If you recall, my Harry Potter and Philosophy review foreboded that not all X and Philosophy books are created equal. Well. I have found the Salt to Harry Potter and Philosophy’s Pepa. Which is too bad, since I was really interested to see what these academics and writers would have to say about The Chronicles of Narnia.
I’ve discovered that when it comes to The Chronicles of Narnia, there are often a few camps, and people tend to reaaaaaaally stick to those camps without diverging opinions. The first camp is made up of the ardent Christians who will brook no wrongdoing in Lewis, since he was a Christian and wrote Christian allegory. The second camp is comprised of intensely secular individuals who love fantasy and pretend the Judeo-Christian elements don’t exist or aren’t relevant to the series. To the first camp, I say, “CALM DOWN. You can still love the books, but it’s okay to talk about the problematic aspects, particularly as they pertain to our respective theologies.” I won’t even get into the people who believe that the books are bad, because they’re fantasy and animals TALK in them. No, really. As a lifelong Christian, I have discovered a fierce strain of fear that extends to anything that is not realistic. And to the second camp, I say, “C’mon, bro. It’s okay to like something with an ideology you don’t agree with. I do it ALL THE TIME.” Sigh. Sometimes, being an academic and Christian can be a bit bipolar at times. This book attempts to bridge the divides and discuss several philosophical aspects of The Chronicles of Narnia, using classic philosophy techniques.
Most of the essays were just okay to read, but there were a few absolute duds, and one terrific essay on the problematic portrayals of women throughout the series. Karin Fry authored “No Longer a Friend: Gender in Narnia” and worked through an interesting dichotomy in the series, which is the difference in the way Lucy and Susan are portrayed. Lucy is courageous and wholeheartedly zealous for Aslan, and she eschews adornment for function. Susan, however, is weak and doubtful and in the end is sneered at for liking lipstick and nylons and boys. It leads one to wonder if Lewis had really thought out Susan at all, or was exiling her to the same sort of hell he considered “silly” women to have inhabited. As a woman who is both smart and feminine, I found this portrayal of Susan to be something of a betrayal. Is it only those women who exhibit “masculine” virtues that can enter the kingdom of Narnia? And what does that say for theology? The essay tackles the issues deftly. But otherwise, this collection of essays is not that great. Read Fry’s essay and skip the rest.