Thursday, November 03, 2005

Chronicles of Narnia: Not Meant to Be an Allegory of the Gospel

I love C.S. Lewis' seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia. I'm excited that the first book he wrote for the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, will be coming in movie form this coming December.

I love the books because, first of all, they represent great literature, wonderful stories filled with intriguing characters in interesting situations. Another attraction is Lewis, the stylist: as an Ohio State professor of Literature once told me, Lewis "writes like an angel."

There is also much Christian truth in the Chronicles. Aslan is clearly a Christ figure. But, as Craig Williams shows us in the latest post on his wonderful blog, Lewis never intended The Chronicles of Narnia to be an allegory.

The person who sets herself the goal of identifying what every character or circumstance "represents" in Christian truth or the Biblical witness will soon understand the futility of the undertaking and rob themselves of the joy that goes with simply letting their tales come to them as is. (Although there are oodles of Biblical allusions.)

Lewis was a scholar of the first degree, steeped in a knowledge of the myths of many cultures: Greek, Nordic, Roman, and so on. He drew on that rich tradition to weave these magical tales.

Yes, Lewis has created what must be regarded as a great expression of Christian art comparable to anything created by Michelangelo. But part of the Chronicles' greatness and their capacity to both entertain and enlighten resides in their being, first of all, great works of art that avoid pedagogy.

Read Craig's post with quotes from two Lewis letters addressing this issue.


ME Strauss said...

Thank you, Mark, for reminding people that sometimes good bookd are just wonderful read and that, even though those books may share our same value system they are not meant or written for the purposes other than that. In fact, as a publisher,I feel secure in saying that had C.S. Lewis tried to make his book "serve two masters" The literary world would have surrered a great loss. The two purposes are very different, as different as two people are. It is fine to find meaning in the story. It is wrong to say that meaning is what the book was written for.

monica said...

I am now going to read Craig's blog! LOL! I absolutely love Lewis. Have you read, Till We Have Faces? IT's an often unknown book I love.


Mark Daniels said...

I have 'Till We Have Faces,' but haven't yet read it.


John Schroeder said...

Thanks Mark -- I've linked here

jan@theviewfromher said...

Thanks for a great post. I am so discouraged at times that Christians have lost all sense of art. Art reveals - it is a process of discovery. I fear we will of course promote the Narnia movie and then relentlessly EXPLAIN every metaphoric nuance, rather than let people experience it and discover its beauty and relevance to their lives.

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks for your insightful comments about Art, which I think, are so dead-on!

In absolute honesty, Craig Williams set me straight on 'The Chronicles of Narnia' in the post which I cited. I have on occasion called these seven books a metaphorical retelling of the Gospel. I suppose that they are that to some extent. But they're not just that and they clearly aren't allegory, although there are allegorical elements. In the end, they are original works of Art that stand on their own as great pieces of literature.

The impoverished sense of Art among Christians is precisely why most of the stuff that comes from the Christian music industry is such schlock. It lacks the subtlety and mystery that is found in so much great Art. By its heavy-handedness, it becomes neither Art or in any meaningful way, Christian.

When you think about it, while Jesus could be blunt and direct, He was for the most part, indirect. He used rich stories, full of allusions not only to Israel's religious history, but also to daily life experience. The parable of the Prodigal Son is, so far as I'm concerned, the most well-crafted story ever told. It has its allegorical elements, to be sure. But it can--and should--be unpacked in many different ways. Each unpacking unfolds more layers of meaning to be discovered.

Christians ought to be dedicated to doing similar unpacking with so-called "secular" or "mainstream" Art, be they paintings, movies, or novels. If it's true that God's Law is written on our hearts, as Paul asserts and I believe, then the truth we find in all Art can tell us something about God, Christ's redemptive mission, our identity and value as human beings, and so much more. That can enrich our discipleship and enhance our capacity to love our neighbor who shares the experiences that underlay all great Art and who also experiences the same works of Art.

Well, I've rattled on enough. Great comments!

Blessings in Christ,

PS: Other readers can see the link to Jan's blog, called 'The View from Her' in the blogroll on the left.