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When Aslan met C S Lewis

January 21, 2011 in Articles

When Aslan met C S Lewis

Fergus Ryan

What if the characters of enchanted Narnia had met their Irish creator, C.S. Lewis? Just such a thought led Oxford’s brilliant atheist on the road to surprising joy. 

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LONG CORRIDORS AND LONELY ATTICS

The road to Narnia began in a large house near Belfast and the bicycled childhood tracks of the hills of County Down. ‘I am the product,’ said Lewis, ‘of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstair indoor silences, attics explored in solitude and of endless books.’ Jack, as he was known, was the product, too, of childhood sorrows, for when the ‘magician’ God failed to keep his mother alive, he wanted Him to go away. A miserable experience of a brutal church school in England, which he called ‘Belsen’, did nothing to prevent his nominal Christian world from slipping away. But the arguments of a retired headmaster that any God who existed must be a bad God and, second, that there is no real evidence of God’s existence at all, meant that, finally, he ‘ceased to be a Christian’. Lewis, the atheist, found his romantic longings met in Nordic sagas and Germanic heroic poems. He became one of Oxford’s great scholars, widely read and with a vast imagination.


The long road to Narnia
The philosophy of the day was materialism. But, thought Lewis, if matter is all there is, what would be the meaning of intellect and thought? Surely our thoughts must be more than random chemistry of the brain. It seemed as if matter itself had a ‘mind’. He set out to find a philosophy that would unite matter and intellect. From atheistic materialism Lewis passed eventually to pantheism, the belief that everything is god. The Dutch philosopher Spinoza had said that there is nothing that is not god. Anyway, a deity that was other than nature, if it existed, would be impossible to know, just as Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play could never meet the author who created him. Besides, who would want to meet God? Yet Lewis had a sense that God was indeed tracking him down. ‘For the first time I examined myself and found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.’ He felt haunted and hunted. ‘Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.’ Finally, in 1929, ‘I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed.’

Lewis had not become a Christian, however. The next stage of the road was a revolutionary thought: ‘What if the Author who created the world and its characters wrote himself into the play? What if He turned up in the story himself? The next part of the journey took place as a passenger on a motorbike on the way to Whipsnade zoo. ‘When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. It was like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.’ 

Surprised by joy
Oxford’s Lewis had become a Christian. It would be public headlines, front cover in Time magazine, the talk of every radio programme. Amongst the many Christian books Lewis would write were The Screwtape LettersMere Christianity, and Surprised by Joy. But none would have the popular appeal of the seven books which make up The Chronicles of Narnia. For here Lewis allows virtue and goodness to be recognised and admired by children before they know them as abstract ‘truths’— a process far from the catechetical religion of ‘Belsen’. In the words of Walter Hooper, he had sneaked the profound realities of truth about Jesus ‘past watchful dragons’.

C.S. Lewis (‘Jack’) died on 22 November 1963, the same day as John (‘Jack’) Kennedy was assassinated, and Lewis’s passing slipped to the inside pages. With the release of the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia he deserves the belated headlines.

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