Religion in Literature: His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, Paradise Lost

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Whatisaholiday
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Hi!
I am currently doing an EPQ on religion in the above named texts, and I really need some participants for my primary research if anyone is interested in this kind of area?
All quotes would be anonymous in my report (unless requested otherwise).
My question is 'How do John Milton, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman conform to traditional Christian ideology in their respective works Paradise Lost, The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials?'
I am more specifically focusing on the treatment of women, the depiction of Satan and the concept of heaven (although suggestions for any more themes are welcome, these are just a starting point.)
I am also exploring how each work was affected by the social/ biographical context of each author. For example, an idea I have is that Milton's work is perhaps not all that we expect, him having written in a strictly religious contemporary society, as Satan who is unquestionably depicted as evil in Christianity is arguably sympathetic in Paradise Lost.
Any responses given will be treated with absolute anonymity and confidentiality. Please know that you can withdraw, edit and delete your response if Ever you feel the need to, without penalisation or question. The storage of your response will comply with the Data Protection Act (1988), and will be kept safely and securely for no longer than necessary for the fair and lawful collation of data, to be used for the academic purposes of my EPQ only.
Any contributions at all (to any aspect) would be amazing, thanks in advance!
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Chlorophile
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(Original post by Whatisaholiday)
Hi!
I am currently doing an EPQ on religion in the above named texts, and I really need some participants for my primary research if anyone is interested in this kind of area?
All quotes would be anonymous in my report (unless requested otherwise).
My question is 'How do John Milton, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman conform to traditional Christian ideology in their respective works Paradise Lost, The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials?'
I am more specifically focusing on the treatment of women, the depiction of Satan and the concept of heaven (although suggestions for any more themes are welcome, these are just a starting point.)
I am also exploring how each work was affected by the social/ biographical context of each author. For example, an idea I have is that Milton's work is perhaps not all that we expect, him having written in a strictly religious contemporary society, as Satan who is unquestionably depicted as evil in Christianity is arguably sympathetic in Paradise Lost.
Any contributions at all (to any aspect) would be amazing, thanks in advance!
I don't think I can contribute to this really because English analysis definitely isn't my strong point, I just wanted to say that I think this is a really cool EPQ idea (one of the rare good ideas I've seen on this forum)! Particularly since His Dark Materials is my favourite series ever, I'd be really interested in seeing your findings!
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Whatisaholiday
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Thanks! I'll keep you posted on here , and I know it is my favourite too haha!
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Franelle
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for the concept of heaven are you going to write about the transcendent and the idea of "world-hopping" and the possible sacrilegious connotations of such an idea (in both narnia + his dark materials- haven't read paridise lost)? i mean, you could definitely argue that by the authors depicting PEOPLE who are able to build instruments which allow them to transport from one world to the other, like asriel in his dark materials, and not any sort of deity's interjection or help, this is presuming the lack of a significant gap between the powers of humankind and the 'other' unknown divine-ship.
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Whatisaholiday
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That's exactly the route I am going down! His Dark Materials directly contrasts to Paradise Lost, in which Adam and Eve are strictly confined to whatever location God gives them, and there is a heaven depicted in the more 'traditional' sense. Narnia I think is especially interesting, because like you say, there is this concept of world hopping, with the rings that Digory's Uncle creates being similar to the idea of Lord Asriel building a bridge across the worlds.
Do you think that there is a conflict of concepts in Narnia? For example, the rings in the Magician's Nephew are the only time that the human characters world hop of their own accord, all other times it is Aslan (or God) who dictates when they can come to Narnia, which is almost the children's idea of heaven (for example in the Silver Chair it provides Jill and Eustace with an escape from the bullies). Also, in The Last Battle, the real 'heaven' is revealed to the children at the end, and they can again only enter by Aslan's permission, for example Susan is left behind. Do you think that the latter examples are more conformist to Christianity in the traditional sense? Or would you argue that there are still themes of sacrilege in these parts?
(Original post by Franelle)
for the concept of heaven are you going to write about the transcendent and the idea of "world-hopping" and the possible sacrilegious connotations of such an idea (in both narnia + his dark materials- haven't read paridise lost)? i mean, you could definitely argue that by the authors depicting PEOPLE who are able to build instruments which allow them to transport from one world to the other, like asriel in his dark materials, and not any sort of deity's interjection or help, this is presuming the lack of a significant gap between the powers of humankind and the 'other' unknown divine-ship.
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Roseland
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It has been so long since I've read His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia that I don't think I would be able to contribute much to a discussion of either, but I'll post some general thoughts and opinions on Paradise Lost.

My question is 'How do John Milton, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman conform to traditional Christian ideology in their respective works Paradise Lost, The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials?'
First off, I really like this question. If you have not already started writing, however, you can still change your title. It might be worth opening up the question even more and asking how John Milton, C. S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman conform to traditional Christian ideology. All three writers have deep moral and religious concerns that find their expression in all their work. It depends on how antisocial you are at Christmas.

I mention this also because I'm going to hone in on your questioning of the social and biographical context of each work. This is much easier with a broader reading. In the afterword to what is perhaps his most religiously explicit work, Philip Pullman says: "Believing as I do in the democracy of reading, I don't like the sort of totalitarian silence that descends when there is one authoritative reading of any text... But The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is different from the sort of books I've published before." In this manner he continues and calls himself a "thoroughgoing materialist" who, once he realised that God doesn't exist (I use his own language), and because he realised that God doesn't exist, he also saw 'doctrines such as atonement, the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, original sin, the Trinity, justification by faith, prevenient grace, and so on' fall through. It's this same metaphysical issue that Milton grapples with. Paradise Lost is a book about God and Satan and their fight, and what it means to be right and just; its events precede many of the things that Pullman mentions here, alongside all the cultural, social, and political artefacts of Christianity that all three must have experienced. This is not a connection to include in your EPQ (especially if you continue with the title that you have) but it introduces us to what I consider to be the central point of Milton's Paradise Lost.

That is that Milton writes Paradise Lost across a period of perhaps 5-15 years in England's most turbulent political era and he's going straight to its root: the historical and philosophical foundations. Normally I'm a bit hesitant around cultural readings, but Paradise Lost is born in the wake of Britain's only revolution, its only military coup d'etat, and its only dictatorship. This is significant stuff.

Under James VI and I, the Church of England was seen as a highly problematic institution by many. Parliament was split between the Catholics (who liked COE) and the Puritans (who really didn't). Early in his reign, James IV and I attempted to limit episcopacy and his Oath of Allegiance in 1606 prevented the Pope (the highest bishop in Catholicism) from being able to get rid of the King. That may have annoyed a couple of people, particularly Catholics: "But the Cardinall thinkes the Oath, not onely vnlawfull for the substance thereof, but also in regard of the Person whom vnto it is to be sworne: For (saith he) The King is not a Catholique". James VI and I was obviously aware of what he'd done. He failed to carry the momentum of his explosive start. Small modifications were made throughout his reign that were concessions to the Catholic faith and that helped to bolster the episcopate here and there. This basically means that 40 years before Paradise Lost was published, James VI and I had set up a system that wasn't really helping anybody, but that over a long, strenuous period, caused a piecemeal conflict between the King and the Puritans to arise.

Obviously an excellent state of affairs for the King who was ruling with an increasingly absolutist regime. Charles I didn't make it better for himself either. He tried to impose his Book of Common Prayer upon the Presbyterians in Scotland, which led to an armed revolt and then the Puritans found themselves naturally allied with the Prebysterians soon afterwards. Charles' disgruntled half of Parliament now had a powerful ally. And Charles married Henrietta Maria who was a Roman Catholic. And then he stopped calling Parliament and his Personal Rule lasted up until 1640. 10 years and two Civil Wars later and he's beheaded. Surprise!

So then Oliver Cromwell comes into power. And this is what I've been leading to — because Milton becomes one of his greatest public polemicists. They are united in the Puritan cause, which seeks a much more spiritual attachment to God and God's will. It's just the abstract, spiritual force that Pullman hates, but for both Milton and Pullman it carries an equal significance. Milton calls the hated bishop "the perpetuall canker-worme to eat out Gods Commandements? are his decrees so inconsiderate and so fickle, that when the statutes of Solon, or Lycurgus shall prove durably good to many ages, his in 40 yeares shall be found defective, ill contriv'd, and for needfull causes to be alter'd? Our Saviour and his Apostles did not only foresee, but foretell and forewarne us to looke for schisme." He blames the schism within religious teaching on Catholicism and Christian institutions. Pullman looks for the Gott ist tot philosophy; Milton is seeking to make the experience of God more direct. This may be why his narrative of God is so intimate. In some ways, it can be seen as an educational treatsy. And this is why his assistant and fellow poet, Andrew Marvell, could write:

That Majesty which through thy Work doth Reign
Draws the Devout, deterring the Profane.

C. S. Lewis dissented from this opinion. This is part of what makes his criticism of Paradise Lost so remarkable. He calls its Christian revelations obscure and awkward and the anthropomorphic God verging on the ridiculous. You'll have to judge for yourself to what extent this can be seen in The Chronicles of Narnia, but it should also be remembered that in the back of C. S. Lewis' mind was always the moral, the thing-that-should-be-taken-away-from-the-book, and it's no surprise that he had an alternative vision to Milton.

I don't know if it's worth quoting me as I'm just a loser on the internet. It is probably better to go off and read some of the things that I've mentioned or quoted (Google them ad verbatim). If you want, I could go through Paradise Lost this week and we could bounce some ideas back and forth, but I do have my own EPQ to be getting on with.
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Whatisaholiday
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(Original post by Roseland)
I don't know if it's worth quoting me as I'm just a loser on the internet. It is probably better to go off and read some of the things that I've mentioned or quoted (Google them ad verbatim). If you want, I could go through Paradise Lost this week and we could bounce some ideas back and forth, but I do have my own EPQ to be getting on with.
Firstly, thanks so much for your input!! You have been really insightful (and definitely worth quoting, as long as you don't mind). Interestingly, the question you proposed is one I had originally considered, but I was advised that it might be too broad (so I'll just look into it in my own time instead haha!) I definitely will look into some of the things you have quoted too! I particularly like the comparisons you have made between Milton's social and political context with Paradise Lost and Pullman. If you have time to bounce ideas about Paradise Lost back and forth I would be really grateful, but thanks for your help so far. Good luck with your EPQ too!
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Roseland
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Firstly, thanks so much for your input!!

Not a problem. I could see by your first post that you've put some effort into your question before asking for help.

and definitely worth quoting, as long as you don't mind).

Not really. Just remember that the most marks for your EPQ come from the evaluation of your sources, so you will have to concede that I don't have any qualifications (at least that you or I can prove over the internet). I would also advise that you quote me on parts where I put forward an opinion — such as those about the different direct experiences of God or those about Milton being an educational writer. It's not worth quoting me on the facts that I put forwards because accepted data does not have to be sourced. Furthermore, in your EPQ you're working with multiple sides of an argument (in this case the many ways in which traditional Christian theology can be seen in three works of literature), and it's my opinions that are a form of argument.

Interestingly, the question you proposed is one I had originally considered, but I was advised that it might be too broad

Same here. I imagine it's a healthy bit of advice towards anyone doing a Literature-themed EPQ. If you do extra reading outside of the bounds of the question, you can still footnote it and so on.

If you have time to bounce ideas about Paradise Lost back and forth I would be really grateful,

Might not have time to re-read it as soon as I thought, but if your EPQ goes through any further developments or if you have any further ideas for it, I'm following this thread. Otherwise you can pass me a private message and I'll work out how this website's interface works in my own time.

Thanks and good luck to you too.
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ReginaFilange
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Hi! I really like the idea for your EPQ, and I am quite familiar with each of the works you are looking at, although more so with Pullman's and Lewis' than Milton's. I also think that the themes you have picked are really interesting so I'll try to address each of them.

For Satan, have you considered how in Paradise Lost Milton places Satan in the hero role? In my opinion, this makes Satan immediately more humane to the audience, as their natural reaction to the hero of any epic would be to sympathise with them, as we get a closer look at their emotions throughout, and there is more focus on them as a character.
I really like how Pullman does The Fall in His Dark Materials, because it happens naturally; although the reader (if they are aware of the allegory) may be aware that The Fall is coming, we almost don't notice until we put down the novel and consider what we have read. I think that the fact The Fall occurs as almost a natural progression within the narrative of the trilogy is significant; it's almost as though Pullman is suggesting that it was natural for humanity to fall. Also, Mary who plays the serpent is one of the kindest characters of the entire trilogy, which isn't an accident.
I find C.S. Lewis' version of Satan much less interesting, as the main character who represents Satan (I presume we are in agreement that this character is Jadis, The White Witch?) is evil, and the two occasions that she represents the serpent (tempting Digory in The Magician's Nephew and Edmund in TLLW) are extremely thinly disguised depictions of the story in Genesis. However, it is worth considering the former temptation: unlike Eve and Edmund, Digory resists the temptation of the forbidden fruit and this has very positive effects for Narnia, him and his mother. Therefore, although C.S. Lewis strays away from the narrative of Genesis, he, unlike Pullman is reinforcing the most Christian idea that The Fall was negative and humanity would be better off if it hadn't happened.
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ReginaFilange
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Women
-In Genesis, Eve was subservient to Adam. This links to Paradise Lost where Eve was created in the image of Adam, who was created in the image from God. I think that this definitely presents Eve as more distanced from God than Adam is.
If I recall correctly, Eve is always absent when a heavenly character enters the Garden of Eden to speak to Adam. This emphasises how she is distanced from God more than Adam.
-Obviously Lyra contrasts this in His Dark Materials as a strong female protagonist. However, Coulter's character shifts during the course of the narrative, and in my opinion this is because of her maternal instincts rising, which I think conforms to Christianity, where women are often depicted as the mother- for example Eve is often called the mother of mankind.
- Lewis' treatment of women is interesting. Any character who makes a misogynistic or sexist comment during the series (for example Edmund) always comes across as unpleasant, however, Lewis himself can be seen as sexist in that he doesn't allow Susan into heaven for growing up.
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ReginaFilange
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Heaven

I think the idea of world hopping in the above posts is a really valid one. Have you thought about the fact that in Pullman's work, there is a significant absence of an idyllic, heaven-like world, but only the world of the dead where all of the characters go after death? This is significant when we consider that Pullman is an atheist.
This directly contrasts to Lewis' depiction of heaven, which is extremely familiar to those familiar with Christian ideology: an idyllic world, better than the world of the living, one to aspire to, which only the purest characters can enter. I think that Lewis' treatment of heaven was quite chilling for a children's book, as he is brutal to all of the characters who aren't pure enough to make it into heaven: he is clear about the fact that they are damned. Even Susan who the audience has known and loved is not given the chance to enter heaven, which smacks of some of the biblical teachings which specify how difficult it is to enter heaven.
Of course, Milton's heaven is extremely conformist, especially for the contemporary society, who thought of heaven as a physical place outside of our world. As we can see in Pullman's work, this has definitely changed in more modern day societies. It is possibly partly down to science that we know longer consider heaven as likely a place as society once did.
I think that is literally everything I know on the topic! Good luck with your EPQ
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Whatisaholiday
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Thanks so much! Your insights resonate with a lot of my research so they will really help to consolidate my EPQ. Thanks!
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zpiacci
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HI, just wondering how you got on and if you wouldn't mind sharing some of what your written ?
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