There appear to be two sorts of women portrayed by Narnia. The first, whom CS Lewis appears to prefer, is the stoical, non-sexual, almost Alice-like woman such as Lucy or Polly in the Magician’s Nephew (MN). She is perhaps the zenith of the Victorian cult of innocence’s last fling with literature, the perpetual child. The second is the colder adult, such as Susan in the Last Battle who is commented as preferring stockings and invitations than the mythological world or Jadis, the mirror of the Snow Queen, in the first two books (MN and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW)).
Susan is, we infer, wrapped up in growing up, changing and developing as person. She clearly has accepted Narnia in the earlier novels but has come to terms with growing up and all that entails. Jadis is remarkably one dimensional, seeking only power when she comes through the pool into London and then taking on Aslan in the LWW without understanding the true nature of the Magic he is refering to in his sacrifice. Though I’ve commented on the Snow Queen, there is another literary ancestor, the Phoenix in E.Nesbit’s Story of the Amulet who runs amok in the theatre. Susan might well be moving towards Jadis rather than the cosy, creationist world.
In his article, ‘C.S. Lewis and the Scholarship of the Imagination in E. Nesbit and Rider Haggard’ (online here), Mervyn Nicholson argues that:
“Lewis seemed to view children’s literature not exactly as children’s literature. He viewed it generically; that is, he wrote stories aimed at children not so much because he wanted to write for children tout court, but because he had in mind certain generic configurations and images that were appropriate for that genre.”
So, the argument might go, that he is trying to fit in with the generic conventions. There are certainly many children’s books in which women are portrayed flatly but I can’t accept it as reason for the continual portrayal. Rather than being a challenge to generic boundaries, Narnia is thus a re-affirming of them.
I wonder if there is the same issue as with Tolkien: the boundary between old and new; Victorian confidence and post-Edwardian uncertainty. The books represent a move towards stability and he expresses these in, what are now, very old-fashioned views.
He succumbs to the cult of childhood and does not challenge it which is probably his greatest failing. Lucy and Polly do not challenge the status quo where as Susan and Jadis have essentially fallen from grace and thus must be banished from the paradise of Narnia. Still it is an issue.