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Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Narnia against Pullman

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  • alexeik@aol.com
    ... From: Carl F. Hostetter To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 23:52:36 -0500 Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Narnia
    Message 1 of 18 , Dec 2, 2005
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: Carl F. Hostetter <Aelfwine@...>
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 23:52:36 -0500
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Narnia against Pullman



      <<I for one was most bothered by this statement attributed to Pullman
      (if true; John, can you establish otherwise?):

      "The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament
      itself," the avowedly atheistic Pullman said in a recent interview
      about the movie, "is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in
      the books.">>


      As you point out, Pullman makes no distinction between the different ways love manifests itself (Lewis's "Four Loves"), and it seems to be that he takes "love" to always mean "Eros", or to always potentially mean that.
      This limiting way he uses language extends to other terms, such as in the confusing way he understands "grace".
      Alexei


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    • David Bratman
      So ... when Jesus said, Love your neighbor as yourself, Pullman thinks he means, Practice eros with your neighbor ? Wouldn t that be a violation of a
      Message 2 of 18 , Dec 2, 2005
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        So ... when Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," Pullman thinks he means, "Practice eros with your neighbor"? Wouldn't that be a violation of a Commandment or two? What does Pullman think "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" means?

        This seems an insane interpretation of Pullman, and yet ... for any broader meaning of the word "love" it's equally insane to say that there's no trace of it in Narnia. To take it to absolute rock bottom, Edmund loves Turkish Delight, for ghu's sake.

        DB

        --alexeik@... wrote:

        >>"The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament
        >>itself," the avowedly atheistic Pullman said in a recent interview
        >>about the movie, "is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in
        >>the books.">>
        >
        >As you point out, Pullman makes no distinction between the different
        >ways love manifests itself (Lewis's "Four Loves"), and it seems to be
        >that he takes "love" to always mean "Eros", or to always potentially
        >mean that.
      • alexeik@aol.com
        ... From: David Bratman To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 11:07:34 -0800 (GMT-08:00) Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of
        Message 3 of 18 , Dec 7, 2005
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          -----Original Message-----
          From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 11:07:34 -0800 (GMT-08:00)
          Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Narnia against Pullman


          <<So ... when Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," Pullman thinks he
          means, "Practice eros with your neighbor"? Wouldn't that be a violation of a
          Commandment or two? What does Pullman think "Love the Lord your God with all
          your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" means?

          This seems an insane interpretation of Pullman, and yet ... for any broader
          meaning of the word "love" it's equally insane to say that there's no trace of
          it in Narnia. To take it to absolute rock bottom, Edmund loves Turkish Delight,
          for ghu's sake.>>
          Nowhere in _His Dark Materials_ (or in any of his criticism of Lewis that I've read) does Pullman refer in any way to Christian scripture, or indeed engage in any kind of meaningful argument with Christian belief or doctrine. "The Church" is presented as a rigid and oppressive hierarchy, but bereft of any consistent belief system, other than unquestioning submission to "the Authority". Jesus never appears.
          In general, Pullman seems to equate Christianity with the denial of pleasure and little else. In specific relation to Lewis, my impression is that his main concern is the fate of Susan, which he sees as the main scandal of Narnia. He attributes Lewis's disapproval of Susan not to her having become shallow and vain in her adolescence (as Lewis describes), but to her having undergone sexual awakening. The whole message of Narnia, then, becomes one of denial of sensual pleasure, and thus "life-denying".
          While "Turkish Delight" in LWW does have a connotation of sensual pleasure, the fact that it plays a negative role would only exarcebate Pullman's disapproval. In _The Amber Spyglass_ he creates a counter to it, when his ex-nun character loses her faith after eating marzipan -- rediscovering sensual pleasure, which directly reconnects her to Eros.
          I do think, on the evidence, that this is how Pullman's interpretation of Narnia leads to his charge that it has no "love".
          Alexei


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        • David Bratman
          ... I no longer have the original article, but I recall that the Pullman statement I was responding to cited the New Testament as saying the highest value was
          Message 4 of 18 , Dec 7, 2005
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            At 01:57 PM 12/7/2005 -0500, alexeik@... wrote:

            >Nowhere in _His Dark Materials_ (or in any of his criticism of Lewis that
            >I've read) does Pullman refer in any way to Christian scripture, or indeed
            >engage in any kind of meaningful argument with Christian belief or doctrine.

            I no longer have the original article, but I recall that the Pullman
            statement I was responding to cited the New Testament as saying the highest
            value was love and declared that love was totally absent from Narnia.
            Thus, Pullman referring to Christian scripture in the course of his
            criticism of Lewis.


            >In specific relation to Lewis, my impression is that his
            >main concern is the fate of Susan, which he sees as the main scandal of
            >Narnia. He attributes Lewis's disapproval of Susan not to her having become
            >shallow and vain in her adolescence (as Lewis describes), but to her having
            >undergone sexual awakening.

            Which proves that he hasn't read the books, since 1) all of the Pevensies
            are post-pubescent by the time of the "Susan is no longer a friend of
            Narnia" conversation; 2) Susan, and the others, had undergone sexual
            awakening to the extent of courtship in the final chapter of LWW.


            >While "Turkish Delight" in LWW does have a connotation of sensual pleasure,
            >the fact that it plays a negative role would only exarcebate Pullman's
            >disapproval.

            Sure, but that's only the worst example. All the good characters love
            Aslan. Does Pullman think that a) that's sexual; b) if not sexual, bad; c)
            that non-sexual love is not a justified use of the word "love"? If A or B,
            he's a sick little puppy; if C, he's flying in the face of every English
            translation of Jesus that I've ever heard of. That's the question I'm
            trying to ask: is it A, B, or C, and if none of the above, what am I missing?

            DB
          • Stolzi
            David, George Orwell once complained that fascism as a word had reached the status of meaning anything we don t like. It is possible that love now
            Message 5 of 18 , Dec 7, 2005
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              David,

              George Orwell once complained that "fascism" as a word had reached the
              status of meaning "anything we don't like." It is possible that "love"
              now means "anything we like" and since Pullman doesn't like Narnia, Narnia
              cannot possibly in his view contain "love."

              I find this critique particularly ironic coming from Pullman, when a recent
              article (while intemperate in its attacks upon Pullman) reminded me of the
              horrific scenes of torture, death and decay which he blithely puts into his
              text for "children" readers, and not least of the fact that he puts his
              young lovers together briefly only to tear them apart in the end.

              Some Love.

              Diamond Proudbrook
            • alexeik@aol.com
              ... From: David Bratman To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 11:31:55 -0800 Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Narnia
              Message 6 of 18 , Dec 8, 2005
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                -----Original Message-----
                From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
                To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                Sent: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 11:31:55 -0800
                Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Narnia against Pullman


                <<I no longer have the original article, but I recall that the Pullman
                statement I was responding to cited the New Testament as saying the highest
                value was love and declared that love was totally absent from Narnia.
                Thus, Pullman referring to Christian scripture in the course of his
                criticism of Lewis.>>

                Well, but this is only referring to scripture in the most general way. An average non-Christian who has never read the Bible could easily have that same broad impression of the contents of the New Testament. It doesn't necessitate a detailed knowledge of the text or any engagement with it.

                << All the good characters love
                Aslan. Does Pullman think that a) that's sexual; b) if not sexual, bad; c)
                that non-sexual love is not a justified use of the word "love"? If A or B,
                he's a sick little puppy; if C, he's flying in the face of every English
                translation of Jesus that I've ever heard of. That's the question I'm
                trying to ask: is it A, B, or C, and if none of the above, what am I missing?>>

                As you say, I don't think he's read the books carefully. It looks like he dislikes them too much to have retained any detailed knowledge of them. I also suspect that he interprets the exclusion of Susan as a lack of "love" [in this case, meaning kindness or charity rather than Eros alonet "lack of love" is still fundamentally tied to rejection of Eros] on the part
                part of Lewis himself, and on that basis sees the whole work as fundamentally lacking in "love". Of course, he seems to believe that Susan is damned, which Lewis explicitly denied.


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              • David Bratman
                ... Indeed, but he did refer to Christian scripture. ... Quite likely. I ve theorized that this explains a lot of the bizarre criticisms made of Tolkien as
                Message 7 of 18 , Dec 8, 2005
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                  At 01:54 PM 12/8/2005 -0500, alexeik@... wrote:

                  >Well, but this is only referring to scripture in the most general way. An
                  >average non-Christian who has never read the Bible could easily have that
                  >same broad impression of the contents of the New Testament. It doesn't
                  >necessitate a detailed knowledge of the text or any engagement with it.

                  Indeed, but he did refer to Christian scripture.


                  >As you say, I don't think he's read the books carefully. It looks like he
                  >dislikes them too much to have retained any detailed knowledge of them.

                  Quite likely. I've theorized that this explains a lot of the bizarre
                  criticisms made of Tolkien as well. Edmund Wilson claimed to have read the
                  whole of LOTR aloud but forgot most of the plot and how to spell the
                  characters' names. Michael Moorcock has been offering detailed critiques
                  of LOTR for years, but only recently have I found him admitting that he
                  finds the book "nearly unreadable," which to my mind should disqualify him
                  from any critique save for saying what he finds unreadable about it, an
                  approach he's never taken.


                  >I also suspect that he interprets the exclusion of Susan as a lack of "love"
                  >[in this case, meaning kindness or charity rather than Eros alonet "lack of
                  >love" is still fundamentally tied to rejection of Eros] on the part
                  >part of Lewis himself, and on that basis sees the whole work as
                  >fundamentally lacking in "love".

                  That would be an understandable critique: to weigh the love vs. not-love
                  and find the books balancing out the wrong way. One would disagree, but
                  one could understand how he felt that way. But that's not what he said.
                  He said there's not a trace of love in them. That's what doesn't make any
                  sense.

                  David Bratman
                • Carl F. Hostetter
                  I think you re both giving Pullman WAY too much credit for any sort of thoughtfulness behind his words at all. I read his statement as a slam at Lewis because
                  Message 8 of 18 , Dec 9, 2005
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                    I think you're both giving Pullman WAY too much credit for any sort
                    of thoughtfulness behind his words at all. I read his statement as a
                    slam at Lewis because Lewis was what would these days be always
                    called a "CONSERVATIVE Christian" (pronounced with a marked lip-curl
                    as a shibboleth for all other right-thinking people) for whom there
                    actually are universal and timeless moral standards of right and
                    wrong, and for whom facing judgement based on ones alignment and
                    comportment in accord with those standards is a certainty.

                    Pullman of course will have none of that for _his_ Jesus (at least,
                    not when it is convenient for him to have any kind of Jesus at all)
                    and so attributes to the Jesus of the New Testament the "liberal"
                    least-common-denominator sort of "love" that he finds least
                    objectionable: the hallmarks of which are unquestioning acceptance of
                    all other behaviors and beliefs, and valuing "niceness" above all
                    other virtues. His is a Jesus that knows nothing of Hell (or of
                    Heaven, really), and who came to win us salvation only from the
                    "oppression" of other men, and only so that we can all just be our
                    mellow selves in our own groovy way, where everything is cool, and
                    nothing harshes our buzz.

                    In other words: by "love" Pullman means "non-judgment" (or again, is
                    his world, "non-Church"), which is what he would have the New
                    Testament to be all about. In other words still: "It's a groovy kinda
                    love..."
                  • Jay Hershberger
                    CF: His is a Jesus that knows nothing of Hell (or of Heaven, really), and who came to win us salvation only from the oppression of other men, and only so
                    Message 9 of 18 , Dec 9, 2005
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                      CF: His is a Jesus that knows nothing of Hell (or of
                      Heaven, really), and who came to win us salvation only from the
                      "oppression" of other men, and only so that we can all just be our
                      mellow selves in our own groovy way, where everything is cool, and
                      nothing harshes our buzz.

                      JH: Yes. Can you imagine the Ante-Nicene Christians giving themselves
                      (and their children) over to the Romans to be consumed by wild animals,
                      burned alive, or torn into pieces for the sake of faith in Pullman's
                      version of Jesus?

                      Cheers,

                      Jay Hershberger
                      Moorhead, MN


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                    • John D Rateliff
                      ... Not quite. The four children grow up, but there s no hint of sexual awakening at all (aside from a simple statement that lords came from far and wide to
                      Message 10 of 18 , Dec 11, 2005
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                        On Dec 7, 2005, at 11:31 AM, David Bratman wrote:
                        >> In specific relation to Lewis, my impression is that his
                        >> main concern is the fate of Susan, which he sees as the main
                        >> scandal of
                        >> Narnia. He attributes Lewis's disapproval of Susan not to her
                        >> having become
                        >> shallow and vain in her adolescence (as Lewis describes), but to
                        >> her having
                        >> undergone sexual awakening.
                        >
                        > Which proves that he hasn't read the books, since 1) all of the
                        > Pevensies
                        > are post-pubescent by the time of the "Susan is no longer a friend of
                        > Narnia" conversation; 2) Susan, and the others, had undergone sexual
                        > awakening to the extent of courtship in the final chapter of LWW.

                        Not quite. The four children grow up, but there's no hint of sexual
                        awakening at all (aside from a simple statement that lords came from
                        far and wide to court Queen Susan the Gentle, with no indication
                        their attentions met with much success or indeed any response on her
                        part) in LWW. I think you're importing this back into the first book
                        from HHB, where Susan is, so far as I recall, portrayed as much more
                        shallow and rather pleased by the villain prince's suit. And then of
                        course there's the notorious passage from the last book, the wording
                        of which implies that the grown-up world of dating interests her more
                        now than her childhood adventures in Narnia. Poor Susan: condemned to
                        the outer darkness by an author who wants to make a Point.
                        It is a little creepy, though, to think of all four of them
                        having to go through puberty, revert to childhood, and then do it all
                        over again in another world.

                        > Does Pullman think that a) that's sexual; b) if not sexual, bad; c)
                        > that non-sexual love is not a justified use of the word "love"? If
                        > A or B,
                        > he's a sick little puppy; if C, he's flying in the face of every
                        > English
                        > translation of Jesus that I've ever heard of. That's the question I'm
                        > trying to ask: is it A, B, or C, and if none of the above, what am
                        > I missing?

                        None of the above, I'd say. I think it's hard for anyone to be fair
                        when talking about a book he or she personally despises, and that
                        Pullman has fallen into hyperbole.
                        Besides, I think the linkage of love w. sensuality in this thread
                        is pretty much beside the point. I'd say Pullman's main criticism in
                        the article cited, that Narnia celebrates a culture of death (I
                        forget the exact phrasing), ties directly into the major themes of
                        HIS DARK MATERIAL: that any religion which focuses attention away
                        from this life, the here and now where we actually live, in favor of
                        some promised afterlife, is a cheat. The great revelation of the
                        third volume, that the promised afterlife is a prison for souls meant
                        to freely discorporate back into the stuff of which they were made,
                        reminds me so much of Le Guin's revisionary final Earthsea book, THE
                        OTHER WIND, that I think she must have found in Pullman an
                        inspiration of how to recast her own myth.* CSL's shabby treatment of
                        Susan, while offering ready-made ammunition to people who think him a
                        misogynist, is really beside the main point. The "happy ending" to
                        HOUSE OF THE OCTOPUS or THE LAST BATTLE (good news! everybody dies
                        horribly! horray!) is anathema to Pullman's point of view.

                        All in all, I still don't think the fact that Pullman dislikes
                        Narnia with some intensity (just as JRRT did) is of any great
                        significance, any more than Austen's disapproval of Robert Burns,
                        Emerson's snootiness about Edgar Poe, or Shaw's dislike of Shakespeare.

                        --JDR

                        *Mind you, I think she greatly weakens the whole Earthsea series
                        by her revisionism, but that's a different argument.


                        --just finished: THE POWER OF THE RING by Stratford Caldecott;
                        RINGERS (dvd documentary on Tolkien fandom); THE BOOK OF DRAGONS by
                        Ciruelo.
                        --new arrivals: GOD'S SECRETARIES: THE MAKING OF THE KING JAMES
                        BIBLE; TOLKIEN'S MYTHOLOGY FOR ENGLAND: A MIDDLE-EARTH COMPANION by
                        Edmund Wainwright; Lawlor's C.S.LEWIS: MEMORIES AND REFLECTIONS
                        (audiobook).


                        P.S.: The newest Blackstone Audio catalogue, just out, lists as new
                        releases CSL's REFLECTIONS ON THE PSALMS along with THE WORLD
                        ACCORDING TO NARNIA by Jonathan Rogers, about which I know nothing --
                        the huge publicity push for the Narnia film seems to be causing the
                        release of some material that I suspect we wouldn't otherwise get,
                        like these audiobooks of CSL's minor works. I wish they'd record and
                        release some of his scholarly work, like THE DISCARDED IMAGE, rather
                        than just the fiction and apologetics.
                      • Stolzi
                        ... From: John D Rateliff ... Well, Charlotte Bronte hated =Austen=, so there :) Diamond Proudbrook
                        Message 11 of 18 , Dec 11, 2005
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                          ----- Original Message -----
                          From: "John D Rateliff" <sacnoth@...>

                          > All in all, I still don't think the fact that Pullman dislikes
                          > Narnia with some intensity (just as JRRT did) is of any great
                          > significance, any more than Austen's disapproval of Robert Burns,
                          > Emerson's snootiness about Edgar Poe, or Shaw's dislike of Shakespeare.

                          Well, Charlotte Bronte hated =Austen=, so there :)

                          Diamond Proudbrook
                        • John D Rateliff
                          ... Yes, so did Mark Twain. Their loss. Similarly, neither CSL nor Dunsany could stand, or understand, T. S. Eliot s poetry. Such knocks reflect badly on the
                          Message 12 of 18 , Dec 11, 2005
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                            > Well, Charlotte Bronte hated =Austen=, so there

                            Yes, so did Mark Twain. Their loss. Similarly, neither CSL nor
                            Dunsany could stand, or understand, T. S. Eliot's poetry. Such knocks
                            reflect badly on the folks making them but do no real harm to their
                            target.

                            Speaking of nasty swipes at authors, the best part of the RINGERS
                            documentary was a little animated skit done in Monty-Pythonesque
                            (Terry Gilliam) style, where cardboard figures of Edmund Wilson,
                            Philip Toynbee, and Harold Bloom ran down LotR (and those who admired
                            it), with the voiceovers using actual quotes from their essays, only
                            to have the three smug critics discomforted and reduced to quivering
                            silence by winged cut-outs of CSL and WH Auden arriving on the scene
                            with (laudatory) quotes of their own. That, and the scene with David
                            Carradine where he talked about having tried to get a role in the
                            LotR film back in the 70s then, upon learning to his horror that they
                            were planning to make an animated film, trying to talk Bakshi out of
                            the idea.

                            Finally, here's a Narnian reference I couldn't make head or tails of.
                            It's from the Sept. 16th issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, page 88, a
                            review of the new cd "Takk" by the group Sigur Ros: "At times Takk
                            almost rocks--as much as tiny ice-crystal elves from the magical land
                            of Narnia can rock." Huh? Does that actually mean anything at all, or
                            is the reviewer just being "clever"?

                            --JDR



                            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                          • Jonathan Michael Reiter
                            Atomtetsuwan2002 here. That reference sounds like the reviewer is trying and failing to sound terrribly clever. I doubt said reviewer even read the books...
                            Message 13 of 18 , Dec 12, 2005
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                              Atomtetsuwan2002 here. That reference sounds like the reviewer is trying and failing to sound terrribly clever.
                              I doubt said reviewer even read the books...
                              Atomtetsuwan2002
                              at2k2
                              ----- Original Message -----
                              From: John D Rateliff
                              To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                              Sent: Sunday, December 11, 2005 11:25 PM
                              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Defense of Pullman against Narnians


                              > Well, Charlotte Bronte hated =Austen=, so there

                              Yes, so did Mark Twain. Their loss. Similarly, neither CSL nor
                              Dunsany could stand, or understand, T. S. Eliot's poetry. Such knocks
                              reflect badly on the folks making them but do no real harm to their
                              target.

                              Speaking of nasty swipes at authors, the best part of the RINGERS
                              documentary was a little animated skit done in Monty-Pythonesque
                              (Terry Gilliam) style, where cardboard figures of Edmund Wilson,
                              Philip Toynbee, and Harold Bloom ran down LotR (and those who admired
                              it), with the voiceovers using actual quotes from their essays, only
                              to have the three smug critics discomforted and reduced to quivering
                              silence by winged cut-outs of CSL and WH Auden arriving on the scene
                              with (laudatory) quotes of their own. That, and the scene with David
                              Carradine where he talked about having tried to get a role in the
                              LotR film back in the 70s then, upon learning to his horror that they
                              were planning to make an animated film, trying to talk Bakshi out of
                              the idea.

                              Finally, here's a Narnian reference I couldn't make head or tails of.
                              It's from the Sept. 16th issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, page 88, a
                              review of the new cd "Takk" by the group Sigur Ros: "At times Takk
                              almost rocks--as much as tiny ice-crystal elves from the magical land
                              of Narnia can rock." Huh? Does that actually mean anything at all, or
                              is the reviewer just being "clever"?

                              --JDR



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