Monday, December 08, 2008

Introduction to a Week in Narnia

Welcome to Reading to Know's Week in Narnia! The Chronicles of Narnia are books that believe deserve a re-reading every so often and this will be the first time I officially focus on the series as a whole for an entire week. I don't know what each post will contain yet. I'm making this up as I go along. The point for me is to learn and think more about Narnia and what it's impact on today's society is, than I ever have before. Comments are welcome as we think this thing out together.

I am reading through the series as I write these posts so any insight you have to share would be appreciated. Let's have a good time.

But first things first . . .

One of the chief arguments of the day is whether or not The Chronicles of Narnia is a Christian allegory or not. Christians want to claim this series for themselves while others wish to just enjoy the books without having religion "foisted" upon them. So what it is? An allegory of the Christian walk or not? C.S. Lewis himself stated (not suggested) that it is not.

In Of Other Worlds he wrote:

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out 'allegories' to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn't write in that way. It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.

Then in a personal letter to a Mrs. Hook in December 1958 he wrote the following:

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim's Progress] represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality, however, he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all.

In C.S. Lewis Today they say the following:.

We are also reluctant to highlight key ideas set out [in the Chronicles of Narnia] because it could lead people to look for exact or literal parallels between the Narnian and biblical stories. Even though there are numerous biblical echoes from Genesis through to Revelation, it is because we wanted to avoid this danger that we have not provided references to specific Bible passages. What we have in The Chronicles of Narnia are rather partial and evocative analogies between the two. For example, Lewis did not intend a one-to-one correspondence between Aslan and Jesus but rather echoes between the two that the open-minded reader might discover and say “Aha!”. As he wrote, “This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better in your world.”

I read once that it was C.S. Lewis' intention to create an imaginative world that would captivate the hearts of minds of children so that when they were exposed to the gospel later on in their lives, it wouldn't feel so unnatural. That fits the quote I found about knowing Aslan for a little while so that we could better know Christ in our own world. I think we need to be just as careful not to say that it's an allegory as we need to be careful not to claim it is a "neutral" story. It is neither.

I do not believe it is appropriate to think that Lewis put down his Christian faith when he picked up his pen and began writing Narnia. Lewis, at the time of these writings, was a solid Christian who made a living thinking, writing, speaking and arguing Christian apologetics. I do not think that he would have separated his faith in writing these books. I remind you of the above quote in which he says, "At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord." It would be inevitable for Christian elements and themes to make themselves known through a Christian author (or a Christian teacher, doctor, plumber, engineer, etc.). A person's worldview will come out. Lewis was not so smart that he could keep his faith removed from his projects. His mental abilities were certainly impressive but not that impressive.

Arguing over whether or not these books are an allegory or not almost seems a good waste of time in my opinion. Lewis was clear about the fact that they were not an allegory. He was also clear about his position within the Christian faith. It isn't either/or so much as it would be both/and in a strange way that is better accepted than fought. I think this argument exists only because Christians and non-Christians alike both desire to stake a claim on something for conscious sake. Non-Christians would like the freedom to read these books without feeling like they might be being secretly manipulated. Christians today want to be discerning about what books they read and don't read (rightly so) and want the stamp of approval to land on these books so that they can enjoy them with gusto and an eased mind. (After all - there is magic involved which is a frequent drawback in Christian circles.) Whichever side you have found yourself on, there is still a story on paper that sparks the imagination, inspires the heart and uplifts the spirit. That's what we're ultimately stuck with, regardless of our individual positions of Lewis' original intent.

For my part I am of the opinion that Lewis wrote these books to inspire childhood imaginations and in such a way as to make the gospel more powerful when they were older. I truly do believe that Lewis ultimately intended to make the Bible come alive for children.

Is it possible in my mind that these books were written in a platonic way? I think of Till We Have Faces (a re-telling of a Greek myth that Lewis felt particularly drawn to*) and have to say yes. But I don't think that's the case. He started writing Chronicles with pictures in his head and Biblical truths were born into those pictures.

I will approach Narnia believing Lewis wrote them as a Christian. I will approach them with the opinion that they hold many lessons worth learning. I will read them and enjoy them as the best magic.

I will enjoy them and I hope you will choose to enjoy them with me!

* BTW, I still think Till We Have Faces was written by a Christian who applied Christian thought to it. Again, it's just inevitable that a Christian would think like a Christian and therefore write like one. However, Till We Have Faces was something he was thinking about re-writing in his undergrad days when he was not yet a Christian. So I'd say that book is MORE nuetral but not entirely so.


Mary Beth said...

One of the things that I love about the Chronicles of Narnia is that everyone can take something away from their reading them. I hate pigeon-holing books (i.e. these are Christian, these are Young Adult, etc.) because some readers automatically overlook them. I know adults who won't read Harry Potter because the books are geared to younger readers. All the good stuff you miss when you are closed minded (sigh...) That has never been my problem. Rather, I have way too many books in my TBR pile. I should stop all this "working" stuff and just read:)

Sky said...

I think I read the Chronicles with two mindsets;
One, I enjoy the beautiful imaginary world, animals that talk and fight, a white witch who steals Christmas, there are so many colorful images and imagination provoking stories!
And two, it is interesting to read them knowing a Christian wrote them, there are definite parallels between Narnia and the Christian's life. I especially love noting the parallels between Christ and Aslan. What better hero to shape your fictional hero after then the One who saved the World by conquering Death?
"Aslan is on the move!"

Stephanie Kay said...

I think you're right that a person's world view comes out no matter what their profession. Thinking of these books from the perspective that Lewis's world view creeped into the story (as opposed to him setting out to write a "Christian" book) makes me like them even more.

Funny that you are doing this series now. Just yesterday my 5 yr. old was asking about the books and movies. We've been debating whether he's old enough to handle The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I can't wait to introduce him to the land of Narnia!

Z-Kids said...

Hi Carrie -

I look forward to reading your Narnia thoughts!

Sometime (not saying you need to do it alongside your series of posts) you also ought to check out the podcasts at Narnia from A to Z:

They are wonderful! Highly recommended... And while I'm at it, I think you'd also enjoy this site: which is the place the Narnia podcasts spun off from...

Excited to see what you have in store for us...


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