CS Lewis vs. LF Baum
- I find it regretable when critics decide to boost one of my favorite
authors by using him or her as a stick to beat another one of my favorite
authors with, but the resulting articles can be interesting to read.
Many of us, I suspect, will feel that way about a new article on Salon
using Narnia as a stick to beat Oz. It's by Laura Miller, and the
Here's one particularly hair-raising paragraph using Narnia as a stick to
beat everything else about Lewis with:
"We'll probably never see an annotated "The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe" because the Christian elements in Lewis' work repel interesting
critics and scholars -- some of whom are still embarrassed about how much
they liked his books as kids. (Lewis scholarship exists, but it's a
hagiographic wasteland roamed by worshipful, third-rate Christian
academics who see his work as something close to divine revelation.)
Former fans often (mistakenly) dismiss his children's books as simple
religious allegories, and the well-earned reputation that Christians have
for smug proselytizing has tarnished much of Lewis' writing by
- David Bratman
- But then again, I found these two paragraphs excellent in their appraisal of
Lewis (whatever she thinks about his fans and students!):
'It's a shame because "The Chronicles of Narnia" is a fascinating attempt to
compress an almost druidic reverence for wild nature, Arthurian romance,
Germanic folklore, the courtly poetry of Renaissance England and the
fantastic beasts of Greek and Norse mythology into an entirely reimagined
version of what's tritely called "the greatest story ever told." Even if you
don't agree that it's the greatest story, it's still one of the great ones,
and Lewis -- a leading literary scholar of his generation and a writer of
uncommon eloquence -- not only set himself a mighty task but pulled it off.
This is British children's fantasy -- a far cry from the modest American
talent who leads with a promise to dispense with all "disagreeable incident."
'Just as the British think that children are important enough to merit the
work of their best writers, British children's writers think children are
important enough to be treated as moral beings. That means that sometimes
things get scary. The four children -- Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy -- in
"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" have not just their own distinct
personalities but their own private tests; though they too wind up as kings
and queens of a magical land after saving it from an evil witch, they have to
fight, hard, for their crowns. Lewis' depiction of what it means to be
tempted by evil, as Edmund is by the White Witch when she plays on his
vanity, and of the behavior -- from petty cruelty to grave betrayal -- that
results, made a tremendous impression on me as a child. It communicated that,
faced with often deceptive and even self-destructive emotions and impulses, I
had choices to make in my life, choices that mattered. '
> "This is British children's fantasy -- a far cry from the modest AmericanThis is the line that most irritated me. There is nothing wrong with
> talent who leads with a promise to dispense with all "disagreeable incident."
having some books that dispense with disagreeable incident, as long as
they're not all like that. Life can be fun and agreeable at times, and
even when it's not, why not read some occasionally? To criticize Baum
for this statement is awfully reminiscent of those who criticize all
fantasy for being escapist.
Besides, he didn't mean it quite that way - for all of the reviewer's
protests, there are moments of danger and doubt in Baum. He just wanted
to ensure he didn't scare his child-readers' wigs off. As a former child
who found the supposedly cutesy early Disney films terrifying (watch them
again sometime if you don't believe me), I think Baum had a worthy point
There is also, as DL noted, an implicit condemnation of all American
fantasy. I think the reviewer has been seduced by the British side of
the Force to the extent that she can not entirely appreciate the
distinctive qualities of characteristically American fantasy writing,
something which Baum (following hints from Hawthorne and Irving, in
particular) essentially invented, and which you can see such a different
writer as Tim Powers practicing today. A quick hit of Brian Attebery's
"The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature," particularly the chapter
on Baum, which fairly analyzes both his strengths and weaknesses, will
The reviewer praises Lewis's prose, which in Narnia I find variable, and
dismisses Baum's. It's hard not to suspect that she's looking down at
his fondness for puns.
- In a message dated 12/28/2000 11:21:21 PM Central Standard Time,
> It's hard not to suspect that she's looking down atShouldn't that be "looking down =on=," David? (speaking of prose)
> his fondness for puns.
As for the prose of Narnia, I think you have a point. Lewis =said= that
children's stories should be adapted for reading aloud, but there are long
double-jointed clauses and parentheses in many sentences in the CHRONICLES
which would, I think, be difficult to put across.
Last night was thinking about this article and felt that the impeachment of
American fantasy as more light-minded than British was unfair - does this
woman think that HARRY POTTER, or WILLY WONKA, have profound moral and
stylistic depths? Yah, right.
- This Salon article is featured on one of AOL's subscriber pages - a
miscellany called LIFE, The Lighter Side of News. Go figure.
This time the picture came up on the Salon page and it is the D***dest thing,
I don't even know what it's supposed to signify.
- Stolzi@... [Stolzi@...] wrote:
> This Salon article is featured on one of AOL's subscriber pages - aI would think it is Aslan punching out the Cowardly Lion, since as we know,
> miscellany called LIFE, The Lighter Side of News. Go figure.
> This time the picture came up on the Salon page and it is the D***dest thing,
> I don't even know what it's supposed to signify.
Narnia is so superior to Oz. Just ask the article's author. <g>
Matthew Winslow mwinslow@... http://x-real.firinn.org/
"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and
Currently reading: Faith and Wealth by Justo Gonzalez
- For me, the interesting thing about the _Salon_ article is that it's just one
more piece of evidence that there are people there who think that fantasy is
just as important as mainstream fiction. There are certainly mistakes and
odd opinions in the article, but at least they are willing to discuss fantasy
(even children's fantasy) on the same level as other fiction. Remember,
_Salon_ is the magazine where they have a bunch of Tolkien fans.