Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Magician’s Nephew

In the third region

Venus voyages...
but my voice falters;

Rude rime-making
wrongs her beauty,

Whose breasts and brow,
and her breath’s sweetness

Bewitch the worlds.
Wide-spread the reign

Of her secret sceptre,
in the sea’s caverns,

In grass growing,
and grain bursting,

Flower unfolding,
and flesh longing,

And shower falling
sharp in April.

The metal copper
in the mine reddens

With muffled brightness,
like muted gold,

By her fingers form’d.

Venus Voyages

The Magician’s Nephew was actually the very last Narnia book that C. S. Lewis completed, though the second-last he published. Since I have so far examined the books in the order they were written, I ought logically to leave this one for last. However, it does not refer to The Last Battle at all, whereas The Last Battle contains many references to The Magician’s Nephew. Lewis did not rattle this book off nearly so fast as he did the other six; he rewrote a chunk of The Magician’s Nephew at his friend Roger Lancelyn Green’s recommendation, hence the delay in its writing. And if we were counting by when the books were begun, which would be apt in this case, The Magician’s Nephew would have been #2. So I shall take the title of The Last Battle at its word. For now, Magician’s Nephew it is.
You know the drill by now, if you’ve been following my Narnia posts. Michael Ward’s planetary theory is my key to the Narniad. Each book takes its major themes from one of the astrological planets; we’ve so far seen Jove, Mars, Sol, Mercury and Luna. Venus and Saturn are left, and it should be easy enough to guess which one is going to be central here.
A couple of astrological motifs are surprisingly missing. No-one says “By Jove”, and there are no watery moonlit scenes marking contact between Heaven and Earth. Digory does go swimming at one point, but the setting—
Have you ever bathed in a mountain river that is running in shallow cataracts over red and blue and yellow stones with the sun on it? It is as good as the sea: in some ways almost better.
—is far too colourful for Luna. We do, however, get this little detail when Polly and Digory are trying out their planar-teleportation rings:
At first there were bright lights moving about in a black sky; Digory always thinks these were stars and even swears that he saw Jupiter quite close – close enough to see its moon.
Ward quotes this as “close enough to see its moons”, and it may well be a mere printing error; The Magician’s Nephew has quite a lot of those (the Cabby’s bowler hat becomes a “howlet” hat at one point). Certainly Lewis knew that Jupiter has more than one moon. But plural moons wouldn’t have reminded us so well of liminal Luna just as the protagonists were taking their first steps beyond the bounds of Earth. Then again, Jupiter must be there for a reason as well, or Lewis would just have had the children pass Earth’s moon.
Uncle Andrew shrugged his shoulders, walked across to the door, unlocked it, threw it open, and said:
“Oh very well then. Just as you please. Go down and have your dinner. Leave the little girl to be eaten by wild animals or drowned or starved in Otherworld or lost there for good, if that’s what you prefer. It’s all one to me. Perhaps before tea time you’d better drop in on Mrs Plummer and explain that she’ll never see her daughter again; because you were afraid to put on a ring.”
“By gum,” said Digory, “don’t I just wish I was big enough to punch your head!”

“There seems to be something written here,” said Polly, stooping down and looking at the side of the pillar.
“By gum, so there is,” said Digory. “But of course we shan’t be able to read it.”
“Shan’t we? I’m not so sure,” said Polly.
They both looked at it hard and, as you might have expected, the letters cut in the stone were strange. But now a great wonder happened; for, as they looked, though the shape of the strange letters never altered, they found that they could understand them.
Neither of these utterances occur at Jovial moments, which is presumably why Digory doesn’t say “By Jove” just then – but nobody says it on more fitting occasions either, such as at Frank and Helen’s coronation. Having presided over the launch of the Narnian enterprise, Jove withdraws and allows the other planets room to work.
Polly and Digory’s first transplanar venture takes them to a world on the point of succumbing to Saturn’s icy influence.
What they noticed first was the light. It wasn’t like sunlight, and it wasn’t like electric light, or lamps, or candles, or any other light they had ever seen. It was a dull, rather red light, not at all cheerful. It was steady and did not flicker. They were standing on a flat paved surface and buildings rose all around them. There was no roof overhead; they were in a sort of courtyard. The sky was extraordinarily dark – a blue that was almost black. When you had seen that sky you wondered that there should be any light at all...
The walls rose very high all round that courtyard. They had many great windows in them, windows without glass, through which you saw nothing but black darkness. Lower down there were great pillared arches, yawning blackly like the mouths of railway tunnels. It was rather cold.
The stone of which everything was built seemed to be red, but that might only be because of the curious light. It was obviously very old. Many of the flat stones that paved the courtyard had cracks across them. None of them fitted closely together and the sharp corners were all worn off. One of the arched doorways was half filled up with rubble. The two children kept on turning round and round to look at the different sides of the courtyard. One reason was that they were afraid of somebody – or something – looking out of those windows at them when their backs were turned.
The red light turns out to come from a withered version of Sol. Venus has appeared as the Morning Star in three previous Narnia books; here is a very rare Lewis reference to her as the Evening Star.
Low down and near the horizon hung a great, red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group... And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges cast long, disastrous-looking shadows in the light of that withered sun.
Perhaps I should have taken note in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Mr Beaver told us Jadis the Witch was descended from Lilith on one side and from the giants on the other. Lilith is Lewis’s favourite symbol for the diabolical corruption of Venus’ power; the giants would be the Titans, Saturn’s people. Jadis, then, is part Venereal and part Saturnine. In the first book she mostly stood for Saturn, with just touches of Venus. In this book her Titanic ancestry is not forgotten—
In Charn she had been alarming enough; in London, she was terrifying. For one thing, they had not realized till now how very big she was. “Hardly human” was what Digory thought when he looked at her; and he may have been right, for some say there is giantish blood in the royal family of Charn.
—and she still displays her characteristic Saturnine contempt for foolishness. But Lilith is much more evident in her personality.
Mars shines on Jadis’s tour of London. Note her choice of weapon.
Then, without warning, she did a thing that was dreadful to see. Lightly, easily, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, she stretched up her right arm and wrenched off one of the cross-bars of the lamp-post. If she had lost some magical powers in our world, she had not lost her strength; she could break an iron bar as if it were a stick of barley-sugar. She tossed her new weapon up in the air, caught it again, brandished it, and urged the horse forward.

But when [Uncle Andrew] saw what Digory was looking at, even he began to take an interest. It was a perfect little model of a lamp-post, about three feet high but lengthening, and thickening in proportion, as they watched it; in fact growing just as the trees had grown.
“It’s alive too – I mean, it’s lit,” said Digory. And so it was; though of course, the brightness of the sun made the little flame in the lantern hard to see unless your shadow fell on it.
“Remarkable, most remarkable,” muttered Uncle Andrew. “...Now I wonder what sort of seed a lamp-post grows from?”
“Don’t you see?” said Digory. “This is where the bar fell – the bar she tore off the lamp-post at home. It sank into the ground and now it’s coming up as a young lamp-post.”
Sol and Luna’s metals grow on trees in the new Narnia as well.
More Dwarfs than you could dream of rushed forward to the Golden Tree. They had all its leaves stripped off, and some of its branches torn off too, before you could say Jack Robinson. And now the children could see that it did not merely look golden but was of real, soft gold. It had of course sprung up from the half-sovereigns which had fallen out of Uncle Andrew’s pocket when he was turned upside down; just as the silver had grown up from the half-crowns.
Even Mercury makes an appearance, I think the only reference to his metal in the Narniad.
All Narnia, many-coloured with lawns and rocks and heather and different sorts of trees, lay spread out below them, the river winding through it like a ribbon of quicksilver.
And Lewis goes out of his way to hint at another metal. He does directly mention it once, in describing Fledge’s wings.
“Now you attend to me, if you please,” said the policeman, taking out a very large note book and a very small pencil. “Are you in charge of that there young woman?”...
A red-faced man in a bowler hat had now shouldered his way to the front of the crowd.
“Hi! P’leeceman,” he said, “that’s my ’orse what she’s sitting on, same as it’s my cab what she’s made matchwood of.”
“One at a time, please, one at a time,” said the policeman.

The young woman had apparently been in the middle of a washing day, for she wore an apron, her sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, and there were soapsuds on her hands.

The feathers shone chestnut colour and copper colour. [Fledge] gave a great sweep with them and leaped into the air.
Lewis had the inconvenient custom of destroying his manuscripts after publication, but I’d also bet that, before the rewrite, these toffees (of which the following is the first mention in the published work) were purchased somewhere in London for a penny.
“I say,” said Polly, “I’ve still got the remains of that bag of toffee in my jacket. It’ll be better than nothing.”
“A lot better,” said Digory. “But be careful to get your hand into your pocket without touching your ring.”
Why? Because police officers, washing-tubs, and pennies are all colloquially called “coppers”, and copper as you may remember belongs to Venus – as does The Magician’s Nephew.

Widespread the Reign of her Secret Sceptre

The origin of Venus’ Greek name, Aphrodite, is debatable. It looks like the Greek for “foam-risen”; if that isn’t where it came from, the story of her emerging from a union between the severed genitals of Uranus and the sea-foam must have been devised at least partly to account for it. There is no direct reference to this tale in The Magician’s Nephew. However, another Greek mythological figure had a parallel backstory, with Medusa’s blood in place of Uranus’ flesh: the winged horse Pegasus. His Narnian ectype’s first appearance is one of the most violent images in the book.
First came the hansom. There was no one in the driver’s seat. On the roof – not sitting, but standing on the roof – swaying with superb balance as it came at full speed round the corner with one wheel in the air – was Jadis the Queen of Queens and the Terror of Charn. Her teeth were bared, her eyes shone like fire, and her long hair streamed out behind her like a comet’s tail. She was flogging the horse without mercy. Its nostrils were wide and red and its sides were spotted with foam.
Aslan grants the cab-horse the power of speech, and also another gift:
“My dear,” said Aslan to the Horse, “would you like to be a winged horse?”
You should have seen how the Horse shook its mane and how its nostrils widened, and the little tap it gave the ground with one back hoof. Clearly it would very much like to be a winged horse. But it only said:
“If you wish, Aslan – if you really mean – I don’t know why it should be me – I’m not a very clever horse.”
“Be winged. Be the father of all flying horses,” roared Aslan in a voice that shook the ground. “Your name is Fledge.”
The horse shied, just as it might have shied in the old, miserable days when it pulled a hansom. Then it reared. It strained its neck back as if there were a fly biting its shoulders and it wanted to scratch them. And then... there burst out from the shoulders of Fledge wings that spread and grew, larger than eagles’, larger than swans’, larger than angels’ wings in church windows.
Something doesn’t quite make sense here. Is there another Stallion wandering about who becomes the ancestor of all the non-winged Talking Horses? Or else are Talking Horses frequently winged, since they must all be descendants of Fledge? Yes, I did notice that as a child reading the book for the first time.
Like Pegasus, Fledge carries the heroes to their destination, in this case a magical garden in the far west of the world.
“Dear son,” said Aslan, “I will tell you what you must do. Turn and look to the West... the land of Narnia ends where the waterfall comes down, and once you have reached the top of the cliffs you will be out of Narnia and into the Western Wild. You must journey through those mountains till you find a green valley with a blue lake in it, walled round by mountains of ice. At the end of the lake there is a steep, green hill. On the top of that hill there is a garden. In the centre of that garden is a tree. Pluck an apple from that tree and bring it back to me.”

But quite soon they were all sniffing the air and saying “What is it?” and “Did you smell something?” and “Where’s it coming from?” For a heavenly smell, warm and golden, as if from all the most delicious fruits and flowers of the world, was coming up to them from somewhere ahead.
“It’s coming from that valley with the lake in it,” said Fledge.
“So it is,” said Digory. “And look! There’s a green hill at the far end of the lake. And look how blue the water is.”
“It must be the Place,” said all three.
In classical myth the Western garden was tended by a family of nymphs called the Hesperides (their father Hesperus was the god of the Evening Star, from the days before people figured out that the Evening Star and the Morning Star were the same planet). This was one of Lewis’s favourite bits of imagery, one that must long have been associated in his mind with Narnia, because some years before he began the series he used this analogy to describe his discovery of really good poetry:
When as a boy I passed from Lays of Ancient Rome... to Sohrab and Rustum, I did not in the least feel that I was getting in more quantity or better quality a pleasure I had already known. It was more as if a cupboard which one had hitherto valued as a place for hanging coats proved one day, when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides...
“Different Tastes in Literature”, On Stories p. 121
Since the Garden here exists in a world without evil, Lewis replaces its hundred-headed dragon guardian with a Phoenix.
[Digory] happened to look up through the branches towards the top of the tree. There, on a branch above his head, a wonderful bird was roosting. I say “roosting” because it seemed almost asleep; perhaps not quite. The tiniest slit of one eye was open. It was larger than an eagle, its breast saffron, its head crested with scarlet, and its tail purple.
The Apples of the Hesperides feature in a couple of major myths. Like Hercules, Digory is tasked with retrieving one. A stolen one set off the Trojan War when Eris labelled it “To the fairest” and threw it down for the goddesses of Olympus to quarrel over. Aphrodite won by bribing Zeus’s appointed judge, the mortal Paris, with Helen of Troy. Jadis has a similarly high opinion of herself.
The Queen gave a contemptuous smile. “Many great kings,” she said, “thought they could stand against the House of Charn. But they all fell, and their very names are forgotten. Foolish boy! Do you think that I, with my beauty and my Magic, will not have your whole world at my feet before a year has passed? Prepare your incantations and take me there at once.”
Aphrodite was vengeful to those who crossed or outshone her. In the Latin myth which Lewis would later retell as Till We Have Faces, the mortal princess Psyche is so beautiful that men worship her instead of Venus, who sends her son Cupid to make her fall in love with some vile beast as punishment. Cupid drops one of his arrows on his own foot, and falls in love with her himself. After Psyche loses his protection by looking at his face – without random prohibitions, it wouldn’t be a fairy-tale – Venus pursues her relentlessly. Here even Jadis comes out looking better than the goddess. Violent she may be, but she doesn’t seem to hold grudges; she never comes back for Aunt Letty.
“Get out of my house this moment, you shameless hussy [said Aunt Letty], or I’ll send for the police.” She thought the Witch must be someone out of a circus and she did not approve of bare arms.
“What woman is this?” said Jadis. “Down on your knees, minion, before I blast you.”
“No strong language in this house if you please, young woman,” said Aunt Letty.
Instantly, as it seemed to Uncle Andrew, the Queen towered up to an even greater height. Fire flashed from her eyes: she flung out her arm with the same gesture and the same horrible-sounding words that had lately turned the palace-gates of Charn to dust. But nothing happened except that Aunt Letty, thinking that those horrible words were meant to be ordinary English, said:
“I thought as much. The woman is drunk. Drunk! She can’t even speak clearly.”
...[Jadis] lunged forward, caught Aunt Letty round the neck and the knees, raised her high above her head as if she had been no heavier than a doll, and threw her across the room.
However, aside from the Apple, The Magician’s Nephew does not repeat the plot-bones of the myths, unlike the Homeric and Wagnerian elements we teased out of The Horse and His Boy. Rather, mythic allusions flash past us and disappear again. A couple are given names we can trace, because they foreshadow the story:
“Have you ever heard of old Mrs Lefay?” [said Uncle Andrew.]
“Wasn’t she a great-aunt or something?” said Digory.
“Not exactly,” said Uncle Andrew. “She was my godmother. That’s her, there, on the wall.”
Digory looked and saw a faded photograph: it showed the face of an old woman in a bonnet. And he could now remember that he had once seen a photo of the same face in an old drawer, at home, in the country... It was not at all a nice face, Digory thought, though of course with those early photographs one could never really tell.

“My first task was of course to study the box itself [said Uncle Andrew]. It was very ancient. And I knew enough even then to know that it wasn’t Greek, or Old Egyptian, or Babylonian, or Hittite, or Chinese. It was older than any of those nations. Ah – that was a great day when I at last found out the truth. The box was Atlantean; it came from the lost island of Atlantis. That meant it was centuries older than any of the stone-age things they dig up in Europe. And it wasn’t a rough, crude thing like them either. For in the very dawn of time Atlantis was already a great city with palaces and temples and learned men.”
“Mrs Lefay” is clearly named for Morgan le Fay, the wicked sister of King Arthur, whose beauty and malice are embodied in Jadis; though, as we shall see, Lewis’s original conception of Mrs Lefay was thoroughly different. Morgan in the Arthur tradition probably represents a survival of a Venus-like Celtic goddess. Atlantis anticipates both the Garden, from its position in the fabled West, and the city of Charn, from its pride, decadence, and sudden destruction.
“Look well on that which no eyes will ever see again,” said the Queen. “Such was Charn, that great city, the city of the King of Kings, the wonder of the world, perhaps of all worlds. Does your uncle rule any city as great as this, boy?”
“No,” said Digory. He was going to explain that Uncle Andrew didn’t rule any cities, but the Queen went on:
“It is silent now. But I have stood here when the whole air was full of the noises of Charn; the trampling of feet, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves, the thunder of chariots, and the sacrificial drums beating in the temples. I have stood here (but that was near the end) when the roar of battle went up from every street and the river of Charn ran red.” She paused and added, “All in one moment one woman blotted it out for ever.”
“Who?” said Digory in a faint voice; but he had already guessed the answer.
“I,” said the Queen. “I, Jadis the last Queen, but the Queen of the World.”
Far more coherent plot parallels can be made with the mythology Lewis did believe in.

In the Third Region

“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.” The Narnian Heavens and Earth are already present when the protagonists arrive; Aslan’s world-engendering song corresponds to God’s world-engendering command, beginning with “Let there be light.” Immediately, echoing Job 38:4–7, the morning stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy.
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming... Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard...
“Gawd!” said the Cabby. “Ain’t it lovely?”
Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
“Glory be!” said the Cabby. “I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this.”
Lewis bowdlerizes the Cabby’s exclamation for child readers, but it is of course the opposite of blasphemy for him to cry “God!” upon hearing Aslan’s voice for the first time.
The Bible frequently refers to plural “heavens”, but only one passage gives any information as to their number:
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
This does not mean what many literalist interpreters think it means. Nowhere does the Bible enumerate the heavens as (1) the atmosphere, (2) space, and (3) happily-ever-after land. What you just saw is as specific as it gets. All it tells us is that there were at least three heavens. In the Aristotelian schema, then accepted as fact, the Third Heaven is the sphere of Venus, a usage Lewis avails himself of more than once in That Hideous Strength. St Paul couldn’t exactly speak of a man being “caught up to Venus” (which, writing in Greek, he would have had to call “Aphrodite”), because the planets were not merely named after the gods; they were believed to be the gods. A Pagan arguing with a Christian at the time might well have pointed up at the starry sky and said “There are my gods, where’s yours?” Among other things St Paul is here reassuring his readers in Corinth, a major centre of the worship of Aphrodite, that the planet Venus is just another one of God’s dominions.
“Paradise” is not as common a word in the Bible as you might think. It occurs in only two other places: Luke 23:43, where Jesus promises the faithful thief on the cross that they will both go there, and Revelation 2:7, as the site of the “tree of life”, the fruit of which is offered to “him that overcometh” – who, at verse 28, is also to receive the Morning Star. The Revelation passage effectively identifies Paradise with the Garden of Eden from Genesis, and that has become the traditional understanding. The Greek word paradeisos used in these texts derives from a Persian word meaning a walled park or orchard, which is how Eden is visualized in Milton’s Paradise Lost and in The Magician’s Nephew. Compare
All round the very top of the hill ran a high wall of green turf. Inside the wall trees were growing. Their branches hung out over the wall; their leaves showed not only green but also blue and silver when the wind stirred them. When the travellers reached the top they walked nearly all the way round it outside the green wall before they found the gates: high gates of gold, fast shut, facing due east.

Digory was just turning to go back to the gates when he stopped to have one last look around. He got a terrible shock. He was not alone. There, only a few yards away from him, stood the Witch. She was just throwing away the core of an apple which she had eaten. The juice was darker than you would expect and had made a horrid stain round her mouth. Digory guessed at once that she must have climbed in over the wall... By the time he had reached the others and was shouting out “Quick, get on, Polly! Gee up, Fledge,” the Witch had climbed the wall, or vaulted over it, and was close behind him again.
...Yet higher than thir [forest trees’] tops
The verdurous wall of Paradise up sprung;
Which to our general Sire [Adam] gave prospect large
Into his neather empire neighbouring round.
And higher than that Wall a circling row
Of goodliest trees loaden with fairest fruit,
Blossoms and fruits at once of golden hue,
Appeerd, with gay enameld colours mixt...

One gate there only was, and that look’d east
On th’ other side; which when th’ arch-fellon [Satan] saw,
Due entrance he disdaind, and in contempt
At one slight bound high over leap’d all bound
Of Hill or highest Wall, and sheer within
Lights on his feet.
Paradise Lost IV 142–149, 178–183
Lewis had previously connected Eden, the Morning Star, and a man caught up to the Third Heaven in fiction – in his favourite of his own works, Perelandra. There as in Genesis and Paradise Lost humanity must struggle against temptation, and likewise in Narnia.
“Foolish boy,” said the Witch. “Why do you run from me? I mean you no harm. If you do not stop and listen to me now, you will miss some knowledge that would have made you happy all your life.”
“Well I don’t want to hear it, thanks,” said Digory. But he did.
“I know what errand you have come on,” continued the Witch. “For it was I who was close beside you in the woods last night and heard all your counsels. You have plucked fruit in the garden yonder. You have it in your pocket now. And you are going to carry it back, untasted, to the Lion; for him to eat, for him to use. You simpleton! Do you know what that fruit is? I will tell you. It is the apple of youth, the apple of life. I know, for I have tasted it; and I feel already such changes in myself that I know I shall never grow old or die. Eat it, Boy, eat it; and you and I will both live forever and be king and queen of this whole world – or of your world, if we decide to go back there.”
Jewish tradition identifies the Serpent in Eden with Jadis’s ancestor Lilith; Christian scripture makes it Satan, who (as Lucifer) is also referred to as the Morning Star. Either would be appropriate to Lewis’s purpose here, and I’m sure he had both in mind.
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
Note that before the children encounter temptation, they are innocently obedient, even though this makes for a bit of awkwardness in the plot. The house beyond Digory’s is never mentioned after this early scene. It would have been much tidier if they had simply been trying to sneak into Uncle Andrew’s study, but it doesn’t occur to them yet to do things that are forbidden.
“Look here,” he said. “How long does this tunnel go on for? I mean, does it stop where your house ends?”
“No,” said Polly. “The walls don’t go out to the roof. It goes on. I don’t know how far.”
“Then we could get the length of the whole row of houses.”
“So we could,” said Polly. “And oh, I say!”
“We could get into the other houses.”
“Yes, and get taken up for burglars! No thanks.“
“Don’t be so jolly clever. I was thinking of the house beyond yours.”
“What about it?”
“Why, it’s the empty one. Daddy says it’s always been empty since we came here.”
“I suppose we ought to have a look at it then,” said Digory. He was a good deal more excited than you’d have thought from the way he spoke. For of course he was thinking, just as you would have been, of all the reasons why the house might have been empty so long. So was Polly. Neither of them said the word “haunted”. And both felt that once the thing had been suggested, it would be feeble not to do it...
They decided they would have to go out into the boxroom and walk across it taking steps as long as the steps from one rafter to the next. That would give them an idea of how many rafters went to a room. Then they would allow about four more for the passage between the two attics in Polly’s house, and then the same number for the maid’s bedroom as for the box-room. That would give them the length of the house. When they had done that distance twice they would be at the end of Digory’s house; any door they came to after that would let them into an attic of the empty house.
Writing for children, there was one common feature of all these visions of Paradise that Lewis could not reproduce: the dress code (Genesis 2:25), which incidentally was also Aphrodite’s customary attire. He’d already pushed it a bit in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by making the Sea People nudists in coronets and pearls. Lewis was not a nudist, but he strongly preferred to swim naked, and regularly enjoyed the male Oxford don’s privilege of skinny-dipping at Parson’s Pleasure. Nudity is a recurring symbol of paradisal innocence in his fiction for adults. In The Magician’s Nephew he drops subtle hints in that direction:
“...By the way, [said Digory,] how do we get home?”
“Go back into the pool, I expect.”
They came and stood together at the edge looking down into the smooth water. It was full of the reflection of the green, leafy branches; they made it look very deep.
“We haven’t any bathing things,” said Polly.
is followed ten chapters later – but with no opportunity to pack any “bathing things” – by
“Hurrah!” said Digory. “But I’m going to have a dip first.” He rushed through a flowering thicket or two down to the river’s edge... Of course, he had to dress again without drying but it was well worth it.
Narnia’s Adam and Eve both look better, we are told, the less they wear.
The Cabby gave one glance at the Lion, and took off his bowler hat; no one had yet seen him without it. When it was off, he looked younger and nicer, and more like a countryman and less like a London cabman.

If [Nellie] had had time to put on her good clothes (her best hat had imitation cherries on it) she would have looked dreadful; as it was, she looked rather nice.
Since he can’t use nudity to signify good, Lewis does the converse and associates ostentatious clothing with villainy.
I can hardly describe the clothes. The figures were all robed and had crowns on their heads. Their robes were of crimson and silvery grey and deep purple and vivid green: and there were patterns, and pictures of flowers and strange beasts, in needlework all over them. Precious stones of astonishing size and brightness stared from their crowns and hung in chains round their necks and peeped out from all the places where anything was fastened.
“Why haven’t these clothes all rotted away long ago?” asked Polly.
“Magic,” whispered Digory. “Can’t you feel it? I bet this whole room is just stiff with enchantments. I could feel it the moment we came in.”

[Uncle Andrew] poured out a second glass and drank it too; then he began to change his clothes. You have never seen such clothes, but I can remember them. He put on a very high, shiny, stiff collar of the sort that made you hold your chin up all the time. He put on a white waistcoat with a pattern on it and arranged his gold watch chain across the front. He put on his best frock-coat, the one he kept for weddings and funerals. He got out his best tall hat and polished it up. There was a vase of flowers (put there by Aunt Letty) on his dressing table; he took one and put it in his button-hole. He took a clean handkerchief (a lovely one such as you couldn’t buy today) out of the little left-hand drawer and put a few drops of scent on it. He took his eye-glass, with the thick black ribbon, and screwed it into his eye; then he looked at himself in the mirror.
Of course, to most moderns nudity carries other connotations, which even nudists must be aware of. (Actually we nudists are especially aware of them, since they are the reason we cannot live as we would choose in peace.) Those connotations, however inappropriate to a children’s book, are unavoidable under the light of Venus.

Flesh Longing

Each of the planets’ Latin names generated an adjective now preserved in English. I’ve been casually using those adjectives, capitalized, throughout this series, for their influences as conceived by the mediaevals and Lewis. Lunar and solar we still use for the heavenly bodies in question; mercurial, jovial and saturnine for personal temperaments, detached from their astrological referents; martial as a synonym for “military”. But venereal has fallen into disrepute due to the fact that, for a generation, the only noun that ever followed it was disease.
Lewis often uses Venus’ name euphemistically:
The carnal or animally sexual element within Eros, I intend (following an old usage) to call Venus. And I mean by Venus what is sexual not in some cryptic or rarified sense – such as a depth-psychologist might explore – but in a perfectly obvious sense; what is known to be sexual by those who experience it; what could be proved to be sexual by the simplest observations.
The Four Loves p. 84
Lewis belonged to the generation before most novels had sex scenes as a matter of course, and the closest thing he ever wrote to one ran (in its entirety) something like “And John committed fornication with her in the fields.” And one of the things that had drawn him to writing children’s books in the first place was that they didn’t have romance. That if anything makes it more awkward when he decides to make the secondary villain of this one a lecherous fool.
Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind. At this moment Uncle Andrew was beginning to be silly in a very grown-up way. Now that the Witch was no longer in the same room with him he was quickly forgetting how she had frightened him and thinking more and more of her wonderful beauty. He kept on saying to himself, “A dem fine woman, sir, a dem fine woman. A superb creature.”...
“Andrew, my boy,” he said to himself as he looked in the glass, “you’re a devilish well preserved fellow for your age. A distinguished-looking man, sir.”
You see, the foolish old man was actually beginning to imagine the Witch would fall in love with him. The two drinks probably had something to do with it, and so had his best clothes. But he was, in any case, as vain as a peacock; that was why he had become a Magician.
“Fall in love” is evidently the same euphemism here as it is in the Cole Porter song Let’s Do It, because Uncle Andrew feels the urge again when Aslan sings of animal proliferation.
The Lion was singing still. But now the song had once more changed. It was more like what we should call a tune, but it was also far wilder. It made you want to run and jump and climb. It made you want to shout. It made you want to rush at other people and either hug them or fight them. It made Digory hot and red in the face. It had some effect on Uncle Andrew, for Digory could hear him saying, “A spirited gel, sir. It’s a pity about her temper, but a dem fine woman all the same, a dem fine woman.” But what the song did to the two humans was nothing compared with what it was doing to the country.
Jadis does not remotely reciprocate Uncle Andrew’s interest, but that’s not because she’s not a sexual being.
“Does not Magic always go with the royal blood? [said Jadis.] Who ever heard of common people being Magicians? I can see the truth whether you speak it or not. Your Uncle is the great King and the great Enchanter of your world. And by his art he has seen the shadow of my face, in some magic mirror or some enchanted pool; and for the love of my beauty he has made a potent spell which shook your world to its foundations and sent you across the vast gulf between world and world to ask my favour and to bring me to him. Answer me: is that not how it was?”
Jadis wants to provoke desire, not give pleasure. In this she stands for Lilith.
[Jane] got up and opened the one book that lay on the table in the middle of the room. Instantly her eyes lit on the following words: “The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male, and it is no accident that the goddess of Love is older and stronger than the god. To desire the desiring of her own beauty is the vanity of Lilith, but to desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve, and to both it is in the lover that the beloved tastes her own delightfulness...”
That Hideous Strength p. 61
Lilith in Jewish mythology was Adam’s first wife, whom he divorced because she insisted on taking control during sex. To Lewis, women’s sexuality is defined in subjection to men. It’s not enough for a woman not to actively stir up men’s lusts – she’s even more at fault if she stirs them up but doesn’t intend to follow through. One short story Lewis wrote after finishing with Narnia has the narrator inadvertently enter the consciousness of a young woman named Peggy, in a somewhat Being John Malkovich -like scenario. We are evidently meant to think she is vain or egotistical, because she appears in her own mind swollen to monstrous size and with a supermodel body.
The gigantic Peggy now removed her beach equipment and stood up naked in front of a full-length mirror. Apparently she enjoyed what she saw there; I can hardly express how much I didn’t... Her body was (of course) brown, like the bodies in the sun-bathing advertisements. But round her hips, and again round her breasts, where the coverings had been, there were two bands of dead white which looked, by contrast, like leprosy. It made me for the moment almost physically sick. What staggered me was that she could stand and admire it. Had she no idea how it would affect ordinary male eyes? A very disagreeable conviction grew in me that this was a subject of no interest to her; that all her clothes and bath salts and two-piece swimsuits, and indeed the voluptuousness of her every look and gesture, had not, and never had had, the meaning which every man would read, and was intended to read, into them. They were a huge overture to an opera in which she had no interest at all; a coronation procession with no queen at the centre of it; gestures, gestures about nothing.
“The Shoddy Lands”, The Dark Tower pp. 109–110
Many criticisms can be made of evolutionary psychology, but one of its findings needs to be trumpeted to the heavens: men consistently overestimate women’s sexual intentions towards them, whereas women’s judgement of men’s feelings average around accuracy. (As far as I know the research has not been repeated for same-sex attractions.) Read that quote again on the supposition that Lewis is making that very error – that he is mistaken about what Peggy intends men to read into her behaviour – and notice how it deflates the moral he draws.
But in Narnia, for the most part, sexuality is cryptic; Lewis was sufficiently familiar with Freud to compose deliberately Freudian scenes when he wanted to. (I’ve seen it claimed that he was “horrified” to hear Lucy’s entry into Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe analysed as a birth metaphor, with the fur coats standing for the vulva. I’d wager his reaction was closer to annoyance with perhaps a touch of tedium.)
The Romance of the Rose seems at first an ideal illustration of the Freudian symbolism, for in it we have not only the garden but the rosebud, which “means” in the second half of the poem exactly what Freud would have it mean. But the trouble is that the whole process here seems to be the wrong way round. The author, and his readers, start with a fully conscious attention to the erotic material and then deliberately express it in the symbols. The symbols do not conceal and are not intended to conceal; they exhibit. The Romance may furnish evidence that gardens and rosebuds are excellent symbols for the things Freud has mentioned; but why are any symbols adopted?... If in the Romance of the Rose the erotic thought owes much of its poetical charm to the garden, why should the garden in Paradise Lost owe all its poetical charm to the erotic thought?
“Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism”, Selected Literary Essays pp. 295–296
Phallic symbolism is sparse in The Magician’s Nephew, certainly compared to the Martial Prince Caspian with all its trees and towers and weapons and that magical horn. This Venereal book is the only Narnia Chronicle in which the word sword does not appear. On the other hand, I count no less than five vulval symbols. First, the tunnel Digory and Polly go down:
Polly had discovered long ago that if you opened a certain little door in the box-room attic of her house you would find the cistern and a dark place behind it which you could get into by a little careful climbing. The dark place was like a long tunnel with brick wall on one side and sloping roof on the other. In the roof there were little chunks of light between the slates. There was no floor in this tunnel: you had to step from rafter to rafter, and between them there was only plaster. If you stepped on this you would find yourself falling through the ceiling of the room below. Polly had used the bit of the tunnel just beside the cistern as a smugglers’ cave. She had brought up bits of old packing cases and the seats of broken kitchen chairs, and things of that sort, and spread them across from rafter to rafter so as to make a bit of floor.
Second, the rings they insert their fingers through:
“They only work,” [Uncle Andrew] said, “if they’re actually touching your skin. Wearing gloves, I can pick them up – like this – and nothing happens. If you carried one in your pocket nothing would happen: but of course you’d have to be careful not to put your hand in your pocket and touch it by accident. The moment you touch a yellow ring, you vanish out of this world. When you are in the Other Place I expect – of course this hasn’t been tested yet, but I expect – that the moment you touch a green ring you vanish out of that world and – I expect – reappear in this. Now. I take these two greens and drop them into your right-hand pocket. Remember very carefully which pocket the greens are in. G for green and R for right. G.R. you see: which are the first two letters of green. One for you and one for the little girl. And now you pick up a yellow one for yourself. I should put it on on your finger – if I were you. There’ll be less chance of dropping it.”
Third, the pools they emerge from, and plunge into, in the Wood:
“I believe I’m in water,” said Digory. “Or under water.” This frightened him for a second, but almost at once he could feel that he was rushing upwards. Then his head suddenly came out into the air and, he found himself scrambling ashore, out on to smooth grassy ground at the edge of a pool.
...He was standing by the edge of a small pool – not more than ten feet from side to side – in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky.
Fourth, the little arch with its magical bell which unleashes a terrifying feminine energy when stimulated:
The thing in the middle of the room was not exactly a table. It was a square pillar about four feet high and on it there rose a little golden arch from which there hung a little golden bell; and beside this there lay a little golden hammer to hit the bell with...
What [the writing under it] said was something like this – at least this is the sense of it though the poetry, when you read it there, was better:
Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.
...It was never found out whether the fall of the roof was due to Magic or whether that unbearably loud sound from the bell just happened to strike the note which was more than those crumbling walls could stand.
“There! I hope you’re satisfied now,” panted Polly.
“Well, it’s all over, anyway,” said Digory.
And fifth, that walled garden on its little hill between the mountains. Similar deliberate Freudianism is found in the early manuscript of The Magician’s Nephew published by Walter Hooper as the “Lefay Fragment”. That story appears to have been intended for both Mars and Venus, which is why I quoted it at some length when I discussed Prince Caspian. I pointed out then the phallic symbolism of Digory (who, you remember, could converse with trees and animals) sitting astride an Oak branch to make Polly’s acquaintance. This is what happens next. Notice that there is still a tunnel attached to Polly, though a completely different one, and Lewis has retained the detail of the packing-cases.
“What are you making?”, said Digory to Polly...
“I’m making a raft”, replied Polly.
“Where are you going to launch it?”, asked Digory.
“Didn’t you know there was a stream at the bottom of our garden?”, said Polly.
“Of course I did”, answered Digory, “I’ve been over in your garden dozens of times. [Polly has recently moved in to the empty house next door to Digory’s.] But I shouldn’t think it was much good for sailing on. It just goes under a kind of tunnel in the wall on the other side of your garden, and I know it doesn’t come up again in the garden beyond, because—”
“No”, interrupted Polly, “That’s why I want to explore it. I want to sail into the tunnel and find where it goes to”
“It’s awfully low”, said Digory, “There’d be nothing like room to stand up or even to sit.”
“Of course not. That’s why I shall be lying flat, paddling with my feet and holding my torch in one hand and my pistol in the other. It might go anywhere. Perhaps it leads down into the bowels of the earth.”
Digory could not deny, even in his own mind, that this was a magnificent plan, and he felt rather ashamed that he had never thought of it himself. He had an uncomfortable idea, too, that Polly might think he had thought of it but been afraid to do it...
The raft was made out of boards which had once been the sides of packing cases. At least these were the deck of the raft. They were fastened onto crosspieces which were round, being in fact very small logs. There was one at the end and one in the middle, but none yet at the other end.
“Where’s the third crosspiece?”, asked Digory.
“That’s just the trouble”, said Polly. “I was going to use this” (she pointed to two bits on the grass) “but it’s rotten and broke as soon as I tried to nail it. And these three are the only long bits in the wood shed.”
Walter Hooper, Past Watchful Dragons pp. 55–56
Thinking of going down Polly’s wet tunnel prompts Digory to attack the stiff, straight branch between his legs – again, I quoted that part last time. For his assault on the Oak, Digory loses his Edenic attunement to nature.
“Oak”, he said, laying his hand on the trunk of his old friend, “I’m most awfully sorry about yesterday. You did understand, didn’t you? You know I wouldn’t for myself steal even one leaf of yours, but how could I go on being dared and told I was a coward and told I couldn’t saw – and by a girl too? You did understand, didn’t you?”
But the Oak answered not a word. Nor did the other trees when Digory appealed to them. It was the first time in his life that such a thing had ever happened to him. He went on trying to make the trees see reason, but there was no answer. He begged and implored and apologized and then grew angry and said “Alright! Sulky things. Losing that branch was no more to Oak than having my nails cut would be to me. I don’t know what you’re all making such a fuss about. Oak cut my face yesterday and made it bleed and I’m not sulking about that. Have it your own way.”
He turned miserably to go back to the house. At that moment two grubby and quarrelsome London sparrows alighted on the roller. Digory, who had been understanding birds’ voices all his life, at once listened to hear what they were arguing about. He had often been able to settle bird-quarrels and send both parties away content. This time, he found to his horror that he could not make out what they were saying. It was just meaningless chatter to him as it would be to you or me. Then a terrible thought struck him. Up till now he had taken it for granted that he was the same as he had always been but that the Trees had changed and had become angry. But supposing it wasn’t that? Supposing the Trees and beasts and birds were still the same and that the change was in him, that he had lost his gift and become like everyone else? This thought was almost more than Digory could bear... “What a fool I’ve been – oh what a fool!” said Digory.
Walter Hooper, Past Watchful Dragons pp. 61–62
So fanficcer “pukingtoreador”’s little piece of satire, which I here give in full, does not exaggerate even slightly.
Susan let her tears fall freely when she heard the news. Peter held his weeping sister and turned to Aslan.
“But Aslan,” Peter said, “why can’t we return to Narnia any more?”
“Because, my child,” Aslan replied, his great golden eyes wet with sadness, “you touched yourself.”
“pukingtoreador”, The Real Reason
In short, Lewis celebrated procreative sex within marriage just as Milton did (see Paradise Lost IV 741–752), but considered unmarried sex sinful and non-procreative sex, including masturbation, perverted. Yes, contraception too.
“Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive.” [said Merlin, lately revived in the mid-twentieth century]...
“Sir, you are mistaken [replied Ransom]. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner; but the woman is chaste.”
“Sir,” said Merlin, “know well that she has done in Logres [the spiritual Britain] a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.”
“She is but lately married,” said Ransom. “The child may yet be born.”
“Sir,” said Merlin, “be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren... For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again.”
That Hideous Strength pp. 275–276
Needless to say, there is none of that in Narnia.

Grass Growing and Grain Bursting

Venus is the goddess of new life, which is the most prominent theme of The Magician’s Nephew.
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains... The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed.

Can you imagine a stretch of grassy land bubbling like water in a pot? For that is really the best description of what was happening. In all directions it was swelling into humps. They were of very different sizes, some no bigger than mole-hills, some as big as wheel-barrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps moved and swelled till they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal. The moles came out just as you might see a mole come out in England. The dogs came out, barking the moment their heads were free, and struggling as you’ve seen them do when they are getting through a narrow hole in a hedge. The stags were the queerest to watch, for of course the antlers came up a long time before the rest of them, so at first Digory thought they were trees. The frogs, who all came up near the river, went straight into it with a plop-plop and a loud croaking. The panthers, leopards and things of that sort, sat down at once to wash the loose earth off their hind quarters and then stood up against the trees to sharpen their front claws. Showers of birds came out of the trees. Butterflies fluttered. Bees got to work on the flowers as if they hadn’t a second to lose. But the greatest moment of all was when the biggest hump broke like a small earthquake and out came the sloping back, the large, wise head, and the four baggy-trousered legs of an elephant.
In this youthful Narnia, everything comes alive that wasn’t already, when it lands on the soil (except, I’ve just noticed, the characters’ shoes and other clothes).
“Ho, ho! [said Uncle Andrew.] They laughed at my Magic. That fool of a sister of mine thinks I’m a lunatic. I wonder what they’ll say now? I have discovered a world where everything is bursting with life and growth. Columbus, now, they talk about Columbus. But what was America to this? The commercial possibilities of this country are unbounded. Bring a few old bits of scrap iron here, bury ’em, and up they come as brand new railway engines, battleships, anything you please. They’ll cost nothing, and I can sell ’em at full prices in England. I shall be a millionaire...”

There were nine [toffees] all told. It was Digory who had the bright idea of eating four each and planting the ninth; for, as he said, “if the bar off the lamp-post turned into a little light-tree, why shouldn’t this turn into a toffee-tree?” So they dibbled a small hole in the turf and buried the piece of toffee...
Just beside them was a little, very dark-wooded tree, about the size of an apple tree. The leaves were whitish and rather papery, like the herb called honesty, and it was loaded with little brown fruits that looked rather like dates.

“Please, Aslan,” said Polly, “could you say something to – to unfrighten [Uncle Andrew]? And then could you say something to prevent him from ever coming back here again?... He’s so excited about the bar off the lamp-post growing into a lamp-post tree and he thinks—”
“He thinks great folly, child,” said Aslan. “This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground. It will not be so for long...”
The Wood between the Worlds, though quiet, is likewise full of life.
It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others – a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive. When he tried to describe it afterwards Digory always said, “It was a rich place: as rich as plum-cake.”
Charn stands in stark contrast to all this, throwing the theme into sharper relief.
They must have been magnificent places when people were still living there. In one there had once been a fountain. A great stone monster with wide-spread wings stood with its mouth open and you could still see a bit of piping at the back of its mouth, out of which the water used to pour. Under it was a wide stone basin to hold the water; but it was as dry as a bone. In other places there were the dry sticks of some sort of climbing plant which had wound itself round the pillars and helped to pull some of them down. But it had died long ago. And there were no ants or spiders or any of the other living things you expect to see in a ruin; and where the dry earth showed between the broken flagstones there was no grass or moss.
London fills up the fourth corner of the grid: lively, but unnatural.
Before Digory had recovered his breath a good many other things began to happen. A second hansom dashed up close behind the first: out of it there jumped a fat man in a frock-coat and a policeman. Then came a third hansom with two more policemen in it. After it, came about twenty people (mostly errand boys) on bicycles, all ringing their bells and letting out cheers and cat-calls. Last of all came a crowd of people on foot: all very hot with running, but obviously enjoying themselves. Windows shot up in all the houses of that street and a housemaid or a butler appeared at every front door. They wanted to see the fun.

“It was a hard, cruel country,” said Strawberry. “There was no grass. All hard stones.”
“Too true, mate, too true!” said the Cabby. “A ’ard world it was. I always did say those paving-stones weren’t fair on any ’oss. That’s Lunn’on, that is...”
This is a consistent theme through Lewis’s fictional and poetic works. Nature is beauty, life, humility, abundance; cities, technology and bureaucracy are death, ugliness, poverty, hubris. I may as well admit, this resonates strongly with me. There is still a part of me which wants to live running naked in the forest making friends with animals, and which sticks its fingers in its ears and whistles when my reason explains why that isn’t going to work. But this doesn’t flow for me into hankering for kinship-based states and hereditary monarchs, as it seems to have for Lewis. (I wonder, is it just a coincidence that Narnia’s first King and Queen both bear the names of European nations?)
King Frank and Queen Helen and their children lived happily in Narnia and their second son became King of Archenland. The boys married nymphs and the girls married wood-gods and river-gods.
The central plot point of the book is Digory’s Aslan-given quest to remedy the harm he did by waking Jadis and bringing her to Narnia, but that’s not quite how Aslan puts it. What he says is this:
“You see, friends,” he said, “that before the new, clean world I gave you is seven hours old, a force of evil has already entered it; waked and brought hither by this son of Adam... And as Adam’s race has done the harm, Adam’s race shall help to heal it...”
So Digory’s race is apparently responsible. Speaking in his own voice Lewis disapproved of racism, albeit more quietly than we would like today. But there have been worrying references to “noble blood” from good-aligned characters in several books already – reflecting mediaeval class prejudice rather than modern ethnic prejudice, I believe, but still something Lewis evidently had no particular problem with. One dangerous form of prejudice is guilt by association, when every member of a particular group is blamed for the actions of a few; here Aslan makes all of humanity accountable for Digory’s wrongdoing, as if guilt could pass up and down lines of descent. Of course, that’s not something Lewis is making up, it’s the traditional Christian doctrine of Original Sin.
Venus is the only mother among the planets, and so The Magician’s Nephew puts a mother into the background of the story.
“At any rate I do wash my face,” said Polly. “Which is what you need to do; especially after—” and then she stopped. She had been going to say “After you’ve been blubbing,” but she thought that wouldn’t be polite.
“Alright, I have then,” said Digory in a much louder voice, like a boy who was so miserable that he didn’t care who knew he had been crying. “And so would you,” he went on, “if... your father was away in India – and you had to come and live with an Aunt and an Uncle who’s mad... and if the reason was that they were looking after your Mother – and if your Mother was ill and was going to – going to – die.” Then his face went the wrong sort of shape as it does if you’re trying to keep back your tears.
Mabel Kirke is dying of cancer. Lewis lost his own mother to cancer at about Digory’s age, an event he compares in Surprised by Joy to the fall of Atlantis. I can barely imagine how painful it must have been for him to write of Digory’s fervent hope.
“What lovely grapes!” came Aunt Letty’s voice. “I’m sure if anything could do her good these would. But poor, dear little Mabel! I’m afraid it would need fruit from the land of youth to help her now. Nothing in this world will do much.” Then they both lowered their voices and said a lot more that he could not hear.
If he had heard that bit about the land of youth a few days ago he would have thought Aunt Letty was just talking without meaning anything in particular, the way grown-ups do, and it wouldn’t have interested him. He almost thought so now. But suddenly it flashed upon his mind that he now knew (even if Aunt Letty didn’t) that there really were other worlds and that he himself had been in one of them. At that rate there might be a real Land of Youth somewhere. There might be almost anything. There might be fruit in some other world that would really cure his mother! And oh, oh – Well, you know how it feels if you begin hoping for something that you want desperately badly; you almost fight against the hope because it is too good to be true; you’ve been disappointed so often before. That was how Digory felt. But it was no good trying to throttle this hope. It might – really, really, it just might be true. So many odd things had happened already. And he had the magic rings. There must be worlds you could get to through every pool in the wood. He could hunt through them all. And then – Mother well again. Everything right again.
And if the hope hurt to write, then this passage must have had Lewis weeping.
Then Digory took a minute to get his breath, and then went softly into his Mother’s room. And there she lay, as he had seen her lie so many other times, propped up on the pillows, with a thin, pale face that would make you cry to look at. Digory took the Apple of Life out of his pocket...
“Oh, darling, how lovely,” said Digory’s Mother.
“You will eat it, won’t you? Please,” said Digory.
“I don’t know what the Doctor would say,” she answered. “But really – I almost feel as if I could.”
He peeled it and cut it up and gave it to her piece by piece. And no sooner had she finished it than she smiled and her head sank back on the pillow and she was asleep: a real, natural, gentle sleep, without any of those nasty drugs, which was, as Digory knew, the thing in the whole world that she wanted most. And he was sure now that her face looked a little different. He bent down and kissed her very softly and stole out of the room with a beating heart; taking the core of the apple with him...
Next morning when the Doctor made his usual visit, Digory leaned over the banisters to listen. He heard the Doctor come out with Aunt Letty and say:
“Miss Ketterley, this is the most extraordinary case I have known in my whole medical career. It is – it is like a miracle. I wouldn’t tell the little boy anything at present; we don’t want to raise any false hopes. But in my opinion—” then his voice became too low to hear.
I do agree with both Lewis and the deconstructionists that speculations about the author’s psychology ought not to interfere with the reading of a text. But I’ve been re-reading the Ransom trilogy recently, and it is clear that Lewis’s cerebral misogyny and his veneration of motherhood are two variations on a single theme. It grumbles away through Perelandra, crescendoes in That Hideous Strength, and culminates, with unconscious irony bordering on the horrific, in Ransom’s final blessing on Jane Studdock: “You will have no more dreams. Have children instead.” And I can’t help wondering whether Lewis idealized motherhood, in turn, because he himself had been deprived of it so painfully, so young. While certainly ample grounds for compassion, this also means Lewis is not entitled to hang moral principles on the sentiment, and I’m afraid he does. At length.
Jadis is of course the very reverse of motherly. Yet here we touch upon another inconsistency gross enough that I picked it up even in childhood. In The Silver Chair an Owl speculates that the Green Witch is “one of the same crew” as the White, since they both came down out of the North (and our last sight of Jadis in this book has her setting off northward from the Garden). A Dwarf at the end of the story classes them together as “these northern witches”. But how can that be? Jadis is from a different world, and its sole inhabitant. They cannot be related. Or rather, there is only one way they can be related – if the Green Witch is Jadis’s daughter.

Her Breath’s Sweetness

Other sensual pleasures are celebrated rather more openly.
In those days... schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain.

“...I remember there used to be a little one of you two-leggers who used to [ride me] long ago [said Strawberry the horse]. He used to have little hard, square lumps of some white stuff that he gave me. They tasted – oh, wonderful, sweeter than grass.”
“Ah, that’d be sugar,” said the Cabby.
The Wood between the Worlds is blissful, and the new, unfallen Narnia joyful:
The strangest thing was that, almost before he had looked about him, Digory had half forgotten how he had come there. At any rate, he was certainly not thinking about Polly, or Uncle Andrew, or even his Mother. He was not in the least frightened, or excited, or curious. If anyone had asked him “Where did you come from?” he would probably have said, “I’ve always been here.” That was what it felt like – as if one had always been in that place and never been bored although nothing had ever happened. As he said long afterwards, “It’s not the sort of place where things happen. The trees go on growing, that’s all.”

The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose.
Digory had never seen such a sun. The sun above the ruins of Charn had looked older than ours; this looked younger. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up.

It was even better than yesterday, partly because every one was feeling so fresh, and partly because the newly risen sun was at their backs and, of course, everything looks nicer when the light is behind you. It was a wonderful ride. The big snowy mountains rose above them in every direction. The valleys, far beneath them, were so green, and all the streams which tumbled down from the glaciers into the main river were so blue, that it was like flying over gigantic pieces of jewellery.
The sweetness keeps up throughout the book, attaching to everything in sight, until – to my taste, at least – it begins to cloy.
Fledge came lower and lower in wide circles. The icy peaks rose up higher and higher above. The air came up warmer and sweeter every moment, so sweet that it almost brought the tears to your eyes.

Both the children were looking up into the Lion’s face as he spoke these words. And all at once (they never knew exactly how it happened) the face seemed to be a sea of tossing gold in which they were floating, and such a sweetness and power rolled about them and over them and entered them that they felt they had never really been happy or wise or good, or even alive and awake, before. And the memory of that moment stayed with them always, so that as long as they both lived, if ever they were sad or afraid or angry, the thought of all that golden goodness, and the feeling that it was still there, quite close, just round some corner or just behind some door, would come back and make them sure, deep down inside, that all was well.
I would have thought the inhabitants would be without fault as well given their sinless state, but no. Vanity, quarrelsomeness, petulance and willful ignorance are all evident (as is Lewis’s low regard for democracy; as always, a vote yields the wrong answer).
“And yet, you know,” said the Elephant... “And yet, you know, it [Uncle Andrew, who has just fainted] might be an animal of some kind. Mightn’t the whitish lump at this end be a sort of face? And couldn’t those holes be eyes and a mouth? No nose, of course. But then – ahem – one mustn’t be narrow-minded. Very few of us have what could exactly be called a Nose.” She squinted down the length of her own trunk with pardonable pride.
“I object to that remark very strongly,” said the Bulldog.
“The Elephant is quite right,” said the Tapir.
“I tell you what!” said the Donkey brightly, “perhaps it’s an animal that can’t talk but thinks it can.”
“Can it be made to stand up?” said the Elephant thoughtfully. She took the limp form of Uncle Andrew gently in her trunk and set him up on end: upside down, unfortunately... Uncle Andrew merely collapsed again.
“There!” said several voices. “It isn’t an animal at all. It’s not alive.”
“I tell you, it is an animal,” said the Bulldog. “Smell it for yourself.”
“Smelling isn’t everything,” said the Elephant.
“Why,” said the Bulldog, “if a fellow can’t trust his nose, what is he to trust?”
“Well, his brains perhaps,” she replied mildly.
“I object to that remark very strongly,” said the Bulldog.
“Well, we must do something about it,” said the Elephant. “...What do most of us think? Is it an animal or something of the tree kind?”
“Tree! Tree!” said a dozen voices.
“Very well,” said the Elephant. “Then, if it’s a tree it wants to be planted. We must dig a hole.”...
“It looks dreadfully withered,” said the Donkey.
“Of course it wants some watering,” said the Elephant. “I think I might say (meaning no offence to anyone present) that, perhaps, for that sort of work, my kind of nose—”
“I object to that remark very strongly,” said the Bulldog.
On the page this all remains friendly, but the Bulldog’s happiness, at least, falls short of paradisal. Suppose someone else in the gathering had been equally offended but in the opposite direction? What would have stopped the argument from becoming a quarrel, with each Beast really hoping to shock and hurt the other? The Elephant’s remark about brains is certainly intended at least to belittle, so it’s not as if they have an infallible internal safeguard against acts that might harm others. And they have no compunctions about this:
Finally, when a whole crowd of animals came rushing towards him, he turned and ran for his life. And now anyone could see that the air of that young world was really doing the old gentleman good. In London he had been far too old to run; now, he ran at a speed which would have made him certain to win the hundred yards’ race at any Prep school in England. His coat-tails flying out behind him were a fine sight. But of course it was no use. Many of the animals behind him were swift ones; it was the first run they had ever taken in their lives and they were all longing to use their new muscles. “After him! After him!” they shouted. “Perhaps he’s that Neevil! [Aslan has told them there is “an evil” abroad.] Tally-ho! Tantivy! Cut him off! Round him up! Keep it up! Hurrah!”
They may not know what Uncle Andrew is, but the fact that he flees ought to tell them he’s terrified. Oughtn’t it? How can sinless beings delight in terrifying a fellow creature of Aslan?
Sometimes, under Venus, pleasure is temptation. The rings look pretty, for instance. I think the bit about Polly wanting to put one in her mouth is a reference to Freud’s oral stage of psychosexual development, but I haven’t read enough Freud to be sure.
But what she noticed first was a bright red wooden tray with a number of rings on it. They were in pairs – a yellow one and a green one together, then a little space, and then another yellow one and another green one. They were no bigger than ordinary rings, and no-one could help noticing them because they were so bright. They were the most beautiful shiny little things you can imagine. If Polly had been a very little younger she would have wanted to put one in her mouth.
The room was so quiet that you noticed the ticking of the clock at once. And yet, as she now found, it was not absolutely quiet either. There was a faint – a very, very faint – humming sound. If Hoovers had been invented in those days Polly would have thought it was the sound of a Hoover being worked a long way off – several rooms away and several floors below. But it was a nicer sound than that, a more musical tone; only so faint that you could hardly hear it.
The orgasmic note of the bell is likewise sweet at first.
As soon as the bell was struck it gave out a note, a sweet note such as you might have expected, and not very loud. But instead of dying away again, it went on; and as it went on it grew louder. Before a minute had passed it was twice as loud as it had been to begin with. It was soon so loud that if the children had tried to speak (but they weren’t thinking of speaking now – they were just standing with their mouths open) they would not have heard one another. Very soon it was so loud that they could not have heard one another even by shouting. And still it grew; all on one note, a continuous sweet sound, though the sweetness had something horrible about it, till all the air in that great room was throbbing with it and they could feel the stone floor trembling under their feet. Then at last it began to be mixed with another sound, a vague, disastrous noise which sounded first like the roar of a distant train, and then like the crash of a falling tree.
Even the goodness of Paradise can be a temptation if it interferes with our duty to God.
[Digory] walked straight across to [the Tree of Life], picked an apple, and put it in the breast pocket of his Norfolk jacket. But he couldn’t help looking at it and smelling it before he put it away.
It would have been better if he had not. A terrible thirst and hunger came over him and a longing to taste that fruit. He put it hastily into his pocket; but there were plenty of others. Could it be wrong to taste one? After all, he thought, the notice on the gate might not have been exactly an order; it might have been only a piece of advice – and who cares about advice? Or even if it were an order, would he be disobeying it by eating an apple? He had already obeyed the part about taking one “for others”.
Innocent desires – even, perhaps especially, our highest and most benevolent hopes – can furnish material for the Evil One to lead us astray by.
“But what about this Mother of yours whom you pretend to love so?” [said Jadis.]
“What’s she got to do with it?” said Digory.
“Do you not see, Fool, that one bite of that apple would heal her? You have it in your pocket. We are here by ourselves and the Lion is far away. Use your Magic and go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother’s bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the colour coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger. Then she will fall asleep – think of that; hours of sweet natural sleep, without pain, without drugs. Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again. Your home will be happy again. You will be like other boys.”
And here Lewis indulges in one of his worst habits, though one more evident in the Ransom Trilogy and the Screwtape Letters than in the Narniad. Frankly, I think what Jadis says next is perfectly reasonable. Lewis provides no counter-argument except to put the argument in the mouth of a villainous character. Obviously we’re not meant to conclude that it is morally wrong to depart speedily from collapsing buildings merely because, back in Charn, that course of action is recommended by Jadis. Yet no better reason is given here for refusing justified scepticism towards religion when the well-being of a loved one hangs in the balance.
“What has the Lion ever done for you that you should be his slave?” said the Witch. “What can he do to you once you are back in your own world? And what would your Mother think if she knew that you could have taken her pain away and given her back her life and saved your Father’s heart from being broken, and that you wouldn’t – that you’d rather run messages for a wild animal in a strange world that is no business of yours?”
“I – I don’t think he is a wild animal,” said Digory in a dried-up sort of voice. “He is – I don’t know—”
“Then he is something worse,” said the Witch. “Look what he has done to you already; look how heartless he has made you. That is what he does to everyone who listens to him. Cruel, pitiless boy! you would let your own Mother die rather than—”
“Oh shut up,” said the miserable Digory, still in the same voice. “Do you think I don’t see? But I – I promised.”
“Ah, but you didn’t know what you were promising. And no one here can prevent you.”
In keeping with the principle of mortification that I mentioned in the introductory Lewis post, Digory must give up his hopes for his Mother before he can resurrect them. You’ll note a slight discrepancy here with Aslan’s statement in both Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that no-one is ever told what would have happened.
“...And the Witch tempted you to do another thing, my son, did she not?”
“Yes, Aslan. She wanted me to take an apple home to Mother.”
“Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.”
And Digory could say nothing, for tears choked him and he gave up all hopes of saving his Mother’s life; but at the same time he knew that the Lion knew what would have happened, and that there might be things more terrible even than losing someone you love by death. But now Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper:
“That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life, but it will heal. Go. Pluck her an apple from the Tree.”
But why do this? Why does Aslan let Digory despair of saving his Mother before he offers the Apple? Is he toying with his grief? No reason is apparent in the book. For that matter, why are the apples and the garden under lock and key anyway? It didn’t prevent Jadis from accessing their power! Of course if Aslan were not the Creator, if he were a temporal ruler whose stock of magic apples might be in danger of running out, then the prohibition makes perfect sense. Again and again theological weaknesses are laid bare when doctrine becomes story.

Rude Rime-Making

Aphrodite in the Greek myths is vain and proud. But as goddess of fertility, growth, and new life, she can be syncretized with Earth Mother goddesses like Demeter and Gaia, who are humble; indeed the Latin word humilis, the seed of the English humble, has a root in humus, earth. Earth Mother worship is closely associated with farmers. That’s presumably why a manuscript version of The Magician’s Nephew had Digory and Polly meet a ploughman named Piers somewhere in Charn, who went on to become the first King of Narnia. I can’t give you any details because the manuscript didn’t survive; we know about it only from correspondence between Lewis and Roger Lancelyn Green, who recommended that this element be dropped. Contrary to some online commentary I’ve seen, this was not the same thing as the Lefay Fragment, which belongs to a much earlier stage of composition and does not mention Charn (or indeed Narnia) at all.
Piers Plowman is a mediaeval allegorical poem now existing in several variants, originally by William Langland. Its title character is a hard-working farmer, whose humble example, as he tills his half-acre of land, inspires a long list of sinful neighbours to repent of their wicked deeds and follow him – their confessions amounting to a satire on contemporary morals. Towards the end the narrator, who has been following Piers’ fortunes in a series of dreams, is granted a vision of Christ’s death and resurrection, conceived as a war against the forces of Hell. Christ is said to adopt Piers’ “arms”, that is to say, he appears on Earth as a poor working man.
In the published Narnia book, Piers the ploughman becomes Frank the cabman. To maintain the connection with Venus the Earth Mother, Lewis makes him a countryman who has come to London for work.
“...I didn’t like [London] no more than what you did. You were a country ’oss, and I was a country man. Used to sing in the choir, I did, down at ’ome. But there wasn’t a living for me there.”

“...How does this land please you?” [said Aslan.]
“It’s a fair treat, sir,” said the Cabby.
“Would you like to live here always?”
“Well you see sir, I’m a married man,” said the Cabby. “If my wife was here neither of us would ever want to go back to London, I reckon. We’re both country folks really.”
Note his choice of hymn when he suspects that he and the others may have died, in the darkness before Narnia begins:
“...And if we’re dead – which I don’t deny it might be – well, you got to remember that worse things ’appen at sea and a chap’s got to die sometime. And there ain’t nothing to be afraid of if a chap’s led a decent life. And if you ask me, I think the best thing we could do to pass the time would be sing a ’ymn.”
And he did. He struck up at once a harvest thanksgiving hymn, all about crops being “safely gathered in”. It was not very suitable to a place which felt as if nothing had ever grown there since the beginning of time, but it was the one he could remember best. He had a fine voice and the children joined in; it was very cheering. Uncle Andrew and the Witch did not join in.
The first thing Aslan asks him to determine his fitness for kingship is
“Well,” said Aslan, “can you use a spade and a plough and raise food out of the earth?”
“Yes, sir, I could do a bit of that sort of work: being brought up to it, like.”
What this has to do with being King, no-one ever explains. It’s there to connect the Cabby with the Earth Mother aspect of Venus.
Humility, for Lewis, means among other things a willingness to endure being laughed at. Venus is a laughing deity, and so this book is full of humour – though the instance that Lewis draws attention to as such falls really rather flat.
“No, Aslan, we won’t, we won’t [go back to being Dumb Beasts],” said everyone. But one perky jackdaw added in a loud voice, “No fear!” and everyone else had finished just before he said it so that his words came out quite clear in a dead silence; and perhaps you have found out how awful that can be – say, at a party. The Jackdaw became so embarrassed that it hid its head under its wings as if it was going to sleep. And all the other animals began making various queer noises which are their ways of laughing and which, of course, no one has ever heard in our world. They tried at first to repress it, but Aslan said:
“Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”
So they all let themselves go. And there was such merriment that the Jackdaw himself plucked up courage again and perched on the cab-horse’s head, between its ears, clapping its wings, and said:
“Aslan! Aslan! Have I made the first joke? Will everybody always be told how I made the first joke?”
“No, little friend,” said the Lion. “You have not made the first joke; you have only been the first joke.” Then everyone laughed more than ever; but the Jackdaw didn’t mind and laughed just as loud till the horse shook its head and the Jackdaw lost its balance and fell off, but remembered its wings (they were still new to it) before it reached the ground.
Honestly, that seems a bit mean. As it happens, the Jackdaw “didn’t mind”, but what if it had? Would it have been to blame for its “vanity” or “pride”? Often with his lesser characters, and especially with those he’s trying to teach a lesson, Lewis seems to be taking the advice he put in the mouth of the devil Screwtape.
Humour is for [the English] the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame... Cruelty is shameful – unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke.
The Screwtape Letters pp. 59–60
Jadis – like “the devil, the prowde spirite” in the quote from Thomas More on the frontispiece to The Screwtape Letters – cannot endure to be mocked.
“Ho! Hempress, are you? We’ll see about that,” said a voice. Then another voice said, “Three cheers for the Hempress of Colney ’Atch“ and quite a number joined in. A flush of colour came into the Witch’s face and she bowed ever so slightly. But the cheers died away into roars of laughter and she saw that they had only been making fun of her. A change came over her expression and she changed the knife to her left hand.
There follows the sole physical combat of The Magician’s Nephew. Somehow it’s more like a Punch-and-Judy show, with policemen getting bopped on the bean, than the noble battles and duels we’ve seen in every other Chronicle.
As he rushed, [Digory] heard a sickening crash and a thud. The Witch had brought the bar down on the chief policeman’s helmet: the man fell like a nine-pin...
There was a second crash and another policeman crumpled up. There came an angry roar from the crowd: “Pull her down. Get a few paving-stones. Call out the Military.”...
The crowd booed and bellowed again. A stone whistled over Digory’s head. Then came the voice of the Witch, clear like a great bell, and sounding as if, for once, she were almost happy.
“Scum! You shall pay dearly for this when I have conquered your world. Not one stone of your city will be left. I will make it as Charn, as Felinda, as Sorlois, as Bramandin.”
From the moment Jadis arrives, Uncle Andrew becomes a comic figure. His attempts to cut a fine figure begin going wrong even in London.
Meanwhile an old gentleman had begun to struggle shakily out of the ruins of the first hansom. Several people rushed forward to help him; but as one pulled him one way and another another, perhaps he would have got out quite as quickly on his own. Digory guessed that the old gentleman must be Uncle Andrew but you couldn’t see his face; his tall hat had been bashed down over it...
The old gentleman, who was certainly Uncle Andrew, had just succeeded in standing up and was rubbing his bruises. “Now then,” said the policeman, turning to him, “what’s all this?”
“Womfle – pomfy – shomf,” came Uncle Andrew’s voice from inside the hat.
Narnia under Venus is not conducive to Victorian dignity.
The Lion came on... Though its soft pads made no noise, you could feel the earth shake beneath their weight.
The Witch shrieked and ran: in a few moments she was out of sight among the trees. Uncle Andrew turned to do likewise, tripped over a root, and fell flat on his face in a little brook that ran down to join the river.
From there it’s all downhill as far as he’s concerned. He is caught by ferocious wild animals (as he sees it), faints in terror, and then—
The two Moles [dug the hole] pretty quickly. There was some dispute as to which way up Uncle Andrew ought to be put into the hole, and he had a very narrow escape from being put in head foremost. Several animals said his legs must be his branches and therefore the grey, fluffy thing (they meant his head) must be his root. But then others said that the forked end of him was the muddier and that it spread out more, as roots ought to do. So finally he was planted right way up. When they had patted down the earth it came up above his knees.
...the Elephant walked quietly to the river, filled her trunk with water, and came back to attend to Uncle Andrew. The sagacious animal went on doing this till gallons of water had been squirted over him, and water was running out of the skirts of his frock-coat as if he had been for a bath with all his clothes on. In the end it revived him. He awoke from his faint. What a wakening it was! But we must leave him to think over his wicked deeds (if he was likely to do anything so sensible) and turn to more important things.

When the watering brought him to his senses, he found himself soaking wet, buried up to his thighs in earth (which was quickly turning into mud) and surrounded by more wild animals than he had ever dreamed of in his life before. It is perhaps not surprising that he began to scream and howl. This was in a way a good thing, for it at last persuaded everyone... that he was alive. So they dug him up again (his trousers were in a really shocking state by now). As soon as his legs were free he tried to bolt, but one swift curl of the Elephant’s trunk round his waist soon put an end to that... they made a sort of cage or coop all round him. They then offered him everything they could think of to eat.
The Donkey collected great piles of thistles and threw them in, but Uncle Andrew didn’t seem to care about them. The Squirrels bombarded him with volleys of nuts but he only covered his head with his hands and tried to keep out of the way. Several birds flew to and fro diligently dropping worms on him. The Bear... found a wild bees’ nest and instead of eating it himself (which he would very much like to have done) this worthy creature... lobbed the whole sticky mass over the top of the enclosure and unfortunately it hit Uncle Andrew slap in the face (not all the bees were dead). The Bear, who would not at all have minded being hit in the face by a honeycomb himself, could not understand why Uncle Andrew staggered back, slipped, and sat down. And it was sheer bad luck that he sat down on the pile of thistles... They christened him Brandy because he made that noise so often.
I shall return to Uncle Andrew’s self-imposed inability to understand the Talking Beasts when I discuss The Last Battle, where the point is drawn out again with the Dwarfs and, of course, Susan. Here I want to note Uncle Andrew’s resemblance to the villainous physicist Weston in Out of the Silent Planet:
It was Oyarsa [the god Mars] who broke the silence. “We have had mirth enough,” he said, “and it is time to hear true answers to our questions. Something is wrong in your head, hnau [person] from Thulcandra [Earth]. There is too much blood in it. Is Firikitekila here?”
“Here, Oyarsa,” said a pfifltrigg [one of the Martian races].
“Have you in your cisterns water that has been made cold?”
“Yes, Oyarsa.”
“Then let this thick hnau be taken to the guesthouse and let them bathe his head in cold water. Much water and many times. Then bring him again. Meanwhile I will provide for my killed hrossa [another Martian race].”
Weston did not clearly understand what the voice said – indeed, he was still too busy trying to find out where it came from [Oyarsa is invisible] – but terror smote him as he found himself wrapped in the strong arms of the surrounding hrossa and forced away from his place. Ransom would gladly have shouted out some reassurance, but Weston himself was shouting too loud to hear him. He was mixing English and Malacandrian [Martian] now, and the last that was heard was a rising scream of “Pay for this – pouff! bang! – Ransom, for God’s sake – Ransom! Ransom!”

The hross who headed this procession [bringing Weston back a few minutes later] was a conscientious creature and began at once explaining itself in a rather troubled voice.
“I hope we have done right, Oyarsa,” it said. “But we do not know. We dipped his head in the cold water seven times, but the seventh time something fell off it. We had thought it was the top of his head, but now we saw it was a covering made of the skin of some other creature. Then some said we had done your will with the seven dips, and others said not. In the end we dipped it seven times more. We hope that was right. The creature talked a lot between the dips, and most between the second seven, but we could not understand it.”
Out of the Silent Planet pp. 129–130, 132
For, of all characters in the Narniad, it is Uncle Andrew who recalls the villains of the Ransom Trilogy most strongly and most frequently.

Bewitch the Worlds

In his apostate youth Lewis toyed with what Christians are apt to call “the occult”. He experienced an intense desire to summon demons, which he later put into the head of a protagonist in That Hideous Strength.
Suddenly, like a thing that leaped to him across infinite distances with the speed of light, desire (salt, black, ravenous, unanswerable desire) took him by the throat... Many writers speak of it in terms of lust: a description admirably illuminating from within, totally misleading from without. It has nothing to do with the body... like lust, it disenchants the whole universe. Everything else that Mark had ever felt – love, ambition, hunger, lust itself – appeared to have been mere milk and water, toys for children, not worth one throb of the nerves... Never before had he known the fruitful strength of the movement opposite to Nature which now had him in its grip; the impulse to reverse all reluctances and draw every circle anti-clockwise. The meaning of certain pictures, of Frost’s talk about “objectivity”, of the things done by witches in old times, became clear to him.
That Hideous Strength pp. 265–266
And both desires would properly belong to Lilith, the mother of witches. This passion seems to have driven Uncle Andrew’s career – I’m sure Lewis did not choose the word “devilish” idly.
“Meanwhile,” continued Uncle Andrew, “I was learning a good deal in other ways (it wouldn’t be proper to explain them to a child) about Magic in general. That meant that I came to have a fair idea what sort of things might be in the box. By various tests I narrowed down the possibilities. I had to get to know some – well, some devilish queer people, and go through some very disagreeable experiences. That was what turned my head grey. One doesn’t become a magician for nothing. My health broke down in the end. But I got better...”
Uncle Andrew takes a Nietzschean view of morality, and like all who take such views he classes himself among the Übermensch. Keeping promises to the dead is for the herd.
“...[Mrs Lefay] made me promise that as soon as she was dead I would burn [the Atlantean box], unopened, with certain ceremonies. That promise I did not keep.”
“Well, then, it was jolly rotten of you,” said Digory.
“Rotten?” said Uncle Andrew with a puzzled look. “Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true; most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys – and servants – and women – and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”
In this he resembles Frost and Wither, the two chief diabolists of That Hideous Strength. Also like them, he does not possess great magical power in himself.
“I see,” [Jadis] said scornfully, “you are a Magician – of a sort. Stand up, dog, and don’t sprawl there as if you were speaking to your equals. How do you come to know Magic? You are not of royal blood, I’ll swear.”
“Well – ah – not perhaps in the strict sense,” stammered Uncle Andrew. “Not exactly royal, Ma’am. The Ketterleys are, however, a very old family. An old Dorsetshire family, Ma’am.”
“Peace,” said the Witch. “I see what you are. You are a little, peddling Magician who works by rules and books. There is no real Magic in your blood and heart. Your kind was made an end of in my world a thousand years ago. But here I shall allow you to be my servant.”
Frost and Wither, knowing the limits of their power, seek to revive Merlin and make use of his abilities, which he seems to exercise “simply by being Merlin” – as Jadis achieves her results chiefly by being Jadis.
They came at last into a hall larger and loftier than any they had yet seen... The doors were dead black, either ebony or some black metal which is not found in our world. They were fastened with great bars, most of them too high to reach and all too heavy to lift. [Digory] wondered how they would get out.
The Queen let go of his hand and raised her arm. She drew herself up to her full height and stood rigid. Then she said something which they couldn’t understand (but it sounded horrid) and made an action as if she were throwing something towards the doors. And those high and heavy doors trembled for a second as if they were made of silk and then crumbled away till there was nothing left of them but a heap of dust on the threshold.
Wither and Uncle Andrew indeed sound almost identical when they have to introduce Merlin and Jadis, respectively, to local authority (though there’s a twist in That Hideous Strength which would be spoilerific to reveal if you intend to read it, and pointless if you don’t).
“My dear Director,” began Wither, a little out of breath. “This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I hope your comfort has been in every way attended to. It has been most unfortunate that I was called away at the very moment when I was expecting your arrival. A remarkable coincidence ... another very distinguished person has joined us at the very same moment. A foreigner ...”
That Hideous Strength p. 337
“And who, pray, are you going to entertain, Andrew?“ asked Aunt Letty.
“A – a most distinguished visitor has just arrived.”
“Distinguished fiddlestick!” said Aunt Letty. “There hasn’t been a ring at the hell for the last hour.”
At that moment the door was suddenly flung open. Aunt Letty looked round and saw with amazement that an enormous woman, splendidly dressed, with bare arms and flashing eyes, stood in the doorway. It was the Witch...
“And who is this young person, Andrew, may I ask?” said Aunt Letty in icy tones.
“Distinguished foreigner – v-very important p-person,” he stammered.
On the other hand, even Jadis had to learn the Deplorable word from somebody.
“It was my sister’s fault,” said the Queen. “She drove me to it. May the curse of all the Powers rest upon her forever! At any moment I was ready to make peace – yes and to spare her life too, if only she would yield me the throne. But she would not. Her pride has destroyed the whole world. Even after the war had begun, there was a solemn promise that neither side would use Magic. But when she broke her promise, what could I do? Fool! As if she did not know that I had more Magic than she! She even knew that I had the secret of the Deplorable Word. Did she think – she was always a weakling – that I would not use it?”
“What was it?” said Digory.
“That was the secret of secrets,” said the Queen Jadis. “It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it. But the ancient kings were weak and soft-hearted and bound themselves and all who should come after them with great oaths never even to seek after the knowledge of that word. But I learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it. I did not use it until she forced me to it...
“I did not use my power till the last of my soldiers had fallen, and the accursed woman, my sister, at the head of her rebels was halfway up those great stairs that lead up from the city to the terrace. Then I waited till we were so close that we could see one another’s faces. She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, ‘Victory.’ ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘Victory, but not yours.’ Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun.”
The children’s response here is uncomfortably revealing. Apparently women and children are not covered under “people”.
“But the people?” gasped Digory.
“What people, boy?” asked the Queen.
“All the ordinary people,” said Polly, “who’d never done you any harm. And the women, and the children, and the animals.”
“Don’t you understand?” said the Queen (still speaking to Digory). “I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?”
Now while God presumably wouldn’t go by the name “Aslan” in Charn, Lewis believed he was the creator of all worlds. That being the case, it was God who created Charn in such a way that saying a particular word with the given ceremonies would extinguish all life. Why? Lewis argues in The Problem of Pain that if God were to remove every opportunity free-willed beings have to cause pain and destruction, there would be no free-willed beings any more, just God talking to himself with different dolls (I’m paraphrasing). But we’re not talking here about removing every opportunity to cause pain and destruction, we’re talking about removing one gigantic bug in the system’s underlying software. Why would God create a universe with that kind of weakness in it?
This was the kind of question that greatly exercised the preachers and popular Christian writers of the early modern period. Much is made in the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch-hunters’ manual, of the “Permission of Almighty God” as a necessary precondition for witchcraft to occur. Their argument is too incoherent for me to summarize it; they do seem to assert that God permits witchcraft so as to test the faithful. Lewis, given the occultism in his own life, was naturally interested in the magical practices of the period, but he was a sober enough historical researcher to come to the same conclusion that others have on the subject. As an aside, the central obsession of the Malleus would fit quite well with the Venereal keynote of The Magician’s Nephew, though not with the age of its target audience. What the torturers wanted to hear was mostly lurid sexual fantasies.
By magic I do not here mean mere witchcraft – traditional, perhaps Satanistic, rites practised by the poor, the ignorant, or the perverted. When I first approached this part of my subject I was tempted to regard the witch scare, beginning roughly, I thought, with the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum in 1497, as a useful confirmation of the view [that magic was far more popular in the 16th century than in the Middle Ages]... [but] it appears to me impossible to be sure that much witchcraft – I had almost said that any – was going on. Most of the evidence was gossip; nearly all the confessions were made in answer to leading questions and under torture. Judges who examine in that way will infallibly find confirmation of whatever theory the prosecution was holding before the trial began. The witch scare, therefore, concerns us at the moment, if at all, not as evidence of the things practised by the common people but as evidence of the views, and (implicitly) the whole world picture, accepted by learned and respectable people in positions of authority.
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century p. 7
But given that Jadis’s witchcraft is real, why does Aslan go through all the rigmarole of planting a tree to keep her out of Narnia temporarily? Why doesn’t he do then and there what we know he will eventually do at the Battle of Beruna, and kill her? Why doesn’t he banish her out of the world, since shunting people between worlds is demonstrably one of his powers? Why is it OK for her to grow steadily in evil in the North as long as she doesn’t touch Narnia? Doesn’t the North belong to Aslan too?
Replace “Jadis” with “Satan”, and you have an equally unanswerable set of questions for Christian theology. Well, perhaps not the ones about the North. The only passage resembling an answer in the Bible is the parable of the wheat and the tares, according to which God either can’t tell the difference between good people and bad people or else can’t separate them until the Day of Judgement, which seems unlikely in and of itself and also doesn’t apply here, because Jadis voluntarily goes off by herself into the wild and Aslan would have had plenty of opportunity to off her then. No, I have to put this down as yet another failure of doctrine. The idea of a good God simply cannot be reconciled with the ongoing existence of evil.
And then, too, we have to ask just what’s so evil about it. Oh, the Deplorable Word was an act of consummate wickedness, no question. But what’s so bad about planar travel? Why does Aslan forbid that?
“Now for the command [said Aslan]. As soon as you can, take from this Uncle of yours his magic rings and bury them so that no one can use them again.”
Magic is forbidden in Christianity not because it’s nonsense – that understanding only came in with the Enlightenment – but for the reason given by Eustace in The Silver Chair:
“That’s what I’ve been wondering,” said Eustace. “When we came back from That Place, Someone said that the two Pevensie kids (that’s my two cousins) could never go there again. It was their third time, you see. I suppose they’ve had their share. But he never said I couldn’t. Surely he would have said so, unless he meant that I was to get back? And I can’t help wondering, can we – could we—?”
“Do you mean, do something to make it happen?” [said Jill.]
Eustace nodded.
“You mean we might draw a circle on the ground – and write things in queer letters in it – and stand inside it – and recite charms and spells?”
“Well,” said Eustace after he had thought hard for a bit, “I believe that was the sort of thing I was thinking of, though I never did it. But now that it comes to the point, I’ve an idea that all those circles and things are rather rot. I don’t think he’d like them. It would look as if we thought we could make him do things. But really, we can only ask him.”
Which neatly raises yet another theological issue:
“I am hungry,” said Digory.
“Well, tuck in,” said Fledge, taking a big mouthful of grass. Then he raised his head, still chewing and with bits of grass sticking out on each side of his mouth like whiskers, and said, “Come on, you two. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty for us all.”
“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.
“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well – h’m – don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”
Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay.
“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
If there is a single common thread to all religions, it’s prayer. Even Buddhists, who don’t believe in anyone to pray to, address the universe prayerfully when they meditate. On the view that God knows both what we want and what’s best for us, it’s extremely odd. (On the view that religions are made-up attempts to control the uncontrollable by pretending that it just happens to work like the one system our brains are best adapted to deal with, namely a human mind, the mystery disappears.) Lewis wriggled around the question in several different ways in his devotional writings, but evidently found nothing he could put into a story in words unevasive enough for children. I remember, during my own brief years as a Christian adult, coming up with the idea that prayer was God’s democracy – obviously we can’t vote in a different God, but prayer was the spiritual equivalent of making submissions to a Parliamentary select committee, which is quite as central to democracy as voting. That might have pleased G. K. Chesterton, the great Catholic liberal democrat, from whom by that time I was drawing as many ideas as from Lewis. It wouldn’t have sat at all well with Lewis’s own conception of divine authority.

Like Muted Gold

Has there yet been a Narnia post where I have not batted my head against Lewis’s romantic monarchism? This will be the second-last, then. So far five of the six books we have looked at have ended with coronations (the exception being The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Lewis did not believe, with Thomas Hobbes and the American revolutionaries, that rule was a sad necessity in a world which, without sin, might have been free and equal. He believed that political equality was a sad necessity in a world which, without sin, might have enjoyed absolute rule.
“I thought love meant equality,” [Jane] said, “and free companionship.”
“Ah, equality!” said [Ransom]. “We must talk of that some other time. Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know.”
“I always thought that was just what it was. I thought it was in their souls that people were equal.”
“You were mistaken,” said he gravely. “That is the last place where they are equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes – that is very well. Equality guards life; it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food. You might as well try to warm yourself with a blue-book.”
That Hideous Strength p. 145
Fairy-tales, Lewis once told a correspondent, make the heart and imagination royalist. You don’t get elected officials in fairy-tales, do you? It’s always kings and queens, princes and princesses. Christianity, he says, is the same. God is the King, and we all stand in joyous obedience under him. Or something. The school in The Silver Chair is what Lewis thinks happens to a society without proper rule: not equality but the tyranny of brute strength.
But Lewis is wrong about fairy-tales, as his own ones could have told him. In the real world, royalty is rule by right of birth. Once you exist, your place in the line of succession is already determined. You cannot become royal if you weren’t already. What happens in fairy-tales is that ordinary people unexpectedly rise to the throne. The miller’s son becomes the Marquis of Carrabas. Four ordinary English children sit enthroned at Cair Paravel. Sometimes, like Caspian, Cor, and Rilian, the new ruler was in fact the rightful one all along, but that’s all backstory. The story is better if you don’t know the hero’s destiny beforehand – perhaps another reason why Prince Caspian is the least popular Narnia Chronicle. In The Magician’s Nephew a Cockney cabman becomes a King.
“My children,” said Aslan, fixing his eyes on both of them, “you are to be the first King and Queen of Narnia.”
The Cabby opened his mouth in astonishment, and his wife turned very red.

When the crowns had been cooled in the river Aslan made Frank and Helen kneel before him and he placed the crowns on their heads. Then he said, “Rise up King and Queen of Narnia, father and mother of many kings that shall be in Narnia and the Isles and Archenland. Be just and merciful and brave. The blessing is upon you.”
Then everyone cheered or bayed or neighed or trumpeted or clapped its wings and the royal pair stood looking solemn and a little shy, but all the nobler for their shyness.
As usual Lewis is at pains to distinguish subjection from slavery, but it is still not clear just what a King isn’t allowed to require of his subjects.
“It does begin to come back,” said the Horse thoughtfully. “Yes. Let me think now, let me think. Yes, you used to tie a horrid black thing behind me and then hit me to make me run, and however far I ran this black thing would always be coming rattle-rattle behind me.”
“We ’ad our living to earn, see,” said the Cabby. “Yours the same as mine. And if there ’adn’t been no work and no whip there’d ’ave been no stable, no hay, no mash, and no oats. For you did get a taste of oats when I could afford ’em, which no-one can deny.”
“Oats?” said the Horse, pricking up his ears. “Yes, I remember something about that. Yes, I remember more and more. You were always sitting up somewhere behind, and I was always running in front, pulling you and the black thing. I know I did all the work.”
One particular form of equality aroused Lewis’s ire for much of his life. On matters of race (think of the Calormenes) and same-sex attractions he had the thoughtlessness of the privileged. But he stood quite deliberately opposed to feminism. A recent comment on one of Ana Mardoll’s Narnia posts held that he was not as extreme as some, on the grounds that Susan and Lucy were both “queens with the same level of authority and power than [sic] their brothers”. On that point, the commenter was wrong. Queens are not equal to kings in Narnia. Nellie never gets to speak for herself. Frank speaks for her three times, and determines her destiny.
“Well you see sir, I’m a married man,” said the Cabby. “If my wife was here neither of us would ever want to go back to London, I reckon. We’re both country folks really.”
Aslan threw up his shaggy head, opened his mouth, and uttered a long, single note; not very loud, but full of power. Polly... felt sure that it was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it... And so, though she was filled with wonder, she was not really astonished or shocked when all of a sudden a young woman, with a kind, honest face stepped out of nowhere and stood beside her. Polly knew at once that it was the Cabby’s wife, fetched out of our world not by any tiresome magic rings, but quickly, simply and sweetly as a bird flies to its nest.

The Cabby swallowed hard two or three times and cleared his throat.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” he said, “and thanking you very much I’m sure (which my Missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of a chap for a job like that. I never ’ad much eddycation, you see.”

“Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly... And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?”
“It’d be up to me to try, sir. I’d do my best: wouldn’t we, Nellie?”
Nellie speaks only once in the book, and that not on her own behalf. Notice that Aslan asks Fledge’s consent here, whereas he never asks Nellie’s.
“What are the two daughters of Eve whispering about?” said Aslan, turning very suddenly on Polly and the Cabby’s wife, who had in fact been making friends.
“If you please, sir,” said Queen Helen (for that is what Nellie the cabman’s wife now was), “I think the little girl would love to go too, if it weren’t no trouble.”
“What does Fledge say about that?” asked the Lion.
“Oh, I don’t mind two, not when they’re little ones,” said Fledge. “But I hope the Elephant doesn’t want to come as well.”
This is bad enough on the face of it, but when you know about Ward’s planetary schema it becomes much worse. The Magician’s Nephew belongs to Venus, one of two goddesses among the Planets, and the one in whose character (unlike Luna’s) submissiveness is not a key-note. If ever there had been a strong, good female authority figure in Narnia, this would have been the place for her.
“Sarah,” [Aunt Letty] said to the housemaid (who had never had such a day before), “go around to the police station at once and tell them there is a dangerous lunatic at large. I will take Mrs Kirke’s lunch up myself.” Mrs Kirke was, of course, Digory’s mother.
What you just saw is the only time in the whole Narniad that a good-coded female figure gives an instruction to an acknowledged subordinate. We’ve seen the White Witch and her dwarf, Miss Prizzle and her pupils, Lasaraleen and her slaves, the Queen of Harfang and her court, the Green Witch and her gnomes. And that’s it. Lucy and Susan may have been Queens in name, but we never see them telling anybody what to do.
In the published Narniad, that is. You must have been wondering why Walter Hooper called the bit of manuscript he found “the Lefay Fragment”. Two female authorities appear in that. The first is Digory’s busybody of an aunt, later recycled as Eustace’s mother Alberta and the Head of Experiment House – Lewis’s idea of what a feminist is like. Here she is, introducing the second one.
“It’s extremely inconvenient for me”, said Aunt Gertrude at breakfast next day. “But Mrs. Lefay says she is coming to see me – and you, of course – this afternoon”
“Who is Mrs Lefay, Aunt,” asked Digory.
“There is no need to speak with your mouth full, Digory”, replied Aunt G. “Mrs. Lefay is your Godmother.”
“What’s she like?”, asked Digory.
“My whole aim in your education”, said Aunt G. “is not to put opinions into your head but to encourage you to form opinions of your own. That is why – but I see you are not attending”
“Sorry, Aunt”, said Digory who had in fact stopped listening as soon as his Aunt began talking about aims and education, because he had heard it all very often before. “Do go on about my Godmother”
“As I was going to say when you interrupted me”, continued his Aunt, “The last thing I would wish to do is to influence your opinions about Mrs. Lefay or about anyone else. I, personally, may not think her either a very useful citizen or a very enlightened woman. I may even consider her manners impertinent and her habits unhygienic. I may wonder what induced your father and mother to select such a person. I may be unable to see that the whole institution of God-parents fulfills any useful function. But I don’t want you to take any of these opinions ready-made. You must meet her with an open mind.”
Digory began to think that his Godmother might be rather nice
Walter Hooper, Past Watchful Dragons pp. 59–60
By the time Digory actually meets Mrs Lefay, he has discovered the consequence of his fall from grace (see above) and is feeling very wretched. Mrs Lefay knows exactly what’s gone wrong. It is significant that Digory is recovering from influenza, which, as Lewis points out in The Discarded Image, was originally thought to be due to the “influence” of the planets.
And the first thing he heard was his Aunt’s voice saying “always felt the boy needs taking out of himself.”
Another voice, a deep, dry voice that sounded more like a man’s than a woman’s, replied
“Taking out of himself, eh? How do you do that? by skinning ’em?”...
The visitor was the shortest and fattest woman he had ever seen. When you saw her face from in front it looked almost square, and very big. When you saw it from the side the long nose and the long chin stuck out so that they almost met...
“Don’t be afraid you’re going to have to kiss me”, said the old woman staring at Digory with very keen eyes under very fierce grey eyebrows. “I’m too ugly for that and ten to one you don’t like snuff. I do, though”— and she took out a little gold box and took a big pinch of snuff up one of her wide nostrils and then another big pinch up the other.
“How do you do, Godmother?”, said Digory politely.
“I won’t ask how you do”, said Mrs. Lefay “Because I see you do very badly.”
“He is just getting over influenza”, said Aunt G. “We are quite satisfied—”
“I dare say you are”, said Mrs. Lefay “And I wasn’t talking about that”
“I thought”, said Aunt G., with her lips getting thinner and whiter as they always did when she was angry, “That if you were interested in the boy you might like to hear—”
“Well, I wouldn’t”, said Digory’s Godmother. “Of course he’ll get over influenza. They all do except the ones that die, and I can see he didn’t.”
“I will leave you together for a little while”, said Aunt G. with her iciest voice, getting up, and leaving the room...
“Well!”, said Mrs. Lefay, “She’s gone. Now for you. I’m not going to ask what’s wrong with you—”
“But there’s nothing wrong, Godmother”, said Digory.
“That’s a good lie”, said Mrs. Lefay (not in a scolding voice but rather as you might say, “That’s a heavy shower”) “And you needn’t tell me any more because, as I said, I’m asking no questions. But I’ll tell you how you look. You look exactly like what Adam must have looked five minutes after he’d been turned out of the Garden of Eden. And you needn’t pretend you don’t understand...”
Walter Hooper, Past Watchful Dragons pp.62–64
What’s this? I almost thought I was reading Roald Dahl or J. K. Rowling for a moment there. A good female authority figure? In C. S. Lewis? One who isn’t using her authoritative role as a carpet to sweep her sins under, like Orual in Till We Have Faces? No, really, until I read the Lefay Fragment I never realized how totally absent such a thing is in all his published works. Apparently such things did occur to him, and he consciously rejected them.
I can’t resolve the contradiction. On the one hand, something in Lewis’s imagination responded strongly to the idea of Venus, Aphrodite, a powerful and authoritative goddess of love. On the other, it was precisely in her realm that Lewis argued feminine submission was most important:
“No-one has ever told you that obedience – humility – is an erotic necessity [said Ransom to Jane]. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be.”
That Hideous Strength p. 146
Perelandra is a rather better book than That Hideous Strength, but not in a way that does its author credit. In both, Lewis sloppily attempts to integrate vivid imagery with undisguised preaching. In Perelandra he gets away with it because the imagery is consistently appealing. Florid descriptions of the ocean paradise of Venus are followed by phrases along the lines of “Then Ransom realized that...”, which introduce paragraphs like this:
Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity.
Perelandra p. 172
But masculine and feminine could still be separate but equal, couldn’t they? Gender doesn’t have to be part of the whole spiritual hierarchy business, does it? Well yes, says Lewis, that’s exactly what it is.
How if this invasion of her own being in marriage from which [Jane] had recoiled, often in the very teeth of instinct, were not, as she had supposed, merely a relic of animal life or patriarchal barbarism, but rather the lowest, the first, and the easiest form of some shocking contact with reality which would have to be repeated – but in ever larger and more disturbing modes – on the highest levels of all?
“Yes,” said [Ransom]. “There is no escape. If it were a virginal rejection of the male, He would allow it. Such souls can bypass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a deeper surrender. But your trouble has been what old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing – the gold lion, the bearded bull – which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness... What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly.”
“You mean I shall have to become a Christian?” said Jane.
“It looks like it...”
Something which she liked to think of as the opposite of Mark had been taken away. Something civilized, or modern, or (of late) “spiritual” which did not want to possess her, which valued her for the odd collection of qualities she called “herself”, something without hands that gripped and without demands upon her. But what if there were no such thing?
That Hideous Strength pp. 312–313
In That Hideous Strength vague phrases like “this invasion of her being from which she had recoiled in the teeth of instinct” are how you know Lewis is talking about sex. So what’s wrong with Jane’s marriage is that she’s refusing sex to her husband Mark. And I have a sickening feeling that “the loud, irruptive, possessive thing which scatters the little kingdom of your primness” has an equally precise meaning. I still admire Lewis’s clarity and his way with images enough that I really, really don’t want to believe it of him. But I think he is talking about rape here – rape within marriage, of course, which was not legally recognised as rape until after his death. What he calls Pride here means the consent ethic. Lewis is comparing Christian conversion to rape.
Rape before marriage is (for Lewis) a different matter. If the little arch and bell are a symbolic vulva and clitoris, then what Digory does here is a symbolic sexual assault:
“None of that!” said Digory in a voice even nastier than he meant it to be; for he saw Polly’s hand moving to her pocket to get hold of her yellow ring. I can’t excuse what he did next except by saying that he was very sorry for it afterwards (and so were a good many other people). Before Polly’s hand reached her pocket, he grabbed her wrist, leaning across with his back against her chest. Then, keeping her other arm out of the way with his other elbow, he leaned forward, picked up the hammer, and struck the golden bell a light, smart tap. Then he let her go and they fell apart staring at each other and breathing hard. Polly was just beginning to cry, not with fear, and not even because he had hurt her wrist quite badly, but with furious anger.
Two years after The Magician’s Nephew was published, Lewis married Joy Davidman at her sickbed – what they had thought would be her deathbed. He had already married her legally, so that she could stay in England, and they had become friends, largely because of her formidable intellect. She seems to have had some effect on him. From 1957 onward he is not heard calling for wives to submit to their husbands in all things. And his ideas about sex are nudged ever so subtly away from the dogmas of the Ransom Trilogy. Instead of a shocking contact with spiritual reality, it becomes a ritual, a play, even a charade; and outside of the bedroom men and women do seem to meet as equals after all. Sometimes. (He still expatiates at length on the folly of trying to achieve equality through polite pretence.)
A woman who accepted as literally her own this extreme self-surrender would be an idolatress offering to a man what belongs only to God. And a man would have to be the coxcomb of all coxcombs, and indeed a blasphemer, if he arrogated to himself, as the mere person he is, the sort of sovereignty to which Venus for a moment exalts him. But what cannot lawfully be yielded or claimed can be lawfully enacted. Outside this ritual or drama he and she are two immortal souls, two free-born adults, two citizens... But within the rite or drama they become a god and goddess between whom there is no equality – whose relations are asymmetrical.
The Four Loves pp. 95–96
That was published in 1960. We already know about Lewis’s sadistic bent, and I take it from this that his and Davidman’s sex life involved a good deal of dominance-submission play. I think we can reasonably hope that it was consensual. But I’m afraid he had not abandoned his hierarchical conception of spiritual gender.
The Sky-Father himself is only a Pagan dream of One far greater than Zeus and far more masculine than the male.
The Four Loves p. 96
And of course, when Lewis wrote The Magician’s Nephew, all that was still to come. Let me just draw your attention to the animal imagery Ransom used there for the essentially masculine: “the gold lion, the bearded bull”. When Lewis described the inspiration of the Narniad, he spoke of Aslan “bounding into the story” unbidden. In all Lewis’s writings, the divine is that which does not ask for consent. Michael Ward ponders why Aslan is not a Lioness in this Chronicle, which tells you that Ward is modern enough to find Lewis’s rejection of the consent ethic unthinkable. I am afraid we can’t avoid it.
With which grim thought we must leave Narnia for now. The next time will be the last. In The Last Battle we will face the tyrant Saturn, and bid the whole Narnian world adieu. (Or should I say au Lion?)


  1. I stumbled on your blog a little while back and I've been enjoying your pieces on Narnia a lot. Any hope of seeing The Last Battle soon-ish? :)

    1. Depends on your definition of "soon-ish". It is only a couple of posts away, but with my work and what not I'm finding it quite difficult to blog even as much as once a fortnight. Which is obviously not winning me any regular readers. I'm contemplating interspersing my original pieces with weekly reblogs of whatever I've found most interesting on the internet in a given week, with some short commentary.