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The Chronicles of Narnia/Criticism

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Part of the series on
The Chronicles of Narnia
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Christian parallels
Criticism
Reception: influence of religious viewpoints
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The Chronicles of Narnia (film series)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
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Discussion Page

Criticism

Gender stereotyping

C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia have received various criticisms over the years, much of it by fellow authors. Most of the allegations of sexism center around the description of Susan Pevensie in The Last Battle where Lewis characterizes Susan as being "no longer a friend of Narnia" and interested "in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations".

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, has said:

There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex, I have a big problem with that.[1]

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy and so fierce a critic of Lewis' work as to be dubbed "the anti-Lewis interpreting the Susan passages this way:

Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn't approve of that. He didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up.

Among others, fan-magazine editor Andrew Rilstone opposes this view, arguing that the "lipsticks, nylons and invitations" quote is taken out of context. They maintain that in The Last Battle, Susan is excluded from Narnia explicitly because she no longer believes in it. At the end of The Last Battle Susan is still alive; her ultimate fate is not specified in the series. Moreover, Susan's adulthood and sexual maturity are portrayed in a positive light in The Horse and His Boy, and therefore are argued to be unlikely reasons for her exclusion from Narnia.

Additionally, Lewis supporters cite the positive roles of women in the series, including Jill Pole in The Silver Chair, Aravis Tarkheena in The Horse and His Boy, Polly Plummer in The Magician's Nephew, and particularly Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Jacobs asserts that Lucy is the most admirable of the human characters, and that, in general, the girls come off better than the boys through the stories Karin Fry, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, notes, in her contribution to The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, that "the most sympathetic female characters in the Chronicles are consistently the ones who question the traditional roles of women and prove their worth to Aslan through actively engaging in the adventures just like the boys." Fry goes on to say, however,

The characters have positive and negative things to say about both male and female characters, suggesting an equality between sexes. However, the problem is that many of the positive qualities of the female characters seem to be those by which they can rise above their femininity ... The superficial nature of stereotypical female interests is condemned.

Race

In addition to sexism, Pullman also accused the Narnia series of fostering racism, alleging that for Lewis:

Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it.

About alleged racism in The Horse and His Boy specifically, newspaper editor Kyrie O'Connor writes:

It's just too dreadful. While the book's storytelling virtues are enormous, you don't have to be a bluestocking of political correctness to find some of this fantasy anti-Arab, or anti-Eastern, or anti-Ottoman. With all its stereotypes, mostly played for belly laughs, there are moments you'd like to stuff this story back into its closet.

The racism critique is based on a negative representation of other races, particularly the Calormenes. Novelist Philip Hensher and other critics regard the portrayal of Calormene culture as an attack on Islam.[2] Although the portrait of the Calormenes is coloured by European perceptions of Ottoman culture, the Calormene religion as portrayed by Lewis is polytheistic and bears little resemblance to Islam. Moreover, several Calormenes, notably Aravis in The Horse and his Boy and the young Calormene soldier in The Last Battle are portrayed favourably as brave and noble individuals.

Paganism

Lewis has also received criticism from some Christians and Christian organizations who feel that The Chronicles of Narnia promotes "soft-sell paganism and occultism", because of the recurring pagan themes and the supposedly heretical depictions of Christ as an anthropomorphic lion. The Greek god Dionysus and the Maenads are depicted in a positive light (with the caveat that meeting them without Aslan around would not be safe), although they are generally considered distinctly pagan motifs. Even an animistic "River god" is portrayed in a positive light. According to Josh Hurst of Christianity Today, "not only was Lewis hesitant to call his books Christian allegory, but the stories borrow just as much from pagan mythology as they do the Bible".[3]

Lewis himself believed that pagan mythology could act as a preparation for Christianity, both in history and in the imaginative life of an individual, and even suggested that modern man was in such a lamentable state that perhaps it was necessary "first to make people good pagans, and after that to make them Christians".[4] He also argued that imaginative enjoyment of (as opposed to belief in) classical mythology has been a feature of Christian culture through much of its history, and that European literature has always had three themes: the natural, the supernatural believed to be true (practiced religion), and the supernatural believed to be imaginary (mythology). Colin Duriez, author of three books on Lewis, suggests that Lewis believed that to reach a post-Christian culture one needed to employ pre-Christian ideas.[5] Lewis disliked modernism which he regarded as mechanized and sterile and cut off from natural ties to the world. By comparison, he had hardly any reservations about pre-Christian pagan culture. He disdained the non-religious agnostic character of modernity, but not the polytheistic character of pagan religion.


references

  1. *Grossman. J.K. Rowling Hogwarts And All.
  2. Hensher, "Don't let your children go to Narnia: C. S. Lewis's books are racist and misogynist".
  3. Hurst, "Nine Minutes of Narnia".
  4. Moynihan (ed.). The Latin Letters of C. S. Lewis: C. S. Lewis and Don Giovanni Calabria.
  5. ChristianityToday.com

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