Narnian Magic

I started to write about the magical aspect of Narnia in a book review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but it then took on a life of its own, so I decided to make it a separate post.

I came to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis via a slightly different route than many of you. I don’t remember reading or even hearing about the Chronicles of Narnia until about twelve years ago. A lady in my church who is very gifted in art and drama was talking about being in a local stage production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe along with her daughter. This lady herself was playing the White Witch. I was very surprised.

There was a time when I avoided any book, program, cartoon, anything that had anything remotely to do with witches, magic, etc., for a couple of very good reasons. First of all, back in the ninth or tenth grade I had done a group research project in English class on the occult. This was before I became a Christian, and some time after I became a Christian a few years later, I realized how foolish that was and rejoiced that God had protected me from getting any further involved. I discovered dire warnings in the Bible against witches, wizards, and the like. Secondly, when my kids were younger, we picked up a truly horrible book. The title had to do with a magic carpet, and as my son showed it to me at the library, I felt what I can only describe as a check in my spirit, kind of a warning signal that this might be a problem. But we had had a different book about a magic carpet before and it was just a sweet reference to a rug where a girl and her grandmother or aunt had sat and told stories. So I let my son check out the book with the thought that I’d look at it before we read it. As I got into it, I discovered it was written from a New Age viewpoint complete with a “spirit guide” (who had his own chapter in the back), and the book advocated things like throwing books at your teachers if they didn’t let you do what you wanted, hinted at an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister, and urged the reader to throw off everything he had ever learned before from his parents. I can’t adequately describe the revulsion and horror at the book I had in my hands.

So naturally I was a bit skittish at the thought of anything “magical.” But somewhere along the way, I can’t remember just how, I came to the conclusion that fairy tale magic usually is a different thing than the actual occult. Usually the witch in a fairy tale is just the representation of the bad guy in the “good versus evil” plot. When we watched The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the Lord of the Ring series (I had also missed these books growing up. My education was sadly deficient of classics), I struggled a bit with the wizardry in them, but eventually concluded that the wizards were more like Middle Earth super heroes than actual occultish wizards. Real life wizards, after all, don’t ride on the backs of giant birds or fight each other with power blasts (at least as far as I know).

One definition of “magical” in is “mysteriously enchanting” and one of “magic” is “any mysterious or extraordinary quality or power.” I did read the Chronicles of Narnia and a biography of Lewis not long after the encounter with my friend at church, and I think when Lewis speaks of the “deep magic” of Narnia, he is meaning this “mysterious or extraordinary quality or power.”

Yet I recently read (and I wish I could remember where) of a modern-day pagan who claims Narnia every bit as much as Christians do. And “Googling” “paganism in Narnia” results in many articles and posts discussing the issue from both sides. Such pagan ideas existed in Lewis’s day: did he have any idea pagans in days to come would champion elements from his work as much as Christians do? Or is it a matter of the principle that “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15)? I don’t know: perhaps some of you who have read more of the background of the books can lend some insight.

I’ve read that Lewis never meant Narnia as an exact Christian allegory, but Christian elements are definitely there: Christ is referred to as “the lion of the tribe of Judah”; Aslan, the Christ figure of Narnia, is a great lion. Aslan dies for one who betrayed him just as Christ did, and he is similarly resurrected. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the way the children felt about Aslan being good and terrible at the same time mirrored our feelings of God.  (See What’s Christian About Narnia” for more.)

Having read a biography of Lewis, his Mere Christianity, and snips of his other writings, I am content to say, like Lauren Winner, “That an unmistakably biblical narrative emerged is perhaps a testimony to Lewis’s own formation, a reminder of how deeply steeped he was in the Christian story.” Though I don’t know how to reconcile all the elements of the stories, I know enough about his Christian beliefs to trust that they really are there in the stories.

I would say, however, to anyone who has a doubt or a question about this or any other book or program, don’t violate your conscience. Read about them, talk to others, pray about it before going ahead, and if you decide not to read them, that’s fine. And those of us who do read them shouldn’t scoff at those who don’t. We each need to remember the principles of Romans 14 when it comes to differing convictions: that we shouldn’t despise or judge each other on these kinds of things, that we should each be “fully persuaded in our own minds,” that whatever we do or don’t allow needs to be done as unto the Lord, that we will all give account of ourselves to God, that we shouldn’t put stumblingblocks in each other’s way, that we should “follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another,” that we shouldn’t condemn ourselves in what we allow, and that if we can’t do a thing in faith, we shouldn’t do it.

14 thoughts on “Narnian Magic

  1. This is a really great post! I especially like you mentioning Romans 14. I see a lot of mud slinging on both sides: those who are against it think those who read these things are flirting with paganism, and those who read these things think those who are against it are just stupid and legalist. I think I grew up with the same kinds of convictions you used to have, but am in the past several years realizing (especially after reading “Honey for a Child’s Heart,” which I would highly recommend) that the imagination is a gift of an imaginative, creative God, and we as Christians should have a better use of it than anyone, as long as we are not rejoicing in the things God explicitly forbids!

    • I do still have the same convictions about magic in the occult sense, but came to realize fairy tale magic was not the same thing.

      I love the idea that part of being created in God’s image includes imagination and creativity.

  2. Very intriguing post! Very intriguing! I enjoyed reading your thoughts and your background on this.

    No, Lewis DIDN’T say the books were allegorical. He said that it was a ‘great supposal.’ “Suppose that . . . ” Definitely there are spiritual principles. You can’t argue against that for the very reason that C.S. Lewis was a Christian and if you are a Christian your faith will be lived and written out no matter what. It is something that is a part of you. It is your very nature. He couldn’t have NOT written out his faith. It’s impossible.

    The question I still have to wade through for myself is the use of magic in books like Harry Potter. How can I reconcile my love of Narnia alongside my questions about Harry Potter? (I just haven’t had the time to devote to really thinking through that yet.) I think we SHOULD be careful about how we approach magic because it is not innocent. I think there needs to be a clear distinction between “good magic” and “bad magic” in books. I think C.S. Lewis is very clear about what and who are right in Narnia and what and who is wrong. I’m excessively comfortable with it. (Obviously.) I’m just not sure about Harry.

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  4. Barbara, I think you would be enlightened somewhat by reading a biography of Lewis I just finished–The Narnian by Alan Jacobs. In this biography, Jacobs details Lewis’ own spiritual formation and how this plays out in Narnia.

    • Thanks, Amy. I’ve seen a number of people mention that. I need to put it on my list. I read a biography of Lewis years ago, but I don’t remember the title. I’m reading a book now that has a very short summary of influences in his life that led to Narnia.

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