Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 26 Feb 09 06:18
IIRC, the talking animals in the Narnia books ate meat! At least I recall lots of frying sausages and such. And there's the scene where the marshwiggle learns that he's eaten a *talking* stag...he was happy to eat regular deer.
David Albert (aslan) Thu 26 Feb 09 07:32
Ooh, I remember that scene. That was about as close a story to cannibalism as I'd ever want to hear about. Other stories have that strange dichotomy: in Oz, for instance, with numerous talking animals about, there is no indication that they are all vegetarians. I think the authors just let that part slide and hope nobody thinks much about it.
Daniel (dfowlkes) Thu 26 Feb 09 11:21
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 26 Feb 09 12:02
When I was a kid, some farm children I knew were not allowed to name baby meat-animals on the farm. They could name puppies, kittens, colts... but not lambs, calves, chicks, rabbits and piglets. However, I knew 4-H kids with named livestock they loved and knew would be sold for meat at the end of the project. I also knew a 1070s back to the land hippie household who raised a named turkey for Thanksgiving and ate him. I also have that romanticized appreciation of Native American culture(s) which were of course quite varied, but which somehow I have amalgamated into "respected all nature as sacred and ate everything that was edible, perhaps even thanking it first." There's no single meaning for cross-species animal eating in the modern world. There are certain animals we spend money to operate on if they get a tumor, or bury in pet cemataries, and we tend to name those. Some people expect to see these animals in Heaven. If they spoke we would listen. There are others we process and sell for food. They are nameless and if they spoke we'd muzzle them. If we saw them in Heaven... Now there's a scary thought.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 26 Feb 09 12:54
Which movie was it that had "Fish are friends, not food" and got a whole bunch of little kids to quit eating fish?
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 26 Feb 09 12:55
But back to the book and its responses. Doing some SEO-checking for Inkwell stories and trying searches, I stumbled on the response from at least one Narnia fan page... I guess I should have expected this level of reaction, but my jaw dropped: From > http://www.narniafans.com/archives/tag/laura-miller " Although having much to be admired, Ms. Miller's book really is a reflection of her own biases and limitations as a agnostic/modernist journalist, and she would do well to dig deeper into Lewis's own scholarly writings on this matter, as well as Michael Ward's superb book, Planet Narnia. In so doing, she (as with both Philip Pullman and Tokien himself) misinterprets numerous aspects of the Narniad stories, predictably based on her ignorance both of the classic literature Lewis was drawing upon and the Medieval model Ward reveals is at the heart of the books. Lewis's Narniad has been so extremely popular because of its profoundly effective and sophisticated integration of enduring truths of the yearning of all mankind for what Lewis rightly called 'Joy,' which leads us on a path directly to Christianity. " Is there a lot of that kind of dogmatic response? What of "Planet Narnia" as the go-to book?
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 26 Feb 09 12:56
(Sharon's Fish question slipped in as I typed... not meaning to dismiss it, just my own earlier post!)
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 26 Feb 09 13:01
I remember being shocked in the first Doctor Dolittle book by the scene where the pig is cooking up bacon for the family. The Fish are Friends bit is from Finding Nemo - there's a shark in a 12-step group . PETA picked up the theme. PETA has also taken to calling fish "Sea Kittens" as in "Save the Sea Kittens" http://www.peta.org/sea_kittens/ Back to Narnia though - Lewis in the last two books expands a bit on the analogy between the talking animals and people. One of the humans wonders, what if someday people were to go wild inside, but you couldn't tell by looking at them?
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 26 Feb 09 13:01
Laura Miller (lauram) Sat 28 Feb 09 07:51
Hello, and sorry to be AWOL. My hard drive died, and I had to dig up this old PowerBook to use while it's in the shop. The screen is a bit wambly, so I'll post this now, and you'll know that if I vanish, it's because the thing finally died.
Laura Miller (lauram) Sat 28 Feb 09 08:10
Narniafans is a bit fan site for the more religiously inclined. It's not surprising that believers aren't particularly taken with the book, although there have been many that seem to like it, often a lot, in spite of that fact, and that did surprise me. I know about Michael Ward's planet theory, but it's simply daft. Lewis was not a systematic planner or thinker in this way. His fiction is full of inconsistencies and mistakes, which is not surprising when you consider that he wrote all seven Chronicles in about 2 years while his personal life was a catastrophe. When he wrote LWW he had no intention of writing any sequels, and did so at his publisher's request, and even so, the books were not necessarily attempted/started in the order they were eventually written/published. It was all very impetuous and haphazard, and this idea of an underlying pattern correlating to the seven planets is entirely inconsistent with Lewis's life and work habits. That said, I'm quite familiar with the Medieval model that reviewer mentions, and describe it at some length in The Magician's Book, so I'm also not sure that the reviewer read my book, or at least not the whole thing. I don't doubt that Lewis absorbed the Medieval world view into his own imagination and was considerably influenced by it, so it would make sense that Medieval patterns and symbology would be present in the Chronicles -- in fact the whole last third of my book is about such correspondences and influences! I've read all of Lewis's scholarly criticism which should be pretty obvious from the book, so this complaint baffles me. To believers, the truth of faith is evident and urgent. To nonbelievers like myself, the Christianity Lewis is peddling seems like just another imaginary construct, like Middle-earth, that I can choose to think about when and if it interests me, and ignore if not. That's probably the hardest thing to communicate to believers, even the largely sympathetic ones, like the LA Times reviewer. If you believer or are on the verge of believing or a wrestling with belief, as Lewis was for many years, the religious questions are very real and must be addressed. If you don't believe, they are unreal and only as significant as you choose to make them. To me, arguing about who'll get into heaven is the equivalent of talking about why the elves had to leave Middle-earth. I can do it, but it's not like the answer really matters that much. To a believer, though, it's as if I were treating the laws of thermodynamics as optional.
David Albert (aslan) Sat 28 Feb 09 08:16
You've made many mentions of the inconsistencies and mistakes, in your book and here. Is there a catalog or set of examples of such inconsistencies anywhere? I've read a fair bit of Narnia interpretation over the years but for some reason this aspect of the Narnia stories has escaped me. What are some of the more glaring internal inconsistencies in the series?
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sat 28 Feb 09 08:38
>To a believer, though, it's as if I were treating >the laws of thermodynamics as optional. Oh, I know exactly what you mean! We once had a very painful series of discussions here with a Christian who wanted to understand how Jews engaged with the material in the New Testament. He really didn't get that we *don't*. As an educated person I've read some of the Christian bible - as a pivotal historical document, as literature, as a key part of understanding current events and politics - but as a Jew I don't feel that I have to dispute or believe it any more than I have to follow or reject the Upanishads. (except as the Christian scriptures find their way into political and legal discussions)
Laura Miller (lauram) Sun 1 Mar 09 05:33
David, some of the mistakes are minor inconsistencies of style: i.e., is Mr. Tumnus a "he" or an "it"? A bigger one has to do with Jadis/The White Witch, who is initially characterized as being native to Narnia -- related to the Green Witch in Silver Chair and Lilith from the Hebrew Bible elsewhere -- but whom Lewis later decided to turn into an import from an entirely different universe in The Magician's Nephew. I believe there are other minor things Lewis wanted to change about the books that he never detailed in any surviving source material as well. (A bunch of Lewis' letters to his boyhood/lifelong friend Arthur Greeves were burned by Arthur around the time of Lewis' death, though we don't know what they contained. He might have told Arthur of his intentions re: The Chronicles, but I doubt it.) The very fact that Lewis never got around to re-editing the Chronicles shows how different he was from the more fastidious Tolkien, who obsessed about every error, mystery and inconsistency in his books and mythology. I've read all of Lewis' letters (which is *a lot*), and there isn't much about Narnia in them; I don't think he thought of the works as especially significant. None of this is consistent with him having some overarching plan of meaning for them as a series.
Gail Williams (gail) Sun 1 Mar 09 10:48
You read ALL his letters? That fact had escaped me. Wow. I was going to ask you about Ireland. I started to look back at the book for some missing clue into your choice to go there, but you tell the story very well, and I know most readers of this topic will not have the book in hand. So it's worth asking as a public question, when you turned to Ireland to see the echo of Narnia, what did you expect and what most surprised you there?
Laura Miller (lauram) Sun 1 Mar 09 18:22
Did I ever, Gail! They've all been published, in three 1100-plus-page volumes. I admit to skimming some of the theological stuff, though. The most trying thing about seeking out Lewis' Irish haunts was the same thing that annoyed me about his English ones -- most of them have been turned into golf courses! That also kind of surprised me. I'd just never realized how keen they were on golf, and it seems strange to me to build the courses on top of hills, but perhaps those were the only places with enough free space. There was one of his favorite boyhood walks that was still mostly through fields, the Castlereagh Hills, west of Belfast, and this would have been lovely, but the road was edged with hedges, extremely narrow, with no verge and obviously used as a shortcut by city residents trying to get from one side of town to the other quickly by evading the traffic. I thought I was a goner at least four times. So the single most shocking thing was discovering that this road is part of some official walking trail! I mean, they are luring people into mortal danger with that. There did seem to be some official controversy over it when I looked it up on line. They don't have right-of-ways in Ireland the way they do in England, and I guess the farmers don't want walkers in their fields. In Lewis' time, this wasn't a problem, but it's crazy now to divert walkers onto roads unless they're going to widen them and put in verges, which would still encroach on the farmers' land. I can only imagine how Lewis would have groused about it. A v. personal thrill for me came at a beach that I knew Lewis visited as a small boy. It has tide pools, and while I was looking at them I realized they must have been the inspiration for the tide pools the Pevensies play around at the beginning of Prince Caspian, when they're first pulled back into Narnia but before they realize they're at Cair Paravel. (That scene has always been vivid to me because I grew up by the sea and played around tide pools as a kid.) More than anything else, those tide pools gave me a sudden jolt of "This is the original of Narnia." I posted a photo of them to my web site.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 2 Mar 09 12:32
Just found that -- http://lauramiller.typepad.com/ is lovely and some of the photos in //www.flickr.com/groups/910115@N24/" class="hft-urls">http://www.flickr.com/groups/910115@N24/ are fun too. I think one thing Narnia let me to was probably a Geography course where the main texts were called "Topofilia" and "Maps in Minds." It was thrilling in that class to see academics approach some of the feeling and meanings I encountered so strongly in literary landscapes. Yi-Fu Tuan's book title popularized the term "topofilia" to the point where it is enough of a word to have dictionary and Wikipedia entries. For me, it's a valuable word, and it works for imaginary landscapes. Narnia is clearly one of them. Laura, I especially enjoyed your accounting of scholarly and critical alliances and encounters Lewis had with Tolkien and others. The idea of Lewis reading Jung made me smile, and "Surely the analysis of water should not itself be wet?" is an amazing reaction to encountering the "theory" of the collective unconscious. I was thinking about that as I read the last several chapters, and it became obvious that a college course in literature -- actually, several sorts of courses -- could easily be put together around The Magician's Book and the source material in the index and in the text itself. Did you think about that while writing it? Would you want to teach around this body of inquiry?
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 2 Mar 09 23:31
Also... since we are going into the last say, forgive me for piling up questions and comments, but one quote has interested me for a very long time. I notice I posted about this in <cross.69> to see what Christians on The WELL would have to say, nearly 17 years ago: = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = From a book review of Lewis's _The Dark Tower_ written by Ursula Le Guin (published in _Dancing at the Edge of the World_). "...in 'Ministering Angels,' a humorous piece... two woman volunteer to bring sexual solace to a team of male scientists on Mars... The depth of [hate] is proved in the final paragraph, where the Christian member of the team blissfully contemplates the conversion and salvation of the decrepit whore, but never gives a thought to the soul of [the second woman] the 'lecturer at a redbrick university." There's a good deal of hatred in Lewis, and it is a frightening hatred, because this gentle, brilliant, lovable, devout man never saw even the need to rationalize it, let alone apologize for it. He was self-righteous in his faith... J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis' close friend and colleague, certainly shared many of Lewis' views and was also a devout Christian. But it all comes out differently in his fiction. Take his handling of evil: his villains are orcs and Black Riders (goblins and zombies: mythic figures)... These are not evil men but embodiments of evil *in* men, universal symbols of the hateful. The men who do wrong are not complete figures but complements: Saruman is Gandalf's dark-self, Boromir Aragon's, Wormtongue... the weakness of King Theoden. There remains the wonderfully repulsive and degraded Gollum. But nobody who reads the trilogy hates, or is asked to hate, Gollum. Gollum is Frodo's shadow; and it is the shadow, not the hero, who acheives the quest. Though Tolkien seems to project evil onto "the others," they are not truly others but ourselves... if you like the book, you love Gollum. In Lewis, responsibility appears only in the form of the Christian hero fighting and defeating the enemy: a triumph, not of love, but of hatred. The enemy is not oneself but the Wholly Other, demoniac. This projection leaves the author free to be cruel... Give me Gollum any day." = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = Years ago, when I posted the above quotes, I thought LeGuin was on to something. But after reading your book I have a more complex picture of each of them, and a little more compassion towards both of them, curiously enough. Laura, I was going to ask you what you thought of her comparison, but after reading all of the Magician's Book I see her comparison as too simplistic. I am not sure there's even a question left. Thanks for a good read and a lot to think about.
Daniel (dfowlkes) Tue 3 Mar 09 04:16
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 3 Mar 09 05:40
I'll answer Dan first: Surprisingly enough, few people have suggested this to me, although to my mind it would seem to be the most obvious response from a Christian perspective, and I've anticipated it far more than I've heard it! At the time (age 13) I didn't consider this because I was 13. The depiction of Christianity in the middle section of the book represents my adolescent experience of the religion, not my current views. My understanding of it has expanded a LOT, I see that it has many permutations (some better and some worse than the ones I grew up with) and I've even met a couple of admirable people who to my mind enact the best aspects of the faith. However, none of this really changes the fact that I don't believe that Jesus was an incarnation of God who died to redeem our sins. I'd call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist, but I don't believe in the God of the New or Old Testament, even if the one in the Old Testament is nasty enough to be responsible for some of the universe's worst aspects!
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 3 Mar 09 06:22
Gail, you raise so many interesting points. I had a conversation with Michael Chabon once about our shared childhood enthusiasm for books with maps in the flyleafs, and he wrote an essay along these lines for his recent collection, "Maps and Legends," you might want to check out. A favorite "reference" work of mine is Albert Manguel's "Dictionary of Imaginary Place," which is best read in a browsing fashion, though you can look stuff up in it. I'd love to teach a course on Lewis' literary influences, but I suspect it would be crammed with writers that today's students would find utterly tedious, like Spenser and Milton. As for the differences in character between Lewis and JRRT, I think you can see from their work that if Lewis had a dominant flaw (or, as they would view it, sin), it was anger, while Tolkien's was despair. Lewis, though not notably self-aware, knew this about himself. Tolkien, I think, did not, because he felt his religion justified his gloominess and passivity. I hadn't seen the Le Guin essay, and also haven't read the book she was writing about, a collection of fragments and essays. Tolkien had no real grasp of the nature of evil in my opinion. Ironically, though Lewis is often accused of being overly allegorical in the Chronicles, it's really Tolkien whose allegorical tendencies are the most pronounced. Evil is almost always externalized in his fiction: as the Ring, the orcs, Sauron, etc. Even in the case of Gollum, the infection is caused by the Ring. At his best, Lewis is more morally sophisticated. Edmund is really a self-portrait of Lewis' worst side -- the resentment of legitimate authority, the spiteful lashing out at those weaker than himself, the vanity. And, of course, The Screwtape Letters (David Foster Wallace's favorite book, no less!), is an anatomy of how human beings can be led astray by their own worst nature. Although there are many allegorical aspects to Narnia, it's this psychological dimension *in addition to* the fairy tale and romance elements that, to me, makes the Chronicles more sophisticated. Le Guin was mostly, I think, reacting to Lewis' problematic attitudes toward women. He could be misogynistic, definitely, especially when it came to intellectual women. Yet in his personal/romantic relationships, he tended to willingly subject himself to domineering women. Because his intimate life is essentially a closed book to us, exactly what was going on with this is something we'll never know. One tiny fact we do have is his confession of sadomasochistic fantasies to Arthur Greeves during his youth. (The usually English flagellation stuff, no doubt fostered by his public school experiences.) I think it's fair to say that his attitudes toward woman were profoundly entangled with intense, conflicted feelings about power and eroticism, and that this in particular brought out his anger toward women who seemed to be encroaching on masculine territory. Le Guin interprets this as "hatred," but I think it's a bit more convoluted. Tolkien, by contrast, sees women as largely irrelevant.
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 3 Mar 09 06:30
Oh, and lastly, I would never call Lewis, as Le Guin does, "gentle." He could be kind and generous, certainly, especially to those he viewed as constitutionally weaker than himself. But he could also be a terrible bully, and loud putter-down of anything he'd decided (often on the basis of little real knowledge or understanding) as "not for us": modernist literature (he was angry that his own poetic career was, as he saw it, unjustly scuttled by the popularity of this "fad"), film, educational reforms, basically any kind of social or aesthetic innovation.
David Albert (aslan) Tue 3 Mar 09 06:42
Educational reforms, yes... as someone who attended quite a few schools that Lewis was describing, or perhaps the better word is satirizing, in Silver Chair, and as Silver Chair was my introduction to Narnia, I was a little unsure at the time how to react. I read A. S. Neill's "Summerhill" not long after reading Silver Chair and indeed, while "Summerhill" sounded like an ideal place to hear Neill describe it, I did wonder a bit, even at age 12, about some of the potential downsides of the school and whether it was possible that Lewis's description of the bullying incidents might not be something Neill preferred not to know about. Laura, do you know if there were specific "experimental" schools Lewis had in mind (Summerhill itself, perhaps?) based on actual experiences or visits, or if it was more a reaction to the general movement in England and Europe (Montessori, etc.) at the time?
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 3 Mar 09 06:54
There was a specific school in England, David, called <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dartington_Hall">Dartington Hall,>/a> which closed in the '80s. A friend of Lewis' sent her daughter there. Dan, I realize I may have misinterpreted your question as pertaining to my own faith or lack thereof. When you ask about whether Narnia embodies a "truer picture of Christianity" than the one I was raised with, I would say yes and no. Christianity is, to my mind, as much a practice as a body of theological principles. There may be a "true" Christianity in terms of doctrine, although as far as I can see there's not much agreement on even this, and what someone offers as "true" Christianity is more often than not simply their preferred version of the faith. Even Christ's teachings, as presented in the New Testament, have been substantively altered and amended over the years. The version of Catholicism I was raised in is a true form of Christianity according to the people who raised me. It was also different from Lewis' Christianity, which in turn is anathema to the Christianity espoused by John Goldthwaite, a critic of children's literature quoted in my book. Which is more "true"? The Christianity more people practice and subscribe to? The one that hews closer to the word of the Bible? The one that focuses on the most socially positive aspects of the New Testament? The one observed by the earliest members of the cult? However, since I am not a Christian, this is not my argument. Although it's of historical and hypothetical interest to me, I'm really not in a position to discuss it in the way a believer would. Also, it doesn't interest me greatly, or at least not greatly enough for me to want to take a position on any of it. And I really didn't want to write a book about it, though I did want to write a book about Narnia. Hence, The Magician's Book, an attempt to write about everything I do find interesting and moving about Narnia.
David Albert (aslan) Tue 3 Mar 09 17:58
Laura, I loved the ending of your book: "The world I found was inside a book, and then that world turned out to be made of even more books, each of which led to yet another world. It goes on forever and ever. At nine I thought I must get to Narnia or die. It would be a long time before I understood that I was already there." I think you have encapsulated what many of us ultimately took out of *reading*, as children, whether we got it from Narnia or some other equally ... equally ... mythopoetic book; I suppose that is the best word to use now that you've defined it for us. Are there other books, I wonder, that have done as much and in the same way for other children that Narnia did for you, and for many of us who have gathered here to discuss it? Thank you for providing in your ending a far happier outlook for us readers than Lewis himself did with his own ending.
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