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April 03, 2009

Narnia: Darkness in disguise?


Writer Laura Miller had a book-length attack of the vapors over the discovery that C. S. Lewis, author of her beloved Narnia books, was a Christian. For her, Christianity is "a black hole, sucking all the beauty and wonder out of Narnia."

Dr. Devin Brown of Asbury College takes Miller on in an article at the C. S. Lewis blog:

Although she devotes most of her book to describing her rocky relationship with the Narnia books, she is never able to articulate exactly why learning that they represent C. S. Lewis’s attempt to put his most foundational beliefs into story form “horrified” her.

Would she have felt so horrified had she discovered Lewis was a Buddhist?

What would be said about a Christian who first loved a book but then became angry and rejected it after discovering its author was, for example, Jewish or Muslim and that the story reflected his or her underlying beliefs? My guess is that such a reader would be labeled as narrow or bigoted, and rightly so.

Miller states that in Narnia we find a “better” world, a world “fresher, more brightly colored, more exhilarating, and more fully felt,” a world that is “merry, enchanted, and boundless.” She then goes on to maintain that the Chronicles of Narnia are “really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise,” an institution which she asserts is characterized by “endless proscriptions and requirements,” by “guilt-mongering” and “tedious rituals.”

One of these claims must be false.

Read more.

(Image courtesy of the C. S. Lewis Blog)

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Dan Gill

She sounds like a petulant child. Really, what person with even a moderate literary education doesn't know that C.S. Lewis was Christian, and wrote from a Christian worldview? What else would we expect from him?

All authors come to their works with a background, a worldview. Laura Miller's misunderstanding of that worldview is sad. It's sad that she had such a terrible experience with what she identified as Christianity, and it's sad that her education didn't include much about what Christianity really is. She reminds me of one of Lewis's sayings. When faced with the idea that people would get bored in heaven, floating around on clouds with harps, he said, "People who cannot understand books for grown-ups shouldn't read them." Miller seems to be firmly in this category, as are all the reviewers who swoon over her writing.


I hope she will consider the possibility that Christianity isn't what she thought it was. That it is more like the Narnia she loved.

Steve (SBK)

What is the quote where Lewis talks about all the best books on various subjects having Christians, (Christian worldviews), as the authors? I can't find it.

It's interesting how Narnia evaded the 'sleeping Dragons', but how often is it effective when people come to discover the source? Why aren't they attracted to Christianity and instead become, in essence, "narrow and bigoted"?

Rolley Haggard

The great irony here is that though Ms. Miller is sure she dislikes Christianity, the very things she loves about Narnia are but faint shadows of the ineffable wonder and glory Christianity promises. Her critical review affirms the proposition that “people who hate God do not know what He is really like.” Fairy tales of love, nobility, honor, courage, beauty, and heroism resonate deeply with us precisely because we were made for and desperately yearn for our true Hero, Christ.

* * *

“Intimations of Future Immortality,
The Gospel in Myths and Fairy Tales”
(with apologies to Walt Whitman…)

We might have known we knew it all along,
This Fairy Tale that now is fully told;
For every other mythic verse and song
Was merely tarnish over precious gold.
True, we found doubt a stubborn thing to shake
And feared the tantalizing feast too good
And us too undeserving to partake
Or trade our meager crumbs for better food.
But when our charming Prince at last appeared,
No more fantastic did our fables seem;
For in His death He slew the foes we feared
And gave us title to our wildest dream.
The Fairy Tale no fairy tale shall be:
We *shall* live ever after happily.


How interesting and unfortunate that Miller is unable (or perhaps unwilling) to reach the simple, logical conclusion that perhaps Lewis's understanding of what Christianity is differs from her own, and the story that she loved so much flowed out of his understanding. Ergo, perhaps there is a different kind of Christianity than the black hole she experienced.

Devin Brown

After his reluctant conversion to Christianity--Lewis called himself the most reluctant convert in all England--he wrote a friend:

"What Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all: that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself ... I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it ... the idea of the dying and reviving god similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels."

I think there are many people who are much like Lewis in this respect.


Wow, Devin, thanks for that quote! I'm struck by it that the gods of this age - the superheroes like Spiderman, Batman, Superman and X-Men who have spawned multi-movie franchises - show that not all suffering is physical. Rather, the psychological/sociological suffering of being a hero is far worse; you have to deal with all of this: isolation, the need to hide who you really are, inappropriate responses from those you so selflessly serve, finding that those who should sing your praises are actually your enemies, denial of romantic fulfillment (take *that*, Dan Brown!), and even abandonment and betrayal by friends at your moment of greatest need. At best you might have the counsel of a wise father figure, but the moments of interaction there may be agonizingly brief, often interrupted, and perhaps cut off altogether. Your miracles would be small and temporary comfort. The loneliness and sense of isolation, bearing all of this by yourself, would be far worse than any pain.

And even something as far away as possible from the superhero genre - say, the Jane Eyre movies - show that the emotional deprivation of not being adored by those who really should adore you is far more intensely painful than living temporarily in conditions worse than you deserve.

Cynics like Laura Miller are, I think, convinced that heroes are too good to be true, and that joy is a fantasy while anguish is reality. They don't want anyone to believe that someone can make it all better. What they miss is the intense reality of what Christ knowingly agreed to face on our behalf, and that far from a simplification, His sacrifices over three years actually make our emotional lives more complex. (This accounts in part for the odiousness of the prosperity "gospel": it decreases feelings that Jesus intended to intensify, removing emotional drama where it should be made powerful.)

We've focused so much for so long on the Via Dolorosa and Golgotha. Maybe our contemporaries need to hear more about Gethsemane.

Rolley Haggard

Picking up on LeeQuod’s remarks in my incurably tangential style --

“And even something as far away as possible from the superhero genre - say, the Jane Eyre movies - show that the emotional deprivation of not being adored by those who really should adore you is far more intensely painful than living temporarily in conditions worse than you deserve.”

Well said, Mr. Quod! It reminds me of some thoughts on Joseph as a type of Christ. Few would disagree that Joseph was a type of Christ. Scofield documents at least seven striking similarities between them - http://www.studylight.org/com/srn/view.cgi?book=ge&chapter=037

While it remains to be seen where all the parallels between Christ and Joseph start and stop maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to read application from the following passages in Genesis as I’ve rather audaciously done --

Genesis 43:30 “And Jesus made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brothers: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.
And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.”
Genesis 45:1 “Then Jesus could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every soul to go out from me. And there stood no soul with him, while Jesus made himself known unto his brethren, the sons of men.
2 And he wept aloud: and the Angels and the house of God heard.
3 And Jesus said unto his brethren, I am the LORD; doth my bride yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
4 And Jesus said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Jesus your brother, whom ye crucified.
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me thither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.”

* * *

The point is, of Christ our Hero’s sufferings, past and present, we haven’t yet seen the half. Nail-pierced hands are not the only wounds He still bears.

(Aside -- If any take exception to my generous inferences, I humbly accept your ungrudging forgiveness in advance).


“I am my Beloved’s and He is mine.”-- Canticles 6:3

Gina Dalfonzo

This is turning out to be a great conversation! I appreciate all your insights, and especially that beautiful poem of yours, Rolley. Dr. Brown, thanks for sending your article to us and for dropping by to add that quote!

Christopher Wing

The Christians stole their story from others (mostly Horus). Jesus is clearly a composite figure from other religions. Anyone arguing with this hasn't even bothered to research.

And Lewis stole it from cave-dwelling, non-science-understanding Jewish cultists.

jason taylor

It is just as easy to argue that Horus was a vague portent left in the fog of paganism, Christopher. It all depends on what worldview you start with. And using words like "steal" and "hasn't bothered to research" is not polite.

As a matter of fact I have "bothered to research" for I read that one several times before. And the first one I read it from was C.S. Lewis.

As for C.S. Lewis, I doubt he would deny getting it from "cave-dwelling, non-science understanding JEWISH(my, my Christopher you had better be careful with that one: PC bites both ways)cultists". Except the cave-dwelling part. Anymore then Queen Elizabeth would deny that her position was instituted by Saxon warlords. Heritage is heritage and no one is claiming that Christianity appeared out of the blue.

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