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Suppose They Can Speak: Reimagining the Human/Animal Divide in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia

By Jade Marie Hage

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Abstract

Writing in the mid-twentieth century, when humanism—the “human-centered perspective”—passionately preached “the eminence of man over the rest of creation,” C.S. Lewis radically took to imaginative writing to suppose how an alternative perspective might understand man’s relationship with “the rest of creation” (Summit 666). In The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis imagines how species relations differ in a world created not for man, but for animals. My argument in this thesis centers around Lewis’ reimagined version of the Genesis Creation story as told in The Magician’s Nephew. After examining contemporary juvenile biblical texts of the period, as well as Lewis’ own theological writing, I argue that Lewis’ juvenile fiction presents a radical departure from the pervasive humanist ideology of the period. The anti-anthropocentric world that Lewis creates in Narnia radically challenges the world-views exposed to children in mid-twentieth century England, and undercuts the assumptions that humanism presents as truth: man’s inherent superiority, the natural distinction between man and animal, and the essential connection between personhood and human-hood. My thesis focuses on retellings of the Genesis Creation story for children, particularly the power of the Creation narrative to inform the schema with which the child reader categorizes and interacts with the world. After performing an analysis of Lewis’ anti-anthropocentric creation scene, I trace the impact of man’s decentering throughout the series, examining the way humans and animals interact in a world with different categories and definitions of personhood. Ultimately I argue that Lewis’ beloved series both questions the humanist tradition from which it emerges, and inevitably capitulates to it. Although at moments the text seems to overthrow the constructs of humanism, a shade of anthropocentrism consistently haunts Lewis’ radically decentered narrative.

Submitter

Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 91
Department Arts and Sciences
Degree Master of Arts
URL http://hdl.handle.net/10822/1043848
Language English
University Georgetown University
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Tags
  1. Animal science
  2. Animals in literature.
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Literature
  5. open access
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  1. open access