Thursday, 6 January 2011

Dawn-Treader: The Wonder of Narnia

I am not sure exactly what age I was when I read my first Narnia book, but I reckon I was around 8 or 9. I am still reading them. Although C S Lewis claimed that he did not intend them to be overtly Christian nor strictly allegorical, there is no doubt (as he himself admits) that there are very obvious Christian themes and spiritual insights evident in the books. Indeed, when viewing the works in retrospect, Lewis was happy to point out the parallels; even if (as he claims) he may not have set out to create them.

All this is very controversial in some circles, as are Lewis’s supposed sexism and racism in the Chronicles of Narnia. However, despite my socially liberal views and my continual defence of many aspects of what some sneeringly refer to as ‘political correctness’ (I sometimes feel tempted to refer to these folks just as sneeringly as unreconstructed reactionaries and see how that feels!) I do not hold with these criticisms of the Narnia novels. They were written in a particular era by a single, middle-aged man whose social views were deeply rooted in Victorian and Edwardian culture. Get over it! They are set in an historical context.

I would be horrified should any writer today be explicitly advocating the social views that are implicit in Lewis’s works. But they must be judged in the context of a 1950s England (and I do mean England!) which had a nostalgic longing for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It does not take much to understand why such a longing was present during that particular decade. If the First World War had shaken society, exposed the futility of warfare, caused many to question faith and undermined the liberal dream, then the Second World War had only reinforced all that and – even more – set off a tide of social change which was remarkably swift and continues to this day. Even those who welcomed the changes were taken aback by the rapidity of them and the uncertainty as to where they would lead. Nostalgia is as natural refuge for many in the 50’s as ‘liberation’ and ‘hedonism’ were in the 20’s and early 30’s in Europe.

And so – while critical of many of Lewis’s social and theological views – I remain inspired and fascinated by the Chronicles of Narnia which are, as children’s books, much superior in my opinion to his science fiction trilogy. No, it is not great literature in the way that Tolkien’s epic ‘Lord of the Rings’ is; not even the literary equal of the more accessible ‘The Hobbit’. And yet something of the magic of Narnia has hooked me. (And – yes – the ‘magic’ is also controversial amongst fundamentalist Christians!)

‘The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”’ is possibly my favourite Narnia novel, dealing as it does with issues of spiritual life, maturing in faith and following your call etc etc.

And now having gone to see the film I found myself just as inspired and moved by the film as by the book, even if the film departs from and condenses aspects of the novel.

Above all I have been reminded that the Christian life is a great adventure that has many dangers on the way, will involve struggles and almost certainly some failures, and is made in the company of some rather odd and even undesirable companions!

And yet what a goal we have before us; our sharing in the mission of God for the release and renewal of society, humanity and the earth, and ultimately of entering into Aslan’s country.

Reepicheep reminds us that this is not all there is and even the brave battles we fight here for truth, justice and peace, are fulfilled, bettered and completed in another place, into which we will yet enter.

Love it!


  1. Thanks for this write up David, it's encouraged me to go and see the film (I like your comment about the "rather odd and even undesirable companions" ....

  2. I'm really glad to have this link David; your thoughts always resonate with me (as you have always known). Rich writings indeed.... Paul

  3. Hey, loving the new blog.

  4. Always knew I had a deprived childhood~I never read the Narnia books as a child and then not being a parent myself, didn't really get much into children's books~however there is no excuse for me now, so I will go and visit my friendly librarian and borrow the Narnia collection and then will be able to put in my educated twopence worth!!!

  5. Thanks for comments guys (and thanks also to those who have emailed or spoken in person). Much appreciated!

    Dot, I look forward to your comments when you have read some of the books (begin with 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe') Now to the next topic...

  6. I went to Dawn Treader last weekend in St Andrews - really enjoyed it - only problem was in eating the popcorn, broke a bit off my tooth and had to go to dentist but it was easily fixed thankfully, phew ....

  7. Sorry about the tooth Chrys, but glad you enjoyed Dawn Treader. I was surprised at how much I got into the film and how much it 'spoke' to me.