S. Lewis’s favorite juvenile authors, E. Nesbit, from whom he borrowed a good deal. In Nesbit’s The Five Children trilogy the heroes are four temporarily parentless siblings, two of each gender (the fifth child is a year-old baby who only complicates the action). Like Lewis’s characters, they travel in time and space and meet fabulous creatures. The book some consider Nesbit’s masterpiece, The Enchanted Castle, also has four child protagonists, and a plot in which figures from prehistory and Greek mythology appear. But where Lewis was an old-fashioned Tory, Nesbit was a Fabian socialist and a feminist. Her children have little interest in religion: the clergymen in her books are kind but clueless, and the temporal and spiritual authorities the children meet on their travels are often cruel and dishonest.
Some contemporary criticism of C.S. Lewis, though justified, may be partly excused on the grounds that he was subject to the beliefs and prejudices of his time and place. His dislike and suspicion of Oriental countries, and his preference for all things Northern and for heroes who are fair and fair-haired, were typical of conservative writers of his generation. As a conventionally educated man born in 1898, and living most of his life in the then almost completely masculine environment of Oxford, he might have easily assumed that girls were weaker, less interesting, and more fearful than boys. This might also explain his distaste for what at the time was seen as typically feminine-and, to judge by what happens at the end of the series, a dislike of typical adult women.
Many readers have been infuriated by Lewis’s final condemnation of Susan Pevensie, the former wise and gentle Queen Susan, as “no longer a friend of Narnia.” In The Last Battle she is cast out of Paradise forever because at twenty-one she speaks of her earlier experiences as only a childhood fantasy, and is “too keen on being grown up” and “interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.” Apart from the fact that these seem very minor sins, it is hard to believe that Susan could have changed that much and forgotten her happiness in Narnia and her commitment to Aslan. Apologists have claimed that her banishment was necessary to demonstrate that even those who have once been saved can fall from grace. Nevertheless it has seemed deeply unfair to many readers that Edmund, Susan’s younger brother, who has betrayed the others to the White Witch, is allowed to repent and stay in Narnia, while Susan, whose faults are much less serious, is not given the opportunity.
Readers have been made uneasy by his anachronistic and indiscriminate borrowings from other sources. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe see this, for instance, there are not only giants and dwarfs and a witch from Northern European folk tales, but a whole zoo of talking animals, including two badgers who seem to have waddled straight out of Beatrix Potter. There is also a large population of fauns, dryads, nymphs, and centaurs from Greek mythology, plus a character who only appeared in the popular imagination in the nineteenth century: Father Christmas with his sleigh pulled by reindeer.