Re-Read: The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis)

I never read The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. I read them the first time a few years ago, before The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was released. And I kind of liked the books. I don’t mind religious imagery, in fact, I think it’s pretty interesting stuff. Not that I believe it. But still. I liked the ideas C. S. Lewis had and there was some pretty basic stuff and very old (Christian-European) stories and beliefs he used well.

I guess that still holds true. But right now, I’m absolutely disgusted with myself for having ignored (or actually really not noticed?) the other side of these books: the misogyny, the xenophobia, the christian radicalisation.

And let’s not even start talking about the non-existent literary merit. [Bad, sketchy, one-dimensional characters, story telling that seems more like checking things off a list than actually telling something and police report style minimalistic writing.]

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I started re-reading these books for the release of Prince Caspian. I read the first four in Summer, then took a break and asked myself whether I would continue and finally decided that I would do so in January. So, I’ve had a little more reaction time to the first four books.

Let me talk about each book shortly, in internal chronological order:

The Magician’s Nephew (1955)

Polly and Digory are used by Digory’s evil uncle as test subjects and accidentally witness the creation of Narnia by Aslan and incidentally bring the White Witch to Narnia.

Of course, as all the others this book is chokeful with Christian analogies and sketchy characters, but it’s my favourite of the seven books. Although (or probably because) it doesn’t seem to fit so well with the other books in the series, interestingly enough.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)

I guess that’s the most famous of the books, describing the Pevensies (Lucy, Edmund, Susan, Peter) first adventure into Narnia and how they became Kings and Queens of everything, because they are human. Oh yeah, and they defeat the White Witch.

There are some beautiful things happening in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But most of the story leaves me scratching my head. The way Edmund is treated, for example. Or how none of the kids are actually characterised in any way.

The Horse and His Boy (1954)

Shasta is a Calormene boy and a slave, by chance he meets the talking horse Bree and together they make their escape to Narnia. On their way they meet another fugitive pair – Aravis and her talking horse Hwin.

I don’t know what this books is doing here. It doesn’t fit the rest of the Chronicles and this is really where the xenophobia starts. Like big time. I don’t think that anybody would be any poorer if this drivel was never published.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are once again whisked away to Narnia, where they help Prince Caspian claiming his rightful throne as King of Narnia.

I think this is the book where the children’s characters are the worst, ever. The movie did a wonderful job giving them some issues and depth. But I love Reepicheep. Again, there are some wonderful images in this novel, but mostly I want to scream in frustration when I read it.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

Edmund, Lucy and their cousin Eustace find themselves on the ship The Dawn Treader with Caspian, travelling to the end of the world.

This book sets my head spinning. On the one hand, there’s really cool stories. On the other hand, there seems to be even more misogyny than usual. There’s Reepicheep again, but the whole thing seems to be a pointless sequence of scenes.

I probably should say that I won’t see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader or any of the other to be released Narnia movies becuase of all the issues I have with the books. But I know myself and I know that I will. In my defense: the movies are actually better than the books, scaling way back on the misogyny and the xenophobia.

The Silver Chair (1953)

Eustace and Jill are back in Narnia, sent on a mission by Aslan himself to save Prince Rilian, who disappeared a while ago.

This book really got me going. The way Lewis condescendingly talks about the school Eustace and Jill attend (apparently a school that *gasp* doesn’t hit its students!) made me want to hit Lewis in return. The the whole story is kind of weird. Although I do like Puddleglum, but that’s about as much good as I can say about this book.  

The Last Battle (1956)

When an ape convinces a donkey to pose as Aslan and makes a deal with the Calormenes, King Tirian has to call on all the humans who have ever been in Narnia to help him defeat the threat.

I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. It’s the escalation of all that is bad in these books. And the whole Susan thing and the ending… I just hate it. It ruins everything that was still left to be ruined.

C. S. Lewis: You and me, we’re fucking done, professionally. Fucking ass.

9 thoughts on “Re-Read: The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis)

  1. Here Here! Well put! The only book I managed to finish reading was the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. It seemed to me that CS Lewis took off on some wild goose chase with word play and stuff and nonsense, which turned out to be nothing but a rigmarole of words. Nothing great to write home about.

  2. @deadra:
    Already read it. And whoa…

    @UnhandledException():
    “Nothing great to write home” about pretty much sums it up.

    @presti:
    Christian Bale is a constant source of inspiration in my life. :)

  3. You seem to smooth over how exactly the books are misogynistic and xenophobic? Your criticism consists of the fact “you hated it” with no justifications whatsoever.

    Are the books racist because there was a white witch? Misogynistic because it was Susan that left and not Peter?

    People also seem to forget this book was written a fair few years ago when there were different standards so I don’t know how you can compare it to the views we hold today.

    • That the books were written a few years ago explains why he had this views. (And honestly, I find it disconcerting that a lot of people still have these views.) But he doesn’t excuse them. During WWII a lot of people had antisemitic views. Historically, this might be even explained. But from today’s point of view it’s still wrong. [For most people, at least.]

      The books are racist, not so much because of the White Witch, though that too – she’s foreign, so she’s evil, which is clearly xenophobic. But my bigger problem where the Calormen. They’re so obviously every stereotype about the Middle Eastern countries piled on top of each other and of course they’re evil, too. They are not people, they are one evil entity. Except for the one young guy who goes into the shack during the Last Battle – and he’s only saved because he embraced the Narnian world view.

      And the misogyny is not so much in Susan’s leaving (though I never understood why she had to leave – it’s not essential to the plot in any way), but in the way she left. So, suddenly, lipstick and nylons are more important than questions of saving the country they all ruled together? How come? Because all women are shallow and vain?
      But that’s not the only thing. If you look at all the books, women are always represented in one way – either they screw up because they’re too stupid to concentrate (see Jill during the mission or Lucy at the wizard’s house) or they’re the soft and kind healers, the ones who plead with the hard, manly guys to show mercy. And that is a very sexist way to portray them.

      I could cite a hundred more things, but honestly, I don’t think I need to justify myself on my own blog.

  4. Pingback: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) « Stuff

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