Is Narnia an Allegory?

No. It’s not.

Allegory of Love CS Lewis new reprintWhile tempted to leave it at that and produce the shortest blog of history, I think it is important to let the Narnian himself address the question. C.S. Lewis was, after all, a literary scholar who had written an entire academic book about the development of medieval allegory (The Allegory of Love). He knows what allegory is, when it works well, and how to use it when it is the best genre to use. He liked Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and George Orwell‘s Animal Farm. He himself wrote an allegory, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and never chose to do so again.

When Lewis turned to writing for children and his earlier science fiction books, he could have easily chosen allegory. Instead, he wrote fairy tale and space romances. J.R.R. Tolkien hated allegory “in all its manifestations” (see his 2nd edition foreword to The Fellowship of the Ring).  Lewis did not dislike allegory, but he saw greater potential elsewhere. Here is a paraphrase of a note in a letter to Fr. Peter Milward on Sep 22nd, 1956:

Into an allegory a writer can put only what he already knows: in a myth he puts what he does not yet know and could not come to know in any other way.

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienThis is the adventure of fantasy writing. There was far too much unknown in Narnia and in the Ransom books for Lewis to leave them in allegory.

Yet, again and again, from the letters he answered, through published reviews, to academic conversations today, people talk about the allegorical elements in Narnia, and sometimes even call them allegories. Lewis and Tolkien protested similar treatments of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, publishing responses to critics who went astray. But if theses stories really aren’t allegories, how come so many think they are?

This is partly answered in Lewis’ rhetorical question to Wayland Hilton Young on Jan 31st, 1952: “is it possible for any man to write a fantastic story which another man can’t read as an allegory?” Readers experience a kind of gestalt effect: distinctions blur and new images emerge in our reading. It is part of what makes reading a dynamic, adventurous undertaking. It is why we reread books, over and over again.

The other part of the answer is probably equally hopeless to combat.

the one ringClearly, we have no idea what we mean by the word “allegory.” If asked, doubtless educated readers would say something like, “stories where the characters or objects in the story have a one-to-one relationship with some idea or thing in the real world.” When we are pushed to say what this relationship is, it falls apart. The Ring of Power that Frodo must carry is what? Nuclear weaponry? Our dark tendency to dictatorship? Original sin? If we disregard what the author was doing and what his contextual conversations were like, then I suppose the ring could be anything.

Of course, then, we aren’t really saying anything about the text we are reading anyway.

Both Lewis and Tolkien denied this one-to-one relationship existed in their work. It isn’t that there isn’t symbollic value in saying, for example, that Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom is like Christ’s Passion. Or that the undragoning of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a good image of conversion. And it doesn’t mean that mythopoeic writers are speaking to real life conversations about power and faith and culture.

_aslan in the snowBut calling them “allegory” tells us more about the reader than it does about the books themselves.

I thought it would be helpful to let Lewis himself explain. To Lucy Matthews on Sep 11th, 1958, he wrote:

You’ve got it exactly right. A strict allegory is like a puzzle with a solution: a great romance is like a flower whose smell reminds you of something you can’t quite place.

His most extensive response in letters, though, was to a Mrs. Hook on Dec 29th, 1958. It is such a helpful reading of Lewis’ own writing project that it is worth quoting at length:

Magdalen College,
Oxford.
29 Dec 1958
Dear Mrs Hook
By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in wh. immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyan, a giant represents Despair.
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not an allegory at all. So in ‘Perelandra’. This also works out a supposition. (‘Suppose, even now, in some other planet there were a first couple undergoing the same that Adam and Eve underwent here, but successfully.’)
Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways. Bunyan’s picture of Giant Despair does not start from supposal at all. It is not a supposition but a fact that despair can capture and imprison a human soul. What is unreal (fictional) is the giant, the castle, and the dungeon. The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal: but granted the supposition, He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine and His death on the Stone Table would have been a physical event no less than his death on Calvary.
Similarly, if the angels (who I believe to be real beings in the actual universe) have that relation to the Pagan gods which they are assumed to have in Perelandra, they might really manifest themselves in real form as they did to Ransom.
Again, Ransom (to some extent) plays the role of Christ not because he allegorically represents him (as Cupid represents falling in love) but because in reality every real Christian is really called upon in some measure to enact Christ. Of course Ransom does this rather more spectacularly than most. But that does not mean that he does it allegorically. It only means that fiction (at any rate my kind of fiction) chooses extreme cases….
Thank you for the kind things you say about my other works.
Yours sincerely
C. S. Lewis

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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60 Responses to Is Narnia an Allegory?

  1. To quote Professor Tolkien accurately in his second forward to The Lord of the Rings, he did not say that he HATED allegory, but this: “I CORDIALLY DISLIKE allegory in all its manifestations…. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

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    • Yes, “hate” is tad strong. He also talked in letters about lacking “sympathy.”
      I had heard he was on the editorial board that rejected Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” I haven’t heard that confirmed. My doubt has less to do with allegory, and more to do with him being on an editorial board (if he could help it).

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  2. traildustfotm says:

    Great article Brenton! I labored through Lewis’ “The Pilgrim’s Regress,” and Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” There are many lessons in both, but (for me) very little enjoyment.

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    • I felt the same with both. My second time through Lewis’ “Regress” was far better. I have an audio version of Bunyan I will try next time. Is there one of Lewis? I find audio a good second time into a text

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Yes, a splendid audio version (by Simon Vance), which I very much enjoyed for my latest time through!

        Liked by 1 person

        • molehunter says:

          Yes, I have it and listened to it on my tablet, which helped. Pilgrim’s Regress is a difficult book, Lewis himself later admitted this, but it is essential reading for Lewis fans. I advise reading Surprised by Joy first, although it was written later. Much of Lewis’ intellectual and spiritual struggle is written about in both books.

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    • Charles Huttar says:

      Bunyan is pretty heavy-handed, even sermonic — by intention (his opening poem promises as much). There are even marginal notes identifying Scripture references. Yet for all that, he tells a good story, at times gripping; gets his characters in and out of trouble, and has a good insight into human nature. Pilgrim’s Progress was one of the books I read aloud to my young children, and they didn’t complain. It gave rise to a whole genre of Christian allegories of one’s life journey and is still the best. I’m tempted to add that it has roots in a genre going back to the ancients (cf. the Tabula Kebetis) but how could Bunyan, raised in a home having only two books besides the Bible, have known that?

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      • I had tried a few times before to read Bunyan, and even played Christian in a musical. I had read some of the adaptations–even the graphic novel. But I struggled with the book.
        After 50 pages in, I was fine, read 10 or so pages a day for a month. I found when it comes to the sheer lift of the narrative, that it was not the ultimate climax that gripped me, but some of the encounters.
        I am also intrigued by the growth of conversion as a mode of human experience.
        Allegory was as normal to medievals as character growth is to us. It is intriguing that Bunyan caught that, even though he wasn’t overly familiar with the actual allegories. Or maybe he would secretly read other people’s books!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Charles Huttar says:

    I see at least two aspects to the problem: 1) The word “allegory” is popularly used in so broad a sense as to be practically useless (see Lewis’s comments on this linguistic phenomenon in “Studies in Words” and elsewhere). Journalists, including reviewers, are the main offenders, but well-meaning teachers who ought to know better are not far behind. Ordinary folks can hardly be blamed because such bad examples are set for them. But even critical theorists over the last 30 years or so use the term in an aggravating variety of ways. 2) Often it’s given a pejorative twist (not hard — it’s a connotation that is readily available in contemporary usage) by those who wish to attack Lewis.

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    • Yes, you have it I believe. The 2nd one that you mention is in a post that I have not successfully completed, and I’m not sure it has much value. There is an element of Tolkien world folk who say that Lewis is 1. Pastiche, and 2. Allegorical (not usually Allegory specifically). In that, they are not describing, but judging negtatively, for implicitly both are sub-excellent, lacking “originality.” Carpenter on Lewis is a good example of the former, but it isn’t an abnormal comment.
      I happen to think that Tolkien’s fiction is “greater” than Lewis’. But I don’t mean by that:
      1. Tolkien was more influential as a writer
      2. Tolkien’s books are better than Lewis’
      3. As literature, Tolkien has more enduring value
      I just think there is a weight to LOTR that isn’t in Narnia, LOTR did more to define a genre and open readership, and LOTR has a little higher literary value. Lewis played in far more worlds, creating a more diverse portfolio, and layered his literature in different kinds of ways. Lewis too transformed a genre with Narnia and contributed to the classic SF world, and was a first rate literary historian.

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  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Ah, those Scriptural words (Galatians 4:24 – ‘allegorumena’ in the Greek, allegoriam’ in the Latin Vulgate)…!

    I wonder how much influence Dante’s Letter to Can Grande della Scala – Letter X in the 1920 Oxford Clarendon Press Paget Toynbee edition, XI in the 1891 Riverside Press Latham & Carpenter annotated translation, both scanned in the Internet Archive:

    https://archive.org/details/atranslationdan03aliggoog

    https://archive.org/details/epistolaeletters00dantuoft

    has had on thinking about allegory in the course of the last century-and-a-half, or so, in the English-speaking world?

    To stir things up more, I will contend that Tolkien does a lot with typology (pre-Incarnational ‘things’ pointing forward in time to the Incarnation), and wonder how appropriately some sense of ‘typology’ may, or may not, be applied to Lewis’s post-Incarnational fiction.

    Enjoying the audiobook of That Hideous Strength, I was struck the other day by this detail in the last section of chapter nine: “they [“the eldila”] had seen innumerable different modes in which soul and matter could be combined and separated, […] combined without true incarnation”. Gandalf, one of the Maiar (for a notable example) could, in Tolkien’s mythic history, be said to be intimately “combined without true incarnation” to “matter”. I am now wondering whether Aslan may be a ‘supposal’ of the Risen and Ascended Incarnate Christ “combined without true incarnation” to Narnian “matter” in a not un-Gandalfian while much more than Gandalfian manner.

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    • I haven’t thought about type and anti-type for a while–not since early biblical studies. I suspect his taste was really suited to another way of speaking about deep thing. I am giving a talk at a pub next week on Tolkien’s worldview-rooted work, so I’ve been thinking about this distinction.
      By incarnation here we mean enfleshment. How does it help us to say (of Gandalf) that he was not truly enfleshed rather than to say he was enfleshed and then re-enfleshed?

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “How does it help […]?” Well, first, I think it is merely accurate about how the Ainur and Maiar are sometimes related to Eä (and presumably indicates the extent to which they can be related). I wonder how far Tolkien may be indebted to the Deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, here, though (as far as I can see) the Valar and Istari are more deeply and protractedly or lastingly related to Eä than St. Raphael was apparently-humanly ’embodied’. But I think it really ‘helps’ in a different way, in showing both the greatness and beneficient possibilities of such ‘deep enfleshment’ (so to call it), and their radical soteriological insufficiency, so that they are also a part of the looking forward to the Incarnation of Middle-earth history. The Valar and ‘enfleshed’ Maiar are effectively (and, I wonder how deliberately on Tolkien’s part) sorts of innocent, positive prototypes of heretical Christologies, demonstrating that only “Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting” (to quote the BCP translation of the confession “commonly called the Creed of Saint Athanasius”) will suffice to Save.

        I haven’t yet read the article Aonghus Fallon links below, and don’t know if it already addressed what I’ll now mention (or, indeed, if others have elsewhere). But, in Perelandra, Ransom has the realization (ch. 11) that “If he were not the ransom, Another would be. Yet nothing was ever repeated. Not a second crucifixion: perhaps – who knows – not even a second Incarnation…some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility.” Now, how does this relate to the ‘supposal’ of Narnia (which, when Lewis works the Magician’s Nephew details out, involves the creation of the Narnian world parallel to the turn of the Nineteenth-Twentieth centuries, Earth time)?

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        • Charles Huttar says:

          Dodds: “But, in Perelandra, Ransom has the realization (ch. 11) that “If he were not the ransom, Another would be. Yet nothing was ever repeated. Not a second crucifixion: perhaps – who knows – not even a second Incarnation…some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility.” Now, how does this relate to the ‘supposal’ of Narnia . . . .”

          Isn’t Lewis working out here (as he also does in various ways elsewhere) the central idea of his sermon “Transposition”? Reality is always farther up and farther in than we can possibly imagine.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I’ll have to reread that wonderful sermon again (and perhaps Stephen Medcalf’s fine essay in your Word and Story in C.S. Lewis, too).

            My thought (very much subject to debate!) is that Aslan as post-Incarnation and Ascension is strictly “not even a second Incarnation”, but I’m not sure appearing in Narnia as Lion (and, later, Lamb and Albatross) and dying (in a Gandalfian fashion – ?) as ransom for Edmund is obviously “some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility”, nor how Narnian soteriology works.

            The Narnian world is a very Earth- and human-interactive one in ways Malacandra, for instance, is not, yet very differently from the way Perelandra is. I feel like I have scarcely begun to think about all there seems to be to think about with respect to Narnia as ‘supposal’.

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          • Charles Huttar says:

            I’m responding here not to my own post but to David Dodds’s answer (posted at 5:06 p.m.). Bear in mind that Narnia is a “parallel world,” not even part of our vast universe — accessible by some kind of (deep?) magic, not by any journeying through the space/time we know (as Mars and Perelandra were). Thus the term “post-Incarnation and Ascension” may have little meaning, despite the fact that the whole existence of Narnia occurred during the lifetimes of 20th-century people in our world.

            I have indeed dealt with these questions in two chapters of the book I am working on (which as yet, alas, are only in draft form).

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  5. Aonghus Fallon says:

    I wouldn’t classify LWW as allegory. I would think it more as a response to the mythic appeal of the resurrection. I think in those terms LWW is a success – it does take a very familiar idea and present it in new and refreshing way – and I’m speaking as an atheist!

    That said, I think Lewis’s religious beliefs do colour the book and not necessarily in a positive way. LWW may not be allegory, but Aslan is a version of Christ. In Lewis’s words – ‘What might Christ be like if there was a world like Narnia?’

    And therein lies the problem. As Gopnik puts it in his excellent article for the New Yorker –

    ‘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.’

    You can read the article in its entirety here – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/11/21/prisoner-of-narnia

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    • Larry Gilman says:

      Gopnik writes well. But his critique of Aslan’s Passion etc., which he calls the “most strenuously” (and “least successfully”) allegorized part of LWW, is off the mark precisely because he thinks it’s an allegory, which it isn’t, failed or otherwise — it’s an alternative-universe story, a working out of CSL’s fascination with the idea that (in his words) “the eternal Son may, for all we know, have been incarnate in other worlds than earth . . .” (I wonder, by the way, how would that remark would play if Lewis were a professor at Wheaton today? Tweeting that Jesus may return as an Ewok?) And there would be no reason to write such a fantasy if it merely replicated the whole Christ arc in the point-for-point, fixed-ratio style of an allegory.

      Gopnik thinks that “The emotional power of the book, as every sensitive child has known, diminishes as the religious part intensifies.” That was never my experience; perhaps I was a brutish, insensitive lad. Either that or Gopnik is making the narcissist’s (or manipulative rhetorician’s) assumption that his feelings are the only valid ones possible.

      It’s notable that he thinks the Lord of the Rings is not “a Christian book” precisely because it’s _not_ an allegory (e.g., Valinor is not Heaven.) So . . . a book is only Christian if it’s allegorical; if it’s allegorical, it sucks. Ergo, a Christian book always sucks; or if a book with recognizable Christianity in it is good, it is so only despite the handicap of its Christianity and would have been better off without it.

      I can’t help but read this sort of criticism as fancy dress-up for Gopnik’s personal loathing for Christianity-as-he-conceives-it. Which plays well, I think at the New Yorker: I’m remembering previous articles there on GKC and JRRT, all variations on the theme that Popular Christian Writer X did some lovely stuff but would have been done even better if they had not let their religion (ugh) contaminate their beautiful imaginative writing. Gopnik: “[W]e sense a deeper joy in Lewis’s prose as it escapes from the demands of Christian belief into the darker realm of magic.”

      What you mean “we,” Kimosabe?

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      • Charles Huttar says:

        Beautiful.

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      • Aonghus Fallon says:

        Gropnik may still have a valid point. I’ve wouldn’t classify LWW as an allegory, but if there is a subtext (a deliberate analogy with the life of Christ, as Lewis suggests) I don’t think the book succeeds in this respect, either. The characters of Aslan and Christ are so very different.

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        • Charles Huttar says:

          Could you be more specific, please, about what difference(s) you may see between the characters of Aslan and Jesus?

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          • Aonghus Fallon says:

            Perhaps the more valid question (disregarding how the two storylines overlap in some respects) would be – what are the similarities?

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Have you tried Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, yet? It gives some probably generally less familiar non-allegorical ways in which Aslan (also, for that matter, as Lamb and Albatross) is Christ-like, while leaving plenty of room further working out with respect to Narnia as ‘supposal’. (I’m not sure if Dr. Ward’s working that out himself, already, but, even then, there’s probably plenty of room – perhaps Charles Huttar has worked some of it out already, too, with respect to Christ, Angels, Intelligences, ‘Angelicals’, etc.)

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            • Charles Huttar says:

              Just to clear things up: This seems to be a post addressed to Aonghus Fallon, not me. My intervening comment was only to ask Fallon for specifics to back up his general statement that he saw quite a few differences between Aslan and Christ. I wasn’t denying that such may exist, only asking him to name some so that the claim may be evaluated. His response was to evade my question by asking what similarities there are. Well, the critical scholarship is replete with answers to that (though these too are subject to evaluation). But I think we still waiting for Fallon to come up with specifics.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I was indeed addressing Aongus Fallon, having just lately finally caught up with Planet Narnia and been very impressed by it.

            It has got me (speculatively) wondering in how far Williams’s The Place of the Lion may have contributed to the planetarity which Dr. Ward explicates in the Narniad, and in how far things like the “animalia” of Revelation 4:7 (to quote the Latin Vulgate term), which include one simply like a lion and another like an eagle flying, and the references to the “animalia” in both surviving extracts from two of the works St. Victorinus, and those in St. Irenaeus’s Against the Heresies III.11.8 (a very influential interpretation of them), and a couple by St. Augustine as well (Tractates in the Gospel of John 36.5 and his Harmony of the Gospels I.6) may have contributed to The Place of the Lion and/or directly to the Narniad. (All were readily available in English translation in Williams’s and Lewis’s younger days, in the translations now transcribed at New Advent among the “Fathers”.)

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            • Charles Huttar says:

              I don’t see much connection between the mystical forms in John’s vision in Revelation (lion, ox, man, eagle) and either Williams’s “Place” or Lewis’s Narnia. There is clearly some kind of relationship between John’s apocalyptic vision and Ezekiel 1:10 (I can’t explain farther than that right now, and for our purposes here it isn’t necessary), From these, as is well known, were derived the symbolic representations of the four evangelists found in medieval illumination: respectively Mark (see also San Marco in Venice), Luke, Matthew, and John.
              But what interests Williams is a different symbolism, found in neither Ezekiel nor Revelation; rather, it may be, in bestiaries, or in some other antique sources, more allegorical in origin (but not in Williams!) — symbolizing such abstractions (hence allegory comes quickly to mind) as strength, subtlety, wisdom, and so on. And I can’t see much of that in Narnia either. Not even the snake-woman in “The Silver Chair” fits with that tradition: the subtlety is exhibited all in her woman form, as a snake she is merely entrapping and/or death-dealing, and hard to catch hold of. You have of course characterizations for other animals (mice, badgers, horses, donkeys, apes, squirrels, pigs, bears, dragons, and so on) that are considered fitting to their nature and which appear in folklore sources and abundantly in medieval literature, which could well be Lewis’s sources, besides ordinary. popular culture of Lewis’s time. Are any of these associated with the astrological or other attributes of the planets? Lewis’s eagles, too (as well as Tolkien’s), I would more readily connect with such lore than with biblical imagery.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Aonghus Fallon says:

            Sure, Charles – I do think there are crucial differences. The Jesus of the Gospels is the underdog challenging the system. Aslan is more like Richard the Lionheart, the rightful ruler, challenging the usurper. Jesus reached out to the sinners. Aslan is quick to judge them. Most importantly of all – and something which defines his beliefs, as opposed to just being an appealing character trait – Jesus was a pacifist.

            By extension, the gospel is more nuanced than the LWW. Pontius Pilate is not unequivocally wicked, anymore than the populace of Jerusalem are unequivocally good – for example, they choose Barrabas over Christ for crucifixion.

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            • Charles Huttar says:

              Thank you, Aonghus.. I appreciate having some specifics to which to respond. And you are quite right that the gospels are nuanced — more so than you apparently realize. Jesus WAS a pacifist, in the sense that he didn’t join the Zealots. But “I am not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And he welcomed those whom the religious establishment considered the worst sinners, but repeatedly attacked those who in his view were greater sinners, those with power who oppressed the poor, disdained the man-in-the-pew whom they considered ignorant and beneath instruction. So there was a pretty fair amount of condemnation going on there. And what equally defines his beliefs, along with the pacifism, is the distinction he makes between the “World’s peace” and the Peace he offers, together with his conviction that the time for Judgment and the conquest of evil will come, even though it’s isn’t now. Don’t overlook the key idea of “kairos” — when the time is ripe.
              And of course LWW is less nuanced — what do you expect in the fairy-tale genre? Yet it is more nuanced than you think. Aslan is quick to judge? Ask Edmund about that — repentant, welcomed back, forgiven, made a King, and saved from rightful death by Aslan’s own sacrifice. And don’t forget Aslan’s tears. Aslan challenged the usurper — just as Jesus did (though in a different way), since it was precisely as usurpers of the tradition of Moses that he viewed the religious leaders. And if we may step aside from LWW and consider the whole portrait of Aslan in the series, even the concept of judgment is nuanced in “The Last Battle,” where those who can look at Aslan only with hate or fear in effect judge themselves, choose which path to take.
              I fully agree that Aslan and Christ are not exactly the same. (That would make the work an allegory, and I have argued strongly elsewhere that it is very misleading to say, as many well-meaning folks do, “Aslan is Christ.” Here, you and I quite agree.) Aslan came to “set things right” — as was badly needed. So did Christ, but the wrongness that needed setting right was more complicated than a fairy-tale wicked witch, and so the solution had to be more complicated also: in traditional Christian belief, a two-stage affair in terms of chronology.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Responding to Charles Huttar at 11:03 pm on 19 January, I was thinking particularly of passages like St. Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse (re. 4:7): “the Word itself of God the Father Omnipotent, which is His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, bears the same likeness in the time of His advent. When He preaches to us, He is, as it were, a lion and a lion’s cub. And when for man’s salvation He was made man to overcome death, and to set all men free, and that He offered Himself a victim to the Father on our behalf, He was called a calf. And that He overcame death and ascended into the heavens, extending His wings and protecting His people, He was named a flying eagle. Therefore these announcements, although they are four, yet are one, because it proceeded from one mouth.” And St. Irenaeus’s Against the Heresies III.11.8: “The first living creature was like a lion, symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,— an evident description of His advent as a human being; the fourth was like a flying eagle, pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church.”

            Here, the ‘animalia’ are each and all related directly, but also distinctly, to Christ: might we say, mediating distinct ‘aspects’ of Him? Dr. Ward seems to be making a similar point with respect to the various ‘planetary characters’ of Aslan he explicates throughout the Narniad. And I wonder if the same is not true of the ‘Angelicals’ in The Place of the Lion, and if Williams is (in his own, elaborate, sub-creative imaginative way) following such comments of Fathers, and Lewis is (in his own distinct sub-creative, scholarly imaginative way) consciously following Williams in doing so.

            (The bestiaries and other animal iconographic traditions are, I think, relevant to how both Williams and Lewis do this.)

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        • Larry Gilman says:

          I agree that Aslan and Jesus are quite different characters: Aslan is definitely not Jesus-of-the-Gospels in a lion’s body. He doesn’t say Gospelly things. He plays and laughs and roars, romps and chomps. Jesus has a formidable, prickly side but it isn’t the same flavor. On the other hand, I think that on Lewis’s premises, this is all intentional and theologically OK. If I may speculate based on CSL’s theological writings, I think he might have said that the _personality_ of Jesus as he lived in Earth was a particularity of the Incarnation, like the color of his skin or the shape of his nose. In an obvious sense Christ would have been different — physiologically, culturally, historically — if the creaturely aspect of his being had been different. And certainly Jesus was many different Jesuses, as we are all different every moment of our lives — physically, intellectually, emotionally. If Christ was fully human then he wasn’t exactly the same person, or personality, two minutes running between birth and death, because nobody is.

          So (speculating, I admit, but in what I hope is a Lewisy key), we might suppose that the 2nd person of the Trinity could have, or could have had, as many incarnate personalities as there are different personalities in the Universe, or ever could be. Aslan is a fictional visualization of one such alternative

          The result is actually much better than if Lewis had tried to re-animate the Jesus of the Gospels in a lionskin. That would have required either (a) making Aslan’s dialogue a pastiche of morphed Bible quotes (yuck) or (b) making up a whole bunch of quasi-Gospel sayings for him which someone don’t look pathetic next to the real thing, probably impossible.

          Aslan isn’t Jesus of Nazareth — definitely not. Clearly he wasn’t meant to be. Per some trains of theological thought, there’s no reason why he should have been and plenty of reason he shouldn’t. Gopnik certainly doesn’t LIKE Aslan; that’s his prerogative (de gustibus, etc.). Nor did Tolkien, I suppose. But I don’t think Gopnik makes a good case, beyond his dislike, that there is something _wrong_ with Aslan being the character he is: e.g., that it’s all “Mithraic,” not Christian at all. Not the Christianity that Gopnik would have preferred, maybe; but from that perch, it’s a bit unfair to accuse Lewis of having been narrow about “belief.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            What you quote above – “the eternal Son may, for all we know, have been incarnate in other worlds than earth . . .” – sounds very familiar, but I can’t place it.

            One of the things that intrigues me is, whether Lewis is trying to be at all consistent between the Ransom cycle and Narnia, or simply ‘supposing’ quite different ‘supposals’. And, for instance, in either case, what differences would Field of Arbol planetary versus Wood Between the Worlds-accessible worlds, make?

            A multi-Incarnate Son seems very un-Perelandra, and very odd generally (at least at first sight), but that need not mean either that Lewis did not consider it theologically unorthodox or that he was wrong if he did not. What would (for – Western – instance), St. Anselm say?

            Might we indeed (Lewisyly) further “suppose that the 2nd person of the Trinity could have, or could have had, as many incarnate personalities as there are different personalities in the Universe, or ever could be”? I suppose we must, in any case, suppose He is involved in sustaining very distinctly as many different personalities as there are in the Universe, or ever come to be (a very MacDonaldy perception, to my sense of things). (I once heard a very interesting lecture by Lars Thunberg on the interrelations of the Logos and the human logikoi in the thought of St. Maximus the Confessor, but have never yet managed to follow it up in any Thunberg publications.)

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          • Larry Gilman says:

            David,

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply. The quote about “incarnate in other worlds than earth” is from Lewis’s essay “Religion and Rocketry,” just above his own quotation from Alice Meynell’s poem “Christ in the Universe” (which is readable at http://www.bartleby.com/236/265.html ). Lewis is clear, in that essay, that he is neither ruling in nor ruling out multiple Incarnations (“I wouldn’t go so far as ‘doubtless’ myself,” he says, though one may go quite far without going all the way to “doubtless”). For what it’s worth, I’m with him. Why not? Surely God exceeds our thought-bubbles.

            You are quite ight to go deeper, theologically, on the question of Christ’s personality (or personalities). To the extent that all of us, all of reality, may be in the fulfillment of the Incarnation become the body of God, become God — which I take is plain orthodoxy, though not in all the usual words — then, well, to that extent one would have to “see Christ” in all personalities, all people, all faces, indeed all Creation, wouldn’t one . . . Which is also orthodox.

            Which moves me to say this: Gopnik’s implicit posture is that he (like A.N. Wilson, whose interesting work of fiction, packaged as a biography of Lewis, he admires) represents the Wide and Lewis represents the Narrow. It’s the other way around. Lewis had his flaws, I disagree with him on many things, he was not the Universal Man, but it is Gopnik whose sensibilities are nervous and parochial, who cannot abide the rude touch of ideas that differ seriously from his own, whose concept of Christianity and of the ways and means by which a book may be “Christian” is miserably narrow and sectarian. He explicitly criticizes the Narnia books both for being “constrained by the demands of Christian belief” and for _not_ having been constrained by them (i.e., for being “Mithraic”). In fact it’s clear that nothing would have satisfied him but an entirely different book. Which would be fine if it were only a matter of taste — who says Gopnik has to enjoy Narnia books? — but he appears to me to be accusing Lewis of some failure, to be saying at eloquent length that Lewis could, and should, have done something else, something impossible, we know not what, been more Christian and less Christian at the same time, magical but not theological, really not like Lewis at all . . . Oh, pfaugh!

            My own sense, to jump to a different subject which you mention, is that Lewis had no thought at all of consistency between the space trilogy and Narnia. Indeed, that Narnia itself was chucked together with no thought of consistency: to which it owes a good deal of its charm (or, for Tolkien, its repulsion). The tumbling together of every type of myth that took Lewis’s fancy — Greek, Euro, whatnot.

            Best,

            Larry

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    • Larry Gilman says:

      By the way, I note in passing Gopnik retails, with apparent assurance, the story about Bertrand Russell boasting about having “discovered f***ing”. Which I’ve heard before — it’s very cute — but according to a New York Times review of another book, the story is probably apocryphal: https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/monk-01russell.html .

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      • Larry Gilman says:

        To be fair Gopnik refers to the anecdote to “an old Oxford tradition” but is it even that? According to the NYT, the incident was alleged to have happened on a lecture tour of America — which would be an odd source for an Oxford tradition. Altogether it’s the kind of pseudo-information one is better off not promulgating.

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  6. Reblogged this on Letters from the Edge of Elfland and commented:
    Dear Friends and Family,

    You may remember that a few years ago I wrote you concerning whether or not the Chronicles of Narnia is an allegory. I cam out firmly against it. Here, Brenton Dickieson goes into much greater detail, being the better (and proper) Lewis scholar, showing you what allegory is, what Lewis thought of it, and why Narnia is not an allegory. Do give it a read.

    Sincerely,
    David

    Liked by 1 person

  7. L.A. Smith says:

    Excellent post, Brenton! Is it so true that people use the word “allegory” without understanding what it means.

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  8. Reblogged this on the theological beard and commented:
    An elaboration on a persistent question:

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  9. Hannah says:

    Thanks for your blog! In the discussion I miss the myth-side a bit though of your Lewis quote “Into an allegory a writer can put only what he already knows: in a myth he puts what he does not yet know and could not come to know in any other way in”.
    This quote reminded me of the book: Christian Mythmakers: C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Madonald, G.K.Chesterton, and Others by Rolland Hein. And of the discussion of Lewis, Tolkien and Hugo Dyson on the nature of myth and its relation to Christianity during the Night of Addison’s walk (true myth).

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  10. You are right that I give short shrift to the brilliant in-out distinction Lewis makes. The writer as discoverer rather than (merely) revelator is key to his approach. And it certainly is the thing that links the others that you line up together there. Rolland Hein is drawing from deep wells.
    It was the Addison’s walk and the “Philomythos to Misomythos” poem that Tolkien wrote that drew me into studying these things. I’ve blogged about it somewhere.

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  11. Steve says:

    Thanks very much for this. It is something that often crops up in discussions and conversations, and it seems to me that many people have some odd ideas about what allegory is. You might be interested in this post on my blog, in slightly different, but not unrelated circumstances Orthodox Christianity and fantasy literature | Khanya

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  13. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I just finished that fascinating allegorical encomium (assuming that’s what we may call it), Erasmus’s Praise of Folly – which gives a lot to think about, one way and another (e.g., mixing classical gods, etc., and explicit Christianity)…

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    • Erasmus is one of the authors I have only pretended to read! Great title, though.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        It’s taken me till now to get around to this probably most famous work of his (in a jolly edition with reproductions of all Durer’s marginal illustrations mostly in their original places on the Latin text pages, which the facing translation enables bad Latinists such as myself to get a taste of).

        Liked by 1 person

  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Arend Smilde has recently produced an article on “C. S. LEWIS IN THE SPECTATOR, 1920‑1970” at Lewisiana, with linked transcriptions and facsimiles of various things. A 1955 review of various books including The Magician’s Nephew by Amabel Williams-Ellis ends, “Surely Mr. Lewis should, all along, have had the courage of his convictions, and given Aslan the shape as well as the nature and functions of an archangel.” This elicited in turn a very interesting letter to the editor from Dorothy L. Sayers, which Arend Smilde reproduces in full (q.v.!).

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