C.S. Lewis's Fantasies: A Phenomenological Study
The "Narnia" stories of C.S. Lewis are widely popular and are believed by many to be renderings of important Christian truths. In church magazines, one may find bishops urging parents to introduce their children to Aslan and the allegorical mythology of Narnia.
When David Holbrook began to read the Narnia books to his children, however, he came to feel that there was something wrong with them. He set out to justify this feeling, prompted by learning that some people won't give them to children, including a psychotherapist who said they were "full of hate." Turning from psychoanalytical insight to symbolism, he was puzzled by many questions: What is the significance of the White Witch who blights the land? And how is it that the solutions to all problems turn out to be aggressive ones? It is possible, Holbrook contends, to see in the topography and drama of the Narnia books a very different meaning from that which is commonly suggested.
The Skeleton in the Wardrobe shows the stories to be enactments of a private mythology of Lewis's unconscious. Lewis believed quite literally that the world hung between conflicting demons and angels, and he urges his reader to give assent to these realities, or perish. But, Holbrook asks, is this any less dangerous than fundamentalism, and does it not lead to strangely irrational conclusions? Holbrook shows convincingly that there are serious doubts about the "message" of the Narnia books, despite the didactic intentions and the conscious benignity.
About the author:
David Holbrook is Emeritus Fellow at Downing College, Cambridge.
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