The conventional wisdom says that C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and the movie adaptations of the books offer aproper Christian alternative to the godless moonshine of Philip Pullman’s "The Golden Compass" and the satan worshipping witchcraft of Harry Potter.
But how Christian is it? I’m not referring to the scene in 2005’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in which Father Christmas (that’s Santa Claus, or the Spirit of Rampant Consumerism as he is known to us on this side of the Atlantic) presenting children lethal weapons as holiday presents. Hardly PC, but not really un-Christian, at least not since the reign of the Emperor Constantine (In hoc signo we’ll kick your ass).
Nor does this have anything to do with Lewis’s alleged taste for the lash (he signed some letters “Philomastix,” ie, “whiplover”), suggested in some of the books, which he picked up in his experience in British boarding schools. Especially Wynard, whose sadistic headmaster was later certified as insane.
Or even his non-condemnatory attitude towards homosexuality, which he discusses in his 1955 autobiography “Surprised by Joy,” referring to its practice in his school days as “the only counterpoise to the social struggle; the one oasis (though green only with weeds and moist only with foetid water) in the burning desert of competitive ambition…. pederasty, however great an evil in itself, was, in that time and place, the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things ... A perversion was the only chink left through which something spontaneous and uncalculating could creep in."
No, what really disturbs some Christian fundamentalists is that C.S. Lewis’s lenient, tolerant brand of Christianity might be “a Trojan Horse” for the evils of paganism and black magic. See for example this posting on the website from “Balaam’s Ass Speaks” titled “C.S. Lewis: Satan’s Wisest Fool” which begins:
“John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died on the same day.
They all went to the same place. Kennedy went to hell because he trusted in the Roman Whore. Huxley went to hell because he trusted in himself alone and his hybrid Eastern mystic notions. And, Lewis went to hell because he invented a new god, and he ended his life a Taoist. We will prove it here.”
They are especially outraged by an episode in “Prince Caspian” involving Aslan, the children Lucy and Susan, Bacchus, Silenus and a company of Maenads. In a chapter titled “Dionysus, Bacchus, Silenus and the Maenads No One Under 18 Please,” the posting states “What Lewis is describing here is nothing other than a Bacchanalian orgy!.. Now, if Aslan is supposedly the Lord Jesus Christ, as many assure us and as Lewis himself allowed, then what we find here is the grossest blasphemy!! This is then supposedly Jesus Christ leading a Satanic orgy of Bacchus!! This is sick beyond description!!”
Harsh words. Perhaps that is why the makers of the film adaptation, Walden Media, headed by billionaire Christian crusader Philip Anschutz, deleted that scene and replaced it with a battle in which our Christian heroes kill scores of bad guys and which ends in a bloody massacre.
I suspect, however, that the Balaam’s Ass people, and perhaps even those at Walden, might be misreading the text. They might be the perfect audience, then, for “The Complete Idiots Guide to the World of Narnia” by James S. Bell and Cheryl Dunlop.
I asked Ms. Dunlop what she had to say about this Trojan Horse (isn’t that a pagan metaphor?) theory and she kindly sent the following response:
“I'd say that such a person has probably not read much of Lewis's work, and maybe has spent too much time reading other people who comment on Lewis's work without understanding it. One crucial point is that in Lewis's works, witches and hags and such are never morally good. In other writers (“Harry Potter,” “Wizard of Oz,” and even “Lord of the Rings”) we see good witches and wizards. Lewis's good characters are simply never involved in witchcraft. One might as well accuse the Bible of promoting Satan worship because Satan is mentioned in it.
“An interesting point in this regard comes from perhaps the most “pagan” scene in the whole series, Bacchus and his maidens distributing refreshments in “Prince Caspian.” Lucy and Susan agree that they would not want to have met this wild group except in the presence of Aslan--the hint that they are dangerous and must be kept in submission to Aslan (Christ). Lewis simply had no patience with those who said a Christian shouldn't drink (or smoke--he smoked pipes).”
Maybe that will enlighten them. As for me, I have no doubts of Lewis’s Christian credentials after noting the resemblance between Aslan the Lion and Fr. Leo Muldoon, S.J., Dean of Discipline when I attended Boston College High School.