Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Soul of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Gene Veith

Unlike some of his other Narnian tales, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe seems very clear in its symbolism—Aslan is the Christ figure, the stone table the cross; the white witch is Satan, Edmond the betrayer and the one for whom Aslan dies and, like Christ, Aslan does not stay dead; his resurrection defeats the power of the evil ones.  But there are other, more subtle truths demonstrated in the story.

In regards to Edmund’s sin: “...sin is very ordinary.  It does not have to be dramatic, breaking out into some monstrous crime, to be deadly and soul-killing.... [Sin’s] home is in our thoughts and feelings and attitudes, in the deepest recesses of our heart.”

“Satan and the witch in reality are hideously monstrous in their true inner selves, but they appear attractive, persuasive, and good.”

In comparing Turkish Delight to addictions to drug, alcohol, illicit sex: “Their bondage may start with an exhilarating sense of freedom, of rebellion against the norm, of an exciting exercise of personal choice.  But these sins make those who indulge in them slaves.... Even when they want to stop, they cannot.”

“The point is that God’s holiness means that he is dangerous.  He is not safe.  But his holiness also means that he is good.”

“Edmund is learning that sinful pleasures soon cease to be pleasures.  All enjoyment ultimately comes from God and only pleasures pursued in his will can give long-term satisfaction.”

“In the presence of Aslan, all tell the truth about themselves and take responsibility for the things they have done—just as in the presence of God, there are no evasions.”

“Notice that Aslan, like God, does not necessarily take his people out of the world’s battles by some great act of power; rather, he equips them for battle and then sends them into the fray.”

“Aslan’s roar becomes a great wind that bends the trees, as if the Holy Spirit were let loose.”

Aslan breathes on the stone statues that were once creatures in conflict with the witch.  “The curse of the witch is undone.  This transformation from stone to flesh is a very biblical description of what happens when the Holy Spirit creates the new life of faith.”  (See Ezekiel 11:19-20)

“In the wardrobe, [the children] faced up to their personal responsibilities, encountered sin and grace, battled evil, and found a relationship with God. ...In the tourists’ eyes [the children had gone into the wardrobe to avoid the people touring the house], nothing has changed.  And yet, from the children’s point of view, they have undergone something miraculous.”

“Real-life spiritual experiences are like that.  No one can see another person’s inner life.  On the surface, little may be happening.”

This last truth is something that’s easy to forget.  God starts changing the inside of a person before anyone on the outside can see what’s happening.  To me, that means that when someone says God is working in them, I should not sceptically point out no change in behaviour.  I must be patient as God does his work.  It also means that just because God is doing a work in me, it doesn’t mean that others will see those changes immediately.  I must be patient with them.

In the second half of the book (and also at the very beginning), Veith looks at fantasy as a genre, weighs the value of it and gives suggestions on how to distinguish beneficial fantasy from that which is harmful.

“Bad fantasies exploit this tendency [to be attracted to what is evil and repelled by what is good] by ridiculing virtue and presenting evil behaviour as something to look up to.... Positive fantasies, on the other hand, help us cultivate desires that accord with virtue rather than sin.”

“...fantasy is actually a good genre with which to explore real-world truth.”  Examples of this can be seen in such fantasies as Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, The Divine Comedy by Dante, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein.  “Fantasies tend to externalize inner states or to symbolize ideas in concrete form.” 

In evaluating books of the fantasy genre, we can ask questions such as, “Does it dramatize the conflict between good and evil, or does it glorify the strong terrorizing the weak?”

“Good fantasy...takes us out of ourselves, countering our darkness with at least a glimpse of the external light.”

In his discussion about fantasy, Veith looks at two popular series, the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.  Pullman writes with a purpose.  “His cause, as he himself has made clear is to destroy Christianity and to liberate the world from any faith in the Christian God.”  “Pullman is on the side of Satan, presenting the story of Satan’s rebellion—and that of Adam and Eve—as a valiant struggle for liberation against oppression.”  This indeed is dangerous because it glorifies evil and treats God and righteousness as oppressive.

While the Harry Potter books seem to glorify witches, these witches are those from fairy tales, riding brooms and stirring up secret concoctions, not like the real wiccan witches of today.  And Harry isn’t learning how to be a witch but a wizard like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.  Further, Rowling has bad witches as well.  The Muggles are a good example of “the materialists who cannot accept the reality of anything beyond what they can see and test and measure, and so reject the supernatural truths of faith.” 

The Harry Potter books, contends Veith, are not as subversive as Lewis’s.  Rowling exalts boarding school life whereas Lewis despises them.  Both appeal to children for in the one they see their own experiences with school and in the other, school is happily escaped.

While Veith is enthusiastic about the Narnia books and highly critical of His Dark Materials he sees both benefits and drawbacks to the Harry Potter books, leaving the final conclusion to the reader.

What I found particularly interesting as I read this book is that the fantasy genre was pioneered by Christians (who knew?) and that most fantasy deals with the battle between good and evil even when the story isn’t overtly Christian.  Perhaps I have not been as positive as I could be about non-Christian fantasy.  While it is important to avoid fantasies that denigrate God and Christian values, such as in Pullman’s, there is much good in most fantasies—values that urge the reader to do what is right and wholesome; values that we would like our children to emulate.

God please give each of us discernment in the books we choose for ourselves and for our children.  Help us to see into the meat of a book and not get sidetracked by surface appearances.  May all our reading be honouring to you.

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