5 Stars Out Of 5
September 5, 2015
My first encounter with C. S. Lewis was at age eight when I read The Lion; I didn't know if those initials belonged to a man or a woman, and I didn't care--Narnia was a land where a little girl about my age was afforded respect, a leading role, even a throne. I eagerly read all of the Chronicles and wept when I realized there were no more. As I grew, though, I found his other books satisfied my soul and mind as well.
Charges of sexism leveled at my favorite author threw me into a bit of a whirl. Was I so blinded by my first love of Narnia that I didn't see his misogyny? Or was my gut feeling, that the detractors were off the mark, the truth? This collection of essays is invaluable in addressing the attacks, offering thoughtful examinations touching on almost every angle to the charge. The unlooked for gift, though, is how ENJOYABLE the reading is and how much there is to learn.
For all my Lewis "fangirling," there was so much I didn't know. Dr. Crystal Hurd's piece about his amazing mother helped me see there could be no foundation for a childhood cause of sexism, his mother being an intelligent, college-educated, loving woman. I appreciated that a few contributors queried whether her early death could have embittered Lewis, and Paul McCusker's deft examination of Lewis's relationship with Mrs. Moore was thoroughly interesting, if inconclusive. The book is masterfully edited in such a way as to make laypeople like myself comfortable examining the studies and logic of such scholarly giants as Dr. Holly Ordway and Dr. Michael Ward. I found Dr. Lyle Dorsett's piece about Joy Davidman to be truly illuminating, and it became easy to see why Jack Lewis was drawn to her. One thing is certain: the strong women friendships could not have been realized had Jack believed he was superior to them--they would have had none of that. Colin Duriez's and Kasey Macsenti's essays in particular prove that much.
The book is lacking one essay, though. The opening paragraphs of Dr. David Downing's essay shares quotes from Lewis's diary and letters that can reek with sexism, including his approval of a move to limit "wimmen" at Oxford. Whoa, Nelly. I waited for someone to address them, but no one did, except that they note Lewis seems to have grown ever more gender equitable as he matured. Not good enough for me, I'm afraid. I wanted someone to get in there are sniff around, finding out where this disdain came from.
Another issue no one really addresses is the one that Narnia-hater Philip Pullman and the like probably feel about Christianity itself, that it is inherently sexist. Some of the essays, particularly those by Revd. Dr. Jeanette Sears and Dr. Mary Poplin, dance around this other question, so integral to the question of Lewis's alleged sexism. For no one doubts that Lewis was a Christian, a thinking one, one who went out of his way to live out what he read in the New Testament. In fact, that Susan isn't present in The Last Battle is not reflective of any weird aversion to female sexuality or rigid legalism ( I find these charges to be laughable): 1 John 2 is a clear warning to keep our priorities straight, and Susan distances herself from Narnia, not the other way around, and for corroboration, one has only to read Lewis's The Great Divorce to see that Susan has gotten what she really wants. I heartily disagree with Dr. Devin Brown that her sin is vanity; her sin is rejecting the Truth and preferring this world to Aslan's. Further, it's hilarious to hear that the evil witches in Narnia are indicative of Lewis's alleged sexism to some critics. One might just as accuratelylevel the charge that Tolkien was misandrist because all of his evil characters are male, and every female is good (except for one very gross spider and one greedy relative).
Brown's essay, though, is one of my favorites in this wonderful compilation. I love the way he takes each charge against Narnia and sets the record aright (obviously, my disagreement with Dr. Brown over Susan's sin does not negate the biggest point he makes: that there is yet time for Susan to repent). Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake's essay is entirely delightful as is Kathy Keller's. In short, there are delights scattered throughout this remarkable collection.
I am so happy that editors Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key were able to field such a variety of authors to pen this important book. Look, there are no bad pieces here. There is no boredom. There are no pat answers. But really, my eight year old self was right to feel that this old professor fellow wrote respectfully about women.