the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-1-1Can we have a moment of silence for all the fairytales disemboweled by their authors’ insistence that they have a moral message?

The Narnia stories are some of the best/worst out there. Ambivalent? Yes/no. Sometimes, CS Lewis’s imagination takes flight, and Narnia becomes a place of haunted splendor. Other times, Narnia is shallow and facile, with characters in constant danger of puncturing their paper-thin world with an errant swordpoint. CS Lewis keeps using them as a delivery vehicle for his moral views. His fairytale world seems fabricated and unconvincing when you realise that the fauns and centaurs are there to preach the views of a 20th century English professor.

Why does Edmund Pevensie have to die?

What crime has he committed? The word “traitor” is bandied about…who did he betray? He was not a citizen of Narnia. He swore no oath of fealty to Aslan. From his perspective, he met a nice lady who promised to do nice things for his family, so he’s throwing his lot in with her. Sounds fair. Is his crime that he was gullible, easily mislead? For fuck’s sake, he’s a young boy, talking to the embodiment of the devil. She could probably convince Henry Kissinger to eat the turkish delight.

Roger Ebert once said “You can’t have heroes and villains when the wrong side is making the best sense.” And it’s hard to view Edmund as a bad person when he’s only doing the things you and I would do, in his place.

Yes, he meets some other characters who speak ill of the witch, but who doesn’t spread rumours about their enemy during a war? What reason does he have to believe the beavers’ and Tumnus’s version of events, instead of Maugrim’s and the dwarf’s?

It gets worse when you consider that the witch’s turkish delight is described as enchanted: you will always want to eat more of it. All of Edmund’s decisions after meeting the witch were made with highly impaired judgement. How does it make sense to treat him as a bad guy, either from the reader’s point of view or from Aslan’s?

CS Lewis is trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents here, and it’s a problem he never manages to solve. You can actually see the exact moment when he gives up, and just declares ex cathedra that Edmund knew he was joining the side of evil.

“She was jolly nice to me, anyway, much nicer than they are. I expect she is the rightful Queen really. Anyway, she’ll be better than that awful Aslan!” At least, that was the excuse he made in his own mind for what he was doing. It wasn’t a very good excuse, however, for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel. ”

This is shitty writing, and you can almost hear pipes and water mains burst inside the story. You can’t just declare by fiat “this character is evil”, you have to let their actions earn it. Edmund’s don’t. He’s a villain with no villainous acts, a guy on a wanted poster with his crimes reading “he was mean to his sister.”

But the Chronicles of Narnia are still great books, or at least fun books. You just have to indulge CS Lewis a bit. They’re like Saturday morning cartoons where every now and then the super hero jabs a finger at you through the screen and delivers a PSA about saying no to drugs and staying in school. Although in Narnia’s case it’s often more like saying no to school and staying in drugs.

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