Why did C.S. Lewis write The Chronicles of Narnia?
Some praise Lewis’s “Christian allegory”, while others rage against the heavy handed allegory – Polly Toynbee of the Guardian writes that “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion” and quotes Philip Pullman saying that Narnia is “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read.” (Her critical column can be found here).
But C.S. Lewis made it clear that Narnia was not intended allegorically – although he did have a purpose in writing Narnia, a purpose Toynbee quotes as to “make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life”.
In The Lion’s World, Rowan Williams expands upon Lewis’s stated purpose, suggesting that “Lewis is trying to recreate for the reader what it is like to encounter and believe in God.” It’s a fascinating suggestion, and one that Williams backs up rather credibly with various arguments.
But The Lion’s World is not a book of arguments. Instead, it is more like sitting down for book club with one of the smartest and most widely read persons of your acquaintance and listening with fascinated interest as he gives his thoughts. And lest you think smartest and most widely read equals most pompous, let me quickly dissuade you of that idea. Williams is humble and approachable as well.
I didn’t take notes as I read, didn’t flag paragraphs, didn’t file things away for comment in my review. I just read, delighting as Williams danced from theme to theme, bringing up things I’d felt but not put together as I read the Chronicles.
Williams does not accept Lewis’s theology unquestioningly, he occasionally notes a tricky theological or cultural comment or a clunky bit of prose. But The Lion’s World doesn’t exist either as an apologetic or as a critic of the Chronicles or of Lewis – it is written as a conversation from one Chronicles enthusiast to another.
It was a pleasure to read. And, at just 144 gift-book-sized pages, it was an easy read too.
Rating: 4 stars
Category: Commentary on the Chronicles of Narnia
Synopsis: Rowan Williams discusses a number of themes he sees throughout the Chronicles of Narnia.
Recommendation: Fans of the Chronicles will likely find this book enjoyable.