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From the Winter 2005 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis's best-loved classic

by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute

 

inally, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is coming to the big screen. The anticipation is great. The book has already been at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. Many people, both believers and nonbelievers, will see the film, and it will be an opportunity to speak to others about the film’s meaning as well as about C.S. Lewis. There are already plans for other volumes of the Narnia series to be made into movies, so it is possible that all seven might eventually be filmed. Any preparation we do now may prepare us for future opportunities, so it’s good to learn more about the Narnia series and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW).

An Allegory?

  One of the first questions that arises about the series is: Are the books allegories, where each detail of the books has symbolic spiritual meaning? The answer is “No.” Lewis stressed that each volume started with pictures in his mind, which he turned into a story. For instance, LWW started with the image in Lewis’s mind of a Faun carrying packages, and he had been having dreams about lions. As he wrote, some of his Christian beliefs crept into the story, but it is important not to press every detail of the story as you might do with The Pilgrim’s Progress.

For Children or for Adults?

  In response to the charge that fairy stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia were childish, Lewis distinguished between fairy tales and children’s stories. He pointed out that many children do not like fairy stories, while many adults do, and that a good story is a good story no matter what the reader’s age. “Children’s” stories retain their appeal through the generations. Lewis says:

Fashions in literary taste come and go among adults, and every period has its own shibboleths. These, when good, do not corrupt it, for children read only to enjoy. Of course, their limited vocabulary and general ignorance make some books unintelligible to them. But, apart from that, juvenile taste is simply human taste.

  Lewis felt that to grow into adulthood without developing your imagination was to be impoverished. One five-year-old boy who visited Lewis’s home outside Oxford during the bombing of London in World War II, had never been exposed to fairy tales. Lewis lamented that “his poor imagination has been left without any natural food at all.” Lewis felt that it was important (as Jesus taught) for adults to keep a childlike outlook on the world: “Only those adults who have retained, with whatever additions and enrichments, their first childlike responses to poetry unimpaired can be said to have grown up at all.” In Experiment in Criticism, Lewis writes:

But who in his right mind would not keep if he could that tireless curiosity, that intensity of imagination, that faculty of suspending belief, that unspoiled attitude, that readiness to wonder, to pity, to admire?

  Lewis’s friend Ruth Pitter said that Lewis had a child’s sense of glory and nightmare. Lewis said about himself, “Parts of me are still twelve, and I think parts were already fifty when I was twelve.” In any case, the capacity to avoid being hardened by cynicism and suspicion was regarded as essential to human well being.
  I have met people of every age, from five to eightyfive, who have enjoyed the The Chronicles of Narnia. When I read the series to my sons, I found that I was more excited by rereading the stories myself than the boys were to hear them. As an adult I could better understand the many layers of meaning within the stories.

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