can be interpreted as much more due to Aslan's qualities as a cat than as a king.... I can just imagine one of my kitties doing this precise thing, because "I are a cat and I are in charge of everything, obviously, you silly human. Now rub my ears and fetch some tuna and sit here so I can ignore you for a while." Cats do things just to prove they don't care what you think, but by golly you'd better be noticing that they don't care what you think. Otherwise they'll just have to come sit smack-dab in the middle of your cross-stitch pattern and ignore you all over again to make sure it sticks.

dj_pomegranate said...

As a child, I devoured this entire series annually, such was my love for it. My only problem with these books then (I have more problems with them now, but still love them) was the treatment of poor Susan, which you have eloquently dismantled numerous times--so thank you for putting words to my frustration! I always identified most with Susan--she was feminine, practical, and had dark hair. Perhaps that's why I was especially aware of and frustrated by Lewis' treatment of her.

I get that *someone* had to play the role of Stuffy Grown Up Former Narnian in order to prove a Theological Point, and I'm OK with that. But saying things like "Lucy was Peter's favorite sister" is just plain mean.

One thing this particular section makes me think of -- and forgive me if this has been previously discussed and I have just missed it-- is the implication that Susan's character *causes other people to sin*. This idea is starkly apparent to me in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Lucy looks into the Magic Book of Magic and wishes that she could be as pretty as Susan. As a grown woman, it's hard for me to read that without the implication that Susan is causing others to "sin"--provoking Lucy's jealousy and covetousness--just by being pretty. (To be fair to Lewis, I don't think this was his intent with that scene. I think we're meant to identify with Lucy: which of us hasn't coveted?) The theme troubles me because it resonates with the way many Pretty Girls are treated in literature and in Real Life: their beauty/femininity causes other people to struggle with sin--at least to be tempted, if not sin outright. It's not hard to draw a line to rape culture and victim blaming. Perhaps it's a stretch to think this is what Lewis intended. But it's still hard for me to ignore, as it's a very prevalent thought in Christian circles (modesty and purity doctrines come to mind...)

Similarly, it's hard for me to read this section in PC without seeing the same idea. Susan is "causing" strife in the group by digging in her heels at Lucy's suggestion. Susan is being "the worst" by grumbling and arguing with Lucy, even though Lucy is asking the group to do something absurd. Susan is the one CAUSING Lucy to THINK MEAN THOUGHTS (luckily Lucy is a Self-Controlled Saint who doesn't say those mean thoughts! No sinning for Lucy!) Susan is tempting Lucy to sin, just by being her practical self. And then Susan is the one who has to apologize.

And this is just not fair.

Ana Mardoll said...

That's a fascinating aspect, and I thank you for sharing it! I hadn't seen the Causing To Sin nearly so clearly, but I think you're right in that there's a good fit there. Especially in the scene in DT, with the magic book, because there's definitely an undercurrent that if Susan didn't exist, Lucy wouldn't have a place for jealousy. (It's not like anyone else is name-dropped there as Competitively Pretty.)

depizan said...

I don't like it when characters we're supposed to view as wise give bad advice or act like asshats, but when it's a god, it's even worse. At least with regular "wise" folk, the possibility of them simply being wrong due to life experiences or whatever is there - the fact that they're human (for values of "human" that include wizened frog-gremlin people) automatically allows for that. It's much harder to believe that a god character could - in text - be supposed to be wrong or assshaty.

But Aslan is making no sense at all here. Prince Caspian's in danger! I must go appear invisibly to people waaaaaay over here! That's the only way to save him. It's not as if I could appear to any of the believers _with_ Caspian, or to Caspian, and it's not as if I'm a very large lion who could, you know, _eat_ the assassins. Nope, appearing to a small exhausted child and no one else in her party is absolutely the best way to save him.

I'm beginning to think that fucking with people is just Aslan's shtick.

Steve Morrison said...

indeed the last chapter actually called her "the practical Susan" in the narrative
I suspect that for Lewis, "practical" was more a disparagement than a compliment. There is a passage (probably in LB) where he speaks of witches as very practical people who are only interested in things or persons if they can use them.
I've seen it argued that Lewis did subtly foreshadow his choice of Susan as the apostate in the final book in several ways. She is also the least courageous of the Pevensie siblings, and from what Lewis said elsewhere we know he considered courage to be the most important virtue.

Ana Mardoll said...

I've seen it argued that Lewis did subtly foreshadow his choice of Susan as the apostate in the final book in several ways. She is also the least courageous of the Pevensie siblings, and from what Lewis said elsewhere we know he considered courage to be the most important virtue.

I kind of agree, but in a round-about way. I don't think in PC he was thinking "Susan will become a non-believer 5 books from now". I think Susan is just the go-to for Discardable Character.

Need a Pevensie Villain? Susan! Need a non-believer for a theological point? Susan! Need a flighty woman to be attracted to the Obviously Awful Sheiky McSheikpants? Susan! Need a pretty girl for Lucy to be jealous of? Susan!

Matthew Croco said...

Most of the time I can follow whatever allegory that Lewis tries to make. This one puzzles me, though. I can understand the "follow Christ even if no one follows with you" allegory. Or the "declare your beliefs and weather the ridicule" allegory. But here we have more of a "believe in something, then bully your friends and family into following with you, even though they don't personally believe it" allegory.

So Lucy, having seen Aslan, and knows what he wants, has the right (even the duty) to override the free will of her siblings? I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be possessed of such certainty.

Thousand said...

When I first read these books, I knew that there was a lot that was messed up; being a child of ~12 years of age, I didn't clearly articulate or understand exactly what, but there was a lot that was very confusing and that didn't make sense to me at the time, especially nearly every time Aslan became involved with the text in any way. This whole section with Aslan being invisible to mess with people was one of the worst sections in those terms. I did finish the series, largely because at that age I was much less analytical than I am now. I suspect that even if you don't clearly get all the religious allegory and Deep Theological Points, the basic mechanics, ideas, motivations, and authorial judgements presented in these stories make much more sense if you are raised in a deeply religious family of a Christian denomination, than if you were raised by nonbelievers (as I was). I never became super-absorbed or fascinated by the Narnia books, probably because of sections like these. Returning to the Narnia books now, through your posts, with the guidance of someone who has that background and can thus explain it (well... except perhaps for whatever's going on in this Deep Theological Point) is really interesting.

Thank you so much for taking the time to dissect these books, Ana.

JonathanPelikan said...

This put me (humbly, of course) in mind of a bit from my own fanfic adventures. Specifically, on the subject of leadership, manipulation, coercion, etc. So, main character comes from the evil empire that's trashing the place, turns good, becomes Jesus (longish story), gathers friends and outcasts and tries to work with the local resistance to the Empire and fight for great justice and stuff. His latest new friend is a syrium, which is like an elf but not, and she's lost her family (save her brother) and she hates humans because, well. Evil Empire. And he was a famous general for Evil Empire. We've got a Problem.

Specifically, being in the role of leadership, he needs to have the stuff he says listened to, and he needs to not wake up to a knife in his back (or his face, more her style) some day for being That Famous Human. So he decides what they need is a sparring match, no weapons, just mano-a-tsundere. If he wins or it's a wash, he's hoping to get some Respect out of the deal or at least being listened to, and if he gets beat on (which he does)... well, there's Plan B. Namely, the Cute Elf Girl with incredible powers who's his friend steps in eventually and helps him and starts to cry because, well. Her friend is getting beat up.

And that's partially what eventually ends up with the syrium at least agreeing to listen to him over a round of drinks and hear out his proposals and ideas.During the conversation, she specifically calls him out, suspecting at least some of the emotional manipulation was intentional, and he doesn't deny it. His response is something on the order of 'leadership of any kind is manipulation, whether positive or negative, and whether for good or evil ends.'

The goal was 'get her to listen to my words and not just Grrr Humans' or at least 'preclude assassination attempts', and the means to achieve the goal was... feelings. And using feelings, either with the straight-up fight or a more manipulative approach. He doesn't see too much wrong with this approach since it works. In other scenes a lot of leadership and generalship comes down to 'get people to do what you want, whether it's your guys or The Enemy.' even if the means aren't Nice, because what's at stake are the fate of nations and peoples and history and stuff. Well, and the situation is a lot different from the one here, for a ton of reasons.

For instance, he's neither a lion nor a god. And although I may play favorites I don't come out right and say 'this character shall now be dumped upon, commence all dump procedures, enjoy being at the bottom of a trash heap, you sensible-shod woman'. And I don't directly have the narrator say 'she's the worst.. and dumb.'

So I guess the point of this is that I'm a far better writer than C. S. Lewis.

Huh? What's that rumbling sound? Oh Gods it's the collective anger of billions of fans and critics

(I dunno. Just felt like sharing a story and a few musings on Ends Justifying At Least Some Means? and manipulation and leadership.)

Ymfon said...

Narnia Tuesday, wheee! I loved these books (except The Last Battle) as a child, and I can't believe how much problematic...icity I never even noticed.

depizan said...

One huge difference that leaps out there is that your character took a risk in order to get what he wanted - and his plan didn't entirely go as planned. Also, it doesn't sound as though being straightforward was working.

Here we've got Aslan going straight to manipulation and strange games for no apparent reason. Worse, he's doing it when the direct approach - ANY direct approach - would be far more effective.

★☆ keri ☆★ said...

I'm beginning to think that fucking with people is just Aslan's shtick.

Yup.

I hate him in Silver Chair so much for this. It's one of the most unfair and horrible books that I'd ever read - I don't even remember if I continued past it in the series, I disliked it so much. It's also why I loathe CS Lewis himself, that he seems to think this fucking with people is a positive trait in a God-being.

Amaryllis said...

Good post, Ana.

"Lucy was Peter's favorite sister," indeed! I always thought his favorite sister was Susan; the older two always seemed to be close, if only in feeling responsible together for the younger ones. But I guess I should have remembered that Susan is no one's favorite. Poor Susan.

One minor nitpick: I took Edward's line about there being no peace until they get moving, although said to Susan, being meant as a dig at Lucy. He's backing her up, but not happily. So I don't think he's being excused for grumping at Susan, he's being condemned for being "sulky" -- a word almost as childish as "naughty" -- about doing what he's decided is the right thing to do. Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.

Otherwise, I got nothin'. This is another annoying chapter.

Will Wildman said...

She is also the least courageous of the Pevensie siblings

This is a thing that people claim? Really?

"Meanwhile," said the Dwarf, "what are we to do? I suppose I'd better go back to King Caspian and tell him no help has come."
"No help?" said Susan. "But it has worked. And here we are."


Susan's response to hearing that her nation has been occupied by a hostile military for the last few centuries is 'Challenge accepted'. While the others are still huddled in the bushes watching a couple of soldiers prepare to drown a prisoner, she rolls 20 for initiative and launches a snap shot that nonfatally disables the would-be executioner. In LWW, when Aslan is anxious about his impending death, Susan is the one who thinks "Hmm, something has the God-Lion of Narnia scared; I should see if I can help"* and then tries to tend his body after he is murdered by an army of monsters.

How exactly are people defining courage, here?

*In doing so, I feel she gains a certain kinship with the guy in Superman 2, whose response to hearing that Zod and company killed Superman is "Let's go get 'em ourselves! C'mon, I know some judo." That guy is the best.

PQWlaiima said...

I would argue that Lucy is not just Peter's favorite but also Aslan's - as long as he doesn't need a BOY to do something. That is to say, Lucy might be called 'favorite', but in reality, she receives being mistreated and condescended to by Aslan, and annoyance from her siblings. What benefit, then, is being the favorite?

Peter naming Lucy as his favorite sister, for no apparent reason except to slam Susan, though, is really icky. Because as Amaryllis says, we might have expected that Peter and Susan, as the elder two, would be fondest of each other.

PQWlaiima said...

BTW, I'm not going by Laiima anymore, but Disqus won't let me change my handle to any of Pqw; Pqw, formerly Laiima; or Pqw (formerly Laiima). I guess 'special characters' are the problem. So while I may figure out a way around this issue later, right now 'laiima' is still attached to me.

PQWlaiima said...

Ugh. Why did it do THAT?

Ana Mardoll said...

*In doing so, I feel she gains a certain kinship with the guy in Superman 2, whose response to hearing that Zod and company killed Superman is "Let's go get 'em ourselves! C'mon, I know some judo." That guy is the best.

I have not seen this thing, but that is awesome.

Ana Mardoll said...

She's also the one who publicly calls out that the Deep Magic sux and can they not work against it somehow? Which seems pretty courageous to me, to speak up in a gathering like that in order to save your brother.

I don't recall PETER sticking his neck out there. But I suppose that just shows how "cowardly" Susan is in backwards-land, because if she really trusted Aslan she'd keep her mouth shut. Or something.

Anton_Mates said...

Oh, yes. And it's a positive man-trait too. Silly women want to protect themselves from being fucked with, but God ain't having none of that. I've posted this bit from That Hideous Strength before:

His laughter rather than his words had reddened Jane’s cheeks. Her female dream of finding a man who “really understood” was being insulted....“No,” said the Director, “there is no escape. If it were a virginal rejection of the male, He would allow it. Such souls can by-pass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender. But your trouble has been what old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing—the gold lion, the bearded bull—which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly.”

Steve Morrison said...

It's too late to compose a detailed answer just now, but Ford's Companion to Narnia lists some of her less-than-courageous choices in the entry on Susan Pevensie</b.; perhaps I'll excerpt it tomorrow.

Steve Morrison said...

Somehow that last comment was cut off; in the rest of it, I said that I may excerpt some of that entry tomorrow, if no one else does it first.

depizan said...

W. T. F.

Makabit said...

In doing so, I feel she gains a certain kinship with the guy in Superman 2, whose response to hearing that Zod and company killed Superman is "Let's go get 'em ourselves! C'mon, I know some judo." That guy is the best.

The reverse would be a woman I adore in an old Hong Kong martial arts flick, who, at one point, tells the hero, "I get the gun. You know kung fu." When he gives her the gun, she looks dubiously at the door and says, "You go first."

Theo said...

I agree on almost everything said about this - rather fucked-up indeed - chapter, but I disagree with the interpretation that Lewis suggests here or elsewhere that Susan passively 'causes others to sin' and is implied to be to blame for this - or at least, if he does it's completely unintentional. On a number of occasions in the books characters try to shift the blame for their own moral choices on others, and IIRC this is always shot down and they are made to accept responsibility for themselves. It's a pretty consistent theme in Lewis that your moral choices are your own responsibility and accepting this responsibility may even be more important than making the right choice in the first place.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Gender Policing, HeteroNormativity, Reference to Shaming Feminists by Making Assumptions about their Sexuality

That quote pisses me off for so many reasons, not the least of which being Gender Policing, HeteroNormativity, and the conflation of Preference with Pride. Also, ugh, the tired old canard that women who object to asshole behavior are all icky frigid lesbian feminists who need to learn how to submit to a "real" man. Ick ick ick. That quote is the WORST.

But additionally, I'm pissed by the apparent implication that god is SO masculine that we're all feminine in response. That's seriously messed up.

As an antidote, I highly recommend Sue Monk Kidd's "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" where she enumerates that there are as many "feminine" (as in virtues traditionally assigned to women by Gender Policing Assholes) traits to the Christian god that we might just as well call hir "her" or "goddess" as the other way around. (Mind you, by the end of the book she ends up leaving the church entirely because reasons.)

I don't remember much from the space trilogy except that it made me queasy as heck as a child. I was DEEPLY disturbed by just about everything in it and attempted to forget it all very quickly. I remember that it was VERY hostile to choice; there's a passage about husbands and wives who prefer artificial insemination to PIV sex and -- even as a very young, very impressionable, very judgmental child -- I really could not figure out why it was any of Lewis' business how people fucked.

dj_pomegranate said...

This is a great point. I admit that my theory on Susan passively causing others to sin is something I haven't really fleshed out and am still sort of mulling over--perhaps it is not supported by Lewis' work in general (although, that quote that Anton_Mates posted above--Yikes!). Even if it is there, it could well be in the category of "totally unintended."

However, I think Pretty Girls Being Punished for Being Pretty is an unfortunately common trope (especially in much Christian literature, where your beauty is supposed to come from the inside and all external beauty is supposed to be incidental and/or a cause of your internal beauty) and the fact that Lucy "was almost as good as a boy" and that Susan is later caught up in silly vanities (nylons, lipstick, invitations!) adds to my suspicion that her prettiness/femininity is not a small part of the weakness that Lewis is trying to convey. Add to that Lucy's jealousy of Susan's prettiness and this scene in which she apologizes for something that was really very practical...she is so often blamed for things in this series! It doesn't sit well with me.

Steve Morrison said...

Here is a list of Susan’s less courageous moments, taken from Ford:

When they first enter Narnia, she is the one who wants to go back.

She argues with Mrs. Beaver over taking the time to pack before they flee to the Stone Table.

On the night of the sacrifice, she worries that Aslan may desert them.

When the mice arrive to free Aslan, she (but not Lucy) initially reacts to them with fear/disgust.

When the Table cracks, she (but not Lucy) is afraid to turn around.

When she sees the resurrected Aslan, she is afraid at first that he is a ghost.

On the quest of the White Stag, Susan is the one who wants to turn back short of the lamp post.

When the Pevensies find the ruins of their castle, Susan is the one who resists exploring it at every step.

Once they all see Aslan, Susan admits that she convinced herself Lucy was wrong about seeing him out of fear.

When she and Lucy see Bacchus, Silenus and the Maenads, Susan is the first to say she would have been afraid of them if Aslan hadn’t been present.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm fascinated by this list, because in at least a few of them, Susan is correct. (In my opinion.)

When they first enter Narnia, she is the one who wants to go back.

While this would have doomed Narnia and Mr. Tumnus, it would also have prevented her own personal heartache in being bound in a land from whence she would eventually be banished. Twice.

She argues with Mrs. Beaver over taking the time to pack before they flee to the Stone Table.

They don't actually use the supplies; Santa provides them with food when they need it.

On the night of the sacrifice, she worries that Aslan may desert them.

He kind of does. He's certainly not there for the battle the next morning, not until after he's brought a few dozen statues with him.

On the quest of the White Stag, Susan is the one who wants to turn back short of the lamp post.

They all recognize that the lamppost is threatening; it's only Susan who doesn't rise to Peter's goading about not being a coward. I would call him "foolhardy", not "brave", but.

When the Pevensies find the ruins of their castle, Susan is the one who resists exploring it at every step.

And yet she's the one digging around in the dirt to find chess pieces and clues. Rings false.

When she and Lucy see Bacchus, Silenus and the Maenads, Susan is the first to say she would have been afraid of them if Aslan hadn’t been present.

That scene is freaking hilarious. Lewis puts the god of drunken orgies in his book, but it's Super Okay because Jesus is there to keep things from getting out of hand. FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.

---

Not disagreeing with you or Ford, but I find the list intriguing.

Steve Morrison said...

Actually, I don’t entirely agree with Ford. In many of these cases, Susan shows fear, but then goes ahead and does what she’s afraid to do anyway. And that is the classic definition of courage!

bekabot said...

@ dj_pomegranate & Ana Mardoll:

About Susan Pevensie causing others to sin--"Susan" = "Susannah". In the story of Susan and the Elders, Susan causes the Elders to sin, just by being female and appetizing. The story fits in with both "Prince Caspian" and "That Hideous Strength". Susannah, in the story, can't see the Elders, though they can see her. She has an effect on them which she can't measure and initially doesn't even know about. Aslan is to Susan as Susannah is to the Elders: he can see her but she can't see him. He can affect her existence deeply, but she can't affect his. He can mess her stuff up. She can't do anything much to him.

Aslan is also to Susannah as Susan is to the Elders, with the correspondence inverted: Aslan has an effect on Susan that Susan can't measure and initially doesn't even know about. The difference between Aslan and Susannah is that Aslan is not ignorant; in fact, he is omniscient, at least we so expect.

Susannah, in the story of Susannah and the Elders, is situated in an enclosed garden of the kind which Lewis, via a sock puppet, castigates in "That Hideous Strength". In her enclosed garden (complete with private pool) Susannah goes about her own daily business. One doesn't have to have much of an imagination to perceive that Lewis might have had a problem with that. Enclosed in her garden, Susannah does not know that the Sacred Masculine, in the form of a really big kitty-cat, is out there ignoring her, or, in the form of a pair of lascivious Elders, is fatally failing to do so. Susannah has to be taught a lesson. She has to be taught that self-containment/self-contentment is fine, but that, did she but know the truth, she'd no longer be able to overlook the fact that she Ain't All That.

What do you think?

Will Wildman said...

I don't know that I'd personally consider correct/incorrect as relevant to 'courage', but many parts of the list don't make sense to me at all.

When she sees the resurrected Aslan, she is afraid at first that he is a ghost.

'Afraid' is idiomatically standing in for 'uncertain' here, isn't it? It's not that she's scared of the ghost, or her fear somehow leads her to conclude that he's a ghost, but that she does not know whether he's a ghost or resurrected. If someone tells me "Sorry, but I'm afraid I won't have time to get that done" and I say "Don't be such a coward", I think they would be reasonable in concluding that I do not know how to English.

She argues with Mrs. Beaver over taking the time to pack before they flee to the Stone Table.
-
On the night of the sacrifice, she worries that Aslan may desert them.


These are tactical considerations - again, it's not clear to me how courage relates. I guess in the first case she might be panicking and saying they need to leave right away even though they have lots of time to pack? I don't have the text at hand, but I didn't think they had any proof that the Wolf KGB weren't minutes from busting down the door.

On the quest of the White Stag, Susan is the one who wants to turn back short of the lamp post.

Well, so say we all for those who'd rather continue to reign as monarchs of Narnia. If the others had realised that they were about to revert to children and be sealed off from all of their friends and countries, wouldn't they have turned around as well? I took this to be a sign that Susan was more sensitive to or had a stronger recollection of the portal to Earth, not that she was just randomly afraid.

Toby Bartels said...

I always read Susannah as entirely without blame in that story; and (while I'm not sure that it would have been clear to the original audience) the plot is a sound condemnation of the legal philosophy of the Torah (men to be trusted over women, guilt to be presumed over innocence, etc). But I don't know how Lewis would have read it. (I also like it as one of the earliest mystery stories, in the classic vein of Agatha Christie.)

Toby Bartels said...

Trigger: Rape culture, marital rape

Here is discussion of the mediƦval source for Daungier: http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2005/02/seduction-and-guillaume-de-lorriss.html

This Daungier is merely the (assumed prideful) determination of a woman to choose her own relationships. With that understanding, I do not see how to avoid reading that quotation from Lewis as an apology for rape culture. Not quite rape itself, but only because that would violate Christian sexual norms. Then again, why not spousal rape? I am beginning to think that Lewis would find that perfectly reasonable.

Anton_Mates said...

Also, ugh, the tired old canard that women who object to asshole behavior are all icky frigid lesbian feminists who need to learn how to submit to a "real" man. Ick ick ick. That quote is the WORST.

Well, it's not even the worst quote in that book, but I thought it might be derailing to dump multiple pages of trigger-filled prose!

As an antidote, I highly recommend Sue Monk Kidd's "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" where she enumerates that there are as many "feminine" (as in virtues traditionally assigned to women by Gender Policing Assholes) traits to the Christian god that we might just as well call hir "her" or "goddess" as the other way around.

Indeed. In the Space Trilogy, those virtues are handed off to a feminine-gendered angel/eldil, who most definitely isn't the supreme being. OTOH, she's far more of a divine female authority figure than anything in Narnia, so that's a plus.

I don't remember much from the space trilogy except that it made me queasy as heck as a child. I was DEEPLY disturbed by just about everything in it and attempted to forget it all very quickly.

It's a shame, because it contains some very good writing and world-building (particularly in the first couple of books.) But yes, there are some appallingly ugly beliefs and attitudes on display. It can be startling to realize that the Narnia books actually represent some progress in Lewis' viewpoint, compared to the Space Trilogy and The Abolition of Man and other stuff he wrote when he was younger.

I remember that it was VERY hostile to choice; there's a passage about husbands and wives who prefer artificial insemination to PIV sex and -- even as a very young, very impressionable, very judgmental child -- I really could not figure out why it was any of Lewis' business how people fucked.

It also features Merlin declaring Jane the "falsest woman alive" and deserving of death because, although she and her husband engage in PIV sex, they use contraception. Ransom (by now a hyper-masculine always-right authority figure) basically responds that she mustn't be killed because Britain's penal code is more liberal than it used to be.

Thomas Keyton said...

On the night of the sacrifice, she worries that Aslan may desert them.

Agreeing with Will Wildman here - how is this cowardice? Is bravery now being defined as a foolhardy inability to see that Aslan is clearly upset about something? It looks almost as if she's being criticised for recognising the vulnerability of this manly chivalric forceful Gryffindor not-a-tame-lion.

Ana Mardoll said...

Wait. Merlin, OUR Merlin??

Because, um. LOL LOL LOL.

I'm, ah, skeptical that a pagan wizard would care overly much about birth control.

Steve Morrison said...

IIRC Merlin was supposed to be a Christian in THS, though it was somewhat complex and he hadn’t renounced some magical practices that a Christian in our time would have had to renounce. (There was a philosophical passage about how some things which are kind-of-compatible in an earlier age may cease to be so in a later age, which apparently comes from Anthroposophy; Owen Barfield (an Inkling) was an Anthroposophist.)

BTW I agree with Anton Mates that the quoted passage isn’t even the worst in the novel.

Steve Morrison said...

I’d better clarify here that I extracted and paraphrased that list from Ford’s article on Susan, taking nearly everything which had a bearing on courage vs. fearfulness. I suspect Lewis would have called it lack of faith in Aslan more than cowardice.

Anton_Mates said...

Trigger: Rape culture, marital rape

With that understanding, I do not see how to avoid reading that quotation from Lewis as an apology for rape culture.

Pretty much. All that business about male figures forcing their way into your little safe space and making a shambles of your bed...combine that with the actual dream of Jane's they're talking about, and it's hard to see it as anything except a (literally) flowery rape metaphor. Let alone when Ransom, the perennial bachelor, informs Jane that "No one has ever told you that obedience—humility—is an erotic necessity."

The argument seems to be that women have to yield to somebody to be fulfilled, and their options are either a) God and their husband or b) no husband, but then God has to be extra, um, forceful to compensate. It's Pastoral Marriage Counseling of Gor, basically.

Then again, why not spousal rape? I am beginning to think that Lewis would find that perfectly reasonable.

I don't think he would. That Hideous Strength has some parallel (although much shorter) passages about how Jane's husband failed to approach her in a sufficiently humble and worshipful fashion. It's a rather distorted version of humility, of course--the classic thing where the man places the idea of the woman on a pedestal to justify his dominance over her in the real world. But Lewis does explicitly say that the mere fact of marriage doesn't entitle the husband to sexual attention from the wife. If he can't charm her well enough to win her consent, too bad.

Also, for what it's worth, Lewis was emphatic in Mere Christianity that (his take on) Christian sexual morality should have nothing to do with the secular laws of marriage and divorce. He held that the government should be in charge of civil-union-style marriage, while churchly marriage should be legally irrelevant.

Anton_Mates said...

IIRC Merlin was supposed to be a Christian in THS, though it was somewhat complex and he hadn’t renounced some magical practices that a Christian in our time would have had to renounce. (There was a philosophical passage about how some things which are kind-of-compatible in an earlier age may cease to be so in a later age, which apparently comes from Anthroposophy; Owen Barfield (an Inkling) was an Anthroposophist.)

Yep, exactly. In Lewis' version of the mythos, Arthurian Britain is a mixture of Celtic paganism and Roman Christianity. Arthur himself is a proper Christian, but Merlin is more ambiguous--formally "a Christian man and a penitent", but still someone who dabbled in paganish things which weren't yet quite forbidden but were dangerous and destructive to his soul. Eventually he has to renounce them completely so he'll be properly saved.

But he's still Christian enough to know that contraception is terrible because, I mean, everyone knows that.

(In fairness, contraception is particularly terrible for this couple, because God intended them to produce some incredibly awesome kid, but now that'll never happen because latex > omnipotence. We're not told whether it's a good or bad thing that Hitler's parents eschewed contraception.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Nope. Nope.

I can't worship a god who flat out can't work with the 1% contraception failure rate. If zie isn't capable of that, then zie isn't capable of miracles at all.

(And would it be SO TERRIBLE for god to talk to a woman and get her consent for magic baby? I don't want to worship anything that treats me like mindless breeding stock. Whoops Rape Culture religion!

Amaryllis said...

When she and Lucy see Bacchus, Silenus and the Maenads, Susan is the first to say she would have been afraid of them if Aslan hadn’t been present.

That scene is freaking hilarious. Lewis puts the god of drunken orgies in his book, but it's Super Okay because Jesus is there to keep things from getting out of hand. FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.


I just logged in and haven't caught up on the comments yet, but that caught my eye. So this is just to say that I CAN'T WAIT for next week's (or whenever) post. That scene is just pure WTF.

I mean, I could make some guesses as to what Lewis thought he was getting at, but everything in its time. Until next week I'll just be here snickering quietly.

bekabot said...

Well, I wasn't thinking much about anybody's guilt or innocence (or about anybody's godhood or mortality); what I was thinking about was: what are the positions all these characters assume relative to one another, and can any parallels be drawn between them? The set of best practices for figuring out what a piece of narrative is about these days seems to revolve around figuring out what the characters in the narrative are there to do. That approach came after my time but I'm still a fan of it b/c it provides a baseline other than what the reader may wish up out of the vacuum. Character A has to be shown in situation n doing x, while character B is in situation m doing y, and if similar patterns show up in narratives which either precede or follow the one you're peering into then you can bring up the possibility that the narratives might have influenced each other

Sorry about the gobbledygook; couldn't think of any better way of saying it.

As for Susannah's innocence: sure Susannah is innocent, but all the same she poses a problem for her society, even if she does so unwittingly/involuntarily. If she hadn't been around no doubt the two Elders would have kept themselves busy discussing the upcoming date harvest or trading futures in Ninevite figurines, and would not have had occasion to embarrass themselves, but in the story as written, Susannah is present, and what she does is (in a passive purely-feminine way) lead the Elders into sin. At the end of the story, Susannah is innocent and the Elders are not, but the Elders are not-innocent on Susannah's account. That's the way the story works. I'm not too enthusiastic, BTW, about the way that story operates but I have to admit that it has staying power; you can find whole chat-rooms full of pissed-off men telling and re-telling variations on it to this day.

Susan Pevensie herself is guilty of not much more than being conventionally feminine and other-directed, and of liking nylons, lipstick, and boys. As a Narnian adult she's the only one of the Kings/Queens who wants to matriculate into an adult relationship, though of course she's making a desperate mistake by proposing it. She, like Susannah, points by her mere presence to a problem in the story which surrounds her. In Susannah's case the problem which is pointed out is that the opinions of patriarchs* are accepted as a measure of virtue, when there's zero guarantee that they're any such thing; in Susan Pevensie's case the problem is simpler. Narnia is a dream-world which attempts substitute the familial relations of childhood (the relations of brothers and sisters) for the familial relations of adulthood (the relations of husbands and wives**). Susan with her thing for boys is a wad of chewing-gum jamming up the Narnian gears. Eerily, just as the Elders in the Old Testament story are weighed in the Susannah balance and found wanting, Aslan fails, for many people, when he's considered in the context of the problem of Susan.

*I'm trying to use this word as technically as I can.

**Yeah, I know: heteronormativity. Unintentional, I swear. Use whatever more detailed terminology pleases you.

Makabit said...

Huh. I think I would say that the Biblical Susannah is in an appropriate feminine sphere, and that she firmly refuses the pressure put on her for sex in exchange for not being railroaded, despite the threat of being put to death for adultery.

When Daniel comes through for her, the accuser are executed for their malfeasance, and inability to come up with a consistent story.

There's nothing in the text that suggests, to me, that Susannah is in any way culpable for the sin of the men who watch her.

So I'd say she's doing fine with the Sacred Masculine...it, in fact, sends her an early Sherlock Holmes to vindicate her righteousness.

Makabit said...

It's the post-Freud version--refusing to submit to the Really Important Holy Male Maleness Masculinity has gone from being a matter of pride, to the medieval mind, to being a matter of being actually mentally ill, and with a flawed understanding of your own sexuality.

Makabit said...

Well, there's a deeply bizarre scene in The Mists of Avalon where Morgaine basically expresses the idea that foreplay diminishes the holiness of sex.

I read Mists first when I was eleven, and loved it deeply, but coming back to it, it raises my hair a bit.

Now there would be a subject for a deconstruction.

Not that it actually provides any insight into how an historical Merlin might have felt about contraception. Although there is quite a struggle between Gwydion and Arianrhod in the Mabinogi that may or may not have something to do with her refusal to have children/acknowledge them.

Makabit said...

(And would it be SO TERRIBLE for god to talk to a woman and get her consent for magic baby? I don't want to worship anything that treats me like mindless breeding stock. Whoops Rape Culture religion!)

Interesting, too, given the Catholic take on the conception of Jesus. Mary is interpreted to have given consent, and done so acting out of free will. She could have said no. Hell, there might be a long string of young women behind her who did say no.

Anton_Mates said...

(And would it be SO TERRIBLE for god to talk to a woman and get her consent for magic baby? I don't want to worship anything that treats me like mindless breeding stock.)

The ironic thing is, nobody would have known about magic baby if Merlin hadn't mentioned it, and he only knew about it due to the supernatural abilities he got from meddling with now-forbidden powers. So, no. No informed consent for anybody involved. Good Christians don't try to calculate the consequences of their sexual behavior, they just remember that God clearly stated NO SAFE SEX* and follow that rule forever, and God will arrange for that to lead to magic babies in his own way. And the occasional baby Hitler. But mostly magic babies.

That glorification of blind obedience is all over Lewis, of course. Not only does Aslan constantly command people to do things without any justification, but he doesn't even tell them afterwards why it was a good idea to obey. He repeatedly declares that "No one is ever told what would have happened" if they had acted differently. All created life is in a hierarchy, and everyone is bound to obey their superiors whether or not they can personally see any good reason to do so.

Shortly after the THS quote I gave above, Jane is walking about mulling over her fears that she might just be a "thing" to God, an object to be molded to his desires regardless of how she may feel about the matter. She then has a religious experience where she comes to realize that this is pretty much exactly true and that's okay.

*1 Trojans 8:12, I believe.

Theo said...

While I completely agree that the THS bits quoted are all kinds of fucked up, I didn't read some of those scenes quite the same way.

Merlin certainly isn't presented as always right, in fact several of his rants - particularly the one about Jane's and Mark's contraception - seems designed specifically to show him as alien to the modern Christian characters.

Ransom is trickier, because in-narrative he mostly does appear as a "hyper-masculine always-right authority figure". On the other hand, Grace Ironwood - a single, professional, unmarried woman - deflates his bizarre rant on marriage/masculinity/femininity a bit by observing that he is a man, and a bachelor to boot. I don't think he should completely be read as Lewis' mouthpiece. (Lewis was also emphatic that Ransom was not a self-insert character - in the first books he was apparently somewhat based on Tolkien, in the third he took on a strong resemblance to Charles Williams.)

Makabit said...

*1 Trojans 8:12, I believe.

To quote King David from the great Joseph Heller parody "God Knows", "You can look that up in the Book of Jashar. That is, if you can find the book of Jashar."

By the time "That Hideous Strength" was released, the Anglicans had formally accepted birth control for fifteen years, and I don't think they were particularly opposed or worried about it before.

The Catholic Church has a complex theology regarding contraception, but I honestly can't figure out one what grounds either C.S. Lewis or some Iron Age/British Roman Christian shaman would object.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that anyone would assume that Morgaine would care about the "holiness" of... anything, really.

Really, the idea of making the Arthurian peoples modern conservative Christians is surprisingly offensive to me. It's one thing to co-opt Bacchus, but King Arthur? Really? It reminds me -- in a very bad way -- of the worser excesses of the Christian church trying to stamp out older, non-coopted versions of pagan myths. It makes me uncomfortable.

Makabit said...

"Holiness" may be a poor term, but she's very disturbed that the poor Lancelot character--what does Zimmer Bradley call him?--is more interested in her orgasm than Joining In The Great Joining of Male And Female. Granted, he's also, I think, trying to preserve her chastity, when she didn't ask him to--it's most effective use as a scene is perhaps to point up that they simply aren't connecting on any level except pure attraction.

Steve Morrison said...

This is what Morgaine thinks about the incident later:
When Morgaine left Arthur’s court at Caerleon, asking leave only to pay a visit to Avalon and her foster-mother, she kept her thoughts on Viviane—that way she need not think of what had befallen her and Lancelet. Whenever she let her mind wander to it, it was like being burnt with a hot iron of shame; she had offered herself to him in all honesty, in the old way, and he had wanted nothing of her but childish toyings that made a mockery of her womanhood. She did not know whether it was at him or herself that she was angered, that he could have so played with her, or that she could have hungered for him…

Anton_Mates said...

By the time "That Hideous Strength" was released, the Anglicans had formally accepted birth control for fifteen years, and I don't think they were particularly opposed or worried about it before.

Lewis seems to have viewed Anglican consensus differently; in a 1931 letter he apparently talks about not wanting to defend contraception from "almost unbroken Christian disapproval." But yeah, I think this was largely his personal bugbear.

The Catholic Church has a complex theology regarding contraception, but I honestly can't figure out one what grounds either C.S. Lewis or some Iron Age/British Roman Christian shaman would object.

For Lewis, it seems to have been a fairly straightforward "Sex without babies is twisting God's natural plan" thing. Occasionally he suggests that contraception will lead to promiscuity or other nasty consequences, but mostly it's about natural law.

As for our hypothetical Romano-Celtic Christian shaman, it's quite possible that he would condemn contraception--particularly if he was male, and particularly if it was used by a woman. It's also possible that he would covertly assist with contraception. Most of the orthodox Church Fathers strongly condemned both contraception and abortion, but of course they were condemning it largely because so many Christian women were practicing it. We have very little info on sex in pre-Christian Celtic law, but in Ireland a wife's abortion was grounds for her husband to divorce her. OTOH, some of the very early British saints were said to have miraculously "erased" undesirable pregnancies. So when it comes to a married couple jointly deciding to use contraception...well, almost any attitude is conceivable.

Anton_Mates said...

Really, the idea of making the Arthurian peoples modern conservative Christians is surprisingly offensive to me. It's one thing to co-opt Bacchus, but King Arthur? Really?

I don't know, is it any more cooptish than making them medieval courtly lovers, or modern neo-Pagans, or liberal social reformers? All our legendary material on the Matter of Britain is the work of Christian writers, and all of it presents Arthur and Merlin as Christians; it's not clear that tales of a pagan Arthur ever existed. Of course, post-Roman and medieval Christians were very different from modern conservative Christians, but they were very different from anyone alive today.

Have you read Nikolai Tolstoy's The Coming of the King? Quality of the writing aside, it may be the modern popularization most faithful to the earliest Arthurian legends. It is therefore filled with extremely odd and unpleasant people.

It reminds me -- in a very bad way -- of the worser excesses of the Christian church trying to stamp out older, non-coopted versions of pagan myths. It makes me uncomfortable.

Censorship is ugly, but personally I quite like it when groups coopt one anothers' stories. That's how we got most of our myths in the first place, I think.

firefall said...

If you assume the xian god is cruel, whimsical and delights in overthrowing reason (which I feel there is scriptural, theological, and real world bases for), then Aslan is a perfect fit. God is a Cat, and we're all toys, some with catnip attached

firefall said...

I think I'd read them through 3 or 4 times before anyone mentioned that it was a Christian allegory to me - and I do remember being utterly incredulous of the idea, pointing out that Jesus is meant to be Good, not like Aslan.

firefall said...

This comment needs a 'Deeply loved' button

Theo said...

You're quite right, on pretty much all counts. That'll teach me to quote from memory from a book I haven't reread in years. :) I'm particularly embarrassed that I mixed up Grace Ironwood and Mrs Dimble.

THS is a seriously weird book, but as you pointed out there's a lot of great stuff in it along with - and often mixed in with - the ugliness.

Theo said...

To be fair, I thought the co-optation of Merlin and other characters as pagans is much more recent than co-opting the Arthurian characters as Christians? As far as I know this starts with some Victorian romantic versions. Merlin, at least, isn't IIRC suggested to be a druid or pagan in any medieval sources (and by the time he and Arthur might possibly have lived, in the 6th century or so, Christianity seems to have been solidly established among the Romano-British, in contrast to the largely-heathen Anglo-Saxon invaders).

Mind you, I might well be wrong here. Happy to be educated if so. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

I think I see a subtle difference between re-interpretation and co-opting.

I don't have an issue with A Connecticut in King Arthur's Court because it's pretty clearly satire to me. But that quote from THS sounds to my ears like flat out revisionism, and that gets my hackes up.

Possibly the difference is one of tone.

As for Arthur "originally" being x, y, or z, I was taught the scholarly tradition that he was likely a Celtic hero/deity that got historicized, so that's where I'm coming from.

Back on topic, it's interesting to me that Merlin and Aslan both seem incredibly judgmental. If birth control makes one the FALSEST of women, then that leaves a lot of LOL WHAT questions about adultery, unfaithfulness, etc.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't have a lot of time this morning, but it's definitely more complicated than that. If you're really interested, Wikipedia has a decent page on Arthur, as well as why one of the earliest versions of his life account is still in dispute. A lot of the Christian elements in the myth a lot of us grew up with, the holy grail, the threat of excommunication, etc. are in dispute, as is Arthur's very existence. So.

Basically, it's really complicated. Guessing that Arthur was pagan OR Christian is really just a guess either way. Instilling everyone with modern BIRTH CONTROL BAD and FEMALE ORGASM EVIL ideas as though those are timeless and self-evident is a bit much in my opinion.

But that is just my off-the-cuff response to Lewis' writing.

Ana Mardoll said...

LOL FOREVER @ the idea that petticoat-wearing women knew their place to "obey".

I think Laura Ingalls Wilder would like a word with C.S. Lewis.

Laura was silent again. Then she summoned all her courage and said, “Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?”

Soberly he answered, “Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.”

“Well, I am not going to say I will obey you,” said Laura.

“Are you for woman’s rights, like Eliza?” Almanzo asked in surprise.

“No,” Laura replied. “I do not want to vote. But I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, and, Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgement.”

“I’d never expect you to,” he told her. “And there will be no difficulty about the ceremony, because Reverend Brown does not believe in using the word ‘obey.’”

“He doesn’t! Are you sure?” Laura had never been so surprised and so relieved, all at once.

“He feels very strongly about it,” Almanzo said. “I have heard him arguing for hours and quoting Bible texts against St. Paul, on that subject. You know he is a cousin of John Brown of Kansas, and a good deal like him. Will it be all right, then? The last of this week, or early next?”

~ These Happy Golden Years

Theo said...

I certainly didn't mean to suggest that the bizarre comments made by Merlin in THS are in any apparent way rooted in the "original" Arthur (whatever that would be). Sorry if it came off that way.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thanks. :) Apparently I'm not communicating well this week either. We can blame the heat. :)

Lonespark said...

"Holiness" is one of my favorite words, concepts, and I feel it's pretty pagan/Pagan. (But I suppose I would, being from the Germanic side of things...it's our word, dammit!) And I also like the concept of holy/unholy (in some way out of balance, usually, there's more too it, but can't work brain...) as a possible alternative to good/evil in religious terms.

muscipula said...

Yeah, that "falsest of women" thing seems to be coming from the same Natural Law arguments - like she's betraying her true womanly nature in a deep way, that mere adultery wouldn't reach. It ties in with the supposition that everyone is meant to mirror their divinely-intended Platonic archetype, where men are real men, women are real women, mice are real mice, beavers are real beavers - no "look human, but aren't". Except that the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties are by nature always super-evil, so Lewis has got them coming and going.

I do think that this Natural Law stuff is horribly contingent. On contraception, whether it's right or wrong from a natural law standpoint seems very sensitive to the biological details involved. Are Talking Frogs in Narnia allowed to use contraception, to avoid having to raise many hundreds of tadpoles to maturity? (Presumably it's not OK to just let most of them be eaten once they're spawned, as non-Talking frogs do.) Plus, when I go back and look at Aquinas, etc., I find absolutely bizarre ideas about how the world works - for example, he thinks, following Aristotle, that conception of female children is due to the moist south wind causing defects in the father's sperm (which would otherwise produce males). By rights, natural law conclusions ought to change as we discover more about nature, at least if we're being intellectually honest and not just using "what's natural" as a cover for our own opinions.

Isabel C. said...

It has been a long-ass time since I heard much of the Christmas story other than what appears in Charlie Brown. However, I was under the impression that Mary did, in fact, get asked, or at least told. So, if God wants me to give birth to the Awesomest Baby Ever, God can damn well send an angel to let me know that. And I will think about it.

Also, it seems...weird...to assume that latex > God when a core part of your religion states that God > abstinence. But I am not a Christian.

I'm, ah, skeptical that a pagan wizard would care overly much about birth control.

Hah. Considering that at least some of the Arthurian legends have the good king committing mass infanticide as a solution to "oops, boned my sister", and Merlin, at least in Malory--who has his own issues, mind--advises that....well.

Ana Mardoll said...

Plus, when I go back and look at Aquinas, etc., I find absolutely bizarre ideas about how the world works - for example, he thinks, following Aristotle, that conception of female children is due to the moist south wind causing defects in the father's sperm (which would otherwise produce males).

This theory has always amused me, since it essentially claims that the CONTINUANCE OF THE HUMAN RACE is a whoopsy.

Ana Mardoll said...

The Herod / Pharaoh version! I haven't heard that one in forever.

(I'm so pleased to see you today. I really *needed* "oops, boned my sister" chortles. :D :D :D)

Isabel C. said...

Aw, thanks! It's good to be back--life has been crazed for a bit, but hopefully is calming down now.

And yeah. Joel Rosenberg wrote a reasonably cool version where Mordred wins and is now--"now" being roughly 1500--considered the good guy, and Arthur is known as the Baby-Slayer or similar. First two books were good; Author Existence Failure, alas, interfered with more.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'll have to check those out. It's been a long time since I read Arthur fic (unless you count Twain) and he's such a Rorschach character. I think the last one I read was Child Queen by McKenzie and I was VERY ambivalent about that book.

I'm glad things are settling down -- missed you!

Makabit said...

Really, Lancelet has no excuse. He was brought up by a Goddess-fearin' woman. Where the hell did he get this degrading idea that there could be more to heterosexual lovemaking than PIV intercourse?

Doesn't he understand that a grown woman, and Priestess of the Great Mother can't be expected to actually say "No, I would like to have intercourse, screw the foreplay? That would be embarrassing. She's OFFERING herself TO YOU in the OLD WAY. What part of this don't you get?

(Massive sarc tags here. "Mists" really does drive me berserk. )

On the flip side, while we are discussing sex in Arthurian literature, I must mention Parke Godwin's amazing novel "Beloved Exile", where Guinevere, after Arthur's death, ends up a slave in a Saxon settler home (very long story). There's a hilarious bit where she and another woman in the household, who used to be a prostitute in Londinium, are doing a sex ed class for the soon-to-be-married daughter of the household, who, fairly schnockered on mead at this point, listens to their explanation of oral sex and inquires, "Really? Zat how Christians do it?" Guinevere sends her off fairly sure that the seventeen-year-old son of the next farmer over is never going to know what hit him.

Makabit said...

"OTOH, some of the very early British saints were said to have miraculously "erased" undesirable pregnancies."

I recall that St. Brigid is said to have prayed with one of her nuns who was pregnant and didn't want to be, and the girl was miraculously no longer pregnant.

Makabit said...

Natural Law, as far as I'm concerned, is a way of avoiding saying "This is my belief; it is based on the traditions of my religion," and attempting to insist that everyone should believe what you believe, because it's NATURAL LAW.

Steve Morrison said...

OK, I've had time to find the original scene. Content note: explicit sex.
It seemed he was not yet ready, though she was all alive to him, her body flowing with the pulse of life and desire in her. She moved against him, hungry, her mouth avid, entreating. She whispered his name, begging now, almost afraid. He went on kissing her gently, his hands moving to stroke and soothe her, but she did not want to be soothed now, her body was crying out for completion, it was starvation, agony. She tried to speak, to beg him, but it came out a sobbing whimper.

He held her gently against him, still stroking her. “Hush, no, hush, Morgaine, wait, no more now—I do not want to hurt or dishonor you, never think that—here, lie here by me, let me hold you, I will content you…” and in despair and confusion she let him do what he would, but even while her body cried out for the pleasure he gave her, a curious anger was growing. What of the flow of life between their two bodies, male and female, the tides of the Goddess rising and compelling them? Somehow it seemed to her that he was stemming that tide, that he was making her love for him a mockery and a game, a pretense. And he did not seem to mind, it seemed to him that this was the way it should be, so that they were both pleasured… as if nothing mattered but their bodies, that there was no greater joining with all of life. To the priestess, reared in Avalon and attuned to the greater tides of life and eternity, this careful, sensuous, deliberate lovemaking seemed almost blasphemy, a refusal to give themselves up to the will of the Goddess.
So what do you think? Perhaps she was objecting to his refusal to do PIV sex, or for his insufficiently abandoned lovemaking.

Steve Morrison said...

Have you read Nikolai Tolstoy's The Coming of the King? Quality of the writing aside, it may be the modern popularization most faithful to the earliest Arthurian legends. It is therefore filled with extremely odd and unpleasant people.
I remember his Beowulf as, well, especially unpleasant! Of course, many characters in epics and sagas are, by our standards.

Isabel C. said...

@Steve: I think BEEE-YARF, is what I think. I think double bee-yarf when remembering that that series was what every nineteen-year-old girl turned to for Enlightened Pagan Feminism And Stuff back when I was growing up. The religious/philosophical version of having a crush on boy bands, I suppose.

@Ana: Thank you! And yeah. I don't read Arthurian much, because ZOMG DOWNER ENDINGS FOR ALL and also SHUT UP GWEN AND LANCE SHUT UP FOREVER but...yeah.

Also, at lunch-and-cocktails today, I found a reason to say "...well, having reached the silliest part of life, I'm determined to stay there as long as possible." Not sure if my companion picked up on the reference, but it made me happy.

Ana Mardoll said...

What do I think?

Ack. People are complicated. Without JUDGING IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER, I generally, personally, ONLY SPEAKING FOR MYSELF HERE feel that people who can't yet communicate about what they want sexually maybe possibly shouldn't be sexually active together. Because communication is kind of crucial to good sex. IN MY EXPERIENCE ONLY. SUBJECTIVE!

Now, there's about 8 BILLION caveats to that, but that's just my general impression of that scene. It's entirely possible that Lancelot is being selfish and is legitimately owed some annoyance -- some of us have had experience with That Guy who insists that his partner has an orgasm only during The Designated Masculine Foreplay Power Display and that's bullshit behavior if it's less about pleasing your partner and more about following a script. (Shorter version: Women do not have to justify what does/doesn't get them off. We're unique and not a collection of identical stimuli and responses.)

JUST BASED ON THAT SEGMENT ALONE, I'm wondering why Morgaine doesn't say, "Lancy, baby, put it in, mmkay? That's what I want. Are you here to make me happy, personally, or will anyone do as long as they react according to the script in your head?" And then Lanc can have a discussion about how he doesn't want to get her pregnant with PIV sex. And then Merlin can show up and glare at them for using Onastic birth control which is, of course, against the rules laid out in the book of Trojans. And then Susan Pevensie can flip them the bird.

Or something.

Anyway, seconding Izzy's bee-yarf reaction, because that's not a picture of healthy sexuality that I would recommend to girls still exploring their own wants and needs. It smells Twilighty.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ha. I'll join you in that: I'm an adult who likes fun times and sees no reason to change that, and anyone who doesn't like it can bite me.

Steve Morrison said...

So my content note should have been "BEEE-YARF inducing sex scene"? Ah well, I'll remember that one for next time!

Makabit said...

WARNING: Why am I even ranting about this?

Mind, it's not that people can't have different ideas about sex, and have unsatisfying encounters because of it, and what have you, even in literature. I'm sure that lousy communication about sex goes back well before the early Middle Ages.

I think it's mostly for me that "Mists" doesn't offer any cultures that are genuinely woman-friendly, and the whole reputation and self-interpretation of the book, to me, seems to be that it's about exactly that. The actual arc of activity of the Druid High Command during the plot involves coercing young women to marry or sleep with men they didn't choose to fulfill visions about great kings, or kill off renegade Druids. Now, sometimes you've got a great king to bring about, or a renegade Druid to off, and I get the concept here, but...meh. The sop of 'but girls can be priestesses and great mistresses of magic and that's better than the Christians because, Avalon! And not being ashamed to know about sex, even though you've got to be a virgin until they tell you who to sleep with, which sounds a lot like, well, the Christians,' is no longer enough for me.

And I get tired of the elitism, and the way the 'Tribes' are constantly invoked, but apparently cannot speak for themselves, let alone appear as characters, or really, do anything except be used as a threat--'cause they'll walk if Arthur gets too Christian, they totally will. And I get tired of the way the Church is portrayed as this sort of fourteenth-century institution with its undies in a twist.

It's possible, especially given the ending, that Bradley did not mean this to be a portrayal of a great female-friendly civilization being overrun by a bunch of cross-bearing provincial meanies, but that's largely how it's been accepted and read by, well, a lot of people, and, er, if it wasn't already clear, I have issues, that are probably magnified by how uncritically I loved this as a tween and teenager.

Anton_Mates said...

I don't have an issue with A Connecticut in King Arthur's Court because it's pretty clearly satire to me. But that quote from THS sounds to my ears like flat out revisionism, and that gets my hackes up.

Fair enough. For my part, I don't mind non-satirical revisionism so long as it's in a fictional context. I like The Dark is Rising and Shining Knight and Le Morte d'Arthur itself, so I can't really fault Lewis for following the same path. And he does do a decent job of sketching Merlin out as a real person from a hybrid Romano-Celtic society, with a very different set of prejudices and assumptions and cognitive dissonances than you'd find in a modern Briton of any stripe.

That said, I think Lewis pretty clearly was a "mythological revisionist", insofar as he felt that all myths and legends--Bible included--are imperfect reflections of a single historical and theological truth. Hence he was happy to take the "good parts" from various pagan mythologies, plus Jewish and Christian mythology, and cobble them into a mostly-consistent whole for his fiction. That behavior severely irritated Tolkien, because he preferred to construct his mythology to be culture-specific as possible. I like it as a fictional device, but as an approach toward actual history, it's obviously absurd and massively offensive. Other religions and mythologies are not broken versions of Christianity.


(On the other hand, many modern conservative Christians condemn Lewis as an occultist and crypto-pagan for believing that there's anything worthwhile in other religions and mythologies.)

If birth control makes one the FALSEST of women, then that leaves a lot of LOL WHAT questions about adultery, unfaithfulness, etc.

I think we're to assume that Merlin's using hyperbole there. "X is the falsest Y that liveth" is a diss you find a couple of places in Malory's Arthur; no one really takes it literally.

But yeah it's weird that she's called "false" at all. Merlin knows she's not deceiving her husband, and she's not trying to deceive God, and God can't really be deceived anyway, so who's she being false to? Her true baby-making self? Future Magic Baby and his naive faith in the integrity of his timeline?

Instilling everyone with modern BIRTH CONTROL BAD and FEMALE ORGASM EVIL ideas as though those are timeless and self-evident is a bit much in my opinion.

FWIW, Lewis certainly isn't FEMALE ORGASM EVIL. He says in lots of places that sex is supposed to be fun for both parties--in fact, he claims that Christianity is particularly sex-positive because it's "almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body." Which is a slightly insane thing to say from a comparative religions PoV, but anyway.

Lewis just thinks that women will find sex more satisfying--and more physically pleasurable, at least in the long run--if they approach it in a proper Christian manner. It's for their own good, you see. Jane and Mark are having a rocky marriage--particularly in the bedroom--precisely because they're silly equality-obsessed progressives. Conversion to Christianity and a few pep talks from Ransom (given to Jane while she salivates over his unattainable alpha-maleness) naturally solve all these problems, and the book actually ends with them about to shag.

Oh, and there's some creepy shit about Jane deciding that if she can't bang Ransom, and Ransom wants her to reconcile with Mark, she'll give herself to Mark because it's an indirect gift to Ransom. It's like erotic fanfic from Mars Hill Church.

Anton_Mates said...

I do think that this Natural Law stuff is horribly contingent. On contraception, whether it's right or wrong from a natural law standpoint seems very sensitive to the biological details involved.

Ah, but if you believe in original sin corrupting the natural world, then you get to cherrypick the biological details. In Mere Christianity, Lewis asserts that the natural function of sex is baby-making, because, y'know, it leads to babies. But clearly 99% of human sexual behavior doesn't actually lead to babies, and can't possibly do so, because it's not PIV intercourse between two currently fertile adults of opposite sex. Of course, this doesn't lead Lewis to conclude that maybe sex has other natural functions. No, he just concludes that our sexual instincts must have gone horribly wrong. Heads he wins, tails you lose.

Not that Lewis can make any kind of natural law argument at all, if he wants to be intellectualy honest. He clearly knows perfectly well that they contain an is-ought fallacy, since he points this out whenever non-Christians make them. (E.g. Weston, in the Space Trilogy.)

Are Talking Frogs in Narnia allowed to use contraception, to avoid having to raise many hundreds of tadpoles to maturity?

Talking Frogs are unfallen, I imagine, so they only produce as many tadpoles as are necessary to replenish the race. We only see Talking Beasts with children a couple of times, and I'm not sure they have any more kids than humans do.

Or maybe they have typically large litters, but Aslan keeps sending the babies on missions to other alternate worlds and they very rarely come back.

Isabel C. said...

Right, and also...the whole "sex is only good when it can make babies because GODDESS" and gender essentialism male and female coming together NEW LIFE blah....is one of my least favorite, and to my mind, drippiest, interpretations of paganism.

I mean, the "just let me make you happy" thing also bugs, because--possible TMI:

I, like many girls, have encountered That Guy Who Really Really Wants To Get You Off. Not because *you* really really want to get off or anything (it's nice, but most of us can do that ourselves in five minutes, ten if we have to do it by hand like the Amish), but because he wants to be the one to get you off, and his ego's going to be wounded if you don't, and oh my God is That Guy tedious. Like, I don't *recommend* faking it, but when you're all "...it's not gonna happen right now, sorry,"* and he continues with the it's-okay-baby-just-let-me-make-you-happy lines...well, it's that or smack him upside the head.

And that's kind of how Lance comes off here.

But also, if you're going to freak out about how ZOMG you just want to fuck my body and we don't have a GREATER CONNECTION TO ALL LIFE BECAUSE OF THE PREGNANCY and so on, why exactly *are* you differentiating yourself so strongly from Christianity?

I'm comfortable being judgmental, so I'll go ahead and say that...dumb. Just dumb.

*And God fucking forbid you suggest that you do it yourself. WOE AND ANGUISH AND DOUBTS ABOUT HIS MANHOOD. Shut it, That Guy. Not your shrink.

Isabel C. said...

Yeah, word. And the "Well, eventually, you'll have to stop, right?" argument does not impress me either. Yes, eventually. Eventually death and taxes and the Sun engulfing Earth, hopefully when the rest of humanity has spread throughout the universe and fucked a bunch of aliens, as per Dr. Who. No need to rush any of these things.

Isabel C. said...

Hee!

Content Note: "Not advised for people susceptible to nausea or dental issues."

Toby Bartels said...

Ah, so it's a sin not to allow yourself to be charmed by your husband, but it's still a sin for your husband to force it if you're not charmed instead of charming harder.

Toby Bartels said...

Yes, and you'd hope that Lewis would have noticed in the Gospel of Luke that Mary explicitly gave consent to bearing the Messiah. (It's not clear from the passage what would have happened if she hadn't consented, and doubtless Lewis would have regarded it as a sin if she hadn't, but at least the consent was in fact there.)

Toby Bartels said...

There really was a Book of Jashar, although today we have only two fragments of it. To judge by those (which are quoted in the historical books of the Tanakh), it was historical poetry.

Toby Bartels said...

To Lewis at least, Arthur would have been undeniably Christian. The mediƦval texts describe him as Christian, and if modern scholarship detects a pagan original, well, there's no doubt which authority Lewis trusts more. *Especially* in THS.

Makabit said...

I think that's David's point...you can look up what he's talking about...but only if you can find the book. Which you can't. 'Cause it's lost.

Strange man, David. "God Knows" is hilarious, but it doesn't even scratch the surface.

Anton_Mates said...

Yep. Everyone involved should Try Harder and Be More Appreciated. Which, in that generic form, is decent advice for a lot of couples. It's just when Ransom gets to how they should Try Harder that everything goes terribly wrong. Oh, and the fact that he's giving this sage advice to Jane while engaging in a sublimated, sexless, power-imbalanced flirtation that Rayford Steele would die to experience.

Toby Bartels said...

It's been too long since I've read that book. I only have a vague sense of outrage.

Ken said...

I kind of agree, but in a round-about way. I don't think in PC he was thinking "Susan will become a non-believer 5 books from now". I think Susan is just the go-to for Discardable Character.

Need a Pevensie Villain? Susan! Need a non-believer for a theological point? Susan! Need a flighty woman to be attracted to the Obviously Awful Sheiky McSheikpants? Susan! Need a pretty girl for Lucy to be jealous of? Susan!

Indeed. She is even the one who gets a blister early on, just to show she is least used to long walks. Simply put, for some reason Lewis projected all that he disliked about women (including their sexuality) solely on Susan, leaving Lucy and Aravis mostly free from it. For Lewis, the very idea of a women being sexually attractive was considered evil. This is also predestined by her position: not the youngest (and most innocent) and not the oldest (and best), Susan and Edmund were there for bad things, but Edmund being male (and haveng learned his lesson in LWW) predestined Susan to be the "bad nut".


The theological point Lewis was donig here is very important, , though. To explain this, let's first remember the following definition: a fact is, what doesn't disappear if one disbelieves it. During the 1st half of the XX century, science established many fact that were at odds with the existing understanding of religion.

Nowadays, people unhappy with that usually claim a conspiracy or simply declare the topic "controversial", but Lewis knew better. Therefore, he did another thing, and resorted to claim that science simply cannot solve some questions because those questions do not behave like normal facts: they are only there if one believes in them them, yet unlike some "academic" questions, those are actually important, i. e. have relevance for people. If you believe in, say, divine intervention, you will sometimes get such intervention, but if you don't, you won't. And if you don't believe in Aslan you won't see him.

With Trumpkin and other unbelievers, there are two theories. The first is something like "spoon" theory: ypu can see Aslan once or twice without believeng in him, just so you can prove to yourself his existence. if you then fall from believing, it becomes harder and harder to see him, until you absolutely have to believe in order to see. Another, more probable theory is that a "critical mass" of believers must be achieved before Aslan can manifest himself to everybody. During LWW, the Animals provided such mass, but now the belief is almost gone, so the Pevensies must believe before Aslan can manifest. Lucy believes first because she is the "purest" of all, then Peter and Edmund, and then, well, Susan. Being the most rational (and least prone to leaps of faith). Susan is the natural candidate for straying away. This is strange, but Lewis indeed believed that thinking "with a brain" sometimes precludes thinking "with a heart", like in "The Little Prince": Only a heart is truly watchful. The most important thing cannot be seen with eyes .

depizan said...

And yet, the way Narnia appears to operate makes this stacked rather unfairly against our protagonists. It's very hard to explain the Pevensies' thoughts and actions on returning to Narnia a few chapters back unless they've been magicked to not remember Narnia. I'm still in the camp that feels that you can't muck with people's minds and then hold them accountable for the results of your mind mucking. (Furthermore, it's problematic to hold people responsible for the results of other people mucking with their minds.)

Also, since Aslan is apparently able to pounce on a non-believer later, the critical belief mass theory either requires a rather small critical mass or is incorrect.

And I'm still not sure about the lack of belief in Aslan here. All of the Pevensies by now remember their previous visit, which means they remember Aslan. They must believe he existed. They may not believe he still exists, but again, that's not their fault. It's been hundreds of years and I don't think anyone told them he was immortal. It's not really a problem of lack of faith so much as lack of information.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm astonished at the idea that Aravis isn't projected on like a white wall in a conference room, but I suppose we'll get to that later. ;)

Ana Mardoll said...

Exactly. Also note that Peter tells Trumpkin (iirc) that Aslan exists and wouldn't have gone wild and that it's bad luck to think otherwise. Edmund and Susan don't vocally dispute this, so I assume they're onboard (although with Lucy lunging at people left and right...).

They only dispute that Aslan would only appear to Lucy and be invisible to the rest. Which, since they've never seen him be invisible to others, makes sense. They shouldn't be blamed for lacking a frame of reference.

Anton_Mates said...

Edmund and Susan don't vocally dispute this, so I assume they're onboard (although with Lucy lunging at people left and right...).

Heh. "Just say you're still orthodox Aslanites, everyone! Otherwise Lucy tries to kill us, and we can't get rid of her now because she's the only healer in the party!"

I agree, by all indications the children all accept that Aslan's immortal and godlike. And when Susan has her moment of repentance later, she doesn't say that she was doubtful of Aslan's actual existence. She just didn't let herself believe that he was actually manifesting to Lucy at that particular moment.

Also, note that neither Aslan nor Susan herself says that she suffers from excessive rationality. Rather, she's letting herself be swayed away from rationality by "listening to her fears," and to her desire to get out of the forest as quickly as possible. A truly rational Susan would have believed Lucy immediately, especially since the Professor in LWW already proved with ironclad logic that Lucy's weird-ass claims must always be believed. We can of course read meta-Susan as acting rationally here, but Lewis definitely doesn't agree.

Lewis would never consciously oppose rationalism, AFAIK. His Good Christians always conquer their heretical or unbelieving opponents in argument. His position is similar to the Vatican's, I think: pure reason can get you to God, but most people let their reasoning be distorted by their sinful appetites, so they need the emotional commitment of faith to help them along. He makes a secularized version of this argument in the "Men Without Chests" section of The Abolition of Man.

Mau de Katt said...

(I know I'm late to the party, but I only this week started reading these deconstructions.)

At this point, you could replace every single instance of "Aslan" in the text with "Cheshire Cat" and it would legitimately be a better story. Wonder how far that could go?

No no no no no no no. The Cheshire Cat is enigmatic, and appears and disappears at a whim, but (except for the first animated Disney abomination -- the Cat, not the movie) he is not mean. He's not an asshole.

Mark Koop said...

Just read through all of your Narnia deconstruction so far today. Beautifully done. I always love reading what smart people think about the books I've read, just to learn what others are teasing out of the texts. It's why I loved my literature classes.
In this chapter especially, I found your analysis to read a bit like a scripture commentary, complete with a word study (naughty) and everything!
Thanks for doing this... when does the next installment come?

Mark Koop said...

Woop. Forget about that last question. I just found more. :)

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