Ah, Fall. I love that my view of the lake looks like the picture above.
My previous attempt at Book Riot’s Zero to Well Read list had me exploring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I read it during the Zimmerman Trial debacle and I found myself too annoyed with the book’s racism to continue. It mirrored current issues with the trial too closely for me and I abandoned it for that and other reasons. If you haven’t read my clumsy previous post, I also mentioned that Huck wasn’t part of my school’s curriculum and had never read it. This time I decided to reread a book that was assigned and check in with my adult self’s understanding of it.
There are several titles listed from which to choose in this category, but since I’m still in a state of recovery from my experiment in September, I decided on C.S. Lewis’s The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe; I figured a children’s book I was assigned to read in the second grade would be about my intellectual speed this month. Being that second grade was over 30-something years ago, I must have donated my copy to a library. (I’m guessing it got lugged a full half mile here some time before high school with all of my other “children’s books” I probably wouldn’t read again.) Being October (I’m assuming), there wasn’t a copy available in my current library (ironically also about a half mile away) so I borrowed it from my (much) younger cousin. She handed me a copy of The Complete Chronicles of Narnia that was massive and didn’t fit in my purse. (Explanation: at one time she was with me while I was handbag shopping and mentioned my requirement for a perfect purse is small enough to control the amount I carry but big enough to accommodate a trade paperback. As a result, she labels a bag or a book as appropriate for me according to this conversation.) I hadn’t realized how many books made up the collection until I flipped through to see how long Book 2 would be.
I was shocked to find out there was a story before The Wardrobe and that the darn thing was only 92 pages long. I swore it was much much much longer than that. (Perhaps to a 7 year old, it was.) My confession for this post is I wasn’t a fan of this book when I was a child. I found it confusing and a little boring. As an adult, I’ve come to understand why I had such a difficult time liking many of the books assigned in school. My love of reading is directly related to being immersed in the story. By the second grade, I was rarely struggling with the phonics of the words and was fairly good at inferring meaning of unfamiliar ones through context (yay me, yay teachers). However, picking apart symbolism and stressing over what I would need to remember from the week’s assigned pages for the Friday quiz really didn’t allow me to get lost in Narnia. I always read beyond the assignment and found myself so far ahead I had to reread the test material the Thursday night before– which more than likely attributed to the confusion and boredom. As I reread my way through this list (and, yes, I know at this rate it’ll be about 10 years before I’m done), I’ll probably have a much greater respect for the books I had to analyze in school.
This time, I was able to play around a bit in Narnia– as well as finally pronouncing the land correctly instead of a blurred Nar-ree-ah. The story itself is wonderful and appealing. I found the narrator suddenly directing comments to the reader to shake me a bit. I went from trudging through the snow or slowly appearing Spring, staying a few steps behind my new friends, to being aware of holding a book in my lap, reclined and cuddled in my comfy chair in front of the fire. I tried to keep in mind I was indeed reading something intended for an audience well below my age-bracket. I could see why I should have enjoyed this story in the second grade. What’s not to love? There’s a mystical land that not only offers an escape from a stuffy old house but has talking animals and adventure! They get to be Kings and Queens known for their fairness, valiancy and wisdom! Sign me up!
My adult persona also allowed for a new understanding of my confusion and lack of interest in the Narnia series as a child. When my husband found I had finished the book, he asked me what I thought. To paraphrase the conversation, I explained how I didn’t realize the first time around how much of it was based in Christian mythology and he said he had never really gotten that. I was surprised and brought up the very apparently retelling of the Crucifixion– to which he conceded, “Yeah I knew that. But the rest of it. There are a lot of Pagan elements too.”
And, yes, he’s right. There are a lot of Pagan elements. And the moral of the story is that the Lion will prevail over the Witch.
I have a problem with that. Why is the witch almost always the villain? Why does this have to be religious rather than a simple good versus evil story? I’m not certain the C.S. Lewis was alluding to Pagans specifically but the inference of witches being all things bad is getting tiresome. We have far too few Glindas compared to the number of Wicked Witches.
I will make it clear here that the problem is mine and I do not think the book should be condemned as discriminatory against Pagans. I mean, let’s face it: Paganism hasn’t been respected for centuries. Nothing I’ll say here will change that. I’m not sure it’s worth it, either.
Of course my sensitivity to the corruption of magick* for entertainment purposes is heightened around now because of the secularization of Halloween. Sue McCaskill wrote a great op-ed piece about Halloween and the depiction of witches. (If you read her piece, and I suggest you do, please note that Pagans can claim the title of Witch without being Wiccan. Wicca is a specific and still rather new tradition but still an earth-based faith.) For years I boycotted the traditional Halloween Witch: a green-faced, warty old hag. Trust me. Witches never had a green complexion unless we have food poisoning or are having a facial. But I’m resigned to the battle for respect among the population at large being lost and now focus on getting a little personal respect. Why? Harry Potter and the Narnia stories get children to read. I’m willing to give up magickal accuracy for literacy. The Halliwell sisters at least faced consequences for their actions. The Dresden Files has fun characters and a little truth to the theory behind where magick comes from and how it works. For me, the jury is still out on Witches of East End (though I have to admit I like Mädchen Amick’s character, the idea of consequences and I’ve never read the books). I’ve even stopped plotting to write a book or television series where the main character is a misunderstood man who has supernatural powers to raise the dead, heal the sick, feed the hungry and come back from the dead himself after he’s killed by the government in the cliffhanger. Because that would be disrespectful. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
The truth is five of eight traditional Pagan holidays have either been secularized or taken over by Christianity. Seriously. Even Groundhog Day has Pagan roots. The exceptions seem to be the Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox and Lammas (though the Catholic Church coincides the latter with the assumption of Mary). Every time I see a bumper sticker asking us to Keep Christ in Christmas, I snicker a little and want one that says Keep Hallowed All Hallow’s Eve. (I have to admit I snicker also because Jesus was probably born in the Spring, yet Christians celebrate the birth of the Son of God when Pagans are celebrating the birth of the Sun God.) But honestly, to my Christian readers, fight for it. Fight to keep Christ in Christmas…. because I understand how it feels to have your holy days become holidays that only resemble the sacredness of the day with research, if at all.
But secularization is here. Do me a solid: if you know any Pagans, be sure to wish them a happy Samhain. It’s pronounced SOW-in and is primarily the Gaelic name for the holiday. If you know what tradition your friend follows, be sure to use the appropriate name or be bold and ask! As for me, I celebrate on the actual cross-quarter day which is November 7th this year. On the 31st, I’ll give out candy to children and I’ll genuinely compliment their costumes. Between doorbells ringing and holding the dog back from wanting to play with the trick or treaters, I’ll quietly remember this is the beginning of a new year for me and others who are smiling and making sure the children get to have their fun.
And maybe next year I’ll hit all the used book stores, sites and library sales, buy up all the copies of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and give it out along with chocolate.
Because, why not?
* I’m not sure who started trying to differentiate stage magic from spellwork by adding a k to the latter. I started following that tread years ago but think it’s pretty stupid now. Yet I still find myself doing it.