The Janet and John Bit

I’ve been rereading the Narnia books lately- they help me to sleep (in a good way) and I’ve been thinking that C S Lewis doesn’t get enough credit. He gets a lot of flak for misogyny and rightly so in many ways: there’s often a hag or an evil witch trying to destroy Narnia, the head of Estate and Jill’s dysfunctional school is “by the way, a woman” and don’t even get me started on the problem of Susan, the poor young woman who at the end of the series loses her entire family and is excluded from Narnia just for the crime of being a bit trivial.

And yet. Whereas many, if not most children’s adventure books of that time were written for boys and if they featured girls at all showed them in a very passive role, girls take an active and almost equal part in the Narnia adventures. Not only that, they are often wiser than the boys: in both The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he subverts traditional theology by making boys the villain of the piece. In TMN it’s Diggory who brings the witch into Narnia and thereby becomes the agent of original sin, and in LWW it’s Edmund who betrays his siblings to the witch.

Compare and contrast with the Ladybird books I grew up with. ‘Look, Janet, look! I can climb a tree!’ And so on. I happen to have ended up in the home of Ladybird books, and in recent years some ‘book benches’ have been made to commemorate their centenary. These crop up in all sorts of places and are surreptitiously moved during the night.

I think I blogged about these at some point but I can’t find it.

Kirk out

6 thoughts on “The Janet and John Bit

  1. I never did read any of the Narnia books, but I certainly had a lot of Janet and John books as a child. Mind you, I didn’t need much reinforcement of the ‘Man’s role’, my dad saw to that on a daily basis.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I love the Narnia books so much, I wish I could go back and read them for the first time. When I read that the witch had made it always winter and never Christmas, I thought it was the worst thing imaginable

  2. I think another criticism Lewis has received has been the promotion of a Christian agenda to children. One’s response to that will vary, of course, according to whether one is a rational humanist, or whether one takes the view that “this is a Christian country, so where’s the harm?” I can’t really comment any further than that, as it will be a very long time since I read any of them, if I did [they can’t have made much of an impression, if I did], and I never read them to my daughters. I guess authors have a prerogative to weave whatever agenda they choose into their books, and it should be up to parents to use their best judgment as to which books are suitable for their children, until they are old enough to choose their own reading matter. Cheers, Jon.

    1. I think he very deliberately promoted a Christian agenda to children: I think that was his point. But I think the stories stand as works of the imagination regardless of the allegory. What does jar a little is the slang “I say, Peter ” etc and what someone has called the medieval cosplay

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