My Vision of Aslan

lionsWhen I was little, I thought that the yellow lion in the bottom right hand corner of the Narnia books (also on the spines) was a picture of Aslan.

I also didn’t notice the religious overtones, so in hindsight it wasn’t the closest reading…

Jewish epic fantasy

I recently found this book review which argues that “there is no Jewish Narnia”.

The author seems to mean two things:

  1. There is no major Jewish writer in the ‘epic fantasy’ tradition of Tolkien.
  2. There is no fantasy world which is Jewish in the same way that Narnia is Christian.

There are major Jewish writers of fantasy in the broader sense (for example Neil Gaiman), several important people in comics (Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), and of course lots of science fiction writers (Isaac Asimov).

The essay is interesting, but I think it might be needlessly complex, and possibly inaccurate, to argue that Judaism is inherently oriented towards the real world and modernity while Christianity is inherently oriented towards imaginary worlds and the past. How does Kabbalah fit into that theory?

It seems to me that the most likely reason for point 1 above is that (as the author points out), Jewish people are going to have problems overlooking the problems with medieval chivalry. You’re probably going to have problems writing ‘orcs’- near-humans that are there to be killed by the heroes- when your ancestors were forced into that historical role.

I can’t, however, think of a similarly simple explanation for point 2.

Not cool, C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair begins in a fictional school called Experiment House. The school is obviously based on ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’ schools along the lines of the real life Summerhill.

In Experiment House, children are allowed to do as they like. In the book, this inevitably leads to institutionalized bullying, which isn’t punished because the Head sees them as interesting psychological cases.

Incidentally, Lewis also seems to see boys and girls attending the same school, and a female Head, as signs of a school gone mad.

However, my main problem with the thesis that ‘modern’ schooling = bullying is that Lewis himself went to the most traditional kinds of schools, and suffered bullying there.

This post points out that Lewis called his old school, Wynard, ‘Belsen’, after the Nazi concentration camp. The headmaster of this school was actually eventually criminally charged and sent to an insane asylum.

He then moved to another school which used the British system of fagging: that is, older boys being able to give orders to younger boys. This system was associated with abuse, which was generally ignored or even approved of. In some cases (though apparently not Lewis’) it went as far as rape.

For a relatively recent example of the culture of abuse in the most ‘traditional’ schools, see this article.

So Lewis must have known that thesis he presented in The Silver Chair, that bullying was associated with then-modern methods of education, was the opposite of the truth.

He seems to have lied for ideological reasons: that is, because he associated ‘modern schooling’ with skepticism about Christianity.