Sunday, April 09, 2006

How to be a successful tempter

Early in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes two temptation scenes, one unsuccessful and one successful. Perhaps by looking at the variables of the situations, we can figure out why Mr Tumnus was no good at it and why the Queen was. The two scenes are, of course, Mr Tumnus’s failed abduction of Lucy and the Queen’s enticement of Edumund. The variables of the scenes include the tempter, the victim, the methods, and the outcome.

The tempters are Mr Tumnus and the Queen. Mr Tumnus, if we can judge by his haunt, is something of a scholar, reading books about the mythology of humans. He enjoys simple pleasures, like a roasting fire, tea, and toast (The Chronicles of Narnia 116). He doesn’t seem to be motivated by a love of evil; rather, he is something of a mercenary: “Taken service under the White Witch. That’s what I am. I’m in the pay of the White Witch” (118). He is at best a novice mercenary. The Queen, on the other hand, is cold and hard, at least according to the movie. Her hairdo consists of ice, and later, when we see her haunt, it is all ice. Instead of the simple pleasures, she seems to opt for insubstantial, glitzy things like Turkish Delight. Her motives? If we have read The Magician’s Nephew, we know that she is evil to the core: she has already destroyed one world to maintain her grip on power, and she has taken over Narnia, much as Satan has become the god of this world. She is motivated, in short, by a love for power. She is a seasoned agent of evil.

Considering the victims, we see that Mr Tumnus was up against a nearly invincible foe: innocence incarnate in Lucy. Although innocence may seem like a weakness, Lewis depicts it as a position of strength, not only here but also in Perelandra where the Eve figure on Venus undergoes prolonged temptation without succumbing. As readers, we fear for the innocent because they don’t recognize evil and think the best of their adversaries, not realizing that they are adversaries. The innocent tend not to think of themselves; instead, they are “other” oriented. The Queen, on the other hand, was up against a novice in evil. We know that Edmund has somehow headed down the wrong road: he has a bad attitude early on, and as the plot develops, he accelerates toward evil until he begins a repentance process. Experienced evil (the Queen) can play with inexperienced evil (Edmund) as a cat plays with a mouse. Because both are motivated by self-interest, the one with the most savvy wins out.

It is somewhat surprising how similar Mr Tumnus’s and the Queen’s methods are. Perhaps all temptation has to work on the same principles. When Satan tempted Jesus (Matthew 4), he appealed to the flesh, pride, and power. Mr Tumnus, novice tempter that he is, uses the comforts of the flesh: warmth, comfort, food, music. The music, at least in the movie, has an enchanting effect, especially combined with the warmth and food. Tumnus, being a rather good fellow at heart, breaks down and confesses his sin without moving on to the deeper more deadly temptations (117-118) associated with power and pride. The Queen also tempts the flesh, providing a steaming hot drink and Turkish delight (125), both of which serve as a distraction. While Edmund is consumed with fleshly pleasures, she interrogates him about his siblings, and then she appeals to his sense of pride: “You are to be the Prince and—later on—the King . . . but you must have courtiers and nobles” (126). She also knows how to keep Edmund on the string by cutting him off when he asks for more Turkish Delight and promising to give him more when he returns. I can’t help but think of getting someone hooked on narcotics.

Finally, what of the outcome? As we have just seen, Mr Tumnus breaks down, confesses, and is forgiven. Lucy escapes his original designs. Edmund, conversely, is hooked. He has a yearning for more of the fleshly pleasures he has just experienced, he now has an inflated image of his own importance, and he is motivated by a yearning after power. These three attractors hold him secure in the enemy’s power.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

This blog is a place for me to keep my thoughts about my reading of C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle this semester. I'm particularly interested in looking for common themes and images shared by them. Because Lewis wrote earlier than L'Engle and because it is clear that L'Engle read Lewis and acknowledges an indebtedness to Lewis, I may speculate about "influence."