Friday, November 30, 2007

Coming of Age in Narnia

This is a redated post on the Chronicles of Narnia. I would particularly recommend, toward the end of Jason's second comment, the letter from Lewis to a child named Martin.

Hugh Chander writes: I'm not sure I understand Professor Downing's response to Pullman. Is he saying that Pullman is wrong in thinking that the children are 'killed off" in the Last Battle? Is he claiming that, in fact, they all (except Susan) go to Heaven (or whatever) - so they aren't really 'killed off'?
Even if this is so, it neglects the other part of Pullman's accusation, namely that Susan is prevented from going to Heaven because she is getting interested in sex, wearing lip-stick, silk stockings, and so on. In short, she is trying to be 'grown up.'
Pullman says: "Maybe one day she'll grow past the invitations and the lipstick and the nylons. But my point is that it's an inevitable, important, valuable and cherishable stage that we go through. This what I'm getting at in my story. To welcome and celebrate this passage, rather than to turn from it in fear and loathing."
Pullman apparently feels that Lewis is in some way against growing up, against interest in sex, and even, perhaps, against ordinary adult life in this world. Is he totally wrong about this?

VR: Two points: One is that it is pretty evident, in spite of the way many people read Narnia, that Susan is hardly considered hopeless or damned because she isn't on the train at the time of the the train wreck, and I think there are quotations from C. S. Lewis that reject this interpretation (if I can find them or someone can find them for me). The children are told that they have to find Aslan in their own world, and of course we all know Who that is. Lots of people who are fixated on adolescent stuff during adolescence know Christ or come to know Christ. Second, one can take adolescence seriously without pooh-poohing childhood; so it is far from clear that the other three children had no interest in attracting the opposite sex.

There is no question that Lewis was not a happy adolescent, nor is he going to treat adolescence as fondly as he treats childhood. I think to say that Lewis was opposed to growing up is a patent falsehood. He did, however, oppose a certain kind of appeal to "grown-up-ness" which he felt was not legitimate. I remember a colleague of Hugh's at UIUC who used to respond to religious world-views by saying "We've grown up, for heaven's sake" (though, to give him credit, he admitted it was not really a good argument).

Here's an interesting Lewis quote:

C. S. Lewis, on the freedom of reaching maturity:When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that am 50, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things—including the fear of childishness and the desire to be grown-up.
Of Other World, Edited by Walter Hooper


Jason Pratt said...

[Warning! 1620 word macro-post comment approaching...]

First point: Pullman (in that article at least) does focus on that train wreck without acknowledging (except when he thinks it makes a rhetorical point in his favor) what happens to Lewis' characters after the wreck. This is more than a little ironic as an adversarial criticism about the fate of lead characters, considering that Pullman ends _his_ trilogy with the two romantic leads forever separated from one another.

(Only a kludge would use that against _him_, though: Pullman's hero and heroine forever give up hope for themselves being together, in order to give whatever hope they can to everyone else. It's a beautifully tragic sacrifice; and I can sympathize with it a _lot_. {s!})

Meanwhile, if I'm recalling correctly, _all_ the dead of Pullman's fantasy transform into an impersonal dust once the fragments of their personalities manage to escape what is essentially hades. That becomes part of the dilemma of the lovers: they can keep one window open, but only one--will it be the window between their worlds, allowing them to visit each other? (Neither of them can stay permanently in the other's lest he or she dies.) Or will it be the window that allows the dead to escape their tormented existence as fragments of persons, becoming the Dust that is necessary for magic in the worlds? Part of this choice involves coming to terms with the dead finally ceasing to exist as persons at all, and letting them go.

Either way, as dramatically powerful as this is, it _isn't_ a hopeful resolution for _any_ of the persons in Pullman's storyline, per se: the _best_ case scenario is a cessation of post-death torment, by the completion of the dissolution of the persons. Granted, by doing so they empower other persons currently alive--but what ultimate hope do those people have?

If I recall, Pullman proposes an expansion of the multiverse into infinity, so that there will always be more people who will benefit from the death of the ones who came before. But that isn't hope for any person as an individual person. (Thus increasing the tragedy of the lovers: they know they will never be able to see one another even in 'heaven', because there is no such thing.)

I am somewhat unsure (to say the least) how the eventual final torment and annihilation of _all_ Pullman's characters as persons, is supposed to be superior to what Lewis "loathesomely" does to _his_ characters in TLB. Unless what Pullman is really loathing in Lewis, is that children might believe there really is a heaven after all, and so never come to a properly "adult" understanding and acceptance of death. (On the other hand, Lewis of all people would have appreciated the poetic tragedy of such a milieu.)

Maybe Pullman is complaining that if someone goes to heaven, then everyone ought to keep having fair chances to go. Lewis would go a long way toward agreeing with that, actually (although unlike his teacher MacDonald, he also insisted on final perdition being a live possibility; at which point he supposed God would annihilate the person _rather than_ let him suffer. There are some instances of this in TLB; whereas the dwarves in the shed retain the hope of coming out their distrutful illusionment, into heaven's reality. I think MacD wins on this, btw... {s!}) See also the 3rd point below: Lewis _does_ apply this to Susan.

Second: Pullman (in that article at least) completely ignores the real ground for Susan currently being no longer a friend of Narnia--she herself has explicitly chosen to disavow the reality of Narnia, which necessarily includes not only disavowing Aslan (to whom she swore allegience as a Narnian queen), but also disavowing the things even she herself did there (much moreso the things other people have done there, including risks taken and sacrifices made on behalf of her and the people she loves.)

_To_ that is added (as a sort of side note) what most children would recognize as Susan's shallow focus on her own vanity. It matches, in principle, what Lewis writes elsewhere, concerning the desire to attain personal security by becoming part of Inner Rings. It isn't really about sex; and it sure isn't about Susan choosing to focus on truly loving someone _else_ (other than herself): as Pullman's own heroine admirably does.

Speaking of whom--I don't recall whether _she_ goes through a 'stage' where she focuses on her own personal vanity (with an eye toward using it for her own social ambition, where not simply for sex) and ignores the truth of what she herself has done and pledged to in other worlds (and what is being/has been done for her); but, if she does, I'm willing to bet that Pullman doesn't (or wouldn't) treat that 'stage' in _his_ heroine as being "important, valuable and cherishable" (even if he manages to present it as being "inevitable"). More likely, he himself does-or-would treat it as being a betrayal of the hero.

Pullman _does_, to his sizeable credit, present his hero and heroine entering into an admirable and realistic adolescent love. Surely even Pullman, though, wouldn't equate the courtship of his leads, with another girl's rejection of her family and sovereign (plus even her own actual history) for a focus on social advancement (with or without attendent sexual pleasures of various sorts).

Third: Victor's right, Lewis did _not_ intend for this to be read as a final exclusion of Susan from heaven (even though Susan's intentional rejection of what she knows to be true, would count in Lewis' theology as the sin against the Holy Spirit). Our late friend Kathryn Lindskoog has preserved correspondence from him to this effect (though I don't have it handy at the moment). Indeed, he readily invited readers to come up with their own stories reconciling Susan to Narnia.

One nun took him up on this--I think her book is called _The Crystal Unicorn_, though I need to double-check that (it's something similar I know)--but she can't publish it without permission from Lewis' estate, which has so far refused permission. (The implication is that they're refusing because the nun wants all proceeds to go to charity; though I haven't heard their official word on that myself.) I'll try to find the relevant material at the house tonight.

Fourth: the children in the Chronicles are _constantly_ being groomed for, and then placed into, situations where they are expected to exercise adult responsibilities--including in a type of authority Pullman doesn't think very highly of (divinely appointed kings and queens.)

As the various children grow progressively older, Aslan tells each of them that they will have to concentrate on being responsible people in their own world (which includes, as Victor points out, learning to know Him there), instead of in Narnia. The main reason the children don't like this much, is because they're afraid it means being separated from Aslan. Granted, there's also some surliness about becoming adults, typical of children. Insofar as Aslan==Lewis, though, he's trying to tell children-readers that it must and should be done, and part of being a child is properly training for adulthood.

Fifth: In _The Magician's Nephew_, Lewis (via Aslan's providence and authority) brings two _extremely_ "ordinary adults" (a cabman and his wife) out of "this world" to Narnia, choosing them to be its first King and Queen; precisely on the grounds of how well they lived their common lives in our world.

Sixth: At least two sets of Narnian characters grow up to marry each other; not surprisingly, they're found in the most overtly 'romantic' book of the Chronicles (_The Horse and His Boy_... the Horse and his mare being one of the two sets. {g}) The prince and princess' marriage is described as being quite firey, which would naturally imply strong passions elsewhere {g!} (not unlike Lewis' own eventual marriage to Joy Davidman. Come to think of it, the timeframe may be about right, too...) Their marriage is specifically treated as an extension of the relationship they've had all throughout the story and into their young adulthood after the story; on Lewis' view of marriage, he's saying that in effect they were married the whole time (even if they didn't sexually complete the marriage until after certain adult formalities. {s})

It is a popular but grossly false claim, that Lewis had something against 'sex' per se. He was very much against the _misuse_ of sex (having done his own share of this in his own boyhood and adolescence, btw); but I think it would be difficult to find a 20th century Christian apologist who wrote as strongly in appreciation of sex (even per se) as Lewis. The arrival of the angel Perelandra (Venus) on Earth in _That Hideous Strength_ is only one of many examples that could be adduced in a case for Lewis being a proponent of "Christian hedonism".

So taken altogether--yeah, actually Pullman _is_ pretty close to being totally wrong, if he is "feel[ing] that Lewis is in some way against growing up, against interest in sex, and even, perhaps, against ordinary adult life in this world." (And maybe the problem is that Pullman is only, or primarily, _feeling_ about this...)

I say "pretty close", because there are some people (among whom Pullman seems to be one) who think that one necessary part of growing up and being an ordinary adult in this world, is giving up Christian beliefs (especially in an Authority). Obviously Lewis is "in some way against" _that_. {g!}

More precisely: in that article, Pullman is either speaking in ignorance of the facts (perhaps from memory failure); or he is incompetently reading the text; or else he is putting into practice his own philosophy of creatively defining subjective truths. {wry s} (And then voiding another part of his own philosophical claims by insisting these _should be_ accepted in judgment against Lewis, in favor of Pullman's own work instead.)

Meanwhile, back to my own ordinary adult responsibilities, which I've been somewhat overlooking whilst writing all this... {self-critical g}


Jason Pratt said...

Note--since the previous comment necessarily had to be more than a little negative in its criticism, let me partially redress that by saying I think it is quite fair and appropriate to recognize and acknowledge that the art of Pullman's work is several orders of magnitude more sophisticated than any fiction Lewis ever wrote; and I think Lewis (who was entirely capable of appreciating such things himself) would have been the first to agree.

Now for (1515 words worth of!) some additions, clarifications, and more than a few self-corrections... (I would have sent this earlier, but blogspot was offline for a long while.)

1.) I have no idea why I've always remembered the title of the nun's Narnia sequel as _The Crystal Unicorn_; but it isn't. It's _The Centaur's Cavern_.

1b.) The Carmelite nun wrote this sequel in 1980. (I thought I remembered Lewis writing the nun and giving his permission; this is because one place where the unnamed nun is mentioned in Lindskoog's book, _does_ feature a reference to a letter from Lewis to a different nun, Sister Penelope, in 1950, essentially giving permission for sequels to _Screwtape_ from other people, though he extended it in principle to any of his writings, so long as proper acknowledgment to the original was made.)

She had wanted to give proceeds to help the ministry of Mother Teresa. One of Lewis' surviving close friends, Sheldon Vanauken, endorsed the project; as did a Protestant publishing house. So far as I know, the Lewis Estate still hasn't given permission for it to be published.

2.) From a letter of Lewis' to a girl named Denise, in 1962: "And why not write stories for yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history?" (Can be found in MacMillan's 1985 edition of _Letters to Children_, p 104.)

3.) From another letter to a boy named Martin: "The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having then turned into a rather silly, *conceited* young woman. [emphasis mine] But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end--in her own way." (ibid, p 67.)

(I owe most of the previous bits of info to the late Kathryn Lindskoog; they can most recently be found with fuller bibilographical references on pages 8 and 80 of _More Light in the Shadowlands_.)

Disloyalty for the sake of personal vanity is Susan's problem--a combination of Edward and Eustace's original faults, and so (to that extent) more of a _retrogression_ than a progression into 'adult' behaviors. Nor does this come out of nowhere, exactly; there were foreshadowings in this direction in earlier books.

One could say this manifests, for Susan, _not_ in a desire to 'grow up', but in a desire to reach a certain age and then stop. Indeed, this is specifically what Polly says about it in TLB: "Grown-up indeed... I wish she _would_ grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."

Even so, it is patently _not_ for this that she is no longer a friend of Narnia; but because she persistantly disavows there was ever any truth in what she did there with her brothers and sisters. If Susan has begun by saying "Fancy your still thinking about all those *funny* games we used to play when we were children" [my emphasis], then I think the others are entirely justified in calling her "silly" in return.

(Really, it's about the most merciful thing they _could_ do. They could be calling her a freaking traitor: she swore an oath to God to serve as a Queen, and now is abandoning her post while pretending it never happened. Whatever one thinks of how reality is in 'real-life', this _is_ the given reality in the story of the Chronicles. The children were _not_ merely playing "funny games".)

4.) The Horse (Bree) and the mare (Hwin) remained friends for life, and did get married; but not to each other.

4b.) The Prince and the Princess (who is what most Christians would call a 'pagan', btw) who marry in TH&HB, are named Cor and Aravis.

4c.) Fwiw, I can't find any other main characters who marry aside from Prince Caspian (who marries the daughter of a Star; their son is Prince Rilian from _The Silver Chair_). The Eldest King and Queen of Narnia, Frank and Helen, (the former cabman and housewife, now considered to have rank like Adam and Eve to Narnians), were already married when they arrived in Narnia, of course. Their children, in turn, marry nymphs or gods of the rivers and forests. This is pretty typical in the Chronicles, actually; and
Lewis has occasionally been plopped in some hot water by confused fundamentalists for thereby advocating sex with 'demons'. {amused g}

4d.) While there are some apparently avowed bachelors in the group (Digory Kirk for one; Cor's brother Corin for another), the general rule seems to be: if someone of Narnia comes of age in Narnia, they marry and have children (though practically speaking this happens more often to minor characters). The Four Pevensies are just coming of age for courting when they first leave Narnia (after serving several years as High
Kings and Queens); and are just coming of age again when they are slain in the railway accident (which, btw, is absolutely not depicted as being anything horrible to suffer from _their_ point of view: Lewis can hardly be accused of character abuse here.)

5.) Will and Lyra are the names of the lead characters in Pullmans' _Dark Materials_ trilogy (properly _His Dark Materials_).

5b.) In point of fact, I am not altogether sure that the ghosts of human souls cease to exist (or even become Dust) by leaving the land of the dead. It would, however, make excellent sense (within Pullman's milieu at least) if the ghosts are becoming Dust, or more strictly returning to Dust whence they arose. Will and Lyra are told that unless they cooperate in making more Dust, all the worlds will die; and windows between the worlds leak Dust out of the worlds--except apparently for the window into hades. The prophesied choice they must make, thus seems to be something at least a little more drastic than simply to be (in effect) evangelists for spreading Dust in their own worlds.

5c.) The Dust is not (strictly speaking) magic; but adult knowledge and experience, which the Church in Pullman's story is seeking to forbid and undo. Will and Lyra are therefore expected (setting aside whatever it means in the metaphysical economy to keep one window open for the ghosts to leave the land of the dead) to spread the word in their worlds about how we must all seek knowledge, experience, feeling, etc., so that more Dust will be made.

However this isn't entirely right either; as the character Balthamos explains to Will in the 3rd book that Dust is actually matter beginning to understand itself. (Angels were the first creatures to come into existence this way in Pullman's series; the first angel pretended to the others to be God and their Creator.) Dust is thus naturally attracted to other conglomerations of matter beginning to understand themselves, such as humans at the onset of adulthood (it only gathers on adults, not on children.)

Pullman is here following (with explicit parallels and references in his series) an old Christian heresy, that the Fall of Man was primarily about knowledge in general, not about one knowledge in particular (good and evil). Consequently, the Fall (and the Dust) is a good thing in his stories--and it seems sufficiently clear from his interviews, that Pullman means the same is true in real life, too. (Of course, knowledge _is_ a good thing; even the knowledge of good and evil. The question is how one attains this knowledge. In Genesis this happens when Adam and Eve decide to betray God for no good reason; Milton's _Paradise Lost_, which Pullman is avowedly borrowing from, fleshes this out a lot further but doesn't really change the principle involved.)

Anyway, since I'm sniping somewhat at Pullman for not getting some of his details right, I figured I should correct my own errors, too. {g!} My corrections above don't change my estimates on principle application, though. (Anyone more familiar with Pullman's trilogy than I am, is certainly welcome to adduce more corrections or clarifications as you see fit!)

Scholars who have access to the Galegroup's Expanded Academic ASAP, can find an excellent article on Pullman's trilogy in regard to Milton's _Paradise Lost_:

Robinson, Karen D. "_His Dark Materials_: A Look Into Pullman's Interpretation of Milton's _Paradise Lost_." _Mythlore_, Vol 24, No. 2 (Fall/Summer), 2004, pp 2-16.

Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt said...

Goodness, has it really been three-ish years since I first posted all that...? {sigh}{feeling kind of old}{s}

I have a suspicion that one of these days Philip Pullman and I will be sparring more directly, btw. {wry s} Weirdly enough, I was just thinking about that this morning while waking up, before I even saw that Victor had redated this entry.

Jason Pratt
Cry of Justice

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Thank you for posting this!

One thing I see in this, that Mr Pratt may perceive but at any rate does not mention, is the political difference between Lewis's and Pullman's worldviews. The Narnia books, like all reasonably-orthodox Christian materials, are about individual salvation. Pullman's trilogy is about collective salvation.

Both would subscribe, I think, to the idea that "Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his brother." But in Lewis, the "brother" is an individual person -- the defining example is, of course, Aslan's self-sacrifice for Edmund in Lion.

Contrariwise, in Pullman, the "brother" is not conceived as an individual, or even a lot of individuals, but an anonymous mass; the Spock-y "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

Had Lewis subscribed to that social(ist) logic, Aslan would never have sacrificed himself for Edmund on the eve of battle -- the needs of the many would surely outweigh the needs of Edmund; it cannot even be justified on the grounds of "saving his life," since many more Narnians die in the battle who would not have had Aslan not taken the time to die for Edmund.

Jason Pratt said...

It depends on what one means by _salvation_, too. Will and Lyra help preserve the multiverse from going extinct; but they're hardly doing anything but delaying the inevitable for the specific persons involved. And true, a bunch of Narnians die in the subsequent battle (those who aren't restored by Aslan and/or Lucy's cordial, given to her by Saint Nicholas); in the long run, the mortality rate in the Narnian Chronicles is 100% after all! But Edmund's death was going to have a very different result afterward; and that was what Aslan was saving him from.

(It looks like a narrative play on that old theological claim: that Christ would have come and died for even one sinner; and if for one, then for all.)

Still, yeah, that's a good point--I hadn't considered the individual vs. collective difference before. Thanks!

Btw, Spock's famous quote from Star Trek 2 (nicely inverted at the end of Star Trek 3!--"because the need of the one outweighed the needs of the many") comes from Charles Dickens' _A Tale of Two Cities_: it's the justification given when the-British-identical-guy-whose-name-I-forget voluntarily poses as the other-identical-guy from France, taking his place to be executed during the Revolution, so that the French noble could live safely in England and marry the heroine. Dickens may not have been writing Christian fiction, but I gather there's little doubt he was intending that sacrifice to be Christlike in its own way.

Because in the economy of Christian salvation, the needs of the many do outweigh, in the judgment of love, the needs of the One. (And not just because He doesn't actually have any needs per se Himself. {s})


Anonymous said...

and the need of the one flowers in its death for the many and/or even the one. A man who lays down his life for his brother begets more life not less. For his need is to give to meet the need of others. A seed knows best.