A note of Thanks and a respectful Disagreement

A reader and I have been having an interesting if somewhat elliptical discussion about CS Lewis in the comments box of another entry on my live journal.
He asks me if I am uncomfortable quoting from C.S. Lewis, and he seems to think Lewis is prejudiced (prejudiced about what, I am not sure) and intolerant (again, intolerant about what, I am not sure). Of course I wrote a ringing endorsement of Mr. Lewis, whose work I have always admired, both his fiction and nonfiction.

Having solicited my opinion, the kindly reader seems to want to pursue the matter, but he writes in an indirect fashion, so I am not sure what his point is. This is the same fellow who, in another thread, delights in dismissing my credibility on matters where we happen not to see eye-to-eye (which is too bad, because I thought he made some telling points on that other thread, but I am not going to answer mockery, only argument). I am posting my reply here, due to space limitations.
I am a great fan of your Golden Age books. I ran across this from Wikipedia, I was going to try and correct that old post that was such a silly review of your work. (looks like someone else took care of it).

I recently read the Narnia books for the first time. I like the first one or two but as I got to the ending books I grew more and more uncomfortable with the viewpoint. For example, it seems like the “Calormene” are a vieled reference to colored men or muslims. First, do you see the same problems. Second, aren’t you a little uncomfortable quoting from this series? The prejudice seems pretty apparent by the end.

This quoting of the “good” sounding parts while ignoring the bad seems dangerous to me. Like ignoring Deuteronomy.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).

I admit I am a little puzzled by the question. The Narnia books are written by someone who loved medieval literature: CS Lewis was a scholar of the classics. The epics of Roland and Orlando Furioso, the surrounding tales of Charlemagne and so on, all had the paynim as enemies. Lewis did not live in the hyper-sensitive politically correct atmosphere of the modern age: it was thought acceptable then (and it is acceptable to me, now) to portray people living near the equator as darker skinned.

The reference is not veiled at all: the Calormene are Mohammedans. CS Lewis had a lifelong dislike of the Arabian Night’s Tales, and so he introduced the wonders of Araby into his fiction setting as bad guys.

I notice that Lewis treats the Calormene with considerable more gravity and respect than, for example, Pullman treats the Church. In Pullman, the Church are villains of the purest quill, without any redeeming characteristics. In Lewis, there are virtuous Calormene, including one who is welcomed into the Country of Aslan after the Last Battle, for he is said to have loved Aslan without knowing who he was: there is meant to be a parallel to similar theological conclusions in Christianity, the appearance of Trajan in the Heaven of Mars in Dante, etc.

To answer your question, I am not uncomfortable quoting from this series at all. The prejudice, to be blunt, exists in your imagination.

First, he doesn’t just describe them as “darker skinned”. (I found these quotes on the web so they are not primary sources)
“what you would chiefly have noticed if you had been there was the smells, which came from unwashed people, unwashed dogs, scent, garlic, onions, and the piles of refuse which lay everywhere.”

I don’t know about you but reading this to my 6 and 8 year old kids makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

“As the defeated Calormenes went back to their commander, the Dwarfs began jeering at them. “Had enough, Darkies?” they yelled. “Don’t you like it? Why doesn’t your great Tarkaan go and fight himself instead of sending you to be killed? Poor Darkies!”

second, I don’t know why you bring Phillip Pullman into this. As if his viewpoint somehow validates Lewis’s.

Yes, I remember 1 or 2 “good” Colormene. The one in the last battle is deemed good because he was only ignorant of Aslan and converted to the faith. The other one I remember is the girl in the 2nd story who helps the orphaned boy. She seemed to be good because she acted more like a boy than a girl.

I’m not a person who is constantly debating morals in public forums or religious arguments. Just a fairly normal guy. Reading past the first story in the series they became progressively more and more intolerant. I was reading these to my kids. I think the stories are thinly vieled propaganda like arguments aimed at kids.

I’m actually a little surprised reading this blog/forum. After reading your “Golden Age” books I would never have expected the attitudes you express here. I reread them recently, I do hope you write more like them; they are excelent.

Again, sir, your reply puzzles me. I assume there is some assumption you are making, some connection between two thought in your head that are to me not associated with each other. It is not that I am disagreeing with you: I just cannot follow you.
So far you have not even expressed to me clearly what it is you find objectionable in Lewis. Everything you say sounds like you are stretching or reaching to invent some excuse to dislike him (such as that silly Calormene = Colored Men. Oh, come on. Lewis derived its name from the Latin calor, meaning “heat”. They are the people of the hot country).
Mr. Lewis always struck me as a fair minded man, not prejudiced at all, and intolerant only of those things all honest men should not tolerate.
If you dislike Christians because they are Christian, I understand that: it is the default assumption of the age in which we live. If you dislike Lewis because he writes a children’s book in which the Good Guys are English Schoolchildren and the Bad Guys are Saracens, that seems like an arbitrary reason to dislike an otherwise fine book, but, to each his own.
Why do you say Mr. Lewis does not describe the Calormene as darker skinned? The Calormene in C.S. Lewis are clearly darker skinned. He makes more than one reference to it. From the descriptions, I assume he means they are Levantines. Indeed, I thought that was just what you were objecting to?
To answer (I think) my statement that he describes the Calormenes as darker skinned, you quote were he says there was piles of smelly refuse somewhere—I assume this is part of a description of one of their overcrowded cities. It is a common trope in literature to show that a king is a despot by showing his city being overcrowded and unsanitary. I do not see by what leap of logic you move find describing a city of the bad guys as wretched as being somehow in appropriate for 6 and 8 year olds. I am not saying you are wrong: on that point I have no opinion. I merely saying I cannot follow your reasoning.
The dwarves mock their defeated enemies by calling them “Darkies” (which seems to confirm that they were dark skinned). CS Lewis is British, not American, and it was (as far as I know) not the custom in Britain to refer to Negroes as “Darkies”. In other words, what might look like a racist epithet to you is merely scorn to him: and in any case it never applied to Levantines in America or elsewhere.  If the same scene were written with the dwarves making fun of the beards of the Calormene, instead of their hue, it would be the same.
Maybe your point is that dwarves should not jeer at people. Perhaps so. I note that the dwarves in Narnia are not necessarily the nicest people in that world: at least one worked for the White Witch, and several of them become hardened skeptics by the end of LAST BATTLE, and could not taste the feast spread before them.
The reason why I mentioned Pullman is by way of contrast. The way you worded your note sounds as if you do not know what prejudice is and is not. I wanted to clarify.
Mr. Pullman is an example of a man who is prejudiced, so prejudiced that the mars his otherwise fine craftsmanship: not a single churchman is anything but a child-killing villain of absolutely flat and pointless cardboard. A dramatic villain would have posed a real threat; instead Pullman has God fall out of His coffin and die, a creature too weak to be worthy of anything but contempt.  

A prejudiced person is unable to comprehend that there may be some good in an enemy group. An unprejudiced person admits there is some good in an enemy group, as Lewis does with the good Calormene whom he brings on stage.

Certainly I said nothing that even implied Mr. Pullman’s viewpoint validated Mr. Lewis: if anything I said the opposite. 
As I mentioned before, Narnia follows the style of medieval epics. One of King Arthur’s knights, for example, is Sir Palomedes, a Saracen. One of the enemy knights slain by Roland in ORLANDO FURIOSO converts on his deathbed in a moving scene. The idea that some of the enemy were honorable men, even if their kings were tyrants, is a common theme of the epic genre, not evidence of some sort of moral wrongness, or whatever it is you are trying to say.
If I am reading you correctly (it is hard to tell) your reaction is a sneer. You seem to imply that the “good” (note scare quotes) Calormene don’t count as actually good for some reason. But then, oddly enough, one of the Calormene you dismiss as unimportant is the main female character from HORSE AND HIS BOY. 

In other words, the one book where there Calormene are on stage for any length of time, the one Calormene in the spotlight is shown as being resourceful, brave, a good horsewoman, a good storyteller, etc. You case that C.S. Lewis is some sort of evil man because he is Not Nice to Arabs (or whatever it is you are trying to say) has to explain away this glaring exception. Your conclusion does not appear to be supported by any evidence known to me.  

The Calormene who converts, keep in mind, is a character in a world where Aslan is real, and Tash is a devil. In that world it is not a matter of opinion: Tash is an evil spirit. If I were writing a Cthulhu story where Cthulhu was an extraterrestrial devil, it would not be some sort of intolerance or race-prejudice for me to have a good character show his goodness by rejecting Cthulhu and all the evils of The Old Ones. It would not be a sign of race-prejudice (or whatever) against prehuman cultic worship of extraterrestrial monsters.
“I’m not a person who is constantly debating morals in public forums or religious arguments. Just a fairly normal guy. Reading past the first story in the series they became progressively more and more intolerant. I was reading these to my kids. I think the stories are thinly vieled propaganda like arguments aimed at kids.”
Well, I am a fairly normal guy myself (except, of course, for my many abnormalities); I am just not sure what you mean by “intolerant”. C.S. Lewis was intolerant of what? Of witches and evil giants?
In the story, the author shows more intolerance for the wicked people of Terebinthia than he does for the Calormene, some of whom are shown to be good. I can find more than one jibe making fun of modern experimental schools; I can find not one jibe making fun of Red, Yellow, or Black men as being inferior races.
Are you objecting to that fact that Lewis was a Christian, and wrote from a Christian viewpoint? Keep in mind that when he wrote, he correctly assumed his audience would be overwhelmingly Christian, and that to teach children the morals and themes of the society in which they lived was regarded as a meritorious act, not a sinister one. I would not mind reading my children A HORSE AND HIS BOY, which teaches that, even among enemies, there is still to be found some good. That sounds like the opposite of intolerance to me. 
Finally, you imply that my interest in moral questions should make me more willing to condemn C.S.Lewis, not less. It is my interest in morality that allows me to distinguish between real evil, and what amounts to merely an arbitrary distaste for surface features.
Forgive me, but you indeed being arbitrary. You see intolerance in Lewis because you set out to see it: you are hypersensitive to what are harmless tropes of children’s-book literature. If you see racism in Lewis, you will see it in Tolkien, in Lewis Carroll, in L. Frank Baum, and in Dr. Suess. You will see it everywhere. A friend of mine the other day told me FLASH GORDON was racist. A critic told me that THE GOLDEN AGE expressed a race prejudice against the Chinese, a people I admire and like (more than I like some occidental nations, believe you me). I would have felt wounded by this accusation, but it is a meaningless accusation these days.
Meaningless these days, because the accusation merely confuses a certain particular way of talking, a certain set of code-words, for racial tolerance. These code-words are used only by a clique of people, and their only point is to exclude people not in the clique, so that the in-group can mock and hate the out-group for being unworthy: in this case, the unworthiness is called racism. Neither Lewis nor I speak in this newspeak; we use the Queen’s English: so members of the clique call us racists. What this big charade does is hide real racism, which actually exists and is a real problem. The more the Boy Cries Wolf, the less we listen to the alarm (since so very many alarms are false alarms) and the more chances there are of a real wolf performing some real evil.
I do not know (because I do not know you) if you are a member of the clique or not, but I do know that bringing these reckless and poorly-thought-out accusations of racism against as fine a man of letters as C.S. Lewis adds to this effect.
It is merely your misfortune that a large number of lunatics make the same accusations you make in much the same language you use. How am I to know you are not one of them? You would have to distinguish yourself from the crowd by some particular clarity of logic or force of evidence. Until then, it just sounds like you are leveling a slander.
Since I have also been slandered in like way, you will understand if I am less curious than other men might be to hear it again and again. I must see proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not mere innuendo, before I am convinced.
You picked rather weak quotes to support your case. The first has nothing to do with racism at all. As for the second, it is funny in a children’s story when dwarves mock the Bad Guys. Kids love that sort of thing; just ask Team Rocket. If your kids hear what is being said, they will most likely come away thinking that true kings (like Leonidas) will fight in the forefront of battle, whereas tyrants will hang back and send their men to die in their stead: that true leaders are brave, not that black men are bad. That is the meaning of the dwarf mockery in the line you quoted.
I am sorry if my opinions surprise you, because I am not setting out to offend, and I know my opinions are in the minority. I am a liberal (small l) conservative with a healthy skepticism for environmentalism, feminism, Marxism, and a raft of other modern ideas. Most such ideas I regard as mere fads: they will be gone in one hundred years. I believe in logic and not in emotion. I believe in Aristotle and Epictetus. I am amazed anyone agrees with me at all.   
Nonetheless, I am pleased as punch that you enjoyed my humble books. I thank you sincerely for your kind words: this is because your opinion is generous, not necessarily because my books are good. I am writing another space opera like THE GOLDEN AGE even now.