December 20, 2005

Much Ado About Narnia

First there was J. K. Rowlings doing a hundred-eighty from loving Narnia so much that she couldn’t put it down even today if she was in a room with the book to saying that she’s never even completed the Narnia series and that there is something about C. S. Lewis’s sentiments that gets on her nerves. Now there is Philip Pullman saying that the Narnia series is everything from "propaganda in the cause of the religion [Lewis] believed in,", misogynistic, racist, sadomasochistically relishing violence and even anti-vegetarian :p (Of course, the last one might not be Pullman – I just read that bit somewhere in reading about all the brouhaha over Narnia and how somebody claimed that the stories were anti-vegetarian or something because Mr. and Mrs. Beaver had sausages for breakfast …but haven’t done the research to see if that was Pullman … yeah, I know, bad journalism :p)

Now, I’ve read Harry Potter (who hasn’t? :p) and I enjoy Rowling’s writing. I haven’t read any of Pullman’s work and I mostly knew of him as the author of the "Northern Lights" series since a friend of mine raved about it and encouraged me to read it. However, Pullman and his "His Dark Materials" is what is touted when anybody talks about Pullman and the Narnia issue. Not having read any of his stuff, I can’t really comment. Quite a few of the commentaries online say that at least in the case of Pullman, this whole Narnia thing is a case of sour grapes. I personally don’t believe so. I think that both Pullman and Rowlings are victims of not being able to perceive something from a different perspective, something written at a time when things were simpler, when everybody didn’t have to conform to what was "politically correct" or have to write within permitted boundaries. In fact, Rowlings and Pullman have done the worst possible thing from both the Narnian children’s perspective and that of Peter Pan – they have grown up :p

See, one of the things that Rowlings has objected to in Narnia is that Susan is condemned to damnation because she was interested in lipstick and being a woman. Of course, she misses the point entirely. What happened with Susan was not that she became interested in being a woman, but that she dismissed all that the wonder they’d experienced as children as "fancies" and wanted to be all adult, grown up and serious. What some people don’t realize is that you don’t have to give up the wonder of childhood to become an adult – you can still have the best of both worlds.

Of course, there is a lot more that people say about Narnia. They say it’s racist. They say that it’s anti-Islamic and that the Calormen, who were the bad guys in "The Last Battle", (well, at least most of them) were patently Muslims. Now I’m a Muslim and I’ve read the Narnia series over and over and over so many times and I’ve never, ever thought of the Calormen as Muslims till all this hullabaloo started in the first place. In fact, even the Christian symbolism passed over me when I first read the books as a child. I understood the goodness in the books and agreed with it – I still do and I wholeheartedly in the principle espoused in "The Last Battle" that it doesn’t matter who you believe in as God, that as long as you do good in the name of God, it means that you always believe in the "right" God. (Yeah, I’m phrasing it badly but hopefully you get the idea :p)

I had this friend of mine, who is the only other Sri Lankan that I’d known till then who’d read Narnia, introduce another friend of his who loved Narnia. Her first question was "How can you like Narnia when it is so heavily Christian?" Fortunately, we were talking online and she couldn’t see my look which said "Are you insane?" :p I’ve never thought of the Narnia books as Christian and I don’t think I ever will. If you want to take everything with Christian symbolism in it, you might as well call "E.T." and "The Matrix" Christian works as well :p I think of the Chronicles of Narnia as a great story with a simple (and true) philosophy behind it. Why can’t we all just leave things at that and go back to our own writing? :p

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Tags: Books, Internet, Reflections
Posted by Fahim at 7:05 am   Comments (0)