Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Trouble With Narnia (for me, at least)

Part 1 (Update: Since my friend Jeanne has strongly recommended that I read the whole series, I will hold off on future installments, and this one will only apply to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

Warning: if you like these books this will probably annoy you exceedingly.

I just reread (on audio) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to see if the Christian allegory was really as bad as I remembered, especially after being told by other people that they didn’t see it. I thought that maybe when it did come along, maybe it just overwhelmed the rest of the story in my memory and distorted my view, and that it was actually better than I remembered.

This theory turned out to be partly true; there is only one explicitly allegorical section, which is the “passion,” death and resurrection of Aslan, so that part did overshadow my memory of the rest of the book. Unfortunately, however, I found the part that I did not remember well to be extremely disappointing on the second read.

(I will stipulate that some of this may be off base because, according to at least one reviewer on Amazon, the book - and presumably the series - are to be read as an extended fairy tale in which one should not expect to find well-rounded characters and moral complexity. For those who may feel that I am judging the book on adult terms, I am comparing it to other things I have read for similar age groups, and not just modern material, either.)

First of all, it may have been partly the narrator’s style, but the whole tone that was taken seemed to be very condescending. (I have to admit that Tolkien is guilty of the same attitude in parts of The Hobbit, probably one reason why it’s not one of my favorites.) Lewis might want to mention in “Don’t try this at home” tradition that you should never close a wardrobe door behind you, but not three times, and of course the good children always do the right thing and the bad one doesn’t.

Speaking of which, I found the characters to be one-dimensional and flat, either all good or all bad. The faun is probably the most complex character in the book. This may change in later books in the series (I believe that the same characters do show up again), but at least in this one there are three perfectly good children and one perfectly bad one, without much distinction between the good ones or any reason given why one turned out so bad. (Personally, if I were Edmund and had three paragons as siblings, I might be a little obnoxious too.) I would like a little motivation, please, and I think I would have wanted it at a younger age, too. Maybe Edmund is more sensitive than the others, and the relocation brings out the worst in him. Maybe it’s his position in the family, being neither the oldest girl, the oldest boy, nor the “baby.” We are never given a clue: he just seems warped from the start, which makes it very unbelievable to me when he finally shows some compassion for the animals when the White Witch turns them to stone.

Also, I didn’t really care for the “Turkish delight” trick that the Witch uses to draw him in. It seems to be like some kind of drug, so he could certainly argue that he was acting under coercion. If someone were addicted to heroin (given to them in some harmless-appearing candy) and then told he couldn’t have any more unless he killed another person, surely he would not be considered fully responsible for his actions. I think it would have been better if Lewis had left out the “addictive” part and just let Edmund be bribed, sweet-talked and deceived into helping the Witch.

This brings me to Lewis’ portrayal of evil, which I will deal with in another post.

2 Comments:

Blogger Eutychus said...

It might help to remember that Narnia was written as a series for children!

February 5, 2006 at 10:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Servant of the Secret Fire said...

Eutychus -
I refer you to my disclaimer near the beginning of the post, which is as follows:
(I will stipulate that some of this may be off base because, according to at least one reviewer on Amazon, the book - and presumably the series - are to be read as an extended fairy tale in which one should not expect to find well-rounded characters and moral complexity. For those who may feel that I am judging the book on adult terms, I am comparing it to other things I have read for similar age groups, and not just modern material, either.)

I have also just read The Magician's Nephew, which I enjoyed much more. At least I felt that the children were real kids, with whom I could have identified at that age.

February 13, 2006 at 1:50:00 PM EST  

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