Breathing Narnian air: My annual walk through the land of Narnia

Posted on August 14, 2011 by

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Three years ago I began a tradition of reading through C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia each year, starting in August and going usually to the beginning of December (depending on how much of my time and attention I am able to give to the books). Though they are considered to be children’s books, the Chronicles have always had a special place in my heart, and I have found that reading through them on a regular basis does me good. More on this later.

Surprisingly, Lewis’ classic children’s series has recently been the source of a fair amount of controversy. The heavy and overt Christian themes that permeate the Chronicles mean that the world at large finds them charmingly antiquated at best, or at the worst downright dated (this just in – Aslan is not as hip as Harry Potter). In the Christian community, some fairly spirited arguments rage over Narnia (and fairy stories in general) and what role, if any, it ought to play in the life of a Christian.

Without getting into too much detail (since many of the other issues involving Narnia have been covered in previous posts), let me state outright that The Chronicles of Narnia are a series of fictional stories written by a fallible human. As such, there are a lot of things in the books that we take issue with, and at the end of the day Jesus Christ – and not C.S. Lewis – is our final rule for faith and practice. But that being said, I think there are some elements of the Chronicles of Narnia that can be helpful to readers who already have their theology firmly rooted in God’s Word. These are my reasons for the annual read-through, and I hope you will give them some consideration as well.

  1.  The Chronicles of Narnia are a set of fictional stories that point us toward what I call “happy realities.” That is, the time we spend there makes us more renewed, more mature, and more ready to deal with the world here. This distinction between edification versus escapism is what distinguishes good fiction from bad fiction. Most of the fiction that is out there is bad fiction because it offers temporary relief instead of teaching us to live in the light of eternity. The books that can accomplish the latter are few and far between, but I think the Chronicles are some of the best.
  2. Although the Narnian stories are not allegories, they are seeded throughout with important observations on both the nature of God and the nature of man. C.S. Lewis was a keen observer and student of life, and you see that in his books. Lewis’s fanciful characters are types that help us grasp human nature in a more palpable way.
  3. Lewis’ perspective on life, God, and joy are much bigger and much less restricted than mine. The picture of God he gives us in Narnia refuses to be limited by small-minded drudgery. It is inherently joyful. It is resplendently sorrowful – it has its heart broken by “little” things like gossip and eavesdropping and it exults in the pure joy of life and creation. Not tame. But good.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging my journey through the land of Narnia, filed here under Breathing Narnian Air. We’ll take a frank look at the joys, the sorrows, the truths, and the flaws of Lewis’ compelling fantasy world. My hope and prayer is that you will take this journey with me, and allow the happy realities to steal past your watchful dragons and bring renewal to your soul.

 I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which paralyzed much of my own religion since childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But suppose casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past the watchful dragons? I thought one could. – C.S. Lewis, On Stories And Other Essays on Literature

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