Inverting Polarities: Inventing The Golden Age
(Research Scholar in English, University of Calicut, Kerala)
Children’s Fantasy Literature is now no longer considered as an escape literature, but as a reflection of real world context that determines the nature of textually embedded discourses. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis has been influencing academic and non academic communities which have witnessed numerous re-readings and adaptations of it. Apart from providing aesthetic experience, Narnian series acts as a powerful instrument to subvert regressive canons embedded in society.
“There is no question of anything like this happening to you in the real world. ... Unless he can feel ‘This might – who knows? – this might one day happen to me’, the whole purpose for which he reads is frustrated” (Lewis, “Meanings” 56). Fantasy instigates readers to feel and think beyond the restrictions imposed by the predetermined notion of reality. Receptive aesthetics of fantasy according to Lewis is similar to Coleridge’s poetic faith explained as willing suspension of disbelief. The inter-textual discourses of the natural and the supernatural simultaneously familiarize and de-familiarize real life experiences.
Inverting Binaries: Ambiguity and Paradox
“For C. S. Lewis, the human spirit is a paradox. It simultaneously craves privacy but needs community; it demands equality and yet longs for authority; it yearns for freedom but is drawn to obedience. [...] most human beings will submit themselves to the worst busybodies and demagogues who appeal to their most base and self-destructive passions” (Gillen 268). According to Lewis the very nature of human consciousness is paradoxical which constitutes of love/hate relationship. Individual and community life is as inevitable as the co-existence of private and public lives. Thus the socio-cultural ideologies underlying human community is governed by ambiguity.
When individuals succumb to hegemonic strategies of institutions of power, they unconsciously marginalize themselves as the subaltern. The hundred years rule of Jadis, the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, represents a similar situation where inhabitants of Narnia are unable to raise voice against oppression. The situation remains frigid until the re-emergence of Aslan, the lion as a powerful social leader.
“In its depiction not only of Aslan and the White Witch but of those characters who fall under their sway, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe offers a veritable dramatization ... And, by so doing, it offers as well one of the classic responses to that perennial question: “Who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys?”” (Markos, “The Good Guys” 3). Readers who effortlessly identify positive and negative characters in light of embedded textual codes and clues, may not find such an easiness if confronted with similar situations in real life. Apparent nature of individuals and situations can be subjected to misjudgement especially when situation demands immediate decision making.
The biodiversity of Narnia can be described as Longaevi, which falls under the supernatural and many of them are anthropomorphic. As per titular denotation they live very long lives, and transcend physical laws of nutrition, self protection and procreation. The supernatural nature of Longaevi, is explained by Lewis as being more natural than humans, without human pretentions, responsibilities, shames, scruples and melancholy.
They are classified into the following categories, where the first three are considered as good beings (Lewis, “The Discarded Image” 122-137).
- A third rational species distinct from angels and humans.
- A special kind of angels who have been, in our jargon ‘demoted’.
- Some special class of the dead.
- Fallen angels; in other words, devils.
Cruels, Hags, Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, Ettins, evil dwarfs, apes, Ogres with monstrous teeth, wolves, bull-headed men, spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants are the evil species of Narnian population. Most of them were on the side of the White Witch who was central governing power. Fauns, robin, beavers, leopards, dryads, rabbits, hedgehogs, dwarfs, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, wolves, sheep-dogs, giants and eagles constitute the good ones, who accompanied Aslan. There are no clear cut demarcations as good and bad beings, since subjectivity may vary individually especially when facing moral dilemma to make the ‘right choice’.
Biodiversity of Narnia includes such species along with that of the real world, which altogether cannot be classified as good or bad in racial terms. It is not unusual of the Pevensie Siblings to suspect each Narnian encountered like Mr. Tumnus the Faun, the trees, robin bird, and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Any fluctuation of decision in these paradoxical situations could have drastically changed future conditions.
Life experiences are important factors in classification of individuals as positively or negatively influential. “For Edmund and other children of the 1950s, the White Witch’s appearance and manner may have been their only clues to her evil nature, hut as a child of the 1980s, I had no excuse: I lived in the era of Stranger Danger campaigns, and I was programmed to run a mile if a strange grown-up offered me sweets and a ride in a car” (Giardina 41). Cultural and contextual variations play decisive roles in dissolving the ambiguity of appearances and paradoxical situations. Temptation of materialistic luxury and governing power, made Edmund succumb to the control of Jadis; whereas Lucy judged the Faun Mr. Tumnus, not by the delicacies or hospitality; but for his truthfulness in admitting his attempt to kidnap her.
Fair seems to be foul and foul seems to be fair when human expectations are transgressed. The very nature of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is paradoxical, which is mainly due to inversion of textually embedded binary paradigms. The following situations inverts mirth in fear, where paradox is interwoven with actions and situations that uplift readers from experience of uncanny to realm of the marvellous.
- Treachery by Edmund is viewed as a wrong action, without which Pevensie children would not have stayed in Narnia to participate in the war and would never become rulers of Narnia.
- Aslan waits for situations to be confronted by Narnians and the humans, when he could have killed Jadis long before the arrival of humans.
- Jadis could have made prophesy false by doing away with Edmund during her first meeting with him. She waits for the arrival of all four of them, and was killed in the process of confronting them.
- Even when Edmund knew that White Witch was bad and cruel, he shunned Aslan and proceeded towards her.
- Father Christmas gave weapons to the Susan and Lucy, despite his pronouncement: “But battles are ugly when women fight” (Lewis, The Lion, the Witch 160).
- Death of Aslan at The Stone Table usually expects the situation to worsen; on the contrary he unexpectedly resurrects to bring victory in the war.
- Textual narrative is imprinted with contrasting situations like: the merriment of Lucy and Susan with Aslan during the time of War.
- Aslan was expected to stay with Pevensie children after their coronation, but leaves immediately for wilderness.
- The four Pevensie siblings were expected to rule Narnia till their death according to the pronouncement of Aslan: “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen. Bear it well, Sons of Adam! Bear it well, Daughters of Eve!” (Lewis The Lion, the Witch 123). Despite this, they returned to the real human world in their original form, very quickly beyond the estimated time span.
- The greatest paradox lies in the fact that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were children evacuated from their home in London under the custody of Professor Kirk in order to escape from air-raids during World War II. This very attempt to escape from war resulted in direct participation of war in Narnia.
Lewis created Aslan as a figure based on the supposition that if Christ incarnated in a fantasy world how he would be. Even though Lewis is considered as a propagator of Christianity, his liberal ideologies was more spiritual than religious. “However, in spite of the pagan symbolism of the rejuvenating spring that arrives together with the lion, and Aslan’s allies, taken from the mythologies of Classical Antiquity (such as the dryads, naiads, centaurs and fauns), Aslan may be more readily interpreted as a Christ-figure” (Simonson 8). Narnian Fantasy incorporates Hebraic and Hellenic elements which problematized Pagan/Christian and monotheism/polytheism.
Jadis and Aslan represent opposite poles in Narnia, where the former manifests evil in the veil goodness and the latter the vice versa. Jadis expresses power by prolonging winter, turning people into statues and asserting autocracy as The Queen of Narnia. In all physical respects she assumes an upper hand over Aslan, who is merely a four legged animal with human speech faculty.
... a great lady, taller than any woman that Edmund had ever seen. She also was covered in white fur up to her throat and held a long straight golden wand in her right hand and wore a golden crown on her head. Her face was white - not merely pale, but white like snow or paper or icing-sugar, except for her very red mouth. It was a beautiful face [...] (Lewis, The Lion 123).
“Aslan possesses twofold nature – he was fully a lion, he looked like one, he roared like one. At the same time he was the same time fully God” (GaÅ¾ová 15-16). A carnivorous feline who is not quick in action or immediate exertion of power and who has willingly accepted death in the hands of diabolic creatures; represents inversion of Divinity in ‘animality’, power in meekness and spirituality in materialism. Comrades of ‘the great cat’ had taken a great risk by supporting him; who did not see anything, if not divine at least superhuman in Aslan.
Disambiguation: Subverting Power
Power is expressed in terms of racism and social hierarchy, which is the reason why all inhabitants of Narnia consider humans as superior abiding canonical prophecy. They misunderstand superiority of human race instead of universal human values. Advent and proximity with Aslan foregrounds culturally progressive ideologies. “The important thing to Lewis is not race, but the actual amount of love one has for Aslan. Taylor concludes that Lewis deliberately used racist stereotypes to criticize institutions and foundations in which racism came to life ...” (JurišiÄ‡ 134).
Rule of the White Witch resulted in a negative regressive psychic conditioning, was instrumental as both a repressive and oppressive social force. Spiritual damnation [concept of Hell] and social degradation are inseparable according to Lewis, both of which are characterized by value crisis. “For Lewis, Hell is not so much a pit that we are thrown into on account of a single, heinous sin (like those of Tantalus or Sisyphus), as it is a marsh that we slide into one peccadillo at a time. ... In the end, the infernal process of sin and self-absorption causes us to (quite literally) de-humanize ourselves” (Markos, “Heaven Is Reality” 178).
Social Reformation and establishment of a progressive society demands destabilization of regressive tendencies embedded in culturally transmitted value system. Manifestation of conflict is characteristic of the transition before transformation of society. “Rather, for Lewis conflict is called for when something has to be removed, something that has covered or denies what is truly basic ...” (Kort 109). Conflicts lead to confrontation with hazardous situations and social issues which empower individuals in acquisition of skills involving problem solving and crisis management.
Edmund clearly represents a round character who metamorphoses from a ‘bully’ and ‘teaser’, to a traitor and finally coroneted under the title ‘The Just’. “... Edmund also has a deeper understanding of Aslan when compared to Peter and Susan. His encounter with Aslan after being saved from the White Witch truly changes him. ... Instead of feeling guilty and horrible for what he has done, something the Witch would have wanted, Edmund has peace because his focus is on Aslan” (Sampson 23).
Lucy undergoes social and spiritual evolution from beginning, she adheres to her conscience by not rejecting her claim of visiting Narnia even when accused of telling lies about it. Life in Narnia which marked confrontation with evil, culminating in war and final victory of the good, marks inseparable connotation of landscape and mindscape.The evil characters in the novel mirror what Lucy has to fight against both in the external world, i.e. the battle between good and evil, and in the sub-conscious mind, i.e. the battle within herself.[...] encounter with this horrible crowd of creatures is an important contributory factor to Lucy’s development into a braver and stronger character (Ottosson 9-10).
“In the moral sphere, though insight and performance are not strictly equal ... it is true that continuous disobedience to conscience makes conscience blind. The moral blindness consequent on being a bad man must therefore fall on everyone who is not a good man ...” (Lewis, “Is Criticism” 10-11). This emphasizes the concept of shared responsibility of each individual with the whole community. Aslan synthesises Social Reformer and Spiritual Leader who voluntarily sacrifices his life for the sake of a community. Aslan never sermonizes about moral values but transmits his insights into palpable action, which is considered as exceptionally ideal.
This makes Aslan an epitome of polyvalent goodness as a protagonist, leader, organizer and reformer. This single character acts as a thread that unifies all diversities of Narnia and lends voice to the subaltern Narnians. Transformation of centralized power of Jadis to the de-centralized power of Aslan is a transition from ideology of selfishness towards selflessness.
The Golden Age: Invention and Evolution
Even though Aslan is all powerful, he does not transgress the natural law governing Narnia at the time of its creation, which is termed as: ‘deep magic’. Thus he waits for the right persons to hand over Narnia and risks his own life for their sake. His involvement in action is only as per situational demands and non involvement triggers evolvement of others into action.Though the Pevensie children do become royalty in Narnia, they still have to abide Aslan’s will. ... Without him, they cannot win. ... The most powerful in early works do not necessarily need the children to assist them, though in some ways, an exception should be made for C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, in which Aslan needs the children’s faith (Ginting 11).
The children acquire experiential knowledge and skills in the especially in absence of Aslan. Edmund himself found solution of curtailing the power of Jadis, during the war. Susan and Lucy imbibed Human Values like selflessness and self-sacrifice from Aslan, when they bore witness to his death at The Stone Table.
Narnian Landscape is invariably a mindscape, which is justified by the phrase spoken by King Edmund: “dream of a dream”. Manifestation of an egalitarian world and global harmony is actualization of intention fostered by Aslan, which confutes oppressive exertion of autocratic power. Reformation of consciousness is the prerequisite for any type of transformation to commence from individual and community levels. “In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, nature itself is the first indication that not all is well in Narnia. The evil White Witch has come to power and engulfed Narnia in an endless winter, but Aslan returns, bringing spring with him” (Brownlee 31). Change of environment, social reformation and spiritual fulfilment; is expressed by the culmination of endless winter, end of oppressive rule and mental stability achieved by individuals as well as the community. Metamorphic physical transformation is vital expression of power in Narnia, which prevented any type of revolt against Jadis before arrival of Aslan.
Transformation and transition denote overt expressions of power in Narnian context. “...it is hardly surprising that un-pleasurable physical transformations recur frequently throughout C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956). In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, the White Witch spreads terror by transforming her enemies into statues...” (Lassén-Seger 19-22). Transformation of the stone statues back into living beings by Aslan connotes the evolution of consciousness from morbidity of oppression to freedom. Simultaneous changes are invoked at individual as well as the community levels, which resulted in refinement of political system.
The rule established by Aslan is characterized by inversion of democracy into monarchy, which is consists of refinement and synthesis of these establishments of power. “Here in Narnia, our heroes and heroines are sharing power. Yes, Peter might have more as High King, but readers never see any evidence of this. They simply share their power, and rule jointly. This is cooperation, and even democracy, in a way that goes against all conventional aspects of a monarchy” (McKagen 33-34).
The Highest evolved form of leadership involves Super-Leader, who acts the dynamic cohesive force, which not only guides each individual team member but, achieves the conceived goals with perfection. Super-Leader moreover is instrumental in the transformation of each team member to leaders (Manz and Sims Jr. 19-22). Aslan is the fine example of a Super-Leader who created leaders out of each Narnian to live with self-respect and dignity; and the four Pevensie children evolved into leaders themselves as King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, King Edmund the Just and Queen Lucy the Valiant.
Children’s Fantasy Literature has advantage over other forms of culture and literature by providing accessibility to readers of all age groups. Demystification process involved in the process of re-reading fantasy serves to sever the text established past canons unconsciously internalized by readers; which intends to initiate real social transformation (Jackson 10). The ambiguity of grey area is demystified into binary of good/evil, which is re-read as progressive/regressive in social context.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one among the Narnian series depicts the creation of a progressive world initiated by Aslan which resonate contemporary relevant concepts like sustainable environment and global harmony. Aslan deliberately avoids unnecessary intervention and allows the human protagonists to confront life situations, which provide education in Human values like: self-confidence, self-initiative, self-evaluation, self-rectification, self-reliance and self-realization. Close reading of the text inspires human beings to feel obliged to undertake remediation of social issues and respond responsibly to create a better new world by transforming themselves into Super-Leaders.
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