By Alexis Record
“Yay Puddleglum! Finally someone put out that fire!”
“I told you Puddleglum is the real hero of this story.”
“Then why do you keep rooting for the Witch?!”
“Do I? Oops.”
The Witch has just entered the room with our heroes. She is angry that the prince is free, but she remains chill AF. She immediately starts an enchantment on everyone in the room with the help of green powder thrown into the fire, and calmly talks to them while playing an instrument. (She’s no longer rolling her Rs “delightfully” at all. What was up with that anyway? Little Bit is relieved since I read those parts horribly before.)
The enchantment causes all four of them to start to doubt that the overworld is real, the sun is real, or Aslan is real. Whenever they claim those things are real, the whip-smart Witch talks them out of it. Puddleglum finally steps on the fire with his foot, which lifts the spell just enough to allow him a clear head, and gives an impassioned speech. (It’s its own whole thing. We’ll get back to it.)
While they are cheering Puddleglum’s speech, the Witch takes the opportunity to revert back to her true form of a serpent. Puddleglum and the prince hack her neck off and her death makes “a nasty mess.” The Witch’s death is about as anti-climatic as Boba Fett getting accidentally knocked into a Sarlacc pitt by a blinded Solo. Boo.
In Christianity, the serpent is a picture of evil, and appears prominently in the very first story—that of feminine weakness, ignorance, and failure. The snake of Eden (often considered the devil) is even sometimes depicted as a woman in historic art. The dragon in Revelation called “that serpent of old” is also mounted by a woman.
The misogynistic idea that women and the devil are natural allies goes way back in Christian thought and works. The Malleus Maleficarum, a Christian treatise from 1487, warns, “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in woman is insatiable.” In discussing why women were accused of witchcraft so often, and not so much men, scholars Stuart Clark and Robin Briggs boiled it down to an ancient belief: “If God is the embodiment of good and the Devil, His polar opposite, then, accordingly, men are innately closer to God and women to the Devil. This is even supported by Eve’s original sin in Genesis of the Bible.”
So women will either join the devil out of ignorance and naivety (like Eve), or joyfully out of evil desires for power (like Jezebel or the Witch). Weak or wicked: pick one.
“The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” ~Martin Luther, Reformer and Father of Protestantism
Of course before Christian ideas (and Abrahamic ones more generally), the snake was a symbol of goodness and female deity. (The Egyptian hieroglyph for a goddess is the snake.) During the time of the early Israelites, Asherah was the goddess worshipped in those parts, along with Yahweh (who developed from an epithet of El in the Canaanite pantheon). Scholars believe Asherah is the Queen of Heaven from Jeremiah 7. She may even be the “us” and “our” included in God’s speech from Genesis 1. (Jewish beliefs came out of polytheism, after all, and there are many hints of a pantheon throughout the older books.) Asherah was a goddess of new life, and her symbol (surprise) was the snake—a creature who could shed its skin and be made new.
Now if I were a male-dominating, patriarchal new religion, what story would I use to subjugate women? One where women brought on death itself and now must be under men’s rule? Perfect. And what symbols would I use for evil? A goddess symbol from the current, local female deity? A bit on the nose, right? Hey, it worked.
Evil, thy name is woman. Speaking of names, the Witch died without ever getting one! Again, she’s a grown woman in Lewis’ world so not worthy of a name. Knowing she’s a woman is all we need to know about her.
The boys all fought (Eustace was ineffectual, but still tried) while Jill sat down, kept quiet, and hoped she wouldn’t faint, blub, or “do anything idiotic.” Sigh, girls are sure worthless.
They then decide to drink wine. Yay for tipsy children! That’s where the chapter ends.
Anyway, back to Puddleglum’s speech. I had to read it twice when reading aloud to Little Bit because at first I thought he was being his pessimistic self and agreeing Aslan wasn’t real, but it’s worse than that. It’s supposed to be a philosophical proof of God. (I’m not joking.) Here is the main part:
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
YES! Go Puddles! Play-world! Play-world! Play-world! (Anyone else imagining a toddler at recess?) He’s going to stand by the play-world, why? Because make-believe is better than reality! That’s why! And that makes it more important than the real one, how? Because making up something in your head makes it more real, okay! Obvs!
Of this speech Lewis has said, “I have simply put the ‘Ontological Proof‘ in a form suitable for children. And even that is not so remarkable a feat as you might think. You can get into children’s heads a good deal…”
Gotta love little children and their crackable heads. Okay then, let’s dive into the ontological argument. This is a philosophical argument that states the possibility of God’s existence entails his actuality. Or, God must exist simply because we can imagine it.
This reminds me of my Candy Land world I dreamed of constantly as a kid. I dreamed of roads made of cinnamon and sugar for dirt, lined with chocolate rocks. Rivers were ice cream, and trees would be the kind of licorice that actually tasted good. Mountains were cookies and almost everything else was cake. It was easy for me to imagine this world. Too easy. So easy it must exist. And it was so intuitive that when I would talk about it with my friends they could correctly guess which desserts went where. In fact, I don’t know a child that couldn’t easily imagine such a world.
I mean, it is possible such a Candy Land world exists somewhere. (Maybe not likely, but possible.) There are countless worlds out there after all. If this world possibly exists then it exists in some possible worlds. And if it exists in some possible worlds, then it exists, possibly, in all possible worlds. Therefore it must exist in all possible worlds. Therefore my world of cake and ice cream is real. It’s real!!!
(And just like that, the ontological argument can be used to prove the existence of anything.)
Also, not only is it real, it’s exactly like how I’ve written it down while inspired by it, and knowing it exists should inform how I live my life.
For Puddleglum (Lewis), the idea of Aslan (God) is not imagined by accident, but the mere fact it can be imagined must mean it is possible to exist. Then, of course, if it can be thought up (and therefore possibly exist) then that is the foundational proof it actually does exist. Probably!
When I was small I was told that the fact I can clearly imagine Heaven and God means they are real. (Nevermind their exact attributes were poured into my head starting at birth, and my spiritual leaders got angry if I imagined them differently than our holy text allowed.) God has “put eternity into man’s heart” as the author of Ecclesiastes says, so that’s why we know places like Heaven are real, because we long for it.
Is it any wonder humankind needed the scientific method to ground us to reality.
If wishes were fishes! Us humans think this way: We dream. We hope. We imagine. I love those things about us, but I don’t hang my hat on them at the end of the day.
Little Bit cheers Puddleglum on, and she’s right to. The overworld is real after all. Yet it’s his logic, not his courage, that falls flat. This is important as Lewis is trying to prove God’s existence to children using the marsh wiggle’s words.
I admit I didn’t immediately see an ontological argument upon first reading this as much as I recognized Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal once had a personal wager that was published after his death where he placed his bet on a belief in God rather than not. He reasoned the benefits (going to Heaven, avoiding Hell) outweighed the risks (devoting his life to nonsense). Of course Pascal was Christian, and so his only two options were the Christian god or no god at all—a binary that assumes there are no other gods to choose from. (Which is hilarious considering this wager has been used for other religions besides Christianity.) This wager is problematic in a lot of ways besides the lack of options. For one thing it assumes the choices are equally likely. It also promotes false faith: “Endeavor, then, to convince yourself, not by increase proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. […] Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.” In other words, believe in God even if it goes against logic. You risk nothing, nothing whatsoever, except such pesky things such as your reason, passion, and acuteness. But nothing really! Oh, and I have a rock that wards off trolls… better not risk going without it!
Puddleglum makes the case for choosing to believe something for the benefits of having something better to believe in. If Candy Land world were part of a majority religion, I could see the Pascals of the world placing their wager for it and trying their best to believe in it. If they are wrong, what does it matter? But if they are right, oh what a world of cake and ice cream awaits them!
It can be easier to choose made-up things, but I would caution against Puddleglum’s advocacy of treating the made-up ones as “a good deal more important than the real ones.” That can be downright antithetical to survival. When fantasy replaces reality, people get hurt. (And those who live in fantasy worlds are usually being seen by a psychiatrist.)
Puddleglum’s infamous speech is all the more endearing among Lewis fans for the simple reason that it equates belief in God with “belief” in the sun, stars, and world above the ground. Atheism is stupid after all, as we all know. (*wink wink believers*)
One Christian commenting on Puddleglum’s speech said, “[Even] if by some chance we are wrong about all this: about God and the existence of God and the whole purpose of life. Even if we’re wrong, we’re better off continuing to act like we’re not. Because at least we still have purpose, and love, and hope. I’d rather live my life as a Christian even if there is no Christ. I’m on Heaven’s side even if there is no Heaven.”
(Hello! Ex-Christian here! Life is filled with purpose and love and even hope. Surprised? I was too!)
This reasoning can also be applied to contradictory beliefs. It’s better to believe we’re reincarnated than not because it makes us act better. It’s better to believe all trees have spirits so it will make us appreciate nature better. The lesson of the book for believers seems to be this: Forget what’s true. Stick with wishful thinking. Only then can we have purpose, however inflated or false!
This deity we imagine seems to only be as powerful as our imaginations, and only as real as we allow it to be. Maybe we can imagine better.
Alexis Record, Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
January 6, 2018