Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

C. S. Lewis's major detractors

Despite their classic status and their worldwide popularity in many translations and television and film adaptations, The Chronicles of Narnia have not lacked for critics. And as the opposition to Christianity as a worldview has accelerated in European and American academic and political circles, so has the criticism of C. S. Lewis and his works, especially of his children’s books.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig MurrayA. N. Wilson’s 1990 biography, C. S. Lewis, was the first major revisionist life of Lewis, applying Freudian spins on his relationship with Mrs. Moore and reporting, despite much contrary testimony of those who actually knew Jack, that he was in a sexual relationship with Joy Davidman Gresham before their church wedding.

Self-described secular humanist and children’s author Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials) has criticized the Narnia books as subverting children toward Christianity, and David Holbrook’s 1991 The Skeleton in the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis's Fantasies, goes Wilson’s pop psychologizing one better, arguing that “the wardrobe” represents the womb and takes readers into the world of death, where Jack’s mother had gone.

George Sayer claims that Holbrook warns parents against exposing their children to the work of "the pervert Lewis." And Polly Toynbee famously wrote in The Guardian (the British leftwing political newspaper, not the church Guardian that serialized two of Lewis’s books) that “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion.”

The best known of these critics among Americans is Pullman, one of whose "Dark Materials" books, The Golden Compas, was an Academy Award-winning movie last year. British journalist Peter Hitchens describes Pullman's books as a frontal assault on C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles. An interview with Pullman in the Sydney, Australia, Morning Herald, quoted him thus in comparing the attacks on the Harry Potter books and his: "I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry [Potter] has said. My books are about killing God."

He added: "If we're talking on the scale of human life and the things we see around us, I'm an atheist. There's no God here. There never was. But if you go out into the vastness of space, well, I'm not so sure." Many American newspaper and magazine reviewers criticized the book on which last year's film was based as being a slightly veiled attack on the Catholic Church (disguised in the movie as "the magisterium").

And in her article about the release of the film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005, Polly Toynbee wrote: "Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund [one of the children in the book and movie], to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged."

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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