In memory of C. S. Lewis and the upcoming 55th anniversary of his death on November 22, 1963, I am re-posting this article (and others) featuring an aspect of his writing.
Much misinformation abounds in regard to C. S. Lewis and his intentional inclusion of Christian allusions and themes in his fiction, particularly in The Chronicles of Narnia. For example, in an otherwise excellent article published at Breakpoint [and no longer available], Richard Doster wrote in “A Lost Art,” the following:
When Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he had no theological agenda. There was no ulterior, evangelistic motive; he simply hoped to create likable stories. But the man’s worldview was as elemental to him as blood and bone. And his characters, plots, symbols, and themes are—unavoidably—products of it.
Actually this statement misrepresents Lewis’s position. Certainly, he stated clearly he was not intending to write an allegory when he penned The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And Lewis thoroughly understood allegory. After all, his first work of fiction was Pilgrim’s Regress, an imitation in style of John Bunyan’s definitive allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress.
But between allegory and no intentional evangelistic motive lies considerable territory, and I believe Lewis made it clear, along with J. R. R. Tolkien, that he was aiming for neither extreme. From a Wikipedia article on mythopoeia:
Lewis’s mythopoeic intent is often confused with allegory, where the characters and world of Narnia would stand in direct equivalence with concepts and events from Christian theology and history, but Lewis repeatedly emphasized that an allegorical reading misses the point (the mythopoeia) of the Narnia stories.
The key here is that Lewis did write with intention, just not allegorical intention. Too many voices today in writing circles assume that his statements to debunk the idea that The Chronicles of Narnia were allegorical consequently mean he had no “ulterior evangelistic motive” or “theological agenda.” And therefore, no intentional purpose at all except to write “likable stories.”
Actually he intended to write a great deal more. He and Tolkien both claimed that fantasy could reveal Truth in a way that reality fiction could not.
So what was his intention?
His most famous works, the Chronicles of Narnia, contain many strong Christian messages and are often considered allegory. Lewis, an expert on the subject of allegory, maintained that the books were not allegory, and preferred to call the Christian aspects of them “suppositional”. As Lewis wrote in a letter to a Mrs. Hook in December 1958:
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim’s Progress] 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 allegory at all. (Martindale & Root 1990)
The idea, then, was not to disguise Christianity, as some suggest. But neither did Lewis include Christian messages and allusions unintentionally on the way to writing an entertaining story. Rather, he simply asked, “Suppose …” Suppose God would come in incarnate form to this world, what would that look like, what would that mean?
My questions. Where are the stories today, written using supposal? And since the Chronicles of Narnia remain so popular sixty plus years after they first came out, shouldn’t we in the publishing industry want to find many more stories written with supposal intent? Because apparently, readers still want to read them.