Saturday, 13 December 2008

Bibliotherapy: what to read when you’re losing faith in Father Christmas


I grew up in a secular household, where Christian catechism was as unfamiliar to me as Ancient Greek, so as a child, I had no idea that my favourite book, ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, was also a religious allegory. Since then, I’ve read disapproving critiques of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia – most notably by another writer I admire, Philip Pullman, who happened to teach at my Oxford junior school. But for all the accusations that Lewis was a heavy-handed evangelist, nothing can take away from my childhood delight in his magic.

Which is why I often return to Narnia, particularly in times of distress or anxiety; and I’d recommend ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to anyone who is losing faith in the idea of Christmas, especially this year, when gloom and uncertainty are gathering pace. The story begins in wartime, after the four children are evacuated from London, but they must face another form of danger in snow-covered Narnia, where the White Witch has cast a spell to create an everlasting winter, with no celebration of Christmas.

When Father Christmas finally returns to Narnia, it is a sign that the evil witch’s power is weakening, and the gifts he gives are far more important than toys: a sword and shield for Peter, a bow and arrows and ivory horn for Susan, and for Lucy, my favourite, a small dagger and a diamond bottle containing a healing “cordial made of the juice of one of the fire-flowers that grow in the mountains of the sun.”

Lewis himself knew all about suffering – his mother died of cancer when he was 9, despite his fervent prayers for her recovery, and two weeks later, he was sent to a grim boarding school that specialised in beatings. At 19, in the savage winter of 1917, he was wounded in the trenches of the First World War, where boys of his age died all around him; yet Lewis regained a belief in God. But you don’t have to share this conviction to be cheered by the hopefulness of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, and its glad welcoming of Father Christmas as a gleam of light against the forces of darkness and the dying of the year.

18 comments:

oxford-reader said...

I've always loved the Narnia books (except The Last Battle which just took things too far). I watched the BBC series before I read the books, and always thought the story was magical. When I finally read the books (late teens actually) I fell in love all over again.
The Christmas element in the first (or second, depeneding on where you put The Magician's Nephew) Narnia book is wonderful, because it goes to prove that the festive period will always turn out to be special if let it.

Justine Picardie said...

Yes, I always felt a bit sorry about Susan being excluded from the Last Battle.

*jemima* said...

This might be a bit cheeky but I tagged you on my blog.

I do not know whether you do tags?

The rules are you list six things that make you happy and you tag six others to do the same. x

Juxtabook said...

I too loved the Narnia stories and had no idea they were religious allegory. They are magical whatever you believe. By the way - I thought your piece in today's telegraph on attitudes to aging was great.

Gondal-girl said...

lovely post Justine, I read some of the CS Lewis books when at Uni, as an antidote, for a bit of magic, think it is time for a revisit

Justine Picardie said...

Jemina -- sorry, have only just got back from being away (away from home, and therefore away from blog). I'm happy to be tagged, but not quite sure how to do it! Please explain!

Justine Picardie said...

Juxtabook -- thanks for the comment about my piece on aging. I'll post the article, in case anyone else wants to read it...

*jemima* said...

The tag is that you list six things that make you happy and then you pick six other bloggers to do the same.

Hope that helps! x

Justine Picardie said...

OK, six things that make me happy:
1. My sons' smiles.
2. My dog chasing for sticks in the woods.
3. The fairy lights on the Christmas tree.
4. A very hot cup of tea on a clear frosty morning.
5. Sunshine.
6. Red shoes.
I'm tagging dovegreyreader, Oxford Reader, Gondal Girl, Juxtabook, Primrose, and Kairu.
I hope they notice the tags...

HelenMH said...

I love all the Narnia books. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

Gondal-girl said...

Yikes. Only 6 things! Things that make me feel happy 1. my better half 2. espresso 3. a good page well written ( mine or someone elses) 4.Penhaligons perfume 5. My nieces singing, love there re-arrangement of words, its like jazz 6. animals

*jemima* said...

Excellently done!

I too love red shoes... only if they're sparkly though :)

kairu said...

I'm responding to my tag:

1) Watching snow fall.
2) Red soles on black patent shoes. (My Louboutins with a thick heel to make them comfortable, and a little open toe to make them sexy).
3) Being dressed warmly enough on a cold day.
4) My library.
5) That first bite of a chocolate bar.
6) Satisfying whichever food craving I have at the moment, right when I'm craving it. (The most recent one was chicken curry over rice, perfect for a cold day).

There are, of course, many more things in life that make me happy. But those are the ones that come to mind right now.

Justine Picardie said...

Red shoes emerging as a uniting source of happiness here! Perhaps we should rename the blog? The scarlet shoe sisterhood? Or the sisterhood of the scarlet shoes? Must get the arrangement of the words right, because as Gondal Girl notes, the right words can make us happy, even if they seem to be in the wrong order to everyone else...

*jemima* said...

'The Scarlet Shoe Sisterhood Society'...

It is extremely alliterative...

Has quite the ring!

Justine Picardie said...

Excellent! Who's going to start the blog?

*jemima* said...

Maybe it could one of these blogs where we are all members of it?

Primrose said...

I love The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe book and always feel quite cross when people go on about the Christian element. In fact, I refuse to read Pullman's books as he seemed such an old sour-puss about it all. Thank you Justine for tagging me. I don't know if tags apply to me as I don't Blog just read Blogs. However, six things that make me happy are:
1/ My daughter's rare hug and smile
2/Winter
3/rain on the roof
4/writing and reading
5/gardening
6/family picnics in some nature spot and reading to my daughter at night when we're snuggled together

That was a lovely piece in Red Magazine for December Justine!