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The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the most popular children's fantasy book series today and has thus received not only wide praise and critical acclaim but also criticism in many areas and one of such criticisms are it's supposed anti feminist views and depictions. Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials trilogy criticized the works of C. S Lewis, as monumentally disparaging of girls and women. In the same stead, J.K Rowling, author of best-selling Harry potter series commented that in The Chronicles "There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She becomes irreligious basically because she found sex; I have a big problem with that"  It is very true that C. S Lewis was in no way a feminist writer and the Chronicles were never meant to extol above others any female character. What his critics neglect to mention are the strong depictions of the human values and qualities of integrity, forgiveness, faith, courage and unconditional love through the female characters; Lucy Pevensie, Polly Plummer, Jill Pole, and Aravis.
Lucy who is one of the female protagonists in the Chronicles depicts what is decent and good in all human kind. She is the youngest of the Pevensie children and the first to discover Narnia. What she sees in Narnia is magical and awakens in her a sense of adventure and tests her faith and belief in a world very different from her own, a world that is plagued by war and destruction. Her purity allows her to believe in the magic of Narnia a symbol of hope and what essentially humankind can be even when Edmund denied its existence. Lucy possesses a spirit of adventure and is extremely open-minded. She can also be seen as a symbol of courage and perseverance.
In 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', when Father Christmas tells her and her sister, Susan that they are not to be in battle, because "battles are ugly when women fight"  Lucy responds to him saying "I think I could be brave enough"  . It is later revealed to us in The Horse and his Boy that she fought bravely in many wars and was 'as good as a man' (find citation) and this must have been why she was known by her people as "Queen Lucy the Valiant"  . She therefore proved Father Christmas' earlier statement of battles getting ugly when women fought, wrong by fighting and surviving. Her brevity was also displayed in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Lucy was needed to go and undo the spell for the invisible men. She defies their protests, ordering them not to try and stop her, despite the risk of facing a very powerful magician, who we find out however, to be Aslan. She is also very forgiving and truthful. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace is down with seasickness, Lucy forgives his rude and bitter behavior towards her and uses her cordial to cure him. She is thus portrayed as magnanimous and mature for her young age.
In the same book, through her juxtaposition with a ship which is described as being 'a beauty of her kind'  with 'her lines perfect'  and 'her colors pure'  , it seems to be Lucy, rather than the ship, who is being described here. Lewis thus, through Lucy, portrays a purity that endures all and that which all human kind should aspire to.
Polly another female character is not afraid of her femininity and is interested in 'girly' things, such as clothes. When she first entered the room full of people turned stone, Polly showed an interest in the clothes, commenting that 'any one of these clothes would cost hundreds of pounds'  . She is thus aware of her femininity and is not afraid to embrace it. However this is not all there is to her. Polly is also depicted as a leader. She portrayed this leadership when she told Digory not to ring the bell, saying that they did not want any danger. When it was insinuated that she was scared, she regarded Digory with much confidence, saying to him; 'I'll go anywhere you go'  . She thus exudes much confidence, independence and courage.
In additon to her bravery and boldness, Polly possesses other admirable qualities, such as sensitivity and fellowship. When Digory asks Aslan for a cure for his mother, Aslan gives Strwaberry - the Cabby's former horse - wings and orders him to carry Digory and fly to the the garden, Polly asks Aslan for permission to accompany him, hereby showing her loyalty to Digory, despite their petty disagreements.
Aravis is also a major female character in the sixth book of the series, The Horse and his Boy. She is from the land of Carlomen. Aravis is in all senses of the word, resilient. She is from a land where females are a minority and are forced to marry men against their free will. When she is forced to marry Ashoshta Tarkaan, she runs away from her father and her land, to her friend, Lasaraleen, seeking refuge and protection. She is also not the stereotypical woman at that place and time (Calormen). Aravis was a woman who 'had always been more interested in bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming'  , unlike her friend, Lasaraleen, who was into 'clothes and parties and gossip'  . She thus rebels against her culture and her family, in order to achieve happiness and freedom. Through her actions, Lewis points his readers towards his message that humankind has power to influence or even change its destiny because above all creation they have been blessed with a conscience.
It should noted that even in portrayals where female characters have been depicted negatively, Lewis does succeed in conveying his intended and subtle messages of: redemption, forgiveness, courage and Good versus Evil as being one of the important external human struggles on earth. His depiction of the 'White Witch', 'The Green Lady' (Emerald Queen), Queen Jadis believed to have been the White Witch in a previous life as symbols of evil is convincing and telling of how evil can take on the most attractive form. This is contrary to the common belief that that which represents evil must be dark and hideous to behold.
Lewis depicts this theme and message through the villainesses in Narnia, the White witch and The Green lady (Emerald Queen). The White Witch first introduced in the first novel, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the first villain of Narnia that the reader encounters but she is not explored in depth. The most the reader can perceive is that she is powerful, evil and beautiful. Lewis describes her as a "great lady"  , having "a beautiful face in other respects, but proud and cold and stern."  Another, interesting detail however, is her lineage and this gives the reader insight into who the white witch really is. She is of Lilith a mythical creature, who was Adam's first wife. George Macdonald, a strong influence on Lewis's work, describes Lilith as "radiant in her perfect shape"  , likened to the witch, her daughter, who has a beautiful face.
According to Macdonald, Lilith takes the form of a white leopard sometimes and is also cold to touch. This resembles Lewis's description of the witch as being covered "with white fur up to her throat"  and surrounding herself with ice and snow. Her depiction in white portrays her as deceptively divine and pure. It is this deceptive appearance and seductive nature that lures Edmund into her trap. She later triumphantly declares, concerning Edmund's life; "He belongs to me as my lawful prey"  Therefore in actuality, the White Witch is evil and impure, therefore through her appearance which could also be considered as a stereotype definition of beauty Lewis conveys to the reader the subtle warning that appearances can be deceptive.
Queen Jadis, who is the villain in The Magician's Nephew, is believed to be the White Witch in an earlier time. Lewis also uses the complexity of her character and beauty to effectively convey his message about the nature and form of evil. She is described as possessing an awe inspiring beauty for is "seven feet tall and dazzlingly beautiful" (72). Digory is of the opinion that "In all his life, he had never seen a woman so beautiful" (52 His uncle 'The Magician' too is captivated by her beauty, forgetting how frightening she had been to him and 'thinking more and more of her wonderful beauty'.() To Uncle Andrew, she was so beautiful that he kept muttering to himself "A dem fine woman'(73) in reference to the Queen. In his mind, he even had grand thoughts of entering a relationship with the 'Superb Creature' (73) and this shows the amount of power her beauty had on him.
This beauty only perceived by males is "terrifying" (80) and according to Lewis, the Queen possessed a form "fierceness" (80) and "wildness" (80). Through this complex depiction of the magnificent power of seduction, Lewis alludes to the original sin committed by man when he falls prey to the seductive power of the serpent. Another strong message depicted in his works.
In Narnia, Queen Jadis eats the forbidden fruit and this lengthens her days and she gains 'unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess'.(162). She then proceeds to convince Digory to take a bite, or go and give his mother, rather than giving it to Aslan. She seduces Digory, penetrating into his heart and speaking sweet words to convince him to act as she wants. In the end, Digory does not fall for this temptation and he flies back to Aslan. However, through this episode, the reader is made aware of the fact that every one is ultimately responsible for their choices between being good or evil.
Apart from the witches, Lewis also introduces another female villain into the world of Narnia, known as the 'Green Lady'. The Green lady is the Villainess in The 6th book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair. She is first depicted as the witch who kills the King Rilian's Mother, in the form of a serpent. She is associated with a snake here and thereby can be described with its attributes, cunning, slithery and deadly. Her Emerald colour depicts her jealous and conniving nature. The colour green also ironically signifies life and this is used to deceive Rilian- the crown prince.
The first time the Green lady appears in her human form, Rilian sees her and describes her as the "the most beautiful thing that was ever made."  It is apparent here that the prince Rilian has fallen under her spell, much like Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew. The Lord Drinian, who is older, more mature and more experienced, also notices her distinct and magnificent beauty. He however seems to be immune to her seductive powers because although he comments that she was 'The most beautiful lady he had ever seen'  , 'It stuck in Drinian's mind that this shining green woman was evil.' Her seductive powers are once again seen in full force when she appears to the children, Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum. Here not just her physical appearance, but her mannerisms as well captivate the children. Her speech is described as being 'as sweet as the sweetest bird's song' and her dress, which was a 'fluttering dress of dazzling green'  enraptured the children, apart from Puddlegum, who's cynical behaviour kept him safe from the Witch's powers. It is thus important to note here that this is a Christian allegory and the femme fatale represents evil, which takes the form of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In the final struggle between the Emerald queen and the children, Lewis depicts his message of every human being's duty in the never struggle against evil and that was to resist evil and believe in the good in others.
Apart from his depictions of Evil Magical female protagonists, Lewis' critics have also highlighted his depictions of Susan one of the human characters as being sexist. Susan is initially depicted as being spirited and possessing a legendary prowess at archery. She is also the guardian to a magical horn which a symbol of hope. She is further trusted by the Christ like Aslan crowned Queen of Narnia by him. She later becomes known as 'Queen Susan the Gentle'. The period of their reign is considered the Golden Age of Narnia a parallel to that of Queen Elizabeth I in which England witnessed era of religious tolerance. In 'The Horse and His Boy', she refuses to conform to the gender stereotype that every Queen needs a King when she rejects Prince Rabadash' proposal of marriage. Her decision proves the right one as the Prince later revels his treacherous nature by plotting to invade Narnia. Susan also portrayed as the voice of caution and common sense and begins shows hesitation in regard to their actions.
As their adventures take them away from the places they know she becomes more cautious and preoccupied with physical comfort. Of all the Pevensies, Susan who is a mother figure is most content in positions of ease and comfort, and tends to advise the others to avoid anything unpleasant. Edmund even later describes her as "a wet blanket". As she becomes increasingly self absorbed, the reader begins to feel that Susan has indeed lost her faith and belief in the fact that they can indeed triumph over evil. Even when Susan seems lost for ever and it is implied that she will no longer visit Narnia there is a message of hope for redemption here for the reader as author Paul F. Ford writes in his 'Companion to Narnia', in a footnote that, "This is not to say, as some critics have maintained, that she is lost forever ... It is a mistake to think that Susan was killed in the railway accident at the end of 'The Last Battle' and that she has forever fallen from grace.
It is to be noted that even in this 'fall from grace' and preoccupation with her personal image there is hope that she will work through her predicament and in the process, change to become truly the gentle person she has the potential for being." Thus it is important to understand that Lewis's decision to exclude Susan from the real Narnia was not based on the sexist notion that she had become a 'silly female'. He uses Susan's predicament to represent the lost Christian, who has seen real evidence of God but decides to forsake Him for more worldly things and, which in this case, is represented by Lipstick. Her end could also be interpreted as a time for a new beginning and change.
In conclusion, to latch on to the mere literal depictions of female characters and how they are portrayed in the Chronicles of Narnia would usually weaken and defeat the sole purpose of Lewis' subtle messages of good and evil and the humankind's place in the world. Just like the male characters, the female characters succeed in revealing to the reader what is good and what is not in all of us.