From Hades to Heaven: Greek Mythological Influences in C. S. Lewis's the Silver Chair

Article excerpt

In his Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis creates a world that teaches children about Christianity outside of a normal religious setting. His mythical stories steeped in Christian ideals present a fresh, magical world that breaks through normal childhood inhibitions concerning Jesus and church. Says Lewis,

  But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary
  world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school
  associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their
  real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?
  (Sometimes Fairy Stories 47)

In building this "imaginary world" Lewis draws from many sources, including the Christian Bible, events from his own life, and the mythologies of many ancient civilizations. While critics have energetically explored the role of Christianity in The Chronicles, investigations into the presence of Norse, Greek, British, and other cultures' legends and myths in these novels are surprisingly few. (1) However, if The Chronicles are, in a way, their own mythology that ultimately points towards Christianity, perhaps these other influences that make up Narnia come together to serve the same purpose--that is, if The Chronicles include all of these pagan elements, are these elements not also a part of this ultimate lesson in Christianity? An excerpt from Lewis's autobiography Surprised by Joy recounts Lewis's own feelings towards the role of paganism in Christianity:

  In my mind [...] the perplexing multiplicity of "religions" began to
  sort itself out. The real clue had been put into my hand by that
  hard-boiled Atheist when he said, "Rum thing, all that about the Dying
  God. Seems to have really happened once"; by him and by Barfield's
  encouragement of a more respectful, if not more delighted, attitude to
  Pagan myth. The question was no longer to find the one simply true
  religion among a thousand religions simply false. It was rather,
  "Where had religion reached its true maturity? Where, if anywhere,
  have the hints of all Paganism been fulfilled?" [...] The God whom I
  had at last acknowledged was one, and was righteous. Paganism had been
  only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream. Where was
  the thing full grown? or where was the awakening?
  (Surprised by Joy 235)

For Lewis, paganism anticipates Christianity, a Christianity he sees as the fulfillment and "awakening" of these pagan hints. Indeed, The Chronicles themselves began as an image of a pagan figure. Lewis writes, "The Lion [the Witch and the Wardrobe] all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in my mind since I was about 16. Then one day when I was about 40, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it'" (It All Began 53). Before Narnia came to life with all of its Christian ideals, Narnia was Greek.

All of these Greek and pagan figures become as much a part of Narnia as any others, and they all contribute to the Christian ideals that are at its core. They reside comfortably in this Christian realm because they are symbols, physical expressions of some larger concept that is intrinsic to humanity. Writes Lewis in A Preface to Paradise Lost, "But giants, dragons, paradises, gods, and the like are themselves the expression of certain basic elements in man's spiritual experience. In that sense they are more like words--the words of a language which speaks the else unspeakable--than they are like the people and places in a novel" (Preface 57-58). As Joseph Campbell writes of the function of the gods of mythology in the hero's quest,

  The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. Their entertaining myths
  transport the mind and spirit, not up to, but past them, into the
  yonder void. [...] This is the orthodox teaching of the ancient
  Tantras: "All of these visualized deities are but symbols representing
  the various things that occur on the Path" [. … 

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