The United Kingdom is suddenly bereft of beavers and, apparently, it’s all C.S. Lewis’s fault.
The Times of London and the Daily Mail report that a certain Mr. Ben Goldfarb is on a crusade to reintroduce the mighty beaver to Great Britain, and is finding that “The Chronicles of Narnia,” which features a married beaver couple (named, appropriately, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver), is standing in his way.
In Lewis’s iconic tale of a fantasy land accessed through the back of a magical wardrobe, the beaver pair are depicted as sharing a hot fish supper with the some of the book’s human characters. But in real life, beavers, Goldfarb says, don’t eat fish — they have a strictly herbivorous diet, despite the fact that they live in mostly fish-friendly areas.
“They’re totally herbivorous. That’s one of the funny things about beaver reproduction in the UK: every British schoolchild reads Narnia and they grow up thinking that beavers are going to eat all the fish. That is biologically inaccurate,” Goldfarb told an audience over the weekend, at a speech introducing his new book on beaver-friendly environmentalism, “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.”
“They have a few species of tree that they most like – that’s willow and the whole poplar family – birch, aspen, cottonwood,” he continued.
Goldfarb says the misconception — or, in this case, “miseducation” — is responsible for beavers dying out across the UK. Children who grow up thinking beavers eat fish, he claims, believe they’ll be competing with the beavers for food. And when conservation programs talk about re-establishing the British beaver population, people panic, fearing that it will mean the extinction of fish species.
“[W]hen [the idea of] beaver reproduction here was first floated, angling groups were among the strongest opponents because they’ve been mis-educated by C.S. Lewis,” Goldfarb claimed, adding that the biggest danger from beavers is that they might mow lawns or clear unwanted brush.
Lewis portrayed the beaver family as welcoming, and, in the book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” — the first of the Chronicles of Narnia series — the furry river dwellers take in the protagonists, four children, and fill them in on basic information about the world of Narnia while feeding them a dinner of trout and potatoes.
The Daily Mail reports that Goldfarb called the meal, “biologically inaccurate.”
But it seems a little odd that the meal of trout would be the focus of Mr. Goldfarb’s concern. The beaver family in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” live in a fairy land populated largely by talking animals and a handful of magical humanoids that can be accessed only by children who make their way through the recesses of a wardrobe in a particular room of an old house. Time, in the land of Narnia, passes without regard for the passage of time in the outside world. Many of the creatures express loyalty to a large, talking lion.
The beavers themselves not only fish — which, apparently, real beavers do not do — they fish with human fishing implements, cut holes in the ice to ice fish, and decorate the inside of their dams with fishing accoutrement. They also cook over a hot stove, serve dinner on plates, eat with flatware, wear clothes, and talk. If there are lingering concerns about what people might learn about beavers from the works of C.S. Lewis, it seems “they eat fish” is the least of anyone’s worries.
The Daily Mail reports that Goldfarb did acknowledge that he was complaining about fictional characters.