Sunday, March 13, 2016

Through a glass, dimly

"Dorothy, Alice and Wendy and Jane, Susan and Lucy, we're calling your names,
All the Lost Girls who came out of the rain and chose to go back on the shelf."

I'm a prisoner of my computer this weekend, while I run an online trunk show at Artisan Glass Open Market. If you click on the hyperlink, who knows what you'll see unless you already are a member of that group (and if not, please ask to join should it suit you, if not, no worries, it's all good).

The way these trunk shows work is, they begin at 10 pm Central Time on the night before the show. So although my show is Saturday and Sunday, it began on Friday night and will end on Sunday night, in time for the next artist to start posting her (or his) wares at 10 pm.

I've been working really hard to have lots of new beads and I almost but not quite had it together to start listing them at the start of the show. They were made, cleaned and half were strung in sets, but none were photographed, so I started with some older work for my first round of 15 listings. After that I've put up 20 new bead listings.

So far I've had bids on 4 listings, although naturally there is a bidding war on one. It's a little discouraging, but I peeked at the trunk show on Glass Open Market (same comments about hyperlink apply) and the artist there is batting about the same as I am, and she's talented enough.

The work isn't wasted. Whatever doesn't sell goes into my inventory, to be listed in the coming week on the usual suspects, i.e., the auction sites I post on. Oh, OK, if you want a list, I have it on the home page of my website, Elizabeth Beads.

Anyway, even though I somewhat lied about being tied to the computer - I just watched an episode of the Danish crime drama Dicte - in Danish, with subtitles - that I'm currently binging on, and I ran out for a little shopping earlier - there is this post I wanted to write. Neil and I just finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and even though a kajillion things already have been written and said about it, I have to make it a kajillion and one because I too have some things to say about it.

I first read the Narnia series as a kid, or did I? I know I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at least. I may have read Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair as well. I think I did, but I recorded the 1988-1990 BBC TV mini-series productions of those four books and my kids watched them over and over, so my book memories and TV series memories are blurred. I am sure I never read The Horse and his Boy or The Last Battle, and the only part of The Magician's Nephew that makes me think I read it is the part about the attics being connected in the London houses. I remember that, but nothing of the rest of the book, so I may have started it and then put it down.

What I didn't take away from the stories as a child were the Christian themes that scream out for most scholars. It's possibly because I have so little familiarity with the bible, specifically the New Testament, but even as an adult, I don't completely see it. Yes, Aslan is killed and resurrected, but Aslan has not much else in common with Jesus the Carpenter to the degree I know about him.

Aslan seems a bit sinister to me. When Susan asks "Is he-quite safe?" Mr Beaver responds "Safe?"..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good." Be that as it may, Aslan takes his sweet time coming and going. In Prince Caspian, he is a big cat baiting Lucy, showing himself to her while making himself invisible to the other children. Aslan is secretive and mysterious. He talks in riddles. He is constantly breaking hearts, telling the children they can't return to Narnia, first Peter and Susan, then Edmund and Lucy, because they are too old. But of course it's a lie, they do all come back, everyone comes back except Susan. Ah Susan, I'll get to her.

In Dawn Treader, there is this exchange:
“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?”
“I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. “But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.
Whatever that means. Then he says they will be meeting him in their own world.
"But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
Obviously I need to be hit upside the head if I manage to miss the meaning here. But I want to miss it. Because I'm not a Christian, I don't worship Christ or believe in his divinity, because that is not what I was taught and not what makes sense to me.

In the end, the way to the "real Narnia" is not across a river but rather through a stable door or, alternatively, via a train crash.

Is it coincidence or irony that much of the action of The Last Battle takes place outside a stable, a stable harboring a mysterious something. And when finally all traipse through the stable door to the "real Narnia" (whilst behind them Narnia as we know and love it is extinguished, its terra flooded, its sun burnt out), they find a place that is bigger and better than the old Narnia.
"It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, "that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places."

"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."

"Yes," said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.'
Gah. I plead the excuse, I had never read The Last Battle before. Like Wilbur in Charlotte's web, I was happy in the barn.

So the new (bigger, better) Narnia is Heaven. Or is it? Analogies can hit us in the face or we can stretch for them. In his essay, On Three Ways of Writing for Children, C.S. Lewis himself writes that he rejects the moral or didactic approach to story-writing.
"Not because I don’t like stories to have a moral: certainly not because I think children dislike a moral... I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age... Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life. But if they don’t show you any moral, don’t put one in. For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that."
I'd like to think that what Lewis is saying is that any moral (i.e, Christian allegory, heaven, hell, good, evil) should arise naturally or not at all. And assuming that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, it would be the reader's divination, based on the reader's spiritual roots, what moral to take away or whether to take away one at all.

And then there is the problem of Susan. Susan the gentle, who was a queen in Narnia for many, many years. Susan, who does not come to Narnia/heaven with the others. Susan who, when King Tirian questions her absence from the new Narnia, is roundly trashed by almost everyone, bar Lucy and Digory.
"My sister Susan," answered Peter shortly and gravely, "is no longer a friend of Narnia."

"Yes," said Eustace, "and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'"

"Oh, Susan!" said Jill. "She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up."

"Grown-up, indeed," said the Lady Polly. "I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."
Much has been written about the deeper meaning of the exclusion of Susan from eternal life. It really bothers people that Susan isn't there at the end of all things (and the beginning of all greater things).

Neil Gaiman wrote a haunting and macabre short story about an elderly professor Hastings, presumably the older Susan. In the story, the professor, author of A Quest for Meanings in Children’s Fiction, is interviewed by a university student. During the course of the interview, the student asks "Were your family great readers?” The professor answers.
"Not really … I say that, it was a long time ago that they died. Were killed. I should say."

"All your family died at the same time? Was this in the war?"

"No, dear. We were evacuees, in the war. This was in a train crash, several years after. I was not there."

'Just like in Lewis’s Narnia books," says Greta.
Greta presses on.
"You know, that used to make me so angry... All the other kids go off to Paradise, and Susan can’t go. She’s no longer a friend of Narma because she’s too fond of lipsticks and nylons and invitations to parties."
And the professor, who it turns out (like Susan?) had to identify her brothers' and sister's bodies after the train crash, reflects aloud.
"I doubt there was much opportunity for nylons and lipsticks after her family was killed. There certainly wasn’t for me. A little money, less than one might imagine, from her parents’ estate, to lodge and feed her. No luxuries."
And then she says this.
"A god who would punish me for liking nylons and parties by making me walk through that school dining room, with the flies, to identify Ed, well … he’s enjoying himself a bit too much, isn’t he? Like a cat, getting the last ounce of enjoyment out of a mouse."
Like Aslan, toying with Lucy?

So is the professor Susan? Her last name is Hastings, not Pevensie, and there's no indication that she ever married, only that she almost married once, and yet that night the professor "climbs into the bed that was hers as a child" in a room that "is empty but for a wartime austerity dressing table, with a mirror and drawers, an oak bed, and a dusty applewood wardrobe."

Maybe she changed her name? Adopted Hastings as a pen name? It's a contradiction, a conundrum. And anyway, it's Gaiman engineering it, not Lewis.

What does Lewis have to say about it? Just this.
"The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there's plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end... in her own way.
Indeed, we can choose to think that she will. Most of us do mend. Susan isn't a bad apple, she's just a typical 20-year old who's put away childish things.

And if you believe in such things, still there abidith faith, hope and love.

Wendy played fair, and she played by the rules that they gave her;
They say she grew up and grew old -- Peter Pan couldn't save her.
They say she went home, and she never looked back,
Got her feet on the ground, got her life on its track.
She's the patron saint priestess of all the lost girls who got found.
And she once had her head in the clouds, but she died on the ground.

Dorothy just wanted something that she could believe in,
A gray dustbowl girl in a life she was better off leavin'.
She made her escape, went from gray into green,
And she could have got clear, and she could have got clean,
But she chose to be good and go back to the gray Kansas sky
Where color's a fable and freedom's a fairy tale lie.

Dorothy, Alice and Wendy and Jane,
Susan and Lucy, we're calling your names,
All the Lost Girls who came out of the rain
And chose to go back on the shelf.
Tinker Bell says, and I find I agree
You have to break rules if you want to break free.
So do as you like -- we're determined to be
Wicked girls saving ourselves.

Alice got lost, and I guess that we really can't blame her;
They say she got tangled and tied in the lies that became her.
They say she went mad, and she never complained,
For there's peace of a kind in a life unconstrained.
She gives Cheshire kisses, she's easy with white rabbit smiles,
And she'll never be free, but she's won herself safe for a while.

Susan and Lucy were queens, and they ruled well and proudly.
They honored their land and their lord, rang the bells long and loudly.
They never once asked to return to their lives
To be children and chattel and mothers and wives,
But the land cast them out in a lesson that only one learned;
And one queen said 'I am not a toy', and she never returned.

Dorothy, Alice and Wendy and Jane,
Susan and Lucy, we're calling your names,
All the Lost Girls who came out of the rain
And chose to go back on the shelf.
Tinker Bell says, and I find I agree
You have to break rules if you want to break free.
So do as you like -- we're determined to be
Wicked girls saving ourselves.

For we will be wicked and we will be fair
And they'll call us such names, and we really won't care,
So go, tell your Wendys, your Susans, your Janes,
There's a place they can go if they're tired of chains,
And our roads may be golden, or broken, or lost,
But we'll walk on them willingly, knowing the cost --
We won't take our place on the shelves.
It's better to fly and it's better to die
Say the wicked girls saving ourselves.

(Seanan McGuire)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz