C.S. Lewis: Bravery, Courage, and Heroic Women
"At the end of C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy assume their rightful thrones as Kings and Queens of Narnia. Lewis dedicates only one sentence to describing how they governed during the Golden Age of Narnia, but it is interesting to hear his summary of their most important accomplishments. Lewis tells us that they 'made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being cut down and liberated young dwarfs and satyrs from being sent to school and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.'"
-- From Micheal Flaherty, "Let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage,' Imprimis, February, 2007. Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu. Micheal Flaherty is president of Walden Media, a company that -- in association with the Walt Disney Company, produced the Academcy-award winning film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Click on the Imprimis link and you can get the publication for free.
C. S. Lewis, one of the 20th century's most wonderful individuals, didn't like busybodies and interferers. He had a lot of respect for young dwarfs and satyrs, as well as for all those ordinary people -- in America, we generally call them "Republicans" -- "who wanted to live and let live."
In having the Kings and Queens of Narnia celebrate as their first act as liberating dwarfs and satyrs from going to school, Lewis is not downplaying the importance of education. Instead, he's questioning the value of a certain kind of education, the type we generally call "practical" and that serves as a major source of yawns and clock-watching.
As Flaherty reminds us, that's a kind of education Lewis identifies in The Voyage of the Dawn Trader. He introduces us there to "a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubbs," an appelation he "almost deserved."
We get to know Eustace quickly through the description of the reading material he preferred. "He liked books if they were [ones] of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools." In Lewis' view, Eustance "had read only the wrong books."
Lewis believes a child should read books, perhaps exactly like the ones he wrote, that confront him (or her) with reality. He rejects the view that "we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil."
Basically, he's saying that the Eustaces of the world -- I think of people like John Murtha, Bararck Obama, and John Edwards -- are engaging in "escapism," failing to to understand the sometimes-tragic nature of life. The view is similar to that of Flannery O'Connor, who understood that modern secularism and realism walled mankind off from the real nature of existence.
About the needs of children, C. S. Lewis observed: "Since it is so likely they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."
I've written recently about Senator Barack Obama, who has said that "3,000 American lives" lost in Iraq "were wasted." Later, of course, the Senator apologized -- lamely and unconvincingly. Frankly, if Obama believes the Iraq War was a terrible idea right from the start, then his notion that the dead soldiers "wasted" their lives follows. He wants to be "for" the troops -- most of them voters -- but he comprehends almost nothing about who they aren what they believe.
He's a man who never has demonstrated courage in his own life. Running for safe seats and spouting leftist cliches don't constitute courage.
I was thinking about Obama while I read Ken Follett's Jackdaws, one of his many volumes featuring female heroes. The book's dedication is as follows: "Exactly fifty [British] women were sent into France as secret agents [spies and saboteurs working with the Resistance] by the Special Operations Executive [SOE] during the Second World War. Of those, thirty-six survived the war. The other fourteen gave their lives. This book is dedicated to all of them."
On the slight chance someone like Barack Obama (or John Murtha) knows about these women, do they think they wasted their lives? I fear I know the answer. In fact, before Hitler's invasion of Poland, hundreds of thousands of British people signed the "King and Country Resolution." It said, "Resolved, I will not fight for King or Country." Reportedly, the anti-war sentiment emboldened Hitler, who actually didn't need a lot of emboldening. People who signed "King and Country" presumably thought war was synonymous with wasted lives.
What do real soldiers, such as Follett's 50 women and the Coalition soldiers in Iraq think about the worth of the lives they're putting on the line?
The heroine of Jackdaws is Felicity Clairet, a British citizen known to her friends as "Flick." Her SOE code-name, an appropriate one, is "Leopardess." Married to a Frenchman in the Resistance, she's a lover of French culture.
As the book opens, she's waiting with a Resistance Group to attack a well-guarded telephone exchange in German-occupied France. We read, "Her heart's desire was that the real France would come back. It might return soon, if she and people like her did what they were supposed to."
We continue to read Flick's thoughts: "She might not live to see it -- indeed, she might not survive the next few minutes. There were a hundred things she planned to do after the war: finish her doctorate, have a baby, see New York, own a sports car, drink champagne on the beach at Cannes." The idea is that one does what one is supposed to -- which might be quite different from what one wants to.
Her thoughts continue: "But if she was about to die, she was glad to be spending her last few moments in a sunlit square, looking at a beautiful old house, with the lilting sounds of the French language soft in her ears."
On balance, C. S. Lewis would have loved Jackdaws. He had much in common with "Flick" and would have saluted her courage and passion for life.
I don't believe Bararck Obama, the quintessence of a glib pretty boy, would have understood Flick. I do believe he would have thought that she may very well be wasting her lives -- and the lives of the Resistance men and women about to attack the Gestapo-guarded chalet.
Are people like Flick Clairet, individuals willing to give their lives -- and perhaps be subjected to hideous torture by Gestapo thugs -- ones we find only in fiction? Actually, author Follett bases the character of Flick on a woman named Pearl Witherington, an SOE agent who ended up leading a force of 2,000 Resistance operatives.
Awarded a civil medal the Medal of the British Empire, or MBE, rather the Military Cross she deserved, Witherington returned it, observing that "she had done nothing civil."
There are Flick Clairets and Pearl Witheringtons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasingly, they're involved in combat, and they're dying with more frequency than their British counterparts in World War II.
More than 155,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, according to the Pentagon, nearly four times the number during the Persian Gulf War.
Females now account for 15% of the active duty force. The number of women casualties — 68 dead and more than 430 injured — represents a tiny fraction of the total. Still, by one estimate, the female deaths exceed the number of military women who lost their lives in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War combined.
Two women who've served in Iraq may deserve special note, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester and Specialist Ashley Pullen, both members of the Kentucky National Guard. Sergeant Hester is the first woman since World War II to win the nation's second-highest military honor, the Silver Star. Specialist Pullen won the Bronze Star.
Both women won their medals near Salmon Pak, formerly known under Saddam as a major terrorist training center. They were defending a convoy that came under attack by a large number of insurgents.
Specialist Pullen got her Bronze Star for "incredible courage" shown as she disregarded enemy fire and rescuing a male Sergeant who'd been badly wounded. Sergeant Hester won her award for counterattacking with her unit and killing many insurgents. Her award reads that "she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 rounds."
At the same time, she gave all the credit to her commander, Timothy Nein, also awarded the Siver Star, and her fellow soldiers in "Raven 42."
Hester gives the following advice to young women thinking of enlisting in the military: "'If you have a goal or a dream, you can do it.' noting that there are few limitations on female soldiers. 'If your heart is set on it, don't let anything stand in your way.'"
It strikes me that people like Pearl Witherington, Leigh Anne Hester, and Ashley Pullen hardly seem to inhabit the same planet as people like Obama and Murtha. The latter two presumably believe in themselves, but the women mentioned believe in something larger than themselves. Specifically, they believe in their country and their comrades.
I'm sure C. S. Lewis was proud of Pearl Witherington, his courageous countrywoman. I'm equally certain he'd be proud of Sgt. Hester and Spc. Pullen.
Following is a link to the "Military News" story about Hester and Pullen: http://www.army.mil/-news/2007/02/03/1689-new-womens-museum-exhibit-features-kentucky-national-guard-sergeant/