149. The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 2

New Warhorn Media post by Jake Mentzel:

I’m assuming that both the absolute popularity of Lewis (The Lewis Industry a.k.a. “Big Lewis”) and the fact that a lot of the popularity comes from the wrong place (his Englishness, embarrassed Evangelicals craving an intellectual champion, etc.) plays a big role in your, shall we say, tepid and very qualified endorsement of (some of) his works. That would make sense. Popular authors who affect the way a lot of Christians think deserve the magnifying glass more than the likes of… Charles Bukowski (ewwww!).

BTW here’s a brief review Kevin DeYoung wrote about Mere Christianity years ago that I thought was good.

I really appreciate your take on Lewis. A lot of people approach him ideally and I am guilty of that myself; I think your take is a good counter-balance. There are things that you brought up that I failed to see and I am thankful for your exposition.

Regarding his comment about pederasty in Surprised by Joy, one of the difficult things is that it is not perfectly clear what he means. I believe there are three possible interpretations.

  1. That there was actually something good in the act.
  2. That there was something comparatively good in the act.
  3. That there was something potentially good that could come out of the act.

He certainly didn’t mean the first—he clearly calls the act wrong. He may not condemn it as strongly as we would like, but he does not condone it.

Based on the context, I believe he probably meant the second. I imagine this chapter would have shocked contemporary audiences—he doesn’t need to tell them homosexual rape is wrong, they all would have felt completely revolted at his description. Instead of condemning something all his readers would already condemn, which would in turn would potentially lead them to self-justification, he may have wanted to show that compared to the sins of pride and ambition, sins his audience would share, this sin had something good in it. I can’t get inside of his head, so I have no idea if this is what he meant, but given the context I do think this is a possible reading. And I do think the point is valid—though all sins are equally damnable, spiritual sins like pride and ambition do more damage to the soul than sins of the body. However, I don’t think he makes the point well.

Regarding the third reading, God can bring good out of even the worst of sins (in fact, He brought our greatest good, our salvation, out of our greatest sin, deicide). Augustine never defends the bathhouses or even the theatres of ancient Rome, but in the first book of City of God he does speculate that God allowed the rape of virgins by the Goths that sacked Rome in order to mortify the pride that some of them may have had in their virginity. I am not a fan of this argument. But in making it was Augustine excusing rape? By no means! He was trying to show that God can bring good out of even the worst atrocities. In the same way Lewis may have been trying to show his readers that there was the potential for good even in the midst of these disgusting crimes.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what he was thinking because he wasn’t as clear as he ought to have been. Given this lack of clarity I don’t think it is fair to judge him so harshly on the basis of this passage.

Looking ahead to the Chronicals, I’ll give my quick take on each. I’ve read each of them out loud, some of them twice out load.

LWW – Somehow, this is the most boring of the Chronicals to me – maybe something is wrong with me? But it’s good, I don’t have any real complaint. And I like the way that he deals with Edmund, his motivations and his sin.

PC – I enjoy this mostly – slow starting, but particularly enjoy the way Susan confesses, and re-introduction to Aslan

DT – It’s like a collection of short stories and spare ideas. Some are great, some are only OK, the ending is wierd and a little creepy. Eustace is a terrific addition, and loved the abolition of the slave trade on the lone islands, and the Dufflepods. It’s just sub-par as an actual story, no unifying connections between the chapters.

SC – Really, really love this one. Puddleglum is my favorite character in all of Narnia. Love his speech to the green witch, and love the painful disobedience of Jill and Eustace.

HAHB – Just great, not much to say, without going on forever.

TMN – Great moments, but too much jumping around – takes away some of the enjoyment. But very good.

LB – I love this one, for the most part. Yes, there are real problems. But I love seeing Narnia fall apart, and the feeling of hopelessness when the stupid monkey’s plots always seem to succeed. It is useful to recognize that God’s plans will be accomplished, sometimes by means of a stupid ape, and that his ends of a new Narnia are better than preserving the old one.

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One more thing – Dawn Treader is my kids least favorite. The whole find-the-Nobles game isn’t very compelling.

I haven’t read any of the books since I was a kid, but I remember The Magician’s Nephew being super boring and my least favorite.

I agree with this. I did not enjoy DT the first time or the second time. I doubt there will be a third. It’s the sequencial structure for me. It’s like Toy Story 2.