In sharing my posts, my practice has been to give you some biographical information about the author, show you the imaginary map from the book, and then discuss a few pertinent ideas. However, in this post, I present you with a map first. Bear with me; I have a reason. Notice that in this fantasy space, it shows a number of interesting features, all of them having to do with stereotypes and prejudices. Thought-provoking, isn’t it? Note the mystical land with magic (Asia) in the upper right corner. I believe this stereotypical view of the world, with Europe at the centre and all other countries on the margins, mirrors C.S. Lewis’s world view when he created The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950.
Clive and his brother Warner (Jack and Warnie) grew up in an upper middle-class household in Belfast. As a child of privilege, Jack’s parents employed a housemaid, cook, and governess, but he spoke dismissively of them in his childhood diary. His mother died when he was ten—it is telling that he speaks in geographic terms of the time after her death as “sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis” (Lewis, SBJ 23). Subsequently, his father sent him to join his brother at boarding school, as was customary. His father was an important role model, and he absorbed his father’s political talk. As a young and largely solitary boy, he combined his interest in geography and his lessons in politics to create the imaginary world of Animal-Land. He then joined Animal-Land with his brother’s island of India to create the single state of Boxen. The Boxen Manuscripts are peppered with words of conquest and imperialism, of masters and servants, of lords and little people. Educated in the United Kingdom during the early 1900’s, he learned to think of other countries in an imperialistic way; he learned bigotry and racism, too. Lewis learned to stereotype, which he repeated and expressed in his writing. (Lewis, Boxen Introduction).
Now, let’s look at Narnia. On the western side, we see the Wardrobe–portal to and from Narnia–and the Lamp-post, which the children use as a guide or connection point back to the real world. Note that in the land of eternal winter, good and evil reside next to each other in Aslan’s Camp and Witch’s Camp; the large body of water in the East is the Great Eastern Ocean. While Lewis derives some of his place names from old English and French, he also mines Greek, Latin, Persian, and Turkish languages for names. The map shows intriguing and mysterious place names, adjacent countries, islands, and wild forests. Because Mr. and Mrs. Beaver accompany the children, they do not need a map to guide them. However, Lewis provides one to help the reader follow the quest.
Although two boys and two girls enter Narnia and each performs heroically, Father Christmas, Aslan, and the Professor choose to recognize only Peter and Edmund as heroes. Lewis subscribes to the belief that “heroes are traditionally male and the hero myth inscribes male dominance and the primacy of male enterprises” (Hourihan 67). Margery Hourihan suggests that the reason for this is that “[h]eroism is gendered” (Hourihan 67). Lucy begins very bravely in her hero’s journey. She is the first to enter Narnia through the wardrobe, and she not only confronts Mr. Tumnus but also convinces him to change his plan of kidnapping her by appealing to his conscience. However, after a brave start, her role diminishes. Susan, Edmund, and Peter minimize her by describing her as “batty”, “silly”, and “a goose” (Lewis, LWW 24, 25). When she and Edmund enter Narnia together, he continues to denigrate her by saying, “‘Just like a girl…sulking somewhere, and won’t accept an apology’” (Lewis, LWW 30). On their return through the wardrobe, Edmund discounts their adventure by calling it “playing—pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true” (Lewis, LWW 45). When all the children enter Narnia, Peter becomes the leader, and Lucy and Susan look to him for answers. The girls take on domestic duties with Mrs. Beaver and help her prepare dinner for the males. Father Christmas gives Lucy a bottle of cordial which she can use to nurse her friends hurt in battle and a small dagger to “defend herself”, but he tells her she will not be “in the battle” (Lewis, LWW 109). He gives Susan a bow and arrows, but he does “not mean [her] to fight” (Lewis, LWW 108). Then he gives her a horn to blow so that she can call for “help of some kind” (Lewis, LWW 108). In mourning Aslan’s death, Lucy and her sister represent the biblical Mary and Martha as they minister to him. Finally, Aslan rebukes Lucy for nursing Edmund first and making others wait. Once Lucy and Susan become Queens, they live peaceful but passive lives. Lucy is “gay”, “golden-haired”, and “valiant”; Susan is “tall”, “gracious”, and “[g]entle”. Both are prized for their beauty (Lewis, LWW 183-184). In contrast, the men are rewarded for their brawn and brain; King Peter becomes a “great warrior”, and King Edmund is “great in council and judgement” (Lewis, LWW 184). On their return through the wardrobe, the Professor does not speak of the girls as Queens but says, “Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia” (Lewis, LWW 188). It seems that in life, as in Narnia, girls are handmaidens, not heroes.
Lewis continues to demean women through his portrayal of Jadis. He looks to the East for his source of Evil, which “exposes the complicity of Western scholarship and writing with imperial power” (Milz 2). In his study of Orientalism, Edward Said discusses the subject “as a Eurocentric style of thought based upon binary notions of Orient/Occident or West/East and as a discourse that confirms the need for colonial power, domination, and hegemony” (Milz 2). Lewis mirrors those viewpoints in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and admits that “[h]is opinions about other cultures [are] second-hand”, and he thinks that Chinese are “human (or roughly human) in form but in nothing else” (Colbert 164-165). Hence, it is not surprising that he draws the lineage of the White Witch (Jadis) from an amalgam of Adam’s first wife Lilith, “a demon who seduced men and stole children” (Colbert 27), a Jinn, which is mentioned in Arab folklore and Islamic mythology, and a race of giants. (Humphreys Lecture, June 19). Jadis is evil personified. In the dual role of Satan, she tries to rule over Narnia, she attempts to lure Edmund with Turkish delight (like the apple), and she is “defeated when Aslan gives his life to save Edmund’s soul” (Colbert 30). While it is difficult to understand the poor treatment of females and people of other cultures in Narnia, I take heart in the eternal message of Narnia, which is, in the words of Shelley, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” (Shelley, line 70).
STORM WARNING: ROUGH SEAS AHEAD. For the next two posts, we are going into uncharted territory. We have no maps, we will not have a compass, and we will have to use all ATON (Aids to Navigation) that we can. My two cartographers are joining us on the next two voyages to lend a hand. Check back in a week to read about James’s Journey in the Giant Peach!