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

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
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A Defence of C.S. Lewis...or a brief attempt at such

Some thoughts recently crossed my mind no doubt on their way down-town to relax in regards to arguments one could offer as a defence of the Christian side of this novel. The main arguments against this novel as a 'Christian allegory' that I have heard are: 1)Aslan is not a strong Christ-figure 2)That C.S. Lewis 'preaches' a black and white morality. So I'm going to roughly address them from my perspective and hope it encourages some discussion.

1) I will agree that Aslan is not a strong Christ-figure. Firstly for Aslan to really represent Christ he would have to be true to the gospel story. In other words he would have to be god made into man come to die for all mankind. However as he only dies for the one traitor again it's not sticking true to the Biblical gospel that all have sinned and that Christ was needed as a sacrifice for that sin. If you take things too literally here, C.S. Lewis' novel doesn't make much that much sense theologically as a result. I'll explain where I am/was going with that in a moment.

2) I debate that C.S. Lewis preaches in his novel. Occasionally he can be a touch patronising but compared to many authors he rarely slips into such condescension. As for his morality I think you must understand it from the perspective of Christianity. Christianity is about black and white morality essentially: good versus evil, light vs. dark and truth vs. lies etc. It is also very grey in that Christianity is about life and the fact that no one is perfect, that everyone fits into that moral grey area. Of course I explain roughly and inadequately.

Ultimately I see that there is room to argue that C.S. Lewis does a poor job of writing an allegorical novel. However I see it as a very subtle novel that unlike others (for instance The Alchemist) does not build its story around expressing an ideology but rather incorporates an ideology into its storytelling. I think that if one wants to criticise this novel it should be for not properly showing the gospel rather than for 'preaching'. I know that I and many others enjoyed the story first before seeing the connection between it and the Biblical tales. I enjoyed it even more afterwards so, then again I could be a tad biased.

Original Review

To begin I must note that I grant this such a high rating due to the impact it had on my life. It to me is one novel that were I to pick the one novel that forged a love of books for me it would be The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Why? Because I can remember back about twelve years ago when I was homeschooled by my mother as a five year old. We wandered down during winter into the warm back room and she read the first Narnia book to us. The image of a red faun carrying parcels as he passed a growing lamppost would stick with me from that moment (as it stuck with C.S. Lewis). As I learned to read the Narnia books were the first novels I sunk my growing reading teeth into. And to this day I have read and re read the novels back to front (and maybe front to back).

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is a novel written for both children and adults. It contains highly allegorical elements as C.S.Lewis was a well-known apologetics writer. However he wrote that he did not write his novel as a pure allegory but as a story. And that is what The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is, a story to be enjoyed by everyone. And although written in simple language the reader can quickly, concisely and easily imagine the world without the clumsy constraints of overused words. I personally cannot imagine a world without these novels.

Additional thoughts:

1. Just a question at last. And one with a highly philosophical twist to it. Why is it that people so readily condemn those books which are considered as moral tales? You'd think we could do with more morality in such a twisted and confused world regardless of accepting the belief systems.

2. I have heard many people describe the entire series as silly and far too preachy. I do not see it that way at all. Trust me if C.S.Lewis wanted to be preachy he would have written a lot more philosophy and less story. Yes I can see how some would call this silly but then I argue that they are missing the point. It's a fairytale type fantasy intended mainly for children (and for those children again as adults or for their parents perhaps). But I argue that as Lewis only wrote this story based on the story of the crucifixion in many ways that it was not intended as a preachy book. My question is that why is it that if I were to base a story along what some call the 'Christian myth' it is claimed as preaching while as if I were to base it on any other mythology or story it would be deemed as merely copying the themes of another mythology? Is this yet another example of doublethink?*

*See 1984 (yes go and read it - you'll get what I mean)
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 52) (52 new)


Wendy Darling I personally cannot imagine a world without these novels.

I can't, either. Lovely review, Jonathan.


Cecily A good question, to which I don't have an answer. However, this is just one of many books with a strong moral message; some have religion or religious allegory, and others take a more humanistic stance.


message 3: by ☯Emily (new)

☯Emily Enjoyed your review. How long were you homeschooled? I taught both of my boys and did lots of reading with them. Alas, neither one reads much today, despite their mom being an avid reader.


Jonathan Cecily wrote: "A good question, to which I don't have an answer. However, this is just one of many books with a strong moral message; some have religion or religious allegory, and others take a more humanistic st..."

I was voicing this as a general query. I have heard the same comments on more humanist moral books such as A Picture of Dorian Grey for instance and wonder why it is that any kind of morality is seemingly frowned upon in books at times.


Jonathan Emily wrote: "Enjoyed your review. How long were you homeschooled? I taught both of my boys and did lots of reading with them. Alas, neither one reads much today, despite their mom being an avid reader."

I was homeschooled for six years. Basically until secondary school. I then completed a further six at school and am now at University. I guess that the reading history in my family helps too. I seem to have picked up many genes from Mum's side of the family and most of them are avid readers.


message 6: by Xdyj (new)

Xdyj I like Narnia despite not being a Christian myself and also consider some of C. S. Lewis' opinions outdated, because I like how he weaved different mythologies into a fun, humorous story.


Jonathan Well honestly even as a Christian I view some of Lewis' views as old fashioned. Like his racist opinions which are an indication of the time more than anything.


message 8: by Stephen (new)

Stephen M. With the rise of certain new religions in the West (Bolshevism, Scientism, Environmentalism, and the Church of the Holy Orgasm come to mind), there's been a corresponding growth of hostility to the competition. Dean Koontz got hate mail over the two novels he wrote that assumed the basic truth of the Christian religion.


Jonathan Thank you for that Stephen that was interesting to know. It always saddens me when people choose to send hate mail and other such abusive ideas. It indicates a lack of maturity on the attackers' behalf.


message 10: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Wendy Darling wrote: "I personally cannot imagine a world without these novels.

I can't, either. Lovely review, Jonathan."


I'm of the same mind. I have read all the Narnia Chronicles on a regular basis throughout my adulthood.There is a wonder about them which is never-ending. A lovely personal review, thank you.


Jonathan Thanks for the comment Mark. These were as I think I mentioned, my first ever real novels that I read. Mr Tumnus as a character has stuck with me as has other things and I do a re-read quite regularly. They inspired my love of fantasy and when I discovered the Christian elements I liked those as a nice addition to a fascinating story.


Cecily Jonathan wrote: "...Mr Tumnus as a character has stuck with me ..."

I was never quite at ease with Mr Tumnus as a child, though I couldn't pinpoint why. When I saw the film version (as an adult, with my son), it seemed to expose the creepiness I had silently felt before. That was my last encounter with Narnia.


message 13: by Stephen (new)

Stephen M. Jonathan wrote: "Thank you for that Stephen that was interesting to know. It always saddens me when people choose to send hate mail and other such abusive ideas. It indicates a lack of maturity on the attackers' behalf."

        I see it as more the way the human brain works.  We think about X, and our emotional reactions to X occur simultaneously.  In some cases, the emotional reactions are so strong that rational thought basically ceases.  To some extent it is possible to train people out of this, but it's not easy.

        Another example from the field of religion is the "historicity of Jesus".  Just about every professional historian that has studied the subject concluded that there was a man named Jesus from a town named Nazareth; that he preached in northern Israel and attracted disciples; that he visited Jerusalem during Passover; that the Jewish authorities had him arrested and turned over to the Romans, who executed him; that his following didn't fall apart after his death, but spread and evolved into the Christian religion.

        Yet there's a vociferously held counter-view, championed almost entirely by people who have no historical qualifications whatsoever, and all of whom, without exception, are anti-Christianity.  In this view, some people made Jesus up, devoted themselves to persuading contemporaries that this imaginary person had existed, and underwent various persecutions up to and including death in support of this story.  Not only that, the inventors deliberately created difficulties for themselves that worked against their story, such as saying that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, a person who was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, while specifying that came from a town on the other side of the country! Moreover, no one ever said 'Hey, wait a minute, I'm from the Galilea region, and I never heard of this guy,' or 'Hold on, I was in Jerusalem that Passover, and no one was crucified as a supposed King of the Jews,' thus stopping the con job in its tracks.  The whole idea of a mythical Jesus is so outlandish that professional historians have trouble even taking it seriously.

        As for the people who do take it seriously, they swallow much harder to believe tales, e.g. that the Catholic Church has documentary proof of the non-existance of Jesus in a secret vault, and that they've carefully preserved this for thousands of years, apparently so that someone can put them out of business someday.  Or that the phrase "Son of God" was originally "Sun of God", even though the words aren't pronounced alike in the languages of the time.

        Almost as weird are the people who think Jesus existed, but that he REALLY preached an ethical/political/social doctrine that no one of the time appears to have believed in, but that by an extraordinary coincidence is almost identical with some modern belief system invented in the last few hundred years, which by an eerie coincidence just happens to whatever the person pushing this story also believes.  Thus Jesus-the-feminist, Jesus-the-Marxist, Jesus-the-Secular-Liberal.

        Humans just aren't very logical.


message 14: by Stephen (new)

Stephen M. Jonathan wrote: "Well honestly even as a Christian I view some of Lewis' views as old fashioned. Like his racist opinions which are an indication of the time more than anything."

        What "racist opinions" do you think Lewis held?


Jonathan Stephen wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "Well honestly even as a Christian I view some of Lewis' views as old fashioned. Like his racist opinions which are an indication of the time more than anything."

What "rac..."


Well I read in biographical books about him that he tended to be racially prejudiced against those of an Asian ethnicity and tended to see them as inferior beings. There's a lot of criticism about his portrayal of the Middle Eastern people in the Callormenes as being a racist stereotypical one but I'm not sure I agree.I think a lot of that is to do with the times in which he lived and the fact that he saw the Chinese/Japanese etc. fighting against the British in the World Wars he lived through, hence seeing them as the enemy.

You are absolutely right about that humans aren't just that logical. People will continue to hold onto ideas that appeal to them even in the face of proper evidence, and I mean evidence that has been fully researched from a perspective that is not overtly prejudiced.


message 16: by Stephen (new)

Stephen M. Jonathan wrote: "Well I read in biographical books about him that he tended to be racially prejudiced against those of an Asian ethnicity and tended to see them as inferior beings."

        Having read a couple of biographies of Lewis, I'm dubious.  But then, racism is used as a smear fairly often nowadays.


Cecily I haven't read any biographies of Lewis, but whatever his attitudes were (or were not) regarding those of other races, I think one has to view him in the context of his time: he was born a Victorian, in the nineteenth century, when Britain had an empire. Even someone thought radical then might seem mildly racist in modern times.


Jonathan When I talk about him being racist I do not mean to do it as a smear to his personality. I fully respect Lewis for what he has done with both his apologetics and fantasy writing. When I saw he is racist I mean it in the way that most people can be racist, that there are still groups of people he particularly does not understand and appears to have less respect for. I believe I read in Into the Wardrobe: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles that he considered the Chinese non human. In fact this reminds me about it: http://cslewis.drzeus.net/forums/view...
Yet, it can be understood that Lewis is human and hence flawed and also, as mentioned, lived in a time where the Asian populations were the enemy in the western world. After all they fought against the Allied forces.

However something like this:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/jun...
Is not what I am getting at. I do not see the books as being racist or sexist. In fact I take little of what Pullman says in relation to Narnia seriously since he purposefully wrote his The Golden Compass as an anti-Narnia series and to my view considers religion and works like Paradise Lost from the wrong perspective. He considers Narnia as propaganda which, if that is the case, he ignores that his own series would also be atheistic propaganda. I do not see the series as propaganda however as Lewis is never forthright in stating his views as the truth but rather creates a world which is based on his beliefs alongside a mixture of other mythological and legendary ideas.


Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog) Pullman's is a supposition set in deliberate contrast to what Lewis offers with Narnia, but neither Lewis and hence Pullman is exactly propagandist as you say.

The tone of the Narnia novels, with the author's by now outdated views and cultural propensity towards certainty (authors like Lewis and Tolkien keep a far tighter rein on the whole atmosphere of their story, giving a sense of a single will of the narrator, than would be advisable today) make them seem didactic and may well function that way, but it's still up to a good reader, however young, to be critical (which it's easy to do with a straightforward story like this) and take away what they will for their own reasons.

The confusion again comes down to the difference between allegory and supposition.
Pullman's central premise counters Lewis's, but he's also more open about his world and what interpretations apply. Rather than deciding on what's a 'wrong perspective' in advance, he lets one unravel in the story through a series of questions. I think The Golden Compass is a better novel in that sense (especially as a novel for children) than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though the excitement and wonder is more muted than the latter. Whether this is because of the opposing perspectives, I really can't say.


Jonathan Yes, it has always struck me how people can be willing to call the themes and tones in the Narnia stories 'insidious' or 'dogmatic' and yet it appears to me that one could easily see the exact same issues in Pullman's work. Not that I've read Pullman but it appears to me that such issues surround both works.


Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog) It's a difference of tone mainly. You should definitely try The Golden Compass. Some of its fantastical elements are very original and Lyra is among the best heroines of contemporary fantasy. Whatever Pullman says outside of the books (and some of his criticisms are valid), the story has potential to be more than merely an anti-Narnia.


message 22: by Bev (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bev Agreed Jonathan, not preachy and a tale for all ages.


Jonathan Oh I plan to read it, although I'm aware I may disagree with aspects of it.


Cecily I suspect you will disagree strongly with many parts of it, Jonathan, but I hope that you can appreciate the finer aspects in spite of that. Good luck, and I look forward to reading your reviews in due course!


Jonathan Others I know would hardly choose to read it because Pullman does have an agenda in his writing. Yet I've always been interested in reading it as a comparison to Narnia and seeing whether, perhaps, Pullman does more of a job at preaching Christianity by accident (as I heard someone once indicate) than Lewis ever did.


message 26: by Cecily (last edited Feb 18, 2013 12:57AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Cecily One difference is that with Pullman, his agenda is unmissable (God and angels are explicitly mentioned, even if you don't notice the parallels with Paradise Lost). With Lewis, one could read Narnia and not realise that key characters represent ones in the Gospels.


Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog) More explicit, but I don't think his agenda forces the story in a bad way.
Narnia has that value as a reimagining which doesn't depend on an allegorical interpretation, but Pullman tackling religion head on doesn't drag him down, at least as I found.


Jonathan Very true, which is why I like what Lewis does more. I don't like (and never have liked) when writers write a story around an ideology. In other words make the ideology the visible part of the story. I do like it when the ideology forms part of the background where you read a book and see that clearly the author has a particular worldview influencing how they write the story.


Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog) I don't think it much matters unless you can clearly see the author forcing his case at cost to the narrative. Part of the power of fiction is that ideology or satire or whatever else can be interwoven into a sequence of events with a natural flow. What succeeds or fails is not the ideology but this sequence, so that even though the ideology might be elucidated and explored in this way, it remains incidental- at least with a good writer (in contrast, you can't hope for much with one like Goodkind).


Jonathan Yasiru wrote: "More explicit, but I don't think his agenda forces the story in a bad way.
Narnia has that value as a reimagining which doesn't depend on an allegorical interpretation, but Pullman tackling religio..."


I'll have to look into it!


Jonathan Yasiru wrote: "I don't think it much matters unless you can clearly see the author forcing his case at cost to the narrative. Part of the power of fiction is that ideology or satire or whatever else can be interw..."

The examples for me of authors forcing their story around ideologies will be: Ayn Rand, (from what I hear) Goodkind and stories like Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Alchemist. They sacrifice story over belief where Narnia in my view (since I've yet to see Pullman's work) can be read as allegory or pure children's fantasy.


Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog) An interesting example is Dostoyevsky. He has a strong ideological lean and a very definite agenda in Crime and Punishment (against exactly the kind of character the novel is about), but these don't slip into the narrative prematurely.


message 33: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark I have read both the Narnia Chronicles and Pullman's Dark materials Trilogy. Both are excellent series but are actually trying to do quite different things it seems to me.

Lewis is writing as a believing Christian certainly but it has never weighed the stories down in any wading through piety-porridge type sense, he is not seeking to convert but share a story and if God is eoncuntered then more to the good. Pullman, in my opinion, has a more aggressive agenda and though equally this does not in any way spoil the brilliance of the story it is fairly in your face, especially in the last volume.

Having said that I did, as a believing catholic, thoroughly enjoy both creations.


Jonathan Thank you Mark that is exactly what I've heard about them. The positives of both books I would suggest is that if taught/presented right to children they would prompt critical thinking about the ideas within them. If either books is 'propaganda' as many have suggested then we should see many people becoming atheistic/Christian in their views because of the books. Yet I do not see this, rather I see people turning to those views after thought because of these books if anything.


message 35: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Yep Jonathan, I wholly agree with you on that. No matter how good the story I think it can only ever nudge us or intrigue us into thinking about things in a wider way. Isn't that what good literature does, it enables me to think and it enlarges the window i have into the world so that i am not so circumscribed by my intolerances or bigotries.

There is a great quote by I think John O'Shea who says 'A great story/image begins as a window and ends as a mirror'.


Jonathan That is a good quote. As Franz Kafka also said, "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us." In this sense a book and literature must allow us to look within and open up new ideas that we had iced over.


message 37: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Oh yep, I have seen that quotation before. It is a great one too.


Cecily Jonathan wrote: "...The positives of both books I would suggest is that if taught/presented right to children they would prompt critical thinking about the ideas within them...."

Absolutely. My son was quite young when he first encountered Pullman: I would read some to him at bedtime, but at breakfast, I'd discover he'd read on when he woke up, so I'd have to read on before bed. In the end I just read ahead, making notes of any issues that he might be puzzled by or which I thought merited further discussion. It was wonderful. So many fascinating and very profound conversations arose from that trilogy.

And Jonathan, that Kafka quote is very apt (and one of my favourites).


Jonathan The same happened with me and Narnia. Mum used it as a teaching tool and my grandmother used it to connect ideas and conversations with me.


message 40: by Jon (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jon Awesome review!


Taylor Jackson How old would you recommend a person should be????? I am looking forward to reading it,but I'm not sure if I should read it because I am only 14


Jonathan Taylor wrote: "How old would you recommend a person should be????? I am looking forward to reading it,but I'm not sure if I should read it because I am only 14"

The entire series is something anyone can read at any age. If you like long books then The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings is the same kind of story but a touch more advanced...


message 43: by Richard (new)

Richard I am a fan of the series, and i think your defence of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is excellent. Thank you for sharing it.
I would only add that this is the very first of the novels written and Lewis clearly improved as he worked into the series. Some of the later novels are remarkable in their depth of feeling and construction. The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, for instance, is based on the Brendan voyages in Irish Medieval Literature. But it has its own wonderful character with one of the most moving endings in the series.
I find this series perpetually engaging and filled with a beautiful spiritual allusiveness.


Jonathan Richard wrote: "I am a fan of the series, and i think your defence of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is excellent. Thank you for sharing it.
I would only add that this is the very first of the novels writte..."


Thank you for the comment. Lewis definitely improves as he writes the series and becomes familiar with the entire concept of his world and the logic and magic of it. However there is a rough kind of charm connected to this first novel which remains with me every time I read it...


message 45: by Sy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sy Love Aslan made a huge sacrifice for a boy that made a major screw up


Jonathan Sy wrote: "Aslan made a huge sacrifice for a boy that made a major screw up"

Which is part of the allegorical lesson really...


message 47: by Sy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sy Love Jonathan wrote: "Thank you for that Stephen that was interesting to know. It always saddens me when people choose to send hate mail and other such abusive ideas. It indicates a lack of maturity on the attackers' be..."

"Profanity is the manifestation of a Weak Mind."

"Ignore Mean People" Amanda Hocking


message 48: by Sy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sy Love Cecily wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "...Mr Tumnus as a character has stuck with me ..."

I was never quite at ease with Mr Tumnus as a child, though I couldn't pinpoint why. When I saw the film version (as an adult, w..."



Tumnus wouldn't make a good babysitter?


message 49: by Sy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sy Love Jonathan wrote: "Sy wrote: "Aslan made a huge sacrifice for a boy that made a major screw up"

Which is part of the allegorical lesson really..."


Wouldn't most people Not Sacrifice themselves and say

"The boy / girl has to face the consequences of his/her own actions?
They have to take responsibility"


Jonathan Most people would not. That's the point, Aslan represents the same kind of external force as a sacrificial God...


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