Numerous articles are currently appearing on the new book by Salon.com’s book critic Laura Miller, The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. In the book, Ms. Miller recounts her childhood love for C. S. Lewis’s 7-volume book series, The Chronciles of Narnia, only to turn away from them as a non-Christian young adult, and later to return to them with skeptical admiration.
Along the way, she has come to appreciate Lewis’s immense accomplishment in the Narniad, but largely believes that this relates solely to Lewis’s use of pre-Christian legends and symbols and that the Christian imagery was inappropriate and a “betrayal” (a view she incidentally does not hold for Philip Pullman’s bluntly anti-Christian Dark Materials trilogy). Her error lies in failing to appreciate Lewis’s (and J.R.R. Tolkien’s, Charles Williams’s and G.K. Chesterton’s) deeper point that all truly good literature, including ancient legend, reflects shadowings of Christian truths.
For Lewis, the difference between standard myth and Christianity is not that the former is more authentic myth, but that Christianity is most authentically what Tolkien called “true myth,” in which the truths embedded in those legends, which although untrue have inspired and thrilled generations for millennia, became all too real in the true story of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, it was this insight by Lewis that was a major factor in his conversion in becoming a Christian. Although having much to be admired, Ms. Miller’s book really is a reflection of her own biases and limitations as a agnostic/modernist journalist, and she would do well to dig deeper into Lewis’s own scholarly writings on this matter, as well as Michael Ward’s superb book, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis (Oxford University Press). In so doing, she (as with both Philip Pullman and Tolkien himself) misinterprets numerous aspects of the Narniad stories, predictably based on her ignorance both of the classic literature Lewis was drawing upon and the “Medieval model” Ward reveals is at the heart of the books. Lewis’s Narniad has been so extremely popular because of its profoundly effective and sophisticated integration of enduring truths of the yearning of all mankind for what Lewis rightly called “Joy,” which leads us on a path directly to Christianity. Here are other examples:
“A Return to Narnia: Adored in Childhood, Reconsidered in Adulthood and Finally Embraced,” by Meghan Cox Gurdon (Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2006)
“The Magician’s Book: Actual Smart Things About C.S. Lewis (and J.R.R. Tolkien),” by Lev Grossman (Time, December 1, 2008)
“A Spy In the House of Narnia,” by Rebecca Traister (Salon.com, December 7, 2008)
David J. Theroux is the founder and president of The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.; founder and president of the C. S. Lewis Society of California; and publisher of The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.