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Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby rusmeister » 05 Jan 2010, 06:33

Larry W. wrote:It might have been better with some more good Calormenes besides Emeth. People from other races weren't always so polite either-- consider Eustace at the beginning. However, it is hard not to get a negative portrayal of Calormene culture when they are shown as being rude and unfriendly for the most part with a few exceptions such as Lasalareen, who was friendly and likable but somewhat silly. All this doesn't make The Horse and His Boy a bad book, although it might have been better with more positive characterizations of the people who loved south of Narnia and Archenland. Lewis' saying that the Narnians were for "Narnia and the North" wasn't intended to be negative, but maybe he should have more for the southerners as well. :snow-smile:

Larry W.


One thing I see in these thoughts is an imposition of the prevailing spirit of the age (in our time) on Lewis.The idea that he ought to portray all cultures "fairly" (as we understand it) is something from our time that depends on certain assumptions. (I'm reminded of the princess Jasmine from Disney's "Aladdin", supposedly an Arabian princess of the Middle Ages, expressing 20th century ideas and sentiments...but I digress).

The basic assumption seems to be that the varying philosophies of all cultures produce equally good results, and it further seems to deny a people the ability to really think that their own culture is best. To clarify that, i would say that at one point, it may be natural for everyone to feel that and assume it; at another point - our point - we see how ignorance can produce that attitude, but we miss a third point - that one could reasonably hold a view of the superiority of one's own culture after having consciously thought about and examined the matter, thus making the attitude a product of reason and knowledge and not of ignorance.
That is the point that Lewis got to, imho.

Of course, now the west is post-Christian and militantly secular, and is running on the inertia left by the Christian culture it has abandoned to a great extent. When that steam runs out, it will collapse.

Point is, that a demand for "fair" portrayals may itself be unfair, and the idea of what is "good" and what is "better" depends upon the ideal, which ultimately depends on one's worldview.
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby Larry W. » 05 Jan 2010, 12:58

I wonder what people would have thought if Lewis had a female Calormene hero in The Horse and His Boy. Lasalareen isn't a bad character and quite likable if you don't mind her silliness, but her shallowness prevents her from being a real hero. She adds some humor to the story, though a serious Calormene woman might have been better. However, real life isn't filled with deep thinkers. Lucy and Jill are examples of positive female characters, but there aren't any counterparts of them in the Calormenes. Some more "gray" characters (characters who aren't good or bad all of the time) might have been better for realism among the Narnians, Archenlanders, and Calormenes. But many older books have characters that are either almost entirely good or bad-- look at the difference between Fagin and Oliver in Dickens' Oliver Twist. It seems unreal, even though that book is considered by many to be classic novel with a good story. :smile:

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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby archenland_knight » 05 Jan 2010, 15:16

Would Aravis not be a Calormene female hero? True, she was a bit snobbish, but not evil by any means. And she was quite helpful to Shasta/Cor. Even though she was reluctant to join forces, she stuck by him once she made the committment.

I've always thought Aravis to be a very strong character. She defies her culture to do what she believed was right. That alone is heroic. And even though she is a "dark-skinned Calormene" she eventually becomes queen of Archenland.
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby Larry W. » 05 Jan 2010, 16:23

That's something to consider. And probably she was made stronger because she wasn't perfect, although I'm not sure if she was actually a hero. Perhaps she was a good queen. Her snobbishness was a little irritating, but it wasn't nearly as obnoxious as Eustace's or Edmund's behavior before they were changed by Aslan. Aravis certainly wasn't all bad. :smile:

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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby Mr Hooper » 06 Jan 2010, 20:42

rusmeister wrote:The basic assumption seems to be that the varying philosophies of all cultures produce equally good results, and it further seems to deny a people the ability to really think that their own culture is best. To clarify that, i would say that at one point, it may be natural for everyone to feel that and assume it; at another point - our point - we see how ignorance can produce that attitude, but we miss a third point - that one could reasonably hold a view of the superiority of one's own culture after having consciously thought about and examined the matter, thus making the attitude a product of reason and knowledge and not of ignorance.
That is the point that Lewis got to, imho.


I don't really feel like going to deeply into the topic of whether Lewis was or was not racist, but what rusmeister says here got me thinking about the whole thing about cultural, and also religious, superiority. When I was a young undergraduate, I was dipped in the multicultural worldview, and the basic thrust of this seemed to me that one should carry around a certain amount of guilt about western culture, even to the point of denigrating it, while embracing and championing foreign cultures, especially eastern cultures and those from the "developing" world. At the same time, one had to speak about an "equality" between cultures. But, if you denigrate your own culture, or are ashamed of it, is that equal?

After this kind of schooling, I went out in the world; I travelled abroad and met people from various other cultures. And I learned that, in my experience anyway, it is mainly in the west, in Britain and the US especially, that one is so encouraged against thinking one's culture is best. In other countries, I found people who had no qualms about elevating their own culture, about flying the flag. The same goes for their language, and religion. The sort of foreigner I was taught about in the university didn't exist, or at least existed in small numbers - a sort of passive construct of a guilt-ridden, value-less and atheist modern western culture. When I travelled, and met people from other countries, they were mostly fairly nice, but they would have no such guilt complex, and would invariably speak with pride about their own culture/religion/etc. and find it natural to criticize mine.

I suppose that in the west a lot of it comes down to the sort of relativist thought that sees no value in any culture or religion. If you are an atheist, of course all religions are equal and all gods one (in other words, none of them have any value). Perhaps the same goes for culture?
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby archenland_knight » 08 Jan 2010, 22:29

Mr. Hooper wrote:After this kind of schooling, I went out in the world; I travelled abroad and met people from various other cultures. And I learned that, in my experience anyway, it is mainly in the west, in Britain and the US especially, that one is so encouraged against thinking one's culture is best. In other countries, I found people who had no qualms about elevating their own culture, about flying the flag. The same goes for their language, and religion. The sort of foreigner I was taught about in the university didn't exist, or at least existed in small numbers - a sort of passive construct of a guilt-ridden, value-less and atheist modern western culture. When I travelled, and met people from other countries, they were mostly fairly nice, but they would have no such guilt complex, and would invariably speak with pride about their own culture/religion/etc. and find it natural to criticize mine.


Boy, ain't it the truth!!! I used to live among a large number of Indians ... you know, people from India. Nice folks for the most part. But make no mistake. According to them, India was the absolutely greatest, most wonderful, and by far in every measurable way the "best" country that had ever or would ever exist on Planet Earth ... PERIOD. Case closed. Don't bother trying to argue, because you clearly don't know what you're talking about!

I didn't mind. They loved their homeland. Who can fault them for that? But Westerners seem to think it's some sort of evil thing to admire Western Culture.
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby Mr Hooper » 09 Jan 2010, 01:15

I have also met and worked with Indians, people from various Muslim countries, Albanians, South Americans etc. Most have been friendly to me personally, but frequently hostile to Western culture. They are often fiercely nationalistic and protective of their own culture, which they do indeed see as superior in many cases (one could argue that they need to be, in the face of western dominance). In the UK, one can perhaps put the reluctance to champion western culture down to post-colonial guilt, at least in part. Not sure about where it stems from in the US mindset.

I currently live in Greece, but here also, in the supposed cradle of Western civilisation, there is an enormous amount of hostility, this time towards American and British culture especially, and more generally towards the sort of modern western culture that they deem to have departed from the Greek ideal. What becomes clear is that people define themselves, on a national level, by pointing out what is lacking in other cultures, by making negative comparisons. It's mostly about pride, or seems to be: pride on the national level feeds pride in one's self for belonging to that group, to that country, to the elect. In other words, it's ego-driven, and it all flows back to oneself. It is also frequently hypocritical, as people who often assert their culture's superiority are frequent consumers of foreign culture and goods (they watch, for example, versions of American shows, wear American fashions etc.)

I don't really understand what is going on countries like the UK though. There might seem, on the surface, to be less pride, but I don't think there is real humility either. Modern cultural theorists seem to be eager to wash their hands of their ancestors, but they appear to be ego-driven in other ways, perhaps as belonging to some sort of enlightened global community that is post just about everything (colonial, modern etc.) I don't really understand it very well and I'm sure someone here will be able to articulate it better than I. The only thing I can say with surety, from experience as I have indicated, is that other nations are proud of their culture and are only too happy to put western culture down. To them, all cultures most certainly are not equal.
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby MotherLodeBeth » 25 Jan 2010, 08:30

Growing up in the 50's there were no non whites in our small community, but it wasn't a racist place. I read the Chronicles of Narnia and see lots of diversity in the characters which suggests he was not at all a racist or sexist. Would he have made Lucy such a strong character had he been sexist? And the fact that in his private life he married a divorced woman and a non Christian suggests to me he was more open minded than some give him credit for. Have always appreciated the fact C. S. Lewis was not loud and obnoxious.

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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby brian7 » 09 Jun 2010, 00:44

CON have elements of sexism and racism, but I don't think he was necessarily conscious of them. He was from a different generation with different viewpoints. He was a good man and didn't mean anything racist or sexist by his portrayals but nonetheless they are there.
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby rusmeister » 09 Jun 2010, 02:21

brian7 wrote:CON have elements of sexism and racism, but I don't think he was necessarily conscious of them. He was from a different generation with different viewpoints. He was a good man and didn't mean anything racist or sexist by his portrayals but nonetheless they are there.

There is no use using the words sexism and racism unless you have crystal-clear definitions that reflect precisely what you mean and communicate that to everyone else. the words "racism" and "sexism" do not, generally, have those meanings. The meanings are assumed and vague. Therefore, it is entirely debatable what exactly is "sexist" and "racist". PARTICULARLY in reference to people like Lewis, Chesterton, etc, who were light-years beyond what is theoretically meant by the words.
Last edited by rusmeister on 16 Sep 2010, 19:00, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was C. S. Lewis sexist/racist? Join our discussion!

Postby Nerd42 » 21 Jun 2010, 16:35

Racist? No.

Sexist? I think we need to ask if Paul was sexist first.
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