Aslan Did Not Say That (Lewis misquoted again)

[UPDATE below]

Literary Lewisians – that is, those who view his written texts and his recorded readings as the only things that qualify as Lewis quotes (as opposed to cinematic adapted one-liners and outlandish self-empowering slogans) – likely expend too much energy seething about the ever-growing corpus of non-Lewis quotes cluttering (even polluting) the digital universe.

I do, anyway.

And perhaps I should stop caring. Or stop blathering about it. Or stop calling it out.

But I think it matters immensely, far beyond anything that has to do with being a devoted Lewisian, medievalist, literarian, or would-be-Narnian. (For these reasons and these. Also these and these. And so many more.)

This is not merely about misquotes. It’s about being thoughtful, careful, precise, clear. Truthful, even.

But I am once again disheartened and confounded by the most recent misquote because it is in printin a bookabout Lewisthat perhaps many people will read, and so there’s very little chance of retracting this particular absolutely-not-a-quote (just like there is very little chance of properly recovering the correct order of the Chronicles of Narnia, yet another reason literary Lewisians gnash their teeth).

The newly released book Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (by Patti Callahan; Thomas Nelson, 2018) ushers readers into Part I with this page:

Anyone who has read Lewis will recognize this “quote” of Aslan’s as not possibly having been written by Lewis, ever. It drips with modern self-actualization that appears nowhere in Lewis’s writings (who was thoroughly unmodern and utterly I-am-lost-without-my-Lord).

I suppose the cinematic-adapted CGI-leo might have uttered these words. But if so, the above quote should indicate such by 1) deleting C. S. Lewis as the intimated author and 2) clearly noting the cinematic-adapted-and-ravaged version as the actual source.

That seems only fair. And accurate. And clear. And precise. And factual.

I assume this “quote” comes from the cinematic-adapted scene wherein the Dawn Treader (“such a very Narnian ship”) enters the Darkness – a very real and very terrifying place of evil. A place wherein Aslan would never advise someone to defeat the darkness in oneself (which isn’t to say he denied inner darkness, or didn’t think it should be defeated). Those who know Aslan (and his earthly incarnated human-divine reality but please remember the Chronicles ARE NOT ALLEGORIES) know that when any of his children find themselves in the midst of evil danger – quivering hands, overwhelming despair, paralyzing fear – if that child has only enough strength to whisper, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now,” – well, even if that child would forget to say please or pretty please or by your mane – Aslan would never respond with: “Well, hmmm, okay. But first you must defeat the darkness in yourself.”

Never. Absolutely and unequivocally never.

Instead, after pleading hopeful words in the midst of palpable despair, something would begin to change inside the child, and inside all the other children on whose behalf she also whispered.

First, a tiny speck of light would appear up ahead.

And then a broad beam of light would fall upon the ship, even while it was still surrounded by darkness.

And then along the beam, the children (some young, some grown) would see what looked like a cross, then like an aeroplane, and then like a kite before finally arriving in a whirling rush of wings. It would be an albatross. It would circle around the mast three times before perching for just an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. And then it would spread its wings, rise, and begin to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little starboard, leading the whole shipload of children folk out into the warm and welcoming sunshine.

And the one who’d whispered for help back in the evil dark – rather than being chided for not first defeating her own inner darkness (blather) – would have heard these words from Aslan-as-albatross while still in the darkness:

 Courage, dear heart.

And as she heard the voice, she would also have felt a delicious smell breathe in her face – the breath of love, the breath of joy, the breath of presence, the breath of spirit, the breath of undeserved rescue.

And when finally out of the darkness, without knowing exactly when or how it happened, everyone would realize there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.

That is what Aslan would have done and said – because that is what he did and said in Chapter 12 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

So, yes – misquotes matter.

Because though both Aslan and our Lord are in the business of forming humility and love and grace in their children while also helping them die-to-self each and every day, neither Aslan nor our Lord are in the business of self-help nonsense-babble that only leads to disappointment, despair, and emptiness. (And maybe also poisonous self-inflation.)

Words matter. Because behind the words are ideas, meaning, stories, and truth. At least that’s the hope.

[UPDATE: 9 Oct 2018]

Turns out this is not just a misquote: it is a misattribution of a misquote. Aslan-of-the-screen did not say these words. Rather, Coriakin-of-the-screen did, per the Confirming C. S. Lewis Quotes page (CCSLQ) of the meticulously researched Essential C. S. Lewis site. I highly recommend it.

I don’t know if this makes things any better. Or worse. To misattribute a misquote is two too many missteps. To misattribute to a false Aslan something said by a false Coriakin is beyond reckoning. It’s Dufflepud-ish, if you will. It’s as difficult to imagine Coriakin saying these things as it is to imagine Aslan saying them.

Coriakin is, by his own estimation, the least of Aslan’s magicians. He oversees the Duffers, who would drive anyone mad. But he never once lays on them platitudes about overcoming inner darkness, pride, or stupidity. Nor does he presume to deliver supposed Aslan-esque platitudes to them regarding their petty and outlandish stubbornness, not even to the Chief Duffer, who would drive anyone sky-high-batty after just five minutes. Coriakin’s ethos and discourse runs more like this:

Lucy followed the great Lion out into the passage and at once she saw coming towards them an old man, barefoot, dressed in a red robe. His white hair was crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, his beard fell to his girdle, and he supported himself with a curiously carved staff. When he saw Aslan he bowed low and said,

“Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses.”

“Do  you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?”

“No,” said the Magician, “they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.”

“All in good time, Coriakin,” said Aslan.

“Yes, all in very good time, Sir,” was the answer. (Chapter 11, VDT)

Actual-Lewis’s actual-Coriakin is surely not someone who would blather about defeating inner darkness in order to defeat outer darkness. He knew better. Much better. The Chief Duffer, on the other hand…

 

Tinkering with Aslan’s roar: please don’t

EDITORIAL UPDATE: Please see the reader comment below. I did not research deeply enough. It looks as though “Haa-a-arrh” is in fact the ORIGINAL British version of Aslan’s roar. The first American edition kerfuffled with it and made it “Wow!” to which John Goldthwaite (who apparently also did not do his research carefully enough) took issue. HarperCollins switched it back to “Haa-a-arrh” – and I must now reorient all of my irritation…because there’s always something to be irritated about. And there is always more fact-checking to do. I suspect that had Goldthwaite known this little fact, he would have taken issue with the British version of the roar as well, perhaps deriding it with the same snakiness that I do below because I doubt the roar was ever really the main issue for him. But since he didn’t, I can’t rightfully claim this. I’m leaving this post up for now as evidence of what can happen in the heat of minor literary irritations. Beware.

EDITORIAL UPDATE 2:

Per Peter Schakel (The Way Into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide, p. 127) it was Lewis himself who made the change to Wow. The British editions and the 1994 editions have the original Haa-a-arrh. Goldthwaite obviously didn’t know this. Per Schakel: “Lewis undoubtedly was not familiar with the U.S. slang word ‘Wow’.”

EDITORIAL UPDATE 3: (see photo of Schakel’s note at bottom of post)

________

For those who love C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, it may come as a surprise to learn that not everyone feels the same (or any) similar affection. (Pause and gather yourselves, people. All is still well even if all do not share our particular literary leanings.)

The most vocal hater is Philip Pullman (author of His Dark Materials trilogy) who calls the complete Narnia cycle “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read” and who places himself firmly in the center of “those of us who detest the supernaturalism, the reactionary sneering, the misogyny, the racism, and the sheer dishonesty of [Lewis’s] narrative method.” (1) For those who are interested, Pullman’s opinions (I hesitate to call them literary observations since in so many cases he wholly misreads the text)  are systematically and politely addressed by Michael Ward (author of Planet Narnia) here. (NB: just because I take umbrage with Pullman’s views does not mean that I view the Chronicles as beyond reproach or canonically inerrant. They are stories, after all – jolly good ones, to be sure – but stories nonetheless, not Scripture.)

Two years before Pullman threw down his gauntlet, John Goldthwaite took his own swipe at Lewis in The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America (Oxford, 1996). He accused Lewis of “incompatible borrowings” in the creation of his Chronicles, where he sees traces of Edith Nesbit meeting Lewis Carroll meeting Kenneth Graham meeting King James, resulting in what he considers to be some “truly fatal blunders.”

It is the King James “borrowing” that pains Goldthwaite the most, particularly the parts about a lion, which he claims are based on just two apocalyptic passages. The first is from 2 Esdras: “And as for the lion whom you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all the words that you have heard, this is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days.” (NB: Goldthwaite uses the RSV version here not the King James, which may not nullify his argument but is careless nonetheless.) The second is from Revelation: “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed…”

In Goldthwaite’s words: “[Lewis’s] central problem building the parable had always been the difficulty of portraying his Lion of Judah, Aslan, in such a way that the Christ figure would speak with the needed authority yet without intimidating the tale back into those stained-glass and Sunday School associations Lewis wished to avoid. The odds against him were long, and he did not really surmount them–or, rather, he surmounted them and toppled over onto the other side of good judgment.” (p. 222).

How, exactly, did Lewis “topple over onto the other side of good judgment” in portraying his own lion as The Lion? Goldthwaite provides just a single example, from the end of Chapter 13 in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, holding it up as insurmountable evidence on one hand even as he reduces it to a mere”storybook solution to the dilemma” on the other:

“Wow!” roared Aslan half rising from his throne…

That single phrase–word, actually–is the lynchpin of Goldthwaite’s argument:”Even a child” (he authoritatively sneers) “might question the ‘real potency’ of a Christ given to yelling ‘Wow!'” (p. 223)

Hmmph. Goldthwaite makes a fatal error of 1. reducing to a yell what is clearly called and described as a roar in which Aslan’s “great mouth opened wider and wider and the roar grew louder and louder,” and 2. failing to note that in response to what he views as an impotent yell “the Witch, after staring for a moment with her lips wide apart, picked up her skirts and fairly ran for her life.”

Any reader – even a child, especially a child – can see quite clearly that this Lion is not a meekly mewling yeller. Besides, Aslan speaks and does a thousand other things that (apparently) are not worth Goldthwaite’s consideration.

But Goldthwaite’s tenuous criticism is not the real point. The real point is this: someone actually paid attention to it and considered it credible enough to TINKER WITH THE TEXT.

What manner of indefensible foolishness is this?

If you happen to own a pre-HarperCollins copy of LWW, you can check the final page of Chapter 13 and see the ‘offending’ (per Goldthwaite) “Wow!” in all its leonine glory.

If you happen to own a HarperCollins copy of LWW,* you will find on the final page of Chapter 13 not a gloriously leonine “Wow!” that sends a Witch running for her life but rather a modified – dare I say Goldthwaitified –

“Haa-a-arrh!”

Excuse me?

Excuse me??

Who decided that this part-laugh + part-sneeze + part-pirate kerfuffle was a stronger reflection of Messianic power and strength than the original Wow? Who??

Piffle. Harrumph. Poo.

Sorry to make such a plaguey fuss, but would someone please tell me what exactly is the point of this editorial revision? Do we think children will now, finally, sense “real potency” in both the lion and the text? Do we think Aslan’s leonine legitimacy has, at last, been raised a notch or two? Do we think Goldthwaite will, apologetically and humbly, retract his claim and sing Lewis’s praises? Do we think that changing a word – a roar, rather – will mollify the critics and get them to like us better, or at least view us with less disdain?

Do we?

Ha.

Or should I say Haa-a-arrh?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13, per Macmillan (1950-1994)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13, per Macmillan (1950-1994)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13 per HarperCollins (1994-present)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, end of Chapter 13 per HarperCollins
From
From “The Way Into Narnia” by Peter J. Schakel

1. Philip Pullman, “The Dark Side of Narnia,” The Guardian (Oct. 1, 1998), 6. I have accessed this article from two different research databases (LexisNexis Academic and ProQuest) and can attest to its existence. At one time, it was available online via The Guardian. The original public link is now dead, though someone uploaded the article here.

*   The earliest HarperCollins “Haa-a-arrh” edition I have is dated 1998, a full 2 years after Goldthwaite’s book. The evidence points strongly to the change being made in response to Goldthwaite’s comments, but of course no one at HarperCollins has ever come out and said as much. If anyone has a pre-1996 printing that has “Haa-a-arrh” in it, please let me know so I can retract my complaint, or at least the underlying implications of it.