The Lion, the Witch and the morons

Robert Wright, a San Jose middle school teacher, writes:

Obadiah and I are reading a discarded copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a nice hardbound copy I rescued from the dumpster at school.

Inside, it is stamped with this message:

This book has been replaced for one or more of the following reasons:

Material is inaccurate
Does not meet district standards
Stereotypes gender or culture

Inaccurate, sure. Children can’t travel through wardrobes to reach magic worlds. Nobody can make it always winter and never Christmas. Stereotypes, yes. The powerful woman, the White Witch, is evil. (Though she gets points for being evil and white.) But I don’t get the part about district standards.

BTW, Tumnus the Faun is gay, right?

About Joanne


  1. PJ/Maryland says:

    What, no link?

    BTW, Tumnus the Faun is gay, right?

    Joanne, that’s just a stereotype. Just because he’s single and has a nicely decorated cave… Maybe he’s straight, after all he picks up strange girls in the woods and brings them home. Granted they’re underage girls, but that would still make him a _straight_ pedophile…

    Hard to imagine how Narnia could get into a public school, given its blatantly Christian themes. Maybe someone could rewrite the series with Islamic themes, and then it would be in all the school libraries. Hmm, I guess that would make the Calormen the good guys?

  2. Yeah, it’s funny to be sarcastic and witty about this politically-correct overkill, but this is just plain sad. The Narnia books are an amazing series. My kids love reading them and having them read, and I really enjoy sharing these books with them. I have a lot of kids and have already read the Narnia Chronicles to the “older bunch” who are now big enough to read them themselves. But just the other night my five year old found Prince Caspian and brought it to me. He was immediately entranced by the story, and we will probably work our way through the books again with the “younger bunch”… And I suspect the “older bunch” will still be listening in, because these are such great stories.

    This truly sad.

  3. It’s a shame, the books are just so great. By the way, in our family we never realized the books were all about Christian theology. We’re Jewish and so had no understanding of the religion in question. It wasn’t until I was in college that it was explained to me. Of course, my kids are reading the books now and don’t realize the significance either. For us, they’re just great stories!

  4. And now, a word from our sponsor. 😉

  5. My sister and I loved the C.S. Lewis books and read them over and over for years before we realized that there might be some Christian symbolism there. Like Moira, we’re Jewish and therefore slow to get it on the Aslan thing. We just thought he was a really cool lion.

  6. jeff wright says:

    Hah, hah, hah. My kid graduated from high school in 1989 and from college in 1993, which will give you some insight into how old I am. As recently as the 1980s, this did not happen.

    I suggest that all of you 30- and 40-somethings look inward. You have allowed this kind of crap to happen. You. What in the world have you allowed to happen to your children? Why have you ceded all control over their development to these clowns? Do something.

  7. Well, I feel a bit ashamed. 8 years of Catholic grade school and I never picked up on the Christian allegory. A number of the negative Amazon reviews claim it’s sexist and racist as well. *sigh*

  8. Reminds me of this

  9. A lot of people don’t get the allegorical meaning of those books. I usually mention it when I’m introducing Inferno every year (yes, I teach Inferno in a public school AND I’m in my 30’s!). It is fun to see the looks on students’ faces as all the pieces fall into place.

  10. Until two years ago, my sons went to a small Christian school. One fall, they brought home a “recommended fiction reading” list, and I was pleased to see that J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” books were on it.

    At dinner a week or so later, my older son mentioned that his teacher had handed out an “amended” copy of the list, and the Tolkien was off it.

    I told him I was disappointed — but not surprised. My wife looked at him and said, “You my as well tell him the rest.”

    “They took the ‘Narnia’ books off too, Dad.”

    I put my fork down for that, and said I really didn’t understand it. C.S. Lewis was one of the great Christian apologists of the twentieth century, and the books have explicitly Christian themes.

    My wife was of the opinion that Lewis must have been “the wrong sort” of Christian.

    My kids don’t go to that school any more.

  11. Steve LaBonne says:

    “Doesn’t meet district standards”. There are some things that just defeat all attempts at polite comment…

    NO child should have to grow up without having the chance to read the Narnia books.

  12. It would be interesting to learn which books do “meet district standards”.

  13. Of course, discarding the Narnia books is wrong, stupid, reprehensible, etc. But don’t jump to conclusions about its “not meeting district standards”: that’s one of three possible reasons. Let’s be fair.

  14. Steve LaBonne says:

    Which of the other two reasons do you find acceptable then, Michael? And are you _ever_ willing to admit that a public school district, administrator of teacher has screwed up?

  15. Why not sell the books, or offer them up to a local library?

    Sounds like book burning, to me, unless there are exculpatory circumstances not mentioned.

  16. Steve, will you commit yourself to reading things more carefully? When you do, look at the first sentence of my comment again. What I was objecting to was the assumption that “did not meet district standards” was the reason it was discarded. Let me expand on what I said: disgarding anything by C.S. Lewis for any reason is stupid. Period. And are you ever willing to admit that a public school district, administrator of teacher has done something right?

  17. Michael:

    You’ll appreciate this. A couple of years ago I was in an English Honors class. The teacher, liberal to the bone, rammed every discussion about every poem, story, and essay through the lens of existentialism (modified by post-modern b.s.). Not a week went by without hearing the phrase, “Do you see? Life in a box. Life in a box!”

    Now, every week a student was asked to read to the class a passage from a book, or a poem, or something like. There were no guidelines other than what the student wanted to share.

    Near the end of the semester one student read a couple of pararaphs of C. S. Lewis.

    The teachers response: “What a load of _propaganda_!”

    . . .said the liberal progandist. Very frustrating.

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    Michael, I read quite carefully. What I read, after your lame attempt to exculpate yourself in advance with that initial disclaimer, was the ludicrous suggestion that picking on the “standards” rather than on the other equally asinine reason was somehow being too hard on the district. Really, now. Talk about your knee-jerk defenses! That one was quite a reach.

  19. Hey! I’m not a Jew. I was raised by a Bible thumper and did not see the Christian allegory – although the whole crawling through Mom’s fur coats thing stuck me as a very lame and obvious exercise even at that wee age.

    Of course, I’ve known a Christian mom who “banned” the books because animals don’t talk without demonic help. Tried to point out that C.S. Lewis had some chops in theology, but was accused of being an atheist intellectual.

    There may be no hope for books at all, from any quarter.

  20. Jeff asks: “What in the world have you allowed to happen to your children? Why have you ceded all control over their development to these clowns?”

    ..and I think this is a key question. Every day, there are new revelations about the idiocy being perpetrated in the public schools. Why do so many parents passively stand by and accept it?

    One hyothesis is that many people have gotten the wrong lesson from their college education. They have learned that everything is very, very complicated, and only experts can understand it. The selection of elementary school textbooks is believed to be as esoteric as thermodynamics or quantum physics. Best to leave such things to the experts…

    Another hypothesis is simple cowardice. Keep your head low, don’t make waves.

  21. “They have learned that everything is very, very complicated, and only experts can understand it.”

    I completely disagree. What we’ve learned is that no matter how stupid the policy there’s a herd of liberal groups supporting it. No effort short of dedicating every waking moment of your life can possibly make a dent in their stranglehold on the education system. Said effort will also make you and your children social outcasts. Finding a politician to fight on your behalf is impossible.

    I think that sums it up.

  22. “And are you _ever_ willing to admit that a public school district, administrator of teacher has screwed up?”

    I think that public school book banning is a response to parental complaints: racist language in Huck Finn, Christian imagery in many texts, sexism, magic, abortions, sexuality, colonialism, there’s always a busy-body ready to complain. We (private school) had a 10th grader withdraw after we declined to exempt her from reading the Great Gatsby – something about adultery. You can’t please all the people, all the time.

  23. Steve, you and I will disagree, it seems, forever, which is fine, but I will not stand for you to misread me in so careless a fashion, nor to tell me that my caution was “knee-jerk.” Let me repeat: discarding C.S. Lewis is idiotic for any reason, but when a stamp is put in a book giving three possible reasons for discarding it, it is careless and dishonest to assume it was one particular one of those listed. I did not “defend” the district, and to read that into what I said is clear evidence that you did not read what I said carefully at all.

  24. Steve LaBonne says:

    Michael, once again, unless you’re prepared to defend one of the other reasons, you simply have no grounds at all for your claim of unfairness (“let’s be fair”), and consequently no point to make. Since you had no point to make, why did you comment at all? Hence the grounds for _accurately_ describing your comment as a “knee-jerk defense”.

  25. LibraryGryffon says:

    Gee, I just took Michael’s comment as snarky, and did not take away from it that he thought one of the other two reasons given *was* acceptable. (Maybe he should have put a “/sarcasm” tag at the end to be more clear. 8) )

    But then I come from a family which tends to talk that way, and sometimes, even in person with body language and vocal intonations, other people misunderstand and don’t get that we are being facetious.

    Back in the fall of 1970, my 5th grade teacher read “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” to us. So of course I then went out and read the whole rest of the Narnia books…

  26. I’m having trouble with the thought process behind slinging the book in the dumpster – but, just in case it got fished out, stamping it with a citation for cultural defectiveness.

    Is this the way books condemned for ideological imperfections are usually treated? Wouldn’t a dose of Fahrenheit 451 minimise the risk of polluting impressionable minds?

    And I’m gagging for intelligence on these district standards.

    I’d have thought this Jim Crow of the mind would have generated some sort of resistance amongst parents and students – I mean, to rebel over free speech is so much classier than the usual sex and drugs and rock and roll…

  27. “Material is inaccurate”.

    That would be, what, about half the books in a public library?

    I vote they start with Von Daniken, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Moore.

  28. Michael, once again, unless you’re prepared to defend one of the other reasons, you simply have no grounds at all for your claim of unfairness (“let’s be fair”), and consequently no point to make. Since you had no point to make, why did you comment at all? Hence the grounds for _accurately_ describing your comment as a “knee-jerk defense”.

    Steve, I said “let’s be fair” because there are plenty of grounds for attacking the district on this point without presuming more than is in evidence. Fairness requires argument based on the facts we know, not on our presumptions, and certainly not on denying those presumptions. You apparently think that argument based on presumptions is reasonable, that when the flaws in your presumptions are pointed out it is a “knee-jerk” defense, and that logic doesn’t matter. I guess you didn’t understand the point I was making.

    I was not, btw, being sarcastic when I said “let’s be fair”: I was just pointing out the logical–and rhetorical–mistake of assuming that, because three possible reasons for a decision are listed, all three in fact contributed to that decision. If you attack a decision, make sure you know the reasons for the decision: that way you give your opponent no grounds for attacking your own inaccuracy. If, for example, the school district discarded the book because it “contained inaccurate material,” attacking them for discarding it because it “did not meet district standards” would be both factually wrong and rhetorically stupid.

    All of that said, let me reiterate: discarding any of C.S. Lewis’s work for any reason is just wrong. And I am really curious as to which of the reasons listed was the real one (or if they all were). I do know that if our school here disgarded the Narnia books, I’d be raising a ruckus. I’d just make sure to do my homework first.

  29. theAmericanist says:

    If I had to bet even up, I’d take “too Christian”, but if you’d give me odds, I’d take C.S. Lewis’ blatantly Victorian imperialist take on the world for the reason The L, the W and the (other) W was dumped.

    I loved the Narnia books, know ’em by heart in fact. (So much so, that I’m a Fenris Ulf fan, and regard Maugrim as an adulteration.) But two things need to be said:

    First, Lewis didn’t WANT kids to figure out it was a Christian allegory. “Past watchful dragons” was his point — that the Christian story is so loaded up with baggage that he wanted to tell it in disguise. If there is any constructive criticism to be made about academics in this incident, the fault lies in the knuckleheads who teach Narnia to kids AS AN ALLEGORY (which they do now), instead of letting ’em read it for fun, the way we did.

    IF they catch on, eventually: that’s the time to shake ’em up.

    But second, face facts: Lewis’s story has perfect pitch from the perspective of an educated Englishman before the First World War. (Which is how to shake ’em up.) The bad guys are the Ottoman Empire, the good guys are British (and Archenland is Scotland) — his take on good and evil is so embedded in that perspective that he even uses a Turkish word for the epitome of virtue, the (divine) British lion: “Aslan”.

    I’m all for kids reading stuff like this, but puh-leeze, the problem isn’t so much some knucklehead school board dumping the book as it is with scholars, et al, trying to instruct kids on What It Means. They couldn’t let ’em read it with out the latter, so they did the former.

    Knock off the over-interpretation, and the problem goes away (until later, which is where it belongs).

    That’s for grownups.

  30. I can only comment that The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe is one of those books that my mother introduced me to. She claims that she read the entire trilogy in a week when she was a child.

    I liked it, and I caught onto the allegory–probably because we, as a family, had read through most of the Christian Scriptures already.

    I agree, the allegory may not be obvious. But that doesn’t mean we have to teach the allegory. Read the book first, and let the kids who get the allegory like it.

    Let those who don’t enjoy courageous young woman like Susan and Lucy (women carrying weapons! scandalous), and the inclusiveness of a world in which animals are people, too.

    Let them also learn about the guilt of Edmund, the traitor–and the courage of Peter. Let them see forgiveness in action, and the redemptive self-sacrifice of Aslan.

    Such a good story, thrown aside by the establishment.

    What in the world do they think is quality writing?

  31. theAmericanist says:

    LOL — um, nice post: but the Chronicles of Narnia is not a trilogy. If memory serves, there are seven of ’em: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian;the Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; the Horse and his Boy, the Magician’s Nephew, and the Last Battle.

    (Another contemporary infamy is to cast the stories in chronological order, which isn’t how Lewis wrote ’em. This is particularly pernicious when the characters are described before each book, since it gives away what Lewis meant the stories to reveal. Besides, they read better if the characters don’t actually know what’s already happened to ’em, viz., where the Wardrobe came from or who the Professor is.)

    LOL — told ya I knew ’em by heart. And, oh yeah: Tumnus isn’t gay, he’s just a BRITISH faun.

  32. Another contemporary infamy is to cast the stories in chronological order, which isn’t how Lewis wrote ’em. This is particularly pernicious when the characters are described before each book, since it gives away what Lewis meant the stories to reveal. Besides, they read better if the characters don’t actually know what’s already happened to ’em, viz., where the Wardrobe came from or who the Professor is.)

    I could not agree more!

  33. To be fair, the school board didn’t ban the book. Some lone nitwit probably tossed it because it has “witch” in the title and she was afraid a parent would complain about witch books. That’s the only explanation I can think of.

  34. Joanne, that’s the most likely explanation. It’s not unusual at all for a single person to exceed his or her competence and authority in a matter like this. Probably the teachers and school administrators would be horrified.

  35. I could ask the librarian and post her response here.

    My guess is this. With all the new computers coming into the library, they needed more room. This copy of the book looks old. There’s no dust jacket and the cover is scuffed up. I think she just assumed that since it looked worn that it must be obsolete. I’ll ask her.

  36. You know, they might stamp and toss me one of these days. I’m kind of looking old and worn myself.

  37. Steve LaBonne says:

    Who needs those dusty old paper thingies- what are they called, starts with “b” I think- anyway, when all the schools are getting shiny new laptop computers? 😉

  38. There is NO good reason to throw ANY book out.

  39. There is NO good reason to throw ANY book out.

    Sure there is, Bill. That copy of a Dickens story that was printed in 1948, and bears coffee stains and cat vomit, probably needs to be thrown out.

  40. Bill, I admire your bibliophilia. I’ve acquired books from yard sales and such, that were so awful I got about 2 chapters in and tossed them in the garbage. I don’t have room for all the good books I have.

  41. OK OK…”never say never” but, you get my point……

  42. jeff wright says:

    I wouldn’t throw a book out unless it was in really poor shape. Books should be recycled as it were, instead of being trashed. Our public library (San Jose) takes book donations; so do most charities.

  43. Robert Perry says:

    San Jose school district standards include firing mathematics teachers who actually teach math–I know someone who endured this. I’m still trying to figure out a work of fantasy can be “inaccurate” or stereotype anything in the real world. Maybe San Jose librarians need a refresher course in logic.

  44. Robert W…yeah, please do ask the librarian why this happened. It would also be interesting to know why she chose to *throw it out* rather than give or sell it to another library—after all, it was an asset belonging to the state.

  45. Jeff, how about if you ran across a book filled with spelling and grammar errors and sentences structured so poorly you couldn’t make heads nor tails of them? And that, furthermore, didn’t have a plot you could find with both hands and a flashlight? Would you really not throw it in the trash?

  46. I’m an ATHEIST and I LOVE Lewis. All his work and everything I know about the man, too. Geesh.

    For Lewis’s own words on book banning, propaganda, and what the liberals hope to accomplish, check out his small but big book “The Abolition of Man.” Honestly, everyone who reads this blog owes it to themselves to read it. Trust me on this. 🙂

  47. I talked to the librarian.

    She said she received a directive from the district office to remove old books to make room for new ones so that our collection would be up-to-date.

    Before books were tossed, students and teachers had a chance to take them home.

    The books were stamped with the deselection notice so that they wouldn’t be mistakenly returned to the library in the future.

  48. “remove old books … so that our collection would be up-to-date.”

    Meaning, I suppose, get rid of anything written before, oh, about 1998?

    I’ve met this mentality before, in a past year when I was a volunteer librarian in charge of a small college library. One of our tutors wanted to “get rid of all those old books and get some new ones.” Not a reference to their condition, you understand; most had been well cared for. No, she had had no exposure to the depth of literature in English (let alone any other language), and anything that didn’t have a glossy cover was assumed to be old, boring and of no interest. When challenged on this, she pulled one random book off a shelf and said, “well, what good is this?” I gave her a potted lecture on the minor classic she had lighted upon (Winifred Holtby’s “South Riding,” I think), and she left in some disgruntlement.

    Rambling a little, but my point is that the reason given for the book’s removal is not much of an improvement on the reason most of you suspected.

  49. Steve LaBonne says:

    Not much of an improvement? Given the dank and hopeless illiteracy that underlies it,it may be even worse. The other reasons at least imply a backhanded acknowledgement that books are actually important…

  50. Remember; parents have the ultimate control over what kids are learning, or not. My 13 year old asked for “Farenheit 451” as a Christmas gift. I did not know 13 year old kids asked for books or even knew about stories like that…..

  51. jeff wright says:

    Oh, well, you know, like, those old books are so declasse. Namesake Robert Wright, I am really pleased that you teach at such an up-to-date school. I mean, shit, who wants to read an old book? Damn, might even be dirty and be written by somebody who lived a hundred years ago.

    I’m happy to see that my tax dollars (I live in the same county as Robert) are going for such a worthy cause. Forgive me if I don’t vote for the next school bond issue. Our schools must be just awash in money if they can throw away old books. Think I’ll also drop a line to Governor Terminator about that one.

  52. It is an absolute shame that good books like this can be abandoned as old. On the other hand, how did this book not get picked up by students if it was being given away? On both counts, this story is just sad. And I don’t think Tumnus is gay, probably just very aware of himself in the scheme of gender roles.

  53. Umm, I was looking for some info and possibly orginal insight into the issues surrounding this book when I came across this website. Is it just a forum for excersising personal vendettas by making sarcastic jabs at the comments of other people with the help of a thesaurus, or just somewhere to muse over the sexuality of make beleive characters in a childrens book?
    Besides, the school in question was not the first to throw away this book, or protest it on any grounds.
    What I don’t understand about those against the book is how they think that simply removing any materials that have the slightest suggestion of a stereotype in them will in fact wipe out stereotypical beliefs. True, the notion is to avoid encouraging it, but would it not be better to educate our children on the matter, instead of trying to protect them from it. I may be a mere university student, but my major is Psychology, and studies based on discrimination and stereotypes have shown that the higher level of education in a group results in a lower incidence in discriminatory behaviour. Sorry to babble, but it needs to be said that a fear of corrupting our children is not a good reason to throw out a book, instead it would be a good reason to write a book.
    I love the chronicles of narnia, if only because it was a fantastic escape when I was a child. I would hate to deprive anybody of the oppurtunity to explore the workings of an incredible imagination.