Thursday, September 11, 2008

Open Season on Narnia

A few weeks ago I opened up my blog to questions about C.S. Lewis. Now it's open season on the Chronicles of Narnia. Are the books allegory? What is the best order to read the seven books? Questions about the Narnia movies? Do the books contain racism? Are they sexist? Why does Emeth get into Aslan's country? Do the books promote the occult? How do they compare to Harry Potter? Ask away and I'll try to answer.


david said...

I'm sure you've heard this one a thousand times, but what is your take on the downplay of allegory by C.S. Lewis?

"If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair 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" (Martindale, Wayne; Root, Jerry. The Quotable Lewis)

Perhaps this has been a bit overplayed - especially in light of Narnia being cited as an evangelistic tool? It seems the average person posing this question (like myself) has a much looser definition for allegory.

Robert Velarde said...

Being a literary scholar, Lewis did indeed have a very specialized definition of "allegory." An early success in his academic career is the book The Allegory of Love (1936). From his professional perspective, he denied Narnia was allegory. But to the layperson portions of the Narnia books do indeed come across as allegorical. This happens, for instance, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where aspects of Christianity are present such as the death and resurrection of Christ paralleled by Aslan.

I prefer to say that there are allegorical elements in the Chronicles, but they are not strict allegory. Lewis considered them "supposals," as in, suppose there was another world in need of redemption, suppose it was populated by talking animals, suppose God became incarnate not as a man, but as a lion? What would that be like?

For more on the question of Narnia as allegory see chapter 10, "Narnia and the World of Imagination," in my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis. On the literary aspects of the Chronicles, Peter Schakel has done some fine work.

As far as Narnia as an evangelistic tool, that was never Lewis's intention. He did, however, want to introduce children to some of the basic concepts of Christianity in an appealing, imaginary way so that perhaps when they got older they would recall some of these ideas and come to understand them in relation to Christ and Christianity. They were never intended to be evangelistic and were not built from the ground up to push a particular worldview, as Pullman's "His Dark Materials" was intended to push atheism.

The Christian ideas in the Chronicles came naturally as part of Lewis's beliefs. They came about in the books, he once said, simply as part of the "bubbling" of his ideas.

Anonymous said...

Robert - I agree, trying to understand the Chronicles, like nearly any piece of written work, it is best interpreted through the filter of the writer's life and times. Too easily do we take our own presuppositions about a book and try to make it conform to our agenda.

I've not read anywhere near the volume of material, written by C.S. Lewis, as you have. But, in what I have read and understood of the man and the environment he wrote in, I would agree with your observations of how he would view the nature of allegory in his writings.

Thanks for your observations.