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Compelling Cases for Christianity in Literature

3752 words (15 pages) Essay in Literature

18/05/20 Literature Reference this

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Introduction

With such a plethora of non-fiction books available from religious teachers, historical scholars and great writers aiming to share the tenets of their Christian beliefs, C.S Lewis’s fictional The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe could too readily be overlooked.  

Emerging from the ashes of the second World War in 1950 it remains the most widely held C.S Lewis publication for Worldcat libraries1.  In addition, it has undergone translation to theatre, audio books mass-produced in over 40 languages, radio readings, appeared in numerous international television conversions and then been made into a multi-million grossing Hollywood film.   

As a don of both Oxford and Cambridge university, and the author of some of the most read texts in history including the widely acclaimed Mere Christianity, Lewis’ writings are for the masses. Through The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis presents to us a perfect oxymoron of confronting reality by reading fantasy.  The world needs a Saviour and the world craves story leading me to endorse The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe as the book offering the most compelling case for Christian beliefs.  The root of this claim being found in its undeniable parallel story to that of the singular most important writing of all time, the Gospel message.    

The Early Years

Clive Staples Lewis was born in December 1898 in Belfast Northern Ireland, a country he kept strong ties to throughout his life.  His father, A.J Lewis, was a lawyer and his mother Flora Lewis a mathematician. With these notable careers Lewis was able to be privately tutored up until the age of ten. It was at this time his mother passed away from cancer and he was sent to boarding school in Watford away from his family, causing a divide between he and his father*.  Whilst Lewis came from a well-educated heritage, his experiences at public school caused him to write of the poor levels of treatment pupils had experienced.  This obviously was not enough to stop his educational prowess as two years after the start of World War 1, he was given a scholarship to Oxford University. Lewis was an ardent admirer of the works of Beatrix Potter and spent much time as a child creating his own animal world, Boxen2.  This and his father’s well stocked library of books helped inspire Lewis into the creation of the world over 100 million people have fallen in love with, Narnia. 

Believer to Atheist to Believer

Lewis communicated in one of his letters that his poor experiences of boarding school, the loss of his mother at such a young age and his experiences of the horror of war were the root of his abandonment of Christian beliefs and his comfort in atheism3.  It was his walks and discussions with fellow Oxford academics and Inklings members Hugo Dyson and J.R.R Tolkien about their Christian beliefs that helped direct Lewis from Atheism to theism and then Christianity,although he did disappoint Tolkien by aligning himself with the Church of England ahead of the Catholic Church that Tolkien followed4.  He loved the universality and individuality of the gospel conversations between the trio and his many questions led him, by his own admission in his book Surprised by Joy reluctantly to his conversion, “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.”5

 

1   http://www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n79-003974/

2    C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955, Chapter V.

3   Marie Conn C.S. Lewis and Human Suffering: Light Among the Shadows. (21)

4   Humphrey Carpenter. The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends (1978)

5 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955 (182)

England is at War!

Lewis’ education was to be interrupted only six months after joining Oxford University where he answered the call and enlisted for the British Army.  Upon his acceptance into his regiment as a second lieutenant, he was sent to the front line to fight in the now infamous Somme Valley.  It was in this area of the front line one of the bloodiest battles in human history occurred only a few weeks after his arrival.  If Lewis’ issues with accepting Christ in his teenage years laid in part with explaining evil in the world, they were surely compounded by the atrocity of war in the Somme and the 19,240 fatalities6.  With war over, and Lewis counting himself amongst the 57,470 casualties having taken friendly shell damage a few months prior to the end, he returned to Oxford.  He finished his degrees obtaining firsts in English language and literature, Honour Moderations (midway examinations) and Greats (classics and philosophy).  It was at this time he was friendly with both Dyson and Tolkien who was in the process writing the majestic Lord of the Rings.  Colin Duriez details that “Tolkien’s argument that the biblical gospels have all the best qualities of pagan myth, with the unique feature that the events actually happened in documented history” was a critical realisation in Lewis’s conversion*. Lewis’s love and experience of myths attributed to the Christian narrative because he could both believe the historicity of the story and have a personal connection to it.

It was to be during the second World War that he started to write one of the most read books of all time and what has recently been voted for in August of this year by OnePoll as Britain’s top ‘must read’ book, ahead of the complete individual Harry Potter series7.  A fantasy text that runs parallel to the Gospel message.  

The Power of Parables

Fables and parables are two modes of storytelling differentiated on two basic levels; fables are fanciful, far-fetched and impossible works of fiction whereas parables are grounded in their realism and accepted as a believable everyday scenario by the listener.  C.H Dodd states, “At its simplest a parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”8 

The word Parable is derived from Greco-Roman tongue.  Derived from the Latin word parabola meaning an allegorical relation; or the Greek word parabole, which means placing beside. It signifies a hiding or placing of a message alongside another with a view to reasonable comparison.  Parables of this practice tend to contain an overt message and one or more covert interpretations, making significant use of the imaginative capability of their audience, much the same as The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe.

They function as open invitations to interpretation, luring the hearer, or reader, to interact with the story on a personal level.  In the parables, we see Jesus bringing the vision of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom grounded in reality to all peoples whether it be the young or old, rich young rulers or those with two copper coins, those inside the temple or those outside both physically and metaphorically.  C.S Lewis was very familiar with Jesus’ oratory style and his clever use of parables and used that in The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe. His object, although not at point of origin, became “to recreate the Christian supernatural truth within an invented world” much as Jesus had hidden God’s supernatural reality and the Kingdom of God within the parables.9

 

6 Gary Sheffield. The Somme (2003).

7 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7335205/The-Lion-Witch-Wardrobe-voted-UKs-favourite-book.html

8 C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, 1961 (5)

9Colin Manlove. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Patterning of a Fantastic World (7)

The Parallel Gospel Message

With an estimated 2.18 billion Christians in the world10 there is no stronger message in history than the message of the Gospel. The story of a fallen people in need of salvation and the death-conquering sacrifice of a loving Saviour to redeem all has inspired, been re-dressed and copied over numerous genres of films, books and characters. 

As the story-making process matured, however, Lewis began to see the Christian possibilities in the narratives that were beginning to take shape… By enlisting the unfettered powers of the imagination, Lewis hoped to recapture the original beauty and poignancy of the Gospel message.68

Matthew 13 verse 10 states, “The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?  ” He (Jesus) replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them12

Jesus understood that those listening would be either too awestruck or dull in their understanding to be able to accept and grasp the message given to them.

In the category of re-dressing, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe illustrates the technique of reading the gospel narrative as a modern day parable itself by retelling and repainting the story of Jesus Christ of Nazareth with Aslan of Narnia. In responding to a young fan Lewis confirms this himself writing, “I found the name in the notes to Lane’s Arabian Night: it is the Turkish for Lion. I pronounce it Ass-lan myself. And of course I meant the Lion of Judah.”11 By examining Lewis’s story in comparison to the story of the gospels, one can understand a modern view of the Christ story in new ways.

In review of the Christian message across The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, the themes may not run in order from the biblical gospel story and this doesn’t matter. What matters is that the picture of the message is correct. Aslan (Jesus) has willingly sacrificed himself and been killed in place of the sons of Adam (specifically Edmund) whom sin (the White Witch) have a right to take due to the ‘deep magic’ (Old Testament Law) of Narnia. But Aslan is raised on the third day (resurrection story), accompanied by an earthquake and discovered by Lucy and Susan (the two Marys). His resurrection destroys the power of the deep magic over mankind and cracks the stone table (nailing our sins to the cross).  Aslan then breathes life into his warriors that the White Witch has captured and turned to stone (the Holy Spirit coming on all disciples in both Acts and prophesised in the book of Joel) so that they may wage war with him against the White Witch and her armies (spiritual warfare). Aslan defeats the White Witch (death and sin), bringing in a re-created world (new heavens and earth). 

In writing The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe, Lewis created arguably the most appreciated, read and viewed modern-day parable.  A foundation for this claim can be found from A.O. Scott of the New York Times. When he reviewed the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster film version of the book he noted, “To the millions since the 1950’s for whom the books have been a source of childhood enchantment, Lewis’s religious intentions have either been obvious, invisible or beside the point.” The children I have talked to simply see the Chronicles as a good story, although when parallels to the Bible and life of Christ are pointed out, older children are interested in discussing them12

How many other literary works can match the criteria of open discussion amongst older children and adults when the core is exhibiting Christian beliefs?

10  https://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/pf_17-04-05_projectionsupdate_grl310px/

11 C.S Lewis, “22 January 1952,” Letters to Children, 29

12 Kennedy, Elizabeth. “All About The Chronicles of Narnia and Author C.S. Lewis.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2019, thoughtco.com/chronicles-of-narnia-and-author-c-s-lewis-627142.

13 Matthew 13 verse 10 (NIV)

‘J. Dominic Crossan  ‘Parable’. The Anchor Bible Dictionary: 1992 Volume Five. (146)

Lewis’ writing of The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe when compared to the story of the gospels enables us to view the message of Jesus in new ways. Whilst Jesus’ telling of parables were grounded in real life scenarios to reach the listener, Lewis adapts the telling of the parable to a fantasy based interpretation to suit the audience 1917 odd years later.  Although a fantasy categorised text, Lewis cleverly draws in scenes of realism to keep the reader connected such as the WW2 blitz of London and the evacuation of children to the countryside, something that was in very recent living memory. 

Why did a scholar of great learned ability choose to write a fictional fantasy-based novel predominantly aimed at children?  Whilst it is tempting to suggest given CS Lewis’ previous works such a Miracles: A Preliminary Study and The Problem With Pain, The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe was always intended to have a Biblical undertone, Lewis himself rubbished this in his essay, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said” (Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories).[1]  Lewis stated,

“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine.  I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.”

Like other serendipitous inventions such Harry Coover’s Super Glue[2] or Wilhelm Roentgen’s 1895 dated accidental discovery of X-Rays, I believe that however unintentional at first, The Lion Witch And The Wardrobe has become the most influential book that makes a compelling case for Christian beliefs through the power of story.

Secondly Lewis was not shy of pointing out the religious themes in his Chronicle of Narnia series years later.  In one of his last available letters dated 1961 he wrote, “Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He [Christ] would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called “The Lion of Judah” in the Bible; (c) I’d been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.

The Magician’s Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Prince Caspian restoration of the true religion after corruption.

The Horse and His Boy the calling and conversion of a heathen.

The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” the spiritual life (Especially in doubting Reepicheep).

The Silver Chair the continuing war with the powers of darkness.

The Last Battle the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgement*

One of the counter arguments could be that if Lewis himself did not set out intending The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe to be rooted in Christian beliefs, how can the reader?  When A.O. Scott of the New York Times reviewed the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster film version of the book noted, “To the millions since the 1950’s for whom the books have been a source of childhood enchantment, Lewis’s religious intentions have either been obvious, invisible or beside the point.” The children I have talked to simply see the Chronicles as a good story, although when parallels to the Bible and life of Christ are pointed out, older children are interested in discussing them.”

How many other literary works can match the criteria of open discussion amongst older children when the core is exhibiting Christian beliefs? 

Although Lewis did not consider them allegorical, and did not set out to incorporate Christian themes in Wardrobe, he was not hesitant to point them out after the fact. In one of his last letters, written in March 1961, Lewis writes:

Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He [Christ] would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called “The Lion of Judah” in the Bible; (c) I’d been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.


Despite this great variety of literary influences, Lewis believed that the core of all Western mythologies and stories went back to the gospels.42 More intimately, they all heralded back to Jesus’ parables

Despite this great variety of literary influences, Lewis believed that the core of all Western mythologies and stories went back to the gospels.42 More intimately, they all heralded back to Jesus’ parables. The Chronicles are more than just a work of Christian fantasy like the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins or The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. They are a new exploration into the extended parable. They represent the best of Christian imagination for the literate modern day. Lewis wrote his novels for a society that was learning and loving to devour elaborate fiction. The success of Tolkien’s series proved that much to him; the modern world was once again hungry for the myths of old. There was no better way to fill it than with a retelling of what Lewis perceived to be the best and most compelling original message: the Christian story.

The most important message to gain from Lewis’s beliefs on the universal relevance of fairy tales is that we can continually gain new understandings and new truths from reading them.  In writing to a young fan of his, Lewis wrote, “I don’t think age matters so much as people think.”58 Instead, what mattered to Lewis, was how each person related to the text. He set out to write a book that anyone could enjoy and that anyone could learn from. In every one of us there is a kind Lucy, a jealous Edmund, a dubious Susan, and a valiant Peter. Similarly, we are all the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, and the Unmerciful Servant at some point in our lives. The best messages are for all people, and Lewis recognized the capacity for fantasy to be the bridge that impacts all ages, educations, races, and genders. The audiences of both the parables and the Chronicles must constantly interact with and react to what the authors wrote; they are invited to be co-creators in the newly created worlds.

55 C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” A Pilgrim in Narnia, originally published in Of Other

Worlds: Essays and Stories.

56 Michael Coren, The Man Who Created Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis (Ontario: Lester Publishing, 1994), 70.

57 C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, published in The Chronicles of Narnia (New York:

HarperCollins, 1982), 110. Hereafter shortened to LWW.

58 Lewis, “14 September 1953,” Letters to Children, 34. In another letter, Lewis further says that “no book is really

worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty” (p. 35).

Oxnam 29

messages are for all people, and Lewis recognized the capacity for fantasy to be the bridge that

impacts all ages, educations, races, and genders. The audiences of both the parables and the

Chronicles must constantly interact with and react to what the authors wrote; they are invited to

be co-creators in the newly created worlds.

[2]  Harry Coover’s Super Glue discovery

http://www.gluehistory.com/glue-origin/harry-coover/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7335205/The-Lion-Witch-Wardrobe-voted-UKs-favourite-book.html  POLL OF BRITAIN’S BEST LOVED BOOK

https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/why-was-the-first-day-of-the-somme-such-a-disaster/zn3hwty

41 Colin Duriez, A Field Guide to Narnia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 36.

68 David. C Downing, Into the Wardrobe, 64

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