Thursday, January 7, 2016

Lucy & Susan with Aslan

In one of my college classes, we read a couple of The Chronicles of Narnia (LWW and LB, I believe), and at some point a conversation arose about C.S. Lewis's portrayal of female characters. There was some question of whether he portrayed femininity in a positive light; some people pointed out that the good characters are generally less feminine (Lucy, for instance, wields a bow and Aravis is rather what we once called a tomboy) and the weaker characters are more feminine (Susan gives up on Narnia in favor of "nylons and lipstick" and Lasaraleen loves clothing and shopping). Now, I think it's all a little more complicated than that. Being feminine, for one thing, isn't just about liking makeup and lipstick--Lucy is also feminine. And sometimes the disdain for makeup/clothing is meant more as disdain for materiality. Additionally, these are children's adventure stories, and often children aren't particularly feminine or masculine yet: they're just children. C.S. Lewis is actually fairly equal in his portray of children, if you think about it: LWW focuses on two girls and two boys, and MN, HHB, SC, and LB all focus on a girl and a boy. PC and VDT do have more boys than girls, but Caspian is such a great character that I don't really mind--and I never even thought about it before, anyway.

All of this was just leading in to a newer thought I was having. I was on the side to defend C.S. Lewis's portrayal of female characters (some people also pointed out that he himself simply didn't know very many women very closely; after all, he didn't marry Joy until fairly late in life), so I realized another way of looking at scenes. It's kind of like when people talk about women in the Bible, saying that there aren't very many or that they're in inferior place to men or whatever--when you actually look at individual women, there are some very important, positive things to notice about who they were, what they did, and how they were received. Same thing with Narnia.

There are several instances, from as small a thing as the arrival of the cabman's wife in MN to something bigger like Aslan's "choosing" of Lucy to receive his messages and help bring the others to Narnia (I'm thinking of scenes in both LWW and PC). In fact, Lucy is the most "chosen" character out of the whole series, followed perhaps by Caspian (though he is chosen simply to lead a country, while Lucy is chosen for almost more of a spiritual position). (Peter may be the High King and he does play that role well, but he never really feels as important as Lucy.) Aslan is constantly appearing to Lucy, often to Lucy alone. Yes, he appears to other characters, like that wonderful scene with Shasta in HHB (that scene is one of my favorites, where he's walking next to him), but those scenes are usually more on a persona, one-on-one basis. When Aslan appears to Lucy, he is asking her to tell others what he wants; he is trusting her with his messages and asking her to have faith for them all. That's a big deal.

So the main scene I've been thinking of is in LWW when Lucy and Susan walk with Aslan to the Stone Table. Just think about that scene. I remember watching it in the animated movie, and even when I was young, that scene just had such a resonance, such a weightiness, such a sense of significance. The fact that Aslan is allowing these two characters, these two girls, to walk with him on this night, to set hands in his mane, really says something about how they are viewed. They are special and important in order to be welcomed into this place. And they repay their favor by being with Aslan after the White Witch kills him, by trying to untie the ropes that bind him. In turn, they are rewarded by being the first to see him come to life again. And that, too, is big. Okay, you can say that C.S. Lewis wasn't giving any special place to women because he was only mimicking Biblical scenes, but wouldn't that make you pause, too? Because if this position is special for Lucy and Susan, then it really was for the women in the Bible. It's a special place, definitely a special place.

What a beautiful moment in fiction it is, too: Lucy and Susan, walking side by side with a great lion during the darkened night while he willingly walks to his death with only their company.

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