Narnia - Livre d'Or

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Thursday, 25 June 2015 at 10:12 am

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Narnia-related conversations in several places have sparked my curiosity: where were you when you understood that the Narnia books are about Christianity? Or did you always know?

I read The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was quite little, maybe 5 or 6 ish? I didn't know about reading in publication rather than chronological order, and I have an unusual degree of affection for The Magician's Nephew. I found it slightly weird, but, well, I was reading a lot of books that were really meant for somewhat older kids (or even adults) and I was generally used to the idea that everything in books is weird and half-understood.

So I went looking for more books in the series, and found Prince Caspian which felt very sequel-ish, the Pevensies return to Narnia and a bunch of unmemorable stuff happens. And then I found The voyage of the Dawn Treader, which felt properly exciting again (I do slightly muddle it in memory with Arthur Ransome's We didn't mean to go to sea). And then there's that scene at the end where Aslan turns out to be a Lamb as well as a Lion, and that was the moment where my lovely portal fantasy turned out to be preaching about Jesus.

One of the discussions I read, I think on Making Light, roughly divided people into two groups, more or less that people from a Christian background realize the allegory at the end of Dawn Treader, and people from non-Christian backgrounds get all the way through to The Last Battle with their innocence intact. I don't know why as a seven-year-old Jewish kid I had any idea about Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb, I think I was just a sponge for random facts about about the world.

The thing is that this was really bad timing for me, because I had just started at a new school and I was in a class with a teacher who bullied me really badly, for lots of reasons but a prominent one was that she was upset that I didn't share her Christian beliefs. So I was getting shouted at a lot for not believing in Jesus and particularly for not believing in Original Sin (which the teacher felt should have been a gimme as it's in the Old Testament), and to find out that Aslan, the fantasy character I loved, was Jesus after all was really upsetting.

I mean, getting bullied about religion had made me really stubborn about the fact that I don't believe in Jesus. So I think my main feeling was not the more typically reported sense of betrayal that preaching was sneaked into the story, but more like feeling excluded, this story was not for me, it was for Christian children. I felt vaguely guilty for cheering for Aslan, given that I was personally fighting for my right not to consider that I was Saved by Jesus' sacrifice, whereas within the story I had accepted the idea that Aslan's sacrifice saved Edmund. It wasn't until I was older that I started worrying about whether Aslan's sacrifice was meaningful if he was really the creator of Narnia and outside the rules that normally mean dead people have to stay dead.

Later on I met OICCU types (I'm always tempted to call them oiks) who quoted Lewis at me, and I thought, you're not tapping into childhood nostalgia, you're evoking childhood misery because it's only been a decade since last time someone tried to bully me into believing in Jesus. Besides, I may have quibbles with how CS Lewis understood religion, but college Christian Union zealots really really don't understand Lewis.

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Date:June 25th, 2015 10:00 am (UTC)
48 minutes after journal entry
I was sent to Christian schools, although my parents were effectively (if quietly) atheists/agnostics, and I myself had decided I did not believe in God when I was seven. Despite this, I read the Narnia books repeatedly as a child without realising their Christian allegorical significance. Eventually I noticed it, at around the same point as you (at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Lamb-Aslan says to the children something like, "In your world, you know me by another name") and felt a sense of deep betrayal, as though an old friend had in fact been trying to evangelise to me for years against my will.
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livredor: words
Date:June 25th, 2015 12:39 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 01:39 pm (livredor's time)
Yes, I think that sense of betrayal is a common reaction to the reveal in Narnia, whether you come to it in Dawn Treader or only in The last battle. I think I didn't feel like that because I didn't necessarily expect friendly books to refrain from trying to push Christianity on me. It was like the fact that all the fun end-of-term activities were to do with Christmas, it was just a normal part of life as a religious minority. But I imagine it must have been very different as an atheist without a clear minority culture to feel connected to as an alternative to the Christianity on offer.
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houseboatonstyx: default
Date:June 26th, 2015 04:35 am (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 09:05 am (houseboatonstyx's time)
Henh. Well, I read LWW, which was the only one our public library had, in my early teens, when I was already trying to read Camus and Graham Greene and others that Time Magazine said were intellectual reading.

I thought LWW was quite good, till the cold lump of the Stone Table chapter, where I thought Lewis had run out of ideas and filled in with some assumptions he hadn't noticed were left over from post-Christianity. Every few months I read the book again, hoping I'd misjudged it the last time. But no, that chapter had the same story-stopping, negative stuff for no good reason, each time.

I think I was already much liking MERE CHRISTIANITY and such, but didn't make the connection. Maybe I thought it was a different Lewis.

When later I found out it was SUPPOSED to be a Christian allegory, I was quite relieved and revised my opinion of Lewis back up. He'd done it on purpose! So I could stop trying to read it as part of a good fantasy story, and just skip it!

I remember the Lamb thing as being a similar shock, the story coming to a screeching halt and turning into a heavy dusty hymn book. But this time I knew he had done it on purpose, and why. I don't know what came after that bit; perhaps now I skip all the way to the end of the book.

I didn't catch the Book of Revelation stuff in THE LAST BATTLE. I hadn't read Revelations much. I thought Lewis was making all that stuff up by himself, and wondered about his mental health.

Anyway, ignoring any depressing stuff as probably inserted message, I found the series very good and grew to love it as most people did.
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