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Tolkien-Lewis Cover Story at Salon.com


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#1 mike_h

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Posted 03 December 2003 - 09:36 AM

They keep dragging each other into the public eye, these guys. Here's a high-profile article on CSL and JRRT and their common history and influence. http://www.salon.com.../soe/action.asp

(You'll have to view an ad to get in if you're not a member; it's brief.)

#2 BethR

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Posted 03 December 2003 - 10:34 AM

Pretty good article.

I always find it interesting that non-Chrisian readers often respond with dismay to the discovery that the Narnia books are Christian allegories. Many of them liked them perfectly well until they realized what was happening. Then the reaction is like the final scene of a "Mister Bill" animation--"Ohhhhh nooooooo!" (she typed, carbon-dating herself...)

#3 Jeff Kolb

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Posted 06 December 2003 - 05:23 PM

Yeah, Beth, good point. I found the author's reaction to Aslan's death a little strange, too. I mean, really...he's certainly not the first Christ-figure to ever show up in literature.

But a great article nonetheless. What wonderfully quirky gents...

#4 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 December 2003 - 02:32 AM

FWIW, I'm one of those Christians alluded to in the article who find the death and resurrection of Aslan kind of embarrassing. I mean, for one thing, there's the sheer obviousness of it; but for another, the whole death-and-resurrection thing happens in that book just so Aslan can get one non-Narnian kid off the hook for a relatively minor infraction by exlpoiting some obscure, gimmicky loophole in Narnian law; that whole episode doesn't have the cosmological significance, for Narnians, that Christ's death and resurrection have for us, and since Lewis is pretty clear in later books that Aslan IS Christ (and not merely a Christ-figure), I do think Lewis may be guilty of being both too heavy-handed AND too trivial at this point in his story.

#5 mrmando

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Posted 07 December 2003 - 08:12 PM

FWIW, I'm one of those Christians alluded to in the article who find the death and resurrection of Aslan kind of embarrassing. I mean, for one thing, there's the sheer obviousness of it; but for another, the whole death-and-resurrection thing happens in that book just so Aslan can get one non-Narnian kid off the hook for a relatively minor infraction by exlpoiting some obscure, gimmicky loophole in Narnian law;



If we can recognize Aslan as a symbol of Christ, why can't we recognize Edmund as a symbol of Adam, of fallen humanity? It's a pretty clear parallel, actually -- the Turkish delight is the forbidden fruit, etc. Don't forget that Edmund's "minor infraction" could have led directly to the deaths of all four Pevensies if not for Aslan's intervention. I will fault Lewis here for never making us feel as though Peter, Susan and Lucy are in any real danger because of Edmund's treachery. He suggests that they might have been, but it seems as though they're rescued too soon.

that whole episode doesn't have the cosmological significance, for Narnians, that Christ's death and resurrection have for us,



What do you mean, "for Narnians"? It isn't the Narnians who need salvation, it's Edmund. The Narnians, at least in the first book, seem to represent angels and demons (see SDG's post about elves and orcs): either they're in step with Aslan or they're not, and it's only the humans who seem capable of switching sides.

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 December 2003 - 08:50 PM

mrmando wrote:
: If we can recognize Aslan as a symbol of Christ, why can't we recognize
: Edmund as a symbol of Adam, of fallen humanity?

Because Aslan ISN'T just a symbol of Christ -- he IS Christ. This is made very clear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Letters to Children. And Christ died for the sins of humanity, including Edmund's sins, in OUR world, NOT in Narnia. So, if we take seriously what Tolkien said about building worlds with a consistent inner logic, we have a problem here.

: The Narnians, at least in the first book, seem to represent angels and
: demons (see SDG's post about elves and orcs): either they're in step
: with Aslan or they're not, and it's only the humans who seem capable of
: switching sides.

Right off the top of my head, I think the example of Mr. Tumnus falsifies this claim.

#7 mrmando

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Posted 07 December 2003 - 09:33 PM

Because Aslan ISN'T just a symbol of Christ -- he IS Christ. This is made very clear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Letters to Children. And Christ died for the sins of humanity, including Edmund's sins, in OUR world, NOT in Narnia. So, if we take seriously what Tolkien said about building worlds with a consistent inner logic, we have a problem here.



There has to be some element of symbolism going on, otherwise we don't have a set of children's books, we have the Book of Mormon. If there's a problem, perhaps it stems from taking a character who is literally Christ and surrounding him with other characters that are merely symbols. I'm guessing Lewis didn't conceive the entire series before writing the first book ... and didn't anticipate that you'd come along and judge the first book by what was said in the later ones. Tolkien's point about consistent inner logic didn't seem to bother Lewis too much.

: The Narnians, at least in the first book, seem to represent angels and
: demons (see SDG's post about elves and orcs): either they're in step
: with Aslan or they're not, and it's only the humans who seem capable of
: switching sides.

Right off the top of my head, I think the example of Mr. Tumnus falsifies this claim.



Hm. Tumnus gives lip service to the Witch for the sake of his beard and horns, but never follows through on it. He certainly isn't evil in the same sense as any of the Witch's cronies.

#8 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 December 2003 - 12:02 PM

mrmando wrote:
: There has to be some element of symbolism going on, otherwise we
: don't have a set of children's books, we have the Book of Mormon.

Would you put The Lord of the Rings on the same level as the Book of Mormon?

: Tolkien's point about consistent inner logic didn't seem to bother Lewis
: too much.

True, but Lewis's books did bother Tolkien a fair bit. And I think I side with Tolkien here.

: Hm. Tumnus gives lip service to the Witch for the sake of his beard and
: horns, but never follows through on it. He certainly isn't evil in the same
: sense as any of the Witch's cronies.

Well, no, because he does repent. But he IS fallen.

#9 mrmando

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Posted 08 December 2003 - 04:36 PM

Would you put The Lord of the Rings on the same level as the Book of Mormon?



No, unless Tolkien somewhere claimed that Gandalf was Christ. Even so, both LOTR and Narnia are much better literature than the Book of Mormon. My point, even if "Aslan is Christ," there is still much in the Narnia books that is meant to stand for something else, rather than being interpreted literally. The LDS' insistence on the BOM being literally true is what separates it from fantasy literature. (That, and the writing is crappy.)

True, but Lewis's books did bother Tolkien a fair bit. And I think I side with Tolkien here.



Sure you do, because you can't prove me wrong about Edmund being a symbol for Adam without appealing to Tolkien's ideal of consistency--which, unfortunately, Lewis did not share. :wink:

: Hm. Tumnus gives lip service to the Witch for the sake of his beard and
: horns, but never follows through on it. He certainly isn't evil in the same
: sense as any of the Witch's cronies.

Well, no, because he does repent. But he IS fallen.



Well, it's an interesting question: Is the Lion's death necessary to redeem Tumnus, or only to redeem Edmund? If I remember the chronology correctly, Aslan doesn't restore the statues (including Tumnus) to life until after his resurrection, which raises the question of whether that would have been possible before the resurrection. Aslan dies to save Edmund, that much is clear. But would he have needed to die to save Tumnus? Or would Tumnus' refusal to turn Lucy over to the Witch have been enough to redeem him?

I'm afraid the text of a children's book won't bear the level of scrutiny required to produce a definitive answer, so this shall probably remain in the realm of opinion.

#10 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 December 2003 - 08:32 PM

mrmando wrote:
: No, unless Tolkien somewhere claimed that Gandalf was Christ.

Which, to my knowledge, he never did. But if you are going to put Narnia on the same level as the Book of Mormon, then you should also argue that the opening chapters of Perelandra are autobiography and not just Lewis inserting himself into a work of science fiction. It is in that fiction-based-on-reality sense that we can say Aslan and Christ are the same person.

: The LDS' insistence on the BOM being literally true is what separates it
: from fantasy literature.

Fine. But there are different kinds of fantasy literature. And just as Tolkien insisted that Middle-Earth was our planet at an earlier stage in its history, and just as Lewis wrote about meeting an angel at Professor Ransom's house (or wherever), Lewis also said Aslan WAS Christ.

: Sure you do, because you can't prove me wrong about Edmund being a
: symbol for Adam . . .

Dude, who said I NEEDED to? smile.gif

: Well, it's an interesting question: Is the Lion's death necessary to redeem
: Tumnus, or only to redeem Edmund?

Quite so.

: I'm afraid the text of a children's book won't bear the level of scrutiny
: required to produce a definitive answer . . .

Maybe not THIS children's book. But there are better ones out there. smile.gif

#11 mrmando

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Posted 08 December 2003 - 09:17 PM

mrmando wrote:
: No, unless Tolkien somewhere claimed that Gandalf was Christ.

Which, to my knowledge, he never did. But if you are going to put Narnia on the same level as the Book of Mormon,



Dude, I'm not the one doing that. I'm saying that to claim that the book's characters are not symbolic -- i.e., that the sense in which things happen in the book is the only sense in which they are correctly understood -- is to put it on the same level as LDS's put the Book of Mormon. And I said that because I disagree with that claim.

But you knew that. You're just jerkin' my chain, ain't ya?

#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 01:56 AM

mrmando wrote:
: . . . to claim that the book's characters are not symbolic -- i.e., that the
: sense in which things happen in the book is the only sense in which they
: are correctly understood . . . I disagree with that claim.

Meaning, you agree that the characters should be understood as ONLY symbolic? Well I disagree with THAT claim -- unless of course we want to say that Lewis was a sloppy writer who meant Aslan in a purely symbolic sense in one book and then changed his mind and decided to make Aslan not just a symbol for Christ but actually Christ himself in his Narnian form in a later book. That might EXPLAIN why the books are the way that they are, but I am not so sure that that EXCUSES it.

Mind you, it's been a long time since I last read these books (though I have seen a few dramatic re-creations of TLtWatW in the last few years, which may be skewing my view of the Narnian universe as a whole -- I seem to recall the later books being better, though of course, they are not as famous or as popular as TLtWatW, perhaps because they are not so very obvious!).

: You're just jerkin' my chain, ain't ya?

Jerkin', yes. But beware the word "just". wink.gif

#13 mrmando

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 01:08 PM

Meaning, you agree that the characters should be understood as ONLY symbolic? Well I disagree with THAT claim -- unless of course we want to say that Lewis was a sloppy writer who meant Aslan in a purely symbolic sense in one book and then changed his mind and decided to make Aslan not just a symbol for Christ but actually Christ himself in his Narnian form in a later book.



I don't know that I wish to be pinned down to one position or the other. If we are able to say that the book works on more than one level, then (a) criticisms of certain plot points can be answered by an appeal to symbolism; (cool.gif people who are fearful of or preoccupied with the allegorical meaning can be advised to forget about it and just enjoy the story.

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 05:39 PM

mrmando wrote:
: If we are able to say that the book works on more than one level, then
: (a) criticisms of certain plot points can be answered by an appeal to
: symbolism . . .

Which is to say, they cannot be answered except by redirecting our attention away from the plot and to something else entirely.

: . . . (cool.gif people who are fearful of or preoccupied with the allegorical
: meaning can be advised to forget about it and just enjoy the story.

It's kinda hard to "forget" the allegory when it's so blinkin' obvious, though, isn't it?

#15 mrmando

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 06:48 PM

Which is to say, they cannot be answered except by redirecting our attention away from the plot and to something else entirely.



But it's not something else entirely; the plot and the allegory are both important attributes of the book. As I said, people who have trouble with the allegory can be advised to forget it; but as you said, that doesn't make it go away. I think the book is fully appreciated only on both levels. However, it can still be partially appreciated, as a story, by those who don't care to consider the allegorical meaning (cf. the thread on the LOTR junket). That the allegory is obvious to you or me doesn't make it obvious to everyone, especially in the present age of cultural/religious illiteracy.

#16 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 07:02 PM

What you are missing, mrmando, is that I do not have trouble with the allegory, but with the plot. I have trouble with the fact that Aslan is supposed to be Christ in his Narnian form and yet, when we take that link seriously (and I admit it is a link that is not made explicit until a couple books later), Aslan's death and resurrection amount to a trivialization of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the plot, not the allegory, that I have trouble with. And the only trouble I have with the allegory is when people bring it up to try to deflect objections to the plot.

mrmando wrote:
: That the allegory is obvious to you or me doesn't make it obvious to
: everyone, especially in the present age of cultural/religious illiteracy.

Fine and dandy, but if, say, Star Trek had ever featured an episode in which Kirk met Jesus on another planet and learned that he was an alien visiting our planet who had simply had difficulty beaming back up to his ship when the guards caught him, I would take that as something more than mere "allegory". E.T. and The Day the Earth Stood Still may invite allegorical readings, but such an episode of Star Trek would invite something a little more. Likewise when Aslan tells Lucy that he is not only in Narnia, but in our world, too.

#17 mrmando

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 07:47 PM

Well, we're back where we started and ready for another run round the mulberry bush.

It occurs to me that when you claim to object to the plot, you are forgetting that your objection is informed by your awareness of the allegory.

I have trouble with the fact that Aslan is supposed to be Christ in his Narnian form ...



See, Aslan being Christ isn't a plot device, it is the linchpin of the allegory.

and yet, when we take that link seriously (and I admit it is a link that is not made explicit until a couple books later)



As though no one understood Book 1 until Book 3 came out. Perhaps you're taking the link more seriously than you should. To say that there are inconsistencies between the various books in the series isn't the same as saying the plot of Book 1 doesn't work on its own.

Aslan's death and resurrection amount to a trivialization of the death and resurrection of Christ.



But this again is not an objection to Aslan's death and resurrection on their own terms, but to what they mean allegorically. How would you view the plot if you were unaware of the allegory? -- i.e., if you knew nothing about Christ, you obviously couldn't say that the book trivializes him.

Personally, I'm much more perplexed by the Narnians being aware of Christmas and calling it by that name, when Christ is clearly not known by that name in their world. Shall we conclude that Lewis had conceded the holiday to the pagans?

#18 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 10 December 2003 - 03:12 PM

mrmando wrote:
: It occurs to me that when you claim to object to the plot, you are forgetting
: that your objection is informed by your awareness of the allegory.

No, no, a thousand times no! Rather, my objection to the plot of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is informed by my awareness of the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The problem here is that you keep forgetting the broader plot of the Narnian series, and treating the link between Aslan and Christ as mere allegory when it is in fact more than that.

: Personally, I'm much more perplexed by the Narnians being aware of
: Christmas and calling it by that name, when Christ is clearly not known
: by that name in their world. Shall we conclude that Lewis had conceded
: the holiday to the pagans?

No, I think we should just conclude, with Tolkien, that Lewis was a sloppy writer. smile.gif

#19 mrmando

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Posted 10 December 2003 - 03:48 PM

The problem here is that you keep forgetting the broader plot of the Narnian series, and treating the link between Aslan and Christ as mere allegory when it is in fact more than that.



Well, I am not convinced that it works as "more than that." Thinking of it that way creates too many problems, like the one you are raising. Lewis was exaggerating if he claimed that the series is more than an allegory.

#20 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 10 December 2003 - 04:37 PM

mrmando wrote:

: : The problem here is that you keep forgetting the broader plot of the
: : Narnian series, and treating the link between Aslan and Christ as mere
: : allegory when it is in fact more than that.
:
: Well, I am not convinced that it works as "more than that." Thinking of it
: that way creates too many problems, like the one you are raising. Lewis
: was exaggerating if he claimed that the series is more than an allegory.

Well, here's the relevant bit from the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
"Please, Aslan," said Lucy. "Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon."

"Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."

"Oh, Aslan!" said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."

"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.

"Are -- are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."
And here's Lewis comment on the matter in a letter he wrote to an 11-year-old girl on June 3, 1953:
As to Aslan's other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else's fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don't you really know His name in this world. Think it over and let me know your answer!
It seems to me that, in order to identify the slaying and rising of Aslan as mere allegory, we have to stand back from the books -- stand outside of them -- whereas my objections stem from the fact that I am standing INSIDE the books, as every good reader does, and looking at the world within them as one of the characters might. What was it Tolkien said about how readers only have to "suspend disbelief" when the writer has failed at some point in the creation of his world and the readers have to condescend to him?