Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The unavoidable conversation: Christian themes in Narnia

I spent all day Friday in a waiting room, and during that time I finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At one point a man and a woman were sitting next to me in the waiting room. The man was reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, the woman was reading a sci fi novel that I am not familiar with, and cannot remember the title of. We talked a few times, and the woman told me a little about the book she was reading. I showed her that I was reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and confessed that I never read the entire series as a child.

"I never did either," she said, "and now that I know about all the religious themes in it, I don't really want to read them." She didn't say this in a mean sort of way, and I actually appreciated her frankness on the subject. I don't often find people in Alabama who can openly say that religion turns them off with out sounding confrontational, but she pulled it off admirably. I let her know that the religious themes are poorly disguised to an adult, but that I also didn't catch them when I was a kid watching the animated film or reading Wardrobe.

Which figures, and is sort of the way it is. I was a teenager when my peers began to tell me that The Chronicles of Narnia were all about Jesus. The teen years seem to be the age at which we are obsessed with disguised meanings. This is the same age at which I learned that the Alice in Wonderland stories are about drug use, and The Wizard of Oz is about politics and economics in the late 19th century. I received these interpretations with interest, or amusement, or disapproval. I decided that all books must be about something deeper than the story they seemed to be telling, and that this was the mark of a good book.

Now that I am no longer a teenager, these deeper meanings don't matter that much. They are interesting bits of trivia that I've picked up along the way, but they are otherwise meaningless. I have a greater interest in whether the stories are good and entertaining. I didn't hesitate to buy my niece the full box set of The Chronicles of Narnia for Christmas several years ago for fear that she will be indoctrinated with Christian subtexts. She lives in Alabama. She attends church. Christianity need not be delivered to her through subtle means.

Besides, children take away from stories what they want, and keep very little of the rest. So even as I easily recognize the subtext in The Chronicles of Narnia, I still read Wardrobe with a sense of comfort, as I remembered so much of the story from the animated series. It was pleasant just to revisit a familiar story.

So that one is finished, and now on to The Horse and His Boy.

In other news, I realized today that a title that I'd been counting as one book is actually a series - His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is actually a trilogy, not a single book. So the individual novel count is now up to 198. No doubt, I will find more instances of titles that I did not recognize as a series as I continue.


  1. I agree. I was astounded when my A.P. history teacher started in about The deeper meanings of Wizard of Oz. Now, I find that adults either didn't know or didn't care. I think that reading can be ruined by symbolism- especially if it's blatant. Similarly, When I was in film school, we were told about the Hero's Journey. Trying to apply it to everything I watched deprived me of actually watching and enjoying the movies for years. Sometimes, a story is just a story.

  2. Right. All that Joseph Campbell business is good to know in college when there are essays that need writing. Outside of college, it may come in handy if you are ever on Jeopardy, or in the Cash Cab.
    Besides, L. Frank Baum always claimed that those interpretations of the Oz series were incorrect. Apparently he really was just writing about a girl in a magical land.