Keely's Reviews > The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
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Apr 30, 11

bookshelves: fantasy, uk-and-ireland, reviewed
Read from April 22 to 30, 2011

My greatest disappointment in 'The Screwtape Letters' was that Lewis was not able to demonstrate what made his good people good or his bad people bad. The most he said was that believers were suffused with a vague light that even shone in the cat. This book has the same flaw, though the cat is much bigger.

Aslan had no character, he was just a big, dull stand-in. Lewis often tells us how great he is, but never demonstrates what it is that makes him great or impressive. Sure, he helps the kids, but all that makes him is a plot facilitator. He also has his big Jesus moment, but that has the same problem as the original: if he already knows that there will be no lasting negative outcome, how much of a sacrifice is it, really?

But then, Aslan isn't based on the original fig-cursing, church-rejecting, rebel Jesus, but the whitewashed version. Like Mickey Mouse, Jesus started out as an oddball troublemaker with his fair share of personality, but becoming the smiling face of a multinational organization bent on world domination takes a lot out of a mascot, whether your magic castle is in California or Rome.

Such a visible figure must become universally appealing, universally friendly and loving, lest some subset of followers feel left out. And it's this 'Buddy Christ' tradition from which Aslan seems to spring. Devoid of insight, wisdom, or charm, Aslan is just here to do things that our protagonists can't do.

This also beggars the question: why didn't Aslan just take care of all this stuff long before the kids arrived? Why did all the animals and fairies and giants have to suffer the pain of an endless winter? Except for a vague mention of prophecy, there isn't any reason for Aslan to wait for the kids, since in the end, he does it all on his own, anyways.

The only thing the kids do is help run of the battle, but this is only necessary because Aslan is absent, and he's only absent because the kids screwed up, indicating that the entire thing would have gone much more smoothly if they had never been there in the first place.

In that regard, I have to say Lewis did an excellent job boiling down Christianity into a fable, and leaving the problem of evil completely intact. Some readers suggest that Aslan lets the queen take over to teach the kids a lesson, but is it really worthwhile to let all the inhabitants of a kingdom suffer a century of misery just to teach a few kids about the true meaning of friendship?

The villain is just as poorly-constructed, and seems less concerned with defeating her enemies than with being pointlessly capricious. She manages to trick one of the children, but instead of taking advantage of this fact, she immediately makes it clear that she tricked him. I mean, how did someone that incompetent take over in the first place?

Selectively stupid characters are silly and convenient, especially as villains, because this completely undermines their role as foil. It is impressive when characters overcome challenges, but not when challenges simply crumble before them. The children are lucky the Queen was more of a fart-stealing Old Nick than a Miltonian Satan, otherwise they never would have stood a chance.

It is interesting to look at how many Christian authors have tried to reconcile their faith with complex fairy mythologies; not that Christianity doesn't have its own magical fairy tales, but these other traditions are not exactly compatible. Dante has Virgil lead him through hell, the Buddha was made into a saint, holidays were given new meanings (even if they often kept old symbols and names), and magical monsters were also given a place in the new faith.

In the Middle Ages, monks compiled 'Bestiaries', which described the roles of dragons, unicorns, and real animals in Christian synbolism; there were even century-spanning debates about whether dog-headed men were descended from Adam. These books were rarely accurate, but allowed Christian theology to adopt many stories and superstitions from earlier periods; for instance, the connection between unicorns and virginity or the belief that pelicans fed their own blood to their young, in imitation of communion.

So Lewis' attempt to take myth and adapt it to a Christian cosmology is hardly new--there is a long and storied tradition explored throughout the Chivalric period and recognizable today in books like The Once and Future King, but Lewis doesn't a very good job of reconciling these disparate mythologies.

Like most Protestants, Lewis' religion was a modern one, not magical and mystical, but reasonable and utilitarian. He did not draw on the elaborate, convoluted apocrypha of hallucinatory monsters and miracles that mystics obsess over, instead, he made a small, sane, reasonable magical world--which rather defeats the point. It is unfortunate that many of today's readers think of Lewis' writings as defining English fairy tales, since his late additions to the genre are not original, nor are they particularly well-executed examples.

Many authors have come to the genre with much more imagination, a deeper sense of wonder, and a more far-reaching exploration of magic. We have examples from Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Dunsany, Eddison, Morris, and even modern updates by Gaiman and Clarke. Lewis, like Tolkien, may be a well-known example, but both are rather short-sighted, and neither one achieves as much as the many talented authors who came before.

I'm not saying Lewis is bad, merely that he is unremarkable, and is hardly preeminent in fantasy, or even in children's fantasy. However, I do think his fundamental message is a bad one, even if he didn't realize he was creating it.

In all of his worlds, he takes the sorts of people he dislikes, defines them as 'evil', then sets himself apart from them. There is no attempt to comprehend or to come to mutual understanding. I cannot respect a book which encourages people to vilify what they don't understand and to call isolation righteous. If any worldview deserves the epithet of 'evil', it is the sort of willful, prideful, self-indulgent ignorance Lewis displays.

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Comments (showing 1-50 of 91) (91 new)


Manny Like Mickey Mouse, Jesus started out as an oddball troublemaker with his fair share of personality, but becoming the smiling face of a multinational organization bent on world domination takes a lot out of a mascot, whether your magic castle is in California or Rome.

Is that original? If so, kudos!


message 2: by Slap Happy (new)

Slap Happy I was like "oh snap!" when I read that line too. It's a good one.


Keely Somewhere in the world, a stopped clock is always right.


Keely I don't think 'Children's Literature' should be an excuse for writers to write thoughtlessly. Indeed, in some ways, writing literature for children is much harder than writing for adults.

It is not beneficial to children to feed them a small, oversimplified world, especially if that world, like Lewis's, leaves differences in philosophy undefined and oversimplified into 'good' and 'evil'. Lewis takes things he does not like (or does not understand) about other people and defines them as evil, but without trying to recognize their motives for acting as they do. He is satisfied to simply condemn them.

I think this is a very wrongheaded message to send to children, because it will intensify their own natural inclination to think of themselves as centrally important and to ignore, avoid, or ridicule people who are different. The philosophy Lewis puts forth in this series encourages the reader to judge others without trying to understand them, which is hardly the message I would want a ten-year-old to take away.

Even Disney villains have more fleshed-out motives than Lewis' crazed, senseless bad guys. At least Disney villains act with a need for power and control, something which children would be very sympathetic to. Lewis' just seem to want to cause chaos and pain, even when it interferes with their own plans. It feels to me that he never learned the lesson from Milton that the only devil that matters is the one we can understand.


Keely Thanks, I'm glad you liked my review.

The question you bring up is an interesting one, and one I've spent some time thinking about. It's not a question that is simple to ask because it brings up a number of other problems.

First we must ask how good people are at making judgments. Judgment is based on prior experiences and accrued knowledge. We can judge the quality of something by comparing it to other, similar things, and by comparing it to a set of rules about what makes something 'good'.

The worse something is, the easier it will be to see that it's bad. Almost anyone who walks into a house that is missing a wall will immediately recognize that this is a low quality house. But it's hard to tell if something is very good. Few people would be able to recognize a drainage or insulation problem, because it requires more experience to see such things.

Take a worn-down house that isn't up to code, give it a new paint job, new carpets, new fixtures, and suddenly, the average person will see it as a 'quality house', while an expert will not be as easily fooled. Books can be judged in a similar way, and the more complex (or subtle) the techniques used, the harder it will be for the average person to recognize that it is good.

The idea of 'crowdsourcing' is that you will usually have someone in a group who has more knowledge in a subject than others, and hence, will be able to provide knowledge or information about that subject. This is how something like Wikipedia gets written: the experts in each area come forward and share their knowledge, because groups of people contain a lot of different experiences.

But this is different than taking the average opinion of a group of people. Crowds are good at basic information, but the more specialized it becomes, the worse the crowd gets. Anyone who has seen 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' has seen this effect. The person can ask the crowd for their opinion, and the more difficult the question, the less useful the crowd will be.

Crowds are not going to pick terrible, stupid books (or movies, or whatever), but they also won't be able to pick good ones. At best, they will pick kind of average, low-quality stuff that isn't awful.

But that's not the only factor in how people choose. The average person also likes things which are familiar, recognizable, and fit into their worldview. This means that a crappy book can be more popular if it tells people what they want to hear and does so in a familiar, comforting way.

This is how genres develop: authors follow their own interests and create familiar things that people will respond to. In C.S. Lewis' works, you have some very common ideas and philosophies. They might not be productive or even healthy, but many people respond to them because they find them familiar, comforting, or self-justifying.

One of the hardest things for a person to do is to disagree with the methods of someone who they agree with. We tend to want to be confirmed; when we see someone who has reached the same conclusion as we have, we tend to feel sympathy for them, even if their methods are underhanded or unskilled.

Another problem is that you can only like a book if you know it exists. The reason for the popularity of many books (like Harry Potter or Twilight), is that a reader for Barnes and Noble decided they could be successful and gave them a large advertising budget. Copies of the book were put at the front of the store for everyone to see, so it's not surprising they became more successful than the books crammed in the shelves in the back, and all because of one person's decision.

So, just because something is successful doesn't mean it's good, because there are many factors that go into success, and quality is not one of the major ones. The books must pass a certain low threshold for quality, but beyond that it depends more on whether the book is well advertised and whether it fits in with what people already think.

People happily consume low-quality goods because it's easy to do so. Whether it's a lamp from Walmart that breaks in two months, an Ikea shelf that starts to collapse as you build it, A McDonald's meal that provides a great deal of fat and little nutrition, or a cliche novel with no content or originality, popular things are often low quality.

If the average person has relatively little experience or knowledge, it shouldn't be surprising that they make decisions to support things which are of low quality, because they do not have the ability to recognize high-quality items, and because low-quality items are often advertised to them aggressively.

This doesn't mean that something that is successful must be of low-quality, or that things that are unsuccessful are of high quality. Sometimes high-quality stuff becomes successful, and sometimes, when a hipster says you've 'probably never heard of' some band, it's not because he's found something cool, it's because they suck.

But popularity is not a sign that something is good, or that it's worthwhile, or that it will be remembered. Many of the bestsellers of the past are ignored today, and even in the Victorian period, there were jokes about how bad popular novels were.

But the lack of judgments of crowds isn't always a bad thing. It's the whole basis for democracy. The public doesn't elect brilliant, effective people, and it doesn't elect stupid, crazy people. It elects average, confused people.

This means that government is ineffective and takes forever to get anything done, which is a good thing. It means that no one can come in and just change everything overnight. Anything that really needs to get done will eventually get done, and most other things will probably never happen. It's not an ideal system, but it is very cautious and careful, which isn't a bad thing.

Hope that made some sense and addressed your curiosity. Thanks for the question.


Alex Battles did you expect him to demonstrate? he's not going to do that ever in any go his works.... he positions the the "this is and the what if and a few possible if you did this than this" but he wants you to figure it out.. like he did. So you know that you contributed to your own internal happiness and spiritual well being. he's a teacher .. no crib notes... figure it out with a few of tools that he sets forth. Aslan interesting .... did Jesus come to earth with gun blazing in that manger.....?

yea.. no.. humble... thinking... no bang bang bang goes the trolly... nope. Jesus, i guess was unimpressive to most.

but this quiet man was GREAT, he was BIG.... what he did WAS HUGE and done with humility and love. no fireworks. Thanks for dying for me. + bang+


Keely I expected from him what I expect from any teacher: that they will lead their students toward an insight. Certainly, they cannot do all the work, but a good teacher can do a great deal to help increase understanding. What I got from Lewis that I do not expect from teachers was a series of short-sighted oversimplifications relying more on naive hopes and fears than on an increase in understanding.

Aslan was an empty shell who had no personality, no philosophy, and who helped or ignored the children with little rhyme or reason. The queen was less an embodiment of evil than somewhat confused and mean. She also had no apparent motivations for what she did.

Altogether, Aslan and the Queen are less 'Jesus vs. Satan' and more 'The Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote'.


Hana The reason that Aslan did not resolve the problem before the children came is that 1: He knew they would learn something, and 2: He le the white witch reign so that he could see who would turn away from him when it got hard.


Hana Its the same reason that Jesus lets Satan reign the world, at least for now.


message 10: by Keely (last edited Nov 20, 2011 05:42AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Keely So he let an entire world suffer, let people die and be enslaved for centuries, people who could do nothing about the Witch, all so he could teach a few kids a lesson?


Jonathan Oh so now we're going into the topic of why pain...interesting thread. I'm going to put all this through the filter of Narnia when I mention things that I've thought about so here goes...

If you're going to talk about things so metaphysical you must apply it, I believe, to different rules.

Pain and suffering are very individual experiences. I cannot personally experience the suffering of another individual. It's physically and psychologically impossible.

And who is to say that suffering is all bad. Any athlete must endure short-term and even long-term suffering to be able to build their body to the level to compete. If I were a father with a son wanting to become a high-level athlete I would have to force him to make his body suffer so that he would in the long-term become the person he wants to be. Now its no good parallel but who's to say that an all powerful being cannot see the good that is to come out of suffering. To limit suffering and say it serves no purpose, that it's immoral, it's wrong, is to limit it to our own mundane experience. We say 'I cannot see any reason for this pain so therefore it is wrong.'

But in my mind a being who created a world and the inhabitants would run by a different set of rules. He may see that the suffering he puts his people through will raise them up to become the people they are meant to.

Also perhaps the people who died and were enslaved did not respond in the correct way. Life is full of choices and responses. Who is to say that the people of Narnia couldn't have been freed years before but they became complacent or like Mr Tumnus gave into the evil which lived in their world. After all the witch had to rise to power in some way. That means the 'people' of Narnia had to allow her to come to dominion. It was only her against all the rest. Perhaps the hundred years of winter was merely a way of stating a lesson to the Narnians also. If the witch only ruled for a year and then Aslan charged in and saved the day the only lesson learnt would be that they had a hero to rely upon who would always fix their errors. Life doesn't work like that. We have to learn that when we make errors there are consequences even if eventually a 'lion' charges in to save the day.

Also we must consider that Aslan created Narnia. He brought the creatures to life. Isn't he entitled to control their lives in whatever way he feels fit? He wouldn't have brought about their existence unless he had a purpose in doing so. The mistake I feel would be to say that his actions are all meaningless. That the pain and suffering is cruel. Perhaps he means to teach a lesson that the people of Narnia do need him but to do so he needs to allow them to realise why. You never truly realise something until later.

I realise those are some very incoherent thoughts but just some ponderings I've had on the subject. Ultimately we all make our own verdicts on the evidence at hand and those are some of mine in a way...


Keely "I cannot personally experience the suffering of another individual. It's physically and psychologically impossible."

You might not be able to go through it in precisely the same way, but I'd argue that humans are very good at sympathizing with another's pain. For example, in reading a horrible story like this, even though I have never personally experienced anything like that, reading and thinking about it makes me physically ill. While we cannot experience the same things as others firsthand, one of the reasons that we create art is to share emotions and experiences.

"Who is to say that the people of Narnia couldn't have been freed years before but they became complacent or like Mr Tumnus gave into the evil which lived in their world."

Based on the prophecies about the children in the world and Aslan's ability to end the witch's reign at any time, the world seems set up so that the animals are unable to do anything to alleviate their suffering. Indeed, they do try to fight against the witch, but even the most powerful of them end up as statues in the witch's garden.

"Also we must consider that Aslan created Narnia. He brought the creatures to life. Isn't he entitled to control their lives in whatever way he feels fit?"

If I decide to make a child with someone, does that entitle us to chop off that child's limbs if we like? To blind it? To abuse it sexually? To lock it in a dark closet until it is ten? If you decide to bring something into the world which is capable of suffering, is it acceptable to make it suffer unnecessarily?

Certainly, there are many inescapable hardships in life. All parents should recognize that they cannot save their children from pain, but that doesn't mean they should create extra pain for them to overcome, much less inflict pain on them that they are unable to overcome.

"To limit suffering and say it serves no purpose, that it's immoral, it's wrong, is to limit it to our own mundane experience. We say 'I cannot see any reason for this pain so therefore it is wrong.' "

Well, Lewis is an author, depicting a world, so it is his job to show us the reason for the pain Aslan allows to be inflicted on those he created. If we are to believe that Aslan is a force for good, then we must see him behave beneficently, making his world a better place.

The question isn't merely whether Aslan has a reason for allowing pain, but whether that reason is a good one, in proportion to the good it does. For example, if I had a child and then chopped off its legs in order to teach the neighbor children a lesson about valuing their legs, I would be causing an amount of pain far greater than the aid I did.

Likewise, Aslan creating a whole world of people and letting them suffer for centuries in order to teach a handful of children to care about people seems rather out of proportion. We have to ask whether there was some better way to teach this lesson, whether causing that level of suffering was necessary to achieve the desired ends.

I'm not claiming that Aslan's actions were meaningless, but that they were inefficient and amoral. If Aslan were meant to be a Demiurge (a cruel, capricious god), that would be one thing, but it seems rather clear that he is meant to be a picture of all that is good and desirable--yet his actions make him a contradictory, needlessly cruel figure.

I end on the famous quote by Epicurus, written centuries before the birth of Christ:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"


Jonathan Making a child with someone is completely a different scenario to forming an entire universe. When you create life sexually you are only attempting to follow the footsteps of being like god. Tolkien said it well when he stated that: “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” In essence man is only a sub-creator.

I agree Narnia is hardly a perfect allegory. But then there are no perfect allegories. Lewis maintained personally that his books were not in fact intended as allegorical but to contain Christian ideas as such (although personally even I feel it becomes highly allegorical).

However if you read through the entire series you note that the creatures were at first free. The witch was only one being and yet she somehow obtains the aid of the wolves, the dwarfs and many trees. So that suggests to me that ultimately the Narnians surrendered to her rather than fight her power. Like how Adam and Eve surrendered to Satan.

And in response to the famous quote by Epicurus I've read many responses to that quote. In fact Timothy Keller in his book The Reason for God opens his chapter on pain with that topic. Lee Strobel discusses the same quote with a philosopher in his own book The Case for Faith.

Aslan's actions make him contradictory and cruel depending on how you look at the scenario. At least that's my opinion. You must also note that Aslan does not simply allow pain to be inflicted upon others but himself undergoes the pain of a death. What is more. He doesn't simply die because he was slain in battle but must die in willing sacrifice to cleanse the actions of a traitor and so save his land.

As Timothy Keller noted in his book The Reason For God if the Bible depicted a God who remained in heaven and watched over people suffering down on Earth then there is no reason to worship such a God. Despite his claim to be loving and merciful he would appear to be the opposite exactly as Epicurus noted. If God wants to prevent evil but can't he's not all powerful. If he can but doesn't want to then he contradicts himself, he lies and is shown an evil lying God. If doesn't want to and cannot then he is no God really is he. So if he can and wants to why is there evil? Well that evil comes from the actions of men who chose to defy their creator, who want to live separate and do their own things. It's a theme present at the creation, in tale of the tower of Babel, in the Great Flood and all throughout history. Going back to the Flood. When man does such atrocity God could destroy the entire world and start again. Aslan would have been entitled to start again and rid the world of everyone who gave into the witch. But ultimately God had a grand plan to send his son to suffer and die like a man (no as a man). So rather than being a simple outsider God (and we can say Aslan too) chooses to come into the suffering of his people and experience that suffering to ultimately conquer death and save them. To remove their error.

I believe it's a matter of perspective here. You can look at any book or idea multiple ways people will always find various ways to analyse anything. I like that you've done this and not simply accepted the text as it is. It shows that you have a great thinking mind. And I guess things like this remain a matter of belief rather than who's right or wrong...


Keely "Making a child with someone is completely a different scenario to forming an entire universe. When you create life sexually you are only attempting to follow the footsteps of being like god. Tolkien said it well . . ."

So you're saying Tolkien is a sub-creator, following in the footsteps of god, and so are people who create children? Well, in that case, it's hardly out of line for me to compare Lewis' sub-universe with the moral considerations of creating a child.You make the same comparison, suggesting it wouldn't be cruel for a parent to have their children suffer through the pain of training to become an athlete, so I didn't think it would be problematic to extend the metaphor of your argument:

"He brought the creatures to life. Isn't he entitled to control their lives in whatever way he feels fit?"

This statement does not exclude individuals who create life, either through sex or science, and if you think there is a real moral difference between a god who creates life and a man who creates life, I'd need to see how you define that difference, theologically and philosophically.

"And in response to the famous quote by Epicurus I've read many responses to that quote."

I was using the quote not to discuss gods in general, but Aslan--Lewis' representation of Aslan fails to take Epicurus' quote into account. Lewis does not give us a good reason why evil is allowed to exist in this world.

I agree that there is some profit in seeing free will as the reason evil exists, but it still brings up the question: where did that evil come from? Why is evil a choice at all? If man was created by a god, and all things in the universe were created by that god, then where did evil come from? If god made all things, and all things are 'of god', then is evil 'of god'?

Certainly, a free mind can choose it, but the question remains: why is it an option in the first place? I think Milton's supposition that sin is only ever 'that which is not god' is a rather curious and telling one, since it indicates that there can be, in the universe he created, something which is fundamentally not him. If that is so, who created this extra-deity reality, and how could something not-god be created from things that are god?

I don't feel Lewis answered these questions, at least, not in the books I have read. I did not see his Aslan as either morally justified or a force for good. I did not think Lewis showed sufficient purpose for the evil Aslan created and allowed to happen.

"He doesn't simply die because he was slain in battle but must die in willing sacrifice to cleanse the actions of a traitor and so save his land."

It's true, but then, Aslan's sacrifice isn't the same suffering as he let others go through. Aslan knew he would survive unscathed, while the creatures he created did not have assurance of their future, and could not simply overcome their own pain at will.

The certainty of knowledge makes the actions of a god fundamentally different than those of his creations. For example, Adam and Eve could not possibly know what sinning or falling meant, because the only way for them to gain knowledge was to fall. It's another example of how fruitless it is to forbid someone to do something if they are unable of comprehending the consequences. Such a rule cannot possibly have any meaning to the person it constricts.

So we have a situation where an all-powerful creature creates a world and then allows it to descend into pain and suffering. He asks the creatures to believe in him despite the suffering he lets them go through, but that is the same bargain the Satan figure asks of them: ignore the pain and simply trust in me. How is a finite, uncomprehending creature meant to make the decision between the two?

In Lewis' world, it's easy, because the queen provides no real benefit, she is not a ruthless power-seeker who helps those who help her, but a needlessly cruel, capricious figure. There is really no reason to trust in her because she can provide nothing of value.

But that's another reason the allegory is poor: in the real world, there are not two choices, one of which is clearly bad, there are numerous complex, nuanced choices, many of which promise the same thing, such as the gods of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. How do we choose when we see three Aslans who, while differing in accoutrement, all promise the same thing?

At that point, it comes down to the 'SAT solution': we must find one right answer, we have four options, three of the options are the same, so the fourth option must be correct--'none of the above'.

"You can look at any book or idea multiple ways people will always find various ways to analyse anything."

It's true, but I don't think that's a reason to give up and say 'people are entitled to their opinions', because they aren't. Opinions are things we earn by learning about them and being able to defend them. If someone said 'all albinos should be put in jail', we don't think 'he's entitled to that opinion', we think 'why do you think that, can you defend that statement?'

If we search into something, we can get closer to truth. We have evidence and logic, and there's a lot we can do. When I was in college, studying literary criticism, I came across a lot of papers which did not suitably defend their theses, and it wasn't hard to contradict them.

One of my professors told me about a student who had written on Herbert's poem 'Love', where his Jesus says 'taste my meat'. The student took this to be a reference to homosexuality and wrote an entire paper analyzing the homosexual overtones. But, my professor, a Herbert scholar, while not opposed to the idea that Herbert might have homosexual feelings, could find nothing in Herbert's poetry which would support this conclusion.

In addition, there was a simple explanation for the line in 'Love'--the act of taking bread and wine, or flesh and blood, in communion. One side was unsupported, and the other had a reasonable answer, so as usual, it wasn't a case of irreconcilable differing opinions, but an unsupported case versus a strong case.

It doesn't mean you will always be able to convince the other person, but if your conclusion is based on thought and evidence and theirs is based on shaky arguments and stubbornness, it will be fairly clear which conclusion is more meaningful. And this isn't always a case of 'cynics are rational, believers are irrational', this dynamic can (and often does) go the other way.

"guess things like this remain a matter of belief . . ."

They don't have to remain that way. There are plenty of people out there who engage in a constant search for greater knowledge and better arguments, who are not content merely to say 'I believe this' as their last defense.

I don't think my argument comes down to belief, it's not that I disbelieve in a god, it's just that I have never seen any reason to believe in one, which is a subtle distinction, I grant. And even if that point were insurmountable between us, we might still come to an agreement about Lewis' representation of theological philosophy.

Thanks for the comment.


Jonathan Great comments wonderfully phrased and superbly thought out. I really enjoy reading them because it helps me observe flaws in my own arguments.

"I don't think my argument comes down to belief, it's not that I disbelieve in a god, it's just that I have never seen any reason to believe in one, which is a subtle distinction, I grant."
I see what you mean there although I'd be hard pressed to explain what you mean in words. I guess it comes down to the matter of experience. As you said we have to be able to substantiate our opinions and our opinions should be formed by experiences but not in a way that they are merely frivolous statements like: I don't like chocolate. As you said you then should be able to explain the why and how and that may come down to experience. And different experiences may lead to different opinions. One can enjoy a chocolate ice-cream because it tasted nice while another could find they develop an allergic reaction and so hate chocolate ice-cream.

"And even if that point were insurmountable between us, we might still come to an agreement about Lewis' representation of theological philosophy." Yes at times I do agree that Lewis makes poor thoelogical representations. I don't agree with many of his statements in The Last Battle for instance because it seems to me he struggles to find a balance between telling the story and plausibly explaining his beliefs. However I have found at other times his arguments are quite solid. However I've never simply had too much problem with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe because I find I can read it simply as a tale. But I do say that it is not a perfect allegory at all. For that to happen he would need to explain what happened between the time of the Witch entering the world and the never-ending winter etc. It's not as fleshed out a world as it would need to be basically to explore that. But then as an introduction to theology and as a provider of ideas for debate I believe it might be able to work...


Keely "However I've never simply had too much problem with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe because I find I can read it simply as a tale."

I found it weak, even as a tale, because the chief characters are such half-formed allegories that they never have much personality. I speak mainly of Aslan and the Witch, who just seem to be naked plot movers without internal motivations. Lewis tells us a lot about who they are supposed to be, but I never felt they actually acted their parts. The small, moralizing, conveniently-plotted story of wonder-free magic didn't provide much entertainment for me.


message 17: by Jonathan (last edited Nov 23, 2011 03:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jonathan Yes well personally having read it as a Child first makes a big difference with a novel I find. I actually feel that if I came to the series now as a young adult I'd find it a very different experience. But with the enjoyment of the series firm within me I now find every time I listen to the stories now I simply become intrigued by the way Lewis fosters his plot lines and prose. The way he uses language is fascinating. Unlike Tolkien he uses simpler words but phrases them together in sophisticated ways whereas Tolkien uses a more academic vocabulary along with his use of phrase. That's really what draws me to books now, the way an author builds his story with words and phrases.


Keely "Yes well personally having read it as a Child first makes a big difference with a novel I find."

Ah, interesting, the nostalgia effect can be powerful, though in my experience, there are very few things I liked as a kid that I still like as much today. In fact, there are many books I loved as a kid that I find impossible to take seriously today.

It's true that Lewis has a more straightforward style, which can be something very enjoyable to read--I know that I love the precise, elegant structure of a prose master like Bierce or Conrad, but I'm afraid I found Lewis rather more rudimentary. What was it you found about his structure or use that was sophisticated?

I agree that Tolkien's attempt to create purposefully archaic prose is limited in its effectiveness, and though he is a master of language use, I don't think that transfers over into being a prose stylist, in fact I'd say his anachronism is less effective than Eddison, who inspired Tolkien to write fantasy.


Jonathan Well to each their own. In many ways some stories I used to love now sit hollow with me but there are many, many more that resonate with me still.

Not all the time but at times I have noted in various re-readings that Lewis' turn of phrase hints at more sophisticated ideas. I did not mean to say that he is the most sophisticated author around because there are still other times where I go: well that was actually rather simple. However compared to say a Chekhov or other such artists he is no linguistic master.

Yes I concede your point about Tolkien. On a different note I want to remark that I find it brilliant to be able to discuss such thoughts with people with such insight as yourself. You clearly think a lot on such things.


Keely I agree, it is nice to be able to talk with people who have ideas and observations to share. It's less interesting to read reviews that are just plot summaries or unquestioned emotional reactions. Most comments aren't much better, boiling down to little more than agreement or disagreement.

Glad you have enjoyed our dialogue. Feel free to message me or check out my other reviews if you ever want to chat. I expand a bit on my views of Lewis in some of my other reviews of his work, if that strikes your curiosity at all.

The Magician's Nephew
The Screwtape Letters
Mere Christianity

Otherwise I'll see you around.


Keely Is Aslan willing to stop the queen, but not able?
Then he doesn't rule.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is the true villain.
Is he both able and willing?
Then why did she succeed in the first place?
Is he neither able not willing?
Then he's just a big cat.


Jamie Keely wrote: "I agree, it is nice to be able to talk with people who have ideas and observations to share. It's less interesting to read reviews that are just plot summaries or unquestioned emotional reactions. ..."

That's why I friended you a year ago - not because I necessarily agree with you, but because I appreciate the style and degree of thought you put inot your "non-plot summary" reviews.

That said (you knew this was coming, based on prior discussions!), I disagree with something you said in your review:

Aslan isn't based on the original fig-cursing, church-rejecting, rebel Jesus, but the whitewashed version. Like Mickey Mouse, Jesus started out as an oddball troublemaker with his fair share of personality, but becoming the smiling face of a multinational organization bent on world domination takes a lot out of a mascot, whether your magic castle is in California or Rome.

I believe some people have attempted to whitewash Jesus, in a misguided attempt to make him more palatable. (A Catholic would catch my pun.) You line about "the smiling face of a multinational organization" reminds me of George Carlin's representation of a priest with the "Jesus - yeah!" picture with the smiling Jesus with a thumbs-up.

I agree, this is wrong of them to do. Scripture backs that up. Even the final book, Revelations, shows the Apostle John saying that he swallowed the scroll and it was sweet on the tongue, but bitter in his stomach. It's how many of us come to Jesus: He comforts us in our sorrow, like a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down - but once we get to know Him better, we realize that He has a cross in store for all of us, if we intend to continue following Him.

But this is a failing of many Christians (even of many Church officials) - to neglect that Jesus cursed the fig tree, because it bore no fruit, even though it was green. (In other words, it showed no positive results, even though it was claiming otherwise.)

However, calling Jesus "church rejecting" and "rebel" is going a little far. The "church" he was rejecting was the old way of the Pharisees. But he didn't want there to be no church - rather, he replaced it with a new church. The vineyard His Father originally created was found to be run by vineyard keepers who were lazy and greedy, and when they killed His Son, He cast them out and gave it to new workers.

Same with Jesus being a rebel - he rebelled against the old spiritual model. He was not (much to the chagrin of the Jewish people) a political rebel. In fact, he was quite the opposite of a rebel, telling the Jewish leaders to pay taxes to the government (he didn't say whether they should be higher, lower, progressive, or flat - he left that to others to figure out!) and to obey civil authority (quite the opposite of an Occupier). This is why they cried out for Barabbas, the rioting murderer, to be released. Judas thought he could force Jesus's hand, thinking that by betraying him, Jesus would be forced to show His heavenly strength, and thereby usher in the revolution against Rome. (Oops!)

Yes, Jesus hated hypocrisy but he replaced the hypocrites with a new church, "the pillar and foundation of truth" according to St. Paul. He was a rebel, but His rebellion was one of the heart (to break the hearts of stone and replace them with hearts with love for one another) and a rebellion against the spiritual forces of darkness that were ruling this world.

Yes, he won the battle at Calvary, but it is up to each of us to clean-up after the battle: to chase down and destroy the remaining enemies (spiritual, not physical), to bind up and heal the injured (those physically and/or spiritually damaged and broken), and to rebuild the Kingdom. This takes work, and many who liked the sweet side are still too lazy and want to sit on the sidelines and simple reap the reward without doing the work.

This part is missing from the Narnia books - the rebuilding, the hard work after Aslan's victory over death and the White Witch. Even though it is a children's book, I believe it is a flaw to leave this out. As G.K. Chesterton said, fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us the dragon can be defeated. This makes "The Hobbit" far superior to the Narnia books.
The Hobbit is more about the journey than about the climactic battle, because the battle doesn't matter so much as how we get to that point (and what side we end up on). Narnia tried too hard to be about the battles, with Aslan simply being described as "a lion, but not a tame lion". As such, Liam Neeson thinks that, in spite of the obvious Christian overtones, Aslan could easily be a surrogate for Buddha as well as for Jesus.

As such, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is too simple and too brief. Some of the later books are better (and some are worse). Therefore, it's a good children's intro to fantasy and multi-dimensional/multiversal plot lines, but that's about it.


Keely "Even the final book, Revelations . . ."

It's actually 'Revelation', in the singular.

"[Jesus] didn't want there to be no church - rather, he replaced it with . . . a new church, "the pillar and foundation of truth" according to St. Paul."

I don't recall Jesus preaching a new organized church to replace the Pharisees, I see this new organization as the work of Paul, the 'first whitewasher', who took Jesus' message and fundamentally altered it. Whether Paul's interpretation was correct may be debated, but I do not see it as a natural outgrowth of the Jesus of the gospels.

"He was not (much to the chagrin of the Jewish people) a political rebel."

It's true, and I didn't mean to paint him as one, despite the fact that many of his followers sought to see him that way, and ultimately brought him in conflict with the government in hopes that he would become that sort of rebel which, as you say, he rejected.

"This part is missing from the Narnia books - the rebuilding, the hard work after Aslan's victory over death and the White Witch."

It's true, and I do think the focus in Tolkien is much more interesting, because it is about personal journeys and a changing world which cannot be turned back, nor innocence recaptured. I also think that the Narnia books have a big hole in terms of 'The Problem of Evil', which is why I was paraphrasing the old quote by Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

The power and goals of Aslan seem to me to be in direct conflict with the plot as it plays out, and the capricious, arbitrary sadism of the queen is the shallowest and least sensical sort of evil.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Your taste is very similar to China Meiville's I noticed.


Keely Is it? I know we share some views on Tolkien, but I'm not familiar with his opinions on Lewis. Then again, knowing something about Mieville's reading habits, I wouldn't be surprised if we had a similar outlook there, too.


Jocelyn You know that annoying feeling when you just freaking can't put what you want to say in words, then later on a bother person comes along and says exactly what you wanted, only so much more eloquently?

That's how I feel with this review. Thanks Keely!


Keely Thanks, it's kind of you to say so. Glad you liked it.


message 28: by Tra-Kay (last edited Mar 19, 2013 06:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tra-Kay Hi Keely,

I liked your review that perturbs me so well, I'ma break it down.

I first read this as a child, and so I'm going to try and explain Aslan, your biggest complaint, through my child's eyes.

"Aslan had no character, he was just a big, dull stand-in."

Aslan's character is that of a king seen from afar, or a very proper adult that you don't know very well. His imposing figure and baritone voice make him seem dignified and powerful, but his gentle treatment of the children makes being in his presence feel comforting and reliable. You say he is not charming, but I found his romping with the girls very charming. He's like a big, strong dog you know will always be there for you, or the kindly but little-known pastor of a church. It's not his character, but his position, that robs him of further traits. I never felt that he was a flat character, but rather one of those sorts of people whose deeper thoughts and feelings you rarely or never are permitted to see. Sometimes, this kind of figure is exactly the sort one needs to feel safe and secure. While I didn't consciously associate him with anyone, I certainly associated Aslan more with my rarely-seen but much-beloved father than with Christ.

"Lewis often tells us how great he is, but never demonstrates what it is that makes him great or impressive. Sure, he helps the kids, but all that makes him is a plot facilitator."

...and great and impressive. He restores spring to the world and the creatures of Narnia to life. He leads the battle to defeat the White Witch and her minions. You could say that about any character: "Sure, Julia's part of the reason Winston gets caught, but all that makes her is a plot facilitator."

"He did not draw on the elaborate, convoluted apocrypha of hallucinatory monsters and miracles that mystics obsess over, instead, he made a small, sane, reasonable magical world--which rather defeats the point. It is unfortunate that many of today's readers think of Lewis' writings as defining English fairy tales, since his late additions to the genre are not original, nor are they particularly well-executed examples."

Few fairy stories are truly original. Almost everything borrows from something. I've read some of the older ones, like Lud-in-the-Mist or The Little White Horse, and they have less magic or fantastic creatures than this book, which fairly overflows with them in the latter half, even if they aren't new. Weird that you suggest he ought to have referenced the past to make something more original.

Anyhow, if you know another story that has the slow and exciting build-up of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- with the children isolated and Lucy discovering Narnia through the cupboard (the moment when she feels the first hint of cold air is so exciting), which perfectly increases in pace until the climax -- please tell me about it. Most of the books I read botch the tempo sooner or later. I should mention I am biased in my love of winter.

"In all of his worlds, he takes the sorts of people he dislikes, defines them as 'evil', then sets himself apart from them."

This is another seemingly contradictory comment, because you said that the White Witch has no personality, so how could she be a sort of person that he dislikes? Unless he dislikes PURE EVIL or something. I'm on the fence about evil myself.

"There is no attempt to comprehend or to come to mutual understanding. I cannot respect a book which encourages people to vilify what they don't understand and to call isolation righteous."

Does this book really teach people to vilify what they don't understand? This seems to be often overlooked, but the White Witch isn't the only villain in it. Edmund always struck me as the more despicable. The White Witch was simply a demon; a shard of ice; a beautiful, vain, and cruel temptress. You want her to lose, but it's hard to feel actual negative feelings toward her. Edmund, on the other hand, falls prey to her tricks, with resentment in his heart. He greedily and pridefully betrays his siblings for beauty, power, and Turkish delight. The animals or his siblings could have been angry at him, punished him, or thought less of him as a person. But instead they treat him with understanding and forgiveness. This always stood out more to me than the antagonism against the White Witch, who is literally not even an animal. I know that you and I don't believe in such a thing as pure evil, but you have to remember that Christians do.


Keely Tra-Kay said: "I never felt that he was a flat character, but rather one of those sorts of people whose deeper thoughts and feelings you rarely or never are permitted to see."

Well, how would you tell the difference between a character who had no internal life and one who had a hidden internal life? If an author does not depict something, I assume that thing does not exist--I'm not going to give an author credit for what they have left out.

And beyond that, his actions did not make sense to me from the point of internal motivation, they just seemed arbitrary: he allows the witch to take over and hurt the animals for centuries, and then gets rid of her again when it suits him. It was this convenient plot facilitation that I felt made him empty.

You could say that about any character: "Sure, Julia's part of the reason Winston gets caught, but all that makes her is a plot facilitator."

There's a difference between interacting with the plot, as a good character should, and being the sole moving force behind the plot. As I said before, there is no apparent reason in the book that the witch should have ruled so much of Narnia except that Aslan allowed her to, and consequently, no reason for Aslan to wait for the children to show up in order to stop the pain of the animals.

He is a plot facilitator in the sense that all he does is move the plot along--he has no character outside of this role.

"Weird that you suggest he ought to have referenced the past to make something more original."

I find Lewis unoriginal because every aspect of his world has already been explored in greater depth by previous fantasy authors. There is nothing he does here that sets him apart. And as for referencing the past, all ideas come from some source, some inspiration, and what sets original thinkers apart is their ability to combine and synthesize ideas from many different sources into a new and interesting vision.

"This is another seemingly contradictory comment, because you said that the White Witch has no personality, so how could she be a sort of person that he dislikes?"

Precisely because Lewis is unable to comprehend (and hence, to write) people who hold different views of the world. It's not that he thinks people are evil, and then dislikes them, it's that he dislikes people, and then justifies that dislike by equating them with senseless malice. He puts on her certain external traits that he associates with 'fallen reason', but unlike Milton, has no capability to understand or define what that reason actually is.

"Does this book really teach people to vilify what they don't understand? . . . I know that you and I don't believe in such a thing as pure evil, but you have to remember that Christians do."

I do remember than, and that is precisely the unhealthy lesson to which I refer: the notion that hardship and blame can be easily and thoughtlessly tied to an ideal ('evil') which is nebulous and easy for a person to redefine so that it serves their need to justify their own position and vilify others.

The belief that there is some 'pure evil' out there that opposes you, and that can be blamed for all wrongdoing in the world is unhealthy--indeed, it is an egotistical, paranoid persecution complex.


Samantha Egley Newly so far I have only seen negative comments and critiques from you on goodreads. don't you ever just read a book for the fun of it? For the wonder that someone inventented it for your enjoyment? Negativity takes the fun out of reading.


message 31: by Tra-Kay (last edited Mar 30, 2013 11:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tra-Kay "Well, how would you tell the difference between a character who had no internal life and one who had a hidden internal life?"

I always felt that his more "human" flaws were hinted at, but not directly portrayed. Aslan does display personality and emotion; he does speak with color and take meaningful action, as I described before. By "hinted at", I mean moments like his sorrow when he's captured, or his puppylike antics with the girls when there's important shit goin' down. I think you're brushing a lot of evidence for character aside because the plot annoys you so.

"And beyond that, his actions did not make sense to me from the point of internal motivation, they just seemed arbitrary: he allows the witch to take over and hurt the animals for centuries, and then gets rid of her again when it suits him. It was this convenient plot facilitation that I felt made him empty."

I think you're simplifying and twisting it. Wasn't it the children, according to some ancient prophecy, that had to come and break the spell?

"I find Lewis unoriginal because every aspect of his world has already been explored in greater depth by previous fantasy authors. There is nothing he does here that sets him apart. And as for referencing the past, all ideas come from some source, some inspiration, and what sets original thinkers apart is their ability to combine and synthesize ideas from many different sources into a new and interesting vision."

I really think this is a matter of taste. There's never been a story about a land in eternal winter found by four children walking through a wardrobe, but you could find ways to say that it's not original, though it's certainly a more original story than a lot of fantasy (the novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, for example). I don't know of any stories that mix Santa Claus into fantasy, or have him handing out weapons at that. I'm also not sure that bringing petrified creatures back to life with a lion's breath is exactly a normal thing. A lot of people find it interesting. The fact that you didn't doesn't mean it IS NOT INTERESTING and they're all wrong. Taste.

"Precisely because Lewis is unable to comprehend (and hence, to write) people who hold different views of the world. It's not that he thinks people are evil, and then dislikes them, it's that he dislikes people, and then justifies that dislike by equating them with senseless malice. He puts on her certain external traits that he associates with 'fallen reason', but unlike Milton, has no capability to understand or define what that reason actually is."

Do you mean to say is that Lewis attempted to portray, in the White Witch, a sort of person that he dislikes; but was incapable and could only portray a characterless and malice-filled person? If she isn't any particular sort of person, how can you possibly know that Lewis intended to portray a sort of human being that he dislikes? You understand that by your very own argument you have no evidence for your argument.

"I do remember than, and that is precisely the unhealthy lesson to which I refer: the notion that hardship and blame can be easily and thoughtlessly tied to an ideal ('evil') which is nebulous and easy for a person to redefine so that it serves their need to justify their own position and vilify others.

The belief that there is some 'pure evil' out there that opposes you, and that can be blamed for all wrongdoing in the world is unhealthy--indeed, it is an egotistical, paranoid persecution complex.
"

Agreed in terms of such lessons being detrimental. You have completely ignored what I said about Edmund, however, which was extremely relevant to these comments. The book distinguishes between pure evil and human beings who are just misguided.


Keely Samantha said: "I have only seen negative comments and critiques from you on goodreads. don't you ever just read a book for the fun of it? . . . Negativity takes the fun out of reading."

Sure, I enjoy a lot of books, and I love the sense of joy and wonder a good book gives me. However, there are also a lot of books out there that aren't very good, and when I read one of those, I write a review about what I didn't like. I don't think it's negativity that makes reading less fun, I think its bad writing.

Tra-Kay said: "I always felt that his more "human" flaws were hinted at, but not directly portrayed . . . I think you're brushing a lot of evidence for character aside"

And I think you're putting more character into Aslan than is actually there. I did not find any such subtle, intriguing characterization. I guess one of us must be mistaken, but we seem to be at an impasse over which of us that might be.

"Wasn't it the children, according to some ancient prophecy, that had to come and break the spell?"

Yes, it was, but only because Lewis said so. There's no moral, philosophical, or character psychology reason for the story to be set up that way, it just is that way because it's convenient for the author. It's a cheap hand wave.

"There's never been a story about a land in eternal winter found by four children walking through a wardrobe . . ."

The 'characters travel in an odd way to a strange land and have to deal with the friendly and unfriendly creatures there' plot was a standard throughout the Victorian, it's one of the basic setups for the classic British Fairy Story.

"it's certainly a more original story than a lot of fantasy (the novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, for example). I don't know of any stories that mix Santa Claus into fantasy . . . I'm also not sure that bringing petrified creatures back to life with a lion's breath is exactly a normal thing. A lot of people find it interesting. The fact that you didn't doesn't mean it IS NOT INTERESTING and they're all wrong. Taste."

Doesn't sound like a matter of taste to me, but a matter of experience. I find Lewis' fantasy dull and unoriginal because it greatly resembled many earlier fantasy stories I have read, but isn't as well written. If you haven't got that background, and are only comparing him to modern pulp authors like Weis and Hickman, of course he's going to seem interesting. However, just because an idea is new to you doesn't mean it's new to the world.

"If she isn't any particular sort of person, how can you possibly know that Lewis intended to portray a sort of human being that he dislikes?"

Because Lewis fills all of his books with condescending moralizing that lets us know precisely the sorts of people he does and does not value.

"The book distinguishes between pure evil and human beings who are just misguided."

Yes, but it doesn't distinguish between the two in a meaningful way precisely because evil is this automatic, undefined thing. It affects people and takes advantage of them, especially their ignorance and naivety, but Lewis does not develop any line that allows us to separate the effects of ignorance from malice.

It ignores the internal motivations of the characters, the fact that there are reasons that people make bad decisions, and it's not just because they are stupidly flailing around in the world, there are deeper concerns at hand.

But then, I don't think Lewis is capable of developing and presenting such a world, or such characters, precisely because his view of morality is so fraught and oddly Calvinistic. I understand that the interaction between the witch and Edmund is supposed to represent an ignorant person lead down the wrong path by temptation, but I don't think it's an effective or accurate representation, because the temptation is nonsensical: it is not actually tempting or motivating.


message 33: by Tra-Kay (last edited Mar 30, 2013 07:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tra-Kay Oh, whatever. Impasses all around.

Give me a recommendation of a better novel if this one's so cliche, dummy. I've read a lot of short fairytales in the vein of Christen-Anderson and Grimm, but I have only read about five earlier fantasy novels. I've found them excessively wordy and slow, even when I like them (this isn't a matter of attention span; I adored The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for example, despite nicknaming it The Architecture of Notre Dame). I think the pacing of The Lion etc. is perfect. Please, by all means, correct my poor ignorant tastes.

Addendum: I suspect that other people tend to bend more often in debating with you than the other way around. This is not necessarily because you are usually right about your every argument, but perhaps because you are very inflexible and people get bored. The above poster is annoyed because you also act quite holier-than-thou about the whole thing. Yes, you're intelligent. But anyone can be wrong.

P.S. I have a crush on you.


message 34: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Bedell Keely, do not be fooled by the advances of that trollop. Tis mearly bait! =)


Tra-Kay I resent that, sir, on the grounds that you have misspelled "merely."


Keely "Give me a recommendation of a better novel if this one's so cliche, dummy."

Well, there is the link at the end of my review to My Fantasy Suggestions, since quite a few people have asked. On that list is Dunsany, Eddison, Kipling, Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and Poul Anderson, who were writing before or contemporaneously with Lewis--alongside older works such as the Arabian Nights, the Orlando Furioso, Gilgamesh, or the Epic of King Gesar.

Speaking of tales of those trapped in 'Other Worlds' I could also add Alice in Wonderland, the phantasmagorical works of Lovecraft, Bierce, Blackwood, Machen, and Chambers, or even E.R. Burroughs John Carter of Mars series, which I found to be about as inane as Narnia, but more fun (and less moralizing).

There are also many works I only know by study and reputation, but haven't had the chance to experience firsthand such as those of Nesbit, Ashton Smith, George MacDonald, Ruskin's King of Golden River, or William Morris.

Of course, if you didn't care for the wording or pacing of some of those earlier writers, you may find a similar distaste with the styles of authors like Dunsany and Eddison. Perhaps you could seek out an excerpt first to see if it's amenable to you.

"I suspect that other people tend to bend more often in debating with you than the other way around. This is not necessarily because you are usually right about your every argument, but perhaps because you are very inflexible and people get bored."

I guess I find it difficult to believe that the world is full of people who possess remarkable observations and insights but get bored so easily that they are incapable of sharing them. Even if that were the way of the world, I'm not sure what I could do to improve it.

I mean, I've had the experience of people coming along and just blowing me out of the water, changing my mind with the furious intensity of their insight--it's a rather invigorating experience. When I'm talking with someone about ideas, I'm waiting for them to say something that will arrest me, to give me some new point of view--if I don't get that, then I'm probably not going to change my mind on the subject.

It's not about stubbornness, it's that there's a certain threshold of insight and refutation that has to take place in order to change someone's mind. If I say I think Aslan is shallow, and you say he's subtly complex, those are just opposing opinions, there's no particular insight or argument there.

I'm not going to roll over on a simple contradiction.

"Yes, you're intelligent. But anyone can be wrong."

You're very kind, and yes, I am wrong--I'm wrong all the time, and always have been. I could easily be wrong about this, I could have missed something vital, but unless someone shows me what it is that I've missed, then here I sit.

As ever, what I've put out is my best view on the subject: my opinions and thoughts. Certainly much of it may be wrong, and it's certainly far from complete, but all I can do is put forth my best and see what others say.

If people think that makes me pretentious or stubborn, I'm not going to cater to think that. Sure, I could be soft and apologetic and fill my reviews with 'I think' to soften the blow, but it all seems like so much chaff to me. These are my thoughts, and I'm not going to hide them--people have enough trouble finding them as it is. If people get frustrated or bored and want to shove off, then I'm glad: why would I want to discuss books with people who get bored discussing books?

I mean, I know GR isn't the best place to have a discussion on literary criticism--or even criticism-light, as I'm practicing--it's not an ideal situation, but if someone wants to pop in and say I'm wrong, then I want to know why, and I want to see it, so I'm going to do my best to get at the crux of it, and if that drives someone away, then I doubt they had anything of worth to share in the first place.

"P.S. I have a crush on you."

First you call me a dummy, now this. It only makes me glad that girls didn't like me in grade school.

Bryan said: "Keely, do not be fooled by the advances of that trollop."

Well, it's a new approach--I have to give her that. You don't see many of those after as many years on GR as I have.


message 37: by Keely (last edited Apr 01, 2013 09:10AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Keely Oh, I could also suggest a collection called 'Tales Before Tolkien' which includes a lot of the classic English Fairy Story authors from whom tolkien and Lewis' works are derived, and presents a lot of the familiar tropes of the genre.

Oh, and it looks like the editor of that volume also did another book specifically on stories that influenced the creation of Narnia.


message 38: by Tra-Kay (last edited Apr 06, 2013 10:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tra-Kay I was feeling jolly and ready to drop the whole thing, inflexible and repetitive as we were getting, but I consider your response an implication that I did so because I had no further argument nor comment, and I simply can't ignore that.

I also largely dropped it because I have a tendency to get caught up in your comments on this page, thinking, "How wonderfully phrased!" and losing track of my train of thought. I have a tendency to win arguments more often than not when I'm fully knowledgeable on the subject, which I've speculated can lead a person to mistakenly thinking that they are usually right, when in fact perhaps they are simply good at debates. I called you dummy completely affectionately and "I have a crush on you" was another way of saying that I like debating with you (tricky, I know), but what caused me to become a little personal and aggressive otherwise was a sort of righteous indignation.

You see, nobody who has commented on this review is as knowledgeable or eloquent as you: people who may actually have more unique thoughts or stronger arguments in concept are still likely to lose. People who get away with things because they are physically stronger make me angry, and I felt vaguely the same about your steady dispatching of adversaries here, due to how damned right you give the impression of thinking that you are, when really some ideas presented were no worse than your own.

"Opinions are things we earn by learning about them and being able to defend them. If someone said 'all albinos should be put in jail', we don't think 'he's entitled to that opinion', we think 'why do you think that, can you defend that statement?'"

Your education and your greater ability to defend your opinions are privileges, and since your mind works the same way as mine in carrying thoughts to their full conclusions, I'm sure you can see how wickedly the world is made when not the right, but even the ability, to express oneself is powerfully affected by upbringing and opportunity. Being able to defend an opinion is not necessarily proof that it is more correct.

I respect that you respond to every comment with the same level of consideration, and I realize that you can't do anything about what I've just said (and, as you said, why would you want to be less capable anyway); simply, be aware that the bursts of frustration that you sometimes encounter, like, "don't you ever just read a book for the fun of it?" most likely come from this sense of helplessness and unfairness that you subconsciously inspire with your dogged capability. You almost give the impression that you believe that the inability to well defend one's opinions is a matter of mental laziness, but for some people it's simply so much harder and they falter.

"I look around me sometimes and get sick to my stomach. Why the hell don't these bastards do something? I wonder. They don't do a damn thing, and then they bitch."

Amazed at the harshness of his tone, I looked at Nagasawa. "The way I see it, people are working hard. They're working their fingers to the bone. Or am I looking at things wrong?"

"That's not hard work. It's just manual labor," Nagasawa said with finality. "The 'hard work' I'm talking about is more self-directed and purposeful."

"You mean, like studying Spanish when the job season ends and everybody else is taking it easy?"

"That's it. I'm going to have Spanish mastered by next spring. I've got English and German and French down pat, and I'm most of the way there with Italian. You think things like that happen without hard work?"

Nagasawa puffed on his cigarette while I thought about Midori's father. There was one man who had probably never even thought about starting Spanish lessons on TV. He had probably never thought about the difference between hard work and manual labor, either. He was probably too busy to think about such things--busy with work, and busy bringing home a daughter who had run away to Fukushima."

-Norwegian Wood

That said.
I'm not giving up the fight yet, you scallywag!

Your first main criticism is that Aslan has no character. I have given examples of a couple of scenes that portrayed character beyond the basic fatherly, commanding characteristics that he is given in nearly all of his appearances. You really can no longer argue that he has no character, even if you found his actions illogical, because those scenes show character. I think it would be more accurate to say that you found his character unrealistic, or have no interest in the sort of character that he has, or found some of the narrative claims about him unsubstantiated.

The latter is the real problem: his actions or words in the book's present time aren't out of line with the claim that he is "good," but rather the logic of the past in connection with the present and the Narnian world as a whole are unconvincing. If Aslan is good, you say, how can he have allowed the animals to suffer? You ignore his positive actions once the children arrive because of his inactivity pre-arrival. But I think that Aslan should be disconnected from the logical issue, since he really is a positive force and imposing, good-natured, forgiving figure once he does arrive. It's funny that you say you aren't going to intuit qualities not explicitly shown, because your main argument against his character is based on what he does not do when the children (and consequently reader) are not present. The plot is illogical; his character, as we see it, is consistent.

I maintain what I said about the White Witch, as well. She may be contradictory, even foolish, and act with untimely malice; but beings are not always logical, and that goes for both her and her followers. Her beauty, rich attire, charm, and confidence are more than enough (consider that US presidents are almost unfailingly tall) for her to earn followers. Overall, she is a perfect lesser demon; and demon she is essentially described as being: the book mentions that she is not human, but half Jinn and half giantess.

I believe that you are biased against Lewis and carried your critical evaluations of him over into this book, where they do not always belong.

This leads into another of about five major complaints: the demonization of the White Witch teaching children to hate what they don't understand. You made this sound convincing, but examined as a plain statement, it makes no sense at all. I don't know what you have encountered in Lewis in other works, but in this one, evil is not an "undefined thing": it is defined in the White Witch as inflexible and triumphant malice.

You say that, "Lewis does not develop any line that allows us to separate the effects of ignorance from malice," and that the book, "ignores the internal motivations of the characters, the fact that there are reasons that people make bad decisions, and it's not just because they are stupidly flailing around in the world, there are deeper concerns at hand." Lewis makes it clear from the beginning of the book that Edmund is the most unhappy with the state of the world and the upheaval of the children's lives. He resents Susan's mothering nature, implying that he misses their real mother. He also feels that the other children do not respect him. He is enchanted by the White Witch because she gives him exactly what he wants: purported respect, flattery, a sense of being special in a way that his siblings are not, a higher female authority that he can respect, and finery and foods that contrast with his dusty circumstances in the real world. (Clearly this is tempting for him; perhaps it is not tempting for you, but that doesn't make a very strong argument.) When he realizes his folly and returns to his siblings in acknowledgement of his mistake, he is instantly forgiven.

Your arguments about this seem based on something entirely separate from the book, and the fact that you followed them with, "But then, I don't think Lewis is capable of developing and presenting such a world, or such characters, precisely because his view of morality is so fraught and oddly Calvinistic," makes it clear that that something is the opinions you have developed prior to reading the book, probably intending to view it impartially but finding enough in error for confirmation bias to cover the rest. It is you who are judging without sufficient cause.

I can't speak on the point of whether the fantasy is cliched, apparently; but I found the pacing excellent, the myriad fantastical creatures interesting (I particularly like seeing real giants in fantasy, as they are rare in my experience), and the characters of the children and animals distinct. I liked watching Lucy gain self-confidence.

I actually had looked at your fantasy recommendations, and Tales Before Tolkien is already on my to-read list. (I haven't read Tolkien, as my father handed me The Hobbit when I was about ten and it bored me to sleep.)

I like Kipling a lot, but he is nothing like this. I read Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions and found it fairly bad. I consider the Arabian Nights to be fairytales, not a children's fantasy novel proper. Alice in Wonderland is good, though not as good as Through the Looking-Glass. In fact, I think that captures what I liked about this book, and what I wish I could find more of in general: the very clear, tight pacing of Looking-Glass rather than the more disconnected and roundabout style of Under Ground. MacDonald is wonderful, though again, more of a fairytale style than a novel.

I looked at your recommendations, but I am asking anyway because you recommended too many things, some of which I already plan to read and one of which I didn't much care for. Also, you said that you had read books like this except good and I want to know what you have read that involves so many different creatures and personalities without being tediously convoluted.

Again, wintery landscapes are a huge plus. That is my biggest personal bias in this. (I have an obsession with "The Snow Queen.") My other most-beloved fairytale is "Bluebeard," so you may begin to get an impression of my aesthetic tastes.

If you could make one recommendation of a fantasy novel to show me what The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ought to have been?


Keely "I was feeling jolly and ready to drop the whole thing, inflexible and repetitive as we were getting"

A feeling I've come to know rather well, here on GR--after all, it's very few discussions that end with even a rudimentary breed of mutual understanding, most just fade out after a bit of repetition and restatement.

"nobody who has commented on this review is as knowledgeable or eloquent as you: people who may actually have more unique thoughts or stronger arguments in concept are still likely to lose."

Yeah, as I said, it's not an ideal place to have an in-depth book discussion. Sure, it happens occasionally, but knowledgeable people aren't exactly common.

What's interesting is your notion that a less knowledgeable person might possess a more insightful approach or better arguments--it is something I have come across before, but in my experience, it's exceedingly rare. Indeed, I'd say the unknowledgeable, ineloquent person of powerful insight is far more uncommon than the knowledgeable, eloquent person of insight.

I guess most people I know who produce fascinating insights on books have a lifelong interest in literature and writing, the pursuit of which tends to lead to a certain level of knowledge and eloquence. To me, it's like finding a painter who can't sketch--certainly possible, but hardly likely based on the process by which one tends to become a painter.

So yeah, if someone wants to do manual labor all day, that's cool, but when they run up to me and say 'Your Italian pronunciation sucks!' when they don't speak a word of Italian, I'm going to assume they are a total ass.

"Your education and your greater ability to defend your opinions are privileges"

Well, they are also things I have had to fight and sacrifice for, but the fact that I was able to fight and had things to sacrifice is a kind of privilege, certainly.

"even the ability, to express oneself is powerfully affected by upbringing and opportunity."

Quite true, but you're talking about the person and the process, not the end result. Of course, there must be certain opportunities and privileges present in order to produce a great mathematician or basketball player, but their final level of capability is undeniable, whatever the source. the theory is correct, or it isn't--the shot will go in, or it won't. In the end, the skill must stand on its own.

"Being able to defend an opinion is not necessarily proof that it is more correct."

No, but we don't have anything else by which we can judge. But as you say, there's not really anything I can do about it: this is the system of knowledge, and it isn't reasonable to go around implicitly believing in people who can't defend their ideas. Sure, they could be right, but they are much less likely to be right than a person who can.

A reasonable person believes in what is reasonable, and an incoherent, unsupported opinion is never going to be the most reasonable choice.

"You almost give the impression that you believe that the inability to well defend one's opinions is a matter of mental laziness, but for some people it's simply so much harder and they falter."

It's not that I fault people for being unable to defend their opinions--that's something I understand. I have many areas in which I am not knowledgeable, and am incapable of being eloquent or insightful; that's just part of being human.

What frustrates me are people who are passionately, angrily ignorant, who think that their opinions are just as good as anyone else's when they haven't done the necessary footwork. They don't know what they're talking about, they can't present their ideas in a sensible way, and yet they still behave as if they are correct and everyone else is wrong. That is the behavior which I will not excuse.

When I write a review, I do my best to put my thoughts and reasons out there, I make them accessible so people can understand and respond to them. I feel that I have done a certain amount of work, enough to justify expressing myself.

If someone wants to say "I disagree, I liked it", that's fine. However, if they say "I know you're wrong, I just can't explain why", that's not cool, because if a person can't explain something, then they don't actually know it.

the laziness is not that someone is unable to defend their opinions, it's that the fact that they cannot defend them is not an indicator to them that they might have a flawed view.

"I have given examples of a couple of scenes that portrayed character beyond the basic fatherly, commanding characteristics"

I found the scenes you suggested to be perfectly in line with a vague Fatherly presence, and to suggest nothing more.

"The plot is illogical; his character, as we see it, is consistent."

But Aslan is little more than a plot facilitator--so the flaws of the plot are his character flaws, because he has the power to control and alter the plot as he sees fit.

"the White Witch . . . may be contradictory, even foolish, and act with untimely malice; but beings are not always logical"

Certainly, beings are not always logical, but a character (like a person) should have internal motivations that drive them, their turns in mood should make sense, based upon what we see if them. For me, her sudden irrational turns did not seem to arise from any particular aspect of her character or internal motivation, which is why I read her as a set of general 'bad traits' placed piecemeal onto a representative figure without much thought of whether they made sense as a whole.

"I believe that you are biased against Lewis and carried your critical evaluations of him over into this book, where they do not always belong."

This is one of the first Lewis books I read, and the depiction of Aslan and the Witch were integral to the development of my understanding of his approach, as I feel I express in my review. My expression of his Calvinism I feel is particularly supported by this book, where the grand 'plan' of Aslan to redeem the children through the deliberate suffering of others suggests a state where some are simply chosen and others left by the wayside.

"Lewis makes it clear from the beginning of the book that Edmund is the most unhappy with the state of the world and the upheaval of the children's lives."

Quite true, and it's clear that this was Lewis' aim. Really, I don't find Lewis to be mysterious, I think it's always clear what he's trying to do with his plot and characters, I just don't think he achieves his aims. In this case, the queen was clearly stupid and arbitrarily malicious, and so the fact that Edmund fell for her felt condescending to me. I understand that 'little boys like candy' and all that, but I'm afraid that's not quite enough to produce an interesting character dynamic.

"I want to know what you have read that involves so many different creatures and personalities without being tediously convoluted."

Well, for once I agree with Tolkien that Lewis' inclusion of a random grab-bag of fantasy creatures with little thought for how they all might operate under the allegorical framework does make the book rather shapeless and silly. Indeed, I think Lewis' decision to do this is one of the great errors in his series, so the idea of 'doing it well' seems a bit odd, like asking if I've ever read an author who 'maintained a condescending tone throughout like Lewis, but did it well'.

However, I have read adult and classic fare like the Orlando Furioso which manages to combine a number of odd and conflicting mythic traditions into a delightful and conceptually interesting romp, so perhaps it is possible, though it would take one of the cleverer writers in history to achieve it and make it work for child readers.

So no, I cannot make one recommendation for a novel which contains all the various nonsensical elements of Narnia, but turns them right. When I say I've read books like this but good, I mean books of the early British fairy tale tradition concerning being lost in other worlds. Some contain combinations of mythic traditions, others demonstrate the conflict between Christian and Pagan ideas, while still others depict a conflict between 'evil' and 'good' that still manages to be character-driven and unified conceptually.

The only aspects of Lewis' tale that I found to be original were the problematic ones that better authors wisely avoided (the allegorical moralizing, the mythological mash-up).

But yeah, feels like going in circles again. Sorry if you felt I was goading you into responding--not my intention--I'm just trying to work through this and get somewhere, but it doesn't seem to be happening. It's at moments like this when I feel like I need to go back to the drawing board with a dozen new books until I feel I have a better grasp of things, and hopefully a fresh perspective.


message 40: by Arabella (new)

Arabella  Adrienne But, my dear sir, we must remember that these are children's books. And while we mustn't see this as a crutch, we must definitely remember this in our critiquing. These books were written to entice children- hence the simple prose and characters. C.S. Lewis was brilliant in the fact that he managed to entwine the allegory message that he wanted to portray while making it interesting and enjoyable for the younger generation. And countless, countless numbers of children have grown up with these books, and quite honestly, have probably had their lives changed by them.

While Aslan and the White Witch may not have very much personality, I personally don't think they were meant to. I think they were meant to embody Mr. Lewis's views on good and evil, on Christ and Satan, and to get these children who are reading these books to THINK. To think about Aslan's sacrifice, to think about this world that may be simple, however it feels as if you can almost step into that wardrobe an be there. And when these children grow up, they will look back at the dusty books at the bottom of their shelf and they will remember the characters, the questions, and it will cause them to at least think, again, about the embodiments of good and evil, about the way that it relates to their life.

Children aren't going to be looking for hidden motives and a deep plot. They are going to be looking for a story. And this is, most definitely, a story, and in my opinion, a good one. But this was what C.S. Lewis was trying to do- trying to embody good and evil, to raise these questions in children's minds, to make them think late into the night about Aslan and the four Pevensies and their adventures in Narnia. And this was the brilliance of Mr. Lewis's writing, and what makes the books linger in culture even today, fifty years after it was published.


message 41: by Tra-Kay (last edited Apr 22, 2013 05:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tra-Kay Wait, wait. I got this. I'll be being Keely for this exercise.

"But, my dear sir, we must remember that these are children's books. And while we mustn't see this as a crutch, we must definitely remember this in our critiquing. These books were written to entice children- hence the simple prose and characters."

I don't think 'Children's Literature' should be an excuse for writers to write thoughtlessly. Indeed, in some ways, writing literature for children is much harder than writing for adults.

It is not beneficial to children to feed them a small, oversimplified world, especially if that world, like Lewis's, leaves differences in philosophy undefined and oversimplified into 'good' and 'evil'. Lewis takes things he does not like (or does not understand) about other people and defines them as evil, but without trying to recognize their motives for acting as they do. He is satisfied to simply condemn them.

"C.S. Lewis was brilliant in the fact that he managed to entwine the allegory message that he wanted to portray while making it interesting and enjoyable for the younger generation. And countless, countless numbers of children have grown up with these books, and quite honestly, have probably had their lives changed by them."

Some children find them interesting and enjoyable, as do some adults. That does not make them good fiction, or good children's fiction. What is popular is not necessarily good. The same goes for the influence on children's lives.

"And when these children grow up, they will look back at the dusty books at the bottom of their shelf and they will remember the characters, the questions, and it will cause them to at least think, again, about the embodiments of good and evil, about the way that it relates to their life."

Well, I didn't like it and I'm the king of fantasy literature, so there! My throne is composed of stolen library copies of Dunsany's novels, and my crown is papier-mâché of the Conan series. My sceptre glows grey as a representation of the melding of parchment and ink, and the blurry reality of life where good and evil are not so easily defined. Meanwhile, the carpet that I lay before my feet is woven from Harry Potter books that I may always tread upon them, and the fire burning in my hearth rests on the ashes of Narnia. May fantasy always be old and complicated and logical and realistic, but not too realistic! Approach not the throne of Keely with your petty perturbances!


message 42: by Arabella (new)

Arabella  Adrienne Have you ever considered the fact that the simple prose, the simple characters do not automatically signal bad writing, but simple brilliancy? C.S. Lewis knew that if he wrote tons of purple prose and beautiful language, little elementary-school children would not understand, nor would they care. So he wrote with simple words. And I think that Aslan and the White Witch were only his introductions to good and evil- or, his introduction to religion and Christianity, which for some children may not have been a part of their life before reading these books. So call his prose what you will, but please do not call it bad. Just because it is simpler than your tastes does not make it bad, it simply means that Mr. Lewis did not feel the need to spell everything out for his readers.

It's quite like a superhero story, is it not? Archetypical "good guys", archetypical "bad guys". But at least with C.S. Lewis, he found a way to subtly introduce children to Christianity. And while you might say, "Subtle? I think not!" I say- Honestly, do you remember when you were eight or nine? Unless you grew up in a church, then chances are you knew nothing about Jesus Christ, or His ultimate sacrifice. But by reading these books- this creature, this majestic lion's ultimate sacrifice- then, when you grow up and hear about Christ, then you'll realize just what C.S. Lewis did, and appreciate it all the more. At least, I do.

And, please. I understand that you may consider yourself the fantasy queen, but just because you don't like a book doesn't mean it is completely terrible- and while just because something is popular doesn't necessarily mean it's good, it doesn't necessarily mean it's bad either. I didn't particularly care for the Twilight series, the Hunger Games were okay, but Harry Potter and Narnia are some of my favorite books- two incredibly popular sets of books, both of which I found to be unique and amazing.

**Another C.S. Lewis book I am currently working on, but so far is superb, is Mere Christianity. If you are interested, please check it out!!! :)


Keely Tra-Kay said: "Well, I didn't like it and I'm the king of fantasy literature, so there!"

You were getting along rather well until that point. I've never claimed that my opinions are superior to anyone else's--I have merely stated that they are mine, and I hold them for certain reasons. Certainly, there are many things about me that can (and should) be mocked--but you've fallen rather short of the mark to paint me as someone who thinks they know better.

I am a fool, and know nothing. These little reviews I write are half-competent attempts to understand literature. I have read good criticism, thorough criticism, and what I produce is far inferior. If I sometimes seem sure of myself, it is only because the comments I get are mostly devoid of insightful observations or refutation--but despite that, are full of pretension and assurety.

"May fantasy always be old and complicated and logical and realistic, but not too realistic!"

Actually, I've rated a number of modern fantasy books highly (Mieville and Clarke), as well as straightforward, uncomplex adventure fantasies (like Conan), and hallucinatory, phantasmagorical fantasies (like Dunsany). But of course, you know that, since not only have you read my suggestions, you also mention two writers I enjoy whose styles contradict your assertions about my taste.

I don't think it arrogant to disregard you if your own critiques are contradicted by the examples you provide--indeed, it seems perfectly reasonable to do so.

Arabella said: "Have you ever considered the fact that the simple prose, the simple characters do not automatically signal bad writing, but simple brilliancy?"

Certainly, I have no problem with straightforward writing and concepts, with the elegance and precision of unadorned prose. However, there is a difference between writing that is focused and uncomplicated and writing that is merely simplistic.

I did not find Lewis' writing to be well-constructed and thoughtful, indeed it seemed to have many extraneous and conflicting parts. The tone, structure, and characterization were not unified, they did not present a single, strong idea for their young audience, but tiptoed awkwardly around the ideas of good and evil, mocking them up without consistency or a sensible structure.

"But at least with C.S. Lewis, he found a way to subtly introduce children to Christianity."

I don't think they provide a very good introduction, because they lack internal consistency. Especially for children, these do not provide a basis for understanding what good and evil mean in human culture, indeed Lewis' representations are often self-contradictory and undermine the very points he seems intent on making.

I think it is a good introduction for children to self-justification and painting over the whole world with a wide brush--of course, I use the term 'good' here loosely, as to introduce such ideas into the heads of children is hardly beneficial.

I also don't think them very good at presenting Christian theology, even as a simplified introduction--again, because there are so many odd contradictions, unanswered questions, and heretical positions therein. Lewis is not respected by theologians and biblical scholars precisely because his work provides such an inconsistent, incoherent interpretation of the Christian faith.

Indeed, within Lewis' own lifetime, he was famously bested by another Christian thinker, elizabeth Anscombe, in a public debate where she pointed out many of the internal conflicts and problems in interpretation in Lewis' works, after which Lewis realized that he was not a good apologist, as his friend and biographer George Sayer wrote:
'He told me that he had been proved wrong, and that his argument for the existence of God had been demolished....The debate had been a humiliating experience, but perhaps it was ultimately good for him. In the past, he had been are too proud of his logical ability. Now he was humbled....'I can never write another book of that sort' he said to me of 'Miracles.' And he never did. He also never wrote another theological book. 'Reflections on the Psalms' is really devotional and literary; 'Letters to Malcolm' is also a devotional book, a series of reflections on prayer, without contentious arguments.'

"Harry Potter and Narnia are some of my favorite books- two incredibly popular sets of books, both of which I found to be unique and amazing."

I found them to be fairly unremarkable and unoriginal, myself--but it depends what you're comparing them to.

"Another C.S. Lewis book I am currently working on, but so far is superb, is Mere Christianity. If you are interested, please check it out!!! :)"

I've read it, I found it had all the same flaws as the Narnia books.


message 44: by Arabella (new)

Arabella  Adrienne The tone, structure, and characterization were not unified, they did not present a single, strong idea for their young audience, but tiptoed awkwardly around the ideas of good and evil, mocking them up without consistency or a sensible structure

I thought that the tone, structure and characterization were very much in line. Honestly, look at it this way. Four children are sent away from home because of a war, and while there they enter an alternate reality, where they discover they are destined to bring these creatures out of their darkness. With that kind of plot, the tone and structure are going to be simple and even-kiltered, in order not to really overwhelm the children who are reading it. But, I digress. The only reason it is necessary for the tone and structure to be even-kiltered and simple is because Mr. Lewis didn't make it a habit to get inside the four Pevensie's heads, like, for example, the Harry Potter books. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are all characters that it is very easy for the readers to step into their shoes, and go on this adventure with them.

In this world, there will be GOOD, and there will be EVIL. I think that what C.S. Lewis was trying to do was to make these bright-eyed, innocent kids aware that there are the "bad guys" in this life, and that sometimes, they are not what they appear. And, to me, he succeeded.

Lewis' representations are often self-contradictory and undermine the very points he seems intent on making.

Maybe it is only due to my pure idiocy - but I cannot think of a situation where Mr. Lewis contradicts himself. If you would not mind pointing a few out to me ...

I think it is a good introduction for children to self-justification and painting over the whole world with a wide brush

I cannot find any examples of self-justification that is not punished in the end. There is Edmund's succumbing to tempation - but he repents. And that brings me to my next point - did C.S. Lewis not just show, from this very example, that there is going to be evil in the world? And that evil is going to try to tempt you, try to trick you and lie to you? But it goes further. If someone truly loves you, as Edmund's siblings did, and you are truly repentent, as Edmund, I believe, was, they will - or should - forgive you. Two very valuable lessons right there, disguised in a children's book.

Lewis is not respected by theologians and biblical scholars precisely because his work provides such an inconsistent, incoherent interpretation of the Christian faith.


Christianity consists of reading the Bible, and forming your own opinion of it. Quite honestly, that is what it is. Some passages have different meanings for different people. Some people interpret them different ways. That is where "denominations" come in. If you believe that the Bible means one thing, you go with the denomination that believes the same. If you just want to study Scripture, it is common that you would go with a "nondenominational" church. (You may very well know this already. But I'm not fond of assuming people know things, so I went ahead and stated it.) I have gone to church and studied the Bible all my life, and from what I have read, C.S. Lewis hits the nail on the head for me. Mr. Lewis's and my interpretations are incredibly close to matching. Not everyone will agree with me on that, not even Christians. And I don't expect them to.

I found them to be fairly unremarkable and unoriginal, myself--but it depends what you're comparing them to.

Actually, I wasn't comparing them to anything. I look at books and judge them from their own, unique perspective - characterization, plot, etc. I don't have to compare them to something to decide how much I like or dislike them.


Keely Arabella said: "With that kind of plot, the tone and structure are going to be simple and even-kiltered"

As I said, I didn't find them to be simple and even, but contradictory and inconsistent.

"I cannot think of a situation where Mr. Lewis contradicts himself. If you would not mind pointing a few out to me ..."

I mention several in my review, such as the 'problem of evil' as represented by Aslan and the lack of motivation for the queen--both of these contradict the worldview that Lewis puts forth.

"Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are all characters that it is very easy for the readers to step into their shoes, and go on this adventure with them."

I guess I just found them so bland that I didn't feel much connection with them.

"Lewis was trying to do was to make these bright-eyed, innocent kids aware that there are the "bad guys" in this life, and that sometimes, they are not what they appear"

As I say in my review, I don't think Lewis' presentation of Good and Evil make sense, because they are self-contradictory. Indeed, the 'bad guy' is so precisely what she appears that I don't think the portrayal is an effective way to introduce children to the idea--the lesson that evil is self-evident and arbitrary is not a useful lesson to teach children--they'll just have to unlearn it later in life.

"I cannot find any examples of self-justification that is not punished in the end."

I'm referring to the self-justifying worldview in Lewis' works, that Good and Evil are taken for granted, despite the fact that they don't make sense internally. This is the sort of approach that allows people to be racist, jingoistic, and prejudiced in general, because it leads them to label as 'bad' anything they don't understand, and to call 'good' whatever agrees with them.

"evil is going to try to tempt you, try to trick you and lie to you?"

Yes, I understand that is what Edmund was supposed to represent, but I don't think it was an effective representation, because again, it was contradictory and superficial.

"Christianity consists of reading the Bible, and forming your own opinion of it . . . Some passages have different meanings for different people. Some people interpret them different ways."

Yes, but there is such a thing as 'informed opinion'. If someone comes out and says their interpretation of the bible is that God is Sean Connery and Jesus is a Golden Retriever puppy, and that the Ten Commandments are ironic reverse psychology, and that God really wants you to murder people, I don't think people are going to say 'well, that's his interpretation, and its just as valid as any other'.

Coming to terms with the meaning of the bible means researching its history, the events surrounding it, the philosophies with in, the language and structure used, the literary traditions and thinkers on which it was based. There are interpretations which are well-supported, and interpretations that are rather silly and nonsensical.

Overall, I did not find Lewis' theology to be particularly well thought out or effectively presented, and I think there are many points--such as the problem of evil, free will, and the definition of what evil is and how we can recognize it--where Lewis completely drops the ball.

"Actually, I wasn't comparing them to anything. I look at books and judge them from their own, unique perspective - characterization, plot, etc."

A thing cannot be unique unless you compare it to other things--that is what unique means, the way in which something stands out in comparison to the rest. You said you found Lewis' work unique, whereas I found it to be unoriginal, that the style, ideas, and methods in it were not unique.


message 46: by Arabella (new)

Arabella  Adrienne lack of motivation for the queen--both of these contradict the worldview that Lewis puts forth.

The Queen’s motivation is power. Although C.S. Lewis does not specifically say that she is “power hungry”, he hints at it several times, starting with the queen wanting all the humans (“Sons of Adam”; “Daughters of Eve”) dead and gone, or at least somewhere where she could see them. Why? Because they test her power, her control. Even in the real world, people are power hungry, but don’t always . . . seem that way at first. And it this not the way it is in the real world? What other “worldview” would Mr. Lewis be trying to put forth?

I guess I just found them so bland that I didn't feel much connection with them.

This is going way back, to the whole “children’s literature” thing. It’s sort of like in Twilight. Anyone older than about thirty (and that’s pushing it) aren’t going to be able to step into Bella’s shoes like a high-schooler will. People like you and me (I assume), who have been through different things and went out into the world a bit, aren’t going to be able to slip into the Pevensie’s shoes like an eight-year-old could. (And trust me, I speak from experience. I read them when I was in second grade, seven or eight.) I didn’t care that, through young adult / adult standards, that they didn’t have much characterization or personality.

Indeed, the 'bad guy' is so precisely what she appears that I don't think the portrayal is an effective way to introduce children to the idea--the lesson that evil is self-evident and arbitrary is not a useful lesson to teach children--they'll just have to unlearn it later in life.

Again, I beg to differ. This novel shows that sometimes, people are not as they seem at the beginning (the White Witch) and slowly, the longer you know them, they will appear as they truly are, deep inside. They also teach that you should never succumb to jealousy or selfishness. Of course, sometimes, you will feel them - but you must overcome them, and the people who truly love you will accept you will open arms.

This is the sort of approach that allows people to be racist, jingoistic, and prejudiced in general, because it leads them to label as 'bad' anything they don't understand, and to call 'good' whatever agrees with them.

You do understand what the White Witch is doing, don’t you? Punishing innocent creatures! Putting them in an endless winter that has been going on for a century. If you had been there, would you have said that they just didn’t understand the witch. She wasn’t bad, or evil. She was just difficult to understand. I see what you are saying - but I don’t think that this book suggests this.

Yes, I understand that is what Edmund was supposed to represent, but I don't think it was an effective representation, because again, it was contradictory and superficial.

Contradictory and superficial . . . ?? I don’t understand. That might be the single most valuable scene in the whole novel, for all that it teaches children, or at least how I understood it as a child.



Yes, but there is such a thing as 'informed opinion'. If someone comes out and says their interpretation of the bible is that God is Sean Connery and Jesus is a Golden Retriever puppy, and that the Ten Commandments are ironic reverse psychology, and that God really wants you to murder people, I don't think people are going to say 'well, that's his interpretation, and its just as valid as any other'.

Well, of course. They would obviously be undeserving of their own opinion. But to anyone who takes the Bible and studies it seriously, none of those opinions would be true. And I am not saying that I am a Biblical expert, by any means, I’m only saying that MY opinion matches Mr. Lewis’s opinion.

An informed opinion is when, of course, you have the opinion - but you also have statements and fact to back it up. And you cannot deny, that with everything that C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, there is always something to back it up, or an example to help you understand his meaning. THAT, to me, is an informed opinion - one that I happen to agree with, even if others don’t.

(And, just a side note - I’m sure this was a simple typo, but not only is the Bible a title, it also happens to be a very important work to some people. And since this happens multiple times in your comments, I somehow doubt that that is a typo . . . But I would appreciate it if, for the sake of being grammatically correct, that you would spell and capitalize it properly.)

You said you found Lewis' work unique, whereas I found it to be unoriginal, that the style, ideas, and methods in it were not unique.

I find that to be more of an issue of opinion instead of comparison. But to each their own!


Keely "The Queen’s motivation is power . . . Even in the real world, people are power hungry"

Well, I find that to be a rather nebulous motivation, its such a standard Disney villain cop-out to say 'they're motivated by power', certainly there are real people who need control, but that motivation goes deeper, it is a part of their personality, how they interact with the world.

With the Queen, that wasn't the impression I got. If she were power hungry, if that was her motivation, then when she had seduced Edmund to the dark side with treats and flattery, she wouldn't have suddenly turned around and made him aware of what she'd just done, invalidating her whole attempt to control him.

Instead, she would have tried to use that control to maintain a grip on her power, to try to use Edmund against his siblings, and against Aslan. Then, it would be up to Edmund to recognize that, despite what the witch says, she is actually selfish and power-hungry. If that had happened, then it actually would represent the message you were talking about: that bad people don't always seem bad on the outside.

Instead, he's clued in by the fact that the queen does act maliciously on the outside, and for no good reason, even though her actions are in direct contradiction with her motivation for control and power.

"This is going way back, to the whole “children’s literature” thing . . . (And trust me, I speak from experience. I read them when I was in second grade, seven or eight.)"

Yeah, but eight year olds also connect strongly with Hannah Montana, the Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Pokemon, and the Transformers Movies. Just because a child connects with a character doesn't mean that character is well written, whether those characters are simple or not.

Additionally, I can still connect with characters in simple stories, if those characters are interesting and have a voice--I think the best children's literature is just as accessible to an adult, and just as interesting--though in different ways. So, when I find a character to be flat, I don't think it's because I'm old and bitter--I like a good romp--I think it's just because the character is flat. And if child readers get attached to those characters, that doesn't surprise me, since kids aren't always the most discerning customers, and will sometimes attach themselves to flat characters.

"You do understand what the White Witch is doing, don’t you? Punishing innocent creatures!"

Yes, but as I point out in my review, she's only able to do that because Aslan lets her. He has the power to stop her, but he doesn't stop her. She's clearly incompetent and unable to actually manipulate people (as the example with Edmund shows), so unless Aslan is even stupider than she is, the only way she could have gotten into power was if he let her. That's one of the main contradictions in the story that I feel makes Lewis' attempts to separate good and evil seem artificial and convenient.

"Contradictory and superficial . . . ?? I don’t understand. That might be the single most valuable scene in the whole novel, for all that it teaches children, or at least how I understood it as a child."

As I said before, the fact that the witch doesn't actually seem to be motivated by power and control, that Edmund only realizes what's going on because she suddenly acts capriciously and clues him in robs that scene of the power it could have had. The witch is not an effective foil, and so that scene fails to demonstrate how we (through Edmund) are supposed to recognize and reject 'evil'.

"An informed opinion is when . . . you also have statements and fact to back it up. And you cannot deny, that with everything that C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, there is always something to back it up"

I do deny it. I think that for the most part, Lewis' opinions are not well-supported. I do see that he wants to support them, but in the end, he's just not able to. Instead, he contradicts himself and gets caught up in double standards where when he does something, it's good, but when nonbelievers do it, its foolish and sinful.

For example, in The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has the demon go on and on about how a good way to get humans to sin is to get them to concentrate on what is 'real', but the trick is never to define what 'real' actually means, since everyone thinks they know what it means, so it can be used to justify anything.

But then, in the next chapter, Lewis talks about how a good christian does what is 'natural' and that christian belief is 'natural', but then he never defines what he means by 'natural', and so it becomes just another empty justification, except now, Lewis is telling us that it's good for us to do. That's the sort of contradictory double standard that makes me feel that Lewis' opinions are not well-informed, which is why I do not respect them.

"I’m sure this was a simple typo, but not only is the Bible a title, it also happens to be a very important work to some people . . . I would appreciate it if, for the sake of being grammatically correct, that you would spell and capitalize it properly"

It is not a typo, no, I do it deliberately because there are a lot of self-righteous people out there who get very worked up about whether or not other people single it out for respect. To me, it is just a book, just pages of paper, written by men, and nothing to be elevated or set aside from the rest of man's creations. Certainly, it contains many beautiful passages, fascinating thoughts, and moral truths, it is an influential and much-referenced book, but it is no more than that.

If you find it insulting that I do not revere it, then know that I find it insulting that you demand that I bow down to your sense of propriety. Does my not capitalizing it lessen it? Am I so great and powerful that with a single absent keystroke, I can lay it low?

I do it to remind the people I'm speaking with that there are many in the world for whom it is just another book written by the hand of man. If it is good and worthy, then that must be shown by the ideas, philosophies, and beauty it contains, not by its name or the spelling thereof.

"I find that to be more of an issue of opinion instead of comparison."

You think the definition of the word 'unique' is a matter of opinion? If there are twelve of something, is it unique? An item can only be unique if it is the only one of its type. Therefore, in order to determine if something is unique, you must look about at all the many things and see if it occurs once, or twice, or twelve times.

You say that you do not have to compare Lewis to any other work to know that his books are unique--I maintain that to call them unique is itself an act of comparison. You cannot call the book unique without comparing it to others.


message 48: by Tra-Kay (last edited Apr 25, 2013 07:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tra-Kay "Certainly, there are many things about me that can (and should) be mocked--but you've fallen rather short of the mark to paint me as someone who thinks they know better."

Oh, Keely! When will you realize that I simply like you as a reviewer and debater, and have never said anything on this review but in a half-assed manner semi-serious at best? I don't even remember half of this book.

Well. I did try to tell you that you come off as thinking you know better, and frankly, your assertions that you think you are a fool seem to me a tricky way of getting around the fact that you probably think most people to be greater fools. If you honestly think you're not any smarter than the average person, you're delusional. Anyway, your tone is why people say things like, "Maybe it is only due to my pure idiocy. . ."

I am reading Bran Mak Morn right now. It was all the library had by Howard. So far it's a little too much like an epic, like Le Morte D'Arthur (which I like, but not in a novel), with too little focus on the deeper thoughts and motivations of characters; but, I'm only on page 70. I dunno if this particular book is one you'd recommend or not. I like all the glorified slashity-slash, anyhow, although maybe reading it while playing Starcraft II is marring my judgment.


message 49: by Jocelyn (last edited Apr 25, 2013 08:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jocelyn Tra-Kay wrote: " If you honestly think you're not any smarter than the average person, you're delusional."

That's what I thought too about Keely when I first read his discussions and reviews. However--though I can't relate AT ALL to his assertion of being a fool when I'm constantly being impressed with his knowledge--I think he's trying to say that he has been exposed to things he considers far superior to whatever he feels he can come up with. Smarter than the average person certainly, but that's not much in the face of something even greater.

(Not that I'm trying to downgrade you, Keely, hope that didn't come across that way.)


Tra-Kay Un, he said, "I have read good criticism, thorough criticism, and what I produce is far inferior." I get that part of it.

"If I sometimes seem sure of myself, it is only because the comments I get are mostly devoid of insightful observations or refutation--but despite that, are full of pretension and assurety."

This, though, is about his interactions with most of the people who comment on his reviews. It's an interesting chicken-egg scenario: who was pretentious first, and who is merely responding? Or are both parties acting pretentious? Probably, since his reviews are the catalysts for these debates, it begins with the tone of those reviews. Take this sentence: "I'm not saying Lewis is bad, merely that he is unremarkable, and is hardly preeminent in fantasy, or even in children's fantasy." It's slight, but the "I know best" vibe is there. For people who really love the book, that subtle tone is like a struck match.

I'm not exactly criticizing, I'm just saying that he asks for it a bit. And I'll even go so far as to say that he probably gets some pleasure from it, if unconsciously.


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