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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Stealing Narnia from C. S. Lewis : using a phenomenology of overflow towards a practice of fantasy reading as salvage DaSilva, Julia


A widely-discussed experience of encountering C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is one of betrayal: a sense that his conservative framework contradicts a genuinely liberatory potential the books themselves offer. The prevalence of this contradictory experience suggests that the world of Lewis’ fantasies exists in a state of overflow: Narnia is uncontainable by the conscious system-building of its author or the systems defining its broader conditions of production. Dominant radical frameworks for reading fantasy, rooted in materialist traditions, have difficulty accounting for the significance of this overflow; they tend to locate the conservatism of mainstream fantasy in its religious thought-mode, which is understood as clouding the cognitive relationship between thought and action that radical action requires. This thesis articulates a complementary engagement with fantasy’s extra-rational impulses, re-considering the relationship between the and the political life that emerges from it: one in which the experience of reading fantasy is understood less as one of being directed by the political framework of a secondary world than of salvaging from the possibilities that encounters with magic open up. Employing a primarily phenomenological method, and drawing on anarchist critiques of Marxist conceptions of subjective transformation, it traces how a central phenomenon of “overflow” is produced, closed down, and followed in four fantasy texts, concluding that genuine enchantment “bears” the anarchic salvage work of the potentially-radical reader. The first chapter considers how C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle cultivates a quality of attention that produces a surplus of meanings, and makes an apocalyptic attempt to channel that overflow. The second, using Philip Pullman’s anti-Lewisian The Amber Spyglass, introduces a theoretical framework for overflow as the experience of paradoxical indeterminate future commitment contained in an absolute presence. A third considers more closely power and narrative coercion, arguing that Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore, following the overflow it produces, invites the “work” of being “taken in,” or taking seriously one’s attachments. A final chapter uses N. K. Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun to examine how enchantment’s overflow, illuminating otherwise-irreducible “units” of political transformation, the detachment that makes it possible to salvage what is necessary for transformation.

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