If you've been following the blog for any length of time, you'll know that I've long admired the Chronicles of Narnia from the pen of CS Lewis. Most years since childhood I've read them, and now I have a listen to the full, unabridged audiobooks on my iPod too. There are always new things to discover, as well as familiar things to rediscover and enjoy all over again. I also like to read lots of books about the Narnia tales, and recently I spotted that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams' book was on special offer on Kindle. It's been read, the last book of this year, so here (after a flurry of book reviews in the past couple of days) are my thoughts on The Lion's World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia.
Williams states early on that he hadn't recognised the value of Narnia in his youth: 'Discovering the books over again as a student, I realised that what I had not registered was the wit of the actual writing and the sheer psychological penetration of so much of the character drawing.' (Loc 64-65). In that little quote, there lies the key to what lies ahead in the book - a focus on psychology and such things. For quite a bit of the book, I wasn't sure what he was writing about, plunging deep into things I wasn't aware of nor really concerned with. Contained within are a survey of Williams' thoughts on Lewis' thought, not just in the Narnia books, but in virtually all of his writings, and a good deal besides - Shakespeare, Lewis' contemporaries, and even (surprisingly!) The Muppets!
It's highly theological in places, although not the theology I would warm to - for example, his conception of hell seems to be very far from what would be orthodox. At times, it's the choices that we make ourselves; our refusal to come to Aslan; or the like, rather than judicial punishment. So, for example, 'But, as The Great Divorce repeatedly insists, the only decision to be a stranger to heaven is ours.' (p.88) Or, later, 'The determination to protect the self at all costs leads to a denial of reality, and that denial is basically what hell means, however you dress it up.' (p.102)
Williams surveys the criticisms of the Narnia books - on the grounds of sexism, racism, and violence, but successfully argues that the books are of their time, and follow the literary genre of medieval chivalry adventure tales. In the chapter, however, he makes a little mistake on one instance speaking of Edward when he plainly means Edmund. (p.36)
He also looks at the topics of Aslan, the self, and the meaning of the end. There were some interesting points, some useful ideas, but all in all, I found this a disappointing book. It was visiting a familiar place, but with a tour guide speaking in Double Dutch, only bringing confusion rather than clarity. The former Archbishop is obviously an intelligent man, but his book wasn't one that I would rush to read again. I'll stick to reading the originals and discovering Aslan for myself.
The Lion's World is available from Amazonand for Kindle.