Blasphemous Aslan

.

I was amused to find in the old forums of Into the Wardrobe a thread which discusses Pauline Baynes Narnia illustrations. I know many people find the illustrations charming, for sure I prefer her style of sketching over horrid cartoonish images. But Lewis apparently had some issue with them, and wrote to his friend Dorthy Sayers that he agreed with her assessment that sometimes Baynes’s illustrations are blasphemous. Lewis particularly disliked and found blasphemous the frontpiece of LWW:

This illustration is, objectively, pretty bad. I think Aslan is supposed to be dancing, but it looks like he is a deranged escapee from a Hawaiian zoo who has his paw up to take a swipe at Lucy, who is running away in terror, and Susan has her arms up trying to head him off.

Lewis’s problem with this picture was not, however, that it makes dancing look like a massacre about to happen, nor that it makes Aslan/Jesus look ridiculous (since, remember, he had no use for a simple allegory that Aslan=Jesus). Lewis’s problem with the picture, and what makes it blasphemous, is that Aslan is drawn badly. Lewis had issue with Baynes’s inability to draw animals, and her general ignorance of animal anatomy. To be fair, it is altogether difficult to draw a lion dancing, but in that picture Aslan’s right hind leg is completely wrong. Is it actually blasphemous, though? As Lewis says to Sayers, if medicore art was actually blasphemy Hell wouldn’t be large enough to hold the artists who committed it. But for Lewis, who held that there was truth in the philosophic concepts of Ideals and Form, to misrepresent the natural was a crime against Nature. And, given his opposition to both animal testing and vivisection, Lewis would understandably be rankled by art which mishandled basic animal physiology.

All I can say is that it’s a very good thing Lewis never saw this:

Advertisements

Douglas Gresham’s Fanon

.

Since Douglas Gresham currently manages the Lewis estate, I do suppose he has the right to influence Fanon however he wants. Naming the Star’s Daughter and introducing good minotaurs in the movies were all interesting things. Why he didn’t put his foot down when it came to corporeal dryads and naiads I have no idea (does he realize that the sons of King Frank have been movie-versed into celibacy?)

I found, and it was sort of accidental, since there isn’t a direct link to this in the menu, an interview Douglas Gresham did with Lion’s Call. Most of his answers are of the “Nobody knows” variety. But other answers I found quite interesting.

Q: The Timeline states that Telmar was first colonized by Calormen (this before the arrival of Caspian’s ancestors). The Timeline also tells us that they behaved very wickedly and Aslan turned them into dumb beasts. Now, Calormen was founded by outlaws from Archenland, and it has been proposed that the original Telmarines were therefore humans. In Prince Caspian Lucy says “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?” Is that what happened in Telmar? And what wickedness did they commit?

A: The original inhabitants of Telmar were Narnian Talking Beasts, whether they came in to that land from Calormen or from Narnia I do not know. They behaved so badly that they reverted to dumb animals, the Calormens took the land over but almost all died out or returned to Calormen. Their very few descendants were eventually defeated and driven out by the rising Telmarines descended from the Pirates of Earth.

I had to think about this answer for a bit, because I realized that the reason why I, and it seems most others, assumed that the original Telmars were humans was because we thought Talking Animals only live in Narnia. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that my assumption was probably mostly wrong. In SC the Giants kill and eat a Talking Stag. I don’t think the Giants went all the way down into Narnia to hunt, which means that the Stag was somewhere outside of Narnia when it met its unfortunate end. I have a feeling that there are other examples, but nothing else comes to mind, besides Bree and Hwin being in Calormen against their will. Certainly, being outside of Narnia could be dangerous of a Talking Beast, hunting parties of Giants and being sold into slavery being two obvious problems. But perhaps there could be nefarious reasons for abandoning Narnia? The Telmar Beasts, after all, apparently pulled a Ginger-the-Cat en masse.

Q: How, in a land of perpetual winter, and with borders closed, did Mr. Tumnus acquire bread for toast, or a host of the other things he served Lucy? One of the perks of working for the Witch? But then, the Beavers had a sticky roll as well.

A: Narnia is a land of magic, strange things happen in such places. But to ask such questions misses the whole point of fantasy. If you really want to reduce the fantasy to be utterly prosaic; well, there is always a black market in occupied territories, and the Narnians were probably trading with the Calormenes for what they could not get any other way.

AND HOW DOES MRS. BEAVER HAVE A SEWING MACHINE? Oh, yeah, it’s fantasy. But black market trading with Calormenes? What do they offer for trade, blocks of ice? I do suppose that in Calormene high summer ice blocks arriving by ship would fetch a pretty penny. But I don’t think Jadis would approve of trading with humans very much, after all, what if some enterprising Satyrs got together and traded enough ice blocks for a Calormene slave or two, or three, or four?

Q: Why are Calormenes dark, as they are descended from Archenlanders, according to the Timeline?

A: Over their many generations, they have developed epidermal melanin secretion as protection against the harsh sun of Calormen (you would be better to ask why anybody is fair and blonde in our world where all people are descended from a small common origin in Africa).

This is fine as explanations go, but I don’t think less than a thousand years is enough time for such drastic localization to take place. For that matter, I don’t think a thousand years is long enough to account for the human population numbers in Archenland and especially Calormen. Not unless humans bred like rabbits, and the Rabbits didn’t.

Q: If the Telmarines are descended from South Seas pirates, there would likely be a good deal of Chinese in their lineage, though there were certainly some Europeans taking advantage of piracy in that area as well. And the pirates married islanders, who would also have been dark. How then is Caspian fair haired? Or did they intermarry with Archenlanders?

A: Many if not most pirates in the South Seas at the time of which Jack writes were in fact English or Dutch Privateers.

Dutch Pirates. Cool. Also serves to explain a thing or two about the Telmarines. If you know anything about Dutch colonization methods you know what I mean.

Q: How did the Beavers become extinct?

A: Somebody killed them all, or they died out of some epidemic. We are not told.

Or, they just didn’t have any kids. They had bunk-beds after all, a la Leave it to Beaver.

The Rescue of Prince Caspian

.

It amuses me when people make children’s books out of children’s books. Like, what is wrong with the children’s book just being a children’s book?

So I had a good laugh when I discovered this on the Barnes & Noble website:

This amuses me for so many reasons. “Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture” is only the most obvious. Peter looks very serious and kingly, Susan neatly fills her archetype of Big Sister, Lucy looks sweet, and there’s Reepicheep holding his sword! And, I must say, Reep’s cape is very dashing. But what on earth is wrong with Edmund? What is he looking at? What is wrong with his face? And why is he trying to chop off his own head with his sword?

I do think it is interesting to see Edmund as a blonde. Lewis wrote a lot of blonde characters in Narnia, but I think it is possible that this is only because in his ethnicity it is common that children start off blonde, and then their hair can change color when they are older. Edmund being blonde, at his age, is possible, though it does not mean his hair couldn’t still change to black. Which raises all kinds of possible angst for Edmund upon falling out the wardrobe. Oh, wouldn’t that be a crack-fic, Edmund doesn’t recognize himself in the mirror because his hair is the wrong color! Excuse me while I laugh for a moment.

The book is OOP, apparently. But I want to see the inside of it, because maybe there are more illustrations. There should be, it’s a children’s book of a children’s book. There’s got to be tons of pictures. Maybe my library has a copy, I’m so totally going to check it out.

Do Fanfic Authors Like Being Authors?

.

The title has a subtitle, Do Fanfic Readers Like Being Readers? I thought to write two separate posts for this, but then realized that both have to be understood together.

This post should not be understood as anything other than Meta. It is something I have been thinking about over a great amount of time, and its conclusions are far from swift or impulsive. I write it down because I must, because if I don’t my head will explode. I speak in generalities, and though I state some specific examples, it is only because I think they best exemplify what my point it. That being said, if when you read this you think I am talking about you, you should know that it is more than likely that I’m not, but if you really think that I am, then maybe that is just something you should think about.

First, Do Fanfic Authors Like Being Authors?

I shall begin with an example. Once upon a time in a Twilight fandom forum there were the normal discussions of the books about which the forum was named after. As it turned out, a great number of people didn’t really like the books very much. The BD forum in particular was a place where there was much abuse of the book, and much anger. It became, I thought, a place where people went to learn how to hate the book even more. Abuse was heaped upon abuse, until it became a mark of distinction to come up with even greater reasons to hate the book. People who made posts like “I liked this part of the book, and I thought what SM did here was really interesting,” were considered to be ignorant noobs. Didn’t they know that SM pooped on them all when she did a fade-to-black in the honeymoon scene and left them all to be sexually frustrated? Now, I do think there are major issues with BD, but I do think that a lot of the reason why people began to hate it was because it lacked porn. Does a fandom forum have a right to say whatever they want about the books they are a forum about? Well, yes. But it struck me at the time that if the people making those comments about BD said half those things to authors of fanfic, a lot of fanfic authors would have committed flounce-by-suicide.

In the midst of all this, people also made comments about SM herself. It began, I suppose, in the context of discussing the books, both fairly and unfairly. But it soon devolved into simply being personal. Not only was it thought that Bella was a self-insert to satisfy her own sexual desires, but it was thought that that SM herself was a sexually frustrated middle-aged woman. Her weight was discussed, her religion was snarked, and what she wore to the movie premiere was laughed at (objectively, it was pretty awful). Was any of this acceptable? Maybe not, but nobody stopped it. SM, after all, had published books and was now very wealthy. Sociologists may have something to say about why we think it is okay to attack the wealthy and successful, but in the end of the day SM is a person too, and nothing would prevent her from reading that forum herself.

About the same time some of the major fanfic authors at the time organized a Q&A panel at a Comic-Con. Someone videotaped it and posted it online for people who hadn’t gone to it. This was discussed on the same forum, and a lot of comments centered on the main organizer, who was an author who wrote, if I remember correctly, a rather porntastic fic. In any case, she was also deeply involved with a very porntastic Robsten RPF. She was, to everyone’s surprise, a rather typical middle-aged white suburban woman. She was a bit on the heavier side, she had very bright red hair that was a bit oddly styled, and she had one of those high girly voices one usually associates with preschool teachers. The comments those girls posted, and girls they were, largely centered around their shock that they flapped to something written by someone so obviously sexually unattractive. I found this kinda funny, since these girls obviously had yet to learn that the reason there was no author picture in all the trashy novels they liked didn’t completely lie in the fact that the authors wanted to be anonymous. But the person they were commented about also happened to be the founder of the fan archive and fan forum they were on (I don’t think all the girls realized that) and the thread was quickly deleted with admonishments that we should all be nice to each other, and not say things which will make people feel hurt. At which point all the girls probably took their discussion to the Place it Belonged, which was behind the author’s back.

I learned two things from all this. The first is that when people say “If you have something to say about me you should have the courage to say it to my face” they don’t usually mean it. The second is that there were entirely different standards with which fanfic authors and the authors of the story they were writing fanfic about were to be held. If the founder of the forum thought that all comments on the forum should “be nice to people” then she should have never allowed people to say half the things about SM that they did. But clearly, “be nice to people” was a principle that should be followed when it affected her, or her author friends.

And this principle, that fanfic authors demand more rights than they are willing to give to the author who wrote the story they write fanfic about, was something which, when I realized it, became obviously rampant, even in the most unlikely places.

One of the ways in which it is rampant, beyond simply having the expectations that no one can say anything bad about them or their fic, is when authors demand that no one write fanfic using their OC’s. I have seen, and this is more than a few times, authors who say something like “I have put a lot of thought and time and effort into creating my OC’s and my fics, and they are mine. Don’t write any fic including them or my verse in any way.” Whenever I read this I feel like asking the author “Did the demon of Anne Rice posses you when you wrote that? You do realize that you as a fanfic author writing that is pretty lulzy, don’t you?”

Dramatic irony is funny when you see it on stage, it is sad when you see it in real life.

Some authors do say, of course, “you can borrow my OC’s or my verse, as long as you ask me first.” But this then begs the response, “Did you ever write to SM asking if you could please write a fic using her characters? Did you have to send her a detailed outline of your fic, what you were using her characters for, and the message you wanted to convey?” The answer, of course, is no.

I don’t think that most fanfic authors would agree that what they are doing when they disallow people to, essentially, write fanfiction of their fanfiction, is channeling Anne Rice. If they do they really have no business writing fanfiction in the first place. They disallow it because they feel insecure in their authority as an author. It is rare for a fanfic author to write out their whole novel before they post the first chapter, and it is even more rare that the whole novel is posted in one big go. Nobody likes being jossed, least of all by their own characters, and I do understand that.

But what then, when the author is done, the characters established, the plot full, and “Complete” has been marked? Then I do think it is entirely appropriate that the OC’s and verse are set free to the fandom. This may sound strange to some, but I have seen it done, and it is very lovely. It even has a name, Recursive Fanfiction. One example of this is the Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness fic by Thanfiction. Though the author says he is still writing, the verse is free. People can write fic of it, put DAYD-verse in the summary, and everyone knows and understands the relationship of the fic to Thanfiction. The “authority” of the original author is completely secure, and though the secondary fics may be AU’s of what the original author wrote, this really isn’t a problem. Nobody would read fanfic if they had an issue with AU, and everyone knows that an AU is an AU.

But even here, I see the old problem resurrect. Thanfiction has said in a FAQ post:

This is the first thing on the FAQ that is preemptive, not a response to comments or emails, but I feel I need to, particularly after #50 .I have given other authors permission to play in my world, but I am putting a few caveats on that. I have no problem with slash or homosexuality. Rowan Glynnis and Malcolm Braddock both “stir their cauldrons in their own direction.”… HOWEVER, I am refusing permission for anyone to slash my Neville and/or Ernie, as well as any Michael/Terry slash. Obviously, these are all four originally JKR’s creations and I cannot ban the pairings in general , but I can ask people not to use my story as material in them… and that is why I am requesting that it not be done. Please respect this, and if I find out that someone has written a story from my canon that violates it, I will be reporting it to ff.net as uncondoned plagiarism.

I am, in the whole, sympathetic to the reasons Thanfiction gave for this statement. I quite prefer brother-fics over slash, and I thought the whole Ravenclaw Boys Are Metrosexual was one of the more interesting parts of that whole train-wreck of a fic. However, this whole statement is just full of lulz.

Just imagine for a moment if JKR released a statement in which she said, “You know, I don’t have a problem with gay people. Dumbledore is gay, after all. But I ask that nobody write Sirius/Remus slash. I wrote in my stories that Sirius was a lady’s man, and Remus had a wife. I don’t know why people are so stupid to not get that they are definitely not gay, and I think making them gay ruins their friendship. I am instructing my lawyers to inform ff.net that they must immediately delete any fic with a Sirius/Remus pairing.” The HP fandom, and all fandoms, would immediately erupt in outrage.

What makes Thanfiction think he can do something we wouldn’t allow JKR to do? And it’s one thing to disallow slash, the bread and butter of fanfiction, but it is quite another to threaten to report such fics to ff.net for plagiarism. Not only is it a completely empty threat (I doubt the ff.net lackey who reads such a complaint would even bother to send a form response), but to call it plagiarism is just all sorts of wrong. Because if he really does think such a thing qualifies as plagiarism then he really has no business writing fanfiction at all.

Then there is the issue of how fics are shared and disseminated in the fandom. And this is tangentially related to this site, but, believe me, the issue is quite a bit bigger and has a longer history than just me. I think it is best here for me to make an analogy. Did you know that many musical artists wish that people would only hear their music by listening to the whole album while holding the album insert in their hands? It’s true. The musician, well, any true musician, constructs the ordering of the songs on the album, the way the artwork is presented, and what is written in the insert to convey a certain meaning and mood for their music. To listen to a single song in isolation is, they think, to miss a part of the message. For them, being played on the radio is a travesty, especially if the version has had “radio edits” made. And, you know, I think they are partly right. I have sat down and listened to an entire album of music while holding the cover in my hands, and yes, I think I got a broader sense of the artists meaning by doing so. But do I think that this is the only way the songs can be listened to? Would this be the only way I would listen to music even if I knew the artist expressed that he only wanted his music to be heard in this way? The answer, simply, is no. And I think that is what everyone would say, because that is what we do. Ever since the technology allowed us to we have made playlists, throwing together a bunch of different songs completely out of their original order and by different artists, first on cassette, then on CD, and then on youtube, where anyone can access the playlist and listen to it. And I believe that, even if more people realized that the musicians did not like having this done to their music, we would insist upon our right to do it. And, frankly, unless you think that people don’t have the right to listen to music other than in the context of the whole album, and that you will never listen to a CD a friend burned for you, or listen to a playlist they send you, then you really have no right to object to what I have done on this site.

Second, Do Fanfic Readers Like Being Readers?

Yet another experience brought this issue to my mind. There was once a closed LJ comm. which discussed Twilight fanfic. The topic at hand was, I believe, good fics. Not fics that were popular because girls squeeed about how “hawt” they were, but fics which were good on the literary level. One person brought up a fic written by a certain author as an example of a really good fic. To which another person answered, “I will never read any story by that author, not after what she did here.” Being insanely curious I was wondering whatever the author had done to make a person decide to never read them. Did she admit that she had blessed her hard drive the blood of goats before she posted the story, cursing all readers thereof with eternal incompetence, poverty, and low libido? Ohmygosh, I had read that fic! So I went to the here the person had mentioned to find out, which was a previous discussion on the same LJ comm. That topic had been on a recently completed fic (by a different author), where a person stated that they thought the fic and the author of it was awful because of one rather insubstantial detail. Now, the author-in-question-above jumped in to take issue with such a statement, because really, it was a silly thing to hate the fic over. But as most discussions of this sort on closed LJ comms go, it soon devolved into the author-in-question-above stating all of the reasons why such a statement was ridiculous and the person who made the original statement finally saying “I was just joking anyways, SHEESH!” which then set off yet another round of poking with pitchforks. It was, reading it all in hindsight like I did, a rather silly thing. And while the people involved probably still felt emotionally invested in it, I thought it was a very stupid reason to just not read a really good fic. Because this was, I realized, an example where a reader has treated a fanfic author in a way they would not treat any author of published original fiction.

I, for example, think that what JKR said about Susan was stupid, and actually kinda offensive. That does not mean that I have stopped reading and liking the HP books. I have also read all of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, and I didn’t even check the books out of the library! After reading Goodkind’s personal website I can honestly say that I very much dislike him as a person, and not just because he disallowed fanfiction. That does not mean I stopped reading his books, I even kept on reading them after he started trying to use his books to shove his political philosophy down my throat, destroyed his own world, and then made a backhanded swipe at my religion out of left field in the very last chapter. I even passed on the books to someone else to read when I was done. I may not be completely cuddly with the author, or accept what he eventually did to his own world, but I have never regretted reading about Richard and Kaylan.

Though I have been sorely tempted to do otherwise, I have tried to apply this principle to my fanfiction reading and recommendation as well. There is on my faves list on ff.net a fic which I thoroughly enjoy, but wish I had never visited the author’s story forum for. The author of the fic is, and I do think I am entirely objective when I say this, an arrogant prick who treats her readers despicably. But the story she wrote is, I can also objectively say, really good. Inventive and rich. It incorporated Big Things and handled them well. I keep it on my fave’s list because I do hope that it might allow others to discover it and read it. But I also hope that those people never try to contact the author and get abused. The author has said that she will never write another fic, and though this makes a part of me sad (because she does have a lot of talent), I think this is a good thing. She obviously found out that, despite being talented, she can’t handle having readers. Maybe, hopefully, someday she will come to a place where she can. But in the meantime, I will continue to  rec the fic, because at the end of the day her story is not about her, it’s about her story.

Another example: a group of people were once discussing a fic, and somebody said, “ugh, I thought that fic was good until Example G, then the author totally lost me.” When asked, “did you ever leave the author a review telling her that you thought Example G was confusing?” the answer was “bah, no, I’ve decided that I will never bless that author with a review.” To be clear, in this fandom review count was everything, having over 1000 reviews immediately made the fic Popular and the author a BNA – whoever came up with this system obviously wasn’t thinking through the fact that not all reviews were necessarily positive ones. But here I saw yet another permutation upon the previous example: people might still read a fic by an author they don’t like, but they will withhold reviews as punishment upon the author. In a system where review count is everything this practice has some logic, but in the end of the day is it reasonable that a person who is a Reader of fanfic would de facto remove their main method of expressing their enjoyment (or disappointment) with a fic?

Part Three: Conclusion

I have not exhausted all my examples of how I see the actions of both Authors and Readers, and I’m sure I have not seen everything. But it has been enough for me to reflect upon the ways in which a “pure” art form such as fanfiction (it is pure, there are no editors, publishers, agents, geography, or marketing campaigns standing between the Writers and the Readers) can turn simple and enjoyable  things such as writing, reading, and reviewing into not just tools, but weapons. Yes, in the land where everyone has a sword it is silly to walk about unarmed, but is it then necessary to pick fights? Is it necessary to demand rights which you yourself do not extend to others, and then use weapons to try to achieve them?

Now, you should not think that I consider everyone and anyone who has done anything like the examples I give above to be a completely bad person. To paraphrase CS Lewis, I do not speak about sins which I have not myself committed. Too often though we simply copy the actions of the others around us (as sociologists would say, we fulfill the expectations of our social construct). Once upon a time in a fandom it was considered okay to bribe readers with special cookies to get votes in fanfic awards. Everyone was doing it, the popular authors were doing it, so everyone did it, until a few brave people stood up and said “this is not acceptable.” I don’t think everyone who did it meant to do the wrong thing, they just didn’t think through what their actions meant. And really, I do think that a lot of people (in a great number of fandoms) need to stop and think a few moments about whether they actually like being an Author, or like being a Reader, and if they do, to act the way they themselves expect Authors and Readers to act, no matter what “the fandom” says is allowable behavior for them.

Lewis Quote of the Day

.

Of this tragic dilemma [to lack one kind of knowledge because we are outside it] myth is the partial solution. In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction. At his moment, for example, I am trying to understand something very abstract indeed – the fading, vanishing of tasted reality as we try to grasp it with the discursive reason. Probably I have made heavy weather of it. But if I remind you, instead, of Orpheus and Eurydice, how he was suffered to lead her by the hand but, when he turned round to look at her, she disappeared, what was merely a principle becomes imaginable. You may reply that you never till this moment attached that ‘meaning’ to that myth. Of course not. You are not looking for an abstract ‘meaning’ at all. If that was what you were doing the myth would be for you not true myth but a mere allegory. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what your tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely. – “Myth Became Fact”, in God in the Dock, ed. Hooper.

I sometimes accuse Lewis of being too Modernist. He was a man of his times, so it rather can’t be helped. But sometimes I think he speaks straight into my postmodern soul. The value of story and myth to tell truth is one of those ways.

I disagree with his characterization of “mere allegory.” If he means allegory in the simplistic way it became, where Object A stood in place of Object B, and there was a complete equation between the two, then yes. But true allegory, the way that it was done by those who understood allegory in it’s original Greek sense, was something else entirely.

I do think that it is interesting that this quote shows that Lewis would quite disagree with those who say that the Narnia books are allegorical. Aslan is not to be equated with Jesus, really, which would be necessary if they were allegorical. And honestly, I have theological issues with people who draw that complete equation. Because if it’s true then it is heresy. Aslan did not die to redeem everyone, just Edmund. This may make sense to people who think of Jesus as their “personal Savior” and that Edmund is then an allegory for themselves, but it is quite a bit different from the Gospels.

It is clear to me that Lewis wrote the Narnia books to be mythological, and therefore even the episode of Aslan being resurrected should be understood in a more general mythological way, and not entirely unlike the way one reads the resurrection of Gandalf, or even Harry Potter.

Susan redux

.

It always happens that, just as I think I have figured something out, I immediately come across something which throws all of that in doubt.

Such was the case a few days ago when I decided to read Surprised by Joy in its entirety, instead of the snippets considered Edifying for Undergraduates At A Christian College. The first half of the book was not what I expected – who knew that British education could be so meandering and spotty. It would never survive the Standardized Testing System of today!

But along the way I met Pogo, the teacher Lewis had when he was twelve or thirteen. I think, chronology and the British school system are a bit spotty for me. Pogo was certainly not the teacher’s real name, Lewis clearly disliked Naming Names, his own cousins are referred to by their initials (or, “The Valkyrie”). I think Lewis was making a joke here to the Pogo stick, which was new and popular when he wrote SBJ. I think I usually get British humor, but Lewis confounds me sometimes.

Since I read about Pogo and his teaching method right after I wrote the post about Susan, I was more than a bit shocked to see Lewis saying what I posted about. Moreover, Lewis seemed to be saying that Susan’s problem was his own problem. Not only did he become a Non-Christian that year (not entirely Pogo’s fault), but he describes his fascination with “growing-up” by adopting the latest style of fashionable clothes, saying the right things, impressing the right sorts of people. The cultivation of lust also played a role, but Lewis says that it was really secondary to the Real Problem. Anyone needing a full picture of what Lewis thought about this phase in his life should just read the chapter in SBJ, but I was happy to see that maybe I wasn’t the only one who made this connection, and probably expressed it better than I am doing:

[info]dr_con August 30th, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC)

Excellent essay, [info]rj_anderson— thanks for posting it!

This past weekend I was flipping back through Surprised by Joy, and noted some of Lewis’ comments on his own youthful “apostasy” (his term; I’d use the word slightly differently). He views the Flesh as having been somewhat damaging to him during those years, but the World much more so (this comes up especially in his discussion of a youthful schoolmaster nicknamed “Pogo,” who had taught him to desire to be sophisticated). Indeed, Lewis’ consistent view of sin in general was one of viewing Lust as definitely sinful and damaging, but other things like Pride and Vanity as much more deeply corrupting to the soul.

The fact that Lewis wrote plenty of nonfiction works is handy for the scholar wishing to know what views his fiction works were, and were not, reflecting– lest we be “attributing to [him] views which [he had] explicitly contradicted in the plainest possible English,” as he complained of one scholar doing. Readers who know him only by his fiction stories will find it easy to make mistakes like that. (I agree with [info]fernwithy that this probably isn’t something about which JKR has thought deeply– it’s her job to write stories, not to comment on others’.)

So anyway, yes, I agree– JKR’s criticism of Lewis here tells us considerably more about JKR than it does about Lewis. JKR is certainly not the only person to have interpreted Susan this way, of course; I imagine that it must be easy for a young woman with a fondness for makeup and fashion too see herself in Susan, and to wish to react fiercely against Lewis’ presentation. But the criticism would only be valid if the quest for popularity were inseparable from the hope of finding romantic love.

The odd thing about JKR being the one to say this is that her own stories seem (am I wrong?!) to show plenty of consciousness of the difference between a shallow young woman and a mature one. (“Three dementor attacks in a week, and all Romilda Vane does is ask me if it’s true you’ve got a Hippogriff tattooed across your chest.”) The most admirable young women in JKR’s stories (Hermione, Ginny, and Luna) are not the budding Susan Pevensies of Hogwarts, but those (each in her own way) who retain a sense of adventure– more to the point, the ability to be committed to something beyond herself– as Lucy and Jill did. And an important step in Harry’s maturation as a young man was when he got beyond the stage of “going for looks alone”– when he realized that “wanting to impress Cho seemed to belong to a past that was no longer quite connected with him,” when he matured to the point where he could start liking a girl because he actually enjoyed her company. (Notice that HBP never tells us that Harry thought Ginny was pretty or beautiful or anything like that– of course he does think so, but that’s no longer where the emphasis lies. Her attractiveness is only made known to us through the comments of others.)

And so I don’t think the stories JKR and CSL have told are really all that much different in their handling of young adulthood after all. There are some differences, of course– but mostly on the surface. [Link]

The full article where that comment was left is well worth reading. It covers more ground than the other article I linked to (consideration of Lewis’s views on women in other works is offered, though the author inexplicably ignores Till We Have Faces), and it offers more consideration of Susan’s character as a whole.
Have I Solved This Dilemma yet? The only thing that is clear, and I’m willing to take a stake in, is that the character of Susan has been roundly misinterpreted, and this has negatively impacted how Lewis is read and the understanding of Lewis’s whole point with Susan.
But I am also willing to Posit that Susan’s Problem had nothing to do with her being Female.

Fanfiction

.

Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.

How Harry Potter Became the Boy Who Lived Forever

It has come to my understanding that many of the major CS Lewis webpages and forums officially “disapprove” of fanfiction. Which is kinda strange, since CS Lewis once wrote to a young reader who asked a bazillion questions like “what happened with this character? what happened after that happened? how did this happen? and etc.” that he, really, didn’t have answers for those questions, but that the reader should write their own stories to solve those gaps.

However, that doesn’t please everyone. As one grumbler said:

The suggestions Lewis made – to children – were for filling in the gaps in his stories, not for continuing the story of Narnia after it had already finished and the protagonists gone to heaven!
The idea that young adults, or teenagers, fifty years later, would turn up and write soppy medieval/sub-Tolkienian stuff using his characters, locations and concepts, would have worried the dear man.
And his suggestion was for them to write for their own pleasure and creativity – not to publish it internationally!

The same person also categorically stated that fanfiction is illegal.

You can’t please everyone, but there are a few facts here that should be straightened out.

First, it is completely ridiculous to create a distinction between “writing for one’s own pleasure and creativity” and “publishing internationally.” One can do both, or either. CS Lewis does not ever talk about either one.

Second, Lewis never specified that writing should be limited to children. He was, after all, an adult when he wrote children’s stories. A great number of adults write Narnia stories too.

Third, one could suppose that “publish internationally” means “on the internet.” What Lewis would have thought about the internet, or putting fanfiction there, is impossible to say.

Finally, fanfiction is not illegal. Fanfiction falls under the “Fair Use” clause of copyright law. Some author’s may declare that they do not want any fanfiction of their works, in which case the major fic archives will refuse to host stories based on stories by that author. But there is nothing to stop fans from making their own websites and posting fanfiction there. The author may send the web owners a C&D letter, and if that didn’t work the author could sue the owners to take down the webpage, but most intellectual property specialists believe that in a court case the web owners would win.

tl;dr: Fanfiction is legal, and the estate of CS Lewis hasn’t said they don’t want any anyways.

I would say all this in direct response to the poster, of course, but the forum is now closed.

Basically, though, the author seems to believe that all fanfiction is crap, though she refuses to read any, therefore it is stupid to even talk about it.

However, many people have pointed out that Fanfiction is just another form of Literary Criticism. Fanfiction is a way to explore not just the “what happened then?” that the young reader once asked Lewis, but “why?” and “how?” I remember when my brother and I were young and first read the Narnia books that the two questions my brother had were, “how did the Pevensie’s feel after they fell out of the wardrobe at the end of LWW, wouldn’t they have kept all their adult knowledge?” and “did the Pevensie’s go to church?” Since the books themselves offer no information on these matters, there’s no really good way to answer those questions except by fanfic. One may disagree how a fanfic writer answered the question of what the Pevensie’s went through after they returned from Narnia, but hopefully your disagreement leads you to consider what you do think is plausible. Fanfiction is also a way to “fix” a perceived problem in a text. The problem may be nefarious, or just mundane. Did the Pevensie’s go to church? Yes, but they were just a bit slow on the uptake, so to speak, is one answer.

It is this form of criticism which spawned my first Narnia fanfic, Aesop’s Foible. I half-jokingly subtitled it in my mind, “In Which All the Problems of the Narnia Universe Are Solved, Except Mrs. Beaver’s Sewing Machine.” But it wasn’t until after writing it that I fully grasped the Longstanding Issue I had with the Narnia books. Which was, believe it or not, Fauns.

Seriously.

I am not a “Classicist” but I took a fair amount of Ancient Greek once upon a time. One can misconceive a reading course in Ancient Greek as a dry and largely philosophical class in which Plato and other High Ideals are read in the original. But it’s really not like that at all. You read the historians, mostly. And it can be dull wars and speeches by statesman, but then you come across something which just makes you throw your textbook against the wall in horror and go “Oh my God!”

I can imagine that when Lewis first read his draft of LWW at Eagle and Child, everyone thought it was very charming until Lucy went through the wardrobe and met Tumnus.

Someone coughs on their beer.

Another person drops their rasher.

Yet another exclaims “I thought you weren’t into the occult stuff anymore!”

And another, the very wisest of them all, says “My good fellow,” in all the seriousness of telling a first-year that their thesis topic is utterly wretched and unsavory, “you just created this lovely character of a young girl, and now you expect us to accept that she and this faun will have a long-standing relationship in which nothing untowards will occur?”

“I won’t read a book like that to my daughter,” mutters another in agreement.

I don’t think a lot of people today know much at all about Greek mythological creatures, but after I learned about them, their presence in Narnia just rubbed me the wrong way. Talking Animals, sure, fine. But Centaurs and satyrs and fauns and minotaurs? Errr…no thanks. What was Lewis thinking anyways?

This doesn’t seem to bother other people, but it bothered me. So I wrote a fanfic in which I solved it, in my mind at least. And yes, I “published it internationally” on the internet. Because maybe other people feel the same way, and may find my answer helpful.

I do think that fanfiction is a lot like Sturgeon’s Revelation. Ninety percent is crud, ten percent is amazing. I don’t know which camp my story fits into, those who read it probably know. But all of fanfic does provide information on how people interpret the source material, what problems they see with it, and how they think it’s best to solve it. To simply ignore all this evidence as “nonessential” to the ongoing dialogue the source text is having with the world seems to be the ignorant putting on of very large blinders. Just because a response is in narrative form instead of essay form does not make the response any less valid.