As I may have mentioned before, I started working on a post on Susan Pevensie as related to gender, after reading someone saying Lewis ‘didn’t like women’ and talking about his ‘issues with women’ and mentioning Susan as a case in point. It’s turning out to be a bit more complicated than I anticipated, as I think she needs to be understood in context with her siblings. AND I’m not sure how much I’ve written about some of my ideas that may eventually need full posts. So I’ve decided to go ahead and write up a summary of main ideas that relate to gender and Lewis’s treatment of it in his fiction, to make my conclusions about the Pevensies a bit more understandable.
First, I believe that the eldila scene at the end of Perelandra gives an overview of Lewis’s views on gender, which are fleshed out in the trilogy and reflected in all his fiction. The image of the masculine eldil (Malacandra, or Mars) and the feminine (Perelandra or Venus) give a visual representation of what he saw as the essential characteristics. He carefully eliminates human cues such as hair length or style, color, sexual characteristics, and strength. Both shine with charity – love that desires to see and assist in the growth of the beloved. He describes them as both integral to complete humanity, and as entirely separate from one another.
The description of the eldila’s halos give us clues to know when he’s talking about Mars/masculinity and when he’s highlighting Venus/femininity. Mars is connected with hardness, coldness, and mountains; Perelandra with warmth, water, and plants/growth.
The eldila’s posture is the primary visual representation of the differences Lewis saw between masculinity and femininity. Mars stands with a spear, facing the direction from which danger has come, indicating his watchful willingness to sacrifice to protect others. Venus faces inward, to a world full of growth, indicating her connection with fertility or nourishing life, and she stands with her hands open, indicating a willingness to accept whatever God sends.
I see the primary focus of the trilogy as growth – Ransom’s process of maturing in both femininity and masculinity. He grows in Lewis’s idea of femininity because Lewis saw God as ultimately masculine and therefore all creation as feminine toward him. (I disagree, but in my writings on Lewis, I promise I won’t always include the tedious distinction between my views and his. If I’m writing about Lewis’s ideas, ‘femininity’ refers to his views. My views are addressed here and here) OSP is ‘Ransom’s enfances’ where he begins learning femininity, in Perelandra he reaches maturity in femininity then masculinity, and in THS he charitably leads others in their similar development.
I also believe, becoming more convinced the more I read, that Lewis saw growth as requiring the presence of masculinity AND femininity. Every setting where major character growth occurs in his fiction seems to have masculine and feminine characteristics. (I haven’t re-read everything with this in mind yet, but as I read, I keep finding it.) I need to write a post about that, but once you start recognizing those Mars/Venus indicators from the Perelandra scene, it becomes fairly clear. Moreover, the presence of masculinity encourages growth in femininity and vice versa. The major clue to that is that what Ransom actually learns on Mars is feminine acceptance of God’s will, while on Venus he learns the art of war, but it’s reflected throughout his writings. My kids and I just listened to Prince Caspian and I noticed that it’s after spending time with Aslan (in his Martial character, as I think Michael Ward is right in Planet Narnia that the Chronicles reflect the seven heavens and seven aspects, if you will, of Christ) that Lucy becomes willing to follow him, even if she must do so alone. She grows in femininity through being with the masculine Aslan.
It’s also good to note that Lewis saw everyone as both in authority and under authority in different situations, and everyone should both submit and lead depending on their God-given place in the relationship (see Preface to Paradise Lost and The Arch Metaphor).
I don’t think that gender is a primary focus of the Narnia Chronicles as it is in the trilogy, but they naturally reflect Lewis’s views on gender. Characters reflect differing positions on a sort of gender maturation spectrum, with some exhibiting characteristics opposite their gender, some intuitively practicing their gender, and some growing over the course of the books. (Wanna guess how I see the Pevensie kids?) I’m not sure that sounds right. Lewis makes it clear that masculine and feminine aren’t opposites, but each gender has it’s opposite. The opposite of masculine protective willingness to sacrifice oneself is a selfish harming of others rather than a feminine willingness to accept what God sends. This view helps us understand Susan’s place as a feminine character, as it helps us understand all the characters.
I hope this has been a helpful overview. I’ll try to get around to writing about the parts I’m realizing I haven’t covered in this space. Let me know your thoughts below!
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