Prisoner of Narnia? Part Deux

From Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker article
I was multitasking over the weekend. While my ipod was blasting the melodious tunes of The Untitled Hymn by Chris Rice I was reading a bit from C.J. Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life. Mahaney wrote at lengths on the dangers of legalism. Simply put, legalism is trying in ones own efforts to gain favor with God. I know legalism because I was one. I can remember sitting in the basement of my house praying for long periods of time to try to salve some heinous sin that I had just committed (probably not doing my devotions). I just wanted God to know that it was going to be different this next time. I wasn’t going to mess it up again… right… How many years I missed out on the glory of it all! That aside, something struck me as I listened to Chris Rice. I really doubt Chris Rice is a legalist. In fact, legalists don’t write music, do they? They don’t produce art or poetry either, do they?

Now back to Lewis. Gopnik couldn’t be more wrong. Let my address some of the quotes from the article:

The first charge: Lewis felt the burden to reinfect his stories with belief.

Yet, if these words are a declaration of faith, they are also a document of bad conscience. For, throughout his own imaginative writing, Lewis is always trying to stuff the marvellous back into the allegorical—his conscience as a writer lets him see that the marvellous should be there for its own marvellous sake, just as imaginative myth, but his Christian duty insists that the marvellous must (to use his own giveaway language) be reinfected with belief. He is always trying to inoculate metaphor with allegory, or, at least, drug it, so that it walks around hollow-eyed, saying just what it’s supposed to say.”

I think if you read Lewis you understand that he never felt captive by the truth of gospel but inspired by it. In fact, for Lewis writing myth is always less than, and pointing to, Christ. Lewis saw grace in Balder because it acted as a signpost. Truth was what inspired because truth was what mattered. Secularists see value in the process or the medium, Lewis saw the medium as grace that pointed to the truth. So I reject the idea that Lewis was bridled by institutions. To Lewis, marvelous was Christ, and that made all the signposts to him more glorious!

Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle…Those who do not know that this great myth became Fact when the Virgin conceived are, indeed, to be pitied. But Christians also need to be…reminded that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting in our theology.”
C.S. Lewis

Second Charge: The “religious part” diminishes the emotional power

The emotional power of the book, as every sensitive child has known, diminishes as the religious part intensifies. The most explicitly religious part of his myth is the most strenuously, and the least successfully, allegorized. Aslan the lion, the Christ symbol, who hasexasperated generations of freethinking parents and delighted generations of worried Anglicans, is, after all, a very weird symbol for that famous carpenter’s son—not just an un-Christian but in many ways an anti-Christian figure.”

Because Gopnik says “every child knows” this does not mean it’s true. I suspect Gopnik’s own worldview has more to do with this assertion than anything. This is why those who share his worldview are apt to agree. I for one am struck breathless when I read the character of Aslan. He is Narnia to me. What I see in Aslan is a manifestation of theology; I see a parable. As one who has experienced the overwhelming glory of the mercies of God, I’m drenched with gratitude. I love Aslan because I love the gospel.
Third Charge: Jesus should be a donkey, not a lion.

Yet a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reëmerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth. “

This is in some regards the saddest of all of the charges. Gopnik truly has no grasp on the paradoxical union that was God, a man. The character and nature of Christ is the most stunning absurdity in the history of the world. Philippians 2 reads this way.

Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil 2:6-7

This is the truth, that Gopnik simply cannot grasp. Christ was indeed a lion; he was God himself. And he postured himself as a servant for our debt. I cannot think of a better creature to illustrate this inequity, this devastating irony, than a the king of the beasts.

For poetry and fantasy aren’t stimulants to a deeper spiritual appetite; they are what we have to fill the appetite. The experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual, is . . . an experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual. To hope that the conveyance will turn out to bring another message, beyond itself, is the futile hope of the mystic. Fairy stories are not rich because they are true, and they lose none of their light because someone lit the candle. It is here that the atheist and the believer meet, exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.

Gopnik, is wrong. Fairy stories are indeed rich, but only through common grace. Grace gives man creativity and passion. But all such pleasures are only signposts to a greater one. This is what Lewis knew, sadly Gopnik does not.

3 thoughts on “Prisoner of Narnia? Part Deux”

  1. half price books is a good place for some things. I had to get his “On Stories and Other Essays” and “The Discarded Image” at Barnes & Noble though. I was getting antsy about them and I actually found them on the shelf (I’m much more likely to pay full price for a book if I have it in my hands immediately…I don’t like to order).The Disc. Img. is, I think, only published by Oxford Press and is a little pricey. The story one is around $12, I think, and is published with his more well known books by several publishers.

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