I’ve been challenged by some of the postings of Loren Rosson III of late. Rosson, like myself, is a fan of Tolkien’s work; his observations about such are consistently astute. I also found much affinity with his recent listing of the best scenes of the Jackson film version (though I might reorder them a bit). The challenge comes in Rosson’s apparent siding with Tolkien against Lewis’ Narnia series.
…, I was left cold by the Narnian Chronicles as a kid …, for reasons which I later understood to square with Tolkien's. One person's allegory is another's allergy. There's nothing wrong with the Christian ideas as such. I often surprise people for liking The Passion of the Christ. Gibson's film was powerful, even to me as a non-Christian. You don't have to be a believer to be moved by the power of myth, especially in a story well told. But in my view, the Narnian chronicles preach more than engage mythological drama in any meaningful way.
He also wrote (in the same blog):
What Tolkien despised about his friend's work was the allegory itself, for its unoriginality and the way it rendered myth so one-dimensional. In a word that Tolkien would have despised as much as Narnia, it was "cheesy".
I am somewhat sympathetic to Rosson in his criticisms of the Narnia chronicles. They are not of the same quality as Tolkien’s writing to be sure. In fact, I cannot read LOTR or the Hobbit and CofN close together – it’s like drinking beer with brie or wine with tortilla chips. The thing is, just as wine and brie and beer and chips are satisfying combinations, Lewis’ Chronicles can be quite satisfying in its own right (i.e., not in the light of Tolkien’s work).
I think, before anything else, one must decide how one will deal with Narnia’s so called “allegory.” I don’t dispute that its there, though it seems clear that Lewis himself did not see his Narnian writings as chiefly allegorical. I’ve heard (I hope it isn’t true) that he proposed an alternative description, a “supposal” (too close to suppository for my, um, taste, like a name brand – the genre’s Jello or something). Anyway, Lewis said “Let’s suppose” that in this alternative world, Christ was a Lion, etc. For me, the “allegorical” aspects are better dealt with in two ways. First, the thing every one latches on as the most prominent “allegory” is the death and resurrection of Aslan. The fact of the matter is, for Lewis the motif of a divine being’s death and resurrection was not limited to the Christian faith; in fact, it was its seemingly ubiquitous presence in pagan mythology that first opened up to him the potential of the Christ story. The Christ event was, he believed (and so he learned from Tolkien and their friend H. Dyson), different only in that it was “true.” Given how pagan so much of the other aspects of Narnia is (fauns, satyrs [though apparently sans erections], Bacchus and his Maenads, Silenus, dryads, etc.), I am inclined to let the death and resurrection of Aslan be more akin to the death/rebirth of a pagan god (as in Lewis’ Till We Have Faces). This does not take away the Christian influence (and Tolkien’s criticism thereof) but it does, I think, recast it.
Second, if anyone understood allegory, it would be Lewis. I am inclined to trust that perhaps he is not so cavalier in its use as is often thought. If one cannot stomach allegory (Rosson’s allegory/allergry comment and Tolkien’s criticisms come time), then there is this point is moot. But, if one is open to the potential of allegory , then maybe Lewis’ use can actually be semantically liberating as opposed to limiting (like other allegorists; here I have in mind – artistically speaking - some Alexandrian patristic exegesis [Origen, Cyril of Alexandria]). Hence, my thinking is that Aslan qua Christ-figure serves to make for a more robust image of deity and of Christ in particular then people generally have. The good but not tame Lion who suffers little girls to cry in his mane, who forgives Edmund’s sibling treachery, who pierces Eustace’s dragonish self with his sharp claw, who creates the world with a song, etc., is (at least) a more fascinating Jesus then the typical “Jesus provides my parking space and gave me an I-Pod for Xmas” middle-class, ‘evangelical’ lord often encountered these days.
In my next post, I will address whether Lewis should combine Christian motifs and faerie.
Happy New Year!