Since the first Chronicles of Narnia movie was announced back in 2002, myriads of books and articles about the books and their author, C S Lewis, have been published. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was released in December of 2005, and was a blockbuster hit, grossing nearly $1 billion worldwide (including TV rights, DVD sales and merchandising royalties). Although the movie pleased fans, not all the comments about Narnia have been positive.
A few months before the debut of the film, J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, gave this reaction to the portrayal of Susan in the Narnia stories:
There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.
Rowling’s words are found in the July 17, 2005 issue of Time Magazine. The article, “J. K. Rowling Hogwarts and All,” indicates that the Potter author had not read the entire Narnia series, so it can be assumed that her thoughts were more a reflection of what others have said than an analysis she formed on her own. But was the information she was given correct? Was C S Lewis a sexist?
Devin Brown, C S Lewis scholar Professor of English at Asbury College, addressed the criticism of Lewis’s alleged sexism in an address at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His Keynote Address for the 12th Annual Conference of the C. S. Lewis and Inklings Society (presented March 28, 2009) was entitled “A Dark Queen, Mixed-Race Kings, and Girls Whose Heads Have Something in Them: Lewis’s Contemporary Stance on Race and Gender in The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Brown more than adequately demonstrates the problem with Susan is not her desire to grow up, or her interest in boys, but vanity. She is interested in nothing but the superficial, to the exclusion of anything else. He also addresses other so-called sexist elements such as the words of Father Christmas that “Battles are ugly when women fight,” and the fact the White Witch happens to be female.
A transcript of Brown’s address, which also includes answers to allegations of racism in the Chronicles, is available on NarniaWeb.com. His thorough analysis of the topic is refreshing given the hit-and-run attacks of Lewis detractors and perfunctory responses so often given by his admirers. He not only debunks the idea that Lewis was sexist and racist, but shows that what the books actually say paint him as quite a progressive on these issues.