Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reclaiming the “Discarded Image” -- Using Narnia to Reclaim What it Means to be Male and Female

One of the biggest misunderstandings I run across is the misunderstanding of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman in today's culture. We are plagued with androgyny. Men aren't men unless they're more feminine. And women are women unless they're more masculine. We turn upside the uniqueness of maleness and femaleness, while at the same time, destroy what truly binds us together.

Perhaps, C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia can help us reclaim the discarded images of male and female that plagues us so in order inculcate through story what is truly noble and heroic about the sexual order. This at least is what the below book review claims. It's worth the read. And I'd like to hear your thoughts on how mothers and fathers, pastors and teachers can use theses insights to do just that. 
This book review is copied and pasted from: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/reclaiming-the-“discarded-image”-guest-review-of-dr-monika-hilders-the-feminine-ethos-in-c-s-lewiss-chronicles-of-narnia/

Reclaiming the “Discarded Image”:
Monika B. Hilder’s The Feminine Ethos in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia
A Theological Review by Ralph E. Lentz II, Appalachian State University
C. S. Lewis wrote, by his faith and his studies, from a pre-Modern thought-world that was not schizophrenic—from a world that did not divide faith and reason, the natural and supernatural, fact and value. As a Medievalist, Lewis had digested the Whole, from Thomas Aquinas’ notion that grace perfects nature, to Nicholas of Cusa’s idea of the “coincidence of opposites.” In her brilliant new book The Feminine Ethos in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (Peter Lang, 2012), Monika B. Hilder reveals Lewis’s dedication to this pre-Modern, orthodox Christian vision of an integrated world of beautiful paradox. And, following Lewis, she does it in a wonderfully imaginative and subversive way by focusing on what she calls “theological feminism” (12, et passim.). Through her analysis of all seven books of the Narnia series, Hilder demonstrates how Lewis, far from being chauvinist and misogynistic (as some critics have charged), actually challenges the pagan conception of power based on force and the twisted image of sexuality that it supports. In contrast, Lewis’s use of “theological feminism” points to “another City”[1] where the “sword between the sexes” has been cast away, and where the contraries of Male and Female can become one without confusion or contradiction (cf. Genesis 2:24). A model of careful analysis, comprehensive scholarship, and eloquence, the book itself merits a substantial review—particularly in light of its theological implications. Hence the purpose of the present essay.

Hilder immediately addresses Lewis’s many critics and their charges in her introduction. Stella Gibbons, Doris T. Myers, Margaret Hannay, Sam McBride, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Philip Pullman, and J. K. Rowling, among many others have leveled serious criticisms against Lewis’s depictions of females in the Chronicles of Narnia series. (2) They object to Lucy and Susan’s absence from physical combat in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They censure Jill’s non-participation in the fight against the serpent-witch in The Silver Chair, and Lewis’s apparent chauvinistic commentary through her thoughts: “‘I do hope I won’t faint—or blub—or do anything idiotic’” (2). J. K. Rowling has condemned Lewis for Susan’s seeming apostasy and damnation because of her teen-age discovery of fashion and sexuality in The Last Battle (2).
Yet Hilder’s careful explanations of the symbolism of the characters in the Narniad demonstrates that these charges of sexism against Lewis stem from Modern critics’ univocal (and hence literalistic) reading of the Chronicles and their own un-conscious adoption of pagan gender roles. In other words, the problem of sexism in reading Lewis’s work lies not in him or his generation, but rather in our post-Christian and Neo-Pagan culture. What is perhaps more problematic is that Modern and “Post-Modern” Christian readers stumble over Lewis’s gender metaphors. It is a sign of forgotten and/or discarded orthodoxy, and one which I believe Hilder helps to overcome through her philosophically and theologically informed literary analysis. Thus her thesis: . . . perhaps C. S. Lewis’s views on sex and gender have so far been largely misunderstood, offering a complexity that defies cultural assumptions. Moreover, perhaps he imagines a theological feminism so radical that it even repairs some of the blunders of contemporary discourse on biological sex and gendered identities. . .” (4, italics in original). As Hilder demonstrates throughout her book, this “theological feminism” is distinctly orthodox, pre-Modern, and Christian. It is this which enabled Lewis to subvert Modern Neo-Pagan gender constructions, but which also so confounds his critics and admirers alike.
The brilliancy of Hilder’s study is her insight into Lewis’s employment of “theological feminism.” She defines theological feminism as a view of gender hierarchy as “a metaphor for the ideal relationship between ‘feminine’ humanity and the ‘masculine’ divine.” (12) “Gender hierarchy” as opposed to the Enlightenment ideal of Equality is itself quite controversial, yet Hilder’s historical and theological contextualization of this ancient metaphor shows that it is not the scourge of sexual harmony as proclaimed by Modern critics. She situates Lewis’s “theological feminism” within the context of the two heroic models of the West—that of “classical heroism” and “spiritual heroism” (6). (Here is my one criticism of the work: Hilder’s use of “classical” instead of “pagan.” While the former sounds more “neutral,” it was not—it was “pagan” through and through. Elizabeth Baird Hardy’s preface does address this concern, however). From Homer and Virgil the West inherited notions of the hero as “the strong,”[2] the mighty, the beautiful—but also the enraged and cool killer—Achilles and Aeneas, respectively (cf. 7). To the brute force of the poets, Pagan philosophers like Aristotle and Cicero added the “heroic” virtues of the mind: reason, autonomy, and aristocratic excellence, which were only attainable by the Liberal Man of antiquity (cf. 7) .
In contrast, “Spiritual heroism in the biblical tradition of centeredness in God is the lesser known and lesser understood Western heroic ethic” (7). (This may be the supreme understatement of the book). The virtues of spiritual heroism are “imagination, interdependence, passivity, care, submission, truthfulness, and humility” (7-8). They are the values the Pagans deemed weaker and feminine. As Hilder points out, the virtues of spiritual heroism often go unrecognized because “[u]nlike classical martial valour exercised in order to establish worldly power through brute force, spiritual heroism requires inner valour in order to establish the kingdom of heaven through humility” (8). And yet, as anyone who has read The Chronicles will attest, Lewis obviously delighted in acts of martial courage, strength, and skill primarily by his male characters. It is at this point that the carefulness of Hilder’s analysis becomes particularly important. For what she shows is that Lewis’s “theological feminism” is not to be confused with Modern feminist theology. Whereas the latter at its best aims at equality, and at its worst seeks to “masculize” femininity so that women may become full participants in aggressiveness, violence, and all forms of Modern sublimated warfare, the former holds onto hierarchy with distinct complimentary roles for the two different sexes. Hilder reveals how Lewis’s “Theological feminism”—like all Christian orthodoxy—marries opposites without confusing them, and without denying their “contrariness.” Thus just as Christ is both fully God and fully Human, so too Lewis’s “theological feminism” enabled him to characterize Medieval Christian knights as both fully fierce (Male) and fully meek, “demure, almost. . .maidenlike” (Female) (10) . This paradox, what Nicholas of Cusa called the “coincidence of opposites” unique to the Christian Triune God, is what animated Lewis’s images and metaphors.[3]
After the Introduction, each chapter analyzes one book of the Narnia series, and Hilder applies her paradigm of “‘Masculine’ Classical Heroes” and “‘Feminine’ Spiritual Heroes” to illustrate Lewis’s subversion of Modern Neo-Pagan gender constructions. For instance, the White Witch / Jadis, whom critics have used to argue for Lewis’s misogynistic association of evil with women, is shown by Hilder to actually exhibit the male characteristics of pagan heroes. She is tall and beautiful, yet “‘cold’” and “‘stern’”; she hates “. . . all things ‘feminine,’ for example, smallness, humility, and love.” (22) The White Witch is characterized by “. . . deceit, rage, and desperate courage” (23). She in fact demonstrates all the characteristics of a Greek or Roman goddess—Homer’s Hera, or Virgil’s Juno. With them and the heroes of the epics, she “seeks to objectify, possess, and devour others” (23). Before his redemption by Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund embodies pagan heroic “virtues.” Like Achilles or Agamemnon, “[h]e is consistently self-seeking, spiteful, and deceitful” (25). Likewise, Jill , before believing in Aslan, is given to “male” pride, self-centeredness, and aggression.
Hilder points out that critics have tended to view Jill as a “stronger” female character than either Susan or Lucy, and therefore as evidence of Lewis’s “maturing” views on sexuality. (82) She rejoins: “But in what sense is Jill stronger? Perhaps in self-assertion through anger? She shares this trait with Edmund in the first story, and Eustace in the third. . .” (82) This belies the fact that many modern “feminist” critics esteem Jill’s un-redeemed proclivity to pagan anger—(what St. Augustine un-masked in The City of God as one of their “splendid vices”)—more than her later infusion of Christian feminine spiritual virtue. This is indicative of modern feminist critics wish that Lewis’s female characters on the one hand be more aggressive and violent—more traditionally male, traditionally heroic, in other words—and on the other hand, as with Susan, more traditionally female—fully sexualized and aestheticized. In this light Modern feminism reveals its un-conscious enthrallment to pagan gender constructions: one almost hears Homer calling, “Let Susan become Helen, let Lucy become Achilles”—or perhaps Artemis/Katniss? . . . Yet Hilder’s brilliant analysis of the characters of the Narniad demonstrate that in Lewis’s thought and writing, “[b]iological gender . .. is irrelevant to the identity of a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ hero” (79-80). This is supremely true of the center of all the Narnia tales—Aslan.
Like John’s subversive and paradoxical image of a slaughtered yet living triumphant Lamb (Rev. 5:6-14), Lewis’s image of a massive and meek Lion frustrates the rigid dualities of Pagan and Modern gender thought. Aslan is an image of Cusa’s “coincidence of opposites”: “He is both ‘good and terrible’ at once”; “good but not safe;” “good but ‘wild,’ not ‘tame’.” (27-28) Unlike Pagan heroes, Aslan overcomes force and evil not with more force and violence, but by laying down his life as a sacrifice for those he loves. This “feminine” action is disgusting in the Pagan and Modern paradigm of “masculine” heroics. Hilder rightly comments, “Aslan’s motionless surrender, without anger or fear, but only some sadness, only enrages the Witch and her rabble, as if they sense something of what they cannot yet know: the patient grace of true royalty which will undo their classical hatred” (29, with my emphasis). Indeed, as Hilder points out, all victories in the Narniad come not ultimately through martial skill or valor, but rather through “. . . the cosmic joy centered in the person of Aslan” (55). Here is a gem that is too often forgotten in Evangelical Christianity’s approach to today’s culture wars. That many Christians even think in terms of a “culture war” is sign of the loss of confidence, joy, and humor shared by our Fathers and Mothers in the faith who lived in the so-called “Dark Ages.” Lewis, as a “dinosaur,” (as he once referred to himself), re-discovered the lost treasure of Christian symbolic discourse and discreetly permeated his works with it. Monika Hilder has given readers of the Narnia series a much needed key to unlocking this lovely universe. For what so many Evangelicals find winsome in Lewis’s work is his pre-Modern, pre-Reformation, pre-schizophrenic Medieval orthodoxy and the metaphors and symbols it used to convey the Beautiful Whole—and to point to the “Invisible Visible”[4] Three In One God. Lewis’s generation had purposely discarded this image of God and His creation; the wisdom of Augustine, Aquinas, and Cusa seemed ill-suited to the god and mechanical universe created by Descartes, Newton, and Darwin. Hilder has helped today’s readers understand the power and beauty of Lewis’s symbols in The Feminine Ethos in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. It is a book that deserves a wide reading in our universities, seminaries, and homes. For it is a book that not only aids in re-claiming the analogical literary symbolism of pre-Modernity, it also supports the reclamation of that other discarded image: the imago dei which was made “both male and female” (cf. Gen. 1:27).
[1]See St. Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans and John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2006), Chapter 12, “The Other City: Theology as a Social Science.”
[2]‘η ρων (hē rōn, “the strong,”), from which we get the word “hero,” never occurs in the New Testament.
[3]On Nicholas of Cusa and the “coincidence of opposites,” see Nicholas of Cusa: Selected Spiritual Writings, translated and introduced by H. Lawrence Bond (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997).
[4]On the “Invisible Visible” God, see Nicholas of Cusa’s “On the Vision of God” in Bond, and Johannes Hoff, The Analogical Turn: Re-Thinking (Post-) Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, forthcoming 2013).


  1. Confession of a differently fantacized: Never read a word of Tolkein, just the idea mehs me into yawning. Movies OK because New Zealand is so heart-stopingly beautiful. Read LW&W at the insistence of a friend; it was a labor of love. Can't stand C.S.Lewis. Excuses I just don't need.

    Actually I rarely read fiction, even when it's realistic fiction. Most movies irritate me or disappoint me. Loved the Bourne Trilogy and bought my own copy. Mostly because of the actors, Borne and the girl in Paris. Hated the ending in Moscow. If something explodes in a movie, I'm usually up and out of there. Guns, drugs, stupid drug culture people, not interested. I am not entertained by vacationing in other peoples' misery. Nature shows in brilliant color and very sharp detail, love it. Liked the British former military survivalist shows. But not the snakes.

    But, no. I can't imagine that any English thinker could have anything to say that I would want to read. I might enjoy meeting Lewis at the Tea Room on the corner across from the Ashmolean in Oxford, and having a nice chat. But I would mostly be enjoying his accent, had I lived then and there.

    Spent 3 weeks in England, 2 at Oxford the last two weeks of May in 1991, Like Alice entering wonderland, in fact attended a production in the Magdalin gardens of a Cab Calloway version of Alice. Beautifully and imaginatively done. Got 3 credits toward my Library Degree. Wrote paper on the history of the Bodlean Library and we visited every kind of British Library from London to Bristol to Avon.

    The Bard is the great exception and especially his sonnets, let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. And productions of Jane Austen novels. But, no C.S. Lewis and Naria If would be like Uncle Remus rediscovers the image of the briar patch in Joel Chandler.

    Love popular, but correct and well written popular history. But straight history is fun too. Have you read the book about the 2 sisters of Henry the VIII. Canadians can be expected to know more English History, but the Anglosphere is collapsing about our ears. Who knows anymore.

    I was going to move to Greece for the duration of the Reconstruction, but am hearing that everyone has switched over to burning wood (gas too expensive for heating) that leaves a heavy smoke in the denuded valleys. But, I'll bet that Laconia has been spared the worst of it. Think I'll go anyway

    Did I mention an abhorance of the idea of reading any Rowland, but have enjoyed parts of each of the movies. I never waded below the surface, took it just as I saw it.

    I want to learn a new language, no slavic, I have sworn off any slavic.

  2. Today, no one should be striving to be male or female. Just be what you are. It's hardwired inside of you and like the reading of the DNA by the nodes on the RNA and the resultant proteins, it writes itself. We are getting to the point of being able to change DNA, RNA, the nodes, and the epigenetics of it all. But if you are conscious of making an effort to be more male or to act more feminine than you feel, you're not using you're own codes in the nucleus of every one of your cells.

    Are we male because we think male, or do we think male because we are male (our codes are male codes). Same for female. And it seems that we have about 80 per cent that fall comfortably in 80% of male or female. Males who are 100% male are usually criminals of the worst sort.

    The feminine is the civilizing agent, they calm even the gay males. Male socialization with no scent of the feminine, and I do mean scent, is frenetic at it's most harmless. Just the presence of women and children can calm a mob of men.

    Men who do not need women for sexual comfort, spend their lifetimes seeking the right man and rarely find him. They may be with hundreds of men and they end a relationship on a sudden whim. Love for them dissappears suddenly and they go, never to return. Broken hearted sadness fills their songs.

    Women who do not need men for sexual comfort also don't use men to make babies, except for an anonymous puddle of codes. They easily form lifelong relationships, and rarely ever part. They can fit quite easily into everyday society, though I never see but that one takes a masculine role and the other the femine.

    The thing is, are they reading their own codes, are they being true to themselves and not acting a part others would prefer.

  3. Pt.2
    We all learn to be civilized and socialized to some extent. We are warned not to take a puppy away from its litter mates till it has socialized with them. But disease can keep us unsocialized, such as schizophrenia, that can be so deadly in males 16 to 30 years of age. Their code is broken, their epigenetics has gone all haywire. Being themselves would kill too many people. We have to keep them in protective custody.

    Just because you came out of the box with a set of codes doesn't mean you can live with those codes unless you fall somewhere near that 80%. If your codes are harmless to yourself and other people, be yourself or you will fight being yourself until you give up fighting, which may come for many as late as death.

    God may require a life of acted normalicy (being in the 80%) for Christians. He says that at our baptism/cleasing, he gives us his Spirit to be our energy to fight sin, even for a lifetime. Many over the centuries have done it, in lives of quiet desperation. A sin acknowledged, and confessed, and repented, and fought against, is a sin God forgives. A sin denied and lived out joyfully, is a sin not ready to be forgiven and the kind that carries us away from God.

    It would be like a loveless marriage, made and maintained by the necessity of others Couples have feighned domestic tranquillity for decades and died as unloved as when they married. It happens, and sins happen when the temptation to find love or someting like it for only a night happens, though they would not.

    The Hindus insist that first you marry (whomever your family has chosen, with a little input) then comes love. That living with someone for years brings a kind of love. Not the hot passonate love of one night, but the respectful love of the marriage of two people and two families. Their movies are full of this principle, though I don't know how well it works out in practice. And the Hindu couple is assumed to be sexually attracted to the opposite sex.

    First of all to thine own self be true.
    I am not what I am.
    I will never tempt you beyond your ability to resist.
    It should be against the law for heterosexuals to marry homosexuals (someone, if they don't know what they are getting into is going to get hurt very badly, logic and common sense would tell us, nicht wahr?

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  5. Carp, or write about Lewis yourself. Dr. Veith is an English professor, he'll read almost anything and this ask you what do you think about it. This is what I think about looking to Lewis fantasies for real meaning about anything important, and I took a good swipe at Tolkein too. Yes, it's what I really, really think; so why would I care about someone's review of it. So, I said so. I have issues with the author and the topics. I told you that as a favore to a dear friend, no one else could get me to do this, I read one of Lewis' inciped books and suffered through. When it comes to thinking, the English are "in a muddle." But, not always, just since about 1850, I'd say. Oh, do you want to know what I think about Dickens gloomy novels? There's a horror subject for you.


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