Friday, March 20, 2009

Two Literary Ladies

Yesterday I ran across an article in the religious journal First Things about the troubling character of Susan Pevensie in the Narnia books. At first, she is a rather sympathetic character. I always identified with her role as the sensible older sister. Her final fate, though, exiled from Narnia for her teenage silliness, always leaves a bad taste in reader's mouths. Her 180-switch in personality and values seems so abrupt and unfair, especially since it's written as a final footnote we never saw coming.
Matthew Alderman's article is unlikely to sway The Golden Compass author Phillip Pullman's opinion that "the author of The Four Loves was an underdeveloped asexual freak bent on keeping his readers in a kiddie time-warp sealed away from the great god Sex."Still, Alderman does present some insight into the dangers of frivolity such as Susan's.
Susan is set to become not a real adult, but a perpetual teenager locked into “the silliest time of one’s life.” She is a child’s caricature of adulthood. “I wish she would grow up!” cries Polly.
"The problem is not that Su’s world was, say, the world of Gidget, but that it could become what Sex and the City looks like in the unflattering light of reality. A never-ending quest for party invitations looks awfully flimsy when stacked up against the deeds of Narnia’s own strong-willed women—like Susan herself, once."
If I were Aslan, I probably wouldn't want Carrie Bradshaw interfering with my magical medieval king land either. You know her shoes wouldn't hold up on a mountain hike or horseback ride.

Speaking of mountains, I just finished reading the story of another young woman who travels to a distant land. Catherine Marshall's Christy is a somewhat fictionalized account of her mother's time teaching poor children in Appalachia. The book is often marketed as an Evangelical tale of inspiration, but it's also the story of one frivolous girl's journey into adulthood. When she arrives in Cutter Gap, TN, Christy must put aside cute shoes and tea parties to face the harsh realities of rural poverty. She learns to love her students; they can be smelly and unruly, but they are also smart, earnest, and in need of love. Fueds, hunger, and disease present real physical challenges, but there are spiritual issues to grapple with as well. As she works in Cutter Gap, Christy deals with questions about theology, morality, sexuality, and friendship.

Of course, my volunteer life is a lot cushier than a remote mountian community, but much of Christy's experience resonated with me. Like her, I have wondered where to draw the line between faith sharing and judgemental preaching. I am discovering that my adult life will not exactly mirror that of my parents. Every day I realize that I have more to learn about the people I serve, and that there are more ways I should open my heart to them. Service is a continual lesson in humility - the more you do it, the more you realize you can't do it without God's help.

No comments: