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Narnia the British Empire?

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Narnia the British Empire?

Postby sarah » 04 Apr 2007, 09:59

Hi there,
does anybody have any views on the Land of Narnia relating to the British Empire? Did Lewis employ themes of Colonialisation and Imperialism into his story writing?
We all know Lewis was "very British". I know the shields and armour the Narnians wear in battle represent Aslan but the use of Lions is an old English motif... Does anybody have any views on this subject?
:??:
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Re: Narnia the British Empire?

Postby The Bigsleep J » 04 Apr 2007, 10:22

sarah wrote:Hi there,
does anybody have any views on the Land of Narnia relating to the British Empire? Did Lewis employ themes of Colonialisation and Imperialism into his story writing?
We all know Lewis was "very British". I know the shields and armour the Narnians wear in battle represent Aslan but the use of Lions is an old English motif... Does anybody have any views on this subject?
:??:


Well, for the most part, I believe Lewis disliked colonialism, or at least the idea of colonialism. His science fiction book Out of the Silent Planet has many anti-colonialist themes in my oppinion. But better-read people may asnwer this question more thoroughly.

But mostly people who are reading colonialist views into Narnia are in my oppinion either seeing or exagerating things that probably are not there.
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Postby carol » 04 Apr 2007, 10:37

Lewis is not exactly promoting colonisation, if that's what you mean.
In The Magician's Nephew, the lion creates a new land with its creatures, and then tells them that he has made the land for them, and that they are to live in it and take care of one another. Some of the animals are given greater ability to reason, as well as the ability to speak and listen. They are told to take good care of the dumb beasts, or they will lose their own status.A humble country couple are given the responsibility of oversight as king and queen.

And in LWW, the greatest effort made for the land and people of Narnia is a self-sacrificing one, by the true lord of the land. Seldom do colonising leaders behave like that!

There are places in some of the books where you can see Lewis' views on one nation imposing itself on another (eg parts of VDT, HHB, LB) - he clearly does not agree that might is right.
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Postby Coyote Goodfellow » 07 Apr 2007, 21:33

does anybody have any views on the Land of Narnia relating to the British Empire? Did Lewis employ themes of Colonialisation and Imperialism into his story writing?


Personally I think of Narnia as a "Faerie" version of medieval England, drawing on the aspects England Lewis loved, but I do not think that it was meant to glorify everything England ever did. Someplace in the Four Loves he says that if you truly love your country, at some point it will occur to you that other people have similar love for what makes their country special, and that every country should tell its young people noble patriotic stories, but that these should be seen as "Saga" rather than objective history. I believe that section also contains some comment on Imperialism, something to the effect that British Empire managed to accomplish some good things, but it is offensive to speak as if it were a completely noble and selfless enterprise, without mentioning some of the bad and selfish things which went along with it.

In Narnia, all the inhabitants share a common history, religion, and mutual respect. The royal house has obligations to their subjects.
Carlomen on the other hand is an archetypal Imperial power. Several times, like HHB, and LB they have designs on invading and ruling Narnia. (I am trying to think of what part of VDT Carol is referencing, but I'm sure there are other examples)

"I saw Caer Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Carlomenes." There is a perspective on Imperialism and colonialisation in that sentence, but it does not sound to me like the view of some one who rejoiced triumphantly to see British Soldiers occupying the Taj Mahal. The Ape's plans for improving Narnia, and "Making it a country worth living in" are of course a lot like some plans for "improving" Britain, but they aren't so far from the notions of "improving the natives" people used to justify imperialism. And of course there are people like Uncle Andrew in TMN whose first thought on seeing Narnia is to set up Game Reserves and factories. He also dismisses the natives as speaking gibberish. It seems to be a similar attitude to Weston's in Out of the Silent Planet, and I think almost any reader would agree that Lewis is condemning that viewpoint. I wouldn't call Imperialism a theme in Narnia, but when you can draw connections, I see them as being anti-Imperialist.
"I don't care if it is wrong," said one of the moles. "I'd do it again."
"Hush, hush" said the other animals.
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Postby carol » 07 Apr 2007, 23:54

Re VDT, I was thinking in terms of the slavers (not a nation, but a mob) imposing their will on innocent individuals, plus the totally corrupt governorship of Gumpas who was meant to be the local representative of the Narnian overlords. He was doing a poor job, allowing Pug's gang to kidnap and sell people, and failing to take good care of the island/s. This was colonialism fallen into tyranny or neglect of duty.
By contrast, we had Coriakin and Ramandu sent as representatives of the great overlord Aslan, who were good and wise rulers over their respective islands and people (Duffers, sleepers).
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Postby Coyote Goodfellow » 08 Apr 2007, 22:46

Re VDT, I was thinking in terms of the slavers (not a nation, but a mob) imposing their will on innocent individuals, plus the totally corrupt governorship of Gumpas who was meant to be the local representative of the Narnian overlords.


That sounds like a reasonable paralell for colonialism. Of course in this case it is the nation of "Narnia" which is responsible for the corrupt colonialism, but as a just king, fixing it is the first thing Caspian does when he finds out about it.

By contrast, we had Coriakin and Ramandu sent as representatives of the great overlord Aslan, who were good and wise rulers over their respective islands and people (Duffers, sleepers).


I had forgotten about Coriakin, thank you for bringing him up, and I hope you won't be offended by where I go with this. That scene with Lucy and the magician's book is one of my favorites. Her lesson regarding evesdropping and the dangers of curiousity is one of the best lessons, I learned in Narnia, and looking back on my life, I wish I'd learned it better. I agree that Coriakin actually is a good and wise ruler. However, that would be the one situation you might be able to use if you wanted to argue Lewis was soft on colonialism. Coriakin is an outsider, and the Duffer's don't seem to recognize him as the representative of Aslan. If you put it to a vote, they'd probably say they'd rather be ruled by their chief--though I some how doubt they would still think so a month later. There was a time when I saw that scene as an apology for colonialism.

I don't think so any more, but I will try to explain why I thought so then. Basically I thought any story of benevolent outsiders, especially paternalistic ones, was an affront to self-determination: I was able to accept Aslan, but Coriakin seemed too much like a colonial governor. The chief Duffer, like the chief Dwarf in LB offer one model for leadership: "Dwarves are for Dwarves," any outsider telling you what to do is wrong regardless of what they say, very similar to modern Marxist influenced anti-Imperialists. The chief mouse Reepicheep, offers another. Reepicheep is the only one who accepts the possibility of legitimate authority above his own will: that of Aslan, and of Caspian to a point, and the story gives us reasons to understand why he is the best chief of the three. But in the twentieth Century many people ended up thinking like the Dwarves in LB, knee-jerk egalitarians with no use for Kings or talking Lions. I no longer think the scene with Coriakin is an apology for Imperialism, but I do think that it, and the Narnia stories in general, are arguments for the possibility of legitimate Authority--and by extension monarchy, and not everyone will notice the difference. There are examples throughout Narnia of Lewis opposing oppression in many guises, including imperialist ones, but that won't satisfy some one who thinks monarchical authority is oppression by definition. I'm glad Lewis didn't satisfy such people: that may be one of the things he hoped to slip past the watchful dragons, and that's why
"I don't care if it is wrong," said one of the moles. "I'd do it again."
"Hush, hush" said the other animals.
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