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In the News: How Christian is Narnia?

C.S. Lewis
The life, love and influence of the man behind the wardrobe

Aslan Alive: Explore the Deep Magic of Mystical Narnia

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C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles
George S. Yandell

It was just after boys' choir rehearsal at Church of the Ascension, Knoxville, when I was 7 or 8 years old. My friend Mark Potts and I were waiting for our mothers to pick us up. We were going through the kids' section of the church library looking for something to read when Mark grabbed a book from the shelf, held it up and said, "This is the best book I ever read! You have to check it out." (Mark was a grade ahead of me, so his wisdom seemed much more vast than mine- I believed anything he said.) I replied, "Mark, it doesn't have many pictures- I'm not sure I can read it." He urged me on, and thus opened the world of Narnia to me through The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe.

What is it about C. S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles that captures readers of all ages? Simply, they are intriguing stories, told with Lewis's boyish enthusiasm, and rich with the deep background of ancient myth and legend from many cultures. But more than that, the stories so invite the reader into the characters, the dramas, that it's as if we have passed through the wardrobe with Lucy, then Edmund, Peter and Susan.

In his group biography of C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends, The Inklings, Humphrey Carpenter writes: "One day in the early spring of 1949, Lewis began to read aloud to Tolkien the beginning of a new book he was writing: 'Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids…' Lewis said that the immediate cause of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a series of nightmares that he had been having about lions. On a deeper level the story was, he explained, an answer to the question, 'What might Christ be 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?"

Carpenter continues, "The fact that the Narnia stories are 'about' Christianity does not mean they are allegorical. The characters exist in their own right and are not merely allegorical types. The events of the Christian story are reimagined rather than allegorized, and the reader is left free, as he never is with allegory, to interpret in whatever fashion he pleases. The stories are therefore entirely in keeping with Lewis's and Tolkein's shared belief that Story (especially of the mythical type) can in itself give nourishment without imparting abstract meaning."

Surprisingly, however, Tolkein discounted the Narnia series, saying he 'disliked it intensely.' Tolkein said The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was written too hastily, and that Lewis didn't go into creating the background of Narnia with proper seriousness. "Tolkein thought the story borrowed so indiscriminately from other mythologies and narratives (fauns, nymphs, Father Christmas, talking animals) that for Tolkein, the suspension of disbelief, the entering into a secondary world, was simply impossible. It just wouldn't do, and he turned his back on it."

Thankfully, Lewis finished spinning his tales, even in the face of his good friend's criticism. Since the publication of The Last Battle in the mid-60's, generations of young people and adults have entered Narnia and been nourished by the timeless story Lewis told. I suspect he has predisposed many seekers to find Christ in this world.

Calvary Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee
November 10, 2002
Volume 47, No. 38



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