THREE ETERNAL MODERN GOSPELS IN TIME OF WAR
H.G. WELLS — T.S. ELIOT — C.S. LEWIS
TRUMP DENIED SALVATION
PART FOUR: C.S. LEWIS, MARTYRDOM VERSUS EUGENICS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
6- A CONTRADICTORY BACKDROP FOR C.S. LEWIS, MARTYRDOM VERSUS EUGENICS (Université Catholique de Lille, 2011)
A CONTRADICTORY BACKDROP FOR C.S. LEWIS
MARTYRDOM VERSUS EUGENICS
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
I will oppose two visions of the 1930s in English literature by bringing together two authors in the background of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and H.G. Wells.
T.S. Eliot will be considered in his play “Murder in the Cathedral” and how in the second half of the 30s he represented a religious or more generally spiritual approach of what was happening in Europe at the time: fascism and Nazism, communism and western cowardice (the famous “hollow men”). This play is centered on four temptations that I will study in detail in order to show how the situation Thomas Becket is in can only lead to martyrdom but the vanity of looking for that martyrdom has to be avoided. How can it be avoided and why? Can this martyrdom save the day?
H.G. Wells in the second half of the 30s with a film like “Things to Come” defends his well-asserted idea that the association of Darwinism and Marxism leads humanity to a total catastrophe as depicted in “The Time Machine” with a longer vision of geological or cosmic time leading to a complete rebooting and reformatting of the universe, and the earth. This vision led him into defending a total eugenic policy to save humanity from this doom. At the end of his life, shortly after WW2, he expressed full discontent and fear that his prediction was unavoidable or inescapable.
Between these two extreme apocalyptic visions, martyrdom to bring the future out and eugenics to prevent the future from being born C.S. Lewis defended a Catholic approach to life. I will study the seven novels of “The Chronicles of Narnia” to find out how C.S. Lewis captured and expressed this dilemma and what vision of the future he had and how he thought that future could come. This approach will be limited to “Narnia” in order to remain within the particular period of the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s, in fact after the beginning of the Cold War and before the death of Stalin, and what’s more in his literature targeting young people, a literature which generally brings more spirituality and naivety. Even if we should read Narnia three times in a lifetime.
The conclusion will be more a question than a real final opinion. How can we transfer this approach from that context to our context? Has science fiction changed its meaning because of the different world we are living in today, sixty years after the writing of “Narnia” and seventy years after the writing of “Murder in the Cathedral” and the shooting of “Things To Come”?
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, Université Paris 8 Saint Denis, Université Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
C. S. Lewis, his Friends & Associates : Questions of Identity
2 & 3 June 2011, Lille Catholic University, France
A CONTRADICTORY BACKDROP FOR C.S. LEWIS
MARTYRDOM VERSUS EUGENICS
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
I would like to say from the very start that I will only consider The Chronicles of Narnia in their seven volumes (1950–1956), and the four BBC adaptations. So I will not consider the various cinema adaptations and the other works by C.S. Lewis (1898–1963).
The second thing I want to be very clear about is that I am not going to psychoanalyze either the author or The Chronicles. It would be interesting to do so from a certain point of view. This is not mine here. I will concentrate on the political and ideological model that can be found in The Chronicles.
But I want to be clear about one thing before starting. For me, children’s literature is just as mature as any other form and type of literature and it deserves to be analyzed exactly the same way as any other fiction. We do not have to suspend our disbelief but as C.S. Lewis says himself: “You cannot know, you can only believe or not.”[i] And I have chosen to believe what C.S. Lewis tells us, no matter how creative and imaginative it may be.
I will start with the background I have chosen, i.e. T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) and H.G. Wells (1866–1946).
T.S. Eliot, particularly in his play Murder in the Cathedral (1935) deals with the question of martyrdom when a church official is confronted to an attempt at limiting the church’s freedom from the state or any other institution. This vision of martyrdom became a real backdrop for C.S. Lewis because of the play at the end of the 1930s in the Canterbury Festival, then the film at the beginning of the 1950s and finally the opera by Pizzetti in Italian and in German (for Karajan) at the beginning of the 1960s, too late for The Chronicles.
H.G. Wells defends a eugenic vision of the world and he is a backdrop for C.S. Lewis because of the vast and lasting success of his early novels like The Time Machine (1895) or The Invisible Man (1897) at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century and because of his commitment to eugenics all his life in many writings, in film with his 1936 Things to Come by Alexander Korda and William Cameron Menzies in which he envisaged the end of the world we know by a universal war in 1940 and the rebuilding of a truly human society. The Time Machine was adapted a first time by George Pal in 1960, an adaptation that may have come across to C.S. Lewis though too late for The Chronicles. Of course the second adaptation by Simon Wells in 2002 does not have to be considered, though the great-grandson of the author corrects part of the eugenics of his great-grandfather.
We can now enter our subject and study the chosen backdrop in chronological order.
I./ THE BACKDROP OF H.G.WELLS
H.G. Wells studied biology with Aldous Huxley’s father. That’s how he discovered Darwinism and his theory of the evolution of species. He committed himself then to Fabianism hence to socialism and communism, a commitment he never denied. In 1935, one year before the Moscow “trials”, he published an interview with Josef Stalin and that same interview was republished in 1945, before his death. This interview and further writings support the heroism of the five-year plan and Soviet industrialization and yet his approach is very critical:
“No doubt a considerable amount of truth is to be found in this theory of the Marxist revolution. […] In practice Marxism is found to work out in a ready resort to malignantly destructive activities, and to be so uncreative as to be practically impotent in the face of material difficulties. In Russia, where — in and about the urban centers, at least — Marxism has been put to the test, the doctrine of the Workers’ Republic remains as a unifying cant, a test of orthodoxy of as little practical significance there as the communism of Jesus and communion with Christ in Christendom, while beneath this creed a small oligarchy which has attained power by its profession does its obstinate best, much hampered by the suspicion and hostility of the Western financiers and politicians, to carry on a series of interesting and varyingly successful experiments in the socialization of economic life. Here we have no scope to discuss the N.E.P. and the Five Year Plan. They are dealt with in The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind. Neither was properly Communist. The Five-Year Plan is carried out as an autocratic state capitalism. Each year shows more and more clearly that Marxism and Communism are divagations from the path of human progress and that the line of advance must follow a course more
intricate and less flattering to the common impulses of our nature. The one main strand of truth in the theory of social development woven by Marx and Engels is that successful, comfortable people are disposed to dislike, obstruct and even resist actively any substantial changes in the current patchwork of arrangements, however great the ultimate dangers of that patchwork may be or the privations and sufferings of other people involved in it. The one main strand of error in that theory is the facile assumption that the people at a disadvantage will be stirred to anything more than chaotic and destructive expressions of resentment. If now we reject the error and accept the truth, we lose the delusive comfort of belief in that magic giant, the Proletariat, who will dictate, arrange, restore, and create, but we clear the way for the recognition of an elite of intelligent, creative−minded people scattered through the whole community, and for a study of the method of making this creative element effective in human affairs against the massive opposition of selfishness and unimaginative self−protective conservatism.[ii] […] One of the most interesting areas of humanity in this respect is the great system of communities under the sway or influence of Soviet Russia. Russia has never been completely incorporated with the European system; she became a just passable imitation of a western European monarchy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and talked at last of constitutions and parliaments — but the reality of that vast empire remained an Asiatic despotism, and the European mask was altogether smashed by the successive revolutions of 1917. The ensuing system is a government presiding over an enormous extent of peasants and herdsmen, by a disciplined association professing the faith and dogmas of Marx, as interpreted and qualified by Lenin and Stalin.”[iii]
In fact this long quotation is far from naïve but he does not capture the consequences of his pristine elitism when he says “we clear the way for the recognition of an elite of intelligent, creative-minded people scattered through the whole community, and for a study of the method of making this creative element effective in human affairs against the massive opposition of selfishness and unimaginative self-protective conservatism”. This is after all the reasoning of people like Stalin or even Lenin: build an avant-garde elite called the Communist Party and then impose the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is to say of this party, and in this party, of its leading elite, onto the rest of the party and then the society. The Moscow trials were one of the results of this reasoning.
This publication gives us the seven principles of this open conspiracy:
“(1) The complete assertion, practical as well as theoretical, of the provisional nature of existing governments and of our acquiescence in them;
(2) The resolve to minimize by all available means the conflicts of these governments, their militant use of individuals and property, and their interference with the establishment of a world economic system;
(3) The determination to replace private, local or national ownership of at least credit, transport, and staple production by a responsible world directorate serving the common ends of the race;
(4) The practical recognition of the necessity for world biological controls, for example, of population and disease;
(5) The support of a minimum standard of individual freedom and welfare in the world; and
(6) The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power;
(7) The admission therewith that our immortality is conditional and lies in the race and not in our individual selves.”[iv]
Without discussing these seven principles or objectives, it is interesting to note the fourth one that refers to “biological controls”. It goes back to clearly eugenic ideas H.G. Wells defended before the first world war that are founding their most obvious realization in his over-use of the concept of race meaning the human race, which is a complete biological mistake, since we are the human species, in pure Darwinist terms.
‘And then sleep again. When man with his blazing lights made an end to night in his towns and houses — it is only a hundred years or so ago that that was done — then it followed he would presently resent his eight hours of uselessness. Shan’t we presently take a tabloid or lie in some field of force that will enable us to do with an hour or so of slumber and rise refreshed again?’ […] ‘And then the inconveniences of age and those diseases of the system that come with years; steadily you drive them back and you lengthen and lengthen the years that stretch between the passionate tumults of youth and the contractions of senility. Man who used to weaken and die as his teeth decayed now looks forward to a continually lengthening, continually fuller term of years. And all those parts of him that once gathered evil against him, the vestigial structures and odd, treacherous corners of his body, you know better and better how to deal with. You carve his body about and leave it re-modeled and unscarred. The psychologists are learning how to mold minds, to reduce and remove bad complexes of thought and motive, to relieve pressures and broaden ideas. So that we are becoming more and more capable of transmitting what we have learned and preserving it for the race. The race, the racial wisdom, science, gather power continually to subdue the individual man to its own end. [My emphasis] […] ‘[W]hile we have been theorizing about men and women, here is science getting the power for us to end that old dispute forever. If woman is too much for us, we’ll reduce her to a minority, and if we do not like any type of men and women, we’ll have no more of it. These old bodies, these old animal limitations, all this earthly inheritance of gross inevitabilities falls from the spirit of man like the shriveled cocoon from an imago. And for my own part, when I hear of these things I feel like that — like a wet, crawling new moth that still fears to spread its wings’ [v]
There is no need to expand on the sexism expressed by this character and the deeply eugenic thinking.
In 1936 he produced a film with Alexander Korda and William Cameron Menzies, Things to Come that was reconstituted and re-mastered (though in an incomplete version but with an extended presentation summarizing the missing sections and giving most of the dialogue of these missing sections) by Granada Ventures Ltd in 2007.
This film gives a vision of the world of tomorrow. It starts with a general war in 1940 that was to last for decades till the atom bomb was used and humanity was rethought by John Cabal, a scientist, and we move to 2036 in the rebuilt Everytown, an underground city in which everything is artificial, from light to clean air and that is governed by a committee headed by the grandson, Oswald Cabal, of John Cabal (note the initials J.C.). They are captured at the moment when they are going to send a couple of young people around the moon with what they call a space gun. The couple of young people are a 21-year-old man, Morden Passworthy, and an 18-year-old woman, Catherine Cabal, respectively the son and daughter of a friend of Oswald Cabal’s and Oswald Cabal himself. (Note the nepotism of the situation and the deep Book of Genesis pattern in that couple. Note too that Arnold Schwarzenegger will use — among many other filmmakers and science fiction writers — the same pattern at the end of the third film of his Terminator trilogy.[vi]) They have to face a democratic opposition movement built by Theotocopulos (note the deistic root of the name: H.G. Wells is deeply anti-religious.) using the “mirrors”; a science fiction idea of what we know today as television, hence the media. In front of this opposition, that is shown as turning violent and destructive and uncontainable because this new world has no police and the sleeping gas used to contain people in the old days is no longer available in any necessary and sufficient quantity, the president of the council will discuss, for our benefit, the issue with his friend, Raymond Passworthy, but not with the discontented people. He will force the issue and the two young volunteers will be shot around the moon though we will not be told what will happen as if the fate of these two people was uninteresting. Theotocopulos in his speech (mostly lost in the film) says:
“They stage the old Greek tragedy again. […] I tell you this science and exploration of theirs is no more and no less than the spirit of self-immolation returning to the earth in a new disguise. No more and no less. It is the old black spirit of human subjugation, Jove, the pitiless monster coming back in the midst of our freedom and abundance — the old dark seriousness — the stern unnecessary devotions. We are content with the simple sensuous, limited, loveable life of man and we want no other. Between the dark past of history and the incalculable future let us snatch today — and live.”
In the discussion with Raymond Passworthy Oswald Cabal gives us his conception of life:
Raymond Passworthy: Oh, God, is there ever to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?
Oswald Cabal: Rest enough for the individual man — too much, and too soon — and we call it death. But for Man, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet with its winds and ways, and then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him and at last out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.
Raymond Passworthy: But… we’re such little creatures. Poor humanity’s so fragile, so weak. Little… little animals.
Oswald Cabal: Little animals. If we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. Is it this? Or that? All the universe? Or nothingness? Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?
To complete the picture we must add what he said to his ex-wife, the mother of Catherine Cabal his daughter, who has come to protest against the sacrifice of her daughter:
Oswald Cabal: I had rather be the hunter than the hunted.
And his ex-wife Rowena will conclude that depiction of the man by saying:
Rowena: The new sort of man seems to me to be very like the old sort of mule.
This 1936 film shows very well the context of socialist ideology being discussed in the 1930s in England, at least this ultra-positivist pacifist and scientism-oriented approach of life. They are the absolute modernists of the time. But H.G. Wells represents another approach which is maybe even more dangerous. We have to go back to The Time Machine to identify it. It is a form of science-oriented social Darwinism that leads to a real nightmare, not for individuals but for the human species. Once again H.G. Wells would speak of the human race[vii] and in The Time Machine, there are at least three human “races”: The normal standard human race, that of the time traveler in the year 1899, just before the 2000 New Year. The time traveler is not so much a scientist as an engineer who invents a machine to travel in time. When he reaches that distant future world he discovers two other human races that have descended from his human race. The Eloi have descended from the bourgeoisie of the time traveler’s capitalistic world. They live on the surface of the earth, in a sort of Garden of Eden, taken care of by the other race. They have developed a complete non-empathy. They seem to be deprived of any feelings, though at least one can learn since she falls in love with the time traveler who saves her from drowning while all the other Eloi do nothing, and of all knowledge, among others writing or reading. We can even doubt whether they have an articulated language, though they may be able to learn one. We wonder why they wear clothes, sleep indoors in crumbling buildings that we understand are taken care of by the other race probably, and eat in plates provided by the other race. Finally, the Morlocks live underground, work in some kind of mines and furnaces. They only come out at night, are afraid of light and even fire. They have descended from the working class of the time traveler’s capitalistic society. This working class is that of D.H. Lawrence or A.J. Cronin, the coal miners of England. They take care of the Eloi not for any humane reason but because of their own diet. The Eloi live on fruits and other vegetables or roots whereas the Morlocks are carnivorous and their meat is Eloi-meat. The Eloi are either the cattle or the game of these Morlocks who will come out regularly at the end of a day to hunt the older Eloi, which explains why all the Eloi are children or young adults.
Thus we can see how H.G. Wells applies the Darwinist vision of the evolution of species to the Marxist vision of the class-divided society, only two classes. The durable class division stated by Karl Marx can only produce a genetic evolution towards two different species that H.G. Wells conceives as races. To make sure we get the full message the time traveler takes us to an even more distant future when life has been entirely destroyed and renewed into two living entities, one the prey that lives on rocks, looking like some butterfly eating moss or lichen and their predators that look like some kind of monstrous crabs.
This ideology of absolute biological social Darwinism is at the heart of literature up to the Second World War and even beyond and now. Aldous Huxley presents a society divided into five classes entirely determined mentally by their specific education that is conditioning more than education. George Orwell will present his animal farm as a metaphor of communism and the seizing of power by the underlings, the pigs who create a dictatorship of the proletariat by declaring themselves the elite of the animal realm and by eliminating the human species. After the Second World War things will change slightly and a post-modern consciousness will develop. That will give birth to The Chronicles of Narnia. But C.S. Lewis was born and raised in this first backdrop, background or environment. Note the best film along a similar line is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis[viii], but Fritz Lang only starts with that class-Darwinism to evolve after fifteen minutes to a regeneration of the society through a Machiavellian revolution started by a mad scientist, C.A. Rotwang, and countered by a Christian preaching and teaching Maria who brings over, with the help of the son Freder of the leader, Joh Fredersen, of this industrial world, a compromise between the two sides, the bourgeois industrialists and political leaders on one side and the working class on the other.
We could go on with other examples of this trend from this period. That was one side of the cultural context of C.S. Lewis.
II./ THE BACKDROP OF T.S. ELIOT
T.S. Eliot can only be defined and understood if we consider his divide, the line, or lines, he crossed in his life. He was born an American in Saint Louis, Missouri but became a British citizen in November 1927 at the age of 39. He was raised a Unitarian but converted to Anglicanism on June 29, 1927. He was educated at Harvard but also in Paris, the Sorbonne, and in Oxford, Merton College. He wrote a Ph.D. on Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley but failed to go to the viva voce presentation in 1916. In poetry, he was initiated in the American poetry of the end and the beginning of the 19th and 20th centuries but he found his inspiration and masters in French symbolism, but also in Indian philosophy and the Sanskrit Vedas. In politics, he was trained under the US flag and US Constitution but adopted royalist ideas in England. He defined himself as a “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion.”[ix]
I will consider the play Murder in the Cathedral and allude to the poem The Hollow Men.[x]
It is no surprise to find that Thomas Becket is just such a transgressor. He started his life as the friend, counselor, chancellor and chaplain of King Henry II, a transgressor of sorts too since he was a descendant of William the Conqueror by his mother Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, against Stephen who descended from the same William the Conqueror but by his father, the brother of Henry I. Henry II became king when Stephen died in 1154. He was seriously leaning towards the French by his father Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. He became king after two civil wars between his mother and King Stephen. But the fact that Thomas Becket had a dissolute life when he was at Henry’s court is in complete contradiction with the austere and extremely religious man he became as soon as he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry II on May 23, 1162. He was officially elected but he was the King’s “candidate”.
In a way, Thomas Becket lost something in that translation from chaplain von chancellor to archbishop and that something explains his real problem as seen and expressed by T.S. Eliot.
T.S. Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral exposes the rift or rip in the fabric of this man with four tempters who come to tempt him in his new office, though after his return to England after his long exile in France.
The first tempter brings up the past in the form of a summer evening of pleasure on the river with King Henry: doing nothing, drinking wine, enjoying love and friendship in love. It is the proposal to bring “wit and wine and wisdom” together, “clergy and laity” back to “gaiety”, “mirth and sportfulness” to walking together hand in hand. Thomas insists in his answer on the fact that this would be a return, a comeback to something from the past that has to remain in the past
“But in the life of one man, never
The same time returns. Sever
The cord, shed the scale, Only
The fool fixed in his folly, may think
He can turn the wheel on which he turns.”[xi]
Every image in this answer insists on the distance and impossibility to go back, against time, to command time that commands us. The metaphor of the wheel that you can’t turn because it turns you is a perfect rendition of this divide that goes a lot beyond a simple line that has been or in fact was crossed. The final sentence from Thomas Becket is as sharp and heavy as an ax:
“You come twenty years too late.”[xii]
The second tempter suggests to Thomas Becket to recapture the post of Chancellor and regain the power to rule that goes along with it. Power, honors, luxury here and now but also when death comes in a grand tomb and qualities made long-lasting in stone. Thomas refusal is argued with the bishops he has excommunicated, with the barons whose petty privileges he has curbed, and the King whose power he has to criticize because his own power comes from the Pope and God and not from the King. The divide he sees here is one of levels. He stands at a higher level today in his spiritual and divine power than he stood before in his temporal power. Hence his conclusion:
“Power with the King –
I was the King, his arm, his better reason.
But what was once exaltation
Would now only be mean descent.”[xiii]
The third tempter furthers the previous suggestion. If going back to the King is stooping down, then what about an alliance with those you never had an alliance with, an alliance against the King with what is identified as “the straightforward Englishmen”, “the English barons” or “the Normans”. A “fight for liberty” is proposed:
“Ending the tyrannous jurisdiction
Of king’s court over bishop’s court,
Of king’s court over baron’s court.”[xiv]
Here the feudal argument is brought up. Thomas Becket helped the King found his power and he owes him allegiance as such, so he can’t go against the King in that way, that is to say in an alliance with the barons, in a political move, in a temporal stand. The only authority that he can entrust himself to is the authority that is over both the King and the Archbishop, that is to say, God from whom the King gets his temporal power and from whom, via the Pope, the Archbishop gets his spiritual power. This spiritual power is the power of the Church, that is to say of God in England, on earth, under the only guidance of the Pope, thus being higher and more important than the power of the King which is only temporal though he owes it to God, but via the crowning that only the Archbishop can perform. The only word that fits this proposal is the one Thomas Becket uses: “treachery” because it betrays the king for sure but a lot more than that, “A king”, that is to say, the feudal order which is a divine order on earth.
“Shall I who ruled like an eagle over doves
Now take the shape of a wolf among wolves?
Pursue your treacheries as you have done before:
No one shall say that I betrayed a king.”[xv]
The fourth tempter is just stepping one step ahead of all the others. He flatters Thomas Becket’s vanity and pride into dreaming of being a martyr, hence of turning his present conflict with the King into an act that will bring his violent death and thus bring sainthood to him, eternal fame both among men but also in heaven, real timeless eternity. Thomas Becket’s answer is clear rejection:
“Is there no way, in my soul’s sickness,
Does not lead to damnation in pride?
I will know that these temptations
Mean present vanity and future torment.
Can sinful pride be driven out
Only by more sinful? Can I neither act nor suffer
The most surprising element is the greeting Thomas Becket gives to that fourth tempter:
“Who are you? I expected
Three visitors, not four.”[xvii]
And that of course is the very proof, from the very start, that Thomas Becket is at least agitated with pride and vanity, since he compares himself to Jesus who was tempted three times in the wilderness by the devil, and hesitated three times, while his disciples went to sleep three times in the garden of Gethsemane. To amplify the vain and proud comparison, let me quote the two passages concerned here from Matthew’s Gospel:
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. [xviii]
In other words, the divide in this character is so absolute that Thomas Becket is in a way compared to Jesus before temptation in the wilderness and after temptation in the wilderness. But that is no open conspiracy, though the result is similar. Thomas Becket has to stand firm alone against the tempest that is coming, in the words of the four tempters together:
“This man is obstinate, blind, intent
Passing from deception to deception,
From grandeur to grandeur to final illusion,
Lost in the wonder of his own greatness,
The enemy of society, enemy of himself.”[xix]
The antagon[xx] to this position comes from three priests in the play, from the third of these three priests in the film:
“O Thomas my Lord do not fight the intractable tide,
Do not sail the irresistible wind; in the storm,
Should we not wait for the sea to subside, in the night
Abide the coming of day, when the traveler may find his way,
The sailor lay course by the sun?”[xxi]
When that divide is stated we can then wonder what can happen? And we know what will happen: Thomas Becket will be killed in his own cathedral on December 29, 1170, by four knights, in fact by three witnessed by a fourth one.
But the trick of the play is the final part, mostly cut off in the film, when the four knights defend their act in the name of the country, the state, the authority that has to be preserved against discontented opponents. In the 1935 Canterbury Festival, this discourse took a completely different and highly ideological and political meaning.
T.S. Eliot was denouncing again the “Hollow Men” that have no mind and telling them in 1935 that a war was coming and that no one will be able to stop it and that this war will justify horrible crimes in the name of the country, the state and the integrity and defense of both. This anti-war stance is similar to that of H.G. Wells, but the attitude suggested by T.S. Eliot is tremendously post-modern before post-modernism arrived. It is the condemnation of the do-nothing-and-wait attitude of the priests. It is the condemnation of the temptation to run into the fire and get killed in order to become a heroic martyr and saint. It is the condemnation of the attitude that sets the interest of the state or the country over any other interest. It is the condemnation of war-crimes and crimes against humanity before they ever started if they had not yet started in 1935. There is no excuse for the “hollow men” to just do one or the other of these things. So that is the attitude, the stance advocated by T.S. Eliot. That’s where he becomes post-modern. He does not advocate one. He shows all the possible attitudes and how Thomas Becket faced them and rejected them all though he was the victim of this situation in the end without provoking it but also without restraining the position he thought just, right, true to his beliefs and to his soul. He could not condone what the King was doing and he did not, but he did not either start any kind of necessarily treacherous action against the King. In fact, he did just what Jesus did. He stated his opinion without any provocation nor renunciation and he submitted without any resistance to what came along the way.
This attitude deeply inspired by the Christian religion of the author is in complete opposition and contrast with H.G. Wells, and both led to the same thing: history goes its way without taking into account whatever individuals may say, individual people, individual states, individual institutions, etc. To gloss the four tempters I could say: history is obstinate, blind, intent on self-realization, even if it means the destruction of whatever may lie in the way of itself. But then things are different. The end of history is not an illusion it is a material concrete outcome that cannot in any way be predicted or if predicted avoided. We can only avoid what is predictable and what is not in the intent of history itself. The outcome of history is always the most unpredicted or the least predicted termination and I use this term because any historical termination is nothing but the end of something and the beginning of something else. History is the terminator of the past and as such, it is also the begetter of the future.
T.S. Eliot was able to see the dangers his present was pregnant with.
H.G. Wells was able to see the promise his present was pregnant with.
C.S. Lewis was able to do what those authors could not do in the 1930s because he lived quite longer. He could see what came out of this period, the terminal point of that crisis and the starting point of the next. The end of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperialistic Japan did not mean peace but a whole set of new wars, the Cold War being the worst of them all.
It is high time now to come to C.S. Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia[xxii].
III./ C.S. LEWIS AND POSTMODERN CHILDREN.
Narnia is a world that has a beginning and an end but these two moments of that world will be written and published last, especially the beginning in the sixth book, The Magician’s Nephew, and the end in the seventh book, The Last Battle, both in publication time. But this time discrepancy was also clear with the fifth book, The Boy and His Horse, still in publication time that took us back to the reign of the four human kids, King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Suzan the Gentle, King Edmund the Just and Queen Lucy the Valiant instated as such in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. These last published three volumes are like afterthoughts. Strangely enough it is The Magician’s Nephew that sounds the most artificial because it goes back in human time a lot and it creates a completely different generation of people who visit Narnia that does not exist yet and is created by Aslan when these humans come a second time in an extended group, bringing the White Witch along with them who will have to be expelled from and banned out of Narnia. This rejection will not last forever and she will be ruling Narnia as soon as the four kids come and discover Narnia in eternal winter and yet with no Christmas.
The second element I would like to put forward is the existence of a creator and omnipotent omniscient character in this saga. Aslan is that supernatural eternal being and he is a lion. He is a lion because in the children’s world of imagination the lion is the king of animals, the king of the forest, the king of the universe. That vision is as old as fables and mythologies, not to speak of religions.[xxiii] The most famous lion in western culture remains the lion Hercules had to kill to protect the city of Nemes. We must also remember that the Lion is one of the zodiac signs that are generally seen as being twelve today but that were, in fact, thirteen originally in Mesopotamia and the Middle East. The thirteenth sign was the serpent holder, or the serpent, both healer and scourge, the saraph, or Moses’ bronze serpent, seen as a winged serpent or dragon too (Numbers, 21:4–9), in Hebrew is the same root as the seraph, an angel[xxiv]. The serpent is going to be seen as a scourge personified as a Witch who appears as a lady dressed in green riding a white horse and accompanied by a black knight (she will be identified as the Queen of the Deep Realm later on and the knight as the abducted Prince Rilian) in The Silver Chair and as a dragon that will be revealed to be Eustace transformed into a dragon by some magical ring in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
That lion is said to have another name in the real world but that name is not revealed, though it seems to be love. Aslan is said to have a world of his own, but that world is only revealed in a transient way at the end of The Silver Chair when Eustace and Jill come back from the Deeper Realm with Rilian and arrive at Cair Paravel to see Caspian X coming back from his sea voyage and dying in the arms of his freed son. Then Aslan takes the two kids to his realm where they discover Caspian X dead and being resuscitated into eternal life in the shape of the young King Caspian X of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But Aslan’s world is not described in any real details then.
In fact, this world will only be described at the end of The Last Battle when the main heroes are saved from the destruction of Narnia. They can go up to the top of the mountain of this world. At the top, you have Aslan’s innermost garden. But the contradiction is as follows:
“The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside. […] This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door! I see… world within world, Narnia within Narnia. […] like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”[xxv]
The strangest concept in this vastly amplified description is the concept of growing inner circles. It goes against what all children have acquired in their early and pre-puberty education: quantities, volumes remain the same when you pour them from one vessel into another. This concept is necessary to be able to conceive comparatives and the operation of comparing objects in their spatial or temporal parameters. This generally happens around six or somewhat later in the child’s life. Here C.S. Lewis goes against this level of maturation and what he says is meaningless before the age of six. It becomes confusing then and the child will grow into finding it pleasurable when he finally gets to the conceptual level that makes him able to conceive the inconceivable, to accept the existence of the non-existing world. This phase in the development of the child is very important because he does not like fantastic stories anymore because they are full of light, action and charming story-telling, but because they go against well-established adult truths. The monsters then are pleasurable because they negate the real world. That’s exactly what C.S. Lewis does: he writes for these children who know that a quantity does not vary no matter what you do but who are also able to accept the reverse because it is the negation of a basic truth and the assertion of what cannot exist. What is not true is so pleasurable.
Then in a way, the second characteristic of this world is definitely less pleasurable but it brings children back to reality. This ever-expanding innermost garden is the very center and axle of the whole world, real or imaginary. And all the real countries are nothing but radiating extensions from this center and axle.
“All the real countries are only spurs jutting out from the great mountains of Aslan.”[xxvi]
And here is England. When you stand in Aslan’s innermost garden you have absolute vision and you can see the whole country you are concerned with and at the same time every single detail of every single minuscule part of this country:
“It’s England. And that’s the house itself — Professor Kirke’s old home in the country where all our adventures began. […] there they [Peter and Edmund and Lucy] saw their own father and mother, waving back at them across the great deep valley. It was like when you see people waving at you from the deck of a big ship when you are waiting on the quay to meet them.”[xxvii]
C.S. Lewis even plays with his children audience with his ship metaphor as if the long-dead parents were going to come from England to Aslan’s garden though they never knew about Aslan and Narnia. But the aim is to make the children audience identify with that feeling a child always experiences when his or her parents come back home after a long absence. They all know the joy and even the tears that may come with that joy.
And it is only several paragraphs later when Lucy expresses her fear that she or they could be sent away that Aslan tells them the truth. The last twenty lines of the last novel reveal to the children and the children audience that the children will not leave Aslan country anymore. And C.S. Lewis transforms that joy into the saddest of all possible endings for these children and for the children audience:
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guesses?”
Their heart leapt, and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are — as you used to call it in the Shadowlands — dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”[xxviii]
That world that had become all-inclusive as for space becomes now all-inclusive as for time. And the story will not be told because no one will come back from it to the real world to tell. But we have to note that C.S. Lewis does not hesitate to use the real word for the real thing that ends life. Death is no taboo probably because he is writing these stories for himself and his brother who have known everything about death since they lost their mother to cancer. But he also writes for the two sons of Joy Davidman, D avid and Douglas, who lost their own mother, C.S. Lewis’s great love, to cancer. How can you tame death not to be afraid of it? The best way is to call a spade a spade and call death with her or his real name.
Now we can turn to describing Narnia. We will come to the beginning of it and its end later.
Narnia is a free democratic feudal monarchy.
So they dress in medieval clothes. They wear armors and they use swords, shields and bow and arrows to fight. They live in medieval castles. They use carts and carriages drawn by horses mostly to travel on land, and sail ships to travel on the sea. They have no modern means of communication and have to use messengers. They apparently have no or very few doctors. They do not go to school at all, though they may have some tutors for private tuition like Prince Caspian had Doctor Cornelius. There seems to be no religion whatsoever in this world and no churches or other mosques or synagogues. It definitely is a medieval society. And the two supernatural beings are Tash for the Calormenes and Aslan for the Narnians.
It is governed by kings from the very start. The first monarchs at the very origin of Narnia as described in The Magician’s Nephew are two humans dragged into Narnia in the process of being created by Digory and Polly. King Frank was a cabby in London and his Queen Helen, his wife, is brought to Narnia by magic for King Frank to have a queen and descendants. The throne of Narnia has to be held by sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, that is to say, humans. These monarchs use the services of counselors and knights to rule the country and to defend it against surrounding enemies. The White Witch is banned to the north and Narnia is protected by a tree planted by Digory who got the seeds from the north and through a confrontation with the White Witch. So from the very start, an outside enemy is encountered and contained but nor destroyed.
In fact, this enemy will take over and the White Witch will conquer Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first published novel but only second in Narnian chronology. The White Witch can rule Narnia because she is a descendant of Adam himself and his Jinn wife Lilith on one side and giant blood on the other side. She is no daughter of Eve but she is a daughter of Adam. That filiation makes her a witch of course by her female ancestor. She actually favors humans and dwarves and she wants the prophecy to be fulfilled. That’s the religious moment of this magic. The prophecy says that she will be definitely defeated when four humans, two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sit together on the four thrones in Cair Paravel. She wants them to come to Narnia so that she can kill them. She uses Edmund as a traitor in the quartet and when she fails to capture the three other children, Peter, Susan and Lucy, she tries to kill one at least, Edmund, to prevent the prophecy to be fulfilled. By tradition, she has the right to demand Edmund’s blood because he is a traitor of his side. Aslan then proposes her a deal that satisfies her because it is the slaughtering or sacrifice of Aslan himself on Aslan’s table. But that saves Narnia because an older tradition says that someone who volunteers to take the place of a traitor and has committed no crime will resuscitate after the sacrifice, the sacrificial table will be broken forever and the battle will turn favorable to Aslan’s camp because the traitor, Edmund, destroys the White Witch’s wand which deprives her of her power. Then Aslan can revive the whole country of Narnia and install the four children on the four thrones of Cair Paravel. They will reign for a long time.
After them in unexplained circumstances, a new dynasty takes over, the Telmarines and the Caspian line. They are the Telmarines and come from Telmar. Aslan reveals their origin:
“You, Sir Caspian […] might have known that you could be no true King of Narnia unless, like the Kings of old, you were a son of Adam and came from the world of Adam’s sons. And so you are. Many years ago in that world, in a deep sea of that world which is called the South Sea, a shipload of pirates were driven by storm on an island. And there they did as pirates would: killed the natives and took the native women for wives, and made palm wine, and drank and were drunk, and lay in the shade of the palm trees, and woke up and quarreled, and sometimes killed one another. And in one of these frays six were put to flight by the rest and fled with their women into the center of the island and up a mountain and went, as they thought, into a cave to hide. But it was one of the magical places of that world, one of the chinks or chasms between worlds in old times, but they have gone rarer. This was one of the last: I do not say the last. And so they fell, or rose, or blundered, or dropped right through, and found themselves in this world, in the land of Telmar which was then unpeopled. […] And in Telmar their descendants lived and became a fierce and proud people; and after many generations, there was a famine in Telmar and they invaded Narnia which was then in some disorder […] and conquered it and ruled it. So you mark all this well, King Caspian? […] You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve.”[xxix]
And it is this dynasty that will reign over Narnia till the very end. The last of them all is Tirian. This human filiation of Narnian kings or rulers, even when they are usurpers like the White Witch, is problematic about the meaning of the tales. It is definitely human-centered and that human-centeredness being attached to the filiation to Adam and Eve makes the story Semitic-centered since Adam and Eve are specific characters of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic Genesis. But C.S. Lewis never uses that reference to install any religious belief or institution. The various rites that are performed in Narnia or in Calormen are more pagan and spiritual than religious. In Narnia we have the sacrificial rite against Aslan and in Calormen we have the ritual by which, at the end of The Boy and His Horse, the son Rabadash of the Tisroc, the ruler of Calormen, is freed of the curse cast on him by Aslan to have the likeness of a donkey is nothing but some civic pagan rite.
The Calormenes are a special type of people in this world. They are human looking but are not of human descent. They live next door to Narnia and Archenland, the two kingdoms ruled by the Narnian monarchs. In The Boy and His Horse, Shasta, later revealed to be Cor or Corin, the son of the Archenland king who was abducted a long time ago and was raised as the son of a fisherman, tries to escape from Calormen where he would be sold as a slave with the Narnian speaking horse Bree he meets on the way and who had been abducted a long time before and is trying to escape. On their way to the main city, Tashbaan, he meets a girl Aravis who is trying to escape from Calormen because her marriage has been arranged with the Grand Vizier who is a very old man. She is traveling with her Narnian speaking horse Hwin. The Calormene society is described as a deeply autocratic society ruled by an absolute ruler, the Tisroc, helped by a slavish subservient Grand Vizier. This society is based on slavery for most people, the refusal of any speaking animals and the belief in a supernatural being known as Tash, a master of black magic as opposed to Aslan who is a master of white magic. The décor is seen and described as some kind of city that could best be qualified as a mountainside Kasbah, an inner Arab city with small, winding, dark streets and houses of all sorts entirely walled in. Even the way they dress is something like the Ottoman Empire’s traditional clothes and shoes.
The Calormenes can only be defeated or kept under control by some magical means. They will be the essential actors of the destruction of Narnia in The Last Battle. They are warmongers who need more resources all the time and more human or animal slaves to exploit those resources. This last volume was supposedly completed by 1953 but only published in September 1956, that is to say in the deepest depth of the Cold War. A time when the first wave of Arab and Middle-Eastern revolutions took place with the nationalization of the Suez Canal (July 26, 1956) to be followed in October by the invasion of Egypt by Israel, France and Great Britain, an invasion that was stopped at UN level by a come together of the Russians and the Americans, and later to be followed in November by the Budapest crisis and the invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union. The context has, of course, changed except on one point, the identification of the main forces behind terrorism as being Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, three Moslem countries and actually none of them Arab since Iraq only has a minority of Sunni Arabs, most of the population being Sunni Kurds (Indo-Europeans) and Shia Moslems mostly of Indo-Iranian origin and language. Yet this aspect of the books is embarrassing and it probably explains why the two volumes in which the Calormenes play a role have not been adapted to the screens (as far as listed at IMDb.com), The Boy and His Horse and The Last Battle. That aspect of the books may become more palatable when the Arab spring of 2011 has come to its ultimate end, and here I insist that so far this Arab spring is an Arab movement that does not directly concerns the non-Arab Moslems. The shooting of The Magician’s Nephew is announced but nothing is said so far about the two volumes at stake here. Let’s note too that the film adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has significantly changed the second half of the novel after the transformation of Eustace into a dragon, including the very end of it consisting in bringing the seven swords of the seven lords that had been exiled instead of the last four sleeping lords being woken up by the sacrifice of Reepicheep at the end of the world where the sea water turns sweet and where the children can finally return to their bedroom in front of the seascape painting.
We come next to the end of Narnia.
We will first evoke the birth of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew.
“A voice had begun to sing (1). […] It was a valley through which a broad swift river wound its way, flowing eastward towards the sun [we are at sunrise]. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock, and water; there was not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen. […] the Singer himself […] It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy and bright. […] The Lion was pacing to and fro about this empty land and singing his new song (2). […] and as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. […] The Lion was singing still (3). […] what it was doing to the country. […] In all directions it was swelling into bumps. […] from each bump there came out an animal. […] Every now and then he would go up to two of them […] and touched their noses with his. […] The pairs which he had touched instantly left their own kinds and followed him. […] the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”[xxx]
It is magic, musical and above all, it is a ternary process. Three different songs. Three cardinal points (“eastward”, “southward”, “northward”) hence we are standing in the west watching the sun rising. The valley was only three things: “earth, rock and water,” and three things were missing: “not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass.” The Lion is described with three adjectives: “Huge, shaggy and bright.” He will call the country three times and tell her to awake: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia,” and he will give them three missions after that awakening: “Love. Think. Speak.” Finally, he will people the country with three types of living beings: “Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” That’s one of the rare times when C.S. Lewis uses the word “divine” and he applies it to the waters and that must mean that these waters contain the third type of living beings, dryads and other sea beings. All these “divine” beings have to love, think and speak. These three traits are the fundamental endowments of life. This ternary rhythm is essential in many ways because it creates a dynamism in the language and the story. Shakespeare used it as opposed to the neutral and even neuter binary and iambic rhythm. But it is also used in music to create life, movement, tension, action. As Pascal Dusapin would say it is the rhythm of debating and arguing, action in words and it comes “pan-pan-pan! — pan-pan-pan! — pan-pan-pan!” or all other variations of this ternary rhythm. Alain Daniélou even went further in his study of musical semantics:
The third and the two-thirds of a tight string produce, with the octave, a sound of a new type corresponding to factor 3 in its frequency ratios. […] The sounds corresponding to the multiples of 3 each have a different expressive character. It is on the basis of this observation that in Greece, In China and elsewhere musicians constructed theories of the sound scale founded on what is called the cycle of fifths. […] The fifth represents the ratio 3/2 and has nothing to do with the number 5 as its name may induce us to think. […] Factor 3 always represents movement, activity. It determines differentiation, cycles, relative time and the perception of it. The fifth (3/2) and the second (32/23) are positive, active, energetic, masculine intervals constructed on a square basis.”[xxxi]
The word « masculine » is outdated today and I would prefer a term like constructive. We can, of course, think of the Christian trinity, but if we compare this creation of Narnia to the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis we would find this biblical vision is binary:
Genesis 1 — The Beginning
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning — the fourth day. [xxxii]
I have only kept some verses but the other amplify the phenomenon. There are parallel verses of course that do not change the binary conception of the Book of Genesis and we can even notice that God himself is binary since in the first and second verses we have “God” and “the Spirit of God”. I have also kept verses 14–19 to show that even what is ternary in practically all mythologies and cultures, the sun, the moon and the stars; the sun dictating the day and night cycle and the seasons; the moon and its various phases (three according to Shakespeare: waxing, full and waning) dictating the calendar, eclipses of the sun, tides and many other elements in nature; the stars providing humanity in all civilization with astrology, zodiacal signs, orientation at night in all human migrations, etc.; even this fundamentally ternary dimension of the universe is reduced to two luminaries, lights, the bigger one and the smaller one. The stars are a kind of secondary and minimized annex to the basic two luminaries in the sky that are associated with day and night which is basically false for the moon that has a 24 hours 50 minutes 15 seconds cycle, explaining why about every 2 or 3 years there are 13 full moons in a solar year versus 12 in the other years[xxxiii].
That makes me clearly state that C.S. Lewis has a pagan inspiration here and not at all a Christian one. It sure works in the normal order: light, grass, trees and plants, animals of the sea or the earth, but it does not create man that is considered as a given in this world or rather in a world outside this world.
The end of Narnia is a lot more interesting in many ways.
It all ends up with the treachery of a monkey using the dumbness of a donkey to impersonate Aslan with a lion’s skin that has come down some river. The second treachery of that monkey is that he negotiates a secret alliance with Calormen and some Calormene soldier come into Narnia under the disguise of merchants. The first treachery has two consequences: the Narnians believe the false Aslan is Aslan himself and they obey his orders. They start cutting down trees and selling them to Calormen. Then the Calormenes invade and start abducting as many people and animals as possible, sending them to Calormen to serve as slaves. The dwarfs refuse that fate and rebel against the two sides that appear when King Tirian arrives with the help of Eustace and Jill. The dwarfs will decide to believe neither Aslan, since he has been demonstrated to be fake, nor Tash wince he is trying to enslave them. So they will fight against everyone. At this point Narnia is dead and the few Aslan believers and supporters will be able to escape the end of Narnia by escaping through the door of the stable in which the fake Aslan was kept. Tash had found refuge in there and he kills the few Calormenes that enter. The Narnians and the children can escape.
At this moment everything changes:
“Seven Kings and Queens stood before [Tirian], all with crowns on their heads and all in glittering clothes, but the Kings wore fine mail as well and had their swords drawn in their hands. […] Jill […] Eustace […] Peter, the High King over all Kings in Narnia […] Lady Polly who came in Narnia on the First Day […] Lord Digory who was with her on that day […] King Edmund […] Queen Lucy […] “Where is Queen Suzan?” “My sister Suzan” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”[xxxiv]
Seven, they are but if the absence of Suzan is explained, the absence of King Frank and Queen Helen, the first King and Queen of Narnia is not explained and the presence of Lord Digory and Lady Polly, presented as part of the seven Kings and Queens is not clarified. C.S. Lewis has chosen to reduce the number to seven and to only include children in these seven. That’s a choice. Why was that choice done? It is difficult to answer. Maybe the pattern, of the seven days of the Book of Genesis? Maybe the pattern of the Holy Week that lasts actually eight days and end with the resurrection on the Sunday morning following the entrance in Jerusalem on the previous Sunday morning? Seven in music is considered as a perfectly unstable ratio that produces un-expressive sounds and intervals, not to speak of the seventh degree of the scale that sounds false if we apply the same physical procedure to produce it as was used by Pythagoras to produce all the others, so that in the 18th century it was decided to make it sound true by choosing a physical decision that was arbitrarily guided by human ears and not physics. Note this seventh degree is absent from non-classical European or non-European cultures and their pentatonic scales[xxxv]. If he had summoned all the children they would have been eight and he avoided it probably to avoid the Christian meaning of that number which refers to the eighth day of the Holy Week, to the resurrection, and to the second coming, the famous omega of the Irish Romanesque decoration present in most other Romanesque decorations in the form of Celtic Interlaced Designs or birds crossing their beaks to drink in two cups. If he had summoned all those who had been queens and kings he would have had only six people, the number of Solomon’s wisdom or David’s star. If he had summoned all the humans who played a role in Narnia they would have been ten, a number that has no clear mystical, mythical or even, religious meaning and is as cold as the metric system and decimals. He could have summoned the two original King and Queen and excluded Suzan, but then he would have reached nine and that number cannot bring a meaning of eternal peace and redemption.[xxxvi]
Here stops my trip in Narnia. It is time to conclude with a general qualification of this series of novels and an evaluation of the contrast with the other two authors I have considered.
The seven books are pedagogical for children who are the targeted audience. Constantly the author reminds us he is the storyteller and we are living in our own world. This is done with the use of “you” or “we” or “us” or even “I” and “my” in the tale:
“You must not imagine that Shasta felt at all as you and I would feel if we had overheard our parents talking about selling us for slaves.”[xxxvii]
The books constantly allude to the age and the growth seen as aging of the children. Peter and Suzan will be expelled first because they are too old. Then Edmund and Lucy will be excluded in their turn because they are also too old, and only Eustace and Jill will remain as children participants till the end. The others, apart from Suzan, will only be able to come back after their own deaths. It is thus aiming at explaining to children and probably young teenagers, the targeted audience of these books, that they will eventually have to grow out of these books.
The most important lesson though comes with The Last Battle in which C.S. Lewis tries to make simple children cope with death. There had been other occasions, but none so direct as the last page of the last novel. There had been an attempt at the end of The Silver Chair, with the death of Caspian X but he was revived in Aslan’s country in his youthful power and was even permitted to have a glimpse at the children’s world and set one foot, for a few minutes, in England, though the BBC adaptation makes it rather less spectacular than it could have been and was in The Silver Chair.
At the same time, these novels are written for children of the post-modern age. There are many worlds in this universe and each one has its own truth. Some are good, some are bad, though none is entirely good nor entirely bad. The dwarfs are those postmodern people who do not want to believe in either side of the divided world though they do not choose peace but bringing together the two sides, but instead self-isolation to protect themselves against the fables of the two camps identified as Tash and Aslan, a Cold War of some sort that is rather hot though at the end of The Last Battle.
That’s probably the best part of these novels. What looks good is not necessarily good and what looks bad is not necessarily bad. We have to discriminate good and bad in every one person or everyone situation. The best character to represent this attitude is probably Puddleglum, the Marsh-wiggle in The Silver Chair without whom nothing would have been achieved. He systematically says the pessimistic reverse of what we would think in any situation. He is the perfect party pooper[xxxviii], the perfect post-modern dubitative unbeliever who yet believes there is nothing one can really believe in.
I will conclude with him and you should wonder about the meaning of his two “should” and especially “shouldn’t”:
“And I hope we’ll meet again,” added Jill.
“Not much chance of that, I should say,” replied Puddleglum. “I don’t reckon I’m very likely to see my old wigwam again either. And that Prince — he’s a nice chap — but do you think he’s very strong? Constitution ruined with living underground, I shouldn’t wonder. Looks the sort that might go off any day.”
“Puddleglum!” said Jill. “You’re a regular old humbug. You sound as doleful as a funeral and I believe you’re perfectly happy. And you talk as if you were afraid of everything when you’re really as brave as — as a lion.”
“Now speaking of funerals,” began Puddleglum, …[xxxix]
We will stop there and meditate on the meaning of funerals in Children’s literature.
[i] Ramandu’s daughter, the future wife of Caspian X and mother of Prince Rilian, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
[iii] Idem, p. 32
[iv] Idem, p. 41
[vii] I totally disagree with the use of that word from a purely scientific point of view. It is the wrong word from a purely Darwinist perspective. But I am going to use it here as a “quotation” of H.G. Wells.
[viii] Fritz Lang, Metropolis, 1927, music by Gottfried Huppertz.
[ix] Specific quote is “The general point of view [of the essays] may be described as classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion,” in the preface by T.S. Eliot to For Lancelot Andrewes: essays on style and order, Doubleday, Doran and Company, New York, first edition 1929.; Faber and Faber, London, 1970
[x] Murder in the Cathedral, Faber and Faber Ltd, London, 1935/1968. It is this 1968 edition I quote here in its 1969 printing. The page numbers are to that printing of this edition. The play is also available like the poem The Hollow Men in The Complete Poems and Plays of TS Eliot, Guild Publishing London, by arrangement with Faber and Faber Limited, London, first published in 1969
[xi] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 25
[xii] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 26
[xiii] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 32
[xiv] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 35
[xv] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 36
[xvi] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 42–43
[xvii] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 37
[xviii] THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Available at http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/#copy or http://new.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/
[xix] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 44
[xx] Neologism from the Greek: [anti-] = “against” and [agon] = “contest”. Hence it means the opinion that is contradictory to the position of the four tempters is the following, that of the three priests or third priest.
[xxi] Murder in the Cathedral, op cit, p. 44
[xxii] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, with illustrations hand colored by the artist Pauline Baynes, Harper Collins Children’s Books, London, 1998. Original copyrights: The lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, 1950; Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, 1951; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952; The Silver Chair, 1953; The Horse and His Boy, 1954; The Magician’s Nephew, 1955; The Last Battle, 1956. Order in the one-volume edition I used: The magician’s Nephew, p. 10; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p. 73; The Horse and His Boy, p. 135; Prince Caspian [The Return to Narnia], p. 211; The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”, p. 287; The Silver Chair, p. 371; The Last Battle, p. 455. I extensively used the BBC adaptations: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, 1988; Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1989; The Silver Chair, 1990.
[xxiii] Sphinx. The Sphinx is a being which appears in both Greek and Egyptian mythology. Sphinxes have the body of a lion and the head of a human. The Greek Sphinx also has wings, which the Egyptian does not have. Griffin / Gryphon. The griffin is a Greek mythical monster, with the body, tail, and hind legs of a lion, and the head, forelegs and wings of an eagle. Chimaera / Chimera. The Chimera is a fearsome beast in Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake or dragon. Modern interpretations have given it three heads and dragons wings. Dragon. The Dragon is a composite of reptile body, lion claws, wings and fiery breath. Manticore. The Manticore is a medieval heraldic beast with the body of a lion, the head of a man (sometimes of a lion) with many rows of teeth, a scorpion’s tail and a flutelike voice. Narasingha (Narasimha). The man-lion, the fourth incarnation or Avatar of Vishnu, in which the Hindu god appears as a lion, to tear to pieces the man. Yali. The Yali is a creature in an Indian legend, with the body of a lion and the trunk and tusks of an elephant. Pard. The Pard is not a lion-like creature, but it mates with the lion, producing the leopard. Barong. Barong is a protective spirit portrayed as a lion (or tiger) in Balinese mythology. Singa. Although a dragon, the Singa appears in the shape of a lion in myths of the Batak-people in the mountains of northern Sumatra in Indonesia. Dedun. Dedun (Dedwen) is the Egyptian/Nubian god of wealth and incense. It is depicted as a lion sometimes, but more often as a human. Imdugud. Imdugud is the thunderbird of the Sumerian god Enki (Lord of the Soil / God of Water). Imdugud is the South Wind and carries the rain on its back. It has the body of a bird and the head of a lion, whose roar is the thunder. Chnubis. Chnubis is a Roman god with Greek and Egyptian elements. He is depicted as a snake with the head of a lion. Mahes. Mahes is the Egyptian personification of the heat in summer and is shown as a lion or a man with a lion’s head. In Greece he was known as Miysis. Sakhmet (Sekhmet). Sakhmet is a very powerful goddess of war and vengeance from ancient Egypt, worshipped in Memphis and Luxor. She has the body of a woman and the head of a lioness. She brought diseases and plagues but also healed them. Menhit. Menhit is an Egyptian lion-goddess and a goddess of war, the wife of Chnum and with a son called Hike. Those three gods were worshipped as a triad by the inhabitants of the ancient Egypt city of Latopolis (today: Esna/Isna). Menhit means ‘she who slaughters’. Arensnuphis. The Egyptian god Arensnuphis is depicted as a lion or as a man with a plumed crown. Ningirsu. Ningirsu is the god of rain, fertility and irrigation in Sumer and Babylon. He is depicted as an eagle with a lion’s head. Pazuzu. Pazuzu is an ancient demon from Mesopotamia consisting of the wings of an eagle, the claws of a lion, the tail of a scorpion and a deformed head. He is the personification of disease-bringing storms from the south-east. Available, and more, at http://home.tiscali.nl/rlion/lkgode.htm
[xxiv] La Bible de Jérusalem, Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1998, page 231, note d).
[xxv] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 523
[xxvi] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 524
[xxvii] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 523
[xxviii] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 524
[xxix] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 284
[xxx] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 42–48
[xxxi] Alain Daniélou, Sémantique musicale, Hermann, Paris, 1967, p 45 & 63.
[xxxii] THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Available at http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible
[xxxiii] Most years have twelve full moons that occur approximately monthly. In addition to those twelve full lunar cycles, each solar calendar year contains roughly eleven days more than the lunar year of 12 lunations. The extra days accumulate, so every two or three years (7 times in the 19-year Metonic cycle), there is an extra full moon.
[xxxiv] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 505–506
[xxxv] A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale and minor scale. Pentatonic scales are very common and are found all over the world, including Celtic folk music, Hungarian folk music, West African music, African-American spirituals, Gospel music, American folk music, Jazz, American blues music, rock music, Sami joik singing, children’s song, the music of ancient Greece and the Greek traditional music and songs from Epirus, Northwest Greece, music of Southern Albania, the tuning of the Ethiopian krar and the Indonesian gamelan, Philippine Kulintang, Native American music, melodies of Korea, Malaysia, Japan, China, India and Vietnam (including the folk music of these countries), the Andean music, the Afro-Caribbean tradition, Polish highlanders from the Tatra Mountains, and Western Classical composers such as French composer Claude Debussy. The pentatonic scale is also used on the Great Highland Bagpipe. Anhemitonic pentatonic scales can be constructed in many ways. One construction takes five consecutive pitches from the cycle of fifths; starting on C, these are C, G, D, A, and E. Transposing the pitches to fit into one octave rearranges the pitches into the major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A, C.
[xxxvi] To thicken the plot, I will quote: “the nine names of Aslan with their meanings”, op. cit. p. 449
[xxxvii] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 142
[xxxviii] n. Slang One who declines to participate with enthusiasm, especially in the recreational activities of a group. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/party+pooper
[xxxix] The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, op cit, p. 449