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While I was doing some research, looking for an answer for Are Frog and Toad more than just friends?, I found this article listing 15 fictional characters the author thinks are probably gay. Some of them are widely joked about (Bert and Ernie, Peter Pan), but two characters on the list were deeply mystifying: Old Yeller, and Edmund Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Granted, it's been a long time since I read the Narnia books, but I did read them again as an adult, and I can't remember a single thing that would suggest Edmund is gay, particularly if we confine ourselves the The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as the list does. I can't recall any of the four Pevensie children having any kind of sexuality at all, except for some intimations about Susan in The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle, so it seems to me we could as well say that Peter was gay and Lucy was a lesbian.

I very much doubt Lewis, as a Christian philosopher in the 1950's, would have written a gay character intentionally, but is there any way to interpret the text that would suggest Edmund is gay? Conversely, is there a way to interpret the text that suggests he's not gay?

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    I am honestly seriously doubting the source you used. As @Hamlet mentioned, it has no actual reasoning, and Edmund is listed next to Old Yeller of all people. – Matrim Cauthon Feb 25 '17 at 18:35
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    Although Lewis wouldn't likely have intentionally written a character that was gay, he certainly would have known people who were, and the vast majority of them, at that time in history in the West, would not have been openly so. (One has only to look to the fate of Wilde to understand why that would be so.) It is highly possible Edmund could have been based, to varying degrees, on gay people, without sexual orientation having been a factor, rather general personality traits of some one or ones who just happened to be gay. – DukeZhou Feb 25 '17 at 20:55
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    I wouldn't dismiss the idea of sexual elements in Narnia. The section of the first book in which Lucy meets, and returns with Mr. Tumnus to his home, carries an element of sexual menace, which gives that section a great deal of tension over concern for Lucy. This concern arises, not because I have an aberrant mind, but because Fauns are linked with Satyrs, and even Vertumnus, who is associated with fertility, has erotic connotations. Fauns can be good or wicked. – DukeZhou Feb 25 '17 at 21:06
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    @Torisuda I've thought about this question and I've decided to remove my comment about the question's source. The link gets at why people would think characters are gay regardless of whether there's explicit evidence. By all means, keep this question up. I'm doing some research into slash fanfiction (as should anyone attempting to write an answer), and I'm hoping to have an answer soon. – user111 Feb 26 '17 at 5:08
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    "I was interested more in an analysis from the text about sexuality in the Narnia books." Would you consider asking a question about that, then, rather than specifically about Edmund? Particularly if you can phrase what it is you're interested in learning about; what question you're hoping to see answered. I suspect that will get you richer answers, when they're not focused on one somewhat-arbitrary character :) – Standback Feb 26 '17 at 10:55
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+100

As someone who rather likes the totally non-canonical idea of gay Edmund, there is really no textual evidence to support this idea and you are right to point out that it is extremely unlikely that Lewis intended the character to be gay. There's not even much of what most people would consider obvious gay subtext. We don't see Edmund longingly describe the appearance or other attributes of other male characters, for example. We don't see him form the kind of extremely close male friendship that seems to border on romantic that you sometimes see in other works. We don't really see other characters describe him in ways that are coded gay.

All that being said, the person in the linked article isn't the first to come up with the idea of gay Edmund. A quick look at Narnia's M/M category over on the popular fan fiction site, An Archive Of Our Own reveals that Edmund is the character most listed in male/male pairings section despite the fact that both Peter and Caspian are played by older, arguably more attractive actors in the movies. Caspian/Edmund is the most popular male/male romantic pairing.

So why do many fans see Edmund, in particular, as gay but not, say, Peter or Lucy? What you have to realize about the way that many LGBT people read or view fiction is that they sometimes connect aspects of a particular character's journey or arc to their own journey or struggles with queerness.

One rather prominent example of this is the character Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen. A lot of LGBT people read Elsa as gay, not because she pines after women, explicitly or otherwise, but because her character arc shares much in common with the type of struggles that LGBT people face. Elsa is forced by her parents to keep her powers hidden, "conceal, don't feel." This causes her to feel alienated from her community and family, even from her sister who loves her no matter what. Elsa eventually chooses to live alone in a literal ice fortress because this is the only place where she can be herself. This parallels the issues that many young gay people face with lack of family acceptance, feelings of alienation and isolation, feeling somehow dangerous to others, suppression of a major part of themselves, and choosing to be apart from the community that they were born into because they don't feel they can be themselves there. But someone could, of course, correctly point out that there is nothing in the movie itself that suggests Elsa is gay and her sexuality goes entirely unaddressed in the movie.

And I do think there are elements of Edmund's character that LGBT people might identify with in this way. Edmund starts out the series feeling alienated from his siblings for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Edmund started being a jerk the first time he came back from boarding school which perhaps indicates that he was experiencing some form of bullying (interestingly, the same boarding school doesn't seem to have had a similar effect on Peter -- and though I believe Peter suggests that Edmund himself has become a bully, it wouldn't be unusual for someone who is bullied to, in turn, bully others). Edmund seems to harbor a certain amount of resentment toward his more explicitly masculine older brother (this isn't to say that Edmund is feminine, just that Peter is usually given the more explicitly masculine tasks of physically protecting the girls or generally waving his sword around, for example). In his resentment, Edmund screws up big time and betrays his siblings. Edmund is forgiven, but aspects of this forgiveness are kept "secret" -- the books explicitly point out that the all the conversation between Edmund and Aslan was never revealed to others, but that it was a conversation that Edmund never forgot. Edmund ends up doing something heroic in a way that suits his personality (using his smarts to come up with the idea of breaking the witch's wand -- something that no one else thought of).

I'm not saying that all gay people identify with these experiences or that no straight people can identify with them, but I think there is a certain overlap between Edmund's experiences and the experiences of many LGBT people that isn't really true of the other Pevensie siblings. The feelings of alienation and isolation followed by eventual acceptance and affirmation of Edmund's particular qualities as a person is a journey that would feel familiar and comforting to many LGBT people. Actually, now that I think of it, Edmund and Elsa share quite a bit in common -- the feelings of alienation from family, the somewhat closed-off personality, the much more open, optimistic, sweet younger sister, even the association with cold and winter (Edmund goes to the White Witch's castle to ally with her, Elsa has ice powers and goes off on her own to create her own ice castle).

And to answer this question: Conversely, is there a way to interpret the text that suggests he's not gay? No. There is nothing in the text itself that suggests he is heterosexual. We see more of adult Edmund in The Horse and His Boy than we do the other Pevensie siblings, but we don't see anything that would point to a possible sexuality. This certainly doesn't mean that he's gay -- but it is one less obstacle to people viewing him in that way.

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    FANTASTIC ANSWER! This hits the nail on the head. I hope you continue to participate on this site. – user111 Feb 27 '17 at 3:58
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    This is indeed a magnificent answer, more than I could have hoped for when I thoughtlessly asked this question. – Torisuda Feb 27 '17 at 4:14
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    Great answer! Just a small note on authorial intent (for whatever that's worth), Elsa was modeled after John Lasseter's son, who has type 1 diabetes (which I believe also accounts for some of the "conceal" part of the character) – Shokhet Feb 27 '17 at 4:50
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    Excellent answer. Phrases like "gay coded," "queer coded," and "double coded" are used for some of the ideas you're talking about here. They imply more intentionality than you're ascribing to Lewis, but what you're describing is readers taking the language of gay coding and using it to read other texts. – BESW Feb 27 '17 at 6:02
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    @MissMonicaE Many environments are simultaneously homoerotic and homophobic, and from my understanding, British boys' schools were famous for brutal bullying upon any pretext. – Chris Sunami Feb 8 '18 at 3:38
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It is worth noting in this conversation that Lewis had very level-headed opinions about homosexuality and did write directly about the subject outside of his children's fiction; in his private life, he was great friends with a gay man, also a devout Christian, who expressed his theory of homosexuality to Lewis and whose view Lewis seemed to accept as authortitative.

This friend was Arthur Greeves, a familiar name to anyone who has read Lewis. In Greeves' assessment, homosexuality was a divinely-ordained burden, an opportunity to grow in holiness through lifelong celibacy. Although this might seem distasteful to many of us, it's worth noting that Greeves doesn't condemn himself as inherently flawed or sinful - if Lewis did accept this view, that's significant.

Lewis also wrote about the issue of homosexual relations in English public schools with clarity. He accuses the English public of reacting with disgust for neither moral nor Christian reasons but rather squeamishness.

All of this is to say that 1. Lewis has written about homosexuality and 2. Lewis' views were comparatively broad-minded. Although I doubt that any Narnian character is gay, it isn't impossible, and should be thought about through the lens of Lewis' actual writings on the subject.

References: You can read about his "pious homosexual friend" in Vol. II of his letters, where a footnote identifies the friend as Greeves.

Read about Lewis and public school homosexuality here.

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    Since the Narnia books are an allegory expressing Lewis' actual religious beliefs, I think it is valid to consider his actually-held beliefs; some posters here have dismissed the possibility on the basis of Lewis never witing on the subject. His personal beliefs ar also important to consider - since Edmund is ultimately a positive character, any question about CSL's intentions must consider whether he would make a character both good and gay. – Buzz Mar 1 '17 at 6:01
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    Sorry to pile on comments and to edit so frantically, but I want to double down on what I said about: it's not only valid but absolutely necessary to consider Lewis' intentions when interpreting this allegory. Scholars do not universally agree that authorial intention is irrelevant. – Buzz Mar 1 '17 at 6:06
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    That's simply not true, verbose. Deconstructionism hasn't totally taken over - and even if the mainstream was altogether agreed, a theory's being very popular doesn't make it universal or inarguable! – Buzz Mar 1 '17 at 8:48
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    OK, here's the thing about intentionality. I would be the first person to agree that academics don't universally agree about intentional. What academics do agree about, however, is that simply saying "the author said x, therefore x" is not a valid way to analyze literature. I have never seen a serious academic make that argument, in part because authors contradict themselves and it's hard to tell what their intentions actually are. When intentionality is used, it is used more subtly. For example, genetic criticism involves comparing drafts of published work to look at how the work developed. – user111 Mar 1 '17 at 16:12
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    Here's the thing about this answer. It's possible to interpret a work of literature multiple ways. Saying that "edmund can be interpreted as gay" doesn't invalidate the statement "Edmund can also be interpreted as [not gay]." I would upvote an answer that looked at the text and made an interpretation about Edmund's sexuality. As useful as it is to have an answer that makes accurate statements about Lewis' views on homosexuality, that's not what this question is about. – user111 Mar 1 '17 at 16:15
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No, there's absolutely no textual evidence for this. There's really not anything in the text that would come even vaguely close to supporting this. I suppose that you could say that, strictly speaking, the text doesn't say he's not either, though, but the fact remains that this simply can't be answered on the basis of textual analysis - it's simply not in the text.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but C. S. Lewis doesn't really explicitly discuss LGBT issues in any of his major works (Narnia or otherwise). You are also correct in stating that it would be highly anachronistic for him to intentionally make a character gay given the time he was writing in.

Keep in mind that that wasn't really a major public issue at the time (certainly not like it is today), and C. S. Lewis tended tended to shy away from controversial theological issues (and it certainly would have been controversial at the time - people's ideas on LGBT issues have evolved a lot since the 1950's) to some extent (at least in his major works), preferring to discuss "common ground" that all Christians could agree on - in fact, he's pretty explicit about that in, for example, Mere Christianity. (He does discuss some of those types of issues in his letters and essays, though).

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    "C. S. Lewis doesn't really explicitly discuss LGBT issues" - in the Narnia books, he doesn't even discuss sexuality at all, as far as I remember. – Rand al'Thor Feb 25 '17 at 19:04
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    -1 while it's true that Lewis doesn't discuss LGBT issues explicitly, explicit discussion of this is not at all what the OP or the article is referring to. And regardless of whether Lewis intended to discuss LGBT issues, remember that intention is not the same thing as meaning. – user111 Feb 25 '17 at 19:15
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    @EJoshuaS Intention is not the same thing as meaning. This question is about the meaning of what Lewis wrote, not Lewis' intentions. – user111 Feb 25 '17 at 20:21
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    @Torisuda This may be the literary analog of the XY problem. Quite simply, you can't settle that question with textual analysis because the text simply doesn't say either way. It doesn't say that he's gay, but it doesn't say that he's not gay either. There's nothing in the text that would come even vaguely close to answering the question, and you can't find something that doesn't exist; you could speculate, but that's all that it would be - speculation. – EJoshuaS Feb 26 '17 at 5:06
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    @Hamlet : Extracting meaning from text is easy; doing so persuasively is difficult :P I look forward to seeing your answer! – Standback Feb 26 '17 at 11:00

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