Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lewis and Children's Literature

C. S. Lewis believed in the value of childhood, and he believed that children’s innocence should be protected. But in Lewis’ Christian understanding, loss of innocence is a result of sin. It is quite possible to gain wisdom and experience without losing innocence in Lewis’ view. Most of our contemporaries, on the other hand, foolishly see loss of innocence as a prerequisite to wisdom.

Lewis also shunned the idea that we must pretend to the young that the world isn’t full of pain and death, good and evil (“On Three Ways”). His Narnia books demonstrate that understanding. They are filled with instances of children who—far from exhibiting the kind of guileless naïveté that friends and neighbors disdain as (wrongly) Christian—must make hard moral choices, often without clear knowledge of what to do and in the face of difficult consequences.

To take just one example, Digory Kirke, the hero of The Magician’s Nephew, faces a moral dilemma towards the end of the novel: obey the command of Aslan, the great Lion and creator of all of Narnia, or save his dying mother. In fact the dilemma turns out not to be one; by obeying Aslan’s command Digory does, in fact, save his mother after all, but we note that he must, and does, act without certain knowledge of the outcome. Far from being a misty-eyed celebration of the goodness of innocence, this is a real, adult depiction of temptation and moral choice. It is not naïveté to suggest that love costs dearly or that life offers no guarantees; that these ideas are fundamentally Christian is almost incidental.

No comments: