Orientalism in Narnia?

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Re: Orientalism in Narnia?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Sep 19, 2016 11:46 pm

PhelanVelvel wrote:That was a highly fascinating account, Wagga. It's great hearing you talk about history, even better when it's mixed with firsthand experience! I get what you're saying. Much of what Lewis wrote about Calormen was inspired by real life. I certainly don't doubt that. I just think Calormen is hard for people to swallow because the Narnian protagonists are fair-skinned. Narnia itself, where the "white" characters live, is portrayed as a gentle, idyllic place, while Calormen, where the "non-whites" live, is portrayed as intimidating and unforgiving. People pick out that disparity and chalk it up to racism. Calormen may have gone over a bit better if Narnia had had more shortcomings and evils associated with it. But that, of course, wouldn't fit the story.


Hi Phelan Velvet, it is nice to see you again, and I am so glad you liked my story of last year's journey to Istanbul, as the old Christian Byzantine city of Constantinople was renamed after the establishment of the Ottoman Empire. :D I do agree that today people do have sensitivities to racism they certainly did not have on 25th April, 1915, when the Australians first landed on Gallipoli, in the Dardanelles, and yes that is precisely why you do have a good point, when the newly federated Australia was then shaking off a colonial past of convict beginnings, at the behest of rather snobbish British aristocratic types. (By the way, "a bunch of English toffs" was the way an Australian reviewer saw Caspian and friends in film VDT. :)) So much for Narnia, with its animal population, and its idyllically working class King Frank and Queen Helen being its first monarchs.)

Especially if you agree with me that describing white slavers picking on dark people is just as offensive as dark people picking on white people. The comparison of the British Empire with Calormen is apt, I agree, but as empires go, none of the other empires involved in WW1 were any better, and some were considerably worse. What the British Empire shared with both Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was that the Ottoman Sultan was a religious leader in his own right, just as when UK's King George V was crowned, he also became the Defender of the Faith. Whilst the elderly Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph, sat on the throne of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors, but by then was holy no more.

I fear that C.S.Lewis, who participated in the Flanders conflict, along with Australian and New Zealand troops, may well have phrased his description of Calormenes badly, but I don't know how he could have done it another way, if he was basing Calormen on what he knew and observed of the Ottoman Empire, then called 'The sick man of Europe' for good reason.

Besides as has been pointed out, it wouldn't fit the Narnian story, either in VDT or in HHB. In my copy of VDT I read that the description of dark-skinned Calormenes dressed in robes and turbans was that of a couple of merchants purchasing slaves in Lone Islands, rather than the slave-traders such as Pug, and while it grates, it does refer directly both to the Ottoman Empire as well as to Barbary Corsairs who were in the pay of the Ottomans, and who ravaged the coasts of the British Isles, along the coast of Africa, Holland and elsewhere in Europe, right up to Iceland. As the Wikipedia article I linked to says, "the main purpose of their attacks was to capture Christian slaves for the Ottoman slave trade as well as the general Arabic market in North Africa and the Middle East". Even the Tarkaan Anradin with his crimson beard in HHB is a nod to Hayreddin Barbarossa and Oruç Reis, the Turkish Barbarossa Brothers, who took control of Algiers on behalf of the Ottomans in the early 16th century, until France finally captured Algiers in 1830. And by the way, the Ottomans did prefer Circassian and European girls to stock their harems.

Rose-Tree Dryad wrote:Ha, I think that wagga is our resident history buff around these parts, but it's something that stood out to me. I feel like Lewis was probably more inspired by the history of the Ottoman Empire, as wagga pointed out in her post, but all Empires tend to have these things in common, I'm afraid.


Yes all Empires do have these things in common as you say. Not only relatives in other Imperial households, including that of rivals. Serfs, as in Tsarist Russia, exploited peasants and overly taxed higher classes, supporting a non-taxpaying aristocracy, as in France's Ancien Regime, and exported convicts and their guards, Irish and Scottish unrest and more, as in Britain. Ever since 2014 we have been having these series of commemorations, and thus I decided on that particular commemorative tour, since it included a side trip to France where we visited the battlefields of Pozieres, Villers Bretonnaux, Fromelles etc where my own kinfolk also fought.

Gallipoli was a defeat but the ANZAC troops fought bravely against the Ottoman troops, whose leader Kemal Ataturk established a secular Republic in Turkey. Not before Ottoman wars with Greece and an alleged savage murder of its Armenian minority.
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