John's Reviews > The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
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Feb 12, 08

bookshelves: borrowed-from-someone, reread
Read in December, 2005

Much of this review was prompted by Malcolm's comment.

This book is perfectly reasonable fantasy, written very well for children. Quite a lot can and should be read into the symbolism, but children may gloss right over the symbolism depending on their experiences.

Of the series, this one probably gathers the most criticism for the religious symbolism, but so? Lewis doesn't hide the symbolism. The book in the series that really deserves criticism is "A Horse and His Boy", more for racial typing than religious propaganda.

So it's Christian propaganda. I know at least one atheist who loved these books as a child and wasn't damaged by them.

Put a different way: It espouses a world view, not least by creating the world. Should we criticize Lewis for espousing his world view, criticize the world view, or wish that Lewis had hidden his world view? I can think of other authors I've read who put forth more distasteful views, but I'll still read their works. I'm glad that he put his view front and center, to be accepted or challenged.

I don't have the fond childhood associations that some people have with this work, but as an adult, I found the book (and the series) to be an interesting bit of writing. Lewis is less subtle than Tolkien in his Christ symbolism, at least in this, the first book written.

Lewis is troubling because he is that most dangerous of creatures, the convert. He shows a simple version of Christianity that doesn't come close to accounting for the religion's contradictions, complexity, and failings.

I updated this to 'reread', because I first read it when I was in grade school.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Malcolm (new) - added it

Malcolm I'm really curious what you thought of this. Many folks seem to think it's Christian propaganda.


John One thing to consider about "many folks" and their opinion about this book is their view on Christianity. I suspect that you don't consider it to be propaganda; as propaganda, it probably does fall short.

"Jesus is a lion? Huh? Is that like the 'Only in Kenya' video from weebls.com?" No, because the weebls.com videos are better.

So, what do *you* think of the book, Malcolm?


message 3: by Malcolm (new) - added it

Malcolm My main criticism is that the writing grates a bit for me as an adult. It's a kids book that is written, very directly, for children, in fact, children in a particular time and place, using language that didn't age particularly well. The gender characterizations I have a hard time with as well.

Having read his other, scholarly works, it seemed he had to really try to write down to kids, and this bothered me. Then again, his other works are at times hard to penetrate, so maybe that's a good thing.

He's a good children's author, I think, just not a great one.

That being said, it's hard for me to think of it as propaganda, because when I read it as a child (and saw the animated movie, and I think, had it read to me) the Christian message was quite clear to me. So it's hard for me to judge, which is why I asked you to expand your review.

For me, it seems more about betrayal and forgiveness than anything explicitly Christian. Edmund, for me, is the central character, and his struggle to balance his desires and jealousy against his belief in doing the right thing are the main point. Secondarily, Mr. Tumnus is also a figure that stands out: balancing fear against doing what is right. In many ways, the Lion, and the Witch are more like forces of nature, the setting against which the drama is played.

Overall, I tend to think of it more as a meditation on facing the challenges of good and evil, of friendship and loyalty vs. human frailty and arrogance. Of course, the figure of Aslan is a Christ-like one. But, he's not really a character so much as a moral framework.

As far as Lewis being a "convert" and that being dangerous, I agree, to a point. His understanding was profound, but amateurish at times. Not that I'm some expert, but I think he got many of the central points, while getting hung up on some of the difficulties, which he solved by applying rigorous logic to get him a not very reasonable position.

Part of religion is mystery, and I fear that Lewis was a bit too much of an intellectual to accept that.



John Lewis' religious amateurishness was what I was getting at. Thank you for spinning that out.

Regarding his skill as a children's author - I think your first two paragraphs in message 3 capture the problems with Lewis very nicely.

Regarding your comment about Aslan (moral framework rather than character), are you referring just to this book or to the series as a whole?


message 5: by Malcolm (last edited Feb 12, 2008 02:19PM) (new) - added it

Malcolm Thanks. Glad that came out clearly. One other thing that comes out of Lewis for me is that he had a very vigorous mind, and that he also completely bought the idea of dogma. Then, I think, he used that huge intellect of his to try to make that dogma work for him.

I guess that I was really referring to the book, and not the series, re: Aslan. I haven't read (at least not for a very long time) the other books.


John I recommend that you read the other books, to see what he's doing in them. Some are worth reading, while others are kinda crap.

I think that Lewis can be seen as a propagandist, but at points in the books it also seems like he is trying to convince himself. I suspect that former Catholics have a very strong reaction to him.

Trivia: Tolkien is the one who converted him, and later was deeply annoyed by Lewis' dogmatism.


message 7: by Malcolm (new) - added it

Malcolm Yeah, I've got them all, just haven't had the time.

You are probably right that folks raised in dogmatic traditions, and who have since rejected that, probably get rubbed the wrong way.

I corrected an error that I had in a previous post. Lewis became a member of the Church of England, which is sort of odd, honestly. Tolkien was a Catholic. These days, the Anglicans are a lot less dogmatic on the whole than the Catholics. Maybe it was different back then. Something to research!

Well, no branch of Christianity is immune from dogmatism. :)


John Thanks for the correction about Lewis' branch. I thought he was CoE, but I didn't have time to verify.

I'm not sure of Lewis' impact on people raised in other religions or in less dogmatic traditions. Would be an interesting party question.


John I'll add 2 last comments on this thread, for now.

I read the Lewis books in the order "that he intended", or rather, an order that made a bit more chronological sense from the story's perspective. This is the order of the particular set:

The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

It's a good way to read them, though Lewis' dogma really comes through in this way.

Second, I recommend that you read Michael Moorcock's essay, "Epic Pooh", at http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.p.... Moorcock deals harshly with Milne, Tolkien, and Lewis - particularly Lewis. He has several good criticisms, including one you mentioned (Lewis dumbs down his writing). I don't wholly agree with his write-off of Tolkien, but that is for a much longer discussion.


message 10: by Jane (new)

Jane I have also read all seven books as a child, as listed in order by John. I am an agnostic who was never particularly bothered by the religious aspect of them but enjoyed them purely for the story element. In particular I recall the message in The Last Battle being that of tolerance in that people of differeing religions would not automatically be sent to a Christian hell but would be considered for entry to the kingdom of heaven (Narnia beyond the doorway) on the basis of their conduct in life. Therefore a bad Narnian who abuses his fellow man will go to Tash's hell (I admit the Calormenes and their god Tash did come across somewhat as barbarian muslims). Conversely, a good Calormene will entered Aslan's country by virtue of deeds.

I have no god, yet live a moral life. I guess that message appeals to me!


message 11: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Jane, that interpretation appeals to me as well.


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