Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2006
Priest recalls youthful enchantment with Narnia books
I am a self-confessed C.S. Lewis nerd."
Fr. Stephen Penna
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
"C.S. Lewis in his writings teaches us that the way to be good evangelizers is to open the imagination especially of young people by teaching them to think and to dream," said Father Stephen Penna.
"He also teaches us that we are called to read stories that provoke the imagination of children."
Penna, a professor at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta, made his comments during a panel discussion on C.S. Lewis at a symposium on Lewis at Newman Theological College Nov. 18.
Other panelists were Joseph Pearce, an author and professor of literature at Ave Maria University in Florida and Archbishop Thomas Collins.
"This is a happy moment for me because for the first time in my life as a priest and as an academic I get to speak about someone who really shaped my thinking as a child. I am a self-confessed C.S. Lewis nerd," Penna declared.
"My happiest thing when I was a kid was to (stay home) sick and curl up in my bed and open up the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or one of the seven marvellous books and dip with Lewis' guiding hand into that (enchanting) world which created in my young mind a space for playing in a world that was exciting, that was adventurous, that was filled with parables."
In an interview Penna said Lewis "writes books that don't talk down to children. He writes books that treat children with respect and sets their imaginations on fire, especially with the notion of a wonderful world and worlds dwelling behind the reality that people see."
Penna said when Lewis "discovered that Christ Jesus was the fulfillment of all the imaginative dreams of his life, he let his imagination fly, saying, 'Suppose there was another world; how would Christ Jesus operate within it?'
"So he started spinning these marvellous tales that do have a way of conveying the values of Christianity in such a way that it allows children's minds to explore possibilities and dreams."
Penna said that even when he didn't understand all the allusions in the Narnia series, "I sensed very much that this was a world filled with God." He has read the Chronicles of Narnia at least 20 times.
Collins said he's read all of Lewis' writings, except the Chronicles of Narnia. "My experiences are different from Father Penna's. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has had a profound influence in my life since 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon when I finished reading it," he said.
"(Somehow) I have gone all these 59 years of my life without having felt the urge to read the fiction parts of Lewis."
Although he admitted to having some "reservations about Lewis," Collins also expressed admiration for the author, saying he used language "to bring clarity, to bring warmth, to move the will, to illuminate, to lift up and to touch."
"To enter into the world of Lewis is to enter into a place where language is treated with integrity and respect and sacredness," the archbishop said.
"Over the years I have read the non-fiction writings of Lewis and there too we see clarity and charity; we see a deep faith expressed in an articulate way. . . . He cuts through the fog and that's why it is always refreshing to turn to his essays and his writings."
Pearce said that in a culture that has forgotten how to think, that no longer understands philosophy or theology, people must be brought to the Lord through the power of beauty as C.S. Lewis does in the Chronicles of Narnia.