Classic pieces of literature such as those written by Shakespeare or Dickinson are constantly being reinterpreted by new generations and literary leaders. Classic stories such as A Little Princess or the Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis are also constantly being reevaluated by up-and-coming as well as established authors. C. S. Lewis’s well beloved series The Chronicles of Narnia has recently been evaluated, and attacked, by Philip Pullman. Philip Pullman, the celebrated children’s author who wrote His Dark Materials, has been called by The Times one of the fifty greatest British authors since 1945. He actually wrote his Dark Materials series as an actual counter series to C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Pullman does not agree with the “reality” that Lewis presents and wanted to present a vision of the world as he thought it should be. He thinks that Lewis encourages people to stay childish and to not grow up. Philip Pullman also believes that C. S. Lewis is thoroughly racist and against women.
In many different places such as interviews and speeches, Philip Pullman clearly makes known his dislike for C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia while also making public is reasons for disliking the well known and celebrated author so much. During the Guardian Hay festival in 2007, Pullman took the opportunity to publicize his views. The Guardian records: “The Whitbread prize-winning children’s writer Philip Pullman has dismissed his best-selling predecessor CS Lewis as “blatantly racist” and “monumentally disparaging of women”.” The Guardian then goes on to record Pullman as saying, “It is monumentally disparaging of girls and women. It is blatantly racist. One girl was sent to hell because she was getting interested in clothes and boys.” In another interview, Pullman reveals his distain for C. S. Lewis’s approach to the great question of the purpose of the existence of human life. The interview records: “Pullman loathes the way the children in Narnia are killed in a car-crash. “I dislike his Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life,” (More Intelligent Life). Philip Pullman’s arguments, however, are flawed because he does not understand the historical setting of C. S. Lewis’s writings, he does not understand C. S. Lewis’s religious beliefs, and he does not grasp the meaning of Lewis’s imaginative but meaningful themes.
First, Philip Pullman does not understand that C. S. Lewis was writing during the period before and just after the World Wars. At this time, women were primarily homemakers, wives, and mothers rather than full-time employees in the work force. They wore dresses, put their hair up, wore high heels, and were feminine. It was not thought disparaging or disrespectful to women if an author portrayed them in a story doing just what they did in actual everyday life. C. S. Lewis goes even further in his Chronicles of Narnia stories. He does not just portray women in the places that they filled in society at the time. He portrayed them in his second book – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – as queens who had equal power with their two brothers who were kings.
Second, Philip Pullman does not fully comprehend C. S. Lewis’s religious beliefs. Pullman states the books that make up the Chronicles of Narnia do not contain the slightest traces of Christian love (BBC News). A reader of the online BBC News submitted a comment where he basically states that while Pullman claims that in the Chronicle of Narnia series there is absolutely no evidence of Christian love – charity, kindness, giving, thinking of others, service – the most important scenes in the books are centered around self sacrifice and Christian love. The commenter goes on to point out the memorable instance where Aslan sacrifices himself to save the life of the traitor Edmund in a Christ like action and then comes back to life at the dawn of the new day just a few hours later. He comes to life because he acted out of love instead of selfishness. (BBC News) In every one of the seven books that make up the delightful Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis makes self-sacrifice for the good and the happiness of others his primary theme. Lewis once gave a succinct explanation of love: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained,” (Good Reads). He also gives his readers insight into his Christian beliefs when he said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you,” (Good Reads). Unlike what Philip Pullman proclaims, C. S. Lewis is all about love and forgiveness.
Third, Philip Pullman does not grasp the meaning of Lewis’s imaginative but meaningful themes. One of the biggest issues that Pullman has with Lewis’s themes is that of life after death in Lewis’s book The Last Battle. David C. Downing in a blog post wrote this about Pullman’s inability to grasp Lewis’s hopeful themes. Downing comments on the rather apparent amount of anti-Christian baggage that Philip Pullman brings to his analysis of C. S. Lewis’s writings. He points out that Pullman is forcing his own lens on the stories, such as when Pullman claims that in The Last Battle C. S. Lewis is just willfully and recklessly killing off all of his main characters. Downing then writes that:
The book explains in one sentence what happened to the children on Earth; it spends the last third of the narrative showing their lives in the eternal morning of the new Narnia, with Aslan and his faithful followers from all generations. THE LAST BATTLE is not about sad endings in this world (tho Lewis knew all about that from childhood), but about wonderful beginnings elsewhere. (Dangerous Ideas)
Pullman also claims that Lewis is being racist when he casts the Telmarines as evil characters who worship a devilish god. However, Lewis was not being racist at all. He was creating a metaphor of good versus evil. In order to create such a metaphor he had to cast one country as being generally the upholders of good and another country as being generally the upholders of bad, and these two peoples had to have distinguishing characteristics. Once again in The Last Battle there is an example that discredits Pullman’s claims: the young Telmarine who comes into Aslan’s country because he is a seeker after the truth, even though he misunderstands exactly who is proclaiming the truth. Also, many of the talking animals go “bad” and return to being dumb creatures. So no, Lewis is not being racist – he is creating imaginative metaphors. After all, a fairy tale is all about imagination and imagery and metaphors.
Pullman thinks, and proclaims, that Lewis only writes about not growing up, about dyeing before your time, and not getting to live a full life. He thinks that the Chronicles of Narnia have everything in them except for Christian virtues. However, C. S. Lewis’s infuses each of his seven books in his Chronicles of Narnia series with hope, self-sacrifice, and love – Lewis’s primary themes in all his writings. Just a quick look at Philip Pullman’s position and ideas shows the problems of not approaching a piece of literature with an open and interested mind. People can come to believe whatever they want about a piece of literature – a book – but it is important to understand two things. First, it is important to understand what an author intended to convey when they wrote their book. Second, it is very important to read a book with an open mind, leaving all preconceptions behind and making no assumptions until the book is finished.
Downing, David C. “Philip Pullman on C. S. Lewis.” Dangerous Ideas. Dangerous Ideas blog, 23 November. 2007. Web.
Ezard, John. “Narnia Books Attacked as Racist and Sexist.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 3 June. 2002. Web.
“An Interview with Philip Pullman.” More Intelligent Life. More Intelligent Life, 3 December. 2007. Web.
Lewis, C. S. Good Reads. Good Reads Author Quotes. Web.
“Pullman Attacks Narnia Film Plans.” BBC News. BBC News UK, 16 October. 2005. Web.