Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why the Chronicles of Narnia Are Not Allegorical

I am in the process of rereading The Chronicles of Narnia and will blog about each of the seven books. I will focus on a single theme from each book and discuss it in light of Christianity. It is important to note, however, that Lewis never wanted The Chronicles of Narnia to be read as an allegory. Rather, Lewis wondered what would happen if instead of God becoming incarnate in our world, He had been the Lord of an imaginary place called Narnia. While the distinction between allegorical fantasy and what Lewis calls a “supposition” may seem insignificant, Lewis has an important reason for placing emphasis on that distinction. To understand further what he means, we need to be introduced to another famous work by C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters are a series of letters written by a senior devil named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is in charge of destroying the faith of a newly baptized Christian whom the devils call the Patient. Why is it that Lewis chooses to write from the devils’ perspective and not from God’s? The answer can be found in the preface to his book:

 “Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.

To write definitively about God when it comes to matters of salvation is always a dangerous endeavor. After all, Lewis is not a prophet. From the scriptures and from his own personal experiences, Lewis has ideas about how a person is ultimately saved or why a person suffers, but as neither of us living know fully the details of God’s workings in the world (for God works in mysterious ways), neither of us can definitively know why people are put to the test (whether or not they always are) or what we will experience on the other side of the grave. This is not to say that Truth is relative because it is not. But some things have not been revealed to us.
When an author like Hal Lindsey or a man like Harold Camping write and speak definitively about the end times or about how God works in people’s lives for their ultimate salvation, they speak with false authority. At best, they simplify others’ sufferings. At worst, their failed promises discredit Christianity in the eyes of non-believers. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters speak of suffering, salvation, temptation, and the end-times – issues that we do not fully understand. When Lewis writes The Screwtape Letters from the devils’ perspective he acknowledges the fact that he may not be fully correct, and that is alright since the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). To write about Aslan’s workings in an imaginary place called Narnia as a thought experiment rather than as an allegory liberates Lewis to write as a fictional author who happens to be Christian rather than as a prophet.

Sometimes false prophets don’t even know that they are speaking falsely. For example, most of us have probably seen billboard signs with quotes like ”Don’t make me come down there – God” as if this is how God feels about the world, as if we don’t wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ (Roman Missal). As I write posts on the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia keep in mind that the books are a supposition and not an allegory. In many places, Aslan seems to quote Jesus and circumstances in Narnia may seem to echo passages in the Bible, but C.S. Lewis’ fictional books never replace the Bible or claim to no more about God than has been revealed to us. This is what impresses me the most about Lewis. Let us not be afraid to question the author. Let us not confuse Aslan with Jesus Christ.

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