Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 2

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The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Chapters 1-4

“Oh, I do not like Edmund.”

“No one does, honey.”

Little Bit has patiently allowed me to explain the air raids of London during World War II before moving past the first paragraph of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. This plot contrivance allows the four main characters–Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy–unsupervised access to magical lands away from their parents. It was no real matter to Little Bit how the children ended up with the “old Professor” out of town. Little Bit reads A Series of Unfortunate Events with her dad, so children finding themselves in strange living arrangements with bizarre caretakers is old hat to her.

We are only one page in before we get our first taste of misogyny. Susan, the eldest girl, has found herself in a family of three other children. The Narnia series has a strong hierarchy theme (adults over children, older siblings over younger siblings, men over women, human people over talking animal people, etc.) yet being the eldest girl and adopting the motherly example she learned at home comes with reviling rather than respect from the other children. Susan has the audacity to refer to the professor who took them in as a “dear”—language Edmund finds particularly saccharine—and she tells the children that they should be in bed when she notices they are tired, thus cementing her unsavory motherly tendencies.

Peter, in contrast, often takes on a fatherly role, and the younger children follow him without the same lack of respect they show Susan. Edmund is the exception, as he shows a lack of respect to both older siblings, but this is a deliberate effort by the author to highlight his role as the flawed-then-later-redeemed character. In the end, he will change his tune towards Peter, but not towards Susan, and that is considered acceptable. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

We have hardly introduced characters or setting when Lucy, the youngest child and Lewis’ favorite based off his goddaughter, falls through a wardrobe and is transported to a magical land. If Lord of the Rings had found action that quickly, Little Bit may have stuck with it longer.

Lucy finds a talking faun (read: “adult male stranger”) and, because she is a polite child who does what she’s told, goes home with him. In her defense, he does outrank her in terms of age and gender in the hierarchy, so the “right” behavior in Lewis’ mind would be to submit to him. The faun, Mr. Tumnus, gives her tea and cake in an attempt to drug her and hand her to an evil monarch who wants to kill her. He later has a change of heart showing that kidnapping or drugging children doesn’t make you a bad guy. Tumnus breaks into tears and lays all his problems on the small child as she consoles him. She takes on the emotional work as if it’s her responsibility as a good girl. She is rewarded when their bond is solidified. Her very next trip to Narnia finds her running straight to his home again.

Mr. Tumnus could give lessons in grooming.

The faun greets Lucy as a “Daughter of Eve” and this is our first introduction to human beings being referred to as the gender binary of Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. Little Bit piped up at this point and said, “Just like in Islam!” and I had to chuckle at what I could only assume the devout Catholic Lewis’ reaction would have been to that! We had just learned about the basic beliefs of Muslims since Little Bit’s elementary school is next door to a mosque. According to the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), Adam and Eve were the first two people created by their magical god (arguably “gods” if the language of “us” and “our” are indeed leftover from polytheistic traditions). Adam was a mud golem following a long line of traditions in which gods formed humans out of clay and made them alive by magic. Eve was created out of Adam, turning the natural order on its head. She is also faulted as being naïve, committing the first sin, and bringing about the downfall of the entire human race. Her story has been used for thousands of years to subjugate women and also used as validation to think of women as weak and subordinate to the men they were created from. C. S. Lewis bases his stories on this ancient one, and his view of women throughout the subsequent tales becomes more evident.

Edmund follows Lucy back through the wardrobe and finds himself in Narnia. He calls out for Lucy to forgive him for teasing her about it. When she does not answer (as she’s not around) he says, “Just like a girl […] sulking somewhere, and won’t accept an apology.” Of course Edmund is no role model of behavior and seems easy prey for the White Witch who finds him almost immediately. The Witch gives Edmund magical food that compels him to bring his siblings to her. Eating treats from a magical creature ten seconds after finding yourself in a magical world? What a foolish thing! Doesn’t he know only good children like Lucy get away with that?

Speaking of Lucy, she and Edmund find each other in Narnia and return to tell the others, but Edmund decides to lie and say it’s all made up. Lucy is considerably upset yet sticks with her story that Narnia is indeed real. This causes Susan and Peter to become concerned. Finally they decide to do the responsible thing and tell the only adult in charge what’s going on. This was one of the worst parts of the book for me.

Guest post by Alexis Record

(To be continued once monthly. Stay tuned!)

 

 

 

 

About the Author Karen Garst

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