To be fair, I did enjoy this chapter a lot – there’s a growing sense of excitement and anticipation as both the characters and the reader begin to realize that the Witch’s spell is breaking. But then we get to the last page.
“For you also are not to be in the battle.”
“Why, sir?” said Lucy. “I think – I don’t know – but I think I could be brave enough.”
“That is not the point,” he said. “But battles are ugly when women fight.”
Please excuse me while I barf.
So, I intended to do my best to defend this part…but unfortunately, the more I think about it, the more inexcusable it becomes. I fully intended to argue that Susan was only meant to use her bow for hunting, but no. Father Christmas tells her to “use the bow only in great need”, so it’s clear he means for her to use it for self-defense, much like Lucy’s dagger. The girls get perfectly good weapons that they’re supposed to basically just use to keep any enemies at bay while Susan calls for aid with her horn and Lucy can heal the wounded with her cordial once the battle’s over. And Peter gets a sword and shield (Edmund gets nothing, because he’s on the naughty list).
Now, Lewis was perfectly well aware of how ugly battles can get regardless of the presence of women, since he fought in World War I. He should have known better. There, I said it. This emphasis on keeping the womenfolk out of “the battle” is distracting and, considering how things work out in the end, completely unnecessary. Do I think women should generally not fight in battles? I honestly don’t know. War is a sad reality, whether the soldiers are male or female.
What makes this all the more inexcusable is that Lewis backtracks on it in future books in the series, not to mention his very nuanced portrayal of a warrior queen in Till We Have Faces (which he wrote after he finished The Chronicles of Narnia). He clearly had a change of heart, which from all appearances began when he started getting to know his eventual wife Joy. I can’t really bring myself to blame him for it; I know plenty of men who grew up with sisters and/or a mother who foster similar opinions, whereas Lewis’s mother died when he was very little and thus he grew up a bachelor with only a brother and a father. He had no close relationships with women for a long time, so it makes sense that he would only have faint ideas of what a woman should be at this point, not how they really act. This also explains why Susan is the least realistic of the four children – for Peter and Edmund he could draw upon his own experiences, and Lucy is clearly based on a little girl he actual knows, but he didn’t have any model for Susan, so he simply made her a generic nice older sister I guess. All of the other female characters in this book are archetypal at best.
Anyhow, there was actually quite a lot I liked about this chapter, even if the ending spoiled it a bit.
Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.
This is exactly the feeling that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe does best, which exemplifies the jovial quality – that solemn gladness.
Until next time…