Susan Pevensie: Always a Queen of Narnia?

This month LHP is highlighting some of our readers’ favorite previous posts from our authors.  We hope you enjoy them!

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of Susan that ISN’T Anna Popplewell?

When we think of The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan is not, perhaps, the first character that comes to mind.  She is robust and relatively well developed, but she also seems to be more of a supporting character.  After all, it is Lucy who leads the children into Narnia and seems to form the strongest bond with Aslan.  Edmund is the traitor redeemed, and Peter becomes the High King.  Susan’s most unique aspect is also one of the most controversial points of The Chronicles:  She is the only one of the four Pevensie children to fall away and not make it into Aslan’s country at the end of The Last Battle.  This has upset a couple of generations of readers now, and it has led to charges of sexism against her creator, C. S. Lewis.  For many people, Susan’s fall is one of the worst points of the books; it bothers them enough that they can’t let it go.  Fortunately, there is much more to Susan and her situation than what her critics imply.

As early as Prince Caspian, we see hints of something happening to Su.  When Lucy sees Aslan, Susan knows in her heart of hearts that she is telling the truth.  She refuses to admit it, even to herself, and later feels horribly guilty about it.  At the end of the book, Susan and Peter are returned to our world where they are expected to grow up and apply all of the lessons learned in Narnia.  By the time we meet them again in The Last Battle, their paths have diverged dramatically.

When the group meets inside the stable, in Aslan’s country, Susan is notably absent.  When that fact is brought up, Susan is described as “no longer a friend of Narnia.”  Jill notes that she pays attention to “nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”  Su has even gone so far as to deny Narnia’s very existence:  “Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”  As such, she isn’t on the train when the wreck occurs, and she isn’t granted entrance into Aslan’s country at that point. [1]

This subplot has provoked (and continues to provoke) howls of outrage.  J. K. Rowling made the comment to Time magazine that “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” [2]  Phillip Pullman, who constructed an atheistic fantasy series that has been described as sort of the “anti-Narnia,” stated that,

In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.[3]

I would argue that Rowling and Pullman have misrepresented Lewis’s point entirely.  In fact, they may well have done so for the simple reason that they “got” it all too well.  Lewis is making a comment so pointed that it has made millions of people uncomfortable, which is something we aren’t used to seeing in Narnia.  It seems to come out of the proverbial blue, and people simply react to it with hostility rather than really trying to understand it. [4]

What the book is trying to say is that sex and the emergence of femininity aren’t sufficient ends in and of themselves.  Su isn’t kept out of Narnia because she discovered sex, she is kept out because she idolized it to the point that all other things–including Aslan and Narnia itself–were placed in subjection to it.  Growing up became not simply a natural process of maturation, but rather a stylized, exclusive state of being that precluded everything else.  Worse, the idealized state of anything has no existence in reality. [5]  Susan was chasing moonshine, when the real world around her could offer her much more. Polly noted this when she remarked,

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up!  She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”  [6]

Susan has not, in fact, grown up at all.  What she has done is take on an empty obsession, a false idealization of what being “grown-up” means, and that keeps her from experiencing life as a whole.  That obsession has led her away from Narnia, and not “lipstick” at all.  Lewis’s critics are mistaking a symptom for the disease.

None of this involves a denigration of women or  real, meaningful sex.  In fact, it is a very positive portrayal of a  broader, deeper form of femininity where the value of one’s soul isn’t determined by one’s social circle or sex appeal.  Those things have their places, but cannot be ends in and of themselves.

This is made doubly clear in Lewis’s depiction of Susan in The Horse and His Boy.  While far from perfect, she is shown to be completely confident in her own beauty and sexuality.  During the story, she is even considering marriage–which obviously implies an approval of sex.  So, it is clear that the Susan we see referenced in The Last Battle isn’t an inevitability; she could and in fact had taken another, better path before.

Very well, if I must. Not that she isn’t pretty cute…

Of course, much of that level of nuance is obviously lost on Lewis’s critics.  They simply see a criticism of modern conceptions of sex and maturity.  They assume that Lewis’s criticism must fit into a certain sort of mold and, if it doesn’t, they are determined to forcibly conform it to their strawman assumptions.

I think that is a normal, human reaction, by the way.  We all want to be told that “We’re OK.”  We all want to know that our wants, our desires are indeed good, right, and normal.   What Lewis is getting at is a philosophy that is directly antagonistic to modern definitions of feminism, especially its glorification of sex and female sexuality as an ultimate arbiter of meaning.  When that point is challenged, especially in a way that implies that there is something more, something greater, the reactions are naturally instinctual and visceral.  We don’t want to understand the details because, perhaps, the details may just prove us wrong. I can’t say I would necessarily respond differently were the tables turned on me– “There but for the grace of God go I!”

One final point:  Most of Lewis’s critics assign a finality to Susan’s position that simply isn’t justified.  Susan isn’t turned away at the door of the stable–she simply isn’t there when it was closed on Narnia.   There are other doors into Aslan’s country from many other worlds, including our own.  Susan did not die in the train wreck that sent the others into Aslan’s country.   As Lewis noted, “there is still plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end–in her own way.” [7]

What’s more, since Lewis did not consider Narnia to be his own private domain–he regularly encouraged his younger correspondents to write Narnia stories of their own–perhaps the final word has yet to be written on Susan.  While I doubt the Lewis estate would tolerate the publication of such a story these days, perhaps someone who understands what really happened to Susan should write it nonetheless.  Lewis left the door open to Susan.  It is now up to our own imaginations–not his–to take her through it.

And so, “Further up and further in!”

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (New York:  Harper-trophy, 2004), 154.
[2] http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1083935,00.html
[3] http://www.crlamppost.org/darkside.htm
[4] Of course, applying Pullman’s own method to his own statements, I might ask why he himself is so biased against “ugly” women that he apparently objects to them “winning” on occasion.  In fact, I am quite disturbed by his use of bigoted visual stereotypes regarding facial structure and arbitrary gravitational measurement, when he should be celebrating the empowerment of a traditionally downtrodden and forgotten underclass.
[5] To illustrate this tendency, just think of Christmas Day (or some other event that you hold dear).  The time we are in never seems to be “as real” or “as perfect” as times past. Worse, our idealized memory often distracts us from our enjoyment of a perfectly good present.
[6] Lewis, The Last Battle, 2004.
[7]  Letter to Martin, 22 January 1957, Letters to Children, (New York:  Touchstone, 1995), 67.

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On War in Fiction: War is Hell

The dead of the Civil War
The dead of the Civil War

I would guess that most of us who decide to take up our metaphorical pens these days to write fiction have probably never been in an actual war.  (That includes me, of course.)  It is interesting then that war and conflict are featured so prominently in so much fantasy and science fiction.  Don’t get me wrong; I think that’s a good thing.  I would much rather we have to stretch to understand that subject than that we know it too well, but it does present a problem:  How do we write believable stories that involve war when we really know so little about it?  The answer is (and hopefully will remain) that we must learn by proxy, from the experience of others.

In this series of posts, I’ll be exploring some themes gleaned from military history to illuminate points that I think many people misunderstand and thereby dispel the corresponding misconceptions about war.  I hope you find them useful!

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War is cruelty and you cannot refine it….

–William T. Sherman

Those words, written by Sherman to the mayor and city council of Atlanta, Georgia in 1864 have often been distorted to say that “War is Hell.”  For our purposes, the meaning is the same.  Whatever ideas of glory and honor that we may still entertain about war, the reality is that it is a painful, difficult, and horrible reality–one that no sane person would wish on themselves or on anyone else.

William T. Sherman
William T. Sherman

Of course, this isn’t what we often encounter in fiction.  For millennia, authors have shown the “good” side of war: the excitement, the bravery, the sacrifice, the awe of martial prowess, and even the bittersweet sense of success.*  If you are familiar with the fad for reenacting Civil War battles, you get a sense of this.  “Soldiers” march forward, and then simply lie down when it is their turn to “die.”  Bands play inspirational music, and you’re supposed to get a sense of “what it was like.”  Nonsense.  As I hear historian Bud Robertson has said, when you find a way to disembowel people, blow off arms and legs, etc., then you’ll have an idea of “what it was like”!

When authors and historians sanitize the dark side of war, we lose sight of the reality of the devastation, anguish, and destruction that war extracts as its ultimate price.  This is true for the individual soldier, as well as for the people left back at home.

In the beginning of the Civil War, Americans based much of their expectations on fiction, including popular authors at the time like Sir Walter Scott.  As a result, they believed that all combat should be glorious, all soldiers honorable, and civilian targets should be automatically exempt from the destruction wrecked by the armies.  Soldiers on both sides rushed to enlist because they were afraid they would miss the excitement.  They were desperate to “see the elephant,” as it was called.  People in the cities thought that only “honorable” tactics and strategies should be allowed, and therefore demanded that essentially everyone but professional soldiers be spared the horrors of war as long as they weren’t actually in uniform.  For example, they believed that the enemy army should have to pay them for supplies, and not interfere with daily life at all, even if “bushwhackers” (civilians sneaking out to play soldier) were harassing the army and killing people.

That was laughably unrealistic, but they believed it anyway.  The soldiers learned the truth first.  Commanders don’t make “suggestions,” even in a democratic country, and they will tell you to do things you don’t want to do–in the Civil War they would arrest you, beat you, brand you, or even shoot you if you disobeyed.  Even the best intentioned government will have problems with supply, and for the confederates, food often ran very short and clothing and shoes were scarce.  No matter–you marched anyway.  As such, life in the armies became difficult and tedious, punctuated only by short periods of sheer terror in which you are convinced that the enemy is trying to kill you in particular.  Your friends died painful, pitiful deaths.  If you were lucky, you wouldn’t join them.  It wasn’t long before the average soldier didn’t think he had seen the elephant so much as been trampled by it.

The civilians eventually had their misconceptions dispelled too.  War takes place between nations, not just military forces.  Armies don’t materialize out of thin air; they are the products of the nations they represent and, by extension, their peoples.   When a nation is locked in combat for its very existence, it will strike at any and every point of possible vulnerability, and that includes (legitimately) the people who put the army into the field and the economy that sustains it.  When a war is on, all bets are off, and you cannot reasonably expect it to be otherwise.  If you have food and a soldier is hungry, he as a gun (and friends with guns).  Guess what’s going to happen.

The death and destruction in the wake of Antietam, 1862.  Who would ever want to reenact this?
The death and destruction in the wake of Antietam, 1862. Who would ever want to reenact this?

Worse, like the One Ring, war often loosens the inhibitions of even reasonable, regular people.  Individuals who would never dream of stealing or killing during peacetime are willing to do it during a war.  All of this adds up to, as Sherman put it so well, “cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”

That is a fact of history that we cannot forget, if we want to write about war.  Pretending it is otherwise perpetuates a myth that can and has caused harm for many years now.  Let’s not carry it any further.  As you write your fiction, keep this in mind, and do what you must to show the dark side of war for what it is.

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*Hollywood, the gaming industry, and modern fiction writers also often (but not always) continue this pattern on roids by often glorifying pointless violence in the absence of a any good cause, meaning violence for its own sake.  (Think of just about any movie Quentin Tarantino has ever made…)  That is a post for another day, at some point in the future!

Next Week–War is sometimes unavoidable…so every prudent culture must be ready for it.

On War in Fiction: The Politician and the General

Well, its good to be back writing for Lantern Hollow after a a hiatus.  My family and I had a bit of a transition in the meantime–a new career in a new state and all that entails.  Hopefully I still have something worthwhile to share!

I would guess that most of us who decide to take up our metaphorical pens these days to write fiction have probably never been in an actual war.  (That includes me, of course.)  It is interesting then that war and conflict are featured so prominently in fantasy and science fiction.  Don’t get me wrong; I think inexperience is a good thing.  I would much rather we have to stretch to understand that subject than that we know it too well, but it does present a problem:  How do we write believable stories that involve war when we really know so little about it?  The answer is (and hopefully will remain) that we must learn by proxy, from the experience of others.

In this series of posts, I’ll be exploring some themes gleaned from military history to illuminate points that I think many people misunderstand or perhaps just blindly disbelieve because they desperately wish it were otherwise.  I hope you find them useful!

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War is the continuation of politics by other means.

–Carl von Clausewitz

Carl von Clausewitz--one of the most influential thinkers on military issues in western history.

Carl von Clausewitz matured at a time when the vast majority of military thinkers believed that war was a specific profession, isolated from the rest of society and not influenced by it.  Moreover, the idea sometimes arose that generals performed one job while the politicians performed a different, entirely separate function in society.  Even today we often see a similar dichotomy that rarely has anything to do with the way war actually works.  In reality, as Clausewitz notes above, war is generally a subsidiary of politics, not its master or even its equal.

You might be thinking of the stereotype of the diplomats striving to keep the militant generals from embarking on another pointless war, pursued for its own immoral purposes.  Perhaps you remember Caesar, the general, taking over the state and bending it to his militant will.  In either scenario, “war” is an independent entity, separate from “politics.”  Both are more or less equal, independent, and often opposed to one another.  Politicians are not warriors and warriors are not politicians.

Or are they?

Part of this has to do with a faulty definition of what “politics” actually involves.  We tend to think of politics as the peaceful resolution of human differences and war as its opposite–a violent resolution.  In reality, politics means much more.  Properly understood, it describes the general interaction of peoples both on the inside (domestic policy) and on the outside (foreign policy).  It happens in the villager’s hut and on the floor of a statehouse.  Politics, just like death and taxes, are ubiquitous.

Politics, death, and taxes. I don’t know anyone who likes any of them!

When we apply this idea it means that war not really the equal of politics–it isn’t even a handmaiden.  War is a tool of politicians.  It is “a continuation of politics by other means.”  When a nation realizes that it must resort to violence to get its way (or in some cases that violence is vaguely convenient) it will sometimes act out. What we are really seeing in the “competition” between politicians and warriors is simply another facet of a larger political picture where one individual is willing to use the tool and the other is not.

So, when you see a conflict between a diplomat who wants peace and a soldier who wants war, you aren’t seeing a distinction between government and military at all.  The military and the potential will to use it are a part of all governments.  You are seeing a conflict of personalities–you are seeing two politicians who disagree on the best way to achieve their respective ends.

That changes our whole perspective on the role of war in society and its relation to politics, and it should change how we depict both in our created worlds.  War never exists in a vacuum.  It is a part of a much bigger process and usually isn’t the first “tool” that a politician resorts to in order to solve a problem.  (There are some leaders who do use it more than others–they tend to be known as “dark lords,” “war mongers,” “horde leaders,” and the like.)  War, then, is a thread in a complex tapestry, and the best authors aren’t the ones that give the topic a stereotypical, straw man treatment.  The best convey the that relationship to their audience with all the nuance and detail that we see in the real world.

Tisroc
The Tisroc counsels with Rabadash

One good example of a fictional leader acting in just this context is the Tisroc in C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy.  In the scene where Aravis overhears the Tisoc (may he not live forever) speaking with Rabadash about the possible invasion of Narnia, we see in a mature political thinker who has grasped the role of war contrasted with the stereotype of the unthinking militarist.  The Tisroc sees military action as one way to achieve his political ends, and he will not hesitate to use it when there is promise of success.  Still, he is determined not to overreach himself, and therefore he will use all of the means at his disposal, war and diplomacy, each in its proper place.  In Rabadash we see not a “true” militarist, but an immature personality for whom war is the equivalent to a temper tantrum.

Note that the Tisroc is a negative example, but you could very well set up a positive one.  The idea is embodied in the Federation in Star Trek all the way down to starship design.  The Federation has very few dedicated “war” ships.  Most can potently defend themselves or project power if necessary, but they almost all have other, more primary functions.  Making war is one way to achieve the Federation’s goals and it sometimes becomes a necessity–against the Klingons, the Romulans, etc.–but it is only one option in a much larger political palate.

So, avoid the stereotyping into which lesser thinkers often fall.  Follow the threads of your tapestry to all directions and use each to weave a story with many layers of contrasting color.  If you do it right, you’ll bring out something far deeper, more profound, and more real than you otherwise might realize.

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Next Week–There is no such thing as a foolproof plan: The difficulty in making things happen in war.

Susan Pevensie: Always a Queen of Narnia?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of Susan that ISN’T Anna Popplewell?

When we think of The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan is not, perhaps, the first character that comes to mind.  She is robust and relatively well developed, but she also seems to be more of a supporting character.  After all, it is Lucy who leads the children into Narnia and seems to form the strongest bond with Aslan.  Edmund is the traitor redeemed, and Peter becomes the High King.  Susan’s most unique aspect is also one of the most controversial points of The Chronicles:  She is the only one of the four Pevensie children to fall away and not make it into Aslan’s country at the end of The Last Battle.  This has upset a couple of generations of readers now, and it has led to charges of sexism against her creator, C. S. Lewis.  For many people, Susan’s fall is one of the worst points of the books; it bothers them enough that they can’t let it go.  Fortunately, there is much more to Susan and her situation than what her critics imply.

As early as Prince Caspian, we see hints of something happening to Su.  When Lucy sees Aslan, Susan knows in her heart of hearts that she is telling the truth.  She refuses to admit it, even to herself, and later feels horribly guilty about it.  At the end of the book, Susan and Peter are returned to our world where they are expected to grow up and apply all of the lessons learned in Narnia.  By the time we meet them again in The Last Battle, their paths have diverged dramatically.

When the group meets inside the stable, in Aslan’s country, Susan is notably absent.  When that fact is brought up, Susan is described as “no longer a friend of Narnia.”  Jill notes that she pays attention to “nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”  Su has even gone so far as to deny Narnia’s very existence:  “Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”  As such, she isn’t on the train when the wreck occurs, and she isn’t granted entrance into Aslan’s country at that point. [1]

This subplot has provoked (and continues to provoke) howls of outrage.  J. K. Rowling made the comment to Time magazine that “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” [2]  Phillip Pullman, who constructed an atheistic fantasy series that has been described as sort of the “anti-Narnia,” stated that,

In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.[3]

I would argue that Rowling and Pullman have misrepresented Lewis’s point entirely.  In fact, they may well have done so for the simple reason that they “got” it all too well.  Lewis is making a comment so pointed that it has made millions of people uncomfortable, which is something we aren’t used to seeing in Narnia.  It seems to come out of the proverbial blue, and people simply react to it with hostility rather than really trying to understand it. [4]

What the book is trying to say is that sex and the emergence of femininity aren’t sufficient ends in and of themselves.  Su isn’t kept out of Narnia because she discovered sex, she is kept out because she idolized it to the point that all other things–including Aslan and Narnia itself–were placed in subjection to it.  Growing up became not simply a natural process of maturation, but rather a stylized, exclusive state of being that precluded everything else.  Worse, the idealized state of anything has no existence in reality. [5]  Susan was chasing moonshine, when the real world around her could offer her much more. Polly noted this when she remarked,

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up!  She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”  [6]

Susan has not, in fact, grown up at all.  What she has done is take on an empty obsession, a false idealization of what being “grown-up” means, and that keeps her from experiencing life as a whole.  That obsession has led her away from Narnia, and not “lipstick” at all.  Lewis’s critics are mistaking a symptom for the disease.

None of this involves a denigration of women or  real, meaningful sex.  In fact, it is a very positive portrayal of a  broader, deeper form of femininity where the value of one’s soul isn’t determined by one’s social circle or sex appeal.  Those things have their places, but cannot be ends in and of themselves.

This is made doubly clear in Lewis’s depiction of Susan in The Horse and His Boy.  While far from perfect, she is shown to be completely confident in her own beauty and sexuality.  During the story, she is even considering marriage–which obviously implies an approval of sex.  So, it is clear that the Susan we see referenced in The Last Battle isn’t an inevitability; she could and in fact had taken another, better path before.

Very well, if I must. Not that she isn’t pretty cute…

Of course, much of that level of nuance is obviously lost on Lewis’s critics.  They simply see a criticism of modern conceptions of sex and maturity.  They assume that Lewis’s criticism must fit into a certain sort of mold and, if it doesn’t, they are determined to forcibly conform it to their strawman assumptions.

I think that is a normal, human reaction, by the way.  We all want to be told that “We’re OK.”  We all want to know that our wants, our desires are indeed good, right, and normal.   What Lewis is getting at is a philosophy that is directly antagonistic to modern definitions of feminism, especially its glorification of sex and female sexuality as an ultimate arbiter of meaning.  When that point is challenged, especially in a way that implies that there is something more, something greater, the reactions are naturally instinctual and visceral.  We don’t want to understand the details because, perhaps, the details may just prove us wrong. I can’t say I would necessarily respond differently were the tables turned on me– “There but for the grace of God go I!”

One final point:  Most of Lewis’s critics assign a finality to Susan’s position that simply isn’t justified.  Susan isn’t turned away at the door of the stable–she simply isn’t there when it was closed on Narnia.   There are other doors into Aslan’s country from many other worlds, including our own.  Susan did not die in the train wreck that sent the others into Aslan’s country.   As Lewis noted, “there is still plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end–in her own way.” [7]

What’s more, since Lewis did not consider Narnia to be his own private domain–he regularly encouraged his younger correspondents to write Narnia stories of their own–perhaps the final word has yet to be written on Susan.  While I doubt the Lewis estate would tolerate the publication of such a story these days, perhaps someone who understands what really happened to Susan should write it nonetheless.  Lewis left the door open to Susan.  It is now up to our own imaginations–not his–to take her through it.

And so, “Further up and further in!”

Next week:  The Origins of a Story–Shadesisters

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (New York:  Harper-trophy, 2004), 154.
[2] http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1083935,00.html
[3] http://www.crlamppost.org/darkside.htm
[4] Of course, applying Pullman’s own method to his own statements, I might ask why he himself is so biased against “ugly” women that he apparently objects to them “winning” on occasion.  In fact, I am quite disturbed by his use of bigoted visual stereotypes regarding facial structure and arbitrary gravitational measurement, when he should be celebrating the empowerment of a traditionally downtrodden and forgotten underclass.
[5] To illustrate this tendency, just think of Christmas Day (or some other event that you hold dear).  The time we are in never seems to be “as real” or “as perfect” as times past. Worse, our idealized memory often distracts us from our enjoyment of a perfectly good present.
[6] Lewis, The Last Battle, 2004.
[7]  Letter to Martin, 22 January 1957, Letters to Children, (New York:  Touchstone, 1995), 67.

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A Question of Palates: The Christian as Author Part VII

Color Palette Clip ArtA comment I made last week sparked a thought that I believe might be worth pursuing a little further on its own.  I don’t know if this is the point I’ve been meandering toward since July or not! I’ve noticed a significant similarity between Christians as authors and their secular counterparts.  I think it might also explain some of the cognitive dissonance some of my readers have been experiencing with the idea of a writer who is uniquely Christian without also being stereotypical or evangelistic.

While I do think that this can be pressed too far, in short, as authors we all essentially construct our narratives from the palates of our accumulated life experience.  The difference is that a Christian author has, in theory, a unique set of impressive colors on his/her palate that come from a unique worldview.  These are, for a serious believer, their prime colors, and in theory form the basis for understanding everything else on their palate.  Therefore, it is almost inevitable that they will show through in their finished product in some way.

Put simply, imagination rarely (perhaps never) exists entirely on it own.  This is especially true of an imagination expansive enough to construct entirely new worlds.  Each author is a mix of distinctive life experiences and reading, and these experiences–first hand (in the case of the former) or vicariously (in the case of the latter)–form the “stuff” of their creative primordial soup.  In the case of J. R. R. Tolkien, for instance, it was the massive amount of European myth, legend, and language he had absorbed.  For C. S. Lewis, it was a much broader collection of mythology and lore from many different traditions.  Pieces of J. K. Rowling’s life are evident throughout the Potter series, from something as simple as a Ford Anglia to something as profound as her statements on truth and love. In each case, ideas combined with the catalyst of each person’s imaginative personality to create worlds, characters, and stories that were at the same time derivative and completely original.  The very same can be said of any author, and students of that author can usually tell you what his/her particular influences are.

So, in that sense, there isn’t a drastic difference in method from Christians to non-Christians.  Christians aren’t given one fictional “rubric” (I hate that word…) while non-Christians work from another.  The singular “stuff” from which a Christian begins will affect the result of their work, if they truly believe it strongly enough to give it a prominent place on their palates, but, to a notable extent, all authors start from the same place–themselves.

That said, I also think that we as a society have a tendency to arbitrarily partition off that part of ourselves, and to pretend that we should prevent certain influences from showing through in our finished product.  Secular authors specifically avoid certain “religious” themes because they are expected to do so, even if those themes are a part of their larger experience.  Christians who are concerned with their secular reception will often self-segregate; they will either only paint in certain colors that they know only a certain audience will appreciate or they will intentionally shut themselves off from that portion of their experience that they, in theory, believe gives meaning and color to the rest.

And that, I find, both unfair and counterproductive.  As Christians, we should seek to express ourselves using our whole palate–take up all  of the colors we’ve been granted by our experience.

Does that make us unique?  Certainly.  But I don’t think we have any business being ashamed of that fact.

Next Week:  A break from the series–Defending Lewis on the Fall of Susan Pevensie….

Other Posts in the Christian as Author Series

  1. The Cesspool Of Christian Fiction
  2. What?  Me Christian?
  3. A Holistic Approach
  4. “Good Fiction” or “Good Christian Fiction?”
  5. Of Christian Authors and Christian Pizza Makers
  6. What does it look like?
  7. Tolkien and the Rebellion of Melkor
  8. Marketing or Pigeonholing?
  9. C. S. Lewis and the Basis of Narnia

https://lanternhollow.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/newrule5.gif?w=239&h=27&h=27

An old mansion lies forgotten, tucked away in the North Georgia mountains.  Within are portals to other places and times.

When fourteen-year-old Megan O’Reily is sent to live with her inscrutable “uncle” Warner at Waverly Hall for an entire year, she stumbles upon a world devastated by plague and kept under the brutal control of an maniacal dictator. When she cannot return to earth, Meg is forced to make some difficult decisions. Who and what she encounters on her journey will mark her forever and may lead to the freedom of an entire race.

Available from AmazonKindle, and Smashwords right now.

“With captivating detail, in-depth characters, and an intense, magical plot, Melton’s first book in the Waverly Hall series packs a serious punch! …keeps you enthralled until the end, waiting impatiently for the next book.”

~M.B. Weston, radio host and author of the Elysian Chronicles

“Brian Melton’s book is based on one of the most gripping fantasy concepts I’ve encountered in the last several years. Combine the mystery of Lewis’s Wood Between the Worlds with the allure of your grandfather’s attic and the aura of a grand old country mansion, add some characters as compelling as the setting, stir in cleverly disguised (and sometimes not disguised at all!) allusions to the canon of Western literature – oh! and the actual adventure hasn’t even started yet. You can’t wait until it does.”

~Donald T. Williams, author of Stars Through the Clouds and Mere Humanity