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“Is Narnia a place of Christian faith or a place to get away from it?”

The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeI loved the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid. If memory serves, the last time I read my family’s copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the book had to be held together with a rubber band because pages were falling out.

Christianity did not factor much in my upbringing. I had nothing in particular against Jesus or God, but what little I knew about Christian belief and practice just seemed kind of creepy and weird. That the only obviously religious person in my family, my great-grandmother, was a maudlin alcoholic with a pronounced mean streak and a naïve, desperate faith only reinforced my childhood views. I mention all this by way of pointing out that, when my parents recommended the Narnia books, they recommended them as fantasy, not as Christian allegory.

By the time I understood that some folks read C.S. Lewis’s fiction as Bible stories my childhood fear of religion had turned into curiosity: I was a religion major concentrating in New Testament studies. I knew a great deal about Christianity at this point, enough to know, for instance, that Aslan makes for a truly crappy Christ figure. Jesus was the suffering servant, the sacrificial lamb. He was not lord of the jungle. I was also struck by how very odd it is to include fauns and Silenus and such in a Christian fable. And I recalled how very much I didn’t enjoy The Last Battle when I was a kid; its apocalyptic existentialism and eternal ending really freaked me out, just like imagining nuclear war or trying to envision heaven freaked me out. This is to say that, from my perspective, the Lewis’s novels were least successful when they were most Christian.

I’ve been thinking about all of this as I’ve watched the progress of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: The Movie, which is, it seems, an effort on the part of Disney to make up for all the dollars they lost when they passed on The Lord of the Rings, and to tap into the “Christian” audience—that is, all the people who paid to see The Passion of the Christ and who have made the Left Behind books bestsellers. And Walden Media—Disney’s partner in the project—is an explicitly evangelical entertainment company.

Given that the Christian apologists seem to have won Narnia for now, Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker piece on Lewis is a provocative reassessment of the situation. It’s also a lovely piece of criticism, and it introduced me to Lewis’s apparently quite brilliant scholarly work on the interplay of religion and imagination in art. Really, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in awhile.

November 22, 2005 | Permalink

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