Friday, May 7, 2010

Christian novels, or why I'm Aslan's homegirl

I'm reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for what has to be at least the fifth time. I've also seen the movie twice, so as you can guess, I'm a big fan. I first read the book when I was a kid and my parents gave it to me, followed eventually by the other six books.

When I was a kid, I didn't notice how Christian the Chronicles of Narnia was, and I certainly hadn't heard about C.S. Lewis' religious beliefs.

But rereading the book as an adult has given me a completely different perspective. I notice the description of the children as the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. It no longer seems like a given to me that the creatures of Narnia should be sad because there is no Christmas. It doesn't even make sense to me that they should have heard of Christmas! And it seems clear that Aslan, the giant, majestic lion who helps the children throughout their journey, is a Christ figure - he sacrifices himself on the Stone Table to redeem Narnia and returns to life. His mane is shorn, which could be a Samson and Delilah reference (making the White Witch Delilah?) or a reference to the historical executions in which the convict's hair was cut short or shaven off, partially as a humiliating gesture, partially to make the executioner's job easier.

Aslan's appearances and disappearances in Prince Caspian could be a story about losing childhood certainty, or having to fend for yourself as part of growing up. In the later books, we see Susan lose all belief and most of her memory of Narnia over time. I think this could be a pretty pessimistic story, coming from a believer like Lewis, especially because it's portrayed as more or less inevitable. You can't be an adult and experience Narnia.

The question, then, is whether we liken belief in Narnia to belief in Santa Claus or to belief in God, which tends to come under fire in the teenage years. I found out recently that C.S. Lewis himself was an atheist in his teens and twenties, which leads me to wonder whether it is not a little bit his own story.

The Chronicles of Narnia is not the only book I love that has a strong Christian influence - the Lord of the Rings, whose author, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a good friend of Lewis' and unlike him was Roman Catholic (Lewis was Anglican). The description of the setting found in the Silmarilion (which is sort of a collection of Middle-Earth mythology, like a Bible) is interesting. The Valar and the Maiar could easily be described as gods and angels, respectively, but all are subservient to Eru/Il├║vatar ("the One"), like angels. And Melkor is a devil figure - Sauron's boss, as it were, who is cast down out of Middle-Earth, explaining why we never hear of him until the Silmarillion. So we have various mythologies (Norse, Celtic, Finish, Greek, Welsh) rolled up together to create a series of stories set in a more or less Catholic framework. Which is actually very consistent with modern Christianity - the pagan religions of Europe have been major influences, and old gods have become saints and other heroes.

I don't have a problem at all with Christian influences in my fiction, but I think there's value in making them explicit when discussing these books. I do tend to avoid books that are billed as Christian fiction, though.

And to get to the title, I'm Aslan's homegirl because Lion Jesus is awesome!

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