I started writing this post months ago, after a toss-off comment by someone at work who thought they had read something about C.S. Lewis’ misogny somewhere.
“What?” I asked. And yet, I thought I knew what the writer was talking about. There are a couple of moments in Lewis’ books where women seem to get short shrift, in particular beautiful ones, for example, the scene in which Lucy stares into a spell book and looks at a spell to make one “Beautiful Beyond the Lot of Mortals” and is rebuked for her vain desires by a picture of an angry Aslan roaring. These moments in the books seemed incidental, and perhaps related to the author’s single life and lack of success with women until fairly late in life. (One wonders if he would have even written these books had he had the comforts of hearth and home and family to distract him. As Garrison Keillor writers, “no happy man writes his memoirs … ” But I digress.
The main proponent of the Lewis-as-misogynist appears to be a man called Phillip Hensher who laid out his arguments in the article, “Don’t let your children go to Narnia” dated December 4, 1998 (my God once these stories get started they have a very long life, don’t they!) which calls the books “ghastly, priggish “revoltingly mean-minded books, written to corrupt,” half-witted, money-making drivel … ” “frightful” “the most corrupting feature of it all is the poverty of the imagination” and “vehicles for a narrow-minded man’s pet obsessions” Whew.
Now wait just a minute there.
The truth is, all that adjectival attack makes me think Hensher’s motive may be more philosophical or political than artistic. And it turns out, his personal philosophy, as suggested by his story collection, could be summarized according to the Guardian as “ there are two specific types of existence. There is the life worth living … the life devoted to excellence, and then there is just getting by. ”
It would seem the hoi polloi need not apply to attain a life worth living. Personal worth by way of personal excellence is very far from Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” or any Christianity for that matter. But one can’t really critique Lewis and the Narnia books on the basis of Lewis being Christian. It’s too obvious and blase’. You have to come up with a more persuasive and creative critique, like misogyny.