Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2006
Narnia novels led people to Christ
C. S. Lewis symposium traces contribution of 'wonderful' author
By RAMON GONZALEZO
WCR Staff Writer
More than a half a century ago, C.S. Lewis created a land of wonder called Narnia, and since then about 100 million readers have discovered the wondrous world that exists beyond the back of the wardrobe.
By entering into this world, many readers have also discovered Christ because the fictional world of Narnia not only represents a dramatic and engaging fantasy, but it also contains powerful Christian imagery, says Joseph Pearce, a British scholar and author who teaches literature at Ave Maria University in Florida.
Pearce, a former white supremacist and anti-Catholic who converted to Catholicism in 1989 partially because of the writings of C.S. Lewis, was the keynote speaker at a Nov. 17-18 symposium on Lewis at Newman Theological College.
About 140 people, some 40 junior high students included, attended the event, called Narnia and Christianity: A C.S. Lewis Symposium.
Other speakers were Father Stephen Penna and Archbishop Thomas Collins.
Lewis (1898-1963) is considered one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the 20th century, mainly because of a remarkable ability to reach skeptics and help them develop an understanding of Christianity's basic beliefs.
"C.S. Lewis was by nature a teacher and the purpose of his writings, I think, was to bring people to Christ," Pearce said. "In everything he wrote he had in mind its evangelical effect on the wider culture, to bring people to Christ.
"His understanding of Christ was profoundly orthodox, though he didn't necessarily believe that he had to be a member of the Catholic Church to be orthodox."
Converted by Tolkien
Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898 to a Protestant family but he lost his faith after leaving Ireland and became eventually an atheist, Pearce noted. He accepted Christ in 1931 after long hours of discussion on mythology with J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings.
"Two weeks after the discussion C.S. Lewis told a friend that he had definitely started believing in the Christian God and that the long night talk with Tolkien had a lot to do with it," Pierce said.
"So Tolkien's philosophy of myth was actually instrumental in bringing C.S. Lewis to Christ. And the irony here is that if it hadn't been for J.R.R. Tolkien, we wouldn't have the Chronicles of Narnia."
Lewis also encouraged Tolkien to publish The Lord of the Rings, he said. "What a powerful and important friendship these two people had!"
A professor at Oxford University, Lewis wrote many books, including science fiction and fantasy novels. He was also a leading writer of Christian apologetics.
For many people, however, Lewis' greatest achievement was the publication in 1950 of a children's fantasy entitled The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Since then, children and adults have been enchanted by this tale of four children and their journey through a wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia.
Lewis once wrote that the idea for the Narnia books came to him from images: "a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen in a sledge, a magnificent lion."
From these mental pictures he created the Land of Narnia, a land populated with a rich diversity of beings, some derived from his knowledge and love of myth and fairy tale.
Central to the story - and the six other books in the series - is Aslan, the compassionate lion who was the rightful king of Narnia.
His battle with the evil White Witch, who had plunged Narnia into perpetual winter, culminates in his sacrificial death and physical resurrection.
Lewis maintained his books did not contain exact representations of all the characters and events of the Gospels.
"(But) he says in one or two of his letters that the seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia taken together really give a parallel retelling of salvation history from the creation in the first book to the end of the world, the apocalypse, in The Last Battle."
Why are his books so popular? "Well, because he is wonderful communicator of ideas. He is a great writer who has a great imagination and I think he is fulfilling a need," Pearce said.
"In our anti-Christian secular culture someone who can tell us about no nonsense Christianity in an entertaining and literary manner is filling a vacuum. His market, the millions of people that read his books, are entering this vacuum because Lewis is filling that need. He clearly can reach people that the Church cannot reach."