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The Chronicles of Narnia/Reception: influence of religious viewpoints

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The Chronicles of Narnia
Christian parallels
Reception: influence of religious viewpoints
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The Chronicles of Narnia (film series)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
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Reception: influence of religious viewpoints

The initial critical reception was generally positive, and the series quickly became popular with children.[1] In the time since then, it has become clear that reaction to the stories, both positive and negative, cuts across religious viewpoints. Although some saw in the books potential proselytising material, others insisted that non-believing audiences could enjoy the books on their own merits.[2]

The Narnia books have a large Christian following, and are widely used to promote Christian ideas. Narnia 'tie-in' material is marketed directly to Christian, even to Sunday school, audiences.[3] As noted above, however, a number of Christians have criticized the series for including pagan imagery, or even for misrepresenting the Christian story.[4] Christian authors who have criticised the books include fantasy author J.K. Rowling on ethical grounds and Literary critic John Goldthwaite in The Natural History of Make-Believe for elitism and snobbery in the books.

J. R. R. Tolkien was a close friend of Lewis, a fellow author and was instrumental in Lewis's own conversion to Christianity.[5] As members of the Inklings literary group the two often read and critiqued drafts of their work. Nonetheless, Tolkien was not enthusiastic about the Narnia stories, in part due to the eclectic elements of the mythology and their haphazard incorporation, in part because he disapproved of stories involving travel between real and imaginary worlds. Though a Christian himself, Tolkien felt that fantasy should incorporate Christian values without resorting to the obvious allegory Lewis employed.

Reaction from non-Christians has been mixed as well. Phillip Pullman's objections to the Narnia series stem largely from his anti-religious views. On the other hand, the books have appeared in neo-pagan reading lists[6] (by the Wiccan author Starhawk,[7] among others). Positive reviews of the books by authors who share few of Lewis's religious views can be found in Revisiting Narnia, edited by Shanna Caughey.

The producers of the 2005 film hoped to tap into the large religious audience revealed by the success of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, and at the same time hoped to produce an adventure film that would appeal to secular audiences; but they (and the reviewers as well) worried about aspects of the story that could variously alienate both groups.[8]

Two full-length books examining Narnia from a non-religious point of view take diametrically opposite views of its literary merits. David Holbrook has written many psychoanalytic treatments of famous novelists, including Dickens, Lawrence, Lewis Carroll, and Ian Fleming. His 1991 book The Skeleton in the Wardrobe treats Narnia psychoanalytically, speculating that Lewis never recovered from the death of his mother and was frightened of adult female sexuality. He characterises the books as Lewis's failed attempt to work out many of his inner conflicts. Holbrook does give higher praise to The Magician's Nephew and Till We Have Faces (Lewis's reworking of the myth of Cupid and Psyche), as reflecting greater personal and moral maturity. Holbrook also plainly states his non-belief in Christianity.

In contrast to Holbrook, Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Guide to Narnia (2008) finds in the Narnia books a deep spiritual and moral meaning from a non-religious perspective. Blending autobiography and literary criticism, Miller (a co-founder of discusses how she resisted her Catholic upbringing as a child; she loved the Narnia books but felt betrayed when she discovered their Christian subtext. As an adult she found deep delight in the books, and decided that these works transcend their Christian elements. Ironically, a section in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, one of Narnia's severest critics, about how children get grace from innocence but adults from experience, had a profound influence on Miller's later appreciation of the Narnia books.


  1. Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles p. 160 by David C. Downing
  2. The hope among Christian readers that Narnia could be conversion tool is mentioned in "Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles" by Shanna Caughey on p. 54. However, on p. 56 of "Encyclopedia of Allegorical Literature" by David Adams Leeming and Kathleen Morgan Drowne, it is argued that "They are by no means suitable only for Christian readers." A prominent Narnia online game site requests that Christians visiting the site not try to convert non-believers during game-chat. See The dispute over the relative prominence of the Christian fan-base is reflected in a cartoon at
  3. A Sunday school book entitled "A Christian Teacher’s Guide to Narnia" is offered for sale at "Christian Teachers guide to Narnia".  The United Methodist Church has published its own Narnia curriculum as noted at "United Methodists find spiritual riches, tools, in 'Narnia'".  Although Walden Media's Study Guides were not overtly Christian, they were marketed to Sunday schools by Movie Marketing.
  4. Crossroad, see also the Sayers biography, p. 419.
  5. Carpenter, The Inklings, p.42-45. See also Lewis' own autobiography Surprised by Joy
  6. See [1] and [2]
  7. "How Narnia Made me a Witch". 
  8. On the dual concerns of the film makers, see See Edward, Guthmann (2005-12-11). "'Narnia' tries to appeal to the religious and secular". (San Francisco Chronicle). Retrieved 2008-09-22.  On talk of Christian appeal see "'Prince Caspian' walks tightrope for Christian fans". (USA Today).  and The 'secular' appeal of the films is discussed in the San Francisco Chronicle's review Edward, Guthmann (2005-12-11). "Children open a door and step into an enchanted world of good and evil — the name of the place is 'Narnia'". (San Francisco Chronicle). Retrieved 2008-09-22. 

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