Image And Content: The Tension In C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles Of Narnia” -- By: Robert K. Johnston

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:3 (Sep 1977)
Article: Image And Content: The Tension In C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles Of Narnia”
Author: Robert K. Johnston


Image And Content: The Tension
In C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles Of Narnia”

Robert K. Johnston*

C. S. Lewis rightly understood the nature of imaginative literature. If fantasy is to work its magic on the reader, if it is to so enchant its public that it becomes myth for them, then it must be read “in a sense, ‘for fun,’ and with (one’s) feet on the fender.”1 In this regard such stories are similar in their demands to that of any work of art. In order to receive what the work presents, the reader must surrender himself to it. “Look. Listen. Receive,” says Lewis. “Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)”2

Many Christians (or those predisposed toward Christianity) who read C. S. Lewis’ series of seven children’s stories, the Chronicles of Narnia, are indeed able to put their “feet on the fender” and to participate receptively in the Narnian myth. Like Chad Walsh, they find that as a result of this experience their imaginations are baptized; they get “the taste and smell of Christian truth.”3 But for a good percentage of the post-Christian adult world the magic, the “taste and smell,” of these stories is lacking.4 True, the tales are still widely read. In fact, in the last four years since an American paperback edition of the Narnia series has been published, there has been growing interest shown in these children’s stories. Walter Hooper reports that in 1973 sales were running over one million copies a year.5 A certain charm is apparent in the Chronicles to both the Christian and the non-Christian reader. However, that charm is for many not what Lewis intended, namely the enchantment of a new myth. Rather it is simply the joy of good literature. Instead of remaining within the total experience of the tales, instead of viewing the narrative from an “internal” standpoint, the modern secular reader is often too conscious of Lewis’ skill in putting old truths into new surroundings in order to help shape his audiences’ opin-

*Robert Johnston is assistant professor of religion at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

ions.6 Rather than remaining within the parameters of the story itself, such readers feel compelled to bring to their experience with the text criteria from beyond t...

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