Tag Archives: growing up

Let the Children Grow Up–They Do in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

‘Neglectful’ was the word tossed around by one reviewer of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Apparently the Professor was neglectful of the children he’d taken into his house during the bombings of WWII, letting them run through his house on their own and not over-scheduling every minute of their day with dance class, extra tutoring, or athletics.

Let’s leave aside the fact that a bachelor professor who appears to be entirely unused to children decides, out of the kindness of his heart, to shelter a group of four children seeking refuge from the bombing of London. Such a man might not be exactly up-to-date on the recent recommendations of the mommy blogs, nor might he think it harmful for children to just take care of themselves for some hours of the day (as children used to do in decades past). Let’s leave all that aside and look at how the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are actually allowed to grow up in this book.

Now that our society has invented the idea of childhood (and this is not a bad thing), we have created a very specific, protected idea of what childhood should be. However, in order to grow up children have to eventually step outside of this safe, protected bubble. You might even let them blunder through your house and through a half-forgotten wardrobe that sometimes is a portal to another very dangerous and magical world.

In other words, they become independent and make their own decisions.

It’s very interesting that one well-known criticism of Narnia is that the children don’t grow up–or at least, not in the right way.

“The idea of keeping childhood alive forever and ever and regretting the passage into adulthood—whether it’s a gentle, rose-tinged regret or a passionate, full-blooded hatred, as it is in Lewis—is simply wrong,” the famously outspoken critic of Narnia, Philip Pullman said once in an interview in The New Yorker. His own series, His Dark Materials, attempts to rectify this by having his protagonist grow up and awaken to her own sexuality at the end. Now, as far as I can tell, the children don’t embark on any sexual relationships in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I don’t think this is the only valid marker of growing up. They do grow up.

And this is why I loved this book. At the end, they actually get to live out their whole lives in Narnia–become kings and queens and put into practice everything the story taught them up to then. So often as a child I’d read fiction where the characters went back in time, or went to another world, and learned something, but they never got to use it in that world. They always had to come back. They always remained children. The reader never fully saw the consequences of the story’s ideas.

And besides the ending of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which so satisfyingly lets the children have a life in the world they helped to save, they have to ‘do’ things throughout the book.

I, who was raised in the safe, coddled confines of ‘be careful!’ ‘safety first!’ and ‘accidents are always preventable!’ was astonished to read about Peter picking up his sword when Susan is attacked by the wolf, and to read Aslan saying, “Back! Let the prince win his spurs!”–just after Aslan finished telling Peter about how he must become king one day. My heart was in my mouth–they weren’t actually going to let Peter do something, were they? Of course he would want to rescue his sister, but there must be some more experienced, more adult character around that should save her.

But no, if Peter is to be a king one day he must shoulder the responsibilities of adulthood himself.

Here we come to another controversial aspect–the children fight in the story. Now, we could point to the times, and argue that children in history had very different lives than they have today, and nobody at the time thought it at all odd. We could point out that Lewis lived through WWI, when very young teenagers died by the thousands in the trenches. We could point to the fact the story is set in WWII, when ‘fighting the enemy’–physically fighting, and not with economic sanctions or making a show of army exercises on a country’s borders–was viewed positively. But really what it comes down to is allowing the children to learn that not everything in life comes easily, or without a struggle. The villain won’t helpfully toss himself off the cliff for them. They must act.

This is not to say violence is glorified here–the children don’t especially like fighting. But they certainly have to back up their beliefs with their deeds.

Now, there may be books where children must grow up even more than the children do in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They may have to, say, face a thousand more deaths of close friends, and watch graphically described gore pass in front of them. You could certainly imagine a ‘grittier’ children’s book than Narnia, even if you’d hesitate to actually give such a book to a child. I’m just arguing this was the first time I read a children’s book that showed me how to go beyond childhood. It showed me the good and bad in the challenge of growing up.

Millennials, a group of which I am a member, are frequently derided as a group that doesn’t know how to grow up. And I obviously can’t point to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a guide that taught me how to grow up–of the typical markers of adulthood (marriage, children, house, career), I can only possibly point to career as an objective marker of the level of adulthood I’ve achieved. Reading literature in this vein is not a cure-all for the ‘millennial problem’ (and I’ve read His Dark Materials too, lest you argue that series would’ve helped me more). However, children need a vision of adulthood to aspire to. They need to read different ways of shouldering the responsibility of living. And if we only present fiction where parents and guardians are not ‘neglectful,’ and hover over children just as much as parents and guardians actually do nowadays in real life, we’d hold back the whole process.

Give the kids some space. Let them grow up.

3 Comments

Filed under The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

No, Let’s Talk About Being a Millennial

“Rhiannon’s life, compared with mine, seems very wobbly. She can never feel quite safe in her home or work; she is generally anxious and suffers from what her mum calls “impending doom scenarios”. … I’m not surprised. I’m only surprised by her and her friends’ general determination and resilience, and their lack of animosity towards people of my age. They confirm my belief that much of the “antagonism” between our generations has been whipped up by whoever labels us and lumps us all together as baby boomers or millennials in the first place. Those ridiculous terms are not helpful, and I can only wish Rhiannon and her friends luck. They’re going to need it.”

 

– Michele Hanson, ‘Baby Boomer,’ in “A millennial and a baby boomer trade places,” The Guardian

I read this stuff and I feel like people don’t believe it. In fact, I know people don’t believe it. I know even fellow millennials think anyone who is not getting ahead is just entitled and lazy. (Just go read the Urban Dictionary definitions of millennial.) But I do believe it, because I’ve seen this sort of anxiety and misery–my fellows just scraping by–and I know I myself am lucky to be where I am.

I also know people think I am ridiculous for reading so much about my generation, but in reality my heart aches so much. I feel so helpless because I cannot fix it, or even do much to alleviate even a moment of anxiety for anyone else. I want to shout, “Let’s pull together–let’s encourage each other and share our resources and our free time and our homes and our food–let’s comfort each other for the life goals that seems so beyond our reach.” But it’s not that easy. Shame hangs over it all. Shame for wanting these things, shame for not being able to achieve them, and shame for not being able to deal with the emotions that come with the absence of these things.

The reason people long for things like homes and marriage and steady jobs/income is because these things scream stability. And no matter how much stability is ridiculed, you don’t know how terrifying it is not to have it until you don’t have it. No one is there for you when you’re down. Your car breaks and you’re afraid your mechanic is cheating you and you don’t have the money anyway, but you need your car. You’re at the end of a temporary contract at work and no new positions are coming up. Your rent skyrockets. And over it all hangs this impenetrable darkness of anxiety.

“She makes me look at the chaos and instability of my own existence and feel suddenly tired. Not to mention far, far too old for it,” Rhiannon, the millennial, writes of Michele in The Guardian article above.

Cue grinding anxiety, exhaustion, and no sense of what comes next.

Because the question is, if the normal markers of adulthood seem so out of reach, what should we be doing with ourselves instead? The usual markers may not be inherently meaningful in and of themselves, but the little checkmarks of success they bring to your life feels like progress at the very least. What sort of goals, or signposts, should be substituted? How do you know you’ve got somewhere, and what can you use to bolster yourself while fighting the general opinion of society that you’re not succeeding and you’re not doing anything meaningful?

It’s clear why people–millennials even–just dismiss this experience. Once you achieve something (Yes! A job!), you really do feel as if it’s you who did it all by yourself. You made it through the struggle, despite the anxiety (or without it, even), and you don’t want to think about it. And in one sense you did do something–and yet there’s always a bit of random circumstance involved that you have to acknowledge. Something fell into place for you somewhere. So why disdain those who can’t get a break? Because to do otherwise is threatening to your own sense of achievement?

For me, I spent two years doing temp work and several months before that job-hunting after I finished my degree, before I landed a stable part-time position doing something related to my education (which I love). And don’t get me started on how long it took me to find what sort of ‘higher education’ I should even pursue. So I know I’m lucky. I know most people don’t even get here. So many people I went to university with work in areas completely unrelated to their education, or their interest. So many go back for more and more education (and debt) because they can’t get a foothold in the working world… and the working world increasing overlooks education for work experience.

So many work below their skill level. So many who haven’t done higher education struggle to find something that pays enough to live on, even without the debt that comes from school.

And yet I still believe the solution is to come together. To face down our shame, and declare our anxiety, and not hide it. It’s not each one of us singly facing the darkness alone. We understand each others’ experience. And people from every generation understand it… things haven’t always been easy for everyone. We can’t let those who’d scoff at the idea that things are hard get us down, or make us believe what we feel isn’t real or worth listening to. It is worth listening to. And we won’t get by on our own.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Randoms & My Life