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Christian Allegory

In response to:

The Passion of C.S. Lewis from the February 9, 2006 issue

To the Editors:

Is C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a Christian allegory? Of course it is. By asking whether Aslan is England, Alison Lurie’s review [“The Passion of C.S. Lewis,” NYR, February 9] raises the much more interesting question of whether it is also a political allegory. When I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, not having read the book, I thought that it is an allegory in which the religious elements build on the political ones but not, perhaps, in ways that comfort some of the film’s more politically conservative enthusiasts.

Suppose the West believed that terrorism threatened to destroy the values of Western civilization. And suppose that terrorist regimes had already triumphed over large parts of the globe. Suppose further that the West looked to the United States, and especially to the young men and women of its military, as its only hope for averting descent into a new dark age.

Now imagine an American Christian apologist who wanted to speak to a readership that harbored these fears. He sees the threat posed by terrorism, and is willing enough to portray Americans as critical but flawed instruments in the fight against it. But imagine, too, that he thinks placing final hope in the US is a mistake, and that Christianity holds the real hope for preserving civilization. Finally, imagine that he wants to convey that message without demonizing Arabs and without ecclesial or nationalist triumphalism.

I doubt that there is a religious writer working now who could pull this off. Yet Lewis did roughly that in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He gently tried to teach readers recently menaced by Nazism—readers not so different from the beavers in the film who repose their hopes in the English children—where he thought they really should have placed their hopes. In doing so, and in implicating the children in their own kind of evil, he implied that it would be mistake to mix those hopes with uncritical patriotic fervor.

I do not care for the politics of many of those to whom The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe apparently appeals. But that does not diminish my appreciation for Lewis’s artistic achievement or for the deftness with which he spoke to readers who had confronted the threat that his readers had faced.

Paul Weithman

Professor and Chair

Department of Philosophy

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Indiana

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