The soul of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The soul of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Gene Veith
Victor (Kingsway Publications), 2005, Hdbk., 240p., £9.99,
ISBN 0781442125

Published hard on the release of the film, the target readership for The Soul of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe isn’t immediately clear. Gene Veith’s earlier Guide to Contemporary Culture, published by Crossway Books in 1994, is a closely reasoned discussion of postmodernity from a Christian perspective. This book is not at the same level. It combines a guide to the Christian meaning of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with an exploration of the use of fantasy and the imagination (something which ties in well with recent debate at LCF conferences and lectures).

Part 1, ‘The Story’, is a simply written analysis of the imagery and allegorical aspects of the book as a basis for teaching and evangelical outreach. Veith explores the Narnia Chronicles’ typography, literary provenance, and Biblical reference probably in more detail than C.S. Lewis would have recognised. The ‘Reader’s Guide’ – questions for personal or group use – varies enormously from the obviously directional to the thought provoking.

Part 2, ‘The Fantasy Wars’ deals with objections by Christians who are worried about the use of fantasy. He argues strongly for the use of the imagination in:

‘helping us come to terms with spiritual reality and reaching people with the gospel’ (p. 126)

He then offers some thought provoking comparisons, based on an article ‘Good and Bad Fantasy published in the Christian Research Journal, no. 1, 2000, between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, and Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. His overall reading of Harry Potter is as ‘books about school’ (p. 145) with all the familiar tensions of school life. This seems to indicate a Christianity which could be seen as a ‘boring worldview’ – but ‘Christians are not Muggles’!

Veith places Pullman in a different and potentially more dangerous league, subverting Milton’s Paradise Lost and using fantasy as ‘Evangelical atheism’. The irony is that Pullman is doing what atheists have always criticised Christians for doing, replacing reason with imagination (p. 178).

An interesting debate, and one worth continuing, but unfortunately the multipurpose nature of Veith’s book limits its usefulness.

Contributed by Margaret Keeling, MA, MCLIP, PhD, who recently retired as Head of Service for Libraries, Culture and Adult Community Learning for Essex County Council and is CLIS President.