Archive for November 19, 2008
The Chronicles of Narnia are undoubtedly one of the most influential works in the history of juvenile literature – delightful for all ages.
There is, however, no small amount of confusion about the literary type of the Chronicles. Time and again, it is referred to as a “Christian allegory,” a tag with which C.S. Lewis would not have been happy.
As he explains in some of his essays and letters, an allegory is a work in which immaterial realities are represented by imaginary physical objects. For example, the immaterial faculty of Reason may be allegorically represented by someone we call Lady Reason. This Lady – because Reason is clear, undefiled, swift, cold, hard, and sharp like a sword – we could picture as a “sun-bright virgin clad in complete steel,” riding on a horse “with a sword naked in her hand.” This, C.S. Lewis has actually done in his only allegorical work, “The Pigrim’s Regress,” from which the example of Lady Reason is taken.
Are the Chronicles of Narnia, then, an allegory? After all, C.S. Lewis loved allegorical literature, and it is obvious that elements of his Christianity flowed into the Narnian storyline, such as the concept of Creation, the Incarnation, Redemption, the End of the World, and Heaven and Hell.
Were C.S. Lewis alive, I think he would be very glad if I could transfer to the readers his view that the Chronicles of Narnia are not an allegory. C.S. Lewis did not say to himself, “Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia.”
His original inspiration was much less theological than that – nothing more than a mental picture. Long before he became a Christian, he had a picture in his head of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. Decades went past, until one day he said to himself, “Let’s try to make a story about it.” At first he had very little idea how the story would go. “But then suddenly,” he later wrote, “Aslan came bounding into it,” and “once he was there he pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him.”
I believe I am right that some people will now think, “But aren’t the Chronicles of Narnia Christian at all? Doesn’t Aslan die and rise again like Jesus did? Isn’t that a representation of the Christian faith? If that isn’t an allegory, what on earth is it?”
Well, C.S. Lewis called the Chronicles a “supposition.” He wrote the books by saying, “Let us suppose such and such were true and then imagine what would happen.” At first this supposition did not even contain a Christian element, but after Aslan had “bounded into” Narnia, Lewis said, “Let us suppose that reality contained different parallel worlds, and that in one of them the Son of God, as He became Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.”
Now this supposition has a definite Christian element in it; the Christian element is in fact essential to it. But that does not make it an allegory. As we have seen, an allegory is trying to describe a (mostly immaterial) fact in our world by means of a picture, such as Reason being pictured as a sun-bright virgin clad in steel. Aslan, however, does not represent the immaterial God in the same way in which Lady Reason represents Reason. He is the result of a supposition. Granted the supposition, he and all the characters and events in Narnia would have been a physical reality no less than Jesus’ death in first-century Palestine.
Narnia is thus an imaginary world existing in its own right, having grown out of a Christian supposition, but not being an allegory of Christianity. To put it differently, Aslan is Jesus in another world; he is not an allegory of Jesus in our world.
I would encourage those who still cannot see the difference to read Lewis’s “Pilgrim’s Regress.” Putting it side-by-side with the Chronicles of Narnia should make the distinction plain.
But no matter whether you agree with Lewis’s view on the question of allegory, no book shelf is complete without the Chronicles of Narnia. One can read them again, and again, and again.
(By the way, if you like Narnia, you might also enjoy my Fantasy novel The Crack Beneath the Worlds.)