The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia
by Laura Miller
Are you one of those people who loved Narnia as a child but came to dislike it later when you realized it was all about Christianity?
Not me. I loved Narnia then and I love it now. I dislike the idea that C.S. Lewis might have deliberately tried to turn me into a Christian. However, I realized from a young age that the books were about religion. I didn’t know enough about Christian symbolism to understand that Aslan was Jesus, but I always knew that he was God.
Personally, I prefer to think that Lewis was offering a way, not to proselytize children of nonbelievers, but to help those children already being taught religion by their parents. Narnia provides a child-friendly version of religion, a comfortable approach to the idea of God. There’s no harm in that, unless you consider religion inherently harmful.
The Narnia books provided me with a positive view of religion, and they made me want to be a good person (i.e., the kind of person of whom Aslan would approve), but they never made me want to be a Christian. I don’t remember Lewis telling me to engage in the traditional activities of religion (baptism, going to church, etc.). I do remember him instructing me in good behavior, teaching me to follow directions, and delineating the difference between right and wrong. If more people took his lessons to heart, our society might just be a little nicer. So, whatever Lewis’s real intent, the religious symbolism in Narnia is, for me, simply a case of “no harm, no foul.”
Though I don’t harbor any feelings of resentment over the Christian symbolism in Narnia, I thought a book written by someone who did might be enlightening. I approached the book with this question: non-Christian to non-Christian, why do you still love Narnia so much? But by the end, her answer seemed to be that maybe she does still like Narnia a bit, but she doesn’t like Lewis. Or Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. Or Christians.
Not that she doesn’t have anything interesting to say. She starts with thoughts on how reading is different for adults.
The books we happen to latch onto as children help to furnish our imagination and, to a certain degree, our identity. But if we return to them as adults, we sometimes find . . . that the decor is garish or uncomfortable. It’s not a place to which we’d care to invite our friends.
As a matter of fact I often share my childhood books with my friend. We’re both big fans of children’s books. But I get Miller’s point. She now finds the decor in Narnia to be uncomfortable. I don’t, but there are some other books I’m almost ashamed to admit that I own.
Browsing through some of the individual essays in the book, it’s hard to imagine how I got such a negative vibe from the author. The essays span a range of topics, from literary criticism to biography, with a great deal of attention devoted to the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien. Much of what she writes is interesting, well-researched, and well thought through. But I remember her picking on both Lewis and Tolkien, for their writing as well as their personalities. It rubbed me the wrong way, as did a few of her comments on Christianity. Not that I am any kind of fan of organized religion, but I do believe in respecting the individual person’s faith.
So I give The Magician’s Book an A for content and a D for attitude, which averages out somewhere around B.