Monday, December 29, 2008

The Magician's Book: Narnia from a Skeptic's View

When I began to see reviews of The Magician's Book online, it looked like another attempt by a non-believer to discredit Christianity. But the more I read about it, the more I was intrigued. I was not disappointed.

As a child, Laura Miller found herself enchanted by The Chronicles of Narnia. But she became disenchanted upon finding out that there are many Christian symbols throughout the books. Subtitled "A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia," The Magician's Book is based on the author's relationship with the Chronicles throughout her life.

The book is divided into three sections. "Songs of Innocence" corresponds to her early days. It describes the relationship of children to fantasy. "Trouble in Paradise" talks about her rejection of the Chronicles after she finds out about their Christian source. It brings up the subject of Lewis's prejudices and personal life. "Songs of Experience" is about her study of Lewis's academic writings in relationship to the Chronicles.

The title, The Magician's Book, is a reference to the book that Lucy uses in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to make the Dufllepods visible. The book contains a story that cannot be re-read, and that Lucy cannot remember later. However, the story has made such an impression that when she reads certain other stories in the future, they reminds her of the story in the Magician's book. For Miller, the Chronicles have become a book that will never be the same as it was when she first read it. But she does recognize the same feelings it evoked when she reads certain stories now.

Fans of Lewis may bristle as the writer reminds us of some of Lewis's prejudices. He was certainly not a perfect man, and although he lived in another time, we must wrestle with his views on other races and women. But I will not attempt to tackle that subject here. While Miller certainly makes her views against Christianity known, she does not resort to ad homien attacks. There is much that believers can profit from if they will empathize a little with her views.

Toward the end of the book, there is a chapter titled "The Third Road." It recounts an old Scottish ballad. There is a narrow road beset with thorns and briers--the path to righteousness. And there is the broad road lined with lilies--the path to wickedness. But there is also a third road, a beautiful road twisting through fern-covered hillsides--the road to Elfland. This road, says Miller

leads neither to heaven nor to hell, and it promises a place where the relentless moral weighing that Christianity imposes upon every action in this world simply doesn't apply.

This is apparently how the author is able to reconcile herself to her love for Narnia. The otherworldliness of Narnia can be enjoyed, and the references to Christianity ignored. Miller talks about the writings of Lewis and JRR Tolkien on mythology, and does an admirable job explaining their views. But what she does not wrestle with is their assertion that all myths point to Christ.

The Chronicles end in The Last Battle with a description of a New Narnia that is "more real" than anything they have yet experienced. Miller finds the perfection of this place boring. She contends that the lack of trouble and conflict means an end of stories. She would rather have the imperfections and the never-ending stories. But, just because we have yet to experience perfection does not mean it will be a time and place where nothing happens. A story without any tension is beyond what I can comprehend, but that is part of why it is so intriguing. Certainly the God who created us, and knows us better than we know ourselves, will have things for us to do that will be more enjoyable than any experience or story we have yet to encounter.

But what about the here and now? When Christ talked about the Broad Way and the Narrow Way, He never said that the Narrow Way was "beset with thorns and briers" and that the Broad way was lined with lilies. Whatever road we choose, there will hardship along the way. But Christ said that He came that we might have "life more abundantly." Believers not only have Heaven to look forward to, but a perspective on life that is a reason for enjoying Earth, too. Certainly that's also what Lewis was trying to convey in the Chronicles. But I'll have to leave that for another day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas Perpective on Winter

Winter begins, officially, Sunday. But many of us have been experiencing winter weather already for quite some time. Places which normally have a comparatively mild December, such as Portland and Seattle on the west coast, have already seen more winter than they normally do all year. The inconveniences and irritations of winter are, I'm sure, especially poignant to those who have thought they had escaped it by moving to a more moderate climate.

Even for us who are used to cold, snowy winters, the phrase by C S Lewis in his first Narnia book, "always winter and never Christmas," takes on new meaning when we take the snow brush and ice scraper to the windshield one more time. I even found myself in my Facebook status wishing "out loud" that I lived much further south.

This all seems incongruous when we start hearing Christmas songs like "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" or "Let It Snow." What is so wondrous about this Winter Wonderland when you are shoveling out your driveway? But it seems that the nostalgic connection of Christmas with snow overcomes our irritations. Perhaps that is part of what Lewis meant--that Christmas makes winter "worth it."

The ancient pagans celebrated the "Yule-tide" this time of year because of the winter solstice. The sun had retreated to it farthest point south, and this was the time it would begin its return north. Thus the promise of returned warmth even during the coming months when the world they knew was at its coldest. Lewis quickly captures this aspect of the coming of Christmas. Just after Father Christmas arrives, things begin to thaw, and spring soon arrives.

With Christmas comes not only the promise of spring, and the rejuvenation of everything around us, but also the promise of New Life to each individual. Jesus called it being "born again." That is why He came--to give His life so that we might have a rejuvenation of the soul. That does not mean everything will immediately "thaw" like it does in Narnia. As long as we are in these mortal bodies we will not taste the fullness of spring that awaits. But we can experience a springtime in the soul as we allow God to melt our hearts.