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Literature: “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “His Dark Materials” Essay

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Updated: Jun 26th, 2020

The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven books by C. S. Lewis and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman are fantasy books written aimed primarily at children. Both writers have described a comprehensive and internally consistent universe in their works. It has been implied that Pullman’s work is derivative of that of Lewis and is in fact a refutation of Lewis’ work.

Both series are similar, in fact both writers are enthusiastic adherents to a particular ideology and their works are strongly colored by the ideology they hold to be true. A common objection made upon both series of books is that they represent an attempt by their authors to proselytize children to particular ideologies (Haley).

In the case of C. S Lewis, the ideology which colors his works is a nondenominational traditional Christianity, Lewis opposed progressive and socialist ideas and was a monarchist, social and political conservative (Melling). Lewis’ works offer a reimagining of the story of Jesus as depicted in the New Testament and a representation of Orthodox Christian beliefs in the context of his imagined world (Melling).

Philip Pullman, on the other hand, is a committed and outspoken Atheist. Pullman’s works are characterized by an enmity of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Religious beliefs, religious institutions, and religious individuals have all been portrayed in a negative manner in Pullman’s works (Burke). At times, the Christian religion is disparaged by name, one character refers to it as, “a very powerful and convincing mistake” (Pullman, The Amber Spyglass).

While these charges appear to be true, it is quite possible for children to enjoy both the series as imaginative works of fantasy adventures without giving much attention to their ideological content. I read, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at an early age, without being inclined in the slightest to embrace Christian religiosity.

Similarities between the fantasy world described in The Chronicles of Narnia and the one described in His Dark Materials may not be mere coincidences or instances of both writers having the same inspiration for their stories. There are indications that Pullman in his works, has attempted to create an atheistic anti-Narnia and undo what he sees as the damage caused to children psyche by Christian works such as The Chronicles of Narnia. He has done this by offering a refutation of Christian beliefs in his works (Haley).

Many similarities can be observed between both series by looking at them superficially. They both depict worlds of magic, inhabited by witches and talking animals. The existence of parallel worlds and travel between these worlds forms an important aspect of both series. Both series start off with a little girl hiding in a closet. The names of the two girls are similar too. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the little girl’s name is Lucy, while in The Golden Compass the little girl’s name is Lyra (Lewis, The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) (Pullman, The Golden Compass). However, unlike The Chronicles which are a reimagining of Biblical myths in a fantasy setting, His Dark Materials represents an alteration of the premises and conclusions of the Biblical myths in order to reach a conclusion that is at odds with the one offered by The Chronicles.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, the lion Aslan is the image ‘God the Son’ of Christian theology has adopted for himself in the world of Narnia. Aslan displays traits of transcendental divinity as well as those of a ‘nature god’ of pre-Christian paganism. This is in accordance with Lewis’s belief that Jesus not only ‘fulfilled’ and completed the religion described in the earlier Jewish scriptures, but also ‘fulfilled’ paganism as well. Aslan is all-powerful but is kind and merciful. He forgives people who repent after disobeying him and aids people in their distress (Lewis, The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). As a lion, Aslan can been associated with the ‘roaring lamb’ described by John of Patmos (Revelations 5:12) as such he represents a ‘muscular Jesus’ rather than the meek and humble individual, described in most of the New Testament.

When compared to Aslan, Authority, the deity worshipped by the Church in His Dark Materials, is neither an ever-living god nor the creator of all like he claims to be. Authority is merely the first of the angels, who all spontaneously coalesced from a mysterious material known as Dust. Around 4000 years ago Authority was superseded by a more malevolent angel called Metatron who has Authority imprisoned in his crystal litter. Metatron controls the workings of the Church. Unlike the all-powerful Aslan, Authority is so weak that when Lyra and release him from his litter, he is disintegrated by the wind (Pullman, The Amber Spyglass). In The Chronicles, the success of the protagonists’ lies in fulfilling the tasks set before them by God, in His Dark Materials God is an imposter, destroyed as a result of the protagonists’ actions.

In the ‘His Dark Materials’ series, religion is portrayed in an extremely negative manner. ‘The Church’ forms a fascist one-world government headed by a bureaucratic order of clergymen who exercise a tight and oppressive control over the people of the world. The Church is not only oppressive in its secular affairs but the progression of events in the series gradually reveals that all the theological assumptions of The Church regarding their Deity, their conception of Angels, and their beliefs about the Dust are wrong. Thus, The Church is depicted as an entirely parasitic and useless organization for Humans. Neither it is a good manager of people and resources nor the possessor of divine truths (Pullman, The Golden Compass).

Lewis’ conception of sin is the convention view of sin as presented in traditional Christian thought. Sin as depicted in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ happens when creatures misuse the freedoms given to them by their Creator, by disturbing the harmonious natural order and deviating from divine commands. Like Jesus, as depicted in the New Testament, Aslan takes the sin of the human Edward, upon himself, is sacrificed and is born anew (Lewis, The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

Pullman’s portrays sin in a different manner as In ‘The Dark Materials’ the material known as ‘Dust’ is believed by the Church to be a manifestation of the original sin, and the fall of Eve. This belief is revealed to be a falsehood. Dust is actually revealed to be the essence of life and the thing that brings about consciousness in dead matter (Pullman, The Amber Spyglass). In this way, Pullman communicates to the reader his belief that what theologians and clerics believe to be wrong is in fact, good.

In the Chronicles of Narnia series, Lewis’ portrays conventional adulthood in a negative manner. Adults are described as people unwilling to see past the surface to matters of real importance. An example of such an adult is the character of Susan Pevensie. In the final book of the series ‘The Last Battle’ Susan forgets Narnia and she remembers Narnia as a world of make-believe that she and her siblings created in their childhood, and occupies herself with fashion and a social life. The result of this conventional maturity is that Susan is left behind in the ‘Shadow Lands’ when her parents and siblings all advance to heaven (Lewis, The Last Battle).

The heroes of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ are children who are called upon to do the tasks of adulthood like lead nations, explore unknown lands, fight wars and rescue captives. Actual adult humans are rarely depicted, and most of these depictions are unfavorable (Lewis, The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

Although, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ contains numerous male and female characters there is no mention of sexuality in the series. According to some commentators Lewis deliberately made his characters children in order to eliminate the need to depict sexual situations (Hooper).

As compared to Lewis, Pullman portrays sexual feelings and expression in his characters, the final book hints at the act of copulation between the two main characters thirteen years old Lyra and Will (Pullman, The Amber Spyglass). This depiction is in accord with the modern day idea that it is perfectly natural for children to experiment with their bodies and exploring their sexuality is one of the ways in which children advance to maturity.

Both Lewis and Pullman have made young girls the primary characters of their adventure novels, however, there is an essential difference is how women are depicted in the world of Narnia as compared to the way, in which they are depicted in the world created by Pullman. In the world of Narnia, Jadis, the White Witch is the first individual to sin; she does so by eating the fruit of a forbidden tree (Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew).

Being the first to rebel against God in the Narnia, she is given dominion over all traitors, similar to the depiction of Satan as the king of hell in some Christian works; Jadis remarks to Aslan, “You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill” (Lewis, The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Jadis is described as a descendant of Adam and his first wife Lilith (Lewis, The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Lilith is described in Judaic sources as Adam’s first wife, who refused to submit to his authority and left the Garden of Eden and was subsequently replaced by the submissive Eve (Collier).

In the Bible, Eve is described as the one who was first beguiled by Satan into eating from the forbidden tree and then convinced Adam to eat of the tree (Gen 3:6). In this way, epitome of evil in the world of Narnia is a woman who combines the bad qualities of the mythical Eve and Lilith, being not only gullible and prone to sin but is also possessive of an ‘unfeminine’ dominant personality.

In the ‘His Dark Materials’ series, Lyra is the symbolical Eve of the new ‘Republic of Heaven’. Lyra as Eve, disobeys the commands of the prevailing order, however, this disobedience is portrayed as a heroic act and not as a weakness. Of the two Adam and Eve characters Will and Lyra, Lyra is the dominant one and this dominance is not portrayed as an aberration (Pullman, The Amber Spyglass).

The Chronicles of Narnia is a strongly patriotic and nationalistic work. In The Magician’s Nephew, Frank a London cabbie is appointed the rightful King of Narnia, in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, four English children enter into Narnia and are eventually appointed kings and queens of that land, these depictions imply that the English have the right to rule whatever land they enter and may reflect a belief that it is the destiny of the English to rule the world (Hooper).

Non-Whites are portrayed in a negative manner in The Chronicles of Narnia. In contrast to the Narnian, followers of the kindly Aslan, the dark skinned Calormenes are depicted as worshippers of a hideous and gigantic demon named Tash with the head of a vulture and four arms. Calormene society is depicted as a cruel and rigid society which seems to be a mix of popular stereotypes of ancient vaguely ‘Eastern’ civilizations such as the Turkish, the Persian, the Chinese and the Arab civilizations (Lewis, The Horse and His Boy).

Pullman, on the other hand, portrays a multicultural society in which many different ethnicities live side by side. Pullman describes many different nations and civilizations without portraying one as a good civilization and the other as evil (Pullman, The Golden Compass).

In this article, we have seen many examples of similarities between the works of Lewis and Pullman; we have also seen several matters in which His Dark Materials is directly opposed to The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, it would not be wrong to conclude that Pullman has appropriated themes from Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and has altered them to his own purpose.

Works Cited

Burke, Richard C. “”Every Church Is the Same: Control, Destroy, Obliterate Every Good Feeling”: Philip Pullman and the Challenge of Religious Intolerance.” The Forum on Public Policy (2006): 1-10. Highbeam Research. Web.

Collier, Ada Longworthy. Lilith: The Legend of the First Woman. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2009. Print.

Haley, Fran. “From Shadow-Lands to Elsewhere and Beyond: Religious Imagery and Adult Attempts to Colonize Childhood.” Explorations IV (2009): 1-17. Explorations Archive. Web.

Hooper, Walter. C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life & Works. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Horse and His Boy. New York, NY: HarperTrophy, 1994. Print.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Last Battle. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing, 1989. Print.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Magician’s Nephew. Van Nuys, CA: San Val, 1994. Print.

Melling, Orla. “Tempest in a British Teacup.” The World of the Golden Compass. Ed. Scott Westerfeld. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc., 2007. 121-130. Print.

Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2007. Print.

Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print

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