Digory Kirke Heroic Characteristics Analysis
In 1955 C. S. Lewis wrote and published The Magician’s Nephew, a high fantasy adventure story set in early 20th century England, a prequel to the other stories in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the story, Digory Kirke, a young boy, travels to a strange world to save his friend, Polly Plummer, whom Digory’s uncle sent in order to experiment with his magic. Digory rings a bell, not cognizant to the fact that his actions will cause the awakening of Jadis, an evil witch, who follows the two back to England. In order to remove Jadis from his own world, Digory tricks her and sends her into a new world, endangering it. He then travels into the depths of the new world, Narnia, to help save it. All agree that every hero displays courage, selflessness, humility, patience, and care but a reader wonders whether or not Digory achieves these qualities. Because he displays the characteristics of a hero, Digory’s actions necessitate the readers to consider Digory Kirke a hero; the three main virtues of the five including courage, selflessness, and care.
Digory displays courage throughout the story. After Polly vanishes from England and into the new world, Digory takes a teleportation ring too, even though Uncle Andrew can not ensure his safety. Later in the story, when Digory struggles with getting Jadis out of his world, he grabs onto her leg. Jadis, a seven foot tall, powerful and strong as an olympic weightlifter woman, possesses the power to crush Digory with one kick. Also, without knowing what to expect from the dangerous new world, Digory agrees to help the prodigious creator of the world, Aslan, and adventure into the depths of the world. “‘You must get me the seed from which that tree is to grow.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ said Digory. He didn’t know how it was to be done, but he now felt quite sure now that he would be able to do it” (Lewis, 1955, p. 142-143).
Digory displays selflessness throughout the story. After dragging Jadis back into London, there exists a chance of Digory responding in a similar way to Polly, who says, “that’s all up to your uncle now” (Lewis, 1955, p. 73). Instead, Digory tries to help his uncle with this feat. At the garden where the fruit Aslan requested resides, Digory displays selflessness again, by not eating the fruit after Jadis misleads him with thought of power and wealth. Finally, Digory threw the apple away, even after Aslan told him it wields the power to heal his ill mother. “‘Throw the apple towards the river bank where the ground is soft.’ Digory did what he was told, everyone had grown so quiet that you could hear the soft thump where it fell into the mud” (Lewis, 1955, p. 166-167).
Digory displays care throughout the story. During her brief period spent in London, Jadis hurts many people. One of these people happens to be aunt Letty, an elderly woman whom Digory wastes no time aiding after Jadis throws her across the room. Once several of the characters first enter Narnia, uncle Andrew proposes they abandon them to escape from Jadis, but Digory refuses out of care for the others so if they wish to return home, they have a means of doing so. Finally, Digory Kirke presents extreme care to his mother, in a cherubic scene, by bringing her the apple that possesses the power of health, and removes her from her deathbed.‘Oh, darling, how lovely,’ said Digory’s mother. ‘You will eat it, won’t you? Please,” said Digory. ‘I don’t know what the Doctor would say,’ she answered. ‘But really-I almost feel as if I could.’ He peeled it and cut it up and gave it to her piece by piece. And no sooner had she finished it then she smiled and her head sank back on the pillow and she was asleep: a real, natural, gentle sleep, without any of those nasty drugs, which was, as Digory knew, the thing in the whole world that she wanted most (Lewis, 1955, p. 181).
Digory Kirke’s complex personality reveals C. S. Lewis’s competence in writing, which includes the characters acting in ways that reflect the thought and actions of a real human. Digory exudes the feeling of a hero in disguise, due to his investment in the characteristics of courage, selflessness, and care. In conclusion, inspecting Digory Kirke’s actions cause readers to believe him a hero and will change that person’s perception of the characters and the story as a whole, and to converse with other readers well requires a proper perspective on this character.
Racial dictation for sexual desire
In both society and literature, fetishes and sexual fantasies constantly find themselves rooted in racial differences. The philosophical concept of the “other” is one that addresses the idea of fetishization, in that we find ourselves idealizing and fantasizing about that which we are not; that is, racial and sexual fantasy become intertwined in the fetish, where racial discrepancies dictate sexual desire. The fetish usually involves some sort of inherent power struggle, where the person being fetishized is reduced to a mere object of sexual desire and the person with the fetish is in a position of creation or control, shaping the fantasy as he or she sees fit. Though David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly may initially appear to disavow traditional notions of power struggle surrounding the fetish and racial fantasy, the politics of power remain an integral facet of the fetish. Hwang’s protagonist, Rene Gallimard, develops a politic and hierarchy concerning racial fantasy based on a fetishized mythology of Asian women and his ability—whether it be perceived or actual—to exercise sexual and patriarchal power over Song.
The narrative of M. Butterfly may initially seem unconventional because Song is aware of Gallimard’s fetishes for the duration of the play, which could potentially upset the traditional hierarchy of power governing racial fantasy and the fetish. However, Song recognizes that, as a man, he best knows how to portray a woman because only a man knows exactly what a man wants. In his seduction of Gallimard, Song is successful because he knows that Gallimard fetishizes Asian women and can, therefore, act according to Gallimard’s racial fantasy, playing into the conventions of the fetish. In talking to his comrade Chin, Song discloses his theory about the politics of identity and recognition in sexual fantasy:
Song: Miss Chin? Why, in Peking opera, are women’s roles played by men?
Chin: I don’t know. Maybe a reactionary remnant of male—
Song: No. (Beat) Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act. (63)
The quote implies that, while men watch women, women watch men watching women. In doing so, women discover what men want and then adapt to accommodate these desires, suggesting that men control how women act by means of fantasy. Therefore, it is implied that without the overt fantasies of men, women would be unable to satisfy their desires. The quote also mandates Song’s gender, implying that the only way to be sure of a man’s desires is to, in fact, be a man; it is only because Song is a man that he can recognize the desires of Gallimard. Therefore, recognizing what dictates sexual fantasy in terms of gender politics aids Song in his seduction of Gallimard because it provides him with a type of script to follow.
It is clear from early in the text that Gallimard is a man who is aroused by power. The opening scenes, while farcical, show Gallimard trying to convince the audience that he is an important societal figure, even while in prison. As the text continues, the reader witnesses Gallimard’s aspiration for power morph into something comparable to sexual desire, as evidenced in his description of the first time he viewed pornographic magazines: “The first time I saw [pornographic magazines] in [my uncle’s] closet … all lined up—my body shook. not with lust—no, with power. Here were women—a shelfful—who would do exactly as I wanted” (10). Gallimard does not mention the hair, legs or breasts of the women in the magazines. Instead, he takes something fairly concrete—the image of a naked woman—and abstracts it to accommodate his hunger for power. And, while he claims that his reaction to the magazines did not result from lust, his body “shook” in something the reader might consider similar to orgasm from the sensation of power he experienced from seeing the women “ all lined up” and there to serve him, to do “exactly as [he] wanted.” The extraction of power coupled with the projection of female subservience to his whims, rather than overt sexuality, is what arouses Gallimard.
However, Gallimard’s fantasy is one that is too complex to be situated solely in gender—that is, he not only fetishizes women, he fetishizes Asian women. In the specificity of Gallimard’s fetish lies racial fantasy. After seeing Song play the lead role in the opera Madame Butterfly, Gallimard is immediately taken with her, claiming the story made sense to him for the first time because of Song’s heartfelt, sincere portrayal of the opera’s sacrificial heroine: However, Song is ready to rebut Gallimard’s flattery, immediately exposing his fetish of Asian women:
Gallimard: …her death. It’s a … a pure sacrifice. He’s unworthy, but what can she do? She loves him … so much. It’s a very beautiful story.
Song: Well, yes, to a Westerner.
Gllimard: Excuse me?
Song: It’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man. (17)
While Gallimard claims that the romanticized notion of suffering for love is what moves him about the opera, Song knows that his true attraction to the tale is rooted in the stature of the “submissive Oriental woman.” Song establishes the site of Gallimard’s fantasy not in a performance of perverse, sacrificial love, but in the inevitable success of the white man. That is, Song exposes Gallimard’s fantasy as one fixated on the execution of power and the presence of a specific hierarchy, where the Western man always overpowers the Oriental woman.
Gallimard’s obsession with power is only exacerbated by the misogynistic ramblings of his friend, Marc. After having a flirtatious conversation with Song, Gallimard dreams not of “Sophia Loren in a towel” (23), but of his friend Marc. After claiming that a relationship with Song would be impossible because he is a foreigner, Gallimard is once again intoxicated with the idea of exercising power over a woman, this time assisted by Marc’s statement: “Ah, yes. She cannot love you, it is taboo. But something deep inside her heart … she cannot help herself … she must surrender to you” (25). This statement plays on Gallimard’s ideas fantasy and power, claiming that Gallimard’s love is simply too powerful to overcome and, though it is “taboo,” his woman simply “cannot help herself.” The forbidden nature of love is especially appealing to Gallimard because it affords him a situation where the power of his love and masculinity can—and must—prevail. Marc excites Gallimard even more, claiming that the power of Western men frighten Asian women: “They fear us, Rene. Their women fear us” (25). Yet again, the hierarchy of Gallimard’s sexual politics is established in which the Western man is situated in a position of power, controlling the emotion of the impressionable, Asian woman.
We see Gallimard as the play opens relating to the audience the story of Madame Butterfly, and, in the process, revealing at once his racial fantasy about Asian women, describing the posturing of an Asian woman by saying, “Even her life itself—she bows her head as she whispers that she’s not even worth the hundred yen he paid for her. He’s already given too much, when we know he’s really had to give nothing at all” (10). Gallimard is obsessed with the myth of Asian women—the fantasy that they are submissive, weak, and easy to overpower. Since Gallimard lacks the fortitude often associated with traditions of masculinity, as evidenced in the confidence and virility of his foil character Marc, Asian women are particularly appealing to Gallimard. He characterizes Madame Butterfly’s heroine Cio-Cio-San as meek and mild, “bow[ing] her head” in shame or fear and not even daring to speak at full volume, but “whispering” instead. Gallimard engages in racial fantasy about Asian women because, according to the myth he maintains, they adhere unflinching to patriarchal standards, maintaining a posture of weakness in order to make their partner—their man—feel useful, strong, and, most importantly, powerful.
And yet, even after he is betrayed, after Gallimard discovers that, for all those years, his “Butterfly” had been a man masquerading as a woman, his vision and fetish of the Asian woman does not change. Instead, he holds steadfastly to the mythology of the submissive, Asian woman:
There is a vision of the Orient that I have. Of slender women in chong sams and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy devils. Who are born and raised to be the perfect women. Who take whatever punishment we give them and bounce back, strengthened by love, unconditionally. It is a vision that has become my life. (91)
Despite suffering humiliation, deception, and betrayal, Gallimard does not rescind his vision of the Asian woman. He holds onto it, claiming that the fetish has become “his life” because, in order to fulfill the politics of his racial fantasy, he must guard the mythology of the Asian woman. He envisions the Asian woman as “perfect” because she will suffer abuse—“take whatever punishment we give them”—and still remain loyal to their partners. While the mythological Asian woman will “love, unconditionally” her partner in this case, it is not the love of an Asian woman that attracts Gallimard—it is the control that he can exercise over her. His perfect woman is “slender” and small, something he can overpower. She takes his abuse and maintains a love that survives all sins committed by the man, yet commits no sin against him. The characterization of the Asian woman once again puts the man—Gallimard—into a position of power while the woman is left to his mercy.
M. Butterfly is an obscure text in that it plays around with traditional notions of fetishism and racial fantasy, yet manages to maintain perhaps the most basic politic of all—that of power. While Song is aware of Gallimard’s fetish for Asian women, that consciousness does not undermine Gallimard’s racial fantasy because he maintains an illusion of power. Gallimard is aroused by power which is what makes the mythology of the stereotypical Asian woman—soft-spoken, subservient, and accommodating to men—especially appealing to him. In the end, sex and power become inseparable for Gallimard because they are so intimately associated within the politics of his racial fantasy.
Howl’s Moving Castle: Breaking the Past Traditions of Creative Writing
Everyone has his or her own idea of literature and what separates a work of literary fiction from a work of popular fiction. Generally speaking, a work must adhere to literary traditions, convey a deeper meaning, and present conventional themes in order to be recognized as a work of literary fiction. To be recognized as young adult literary fiction, a work must meet all of the previous requirements, and it must be appropriate in style and subject matter for the intended audience, provide the audience with a valuable moral lesson, and focus on some sort of theme revolving around coming-of-age or self-realization. However, a work can meet all of the previous requirements and still lack the necessary cohesion, harmony, and conciseness required to meet the literary fiction standards. A work of literature intertwines various aspects of a novel that may seem unrelated on the surface in the interest of attaining a certain level of stylistic and technical aptitude. While a work of popular fiction is merely a source of entertainment that gratifies the masses with no significant end result, a work of literary fiction is a piece of unified art with a purpose. Diana Wynne Jones’s young adult novel Howl’s Moving Castle is a work of fantasy which meets all of the requirements that are necessary to be considered a work of literature.
Howl’s Moving Castle begins in “the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist” (Jones 1). The protagonist of the novel, Sophie Hatter, is the eldest of three sisters, and this is considered to be “quite a misfortune” in Ingary (Jones 1). Both of Sophie’s biological parents died before the story takes place, and she is left in the care of her step-mother, Fanny Hatter. Being the eldest of the three sisters, Sophie is destined to inherit the family hat business while her sisters go on to fulfill their dreams. Sophie grows tired of living like an old maid working at the hat shop, but she continues to do so because she feels as though it is her destiny. Meanwhile, magical warfare is on the horizon in Ingary. Howl, a wizard with a reputation for stealing the hearts and souls of beautiful young women, roams around the areas surrounding Ingary in his enchanted castle, and the Witch of the Waste, a powerful and dangerous witch who has been banished to the Waste, a dismal land outside of Ingary, is on the prowl. One day, the Witch of the Waste visits the Hatter’s hat shop, and by mistake, she turns Sophie into an old woman using a curse. Sophie, in hopes of finding a way to break the curse, sets out to go visit Wizard Howl. Upon entering Howl’s moving castle, Sophie meets Calcifer, a fire demon, and Michael, a young apprentice. Calcifer recognizes that Sophie has been cursed, and he makes a deal with Sophie. If she can break the mysterious contract between Calcifer and Howl that keeps Calcifer bound to the castle’s hearth, he will undo the Witch of the Waste’s curse. Jones takes fantastical concepts and blends them with traditional aspects of young adult literature in a manner that creates a stunning work of literary art.
Seda Yavas, author of the scholarly article “Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) Or The Story Of A New Mythology,” notes, “The very title of the novel could be interpreted as a warning for the readers that this is not going to be a typical fairy tale although all the necessary elements are present throughout the text, but in a completely different order in utterly different associations and combinations” . Jones explores traditional young adult themes of self-definition and coming of age while placing the readers of the novel in unconventional yet fully developed settings and situations. Charles Butler, author of the book Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper, recognizes: In recent years, Jones’s critical fortunes have risen sharply, in part because her exploitation of such “post-modern” devices as multiple or fragmented subjectivities, alternate realities, self-altering narratives, intertextuality, and generic hybridity have made her a more fashionable writer in the theory-conscious academy of the 1990s and beyond. Jones takes common motifs and simplistic themes that are used in young adult literature, and she weaves aspects of high fantasy within them so that she may highlight or dramatize the actions taking place or lessons being taught in the novel. Jones did not create a work of popular fiction with a flashy storyline and alternative realities just for the entertainment value of it. She did not create a work of young adult literature which relies solely on fairytale cliches to teach a lesson. Instead, Jones explores elements of fantasy to accentuate and complicate the young adult story of Howl’s Moving Castle in a style that is befitting of a work of literary fiction.
One of Jones’s most notable adherences to the young adult literary tradition is seen in the absence of Sophie’s parents. Absent parents are quite common in young adult literature. Removing the parental figures from a novel allows the author to throw the protagonists into worlds of their own. The absence of parents in young adult literature is a technique employed by authors so that the focus of the novel is shifted toward the youth’s own ideals, choices, and actions. It is the literary equivalent of a mother bird pushing her fledglings out of the nest and forcing them to live their own lives. The absence of parental figures moves the plot forward by forcing protagonists to act on their own accord. Jones utilizes the absence of parents in Howl’s Moving Castle so that she may set up Sophie’s character’s growth. Another way in which Jones follows the young adult literary tradition is setting boundaries for Sophie to break during her character’s growth. Because Sophie is the eldest of the three sisters in Ingary, she is destined to lead an uneventful life. Her sisters could marry, learn magic, and be successful, but Sophie knows that she will have to live the life of an old woman in her hat shop. A common motif in young adult literature is breaking the rules or conditions of the setting, so Jones includes the limitations of Sophie’s identity in order to highlight Sophie’s character development and self-definition.
In addition to having no real parental figures and struggling with self-definition, Jones employs another common young adult literature in through Sophie’s attitude. Sophie is extremely unhappy in her position at the beginning of the novel. She feels as though her endless work in the hat shop is being taken advantage of by her step-mother, and she feels trapped in her reality. When she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, she is able to seek another reality and escape her own. Escaping reality is a common theme in both young adult literature and fantasy literature, and Jones brings attention to and raises questions about this theme as the novel progresses. In addition to blending aspects of the young adult literary tradition with the fantasy tradition, Jones utilizes several literary devices which complement the literary quality of the work. An example of this can be seen in the self-fulfilling prophecy of Sophie’s age. When Sophie is despairing over her identity at the beginning of the novel, she feels as though “the past months of sitting and sewing had turned her into an old woman” (Jones 17). Shortly after this moment, the Witch of the Waste curses Sophie and turns her into an old woman, and this fulfills the prophecy. The Witch of the Waste turned Sophie’s fears of aging in a hat shop into her reality.
Age is a prominent subject in young adult literature, but Jones delves into the concept of age in a completely fantastical way. Deborah Kaplan, author of the article “Disrupted Expectations: Young/Old Protagonists in Diana Wynne Jones Novels,” notes the importance of age in the young adult literary tradition: “Questions of age confusion are particularly notable in works for young readers, for whom age is considered a pressing concern” ). In addition to serving as a self-fulfilling prophecy, Sophie’s age serves as an important turning point in her character development. As a young woman, Sophie was uncomfortable with her identity. As an old woman, Sophie becomes more open and comfortable. Because she does not feel confined by her identity as the eldest of three sisters as old woman, she is able to overcome her ill-fated destiny. Sophie’s old age allows her to become more comfortable with her identity and understand the trivial nature of the boundaries that she once perceived as determining her destiny. What was supposed to be a curse proves to be a useful tool for character development.
Another literary device employed by Jones is the use of allusions in Howl’s Moving Castle. Jones uses many allusions in her work, but she uses them in a slightly unconventional manner. Based on the idea that Ingary is a reality in which magic exists, Jones is able to mold literary allusions to fit her fantastical world. Among the allusions are references to Arthurian legend, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven city of Rivendell, and Hamlet. Clearly, Jones understands the importance of calling upon works of classical literature for the sake of furthering her own literary quality. One of the most striking allusions employed by Jones is the curse that was used on Howl by the Witch of the Waste. The curse is an allusion to the John Donne poem “Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star.” In Ingary, John Donne’s writing takes on a magical meaning that diverges from reality. The poem operates as a curse, and it is able to do so successfully because of the fantastical alternate reality which removes the poem’s original or true meaning.
In Ingary, magic is normal, so normal is foreign. If magic is real in Ingary, then poems can certainly be curses. Jones takes advantage of the opportunity to blend reality with fantasy in a way that helps the story generate its own form of believability. Because of the fantastical structure of her novel, she is able to generate a suspension of disbelief for her audience in what Farah Mendlesohn, author of Diana Wynne Jones: The Fantastic Tradition and Children’s Literature, labels “a fully immersed fantasy” . Jones allows her readers to become fully immersed in the land of Ingary from the beginning of the novel. Sophie is never shocked by the magic that she witnesses in the world, and this further cements the believability of the novel. This suspension of belief that is generated by the wholeness of the fantasy reality allows Jones to employ allusions in a way that differs from standard use. Jones is able to separate the world of the novel with the real world through her magical twists on literary allusions. The plausibility or believability of the young adult themes explored in the novel is made possible by the setting. Because Jones asserts from the beginning of the work that magical is the norm in Ingary, she is able to convincingly explore common young adult themes in a groundbreaking and otherworldly manner.
Pauline Dewan, author of The Art of Place in Literature for Children and Young Adults: How Locale Shapes a Story, notes the importance of setting in other fairytales and fantasy works: Fairy tales are a particularly concrete, visual, and cinematic form of writing, a genre in which place is all-important. In fact, the concept of place is the focal point of Tolkien’s definition of the fairy tale: “Fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” The world that Jones creates in Howl’s Moving Castle is what allows her to openly explore the young adult literary tradition without limitation. By creating a fantasy world, Jones is able to take readers into an unknown universe where they have no choice but to rely on the characters and their actions.
In conclusion, Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a work of literary fiction rather than popular fiction. Jones demonstrates a clear adherence to both the fantasy literary tradition and the young adult literary tradition. Howl’s Moving Castle explores common themes associated with young adult literature through an unconventional fantasy setting which bolsters the believability of the novel. Jones effectively amplifies young adult themes by dramatizing them in a fantastical manner. Jones includes allusions to other literary works in her novel, but she does so atypically. Jones’s allusions adhere to tradition while deconstructing reality. It is apparent that Jones intended for the work to be read as a piece of literary art that takes the form of a young adult fantasy novel based on the sense of intricacy and interconnectivity that is displayed.
- Butler, Charles. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
- Dewan, Pauline. The Art of Place in Literature for Children and Young Adults: How Locale Shapes a Story. Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.
- Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl’s Moving Castle. Eos, 2008.
- Kaplan, Deborah. “Disrupted Expectations: Young/Old Protagonists in Diana Wynne Jones’s Novels.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 21, no. 2, 2010, pp. 197-209.
- Mendlesohn, Farah. Diana Wynne Jones: Children’s Literature and the Fantastic Tradition. Routledge, 2005.
- Yavas, Seda. “Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) Or The Story Of A New Mythology.” Journal of History, Culture & Art Research / Tarih Kelter Ve Sanat Arastirmalari Dergisi, vol. 4, no. 3, 2015, pp. 30-36.
A Reactionary Gothic Novel and Symbolism
“Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett challenges the stereotypical conventions of Gothic literature and provides a more modern approach to the genre. Conventionally, the Gothic is associated with terrifying creatures such as Frankenstein or Dracula, and remote, dark settings such as abandoned castles or haunted graveyards. These paradigms led to the stagnation of Gothic imagination in the twentieth century in which the clich’d plots of well-known works such as Frankenstein or Dracula were merely reproduced under differing names. This is evidenced in the seemingly innumerable film variations of Dracula and Frankenstein that have been banished into obscurity. “Good Omens”, in large part, is a reaction to this partial decline of the genre. In an attempt to introduce some originality to the genre, Gaiman and Pratchett intentionally abandoned the typical conventions of the Gothic novel. As is significantly noted on the opening page of the novel, “It wasn’t a dark and stormy night” (Gaiman and Pratchett 4). In departing from these conventions, Gaiman and Pratchett helped to develop a sub-genre of Gothic literature known as Gothic satire. Although many Gothic stereotypes are parodied in the novel, it is thematically Gothic because of its rejection of Catholic belief, which is one of the fundamental aspects of Gothic literature (Caballero 145). The novel criticizes the central tenants of Catholic belief, particularly the dichotomous struggle between good and evil, and reveals how these pervasive beliefs often lead to excessive idealism that maintains a significant influence on society. Essentially, the novel challenges the foundation of modern society, namely the numerous aspects of Catholic history and theology that have combined with differing philosophical and political ideologies to form our notion of modernity.
The novel’s irreverent attitude toward religious belief is apparent before reading the first page. In the character descriptions, the demon Crowley is facetiously referred to not as a fallen angel, but rather an angel who sauntered vaguely downwards (Gaiman and Pratchett xiii). Obviously, this is a parody of the Catholic belief that Satan and his compatriots were once angels who fell from god’s grace because of their desire to become god-like. Consequently, they grew to be the tempters of man and the source of evil in the world. Furthermore, at the time of the Apocalypse, the armies of good and evil will engage in an epic battle for the souls of mankind. To any rational non-Catholic, this seems to be a preposterous explanation for the existence of evil and the ultimate fate of mankind. Although this may be merely a metaphorical abstraction of evil, it is troubling how frequently public leaders support this notion. Historically, Reagan defined the “Evil Empire” and initiated a war of good against evil. George W. Bush used the same language in the War on Terror.
For Gaiman and Pratchett, this physical embodiment of the figurative struggle between good and evil is troubling. They express their criticism via the interaction between Crowley and Aziraphale. These two supernatural beings are combatants in the battle between good and evil. However, their alleged opposition is parodied through rather amicable dialogues. In one scene they both share several drinks and Crowley poses the question, “Anyway, why’re we talking about good and evil? They’re just names for sides. We know that” (Gaiman and Pratchett 45). This comment trivializes the Catholic notion of a struggle between good and evil and reduces it to its actuality, a meaningless distinction between two ineffable terms. Conversely, the Gothic is concerned with a sadomasochistic impulse focused on dominance, destruction and vengeance versus a transcendent potential for cooperation creativity, and passion (Pepetone 3). Gaiman and Pratchett also endorse this view of human behavior. As they state,
The devil hardly made anyone do anything . . . That was what some humans found hard to understand. Hell wasn’t a major reservoir of evil, any more than heaven, in Crowley’s opinion, was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game. Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind (71).
The Gothic approach endorses an existentialist view of human behavior. Rather than supernatural entities vying for the souls of humans, the Gothic proposes that the battle occurs within the human and is comparable to the Freudian struggle between the Thanatos and Eros. It is a more humanistic view that emphasizes the precept of free choice.
Related to the struggle between good and evil is the existence of god’s divine plan. Similarly, Gaiman and Pratchett characterize it through the conversation between Aziraphale and Crowley. As Aziraphale describes it, “Ah, but its all part of the overall divine plan, your side can’t do anything without it being part of the ineffable divine plan” (Gaiman and Pratchett 43). Gaiman and Pratchett are critical of this deterministic philosophy and consider it to be nothing more than a feeble attempt to rationalize the inexplicable. This viewpoint is illustrated in the discussion of Agnes Nutter’s death.
There was much subsequent debate as to whether this had been sent by God or Satan, but a note found later in Agnes Nutter’s cottage indicated that any divine or devilish intervention had been materially helped by the contents of Agnes’ petticoats, wherein she had some foresight concealed eighty pounds of gunpowder and forty pounds of roofing nails (Gaiman and Pratchett 181).
Although comical, this passage bluntly demonstrates the lack of divine intervention in human affairs. It is foolish to attempt to impose some divine plan as the reason for all irrational occurrences. The existence of free choice necessarily entails undesirable and unjustifiable acts. However, the Gothic contends that we must take these events for what they are and not attempt to rationalize them. As Gregory Pepetone states,
The Gothic imagination gives expression and meaning to life’s darkly mysterious, painful, frightening, and seemingly irrational experiences by embracing them as a potential source of insight and transcendence (23).
The juxtaposition of the mysterious and frightening with insight and transcendence is suggestive of the Gothic notion of the sublime. This experience of the sublime provides a basis for Gothic spirituality that stands in stark contrast to the determinism of a divine plan.
Although belief in a divine plan is seemingly innocuous, it can devolve into a pernicious idealism with the aid of extremist influence. This fact is exhibited in Gaiman and Pratchett’s version of Catholic witch-hunts and the Spanish Inquisition. The anti-Catholic aspect of the Gothic is due, in large part, to a reaction against the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition (Caballero 153). Gaiman and Pratchett represent the irrationality of the inquisition process via the interrogation conducted by the Grand Inquisitor. As he says,
“Art thou a witch?”
“Yes,” said Pepper’s sister who was six and built like a small golden-haired football.
“You mustn’t say yes, you’ve got to say no,” hissed the Head Torturer.
“And then what?” demanded the suspect.
“And then we torture you to make you say yes,” said the Head Torturer (121).
This line of reasoning was not far from the one used in the actual Inquisition. Thousands were tortured until they confessed to heresy and then killed. No one was able to see the flawed logic because of the fixation on god’s divine plan. Gaiman and Pratchett use this comic rendition of the Inquisition to illustrate how the guise of religion, or belief in a divine plan, can have catastrophic consequences.
In addition, the absurdity of witch-hunts is made evident in the dialogue between Brian and Adam. When discussing the possibility of witches, Adam contends, like any rational human being, “I don’t reckon its allowed, going round setting fire to people” (118). However, Brian responds, “It’s all right if your religious, and it stops the witches from going to hell so I expect they’d be quite grateful if they understood it properly” (118). Essentially, this is the fundamental argument of all religious extremists. Any act, regardless of its intrinsic moral value, is permissible in the name of religion. This type of extremism completely distorts one’s perception of reality and inhibits logical reasoning that often leads to violence. The Gothic militates against this idea of extremist dogma, particularly in the Catholic tradition. For the Gothic, that which is Catholic intrudes upon the realities of the characters and not just in their imaginings, intervening in their lives in tangible, corrupt ways (Caballero 149). This religious intervention, or extremism is clearly evidenced in the character of Brian. He bases the righteousness of an action on whether or not he will be condemned to hell for it, yet he has no reservations about burning a human being. Although it is a rather hyperbolic example, certainly religion is a corrupting influence on him.
The origin of the extremism that resulted in the atrocities of the witch-hunts and Inquisition is unclear. However, it seemed to be socially accepted on a large scale (by Catholics). Presumably, it arose from a literal interpretation of a specific Biblical passage or possibly a general perversion of Catholic doctrine. Regardless of its exact origin, religious extremism, and extremism of any sort, is perpetuated and justified by the means of excessive idealism. According to Pepetone, excessive idealism is the pursuit of a single-minded obsession that ultimately sacrifices its own principles to some lesser good. He argues that it is the function of the Gothic imagination in society to root out any dystopian elements from our natural experience, namely excessive idealism. As he notes, “Excessive idealism turned the Salem judiciary into a witch-hunt; it turned the fanatical defense of democracy during the Cold War into a political witch-hunt, and it turned Dr. Jekyl into Mr. Hyde” (3). Gaiman and Pratchett are aware of the devastating effects of this excessive idealism on society. They relate this concern within the death and destruction resulting from the “deep religio-political divide” that exists between the fictitious Pro-Turkish liberation Faction, pro-Greek territorial brigade, and Italo-Maltese Freedom Fighters. Despite the humorous names, this satire of religio-political factionism is certainly poignant in the parlance of our times.
Although the majority of the novel is riddled with humorous satire and parody, Gaiman and Pratchett include serious social commentary regarding the state of modern society. During a powerful thunderstorm, Adam shares his thoughts regarding the Apocalypse with Dog. As he says, “ Serve everyone right if all the nuclear bombs went off and it all started again, only properly organized. Sometimes I think that’s what I’d like to happen. An’ then we could sort everythin’ out” (201). Plainly, Gaiman and Pratchett are not satisfied with the current direction of society. They argue metaphorically, through the Apocalypse, that we need to continually examine and reconsider our values in order to thrive as a society. Albeit we may come to distasteful conclusions about ourselves and society, there is still value in the process of self-scrutiny. This dialectic process is the hallmark of the modern Gothic and verifies the significance of Gothic expression in modern thought. As Pepetone asserts,
The Gothic imagination provides a permanent counterculture, a discordant, minor key accompaniment to an idealized America graced by God and crowned with continental brotherhood. America’s archetypal gothic plot details in inward journey toward our own telltale heart of darkness. It compels us to scrutinize those cultural ambiguities, traumas, and inconsistencies that we would prefer to forget, deny, or simply dismiss. Ultimately, it leads to the realization that our most cherished conceptions of ourselves are, at best, only partially justified. At worst, they are dangerously deceptive (170).
Caballero, Soledad. “Gothic Routes or the Thrills of Ethnography.” The Gothic Other:
Racial and Social Constructions in the Literary Imagination. Ed. Ruth Bienstock
Anolik. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2004. 143-162
Gaiman, Neil, and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens. New York: Ace, 1990.
Pepetone, Gregory. Gothic Perspectives on the American Experience. New York:
Peter Lang, 2003.
Parallels of Religion, Myth, and Literature in American Gods and Anansi Boys
Reader response criticism is a school of formal literary theory that focuses on the reader and their experience of literature. A prime thematic or style that can be found in many of Neil Gaiman’s novels is his manner of taking the unknown and mysterious and presenting it to the reader in an ironic but authentic way. This style is prevalent throughout both American Gods and Anansi Boys and because of the nature of these books, it enhances interactions the main protagonist has with other characters, both gods and humans. In both novels, Gaiman uses his approach of diction, his sometimes abnormal ideas and views, and his use of metaphors to produce a humorous yet authentic reader experience of the unknown and obscure, all the while maintaining a factual and intrinsic plot structure.
The most effective way of manipulating a reader’s thoughts and ideas reading about a piece of literature is by using thoughtful and elaborate wording and phrasing. Neil Gaiman uses this technique effectively to create an atmosphere that attracts the reader and entices their curiosity. Gaiman’s novels are mostly aimed to adults, ergo a lot of the language and themes suggested are for mature audiences and these novels are no different. In American Gods, although there are many instances of profane language, one that stands out as an effective and contextual use of mature speech is when Shadow is captured and threatened by the god of technology and is told “Tell him that we fucking reprogrammed reality. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much spam. Tell him that or I’ll fucking kill you”(Gaiman, 51). This example effectively gives the reader an idea of the god’s mentality and emphasizes his crude personality. Another example of the effect of diction on a reader’s experience is how Gaiman would occasionally go out of his way to explain an idea or word, giving the reader the impression that they are inferior to him. A fine example of this in American Gods is when Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow wine, saying “to take the analogy further, it’s honey wine, like mead’ He chuckled. ‘It’s a drink. Concentrated prayer and belief, distilled into a potent liqueur” (Gaiman, 265). The tone used by Mr. Wednesday is very condescending and makes Shadow feel lesser than him. In Anansi Boys however, instead of using profanity or sarcasm to crudely describe an idea, he uses simple yet deep phrasing to paint a picture or describe settings, as seen when the setting of England is explained. “It was England in the autumn; the sun was, by definition, something that only happened when it wasn’t cloudy or raining.”(Gaiman, 208). Gaiman describes the sun accurately while also implying that it is often cloudy or rainy in England. In concluding of this idea, as seen through the various wording mechanics used, Gaiman effectively sets a crude yet upbeat tone, giving the reader a unique sense of enjoyment as they read through either novel.
Another way Gaiman enhances the reader’s understanding and grasp of his novels is through his unique portrayal of the relationships between humans and non-human beings. Gaiman uses very detailed and intricate facts to create an interesting rift between the normal world and fantasy. Accordingly, many would say that to properly recognize and interpret the purpose behind his works one would require post-secondary education and comprehension of many different religions and mythological beliefs. In both books Gaiman motivates the reader’s mind to develop deeper meanings behind his work. In Anansi Boys, Spider makes a comment about gods and humans, saying “Human beings do not like being pushed about by gods. They may seem to, on the surface, but somewhere on the inside, underneath it all, they sense it, and they resent it.” (Gaiman, 305). This speech is an exceptional illustration of Gaiman using context to create educated and thoughtful theories about the way we distinguish and grasp the idea of worshipping a superior being. Although these books are fiction, many of the views expressed throughout can be very relatable to real-world issues. In American Gods, Shadow has a vision in his dream of gods, and is told by a strange voice that “Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”(Gaiman, 56), In this passage Gaiman inconspicuously takes a stab at religion and entices the reader’s thoughts as this idea is goes against most faiths and promotes deeper understanding of religion and idolism as a whole. Another instance found in American Gods where Shadow is raised a question by a god is when he talks to a god on television, who explains “the TV’s the altar. I’m what people are sacrificing to.’ ‘What do they sacrifice?’ asked Shadow. ‘Their time, mostly,’ said Lucy. ‘Sometimes each other.” (Gaiman 158). This god’s idea holds truth for the real world, as many people are drawn to the television, and many people do sacrifice a big portion of their time for it. These passages from the novels are only a few from many instances throughout both books where Gaiman asks very real and though-provoking questions to play with the reader’s mind and give them a sense that they are part of something bigger while reading these books and many of his other works.
The final method used by Neil Gaiman to present his books in an enjoyable and understandable sense is his use of metaphorical comparisons. Metaphors and similes are phrases used to contrast two different things that share a common feature. These literary devices are used by almost all authors as they are very effective in creating perspective and atmosphere in a memorable and engaging fashion. A representation of comparison being used to efficiently set a tone for a scene is during Shadow’s altercation with the god of technology, who draws many comparisons, saying that “language is a virus” and that “religion is an operating system” and that “prayers are just so much fucking spam”(Gaiman, 51). Although these metaphors are obscenely used, he gets the point he is trying to make across to both Shadow and the reader. This speech sets an uneasy identity for the god and the handling of metaphorical speech unquestionably enforces that tone. Another effective use of this literary device can be found in Anansi Boys when Spider and Charlie have to suffer the loss of their father, contrasting masculinity and being an island, saying “no man is an island” (Gaiman, 106). This use of metaphor is a good representation of Gaiman adding emphasis and emotion to an idea, implying that no man is bulletproof and that it is okay for grown men to shed tears of sadness. Gaiman also likes to use metaphors to represent a simple thing, and such an example can be found in Anansi Boys, when coffee is explained as being “dark as night, sweet as sin” (Gaiman, 126). This use of metaphorical comparison really displays Gaiman’s unique writing technique, as most authors wouldn’t go to such extent to describe a meager item like coffee. Metaphors and similes are arguably one of the most effective ways setting emphasis or tone for a book, and Gaiman uses this device many times effectively to produce an ominous and provoking atmosphere in both novels.
In both novels, Neil Gaiman uses his approach of diction, his sometimes abnormal ideas and views, and his use of metaphors to produce a humorous yet authentic reader experience of the unknown and obscure, all the while maintaining a factual and intrinsic plot structure. And these are all characteristics of books that are very prevalent throughout not only American Gods and Anansi Boys, but many of Gaiman’s other novels as well. His biggest strength is by far his ability to play with phrasing and wording to talk directly the readers heart, instead of their mind. He is both discreet and subtle when mentioning sometimes radical ideas and views about language and religion, which creates a very educated and effective experience for the reader, which later entices them to learn more about the concepts that they read about.
Psychoanalysis of the Lancelot Character In T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”
“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Vladimir Nabakov often told stories of men and women destroyed by unknowing forces and desires driving them to madness. The character often gives into their deepest, darkest desires and allows those desires to control their actions. The characters downfalls are love, hate, lust, distrust, and innocence. As he wrote these, Nabokov would often discover parts of himself he did not know existed. Much like Nabakov, T.H. White wrote The Once and Future King during World War II. He saw the world falling to pieces around him and could not figure out why. His characters desperately sought for answers, starting with the purest intentions and falling from grace. While writing, White discovered that he himself had given into his basic desires. It is because his mind has told him to give in to his utmost passions. Lancelot struggles to refrain from his desires and eventually gets too caught up in them to realize his world is in shambles. In T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, because Lancelot struggles to understand his underlying motives throughout his relationships with Arthur and Guenever, the relationships and Lancelot’s psyche are destroyed.
Lancelot’s love for Arthur and his need for his approval is the driving force to his mind’s destruction of itself. Lancelot idolizes Arthur from their first meeting. After Lancelot meets Arthur as a child, he becomes infatuated with the idea of being exactly like Arthur and serving as one of his knights. White even describes Lancelot as a child watching Arthur and being, “in love with him” (White 311). His admiration for Arthur drives him to become the renowned knight he is. Arthur is additionally a god-like figure to Lancelot. Layaman compares Arthur to Christ arguing when Arthur lives in the human world he atones for others sins and brings a community of saintly people together. Lancelot always feels the need to atone for his beastly appearance comprehending, “he [is] as a ugly as a [monster] in the King’s menagerie” (White 313). The dynamic of their relationship switches when Lancelot comes to court and sees Arthur as more of a father. Being with Arthur in France and being in his righteous presence provides Lancelot with the epitome of what he wishes to become. When Arthur sees Lancelot again for the first time in years, “he… knighted [him] the first day.”(White 326). When Arthur accepts Lancelot and solidifies their father-son relationship, their relationship changes into a psychological war in Lancelot’s mind between what is right and what Lancelot knows he should not do.
As Lancelot and Arthur become closer, an oedipal complex destroys it. The first person to realize, “Lancelot and Guenever were falling in love with each other…[was] King Arthur himself”’ (White 331). As the oedipal complex states, the child fears his love for the mother will be met by emasculation from the father (Sayer 5). After this occurs, Lancelot and Arthur’s friendship comes to a halt as fear of Arthur as the father, penetrates their relationship. This causes a rift in what Lancelot feels is right to do for his friend and his actual desires, or a war between his id and superego. When this struggle becomes more prominent, what his ego should do, becomes clouded. Layaman describes Arthur as a pure and uncorrupted individual and as Lancelot sees this he becomes even more lost. He is unable to compare himself or connect to Arthur anymore. Lancelot acts either upon his basic desires or what society tells him to, not what is a healthy balance between them.
Lancelot’s love for Guenever, or his mother, was met through anger and the desire for castration of Lancelot by Arthur. Without Arthur’s presence Lancelot succumbs to the pressure of his id and his affection for Guenever and his love of bloodshed start to define him (Sayers 6). Lancelot and Arthur’s hostility towards one another comes to an overextension when Arthur is forced by law to pursue Lancelot for his transgressions; but as Lancelot fights Arthur, Lancelot fears for himself and the blood spilled of his comrades through a battle that he does not want to fight. Lancelot even goes as far to murder his supporter and voice of reason at court, Gareth, in a fit of passion. Lancelot continues to decline in morals and is eventually consumed by cruelty. Arthur is too consumed with his battle against his best friend to realize what has happened back in England. Arthur, possessing a withdrawn id and a prominent ego, takes his troops and continues home. Thereafter Arthur dies, murdered by Mordred in battle (412 Malory Modern Library Edition). Lancelot’s fear of emasculation ceases and he realizes his affection for Guenever has killed his best friend. Lancelot realizes “That [his] grief would be incalculable at the passing of Arthur” (Layamon 126). Lancelot quickly attempts to suppress his feelings and his id. Much like Oedipus in mythology, he believes he committed, “…murder [and looks] up. [He sees] the fates circling. They [had] found [him]. [He was convinced] soon their shadows [would] rush cool across [his] shoulders” (McLaughlin 353). He cut out his id completely, absolving and discontinued the path of destruction he had begun. He dedicated the rest of his life to religion and God, siding on the extreme of the superego (443 Malory Modern Library Edition). Lancelot and Arthur’s interwoven paths and love for each other caused them both great pain and eventually cost them both their lives.
Lancelot’s relationship with Guenever causes an inner struggle in Lancelot’s mind and drives him to madness. As he falls in love with her, he struggles with the idea of not being able to work a miracle. Lancelot even “[prays] to God that he would let [him] work a miracle” (White 372). When Lancelot is tricked into sleeping with Elaine, he believes he can no longer work any miracles. His dream is shattered when Lancelot’s superego’s way of suppressing his secret desires to be with Guenever. With this destroyed, his id takes control and he gives into his desire to pursue a relationship with her. With the revelation of succumbing to his desires and his disappointment in not being pure anymore, he seeks comfort in Guenever. At first she, “[confronts the] problem with which [he is] intimately and passionately concerned” (White 375). Lancelot and Guenever’s love grows so strong that they ignore that Guenever is married to Arthur because they are consumed in their passion. Guenever soon after becomes jealous of Lancelot’s past lover Elaine as she has a son which ties her to Lancelot forever. She becomes bitter and vindictive towards Lancelot and his family. Guenever even tells Lancelot, “[she] will have her killed” (White 382). Lancelot’s dreams about his relationship with Guenever and his life purpose of working miracles is destroyed. With Lancelot’s loss of his id and superego’s desires, his ego is lost. His mind ceases to exist completely. Instead of providing Lancelot with the comfort he seeks, she abuses his affection and causes him to retreat to the woods away from court out of madness.
Guenever’s first time isolating Lancelot and his mind driving him to madness is unsuccessful, and Lancelot turns to Elaine and Galahad for help. Lancelot’s subconscious has a period of reorientation and soon he returns to court, leaving his son and Elaine to come back to Guenever. This represents his undying devotion to Guenever even as she abuses his love. Guenever is Lancelot’s “female master” (Walters 49). This means that Lancelot is compliant to Guenever’s wishes. This makes Guenever first to him, and the court and even his own family second. Lancelot’s desires for Guenever have replaced his higher judgement and his higher judgement, so his id has overpowered his ego (Walters 50). Guenever soon realizes that their love is tainted, “[by] seeds of hatred and fear and confusion” (White 384). After, Arthur sends Lancelot away to quest for the grail, religion takes over Lancelot’s superego and he is more resistant than he was before to Guenever. He attempts to discontinue the relationship after he returns to court. After being around her again though he succumbs to her charms and thus his id seizes control of his ego once more. Lancelot’s morals begin to deteriorate once again.
Lancelot’s infatuation with Guenever gives him supernatural gifts more than Christianity can describe. After Lancelot’s love for Guenever grows and consumes him, Lancelot does better in battle, acquiring a wide spread reputation. His bloodlust and love for Guenever control him and his id soon takes over. Although Lancelot tries to maintain the appearance that his superego is intact, his id is controlling his actions. As Lancelot ventures with his son Galahad, he cannot enter the church in which they receive the Holy Grail. In the final battle against Gawain, “The terror coursed through [him] again… [He’s] lived under its shadow so long [that he] grew used to it, could almost forget it. But [he feels] it once again, darkness hovering” (McLaughlin 306). Lancelot always knew that his gift of strength was bad for humanity because all his strength did was kill. In the final battle against Gawain, he gives into his gift and allows himself to kill a man he was once friends with. Gawain is known to have superhuman strength because a fairy put a spell on him when he was young. Gawain’s battle skills are supernatural and provides him with the strength to beat even the most difficult and unlikely opponents. Lancelot beats Gawain without much difficulty and bestows upon Gawain a fatal blow, proving that Lancelot has supernatural powers. Lancelot in killing Gawain satisfies his id’s need for blood. After the battle is won and Lancelot and Guenever face the death they caused, Lancelot decides to retreat back to the church (445 Malory Modern Library Edition). This symbolizes Lancelot wanting to cleanse himself of the supernatural gifts and reinstate his superego. Lancelot is driven, still confused, to the church to help his subconscious come back to a balanced state.
Lancelot eventually fails in his attempt to understand his mind and failing leads to his destruction. Lancelot constantly gives into his basic desires, disregarding the consequences. He manipulates the people around him to believe that he is right. Although he believes what he is doing is the justified, he is misguided by his subconscious. He fails in finding a balance between what is right and what he wants. He refuses to learn from the past and those events are filed into his subconscious, shaping his behavior for the future. From Lancelot, humanity can learn to evaluate their psyche everyday, with intention. Humanity must strive to discern how their id and superego come into play in their day to day lives. They must find a balance between the id and the superego and seek to maintain that balance everyday. Rationalizing and ignoring the problems can lead to an impaired and unhealthy psyche. The impaired psyche can perpetuate problems and repeat the same mistakes. If humans continue to look at their past events and analyze the underlying motives of the action, then they can hope for a better tomorrow. If they fail, they will hurt themselves and the community around them ultimately leading to confusion and ruin.
The Theme of Self-identity in C.S. Lewis’ Works
Both C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea tackle the idea of the child-protagonists having to go on a type of journey to defeat their respective foes and partaking in a search for their self-identity in the process. However, these ideas are taken on in very different ways as Lewis uses more Biblical implications to suggest the synonymy of finding one’s self-identity with rejecting sin and finding the path to Christ, whereas Le Guin puts a more secular, introspective spin on the search, suggesting that one should confront themselves to discover who they really are. Delving into the characters of Edmund, Peter and Ged, the concept of change and turning points reflect the implications of the messages about self-identity that both authors sought to convey.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, each of the four children undergoes a journey of self-discovery upon entering the realm of Narnia, some more evident than others. The most obvious character that has a notable journey of self-discovery is Edmund. In the beginning of the novel, Edmund comes across as a selfish, defiant, attention-seeking and greedy bully. Granted many of these traits stem from middle-child syndrome and the effect of his relationship with Peter. Still, he constantly discourages Lucy and goes so far as to turn on his siblings for the royal title and Turkish delights that the White Witch offers him before having a change of heart. He becomes consumed and defined by his envy and need for attention. Edmund is so blinded by his lust for revenge on his brother and his greed that it takes him witnessing the White Witch turning an innocent party of animals into stone for him to realize that she is truly evil and does not have his or anyone else’s best interest at heart. It is then that, “Edmund for the first time in this story felt sorry for someone besides himself. It seemed so pitiful to think of those little stone figures sitting there all the silent days and all the dark nights, year after year, till the moss grew on them and at last even their faces crumbled away.” This is a major turning point in his spiritual journey because he begins to discover his true purpose and realizes the error of his ways, although it is too late for him to undo by this point. His redemption at the hands of Aslan says a lot about the author’s view of the importance of forgiveness and second chances in the journey to discover oneself. If he were condemned for his mistake, he would not have had the chance to mature into a brave, noble hero or to realize his purpose as the rightful King that Narnia needed him to be.
Peter also displays his own proof of growth and discovery when they encounter the lamppost while chasing the White Stag. Although Susan is, by her own nature, reluctant to go past the vaguely familiar lamppost, Peter says, “For never since we four were Kings and Queens in Narnia have we set our hands to any high matter, as battles, quests, feats of arms, acts of justice, and the like, and then given over; but always what we have taken in hand, the same we have achieved.” Where before Peter and Susan were cautious to even believe in and explore something unfamiliar to them, his words here show that travelling through Narnia and fighting against the White Witch with Aslan made him a lot more confident in their ability to overcome anything they encounter, as well as more open-minded to the unknown. The unifying theme and overarching lesson learned throughout their time in Narnia is one of selflessness, which is evidenced by the fact that the children did not choose to stay in Narnia once they felt the urge that they should leave. They instead gave up a life of royalty and took all that they learned about themselves back into the “real world” with them. Lewis used this story as a large allegory for his own Christian spiritual beliefs, with symbolic figures such as Aslan and the White Witch representing good and evil, respectively. He uses the plight of Edmund as a metaphor to imply that resisting the traps of evil and temptation can bring any sinner down the path to goodness, which is our implied individual purpose. For example, when Edmund is first introduced to the Witch, her status and what she offers him appeal to her and he even finds himself defending her to Peter, saying, “which is the right side? How do we know that the Fauns are in the right and the Queen (yes, I know we’ve been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong? We don’t really know anything about either.” Because he sees the potential in power (and Turkish Delights) that the Witch offers, he tries to convince himself that the Witch is just misunderstood rather than truly evil. However, once he is further exposed to the Witch’s mercilessly wicked ways and the danger she imposes, he comes to his senses. It is this realization and the rejection of continued involvement with the Witch that allows him to be saved by Aslan. The practicality of extracting and applying the larger proposal made by a metaphor to Christian ideology depends on the beliefs of the reader, but even those who are not religious can draw meaning from the suggestions made, such as the rejection of temptation, selfishness and greed for a greater cause. The message as revealed through Edmund is much more biblical where the message revealed through Peter, that self-discovery can come to those who are open-minded and willing to be wrong, is one that can be more universally applied. Although the religious overtone can come across heavily is some of the story’s moments, it is still very likely that the plot can be understood alternatively or enjoyed objectively for what it is (especially by children who may be to young to grasp the symbolic meaning) which is what makes it a classic.
In Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, protagonist Ged undergoes the most dominant search for identity when sets out to defeat an unleashed shadow only to find that his rival all along was essentially just himself. Like Edmund, Ged starts off as a bratty, pride-driven and immature teen. The reader cringingly witnesses him make several mistakes due to his need to show-off his magic and prove himself to others, such as when he tries to impress the daughter of the lord of Re Albi or when he accidentally summons a spirit in his fight with Jasper. However, it is that same pride that starts Ged’s quest for self-identity after he unleashes the shadow. Led by guilt from the fate of Archmage of Roke, this turning point takes him from loud and proud to timid and paranoid that he will make another big mistake but in order to find his happy medium, he has to learn to balance between the two sides of himself and between what he thinks he can do and what he can actually do. With the help of Vetch’s reassuring attitude, Ged comes to a realization, “All the years and places of his brief broken life came within mind’s reach and made a whole again. He knew once more, at last, after this long, bitter, wasted time, who he was and where he was.” It is here that Ged begins to thinks more clearly and rebuild his confidence, although he was still afraid of what could happen to those around him. Finally, at the end of his quest, after facing many obstacles and returning to Ogion, he realizes he mustn’t kill the shadow but instead, he has to embody it, which is symbolic of him learning to live with the good and bad parts of himself. He realizes that he had been his own worst enemy all along and is able to get closure and learn about who he really is at the same time.
While this story can be perceived through a biblical lens as a religious metaphor such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the intended overtones here are more ethically guided than religiously. There are several moments when Ged must decide whether he should use his powers and he is often forced to choose between the morally-acceptable choice and the dutiful choice, such as when Loethe is dying and his parents ask Ged to save him. He remembers the advise of Master Herbal to let dying people go but his conscience leads him to try anyway and he is forced to deal with the consequences. Although the reader can take this as him choosing to follow good Christian virtues and help save a dying person, in the context of the story, Ged’s moral guidance was at the forefront of most of the issues. Additionally, Le Guin makes the search for identity a central idea and something that Ged pursues subconsciously as he hunts the shadow where it’s more of an afterthought in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In A Wizard of Earthsea, the relationship between Ged and his shadow give the implication that sometimes we stand in the way of our own success and limit ourselves. Likewise, his internal struggle to actualize the potential that he and those around him know he has after he fails multiple times is also an implication of the need to move past mistakes and embrace both sides of oneself in order to reach that potential.
These proposals are something that anyone can relate to and apply to their own lives in their personal quests for self-identity. The general themes of pride and maturation are so common that it is likely that there are many people like Ged, on a journey overcome their blunders and tap into their potential, though the journeys probably differ greatly. Indeed, the fear of failing or making another mistake that changes Ged from the fearless, boisterous young boy he was into the more timid teenager he becomes is something that young to teenage readers can relate to their own lives. Taking a note from him, learning how to find the balance between being an overly confident, irrational youth and a cautious, cowardly adult is a life-long journey. Moreover, it is possible to relate to Peter on a similar level, because sometimes it seems easier and safer to stick with what you know and not open your mind to new possibilities. Although being open-minded hasn’t led me to experience magic, it has definitely helped me to understand myself and those around me better.
Analyzing the Character of The White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
When it comes to works of fiction, it is always most interesting to see where the author draws inspiration for the major characters from and what the underlying message of the story at hand. Disillusioned from faith as a child, C. S. Lewis would find himself re-embracing Christianity in his adult life, which likely played a major role in the not-so-subtle Biblical messages presented throughout The Chronicles of Narnia. Where antagonists can sometimes double as the unsung, misunderstood hero of the story, Lewis uses The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to bring to life a villain that is evil to the core and equate her to the reality of evil and temptation. In this paper, which will focus on the character of the White Witch in Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I will examine the general qualities and the role of her character with respect to the other characters and the author’s intent in writing her character in the way that he did and how I think it could have been improved.
The White Witch’s role as the primary antagonist of the story divulges her as one of the most blatantly evil, unremorseful villains of any work of fiction. Upon the introduction of her character by Tumnus in chapter two, there are many things that the reader can assume about the essence of her character simply due to the facts given or the lack thereof. First, the fact that she is addressed as the White Witch and never referred to by a real name sets her apart from the rest of the characters and says a lot about her character before the reader even learns more about her. It holds a negative connotation already as white is in reference to the pale, ghostliness of her skin and the white snow of the endless winter that she caused. Witch clearly refers to the powers she possesses but as opposed to a good witch, she uses her powers for bad. With his identification of her as the reason why it is “always winter and never Christmas,” she can be quickly recognized as a malevolent person, a cold, power-hungry woman whose identity centers around her position of power and using her magic abilities for evil. His surprise at how innocent and nice Lucy is is a testament to the way that the White Witch has brainwashed the Narnians into thinking that humans are the enemy. And when he reveals that it is his job to report all humans back to her, it shows the lengths she has gone to in order to prevent any potential threats to her throne from allowing the prophecy that tells of her overthrow to come to fruition, something a good, fair ruler would not have to place such an emphasis on. But what gives the reader the most insight into the Witch’s nature is Mr. Tumnus’ fear that she will: …have my tail cut off and my horns sawn off, and my beard plucked out, and she’ll wave her wand over my beautiful clove hoofs and turn them into horrid solid hoofs like wretched horse’s. And if she is extra and specially angry she’ll turn me into stone. (Lewis, 15) Something so detailed is hard to fabricate so this lets the reader know that what he describes can’t be far from the truth and the elaborateness of the punishment indicates that she doesn’t punish for justice but rather out of enjoyment or the love of evil. Where she could simply imprison those who wrong her or have them punished in a more humane manor, she prefers to turn the creatures to stone.
Additionally, the absence of a king or of any mention of a traditional companion also adds to the perception that she is so sinister, unpleasant and focused on maintaining ultimate control of Narnia that she is incapable of showing love and perhaps unlovable. The reader can assume from her relationship with the Dwarf, who is perhaps the closest thing to a companion that she has in this book, that in any relationship she has, the White Witch must still be the dominant one and subservience is a necessity. Her character seems to be defined by the selfish, carelessly cruel way that she rules Narnia, and the use of her dark magic to keep the Narnians oppressed and afraid of her. Her magic and her lack of emotion then acts as her biggest strengths because they are what permit her to have leverage over the others and commit wicked acts without any regard for how it affects her victim, as exemplified by the many instances of her turning creatures to stone for small offenses. However her weakness lies in her greed for unchallenged power and her sense of entitlement to a throne that was never meant for her. Her rules are only beneficial to her and work to manipulate situations in her favor, as she would likely be killed if she applied her laws to herself. A prime example of this is when she is about to kill Edmund but is interrupted by Aslan and says, “You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill… And so, that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.” (Lewis, 41) This mentality is what allows her to forcibly seize the throne in the first place and kill so mercilessly. She could have gained more respect from the Narnians and worked with them in her reign but instead, she chose to rule with fear and thus, she herself constantly fears the usurpation of her throne. Her unrestricted authority has made her superior to everyone else in her mind, and that coupled with her aforementioned sense of entitlement are what led her to believe that she had a chance against Aslan, and her eventual demise.
The White Witch holds rank in the story as the general symbol of malice and sinfulness and her influence is felt most strongly by Edmund. She is as purely evil as Aslan is good. She is the source behind any evil lurking in Narnia and her works portray the evil that is always present in life, whether it is sin, cruelty, hatred, lies or selfishness. She does all she can to disrupt and destroy those around her in order to gain control of Narnia, yet she struggles to maintain the upper hand. One of her powers was her ability to recognize Edmund’s insecurity and use her magic to act on it, swaying him to become as power-hungry as her but without him realizing the error in what he did. In chapter six, when he speaks to Peter about her, he says, “If comes to that, which is the right side? How do we know that the Fauns are in the right and the Queen (yes, I know we’ve been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong? We don’t really know anything about either.” (Lewis, 60) Although Edmund knew deep down that he was wrong about the possibility of the Witch being good, he wanted to convince himself that it might be true so that he didn’t feel guilty about working with her and against his siblings. She also influences the way that the Narnians live and behave. Her spell over Narnia that has produced an endless winter makes her presence felt at all times and creates a melancholy overtone that gives the Narnians nothing to look forward to but the many winter days to come. In one instance, a fox wanted to give a toast to the queen but when the Witch asked him about where he and his herd had gotten the food and he replied that he got it from Father Christmas, the witch was so angry that she turned them all into stone. She was so blinded by the coming of Father Christmas and what his arrival foretold about the return of Aslan that she did not consider the fox’s life and how she would be affecting him. Through this persistent malice and unfair treatment of the animals, however, Edmund is able to realize the error of his ways.
Lewis successfully creates an archetypically villainous antagonist in the White Witch and her role as a creature that is pure evil makes her synonymous with Satan when compared to the God-like Aslan and representative of all things bad. At the fundamental level, the world of Narnia enforces justice and will not allow for wickedness to truly or permanently take root just as it cannot take root in Edmund. Seeing that it was Lewis’ intent to create a story that could serve as a metaphor for Christian temptation and the power of Christ through the use of symbolism and conflict, her unwavering greed and need to get ahead at the expense of others makes her a perfect symbol for sin and the fundamental goodness of Narnia makes the perfect symbol for the innate goodness of people before evil is introduced. The moment that best exhibits her villainous nature is when she deceitfully discusses her plans for Edmund saying, “There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what’s more, I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would be King of Narnia when I am gone.” (Lewis, 26) Much like the serpent that tempts Eve in the book of Genesis, the White Witch tempts Edmund with food that leaves anyone who consumes it eternally desiring more. In this instance, he represents humanity and its willingness to sin for objects of their desire and throughout much of the rest of the story, Edmund experiences a deep yearning for more Turkish Delight, which symbolizes human greed, one of the seven deadly sins. Likewise, here, the Witch represents the temptation that Satan possesses that allows him to lure people to give in to sin. Although she was already planning to use him in order to find out about his siblings and secure her power, her ability to hide her agenda and appeal to his own greed and selfishness is a quality any good villainess ought to possess.
Lastly, and the most prominent indicator of the Witch’s role, in the book of Revelation, found in the Christian Bible, Satan rules over all the Earth before God eventually comes to take all His followers to Heaven. In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch has claimed to be the rightful ruler of Narnia in Aslan’s absence and once he returns, winter ends and the Witch is dethroned. These are all examples of the underlying Biblical message that appears throughout the entire story and in most of the characters’ identities. However, the lack of depth or a real motivating factor makes for a rather two-dimensional character, in my opinion. Although I understand how the White Witch’s tendency to perform acts of unnecessary evil adds to the Biblical metaphor by equating her inherently evil nature to that of Satan, Satan is at least believed to have attained his desire to promote evil as vengeance for his expulsion from Heaven. And while providing an incentive for her evil acts might lend too much complexity for the intended child audience and cause other readers to sympathize or relate to her character, without it, one is left to wonder what the bigger picture is and why she lacks compassion. Therefore, presenting some sort of justification in this story is preferred. Along those same lines, information about her past, such as the state of her family, her age and the extent of her magical capabilities, could have been used to advance her character’s story line and give her depth beyond just being Edmund’s manipulative temptation in his search for attention. Nonetheless, for the purposes of what Lewis hoped to convey with her character, he succeeded in doing so.
On the surface, the White Witch is a person driven by the love of evil and the desire to do whatever it takes to sustain power over Narnia for as long as possible. Upon examining her role in the story, however, she can be recognized as the symbol of sin needed to tempt Edmund, who is himself a symbol of human infallibility, and the evil force that unites the siblings with Aslan against her. Lewis, in his large analogy for Christian ideology, created a character simple enough that the undertones of what she meant were imbedded but not so evident that it was too complicated for children to follow along with. Although, her depiction and what she stands for makes it easy to dismiss her as 100% evil, I think that giving her more of a backstory and more depth in this book would have helped. Nonetheless, the White Witch is a classic figure that offers many lessons on morality to the characters and the reader.
Review on the Book “Becoming the Dragon”
I give the book Becoming the Dragon (The Dragon Inside Book 1) 3 out of 4 stars. It’s not my typical genre, but I have really enjoyed reading this. The reason I gave it 3 stars instead of 4 stars is because when the book first started I was interested in the story I was reading, but when I started the next chapter it was so different that I thought I was reading a different story at first. I was very pleased when the author brought the two together into an intriguing and absorbing read.
You first are introduced to the main character, Andy, his family, and the world that he is familiar with. After that you are transported to a different world and are given a look at his thoughts and the characters that play a larger role in the storyline from then on. There is an important change that takes place. And the author does a good job of showing how that change impacts Andy’s life and decisions. I am very interested in reading the rest of the books in the series to see what happens next.
Andy is not the only one that has an important role in this story. There is the impressive Karegar. He is prominent throughout the book. Jaggira is also essential to the story and intriguing.
I think this book would appeal to a wide variety of readers. Anyone that enjoys fantasy, adventure, and science fiction genres should read this book. The author has a fantastic vocabulary and keeps the writing interesting. It was descriptive without becoming overly wordy and boring. This book would not be a good fit for anyone that is offended by spells or magic.
The use of the glossary is nice. I’ve read other books that have included a glossary and I think it adds to the story. Sometimes it’s in the back and sometimes it’s in the front. Personally I think it’s better and more helpful to have it before the story, especially for ebooks. I wasn’t even aware that it had a glossary included until I reached the end of the book.
I feel that this is definitely a very worthwhile read that many people would enjoy. There was a term used that feels like it might have importance later in the series. I look forward to finding out if it does. I’m glad that I was offered the opportunity to read this.
Discussion on Theme of the Church in the Works of Philip Pullman
Lord Acton, a British historian, once said “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Over the course of human history, the Church has been the focus of many criticisms, including but not limited to the relationship with the state, the persecution of heretics, the crusades, the Inquisition, and the homophobic beliefs. In the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, the author seeks to convey the true nature of the Church and its effects on the world of men. He is influenced by Paradise Lost by John Milton, especially the Fall of Lucifer and the Fall of man. The Fall of Lucifer freed Satan and his fellow angels from the will of God. The Fall of man granted free will to men. Pullman favors another “Fall” against the Church, or rather the men who oppress other men by using religion as a cover to further their own corrupt motives and carry out evil deeds. Additionally, Pullman believes in the power of analogies. In a rare interview, Pullman commented that “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. It’s all about thinking by analogy. And analogy is an enormously powerful tool in science” (Jukes). Pullman employs this power of analogy to convey his own opinions on the Church while advocating for men to think for themselves through science, or rather evidence. And although, Pullman criticizes the Church and its dictatorial power over the world, he does not necessarily criticize the religion itself, rather how religion is used to cover up the immoral motives of men.
The first in the His Dark Materials series, The Golden Compass narrates a world under international theocracy by the Magisterium, also known as the Church. Pullman writes that “Ever since Pope John Calvin had moved the set of the papacy to Geneva… the Church’s power over every aspect of life had been absolute” (The Golden Compass 16). The Church seeks to suppress any sort of heresy and dominate the lives of men. As seen with the Master poisoning the wine intended for Lord Asriel, who seeks to research “Dust”, a mysterious particle that is attracted to adults, the Church is willing to act illegally and without bounds in order to protect its own interests and eliminate anyone in its way. However, we see that it is the members who make up the Church, not the religion itself, that threatens the free will of men. A similar desire for total dominance is seen with God in Paradise Lost. God does not give angels free will, believing that angels are his servants. Milton writes that “Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate,/ Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute” (Milton 559-560).
Presumably, God did not intend humans to have free will, keeping them from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Satan, the most beautiful among all the angels, desires this free will for himself and his fellow angels. Milton writes that “what time his Pride/ Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host/ Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring/ To set himself in Glory above his Peers” (Milton 36-39). Satan also desires to rule like God, unwilling to bend to the will of God and arguing that his father is a tyrant. This desire eventually leads to the Fall of Lucifer, in which Satan is banished to Hell after leading a failed war for the control of Heaven. Satan is best described by his own quote, “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n” (Milton 263). After his failure in conquering heaven, Satan sets out to corrupt mankind. Ironically, his action to convince Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge leads to humans gaining free will, which Satan so desired for himself and his fellow angels. In likening his novel with that of Milton, Pullman does not question the existence of God or the feasibility of religion, but he criticizes the Church for its corrupt desires and the actions taken to pursue those desires. Similarly, Milton portrays Satan as a tragic hero, who seeks freedom to choose his own life, while depicting God as an overbearing overlord, who seeks to control the lives of his angels and his newest creation, humans.
To understand the Church better, we must further analyze its actions. The Golden Compass also explains that human souls exist outside of the corporeal body as daemons that accompany and help their humans. Interestingly, the daemons of children move freely and have the ability to change their appearances into any creature, becoming a permanent form once their humans reach puberty. The main plot is about the Church secretly severing the daemons from kidnapped children by a process called intercision, breaking the bond between the daemon and the human. Pullman explains that “that was all he had, a piece of dried fish; because he had no daemon at all… that was intercision, and this was a severed child” (The Golden Compass 107).
The Church believes that this process frees the subject from “Dust”, which is thought to be the physical manifestation of sin. However, the “freed” children are lifeless, appear to have no free will, and thus are easier to control by the Church. Again, the Church is likened to God from Paradise Lost. Both the Church and God seek to dictate the future of all sentient beings. Almost similarly, in order to seek and destroy the source of “Dust”, Lord Asriel, a scholar, severs the daemon of Roger, a friend of Lyra, in order to release enough energy to tear a hole into a parallel universe. Seemingly, the Church and Lord Asriel are sacrificing children for their own motives. However, the Church seeks to imprison all humans to the will of the Church by “freeing” them from their daemons. Contrarily, Lord Asriel searches for knowledge and desires to save all humans; he is not driven by corrupt desires. In this context, Lord Asriel is a tragic hero like Satan, acting immorally to do good overall. Pullman utilizes the power of analogies to liken the objects and characters in his novels to those of Paradise Lost. However, in doing so, it is almost as if Pullman is acknowledging the existence of God; Pullman disagrees with the tyrannical presence of the Church but understands that God may be real.
Pullman continues the next novel, The Subtle Knife, in a parallel universe, introducing the notion of parallel universes and dark matter. These notions are controversial as they both lack solid evidence to support them. In fact, they are like religion, requiring people to believe in them more than having facts to back them up. Pullman may have included these topics to show that religion should not be blindly followed, rather it should be faced with resistance and questioning. It should be noted that Pullman does not disparage religion but is trying to foster healthy, reasonable doubt instead of blind faith. However, the most important facts we learn from this novel is that Lord Asriel is raising an army to fight the forces of the Church and Lyra is prophesized to bring on the second Fall of man. Additionally, the Church is also “assembling the greatest army ever known” in order to silence Lord Asriel and assert their rule (The Subtle Knife 26).
In Paradise Lost, Satan fails in winning the war against God, who also assembled a great, strong army, and is unable to free himself and his fellow angels from the rule of God. Eve brings on the first Fall of man by disobeying the rule set by God and eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This choice leads to humans gaining free will to choose their own lives. Pullman attributes Lord Asriel to Satan and Lyra to Eve. If Lord Asriel fails in his rebellion against the Church and the Authority, he would have failed his fellow men in allowing the Authority to tyrannical rule over all the universes. His failure would also nullify the effects of the first Fall of man, as the Church would sever the daemons from all humans and leave them without free will. If Lyra succeeds, then she brings on the second Fall of man, which frees humans from the dictatorial presence of the Magisterium and the Authority. Mrs. Coulter, an agent of the Church, comments that “Why, I shall have to destroy her [Lyra] to prevent another Fall” (The Subtle Knife 189). In addition, Mary Malone, a physicist studying dark matter, or “Dust”, is instructed to find Lyra and “play the serpent”, or the role of Satan (The Subtle Knife 150). This revelation further supports the role of Lyra as the second Eve.
The Amber Spyglass further exposes the corruption of the Church and narrates its fall. The novel starts with Mrs. Coulter, the mother of Lyra, keeping Lyra drugged in a remote cave hidden from the Church. Pullman writes “Drugged, deceitful sleep! Ama saw a streak of white materialize at the girl’s throat as her daemon effortfully changed into a long, sinuous, snowy-furred creature” (The Amber Spyglass 50). Mrs. Coulter seeks to keep Lyra safe from the Magisterium and from causing the second Fall of man. In a sense, Mrs. Coulter is liken to God, as she hopes to keep her child safe from outside forces. In addition, she is depriving Lyra of her free will, just as God deprives the free will of his creations. Just as Satan visits Eve in a dream, Lyra is visited in a dream by Roger, promising to help him. Meanwhile, as Lord Asriel is gathering forces to fight the Authority and the Church, he “had burst the worlds open, all the Arctic ice had begun to melt”, causing the armoured bears into migrating south (The Amber Spyglass 100).
This development signifies that the upcoming war affects all sentient beings, not just humans; even the armoured bears may be subjugated if the Authority wins the war. Interestingly, the Authority is an angel who thinks he is God. This revelation conveys the opinion of Pullman that even if God is real, he is not as great as the Church portrays him to be. Balthamos explains that “The Authority… was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves — the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we were (The Amber Spyglass 33). The Authority is frail and easily killed, betrayed by his own servant, Metatron. This betrayal further depicts the corruption inside the Church, as the Church leaders all have corrupted, personal motives. After defeating the Authority and the Church, Lyra sets out to build the Republic of Heaven. This ending hints that Pullman does not believe that religion is evil. Religion is an ideology and defined by those who believe in it. The Republic of Heaven is the new, moral interpretation of God and his teachings. However, there is always the risk that this new interpretation becomes corrupt as well, as seen with the consistent theme of the His Dark Materials of “Dust” being attracted to adults (age is associated with sin).
Although Pullman does not advocate religion, he is not against it either, but rather against how religion is used to achieve the dark, corrupt desire of men. The Church in the start may have sought to lead humanity to the light of God, but eventually it became corrupt by the men leading it. This fate was inevitable, as men seek power over other men. In the His Dark Materials series, the Church seeks to imprison free will, believing that it, and only it, knows the best for all men. In such a case, it is better for men to rebel against such tyranny, just as Satan rebels against God in Paradise Lost. In addition, Pullman advocates for men to question the Church, instead of blindly following its teachings, as men, who are fallible, lead the Church, not God. Pullman said “What you feel and believe are private to you and belong to nobody else. What you do in the public sphere is what’s important” (Jukes).
- Jukes, Peter. “All His Materials.” Aeon. N.p., 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 May 2016.
- Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” (1667): n. pag. The University of Virginia. Web.
- Pullman, Philip. “The Amber Spyglass.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
- Pullman, Philip. “The Golden Compass.” A Knoff Paperback, n.d. Web.
- Pullman, Philip. “The Subtle Knife.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.