The Lion’s World – a journey into the heart of Narnia
By former-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
RRP: $20.95. Available at UniChurch Resource Centre
Review by Ross Pearce
It is something of a testament to the enduring appeal of C S Lewis’ Narnia series that, almost 60 years after their publication, Rowan Williams chooses to write a theological analysis of these tales for children. Taking the position of neither an apologist for Lewis nor a debunker, Williams explores the depths of meaning in the Narnia stories, crediting Lewis as an author with purpose.
By placing the Narnia series in the context of the other works of Lewis from the same period, Williams proposes that Narnia is a fictional world that allowed Lewis to explore the themes of self-deception and the challenge of encounter with the divine at a level that children could understand.
Williams begins his exploration of The Lion’s World by discussing the purposes of the Narnia stories, particularly the aspect of fiction allowing the familiar to become strange.
Much of Lewis’ writing dealt with this important issue of a cultural default setting about Christianity that people need to be met through a surprised realisation that they don’t really know what Christianity is all about. After that introduction, Williams spends some time discussing critics of the books, of whom there are many and with varied criticisms.
Williams provides a balanced discussion of these and admits that in some areas (particularly racism and misogyny), Lewis is indefensible. Still, the criticisms shouldn’t stop the reader from seeking the strengths of Lewis’ picture of what it might be like to actually encounter the divine in a world of difficult, mortal events.
Williams analyses the Narnia books through four very Narnian phrases – Not a tame lion, No story but your own, The silent gaze of truth and Bigger inside than outside – exploring the major themes of self-deception and encounter. He notes that as each character encounters Aslan, they find unqualified truth and love. They find they are not just agents in an unfolding story but beloved creatures who are part of Aslan’s world.
Williams opens up far more in the world of Narnia than a casual reading of a children’s story might find, and shows why these stories remain an important, surprising, parable-like exploration of a religion-less faith. There are no churches in Narnia, no priests or worship. There is simply following the words and way of Aslan, even if that is a costly and difficult way.
As Lewis, himself, says in the voice of Aslan at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
“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.”