Is C. S. Lewis A Hero Of The Faith?

I saw the defense in a Tweet yesterday but don’t know what sparked the rebuttal — C. S. Lewis was not a universalist.

Just a few days earlier I’d had a conversation with a group of writers and the question came up about why C. S. Lewis is so revered by evangelicals. Narnia, despite the presence of a very notable witch, is on most “must read” lists for children of evangelical Christians.

And there are other issues — the presence of Greek gods in Narnia, the suggestion that there might be a “holding place” after death in The Great Divorce, and the idea that a sincere believer in a false god might actually go to heaven in The Last Battle.

Are evangelical Christians blinded by C. S. Lewis’s reputation as a great Christian writer? Are we too stupid to notice suggestions of doctrine that might clash with evangelical positions? Or is there something more?

I admit, I was puzzled, and during the discussion listened to the other ideas (Lewis’s theology was informed by his years of atheism which gave him the freedom to break from traditional Anglican positions) and offered one of my own (Tolkien’s Catholicism had an effect on him) without any conviction that these explained the things he has been accused of believing — universalism and purgatory being the most apparent — or the reason evangelicals seem to ignore these.

As I’ve thought about this subject, two factors have presented themselves. One is that Lewis wrote considerably more than fiction. He has books and essays of apologetics spelling out his beliefs. A story that contains something akin to purgatory, then, must not be taken as Lewis’s statement of belief on the subject unless he’s written something in his non-fiction that would support that claim.

In the same way, when Lewis writes in The Last Battle of a sincere believer in a false god entering into the Narnia further in and further up, we would expect to find non-fiction works supporting a less than evangelical view of salvation, if in fact, this was a reflection of his actual belief and not simply “suppositional” fiction.

At this point, I’m wondering if Lewis isn’t known as much for his non-fiction as for The Chronicles of Narnia.

But there is a second possibility, one I touched on this past summer in “Christian Heroes Or Christian Celebrities?” The fact is, we live in a time in which people want to hang with the famous, as if we gain credibility by association. In other words, some people might say, “Ah, yes, I’m a fan of C. S. Lewis” and mean, I’m erudite and knowledgeable of all things Christian.

We jump on bandwagons and nothing gives us more pleasure than to jump on the bandwagon of someone who is famous and who is a Christian — never mind their theology!

Is C. S. Lewis a hero of the faith? Maybe, just maybe, we should read his work and decide for ourselves how his positions stack up with Scripture.

Why I Love Fantasy

I started re-reading one of the Harry Potter books this week. I often get the urge to read fantasy when it gets close to Christmas. I have yet to figure out why. My theory is that I enjoy fantasy so much because it fits in with all the other enjoyments—snuggling under a warm blanket (it would be in front of a roaring fire if I had a fireplace), with Christmas music playing and a hot mug of cider in reach.

But why fantasy?

I have several ideas.

One is that fantasy transports me to a magical other place, sort of like a snow-covered world does. Not that we have snow in Southern California, except in the mountains, but that’s the point, isn’t it. I grew up connecting snow with Christmas and my snow experiences are very other worldly.

Once, when I was about ten and we lived in Colorado, we had snow in September, before the trees had lost their leaves. Branches laden with wet snow broke, transforming our yard into secret tunnels and hideaways … until my poor dad cleaned up the mess. But for a few hours, I was in a private world, an imaginary place. The same kind good fantasies create.

Narnia, a secret place away from the adult world. The world beyond the Shire—more mysterious than secret. The magical realm accessed through platform 9 3/4. These are not your everyday places. These are tangibly other.

A second reason I love fantasy, especially this time of year, is because of the overarching story in each. Sally Apokedak said it best in her response to an earlier post. She was referencing Harry Potter originally but expanded her thoughts:

You take a poor, abused kid and give him more power than anyone else on earth has. And you see how his mentors help him develop his power and you see what he does with the power in the end. It’s a wonderful story.

It has shades of Christ, born in a manger, a powerless babe. Then he grows in wisdom and stature and he grows in favor with God and man. But he’s in a constant battle with an evil foe. In the end he has to make a great sacrifice to save his friends. This story–His story–is the one that all great stories imitate, I think.

His Story, indeed. Fantasy, with its good versus evil motif is the perfect fit for the story of Christmas—and Easter. Yet the best writers, retell it in a way that shines light on it anew.

Above all, after a glimpse of Narnia, further up and further in, or of Gondor under Aragon’s rule, these fantasies give me a hunger for heaven. They stir a longing for the return of the King, for the presence of the Lion of Judah. Great fantasies go far beyond good stories, which is why I love them.

– – –

Note: The previous post under this title took a turn away from this topic, so I decided to create a separate article, complete with the two pertinent comments.

Fantasy Friday—the Saturday Edition—on Characters

I don’t know if the protagonists in fantasy are particularly different from the protagonists in fiction at large. Maybe. There is some “hero” quality a fantasy reader may expect, but I’m not sure that readers of other fiction don’t want that as well.

Here are some thoughts about fantasy protagonists from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (The Writer Books):

The hero has a complex dual role to play: to be human and to be larger-than-life. In many ways, Harry Potter and Bilbo the hobbit are like us, their readers. They are shy, quiet, reluctant to take center stage, not seeking fame or heroic stature. Yet they also have special powers, and when called upon, draw on their inner strengths to perform feats of great courage and personal sacrifice.

p. 98

I started thinking about the fantasy heroes I have loved. There is Taran from The Book of Three and the other stories in the Chronicles of Prydain. He was a young pig-keeper—apparently not a particularly good one—who wanted to be a knight. He was “relatable”—”human” as the quote above terms it. But he became larger than life, in part because of his desires to be greater than he was, but more so because he learned what that meant, learned how incapable he was, and then he did the really heroic.

There was Fiver from Watership Downs, the weakest rabbit in the warren, but with amazing powers that ended up saving them all. He was “human” because of his weakness and his inner strength. What mattered wasn’t just the exterior—the vulnerable part. He was more.

An obvious one is Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She was the youngest of the four Pevensies, which put her at a disadvantage. But when she found Narnia and came back telling her brothers and sister, their disbelief made her a sympathetic figure—more human. She was right but misunderstood and disbelieved. She became heroic because her belief was a cornerstone to their relationship with Aslan.

Speaking of C. S. Lewis fantasy, there is Oruel from Till We Have Faces . She was the unloved and unlovely princess, save for the special place she had in her sister’s heart. She too was sympathetic because of her humanness—her weaknesses, disadvantage, frailty, and her longings, her hopes. She didn’t become heroic until the end, which I won’t mention because I don’t want to spoil it for any who haven’t read the book yet.

This leaves me with a question, however. If the hero doesn’t become heroic until the end, will readers lose their interest in him (or her)? I mean, Till We Have Faces is not a well-known or popular work of Lewis’s. Is Oruel, perhaps, too human, and not enough larger than life?

What about some of the contemporary Christian fantasy? Billy and Bonnie in Dragons in Our Midst, Susan Mitchell in The Swords of Lyric series, Abramm in Karen Hancock’s The Guardian-King series, Kale and Bardon in The DragonKeeper Chronicles, Aidan in The Door Within series or Aidan in The Bark of the Bog Owl. Your thoughts?

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:48 am  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday—the Saturday Edition—on Characters  
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Fantasy Friday – Trends and the Trendy

Most of my friends—well, probably all of them 😀 —would agree that I’m not trendy. I’m not one to keep up with the latest and greatest nor do I run out to buy the newest just because it’s new. If I’m going to the trouble of switching over to a new model or a new style or a new version, I want to know that there’s a reason. Like, the old one was broken, or the new one does a hundred more things. Change just because … That, I’m not so fond of.

Not surprisingly, the same carries over into my reading habits. And to my horror, I’m coming to understand that there are trends in fantasy. I suspect these trends are fueled by commercial interests. By the time the final Lord of the Ring movie had swept the Oscars, for instance, a certain amount of LotR fatigue set in. Too many posters and video clips and gadgets and games and repackaged books and DVDs/videos (I was foolish enough to buy the series on tape 😦 )

Harry Potter is much the same. Not that the final movies won’t be big successes, but there are groans in the book industry whenever there’s a suggestion that such and such a story might be a Harry Potter knock off.

Still, there seems to be a Harry Potter effect influencing fantasy. Seems like more and more writers are producing, and publishers are seeking, books about people from this world who have a fantasy adventure without leaving home.

Along with this stay-at-home-and-have-a-bit-of-magic-too trend comes a movement toward darkness. Hence, more stories of late incorporate some of the classic fantasy/horror figures—ghosts, vampires, werewolves, fairies, and the like. Mind you, Christian fantasy is moving in the same direction … at least some is. Publishers who used to shy away from the genre altogether now say they are open to dystopian fantasy or science fantasy. In other words, they want a bit of the “real world” in the story and less of sword play and knights and dragons.

But is this what readers want? I tend to think it’s the dark, dystopian stories that chase readers away from fantasy, but I could be wrong. After all, I’m not trendy and prefer to steer to the far side of the road in order to avoid the crush of fad seekers lined up at midnight for the Next Big Thing.

Not that the trendy is always wrong. I first read Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and Narnia because I was being left out of the fun and excitement. At least two of those three have reached acceptance as classic series already.

Unfortunately trends seem to max out more quickly these days. The interest flares to white hot, then consumes the fuel that started the fire, leaving nothing but a bed of smoldering embers and a handful of faithful fans. Is this the direction fantasy is headed?

I hope not. To this day, nothing fires my imagination more than the struggle of good versus evil. One character struggling against the odds, with the fate of worlds at stake. Will he conquer yet again?

In reality, it’s the old, old story retold. And I never get tired of it. 8)

Fantasy Friday – Prince Caspian

Well, I finally saw it—Prince Caspian, the movie based on C.S. Lewis’s second book in the Narnia series. By now, I’m guessing most of my visitors have seen it as well, and some of you, twice.

I purposefully stayed away from most reviews because I wanted to see the movie without a host of expectations, but it’s hard to flit around the blogosphere and not pick up on the tenor of the discussion. From what I’ve seen, there is hardly agreement.

Some reviewers were nearly irate over how the movie ruined the story. Others thought this movie was a huge improvement over The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Some accused the film makers of purposefully filtering out the Christian symbolism.

Here’s a sample, this from Sebring Cinema and Sports:

Where Adamson falls short is in his development of the characters and Lewis’s emphasis on innoncence and faith as the elements that propel the children’s relationship to Aslan and the magic of Narnia. He fumbles with it, and he loses us a bit when he raises the question of why Aslan does not save Narnia the same way he did before. It is, primarily, the erosion of innocent, childlike faith that begins to separate the older children from the younger – the pure faith by which we follow God when he calls whether or not anyone else does. It is a lesson we all need to learn or to be reminded of, and one that Adamson serves up halfheartedly.

On the other hand, Andrew Adamson himself says in an interview with Indielondon:

Andrew Adamson: I think CS Lewis would have hated the term allegory. He never intended the book to be allegorical. Certainly, he wrote from his own beliefs and he was a Christian. But he never intended it to be a direct allegory. And I didn’t steer clear of anything [any religious allegory]. I think everything that’s in the book thematically is in the movie. I just think it’s up to people to interpret it however they want – and that’ll be differently for people in different countries, from different cultures and different generations. You know, I read the book when I was eight-years-old and I didn’t know what allegory meant. I just thought it was a great adventure. Obviously, I look at it now and I get much more of the mythology and the other things that are going on and, as a filmmaker, you want to tap into all of those. But I think the movies are really reflective of what the books are.

(emphasis mine)

And in the same interview, he said, after re-reading the book once the movie was made:

I felt like I was reading the same story, just told differently …

My take? I loved the movie. It was the same story and different, by the very fact that it was a movie, not a book.

There were some changes, but certainly not as many as The Lord of the Rings movies made. There were some hints at key themes rather than full development. So be it. I was more pleasantly surprised that the themes were there at all. The bit I’d read ahead of time implied the movie was stripped of these thematic elements.

Cinematically, it was excellent—well-acted, great scenery, fast-paced, entertaining, up-lifting, without holes in the plot, funny, touching, special effects were special and not distracting, believable battle scenes, and on and on. It was really, really well done.

Most of all, however, I came away wanting to re-read the book. Now that’s probably the best part of seeing a movie, don’t you think? 😉

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