Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Aaaaah, reasoned debate

Quality journalism. After Polly Toynbee's 'Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion' last week The Guardian now gives us Zoe Williams equating anti-Christians with Nazis. Can't we all get along? Can't we all accept that they are wrong and I'm right?

I can't remember when I first read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe but if I hazard a guess at around 6 to 8 I'm probably right. I didn't know when I read it that it was a Christian allegory, or what an allegory was. I made it through all the books in blissful ignorance of this fact, except to wonder how Susan Pevensie could spend some twenty or thirty years in Narnia and then decide by the last book that it had all been imaginary.

It does confuse me that it's been so enthusiastically embraced by Christians as an advert for their side as, rather like That Penguin Film, when you look beyond the five-second précis it looks rather dodgy.

After all, it's all rather pagan. We have sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, but The Magician's Nephew gingerly skips over the messier points of what points of yer actual Christian philosophy exist in Narnia, there's no mention of the Bible and it's a safe bet that they didn't hear the news about Jesus. Aslan is a rather uneasy and contradictory mix of Christ and Christ's Dad, he creates Narnia in The Magician's Nephew and shuts it down again in The Last Battle, but in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe he's a weird Christ that not only has come at last but has been in Narnia before, making him sound more like an old actor who gets cameo parts in films every few years. He's active in the first few books but by the time of The Silver Chair does no more than let Eustace and Polly in and out of Narnia. The heroes of The Horse and His Boy get lightly mauled towards the end to punish them for the difficulties they placed on the families that raised them while Edmund gets away with a stern talking to by Aslan for betraying his family and speeding Narnia's decline into civil war.

Almost all the human beings by the time of The Last Battle have killed at least one person, yet they get into Super-Narnia. The dwarves are just grumpy so get an eternity thinking they are in a shed, and Susan 'more interested in lipstick and boys' Pevensie is just dead, and as she's not in Super-Narnia then the clear implication is she's going to Hell, which is a bit harsh for shopping at Boots cosmetics counter.

So, yeah, pagan. You have a decidedly pagan Father Christmas who is there to celebrate Aslan's return and so gives the kids weapons with which to fight and kill. You have Aslan who is already a powerful creature laying down his life for Edmund (something I do actually like about the story, whereas Jesus was laying down his life to redeem all mankind, whether they wanted it or not, Aslan is doing it just for one boy who has a sweet tooth), only to spring back to life exactly as he was before. Only in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader do you get, for no real reason, Aslan briefly masquerading as the Lamb of God.

Aslan also kills, namely the Witch in tL,tW&tW and then Narnia itself in The Last Battle, hardly Jesus-like. He is, quite explicitly, a magical creature. But because he's an allegory for Christianity, he's good magic. Because the books never explicitly bring in the Big Fella, I have to point out that Aslan is resurrected not by his Father, but by Really Quite Awesomely Deep Magics From Beyond the Dawn of Time. Harry Potter on the other hand, isn't an allegory for Christianity, so he's bad magic, despite the fact that his books teach us to look after, cherish and help our friends, that in the face of crippling depression and despair we should always have hope and that if you make a complete balls-up of things you should always make sure you know someone who has a watch that turns back time. By the end of his sixth book, Harry Potter has also killed less people than Peter Pevensie and has also chosen to put himself in harms way as many, if not more times. Similarly Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, helps his friends, fights for what is right, never surrenders in the face of overwhelming odds, never seeks glory for himself, didn't tick the box marked "I got my powers from God" and so is evil. It's all rather confusing.

The Witch is rather odd, in that she can't be mapped onto anything else. She doesn't really work as either Rome or the Jewish Church. The closest parallel is Lillith, though I'm not sure of her place in orthodox Christian belief. Sometimes a Witch is only a Witch.

And if the books are Christian allegories, where does The Silver Chair fit? Aslan's light is absent from the world, the kingdom is about to fall, Narnia seems at a lower ebb than when the Witch ran things. Is Eustace and Polly rescuing the bewitched prince akin to blinded Saul having his Damascene conversion to Paul? Or is more like a Roman God moving chess-pieces in order to set things right on his world's game board?

The Chronicles of Narnia are perfectly good storybooks, albeit riven with all the class, sex and racial opinions of their time, but banking on them to bring in a previously untouched load of children eager to hear about God is about the daftest thing since thinking that was what The Passion of the Christ was going to do. Kids will like or dislike this film and I suspect the only people to see the message in it will be those that knew it was there already.


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