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We’re nearing the end of the Christmas season, and I’d just like to share some thoughts I’ve had about Jesus’s earthly family as it relates to the ideas on my blog. I’ve been looking for a picture of the Annunciation in which Mary has open hands, without success. This isn’t the first year I’ve thought of Mary that way – and I know I’ve read about others imagining her in that posture. Mary’s reaction to the news that she will bear the Messiah is to verbally acknowledge her willingness to do what God asks of her. She accepts the difficult calling of bearing the Messiah, knowing it will involve being presumed guilty of fornication and not knowing how Joseph will react. She’s a lovely example of holding your hands open for what God gives, even when He calls you to a difficult task. Lewis used the posture of open handed acceptance to represent femininity – though he saw all humans as feminine toward God and therefore believed men should demonstrate this heart-posture as well. I’ve talked before about seeing open handed submission to God’s will as a human trait rather than a specifically feminine one. And this year I’ve noticed that though Joseph’s reaction to the angel’s visit is different from Mary’s, he also exemplifies the posture of open hands.

Most of us are familiar with Mary’s reaction to being told she will be the mother of God. She submits herself to His will with words. ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ Then she goes to see her relative Elizabeth, miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist. When John recognizes Jesus when they greet one another, she again responds with words – composing the song of praise we call the Magnificat.

Joseph’s response is different, but also full of receptivity to God’s will. He simply does what he is told. I realized something fascinating while looking at Joseph’s response to the angel’s appearances to him. There are no words spoken by Joseph recorded in the Bible. None. Nada. Zip. He doesn’t argue. He doesn’t ask questions. He doesn’t even ask how high to jump! He just does what God says.  In Matthew 1, when he’s realized his fiancée is pregnant and is deciding how to deal with the situation, he has a dream. In his dream, the angel tells him that the baby is God’s and that he should take Mary as his wife, but without consummating the marriage until after Jesus’s birth. Joseph’s reaction? ‘He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.’ (Mt. 1:24-25, ESV) When after the visit from the magi an angel tells him to take Mary and Jesus and run to Egypt, ‘he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.’ (Mt. 2:14, ESV) He didn’t wait until morning. He didn’t ask if maybe, say, Galilee would be far enough. He didn’t ask how long he should stay there, or what would happen to his extended family while he was away. He just believed and obeyed. He did the same thing when instructed to return from Egypt. And when on the way he realized the current ruler might also be a threat and started wondering what he should do, God told him before he even had time to ask and he  changed course, heading for Nazareth instead of back to Bethlehem.

I love the way Mary and Joseph exemplify holding your hands open to whatever unexpected task God calls you to. Mary’s words bear witness to her willingness to do hard things – and being pregnant before you were married in those days was a stigma that followed you around until you died, and probably until the kid died, too. People brought it up during Jesus’s ministry. Joseph’s actions bear witness to his willingness to do hard things as well. Family was everything in that culture. If he married Mary, everyone would assume that he was the father – that he didn’t have the self control to wait until marriage – ironic, given that he had to wait nine months or so after the wedding! He obeyed God anyway, at the expense of his reputation. He took Mary with him to Bethlehem, his ancestral home. They probably traveled with extended family as part of a caravan, as it is highly unlikely that Joseph had moved to Nazareth by himself. It’s much more likely that his parents, maybe even with aunts or uncles or grandparents, had moved there as well. And they all had to travel to Bethlehem for the census. They probably stayed with extended family in town. After Jesus’s birth, it seems that the young family intended to stay in Bethlehem. The text indicates that Jesus was past the baby stage – probably between a year and two years old – when the wise men finally arrived after their long journey. (I don’t have a specific source here, but the word used for Jesus refers to a young child rather than an unspeaking infant, and Herod had all the boys under the age of 2 killed – excessive if he was an infant.) They had remained in Bethlehem past the time necessary for Mary to recuperate, and it makes sense that they may have intended to stay there – in his ancestral home, among his relatives. He had presumably been working, building a customer base and a new life there in Bethlehem. Then God called him to take his wife and child, leaving behind his business and all his family connections, and travel to a foreign country where they would be minorities, refugees, probably discriminated against, for an unspecified amount of time. He simply obeyed; packed up his wife and child in the middle of the night. And just imagine how he felt when he heard of the massacre in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, knowing that giving up this one child would have prevented the deaths of others – children of his relatives (as Bethlehem was a very small town). But rescuing this child now meant rescuing everyone thirty years later.

Even the last mention of Joseph – when Jesus is found in the temple at 12 years old – does not record his words, but Mary’s. He was there – he was astonished when they found him, he listened to Jesus’s words about his father’s business, but we are not told what he said.

Another thing that strikes me about that last passage – and I love, love, love this – is that Jesus was submissive to Joseph and Mary. ‘And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.’ (Luke 2:51 ESV) They submitted to God in parenting Jesus, and Jesus – God himself – submitted himself to them.  It’s a beautiful picture of what Paul describes in Ephesians 5 – ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’

I think the lesson here is that God gives each of us difficult things to do – in the process of teaching us to trust Him. And we can all open our hands to His will, but we will do so in our own way, according to how He made us. I don’t see this words/actions contrast as a masculine/feminine dichotomy – there are plenty of men who respond with words and women who respond with action. But each of us can and should open our hands and our hearts in whatever way is fitting for us and the situation.

Mary gave thanks for being chosen to do hard things for God. Joseph submitted to God’s calling to husband Mary and father Jesus. And Jesus, the Christ, submitted to his earthly parents. Beauty beyond words.


Note: I focus here on submission to God’s will as an aspect of having open hands. I do want to note, however, that it’s only a part of the picture. Having open hands involves letting go of your own expectations, accepting yourself and others, giving to others what God has given to you, and more. So while I see submission as part of having open hands, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s the whole idea. I give a very brief overview here, but I’ve realized I haven’t tried to cover all of Lewis’s idea of femininity in one place. Maybe soon!  

Previous Post: Did Susan Grow Up?

And now, finally, we come to Susan. Why is it that people have taken a few paragraphs – in a book in which she doesn’t actually appear – to represent not only her entire character, but Lewis’s attitude toward femininity, maturity, and sex? I could say what I think, but it’d probably be rude.

The simple truth is that from the beginning of the books, from the first words she speaks, Lewis makes it clear that she has a false idea of maturity and what it entails. First she says she thinks the Professor is an ‘old dear’ (more the words of a middle aged woman than a girl) and then that it’s time for Edmund to go to bed. He calls her out in both instances for ‘trying to talk like Mother.’ The next day she tells him to stop grumbling, tries to redirect him, tells Lucy to stop being silly after her first trip through the wardrobe, and generally talks as though she thinks she’s their mother. And they call her on it. The clincher is that when the Professor says that Lucy may be telling the truth about Narnia’s existence, Susan ‘had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like’ that. She can’t imagine an adult accepting the possible existence of worlds other than the one she inhabits. She has a very shallow, false idea of what it means to be grown up, and rather than being herself she tries to act that part.

Now, don’t think that I imagine Susan to be a negative character. On the contrary, she has many admirable qualities. She is kind and gentle and thoughtful – Queen Susan the Gentle. She is very sensible and practical, evidenced by her suggestion that they wear the coats from the wardrobe. She shows courage in going with the others even though she’s frightened after they find Tumnus’s wrecked house. She stands by Aslan in his death. She uses her bow and arrow to rescue Trumpkin. But when it comes to Lewisian femininity, she is immature. She allows her fear to keep her from trust – from being open to Aslan and his calling on her life.

When she acts and speaks like their mother, it seems she’s trying to control the situation. It’s war time and they’ve been separated from their parents and sent to a strange place in the country. So she tries to control what she can – trying to keep the other kids in line, keep them from quarrelling, be the mother she’s missing. In Narnia she is initially willing to explore, but when it gets dangerous she wants to go back. As I said, she is courageous; she recognizes what’s right and is willing to go along with the others in spite of her fear. But her first instinct is to shrink from danger. When she hears that Aslan is a lion, she asks if he’s safe. She consistently shrinks from opportunity when it seems dangerous. She clings to safety. And that is the opposite of having open hands.

This clinging to safety and to her own idea of what it means to be grown up is nowhere more clear than in those much-bandied paragraphs in The Last Battle. I’ll go ahead and quote the full text.

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.” “Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’” 

“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

She’s STILL talking as though she’s the mother and they’re the children – ‘Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’ And according to Jill, she’s only interested in ‘nylons and lipstick and invitations.’ That is Susan’s idea of what it means to be grown up. That’s what Philip Pullman takes as indicating that Lewis was afraid of letting Susan grow up. But is that really what it means to be grown up -by any adult’s estimation? Was that what Pullman thought it takes for a woman to be grown up? Or is it what he thought Lewis thought it meant to be grown up?

I don’t know what he was thinking. Fortunately, however, Lewis was a prolific author and his idea of maturity is evident everywhere. I’ve written before about Ransom’s growth in the trilogy – in accepting God’s will and obeying it, in charity, and in protectiveness. In contrast, I think Susan provides a clear example of what Lewis saw as childishness. That’s why Polly – a truly mature woman – says that she wishes Susan would grow up – and the emphasis is Lewis’s. The whole point of the conversation is to point out that Susan is immature – she is so immature that she doesn’t even know what real maturity is. She is so immature that she thinks wearing lipstick and going to parties is the epitome of grown-up-ness. She thinks that people can’t be grown up and believe in what they can’t see. And Lewis’s point is that she’s wrong. Narnia exists. Truly mature people – Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy – can see it; can accept it with open hands and open hearts, no matter what world they are in currently. Susan’s hands are not open to Aslan and Narnia because she is clinging to her false ideal of mature femininity – to a refusal to believe in what she cannot see, and to a culturally based idea of femininity as ‘nylons and lipstick  and invitations.’

Something else I love about Polly’s statement is that her wish for Susan has a good chance of coming true. Susan had been looking forward to the age of lipstick and nylons and invitations and now she is trying to stay there. But tragedy has a way of maturing people. Edmund’s selfish childishness led to his betrayal of his siblings and capture by the White Witch, and that led to his forgiveness and rapid spiritual growth. Susan will stay in her world of parties as long as she can – but she probably won’t be able to stay in that world long after the death of her parents and siblings. She has been exposed to the air of Narnia and we can hope that the tragedy of losing her parents and siblings will  be the catalyst that propels her to real growth. A hint of that possibility is given by Peter immediately after the conversation quoted above. He points out fruit trees nearby and suggests that they taste them. As fruitfulness is a key component of Lewisian femininity, this may – emphasis on the may – indicate that Lewis wanted to leave open the possibility that Susan would taste the fruit of feminine growth. I had to go check the letters – as I still haven’t gotten to the time he was writing about Narnia – and I found this! ‘I could not write that story myself. Not that I have no hope of Susan’s ever getting to Aslan’s country, but because I have a feeling that the story of her journey would be longer and more like a grown-up novel than I wanted to write. But I may be mistaken. Why not try it yourself?’ (letter dated February 19, 1960) So Lewis seems to have imagined that Susan would have eventually entered Aslan’s country – but as she was never to re-enter Narnia, it would have been a contemporary novel rather than children’s fantasy and he had no interest in writing that kind of story. Come to think of it, that’s about the only kind of story he didn’t write! It’s such a lovely comfort to imagine that Susan would have eventually truly grown up. Somebody needs to write that book!

Previous Post: Lucy as Feminine

It’s been a bit crazy around my house lately. Weirdly, most of it isn’t the holidays – we didn’t decorate for Christmas because we’re going out of town and because, well, life. We’ve been trying a two day a week school, with the kids working at home the other days. It’s actually been more work than full-on homeschool, because I have 3 in different grades and they’re all doing different things and I’ve never been big on keeping on track with state standards. Consequently this work has been going pretty slowly. But I finally get to write about how I think the Pevensie girls fit with Lewis’s view of femininity.  I’ve written about how I think Peter is masculine from the beginning and Edmund becomes masculine. The girls are a bit different. I believe Lucy is the mature example of femininity and Susan, well, we’ll see about Susan.

Lucy, though the youngest sibling, is in many ways the most mature. Her maturity in femininity is demonstrated by her willingness to accept whatever God sends – facing unexpected adventure, unusual beings, truth-telling, difficult decisions. Her first words, ‘Hadn’t we all better go to bed?’ are intended to smooth over a disagreement and show sensitivity both to everyone’s feelings and to what’s right. When the children find the wardrobe and the others leave the room, Lucy stays behind because, perceptively, ‘she thought it would be worth while trying the door of the wardrobe.’  When she finds herself in Narnia, she simply accepts the adventure – and Tumnus – without complaint or surprise or reluctance. She goes with the flow rather than trying to get back through the wardrobe – though she shows wisdom in making sure to leave the door open (like Peter and unlike Edmund) and making sure she could see the door from the lamp post. She doesn’t cling to safety, but accepts adventure. She enters this cold, masculine world from summer – Tumnus even says she comes from ‘where eternal summer reigns.’ She brings feminine warmth to Tumnus himself – enabling him to cry

She also shows evidence of maturity that is not necessarily related to gender. When she returns and the others disbelieve her, she shows great courage in maintaining the truth when it would have been easy to lie. She ‘prove[s] a good leader’ when all the children make it into Narnia, leading them directly to Tumnus’s cave. As we know from Perelandra, Lewis saw men and women as both capable of leadership. She recognizes that she’s the reason Tumnus was taken, is the first to notice the robin and recognize that he wants them to follow him, tells the others that Mr. Beaver is nice . . . . Well, you get the idea. She seems to intuitively recognize the right path and be willing to follow wherever it leads.

Other indications of Lucy’s feminine maturity appear in Prince Caspian, the story related to Mars in which Aslan is Martial/masculine. Lucy is the first to see Aslan, as usual. She knows he wants her to follow, but when the others refuse to believe her, she reluctantly follows them rather than Aslan. It’s interesting that Lewis doesn’t tell us in that context whether or not she has done right, but when she finally meets Aslan, he tells her that she should have followed him, even alone. She should have accepted the task he gave her, even though it meant going against Peter, who as the high king was a legitimate authority. The implication is that obeying the higher authority – Aslan – takes precedence over following the lower authority – Peter. After she spends time in Aslan’s martial presence, she becomes more mature in her femininity, willing even to accept the task of following him without the others. Oh. Now,there’s something I should probably write a full post to explain. Lewis often portrays a person learning masculinity from femininity and vice versa. As in, Ransom tells Merlin in That Hideous Strength that he learned war on Venus – he learned the primary masculine trait on the feminine planet. I’ll try to get to that soon. Anyway, to get back to Lucy, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund points out that she sees Aslan more often than any of the other children. I think this is an indication of her spiritual maturity in general and of feminine receptivity. She is consistently open to Aslan’s presence and his instructions.

Another part of Lewis’s understanding of femininity is that it had to do with encouraging growth or fertility.  Accordingly, another indication that Lucy is a picture of mature femininity is her gift from Father Christmas. He gives her the little diamond bottle of healing cordial. In Miracles, Lewis indicates that Jesus’s miracles of healing were a speeding up of the natural regenerative process which he is always enacting. Creating new life, encouraging fertility, growth, and regrowth is all interrelated. Lucy’s gift of healing, coupled with her gentle care for all living things, as when she tries to wake the trees in Prince Caspian, indicates her connection to femininity in the chronicles.

All of this, to me, indicates that Lucy is an example of spiritual maturity, and especially of feminine maturity. She’s the youngest, which illustrates the idea that spiritual maturity is not always connected to age. And she is the child with whom we most identify – the true protagonist. We have the inside scoop on the truth of Narnia’s existence through her. In a sense, that’s really what we should expect from the dedication – to Lucy Barfield, Lewis’s goddaughter. So the most consistently mature of the children – the one we identify with and are called to emulate – is the youngest GIRL! Hmmm. Maybe Pullman was wrong to call Lewis a misogynist . . . And now Lucy has taken so long I’m going to have to wait for Susan! But I have it half-written already, so if I can, I’ll get it out later this week! Thanks for reading!

Next Post: Did Susan Grow Up?

Previous Post: Peter and Edmund

Yay! I finally get to talk about the Pevensie children! Well, not all four of them today. I’m just going to tackle the boys and how they reflect Mars.

Guess where the children were when Lucy told them that Edmund had been to Narnia and he denied it. They were in the room with the suit of armor. That’s also where they were when the girls came to tell the boys they had to get out of the way of the tourists and they all went into the wardrobe. Lewis being Lewis, this isn’t a coincidence. The suit of armor naturally, especially for him, wakens thoughts of knighthood and of Mars and masculinity. It calls attention to the fact that one boy is demonstrating Lewis’s ideal masculinity, and one is exhibiting the opposite.

From the beginning of the story, Peter demonstrates a tendency to protect others, especially those weaker than himself. When Lucy goes to Narnia alone, Susan and Edmund make fun and treat her like she’s foolish, respectively. Peter comes up with a more positive explanation for her story. He protects her by arguing that she’s fooling them on purpose. After Edmund returns from Narnia and hurts Lucy further by denying that he went, Peter again steps up to protect her, giving Edmund a thorough tongue-lashing for his bullying. He also takes the lead in telling the professor, trying to get help for her if she is going mad. When they all get into Narnia, he apologizes for not believing Lucy, asks her to lead their expedition, and tells her she makes a good leader. He does all that in just the first few chapters. Throughout the books, Peter exhibits this willingness to sacrifice to protect others. Perhaps the most obvious example of this primary characteristic of Lewisian masculinity, unsurprisingly, occurs in Prince Caspian.  He offers to fight the much older and more experienced Miraz in personal combat, as a way to buy time for rescue to arrive and to prevent more bloodshed. Because of all of this, I believe that Peter is a picture of mature masculinity. He has an instinctive desire to protect others and consistently acts to do so. His only failure in this is in his treatment of his brother, Edmund. In his protection of Lucy and in his pride he fails to protect Edmund, instead hurting him with his harsh words. But when confronted by Aslan, he confesses his failure of pride and tries to make it right. He grows.

Edmund is in some ways a more complicated character than Peter. In the beginning of the novel, he is complaining, grouchy, and unpleasant. He generally seems bent on making everyone miserable. When Lucy first discovers Narnia, he makes fun of her. He actively seeks to cause her pain. This is clearly the opposite of Lewis’s portrait of ideal masculinity. When Lewis compares masculinity and femininity to accentual and quantitative metre, I believe he’s making the point that masculinity and femininity are not two ends of a spectrum but are on entirely separate spectra. Lewis uses the four children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to provide an illustration of this idea. The opposite of masculinity is not femininity but bullying – selfishly causing harm, especially to those weaker than you. And this is exactly the way Peter accuses Edmund of behaving – ‘You’ve always liked being beastly to anyone smaller than yourself; we’ve seen that at school before now.’

Edmund is so interesting partly because after Aslan offers himself as Edmund’s ransom, he becomes an excellent example of true masculinity. Aslan keeps the girls from the battle, not because they lack courage, as Lucy supposes, but I believe in part to give the boys a chance to exhibit the sacrificial protectiveness that is true masculinity. Edmund proves as wily in his protectiveness of others as he was in his bullying. When he realizes that the queen’s wand is her means of turning people into stone, he attacks and breaks it, though he knows it could cost him his life – and it almost does. The result of this is a recognition of his masculinity. ‘And there on the field of battle Aslan made him a knight.’ Edmund had exhibited the key characteristic of masculinity – of true knighthood – and Aslan recognized it as such. Now,  Edmund isn’t always protective, especially with his words, but he comes through when it really counts. So Edmund changes in the course of the novel from a boy who hurts others to one who protects them – who became masculine. It may be that Edmund grows in his masculinity in the course of the novels, but it would take a closer reading than I’ve yet done to find out.

The two Pevensie boys demonstrate the opposite ends of a spectrum of Lewisian masculinity in the beginning of the novel. Peter consistently protects others, and Edmund consistently hurts others. Edmund also demonstrates that sometimes great growth in masculinity can occur almost instantaneously. I don’t believe that gender is the primary theme of the novel, but I do believe that it was so important for Lewis that it naturally came out in his writing. He was providing examples of heroes for both boys and girls – heroes and heroines who exhibited the essential characteristics of masculinity and femininity, as well as positive characteristics common to both genders such as courage, charity, and mercy.

Next week we’ll take a look at the girls and how they fit into Lewis’s idea of femininity. We’ll finally get to Susan! Meanwhile I’d love to hear what you think about Peter and Edmund as masculine beings.

Next Post: Lucy as Feminine

Previous Post: Gender in the Wardrobe

I mentioned in my last post that I really want to write about Susan and explain her place in Lewis’s view of gender. I’ve realized that not only do I need to cover all the Pevensie kids to do that, but I should also take a look at the big picture of Lewis’s ideas of gender as represented in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So here goes!

As soon as I realized that cold and winter are associated with Mars and masculinity, it struck me that the White Witch, who is feminine, is imposing eternal winter, masculine, on Narnia. That is, for Lewis, an oxymoron. Real femininity is connected to spring, warmth, plenty, water. So the idea that a female being would bring winter shows us that something is off kilter – things are not as they should be. In addition, at the first appearance of the witch, she is described in masculine terms. ‘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 in other respects, but proud and cold and stern.’ Her face is ‘white like snow’, ‘cold and stern’, and her mouth is ‘very red’. All those are characteristics associated with Mars, not Venus. So I think that Jadis is attempting to suppress her femininity in favor of imposing a kind of negative masculine domination – tyranny – over a country which is not under her authority by right.

And she succeeds. Tumnus and his house are described in non-feminine terms – it is made of reddish stone, as his face and scarf are red. There are chairs and a fire and a teapot, but none of them are described as warm or soft. While lulling Lucy to sleep, he describes a summer scene, dancing and plenty – feminine. But they are merely longed for, not present. Real femininity arrives with Tumnus’s sorrow for his sin – he weeps. And there are 6 words associated with water in two paragraphs. Tears, trickling and running and wet and making a damp patch. Lucy brings a tiny bit of femininity into this oppressively masculine world. And shortly after this, Tumnus chooses masculine protectiveness of Lucy, even believing that he’ll be captured and turned to stone. Tumnus has learned masculinity from Lucy’s femininity.

The Beaver’s house is a lovely example of my understanding that places of great growth have masculine and feminine components. The Beaver’s house is a mound or hill rising out of water – frozen water, but it’s green ice, described with words related to moving water, indicating femininity (spurting, trickling, water, wavy). It’s also made clear that there is water under the ice when Mr. Beaver and Peter go fishing. The house itself is made of wood, and the interior, like Tumnus’ house, is described without feminine warmth or softness – like having bunks rather than beds – in spite of being inhabited by Mrs. Beaver. As the fixed land on Perelandra, Meldilorn on Malacandra, and the garden in The Magician’s Nephew, places of great growth exhibit masculinity surrounded by femininity. And Mr. and Mrs. Beaver together tell the children about Aslan and the prophecies. The children’s growth is facilitated by masculine and feminine beings, in a masculine place surrounded by feminine water.

I’m still working through the specifics. I think that’s enough indication that Lewis was working this masculine and feminine imagery into the novel, so I’ll go ahead and get back to the big picture. There are four thrones at Cair Paravel, intended for two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve. I think Michael Ward is right when he writes in Planet Narnia that the book is about Jupiter, or Jove. But what Jupiter does at his coming is to restore the balance between masculinity and femininity that has been upset by the White Witch. 

I’ll just go ahead and acknowledge here, too, that Michael Ward connects cold to Saturn rather than to Mars. I think Lewis associated cold with both Mars and Saturn, as cold things are often mentioned when he’s talking about both. The best reason for this I can think of is that both are traditionally planets with unfortunate influences. Mars is Infortuna Minor and Saturn is Infortuna Major. In The Discarded Image, Lewis makes it clear that he doesn’t think these planets are unfortunate in themselves, but their influence on a fallen world can be unfortunate due to the nature of the world that receives it. In the same way, cold and winter are beneficial in their place, but they can be unfortunate indeed when taken to extremes or when unrelieved by the appearance of spring.

Given this understanding, it would appear that the White Witch in Narnia is trying to impose an unfortunate influence of masculinity – unrelieved cold, without even the warmth brought by Christmas. The coming of Jupiter doesn’t do away with winter entirely, but rather restores the balance between the seasons by bringing the long overdue spring. Spring will be followed by summer and fall and then winter, in its proper time and place. Jupiter is the king, ruler of Mars and Venus, who ensures that ‘while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’

Next Post: Peter and Edmund

Previous Post: A Quick Summary

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!

Next post: Gender in the Wardrobe

Last Post: Black Bards

Today I’m going to talk about a lighter topic. Well, sort of. It’s still not Lewis, but one I think he’d find interesting. I love Black poetry. I put it that way on purpose – not just poetry by African Americans, necessarily. But the poetry of freedom – it is so powerful and gritty and beautiful. I usually read a little poetry in the morning to wake my brain up, and the other day I began re-reading The Black Poets, edited by Dudley Randall. It’s a great place to start if you’ve never read any – it starts with spirituals and other slave songs and moves all the way through to 1970.

So, this morning I read one of my absolute favorites – ‘O Black and Unknown Bards’ by James Weldon Johnson. It honors the anonymous authors of the spirituals. In it, he marvels that people so oppressed, so crushed, could compose such beautiful, stirring melodies and that they should sing in praise to God. It’s full of the irony that a people thought to be lacking in intelligence could compose songs full of double meaning, and comparing their work to the classical masters. That last line, though, is the kicker. ‘You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.’ 

Just wow.

The horrible, horrible blasphemy of slavery (blasphemy because calling and treating those created in God’s image as though they were not is nothing less) brought people who had once been princes, princesses, valued members of their tribes, to a place where they were destitute, treated like animals to be bought and sold. I’m sure when many of them were introduced to the gospel, they saw it as just a white man’s religion. Some adopted it in order to placate their owners, yes. But many realized, rightly, that Jesus was much more like them than like their white masters. He also was a brown man, ruled over and oppressed by white men, treated as less-than by them, turned over by his own people to be killed by them. So many of them found in the Scriptures their hope – truly came to trust in the God who freed his people from the Egyptians. 

Most slaves were never taught to read or write. So as they learned the stories and the truths of the Bible, they composed songs about them. They began to sing of their hope – to express their joy and confidence or their sorrow and longing, and to draw others toward Christ. They wrote songs fitted to the needs of their people. Songs of comfort or encouragement, yes, but also songs of which Johnson says, ‘Such were the notes that men have sung/Going to valorous deeds’. People who read them assuming the authors weren’t genuinely believers miss out on the beautiful double meanings. ‘Steal Away to Jesus’ and ‘Deep River’ are both about dying and about escaping literal captivity. To say they are only about one or the other is to downplay the intelligence and creativity of the poetry. When they sang of Moses and Joshua, they sang of how God had freed his people and about how they hoped he would free them. They took the Scriptures and applied it to their lives in the only way available to them and they did, indeed, sing a race to Christ.

This poem made me think in a new way about Kanye West’s conversion and release of his new album. I know that some believers are hesitant to accept his conversion as real. Perhaps they have become accustomed to thinking that someone who has fallen so far is unredeemable, of being hesitant to accept any celebrity conversion as real – or of being worried about what embarrassment such a person might bring if they fall away, or if they embrace a form of Christianity unacceptable to the individual. But two things make me think his conversion to Christianity is real. The first is that from what I’ve read he’s perpetually honest, even raw, in his music – calling himself a god when he’s on a high, freely admitting his destructive tendencies when he recognizes them. And the album is full of an acknowledgement of sin and the need for grace and dependence on Christ necessary for conversion. The second is that he’s doing exactly what his forefathers and mothers did. He’s singing – composing music  that both expresses what he is feeling and thinking and urges others to come to Jesus. The composers of the spirituals created music that came from their African roots, composing new songs of encouragement, of lament, of rejoicing, of invitation that centered on their new faith. I think Kanye is doing the same, using the gospel music of the church crowd and the hip hop influences that permeate the African American community. I listened to the album. It’s not something I’ll listen to often – the changes are too abrupt, too drastic for my taste. Of course his theology needs time to develop, to grow and solidify – but doesn’t everyone’s? So I will do as he asks on the album. I will pray for him, that he will grow in Christ and that I’ll see him in that great gettin’ up mornin’.

Next Post: A Quick Summary

Last Post: A Woman’s Place

Well, last week was an eventful week for my gender studies. Kathy Keller mentioned me on the Gospel Coalition website, and a certain masculine Bible teacher told a certain feminine Bible teacher to go home. Now, I don’t follow either of said Bible teachers. I’m pretty sure I disagree significantly with both. I also didn’t read said remarks – just saw a brief summary of them. But it made me realize that it might be helpful if I spelled out what I’m thinking in these areas here on the blog. I’ve been writing ideas for my own thinking and talking through it with some people for a while, so this seems like a somewhat providential push to put it out there. Please understand that this is my own personal view at the moment. I don’t expect everyone – ok, I expect very few people – to agree with me. My views may change as I learn and grow. I just saw an article titled something like ‘I’m human, so I think and change my mind.’ That. Yes.

First, I’ll just say that I don’t fit into either the women belong at home or the women can do whatever they want camps. I see the situation as a bit more nuanced. I believe that a woman’s place is wherever God has placed her.

First, as I detailed in my last post, I see submission to authority – whatever authority God has placed over you, male or female – as a Christian virtue, like charity or kindness or love or joy or peace. The only context in which gender plays a role, as far as I can see scripturally, is wives to husbands. There are several possibilities as to why God may have made it that way – the fall, or the picture of Christ and the church (as Jesus was masculine), for instance. I don’t really know. But at the heart of my acceptance of that command is that I believe God said what he meant in his word, and that he only commands what is best for everyone. And wife is only a role, like citizen or employee, entered into willingly, that does not define who I am. In the role of wife, I submit to my husband. In the role of parent, I exercise authority over my children. When they are no longer children, I will no longer be in authority over them. Remember the arch.

As to women in the church, I mostly agree with Kathy Keller’s position in Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles. Women in the Bible are clearly given leadership roles. Deborah was a judge, several women are mentioned as prophetesses, deaconesses or co-laborers – even one as an apostle. Ann Voskamp recently gave an excellent overview of women listed in the Bible as spiritual leaders. The only position I see as not open to women is what my church calls elders. Some call it pastors or bishops or priests. It seems from my study to be a single position, with different words describing the qualifications or type of work emphasized in the context – ‘elder’ referring to maturity, ‘pastor’ being taken from the command to ‘shepherd the flock of God’ but not used as a title in the New Testament, and ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’ referring to the primary function of overseeing the church. The term ‘priest’ is a carryover from the Old Testament. Personally, I think the New Testament is clear – especially in Hebrews – that we no longer need priestly mediators between God and humans as Christ’s death tore the veil, ending the separation between God and humankind. We have become, as God prophesied through Moses, a ‘kingdom of priests’, with Christ as high priest and the ‘only mediator between God and man.’ There is, as far as I can see, no mention in the New Testament of such a position in the church(see note). The requirements for elder as listed in I Timothy and Titus both expect it to be filled by a ‘one-woman man’ – for the most literal translation. That seems to me to exclude women from the position. It’s important to note, as well, that there are no women mentioned in the New Testament as filling the role. 

As to teaching in the church, there seems to be an expectation that women will prophesy – which before the NT was completed would have been the equivalent of teaching or preaching. When women are told to be silent in the church in I Corinthians 14, the context is when people have prophesied and the prophecy is being judged to determine whether it is in line with commonly accepted revelation. It seems to me to be focused on a woman questioning her husband’s or the church leadership’s judgement of prophecy in public. Paul says they are to be silent in obedience to the law, but women are never instructed in the Old Testament to submit wholesale to men, or to be silent in a gathering. They are instructed to submit to their own husbands, and men and women are both to submit to authority – including church leadership. If she does question either her husband or the elders’ judgement, she is instructed in the passage to ask her husband at home. Presumably, then, her husband could come to see her point of view, or he could explain why he believes she’s wrong. If her disagreement is with the elders, and her husband comes to agree with her, they could go together to the church leadership. This would fit the circumstances described in I Timothy 5 for correcting an elder with two or three witnesses. The reason I don’t think it can mean that women are never to speak in church is that so many women are described as prophets in the very law he says they should obey. So I think it is acceptable for women to teach/preach/speak in church – as long as they are doing so in submission to their husbands and the church leadership rather than in opposition to them. I’ll say here that I’ve never done so – have never been asked or asked to do so. I do lead in congregational prayer regularly – which is more than some churches permit women to do. I hold my hands open to what God asks, but I will not seek something he does not call me to do.

Now for the ‘go home’ aspect of the remarks I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Sigh. I wish people would learn their history. I’m focusing here on European history, but I think the idea holds true across many societies. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most women were at home. BUT so were most men. The family had a farm or another business. Husbands and wives and children all contributed to the financial sustainability of the family. Husbands did the heavy lifting around the farm – because they’re physically bigger. Wives did more of the housework – because they’re physically smaller and because, well, babies need mom’s milk. What exactly the division of labor was depended on the individual family, type of work they did, and the society to which they belonged. When people started leaving farms and villages for cities in the Industrial Revolution, everybody had to work to survive. BUT if the husband alone made enough money, the wife could stay home and take care of the kids because not everybody had to earn money. So mom staying home became a status symbol and a goal – like owning a house is in ‘the American Dream.’ Then, thanks probably in part to Queen Victoria’s emphasis on children and home, it eventually became the norm. Then it got read back into the Scripture to the point that now moms are held responsible for the home and children, especially in Christian circles, even if they work outside the home. 

But this doesn’t really fit what the Bible says. The Proverbs 31 woman’s children aren’t even mentioned except as part of ‘her household’ until they’re praising her along with her husband. But she has her own businesses – makes and sells goods, purchases and runs a vineyard. (Oh, I love the story of Katharina von Bora Luther – this sounds so much like her! Martin had absolutely no money sense.) She’s apparently rich, as she has servants. But her work and wisdom have clearly contributed to the wealth of her household. Her financial contributions are so emphasized that you could almost summarize it as ‘marry a wise woman and be both happy and rich.”

Another big problem with glorifying the idea of mom staying home with the kids while dad works outside it is that Scripture expects fathers to be the main disciplers of their children. Really! Go look. The only time mothers are directly connected with discipline in the Bible that I’ve found is when a kid is about to be stoned for rebellion and both parents have to verify that the kid was appropriately disciplined. David and Eli alone were held responsible for their sons’ rebellion. God disciplines us . . . as a father. The primary audience of Proverbs is . . . a young man. Women are portrayed as teaching their children, and the main command to them as mothers is to love (affectionately) their children. And, presumably, they should carry out some discipline as the couple mentioned above testifies that they both have done so. But the father is the one held responsible. He is pictured as teaching and admonishing them. Those things aren’t possible if he doesn’t spend time with his kids or if he views them as his wife’s responsibility. So I believe the problem with parents working away from home is the father’s absence even more than the mother’s.

Oh. I should probably also address a commonly misused verse. I Timothy 5 says ‘if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ This is sometimes used to say that it’s a man’s responsibility to provide for his wife and children – therefore the woman can just stay home and care for the kids. The reason this is a misleading application is that it’s actually talking about a man providing for his mother or grandmother – and possibly other relatives – after his father has died. Elderly widows in that time and had very little recourse for earning an income, so Paul is giving instructions for deciding which widows were eligible for church financial support. If a widow had children or grandchildren who could support her, they should provide for her, leaving church funds available for women who were truly in need. Verse four actually describes this support of relatives as a way to ‘show godliness’.

So, no, I don’t believe that women are restricted to the home – or that they are any more responsible for the home or children than are men. In our society, unfortunately, at least one parent will usually have to work outside the home to make ends meet. In many cases, both parents will have to work. Honestly, I think the best case scenario is both parents working from home as much as possible so that both have significant time to interact with the children. But which parent works outside the home if the family can afford one staying home – at least once the children are old enough to be independent of mom’s milk – simply depends on the individual couple and their gifting and priorities.

For our family, we believe, strongly, that God gave my husband and I our children because he wants us to rear them rather than turning them over to others for the majority of their days. At the moment, that priority means I stay home and they only go to school two days a week. My husband works outside the home because one of us needs to and I can’t make enough money to support us in our area. To make that happen we do without some things many in our culture see as necessities. But it is what God has called us to do. If things changed, we might swap places. My husband is definitely a better cook than I am! And I’m far more extroverted than he is, so more time with people would be nice for me – and less for him. Early in our marriage, I was the primary breadwinner for a time. We will do what God calls us to do, when he calls us to do it.

That will all be different for each family. Coming back to Lewis, for a moment, the important thing is that each individual and each family holds their hands open for whatever God calls them to do. For some mothers, that means leaving their children with their husband or in school and going to work outside the home. For some fathers, that will mean staying home with the kids. For some parents it means parenting without a spouse – or in the wake of a difficult divorce. For some families it may mean moving from an expensive city or a big house into something smaller that gives them time with their kids. For some it will be making the most of the little time they have with their spouse and children because everyone must work to survive. 

Having open hands means filling the place God has uniquely created for you – male or female, mother or father or childless or single. He is the one who defines your unique role. His commands are always for your good, and he knows the plans he has for your good future. Your place, man or woman, is wherever God places you.

(Note: You may notice that this is a significant point of difference between Lewis and I. He belonged to the Church of England, which has priests. He believed in an equal or almost equal degree of authority between the Bible and church tradition. I believe Jesus illustrates that the Scripture alone is God’s Word. He absolutely ignored the Talmud as a guide to his behaviour, going back to the words of Scripture when he did something that broke the additional commands/interpretations in the Talmud, particularly concerning the Sabbath. The Talmud was the collection of writings the Jews of his day considered authoritative (think church councils from our perspective). All authority belongs to God – not the Scripture – but God always says what he means and means what he says, as written to the original audience in the original genres.)

Next Post: Black Bards

Last Post: All Good Masters Are Servants

Nothing is merely a by-product of anything else. All results are intended from the first. What is subservient from one point of view is the main purpose from another. No thing or event is first or highest in a sense which forbids it to be also last and lowest. The partner who bows to Man in one movement of the dance receives Man’s reverence in another. To be high or central means to abdicate continually: to be low means to be raised: all good masters are servants: God washes the feet of men.  The concepts we usually bring to the consideration of such matters are miserably political and prosaic. We think of flat repetitive equality and arbitrary privilege as the only two alternatives–thus missing all the overtones the counterpoint, the vibrant sensitiveness, the inter-inanimations of reality. C.S. Lewis, Miracles.


In Chapter 14 of Miracles, C.S. Lewis addresses the miracle of the Incarnation – God became flesh and dwelt among us. One of the major ideas he addresses is the idea of dying and rising in creation, and how the Incarnation fits into, and gives meaning to, this theme. Along the way he asserts that minor things can turn out to be major and vice versa – a theme he addresses in the praise service at the end of Perelandra, as well. What strikes me about this is something I’ve been considering for a while.

When people begin to understand what I have to say about Lewis’s ideas about femininity and masculinity, I’m sure there is going to be considerable consternation over his portrayal of submission as feminine, especially as he’s already been accused of misogyny. It seems demeaning, though Lewis rather turns things on their head by expecting men to exhibit exactly the same kind of submission. Our culture – and all earthly cultures – are so permeated by the idea that it’s better to lead than to follow, to be in a position of power rather than a position of servitude, in authority rather than in submission. But that’s simply not the way that Lewis – or God – sees it.

The gospel of John is so fascinating because Jesus repeatedly claims both absolute submission to God and complete equality with God, almost in the same breath. Take, for instance, John 8:28-29 ‘then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. . . . He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.’ When he says, ‘I am he,’ he’s using the Old Testament name God used of himself. The unbelieving Jewish leaders clearly understood Jesus to be claiming equality with God, as they continued to try to find a way to kill him (they had started in chapter 5 after a similar exchange). Yet he is also indicating complete submission to the Father. There is no sense that submission because of his current role has anything to do with worth or power or ability, no sense that submitting to the Father is demeaning to the Son. Jesus is claiming to be fully God, and currently existing in a role in which he submits to all that the Father asks of Him – does and says only what the Father tells him to do and say.

Lewis demonstrates this same concept both in the above quote from Miracles and in the praise service at the end of Perelandra. When you compare the above quote to Perelandra, ‘It is loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness and there is no equality. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!’, you realize that Lewis’s idea of equality, of worth and importance, has nothing to do with either submission or leadership. Both are temporary – changing from moment to moment and situation to situation. As I mentioned in a post on the arch metaphor, everyone is both in authority and under authority – as the stones in an arch both support and are supported by the stones above and below them. In Perelandra, the visual representation of the Great Dance follows the verbal one, and all of the interweaving strands are both central and peripheral – they are all important and unimportant, depending on your point of view.  

So here’s how I’m thinking about submission. Men and women alike should submit to God’s good authority. Paul instructs those who live in a given country or city to submit to the laws and authorities governing the city or country. He tells employees to submit to their employers (I know it’s slaves and masters, but I think the implication is there) and children to submit to their parents. He even says all believers should submit to one another. I think few would take issue with those examples. They’re not gendered. The difficulty comes when he instructs wives to submit to their husbands. This, perhaps, is how submission has come to be seen as a feminine trait, and this is perhaps why Lewis chose to treat it as such. But ‘wife’ is simply a role, as is ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ or ‘employee’ or ‘resident’. It is not the sum of one’s being. Like Christ’s submission to the Father, there is no reason to see this voluntary, covenantal relationship as demeaning or as having any bearing on worth or power or ability. The word used of Eve at creation, usually translated ‘helper’, has unfortunate connotations, but in the Old Testament it is often used to describe God himself. He ‘helps’ us because we cannot do something alone – and the same is true of the woman helping the man. God created Eve because Adam needed her help! To be a helper is to be like God. To be the one in submission OR the one in authority is to be like God, and both men and women are called to do both, in various roles. The Bible never states or implies that women are subservient to or in any way inferior to men. It is full of people submitting to one another – even of men submitting to women, as Barak submitted himself to Deborah’s instructions regarding the battle with Sisera, and his reluctant/imperfect obedience was to his detriment. It seems to always be a matter of roles.


So I don’t believe that submission is well chosen as the ultimate image of femininity – I think perhaps Lewis comes closer to the mark on the fertility aspect. Perhaps submission, like charity, is a significant requirement for both genders. (It’s also interesting that when Paul calls wives to submission, he calls husbands to charity. So why isn’t charity seen as primarily a masculine trait?) I’m also wary of the idea that God is so ultimately masculine as Lewis portrays in his body of work – or at least, not without being also ultimately feminine, as in being the ultimate, the original, of both. While most of the descriptions of God in Scripture are masculine, he also does picture himself in feminine terms several times  – as a hen protecting her chicks, and as a mother nursing her child for example. Masculinity and femininity alike – and equally – reflect God’s image.

What I do love about Lewis’s work is that he restores submission to God as necessary for all humans, and as a conduit of blessing. I love how he pictures Ransom as feminine – especially in the ship on the way to Malacandra in Out of the Silent Planet. (Read more here.) Other pivotal scenes depicting Ransom’s growth in submission include his acceptance of the necessity of going to Meldilorn and the scene in Perelandra in which he is tempted to assert his independence and learns ‘not to make that inner gesture.’ Ransom is blessed because of these choices – this learning to submit to God’s authority. ‘His day became better and better as the hours passed.’ He, a man, learns the joy of submission.

In depicting submission this way, Lewis, though retaining the cultural idea of submission as feminine, is at least removing the sting of our tendency – the tendency of all humans – to think that authority is somehow better than submission. He is reminding us – through making it clear that Ransom is a reflection of Christ and portraying him as learning submission – that our ultimate example of humanity was fully submissive to the Father. ‘[A]ll good masters are servants’, indeed.

Next Post: A Woman’s Place

Last Post: High and Low Brows, part 2: or God, Me, and Agatha Christie

I looked last week at Lewis’s article ‘High Brows and Low Brows’. Thinking of those ideas led to some natural applications I want to talk about today.   First, and most briefly, the Bible. Definitely difficult literature, at least today. I think that idea of simple and difficult literature somewhat explains the ‘foolishness’ of preaching. Any literature becomes difficult to understand in a hundred or two hundred years – much more in two thousand! So it makes sense that God instituted preaching as a way to take the Scripture – some originally easy literature, some difficult, but all becoming more difficult as time passed – and bring it down to the level of people, of whatever culture in whatever time, who could only understand simple writing – writing of their own time, in their own language. Can I just say that I love the way the elders of my church seek to understand pertinent aspects of the culture to which a given passage was written, and the language in which it was written, then explain the ideas and apply them to our own cultural context?

Next I see some applications to my own writing. I’m a teacher at heart. I spend most of my time with seven to eleven year olds. So I tend to write and speak in such a way as to make what I’m saying clear, or not ‘difficult’. Even when I taught college I tended to use very straightforward language, as I wasn’t teaching communication majors, but the general population – and the goal wasn’t to challenge them to puzzle out communication terminology, but to enable them to give a decent speech! In my current situation, that tendency to straightforwardness could make some scholars think I’m not serious or knowledgeable – because they prefer or expect more difficult or ‘highbrow’ language and a more roundabout way of getting at concepts. Well, so be it. My goal in writing isn’t to make people think I’ smart, but to get ideas from my mind into others’ as clearly as possible. I don’t think anybody really likes reading gobbledygook, even if it’s academic gobbledygook. I could, however, stand to use a bit more terminology others have used when writing about Lewis. Like a word from the essay I read recently that pointed out evolutionary theories in Lewis’s time moving from static ideas of ‘being’ to a more movement-oriented ‘becoming’. Now, that terminology fits in very well with what I called in my article ‘maturation’ – a continual growing, moving forward, following Maleldil in the dance. And the more I read, the more of that terminology I’m bound to pick up. I don’t think there’s any danger of becoming one of those writers that use big words just because they like them, or because they think it makes them sound smart, so I don’t think I need to worry about that side of it!

Another application I’ve been thinking of is Agatha Christie. I wrote some time ago about someone lecturing and saying she didn’t have much ‘atmosphere.’ He felt at liberty to say that precisely because it’s ‘lowbrow’ literature. And as Lewis notes, those who read ‘highbrow’ literature have a tendency to feel free to dismiss or criticize ‘lowbrow’ literature with little to no cause. There’s also the fact that humans have a tendency to see what they expect to see – so if they expect stock characters, impossible situations and coincidences, that’s all they’ll see. But if you read Christie a bit deeper, you see that she was having fun with those tropes. She winks and nods to readers astute enough to see it. ‘Look! I’m using this trope – watch how much fun I have with it!’ (For instance, I just finished a really early novel – The Blue Train, 1928. It centers on a woman who works as a companion to an old lady. The employer dies and leaves all her money to the woman, much more money than anyone knew she had.  So you can read that and roll your eyes and think Christie unoriginal. Or you can read a bit further, when on hearing of this happening, another character remarks, ‘What about it? . . . It is the sort of thing that is always happening. Cheese-paring old women are always dying in villages and leaving fortunes of millions to their humble companions.’ THAT is Christie’s wink to let us know that she’s using the trope on purpose and having fun with it. And she gets away with it all the time!) The characters ARE often stereotypes. But they’re still individuals – and so very lifelike. We enjoy recognizing their type, and getting to know them as individuals. That, in my book, is genius.

As to atmosphere, the critic I mentioned earlier was right in a sense. Christie’s novels contain plenty of atmosphere, but it’s essentially the same atmosphere, at least for most of her books. The critic was noting that it doesn’t change much – and he was right. The few novels that vary significantly are replete with their unique atmosphere – like Death Comes as the End (set in ancient Egypt) or The Mysterious Mr. Quin. But the usual consistency of atmosphere is, I believe, a part of the reason her mysteries are so successful. She sets up a very conventional, predictable, organized, distinctly English atmosphere. Even novels with exotic settings, such as the Orient Express or an archeological dig, are peopled with English or Continental types her readers recognize readily. Even her notoriously un-English (Belgian) detective is notoriously meticulous – despising every speck of dust, noticing crooked cravats and fireplace spills and chairs placed at the wrong angle. So when murder occurs, or a piece of jewelry is missing, solving the crime becomes an urgent matter – because things are no longer as expected. Murder doesn’t fit this organized world she has created.

Christie didn’t mess around with that atmosphere very often because it worked so well. The surprise ending leads, full circle, back to what the reader has been led to expect. The boy gets the girl, the killer gets her/is comeuppance, the innocent suspect is cleared, somebody eats a good meal or inherits some money, and the reader can breathe a sigh of relief because order is restored. I would also argue that that’s part of why so many readers object to Tommy and Tuppence. I quite like them – because I’m reading for the characters and I find them amusing. But those who are in it for the plot (and for that pattern of normalcy established – normalcy broken – normalcy restored), their quick repartee doesn’t quite fit. They’re too unpredictable, so for those readers they disrupt the flow.

Interestingly, Christie didn’t write the mysteries because it was the best stuff she could write. She wrote them, first for the fun of it, then to make money to support herself and her daughter, and then, I surmise, because, well, it was expected of her – and maybe to put her grandson through school or keep herself well indoors on archeological expeditions. I wouldn’t put it past her. And part of what tells us that are those little winks that are all over the place if you’re looking for them. She did publish six ‘serious’ novels – character studies of the kind she really wanted to write. They sold moderately well. A common theme is the ways in which we deceive ourselves. (Listening to another Christie, I just connected this to the way Hastings continually deludes himself in thinking that he’s a good detective!) These novels aren’t difficult, in the sense of being hard to understand, but they are perceptive. In fact, my theory is that they didn’t sell better because they hit far too close to home. No one wants to be confronted with the fact that their family finds them annoying because of all the sacrifices they’re constantly making and talking about. That’s the theme of the novel she declared herself absolutely satisfied with – Absent in the Spring. Lewis described the same kind of women in Perelandra – and not in a positive context!

What I love most about Christie, her ability to draw a character in just a few words, might be part of the reason those who prefer difficult novels find her unbearable. They’re almost too clear, too easy to picture or to know – minor characters as well as major ones. That’s also part of the reason her books adapt so well for the stage. For instance, in The Mystery of the Blue Train, there was ‘an individual who made up for insignificance of stature by a large quantity of gold lace and uniform.’ Most readers can instantly picture this individual, the way he would stand and move and  his facial expression, just from that phrase. And his words and later gestures conform to the picture. He plays a very small part, but he is perfectly clear. Primary characters become even clearer, often with just as few words. And they remain perfectly clear throughout the novel. And there are so many of them! Christie loved people – she loved their variety, their foibles, their capacity for good and evil and kindness and love. And so she portrayed them in her novels. And in her autobiographical works, for that matter!

So, anyway, that’s why I think that in about a hundred years, Christie’s novels will supply the place in literature that in our day is supplied by Dickens. Written for the masses, best sellers, but enduring. And difficult in about a hundred years!

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