With his intense intellect and theological expertise, you’d be excused for expecting a systemic guide to the theology of Narnia. Instead, what you get is a refreshing series of reflections on C S Lewis' three central themes: the encounter with the divine, the dangers of self-delusion, and the joy of restored unity with God.
At just over 150 pages, ‘The Lion’s World’ is an expanded compilation of three Narnia themed talks given by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, at Canterbury Cathedral in 2011. Defending Lewis against criticism that his novels lack the detail and coherence of JRR Tolkein and Terry Pratchett, Williams shows that Narnia exists simply as a landscape for the spiritual encounters central to Lewis' work. Which language a character speaks and what their history might be, is not relevant to Lewis’ purpose.
Less comfortably answered, are the attacks on Lewis’ apparent cultural views; particularly charges of racism and misogyny. These are handled sensitively and with reference to the context of Lewis' times, but without excusing them, and shown as unacceptable for the present day.
The Narnia stories have taken a lot of theological criticism for being excessively liberal and ambiguous. Maybe. But maybe that’s because we try to force a flowing, fantasy river of a story - that goes where it will, into a rigid theological pipeline that goes where we believe it should, and refreshes only who we say it should. Reading this book, I don't think C S Lewis believed that was the God he'd discovered.
Rowan Williams concludes with Narnia series not as a closed system of belief, but an opening for imaginative leaps of faith into an ‘intensity of feeling about God'. I think that’s what Lewis found, and wanted his readers to find. It's like saying stop worrying about the theology -whatever that means; just trust the author, read the story and go where it leads.
March 12th, 2013 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison