Alison Croggan, Michael Pryor and CS Lewis expert and librarian Michelle Collins, as part of the Urban Conversations series, discussing the legacy of CS Lewis on the fiftieth anniversary of his death. It was remarkable to be in a room full of adults, most of whom had obviously experienced the world of Narnia and who mostly regarded their time there with great affection and delight (despite some reservations).
My contribution was a pair of lists, my Top 5 Things I Did and Didn't Like About Narnia. Today's instalment is...
5 Things I Didn't Like About the Narnia Chronicles
1) The Last Battle (otherwise known as The-Book-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named)
I put off reading the last volume in the series as long as I could -- until I was 11. Reading it, I was shattered. Terrible things are happening in Narnia: Talking Trees are cut down, Talking Beasts enslaved, a donkey is masquerading as Aslan, everything is corrupted and spoiled. And in the end (spoiler alert) Narnia is destroyed, its sun put out, and the door locked on a dark, cold desolation. Sure, the characters all go to Heaven and find a "better" "real-er" Narnia there, but I was not convinced. I wanted my Narnia back and I wanted it to last forever. I pretended that I'd never read LB, and that it didn't even exist, until I forced myself to re-read it in preparation for last night.
Well, I cried. I cried like an eleven year old.
* Michael reminded me later that Alice had the audiobook of The Last Battle and hated it so much she put it in the freezer! I had completely blotted this out.
2) sexism and racism
CS Lewis was a middle-aged bachelor when he wrote the Narnia books, motherless from the age of nine, and had lived his whole life in male institutions. He had very conventional ideas about women and about foreigners, and that comes out in his writing, unfortunately. You can see him struggling against this in the later books, but to a modern reader, it jars and offends. Which is a pity.
I'm not against bloodshed, or fighting, or battles, or even murder, in children's books as such; but I'm not particularly interested in it. It's no coincidence that the books I liked least in the series (The Silver Chair, Prince Caspian, The Last Battle) all have significant amounts of fighting, and the ones I loved best (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Magician's Nephew) have almost none.
4) flat characters
Lewis's child characters are pretty two dimensional. But I don't think this is actually a problem; sometimes it's better to have slightly flat characters in children's literature, because it make sit easier for the reader to project him- or herself into the protagonist's shoes. And no one could call Puddleglum or Reepicheep or Aslan flat.
5) The Problem of Susan
At the end of the books, Susan is declared to be 'no longer a friend of Narnia.' She has turned away from Narnia in favour of 'lipstick and nylons and invitations.' Which is kind of understandable, in a 20 year old young woman. But poor old Susan is soon to find herself the only surviving member of her family, because everyone else gets killed in a train crash so they can join Aslan in heaven. Jeez, that's a high price to pay for liking lipstick. Lewis said later that he's sure Susan will get to heaven too, in her own time; but meanwhile she has to find a way to deal with this terrible (for her) catastrophe that's wiped out her whole family! That's rough, CS, that's very rough indeed.
Next... 5 Things I Did Love About Narnia!