Ideally, the story should end when the villain is killed and evil is vanquished with some other glamorous-sounding words which make the whole story ‘epic.’ That’s the way it should happen – such is the equation created by Tolkien, and Tolkienian lore is irreplaceable, as all of us are well aware.
The standard equation for fantasy fiction, however, is not something that emerged when Tolkien decided that Frodo would take the ring to Mordor. The idea at the back of everyone’s head of a “knight-in-shining-armour”, who defeats a demonic other and returns home to reap rewards is an idea that has thoroughly pervaded the genre since its conception.
Reading The Chronicles of Narnia again might be the worst decision to make in your first semester as a second year. Everything, everything, absolutely everything is problematic. The Eurocentric idea of fantasy fiction is problematic in itself – the demonic other attacking a white society (almost always rural in existence. Think The Shire from the Hobbit homes) and the white heroes rising with heroism and magic to defeat it, is a standard trope.
The Chronicles of Narnia are even more problematic in the way this ‘other’ is constructed. The White Witch that features as the villain of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a female with sexual agency, who uses magic to freeze the land in a permanent state of stagnancy and ‘ignores’ the laws of divinity. Conceptualised as Satan from the Biblical story of Genesis, the White Witch becomes the primary villain for Edmund, Lucy, Peter and Susan in their mission to protect a society of benevolent white humans overlooking a kingdom of talking animals.
However, despite being the sexualised and demonic feminine other, the White Witch still remains white. On the other hand, the way Lewis conceives of the Turks and Tarkans, as darker Asiatic heathens who believe in bestial Pagan Gods instead of the all-powerful Aslan is even more troublesome. The way fantasy is conceived is extremely Eurocentric – and rereading Narnia becomes something of a task in trying to understand exactly how privilege can help you ignore demographics, race, and gender almost entirely. The white society of Narnia is always supposedly perfect and the conflict only comes when evil is found in an external form.
I would not make the mistake of simplifying Tolkien into something as basic as a lot of white people fighting against the demonic orcs as there are many other complex ideas that he plays with and he does show the internal factionalism among dwarves, more among elves, and even more among humans. However, for some reason, complex thoughts, ideology, adventure, and spirit seem to have been associated with a ‘white only’ phenomenon. White Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle will train Saphira and have internal revelations concerning good and evil (I digress, but I am still not sure how there were twelve oaths that Eragon and Saphira took. I’ve tried counting. It hasn’t worked. Please report to me if you have an answer, it’s been driving me crazy). Tolkien has created the immortal elves of ethereal white beauty while Robert Jordan has developed his Wheel of Time series where the sheer number of different kinds of whiteness will become uncontrollable.
Lewis’s conception of a white ideal society is rooted in the idea that fantasy fiction emerged as a genre rooted in the middle-ages of British society when many Arthurian legends prevailed. The story of Edmund, Peter, Susan and Lucy is one that uses many Christian symbols of stags, magic, Christmas, and Lions. Similarly, Shasta and Aravis have to protect the white Narnia of the North from the darker Southern prince, who is eventually turned into a donkey.
This white fantasy is amazing at ignoring the very conception of different races and colours. We are unable to associate people of colour with magic, or with the ability to assert an identity which does not entirely fit into the ‘normal’. Hence, the gypsies in Lyra’s Oxford will be the ones who have dark skins. Even Harry Potter will try to sidestep the entire issue by not mentioning colour at all, while leaving no doubt in the reader’s mind about the social strata and upper middle class nature of most of the characters, indicating their whiteness.
The rural-medieval theme of these books harks back to the idea of a white society which was not riddled with the complexities of race, where internal social troubles could be solved when there was a common enemy who had a different ‘savage’ body structure, or fit into an overarching idea about what exactly evil should be.
Isn’t that fun? Go re-read The Chronicles of Narnia. I dare you.
T in a Cup
A Cup of T
‘T’ as in me, ‘Cup’ as in tea, ‘Of’ as in preposition and ‘A’ as in article. Bringing you thoughtful rants on TV, books, society and various other things induced by too many cups of ice tea.
Written by Tanvi
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