CS Lewis and the Peter Principle


Narnia by Steve on Flickr

Narnia by Steve on Flickr

We’re all familiar with the Peter Principle – the idea that in any organisation, people rise to the level of their own incompetence. Which explains why there are so many bad bosses around.

What I find so remarkable about this, is, not only the fact that this has been around for yonks, but we can also found it in children’s books!

I remember growing up with the Narnia stories. You probably know the one about a lot of children who can enter a magical world inhabited by mythical creatures who can talk just as humans do, where they have adventures with wicked witches and sorcerers.Now I know a lot of people have issues with these stories. There are criticisms of sexism, racism and most of all, on the religious slant. For example, Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is a severe critic.

But for all his faults, one thing about CS Lewis is that he certainly knew how to write. His sentences are delightfully short, crisp and lucid.– you feel you’re sailing through an enchanted sea, instead of plodding up a steep, dark mountain. Pullman, for all his criticisms could actually learn a lot from Lewis – I started reading His Dark Materials and found it awfully heavy going.

And Lewis had a sense of humour!

This is towards the end of The Silver Chair, where the children Eustace Scrub and Jill Pole return from Narnia, to their school in the real world, a place where both have been deeply unhappy due to bullying. They bring with them the Lion Aslan and King Caspian, to help them confront the bullies, whereupon all hell breaks loose.

Having subdued the bullies, Aslan and Caspian return to Narnia:

“When the police arrived and found no lion, no broken wall, and no convicts, and the Head behaving like a lunatic, there was an inquiry into the whole thing. And in the inquiry all sorts of things about Experiment House came out, and about ten people got expelled. After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.”

This was written in the 1950s. So the Peter Principle is certainly nothing new. What I find remarkable is that it appears in a book written for children!

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