The Uncomfortable Racism of C.S. Lewis Aug30

The Uncomfortable Racism of C.S. Lewis...

Since childhood, I’ve had a strong attachment to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. My aunt gave me a set of the books, which currently sit in a place of honour in my office. I’ve read and reread the series throughout my life with a sense of wonder and delight. As my critical reading skills developed, and as I began to understand systemic power dynamics, my naïve love of Narnia gave way to a more complicated and nuanced relationship with the stories. I realized they could be almost heavy-handedly allegorical at times. The characters, particularly in the final novels, are overly broad, almost parodic. And don’t get me started on Lewis’s class assumptions or Susan and Lucy’s exclusion from battle. But the most troubling aspect of the series came to light a few years ago when I was first teaching a class on Lewis and Tolkien. Most of the students, like me, had been introduced to Lewis’s novels as children. A few had passed the series on to their own children, even grandchildren. One student, however, had taken the class to fill an elective and had no prior knowledge of Narnia or Middle-earth. In our conversation about The Horse and His Boy, this student commented, “Well, I found this one a little bit racist.” The other students jumped to Lewis’s defense with well-meaning but well-worn excuses—“He lived in a different era with different attitudes about race and other cultures.” Too often we’re afraid to question ourselves, afraid that if we acknowledge something troubling we open the door to undermining our whole belief system. I, too, a lifelong fan, found myself parroting this same line of thinking: “We need to read this in its historical context.” After class, however, I went back to the text,...

Breathing a Lie through Silver Jan08

Breathing a Lie through Silver...

A philosophic argument is one of the best things that can happen to a friendship. Verbose disagreement with a healthy dose of name calling between jolly friends as they enjoy a choice drink: this is an ideal evening, in my opinion. It is in such a setting, at any rate, that I imagine the conflict between Lewis and Tolkien, a debate in which their philosophic understanding of myth stood at polar opposites. It was September of 1931 at Magdalen College in Oxford when Lewis told Tolkien that myth and fairy story were “breathing a lie through silver.” Tolkien strongly disagreed. He believed his “kind and confused friend” committed a grave error in saying this. Tolkien would later capture the essence of this error in his essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien felt strongly that myth creation, whatever it was, was something more than a lie, even poetically laced with silver. A lie is generally a negative thing. Tolkien maintained that the power to create myth and story was not negative but something positive, and even more. It was not only a human right, but a divine right. In the essay, he argued that humanity creates because our image mirrors the creator. A whole world is created with doors to new vistas that tell me about the world I live in. This perspective of myth making was important to Tolkien as it brought a legitimacy to creating myths in a time when fairies and their tales was left primarily to children. Tolkien’s idea was both important and relevant to the criticisms of that day, and it still applies in this century. I would even apply his principle in broader strokes. When I enter a land of someone else’s creation—whether it’s a book, a movie, a video game—I have a chance at...

Dragon baptisms Jun23

Dragon baptisms

For almost half my life it has been my job to work with individuals who are converting to Catholicism, and baptism is a huge part of this. Everybody is always super jealous of the Elect who will be Baptized, because everything bad they ever did in their lives is drowned in the waters of Baptism and they get to totally start over. They go into the water their old, broken selves, and come out a new creation in Christ. But before being baptized, they really scrutinize themselves to see what needs to be left in the water—what they need to die to in order to rise to Christ. Each year on the morning of the Easter Vigil (the Elect will be Baptized that night) we get together for a retreat. And each year I read them one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. It’s from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If you’re not familiar with this story, why the heck not?! Read it! The books in this series are short, easy reads and they are AWESOME. (Note: the movies are NOT a substitute for the books.) I cannot let sin follow me around like toilet paper on my shoe. The section I read to them takes place after a jerky kid named Eustace becomes a dragon. He came across some dragon treasure, took a bracelet and (naturally) became a dragon himself because dragon treasure is cursed. He has a lot of time to think about what an ass he had been (and he really had been). He is alone with his thoughts and regrets. From out of nowhere a huge lion, Aslan, shows up and Eustace understands that Alsan wants to help him become a boy again. Eustace understands that...