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:
dr_con August 30th, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC)Excellent essay, 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 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]