Monday, December 05, 2005

Pullman vs. Lewis: Pullman's Response

I have seen the new "Pride and Prejudice," which I believe future generations will call "Pride and Prejudice: the 'What the Hell???' version." (Future generations of my offspring, at least.) A longer review is forthcoming. In the meantime, this is Philip Pullman's response to the Chronicle of Higher Education article mentioned below (response sent through child_lit; (c) Pullman 2005; posted without his permission for the interest of those who might be interested):

If the devotees of C.S. Lewis can do no better than this sort of ad hominem attack on my qualifications to speak about him, then Narnia must be in more trouble than I thought. Michael Nelson needs to find out more about the subject, and I suggest that he begins by reading the section on Lewis in John Goldthwaite's 'The Natural History of Make-Believe' (OUP, New York, 1996) which mounts a much more closely argued and ferocious attack on Lewis and Narnia than anything I've managed. I am far from being the only critic of these books, but to judge from the journalism about at the moment, you'd think I was the only person ever to express a whisper of doubt about the greatness, beauty, wisdom, truth, sanctity, etc, that they embody. In the past week alone I've fielded requests for interviews on the subject from four national newspapers in Britain, two TV programmes, and four BBC radio programmes. I'm tired of doing the work of lazy journalists for them, so I said no in each case.

I do wonder, though, why the Lewis cultists are in such a state of nervous tension at the moment. It's another example of their inability to get him in proportion. I've noticed before that criticising Lewis is not just a literary activity: his fans react with the sort of righteous and irrational passion that is only normally seen in zealots confronted with an infidel. You'd think they actually worship him. Criticism is not just mistaken, it seems: it's blasphemous.

As for the Puddleglum reference, which is supposed to knock me and my arguments sideways: it does exactly the reverse, because it bears out whatI've been saying all along about the peculiar nature of Lewis's Christianity. It's yet another example of his thoroughgoing Platonism, another point where his work leaves orthodox Christianity far behind and strikes out for the wilds of heresy. The Narnia stories view this world with contempt and think there is another and better one elsewhere. The fact that God made this world and Lewis invented the other one, and that preferring his world to God's is the REAL blasphemy, escapes the zealots entirely.

I'm tired of this subject after so many years and I'm not going to argue about it any more. To anyone else who raises it, I say simply: I expect you're right.

Philip Pullman


  1. Actually, Pullman still misses the boat in his criticism of Lewis as a "heretic" for preferring Aslan's Country to Narnia (or England for that matter), because Biblically speaking there are any number of exhortations to Christians to "set your minds on things above", and to long for "a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells" rather than fixing our affections on this present, fallen creation. Not that we can't and shouldn't appreciate the many beauties and pleasures of the world we currently live in -- and there's ample evidence in Lewis's writings that he did just that -- but that ultimately, we are looking for something even better to come in a future life. For Pullman to categorize this longing for heaven as a Platonic heresy shows, I think, that he really knows very little about Christianity or the Bible when it comes right down to it.

    But on a more positive note, I've responded to your LJ comment listing Pullman's good points with quite a bit more agreement than you might have imagined...

  2. Yes, I feel this is hardly an airtight response to the criticism in the Nelson article -- indeed it has a rather self-justifying and petulant tone to my ear, as if he isn't going to play the game anymore because he can't win (though he might be able to if he tried, I don't know), so he's taking his critical tools/toys and going home. . . . This aspect of his writing persona consistently disappoints me, I must say; *such* a smart man, but *so* willfully blind to any nuance or other point of view on the subject of religious faith.