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Book Review : The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Monday, 29 June 2009

I loved these books passionately as a boy. I loved everything about them : the adventures, the characters, the magic, right down to the different colours of the covers and the line-sketches accompanying the text. I loved Aslan and Mr. Tumnus and the indomitable Reepicheep. I wanted to live in Narnia.

Recently I've re-read them to one of my own children. She enjoyed them very much too. I, however, found big problems with them. Perhaps it's a mistake to re-read books like this. Still, much as it pains me to say it, these are tainted works of fiction. Partly it's the religion thing of course. I'm one of those people who was surprised to learn that these are works of Christian allegory. I felt cheated when I did so (by which time I was an adult) but, well, at least my childhood enjoyment of the books hadn't been marred. Now, the Christianity just grates. It is generally fairly understated, to be sure, and there is plenty of non-Christian mythology in there too. But sometimes the theism just bashes you on the head. I found myself actually getting annoyed at the creationist section of The Magician's Nephew.

Of course, there's more to the Narnia books than all this. These are imaginative books, for sure, with exciting plots and well-drawn characters. Seeing Narnia from its beginnings in The Magician's Nephew right through to its end in The Last Battle is still marvellous. The way Narnia and our world interact is a lot of fun too. And Aslan is great, if you can put it out of your mind that he's "really", you know, Jesus or God or whatever.

I watched an interesting BBC program recently entitled The Narnia Code which set out Dr. Michael Ward's theory that the seven books of Narnia each correspond to one of the seven "planets" of mediaeval cosmology (um, that's the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.) Actually, the program was only interesting for about ten minutes; then it just wandered off into more tedious (and very unbalanced) theist propaganda. Do you see a theme here? But still, it added some interesting depth to the books. It was almost enough to make me want to read them yet again. Almost, but not quite.

Because there are other problems too. The Horse and His Boy is downright racist at times. It will be amusing to see how much they tone that down when they come to make the film of the book (if they ever get that far). The Last Battle - which I recalled being gloriously elegiac - is in fact very dull and silly. No doubt some great moral and religious point is being made with the extended parable of the donkey and the ape and the false-god thing. I couldn't be bothered to think about it. It's just dreary until the very end.

So, the ten-year old me loved these books. The older me thinks they're alright, but flawed. They're not as good as Harry Potter or anything, but they're alright.

Meanwhile, perhaps as a result of rereading these books, I have recently become religious myself. This will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. But I have lived in darkness all this time and now have seen the light. I have become a follower of the one true God, The Flying Spaghetti Monster. I couldn't be bothered to go to services or anything though ...


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