Tag: CS Lewis

Edmund and the Snow Queen

This one’s not about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; it’s a deposit for later, when I will be writing about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Yesterday, while I baked the apple pie, I listened to “The Snow Queen” on audiobook, and was astonished by the parallels between Kay’s interactions with the Snow Queen in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale and Edmund’s with the White Witch in Narnia.

At the broadest level, the parallel between Snow Queen and White Witch are obvious – both are magical, both sharply associated with snowfall and winter. In both texts, she wraps the freezing boy in her furs and takes him home.

The parallels between Kay and Edmund are similar – each leaves a little girl who has reason to trust him, without explanation, to run off; and each then allies with a dangerous winter lady. Spoiler alert: both boys also come to repent their trangressions.

It’s pretty clear that this episode in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe alludes to “The Snow Queen.” At minimum, Lewis is making that reference. If we view the novel as Lucy’s dream, then the allusion is even stronger: of course the dream of a little girl steeped in fairy tales would be influenced by her bedtime stories.

This allusion enables Lewis to quietly invoke (I need to decide whether the invocation is meant for emphasis or contrast) Anderson’s themes.

“The Snow Queen” is very much a metaphor for growing up. Kay and Gerda play together and spin tales about roses and play games, in their childhood. Under the influence of a fragment of the terrible mirror, Kay gets cynical and mean, begins leaving Gerda behind for the company of boys, a depiction of older boyhood. He leaves the boys behind in pursuit of a woman, a doomed relationship, parallel to the adolescent pursuit of sex without concern for real emotional connection.

Gerda leaves behind her childhood rose garden wearing red shoes that Kay has never seen – a metaphor for her emerging sexuality. She embarks on a long journey, meeting various people, some of whom are kind, some dangerous, and some who ought to be dangerous but behave kindly, the adventures of a life. Possibly twice (at least once – need to check this) observes that “it is autumn, and I have wasted my time.” When she finds him, after the heat of Gerda’s emotions melts the shards of the wicked mirror from Kay’s eyes and heart, rendering him newly sentimental, they SHARE that observation, and when they return home, they notice that they are now grown up.

The metaphor is interspersed throughout with Christian themes, including a recurring hymn that both children learned in childhood, about returning to childhood to find Jesus, which could help explain the significance of the Pevensey childrens’ return to childhood in England after living a full life, including adulthood as kings and queens, in Narnia. If this has been Lucy’s dream, waking to find herself newly a child would be a return to find Jesus, a pursuit that can surprise no one in a novel by CS Lewis.

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What Lewis Said

In the middle of the 1930s, the same year, I think, that Tolkien taught us to read Beowulf, CS Lewis published The Allegory of Love, in which he established what would later come to be called “The heresy of courtly love” and in which he more lastingly explained how to read allegory, and in particular how to read the Roman de la Rose, among other things a dream vision.

His argument is that when we see allegory in a medieval text, it indicates that the text is psychological, looking inward. As this applies to the Roman, each allegorical figure is either an aspect of the narrator’s personality, or an aspect of the narrator’s goal, in this case to win the love of his beloved, and consequently an aspect of his beloved’s situation, mood, or willingness to be won. By implementing allegorical methods, the author effectively shines his subject matter through a prism, separating lover and beloved into their component parts.

If my goal were to interpret the medieval Roman, it would be fruitful to look to Macrobeus’ commentary on Scipio’s dream or to other philosophers and theologians of the period to assess the significance of dreams in the 12th century. If you’re interested in that analysis, I’ve actually laid it out already, in my dissertation, and I’d be tickled if you read it.

It’s probably worth looking to Freud and his followers to get a sense of the significance of dreams for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so let’s consider the idea that the novel hints at a dream frame in an effort to shine Dorothy’s wish fulfilment fantasy through a prism, separating out her desire for or anxiety about finding her proper place into its components: the companions, and even Toto, function as aspects of Dorothy herself. The various antagonists and obstacles and locations function similarly as aspects of that knowledge. As outward as traveling to a new world may appear, Dorothy’s adventure, interpreted this way, is internally focused, a psychological exploration of the landscape of childhood as it emerges into independent adulthood.

In previous entries, or possibly in a Facebook status, I’ve speculated about the main companions as indicating Dorothy’s own anxieties: am I a coward because I experience fear? am I heartless? am I stupid? It remains to talk about Dorothy herself and about Toto. I am tempted by a Freudian triad, with Dorothy as ego, Toto as id, and the companions as superego.