Today, I would like to take a brief look at a particular method used by C. S. Lewis. Many people still look at The Chronicles of Narnia and presume that Lewis is simply making a strong allegory for Christianity and the story of Christ. This seems especially obvious in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Aslan allows himself to be sacrificed on the Stone Table in Edmund’s place, and, in doing so, saves Narnia. In reality, there is much more to Narnia than that, and if we understand Lewis’s approach, it can open new doors to us as authors.
By “allegory” most of us mean that a tale is symbolic–it takes another story (usually of a spiritual sort) and tells it in another context by using specific characters, events, and trends in the story to represent specific characters, events, and trends from somewhere else. Allegories are often used in a surreptitious attempt to get ideas a hearing in a context where they would normally be denied. The general idea, though, is that the author of an allegory teaches us deeper meaning by using substitutes that disarm our prejudices and presuppositions.
Unfortunately, while allegories are fine taken in moderation, the modern Christian mind tends think no more deeply. That is one reason why our literary productivity is so scant and our reading so narrow. We generally use this one very specific method applied to this one very specific set of stories, and we repeat ourselves over and over and over. Many of us then measure how “Christian” a piece of fiction is based on nothing more than how closely it conforms to that specific method and result. It is, therefore, no wonder many people get tired of Christian literature quickly–we’re saying the same thing in essentially the same way and have been for decades now, if not centuries.
That The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe appears allegorical on the face of it is therefore convenient. Many Christians read it (the first in the published set) and it passes muster for their shelf based upon the presumption that it is an allegory and, therefore, Christian. I wonder: How popular it would have been had the Magician’s Nephew come first, where the “allegories” aren’t so “obvious”? By the time we get to The Silver Chair, for example, we’re having to dig pretty deeply for allegorical interpretations.
In reality, Narnia is speculative in nature, rather than allegorical. Lewis is taking what he knows of Christ and religion, and he is setting up a “what if?” scenario: What if a world like Narnia really existed? What might God’s interactions with that place look like? In the words of Lewis himself:
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all. So in Perelandra. This also works out a supposition . . . Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways.
Herein lies, I think, one of the key differences between the Christians who write poor-to-average fiction, and those that do it really well. The best of Christians as authors are not limited to allegory, but neither do they simply ignore their worldview and the very rich, historic/philosophical context that it gives them. They (and we) should use that context as a palate, pulling from its brilliant and varied colors to paint intricate, engaging, and beautiful tapestries. The result can be exhilarating, inspiring, or even frightening, but done well they can teach us important truths without ever dipping to allegory or sacrificing the good of the story.
After all, God saw fit to put very few limits on our imaginations. We need not artificially add any ourselves!
Next Week: A significant similarity between authors of Christian and non-Christian extraction….
 Many fall down when looking for allegory, but few return to the sunlit lands! 🙂
 The “Thinklings” have a good, short discussion of this topic too, and from it I copy/pasted the quote, rather than having to type it all in myself! http://thinklings.org/posts/why-narnia-is-not-allegory
Other Posts in the Christian as Author Series
- The Cesspool Of Christian Fiction
- What? Me Christian?
- A Holistic Approach
- “Good Fiction” or “Good Christian Fiction?”
- Of Christian Authors and Christian Pizza Makers
- What does it look like?
- Tolkien and the Rebellion of Melkor
- Marketing or Pigeonholing?