The Lion's World: A journey into the heart of
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IT WOULD seem unlikely, as the Archbishop of Canterbury observes
in this new book, that "a middle-aged bachelor teaching English
Literature at Oxford" should publish a fantasy for children. In the
event, the seven Narnia books are by far the best-known of the
works of C. S. Lewis, which include theology, literary criticism,
and philosophical science fiction. They have been much loved by
children, but the purpose of the present book is to show how they
contain a deeper religious message, a presentation of the challenge
of Christianity for a society that has become largely ignorant of
it, made with only very few direct references to the Christian
The ambiguous figure of Aslan the lion, wise, loving, passing
through suffering and death to resurrection, but never overtly
named as God, speaks of things that can lead towards faith.
As he did in many of his other works, Lewis warned that
religious faith and order had become stereotyped, conformist. and
unexciting. The way back was through challenge and adventure, an
insight that he shared, however improbably, with G. K. Chesterton.
Dr Williams sees the point of Narnia as "to help us rinse out what
is stale in our thinking about Christianity".
The life of faith is full of risks, but there is no other way,
and no other person can live it for us. Aslan says to an enquirer.
"I tell no one any story but his own." If we will live honestly
within our own reality, we shall be given glimpses of ultimate
reality to guide us on our way. For the Archbishop, the conclusion
is: "What Lewis portrays with such power and freshness in Narnia is
There have been criticisms of the Narnia books, even by admirers
of Lewis. Some find, not without reason, a degree of harshness,
even cruelty, in some episodes. Lewis was not setting out a soft
sell, however, and he himself lived with memories of an unhappy
childhood and the horror of war. These books have sometimes been
compared, quite wrongly, to other fantasy books. The mythological
mingling of classical, folklore, and other sources seemed even to
his friend Tolkien to be mistaken. The discerning reader may rather
find in the variety of talking animals a respect for every aspect
of the divine creation.
This is a short book, to be savoured and read again. When Rowan
Williams leaves Lambeth for Cambridge, he will bring with him
literary as well as theological scholarship.
The Revd Dr Raymond Chapman is Emeritus Professor of
English in the University of London.