Popular Fantasy Series Endorses Unbiblical Position on Divisive Cultural Issue

Both adults and children speak of them as some of the most enjoyable and engaging books they’ve ever read. Each of the seven volumes within the series has flown off the shelves. Their popularity has translated into the world of film, where entirely new pockets of fans have been introduced to their magical world. And yes, I count them among my own personal literary favorites.

Even so, I won’t hide the disappointment I felt when I discovered that the books’ author apparently endorses what is clearly an unbiblical position—on a crucial cultural dispute no less—in the final volume of the series.

Of course I’m talking about C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

If you’ve read the books, you might remember the scene. In The Last Battle, The Calormene soldier Emeth, though of very noble character himself, has mistakenly been a lifelong follower of the god Tash (who equates with the devil in the Narnian cosmology, opposed to Aslan’s Christ figure). Through the series of events that make up the bulk of the book’s climactic action, Emeth encounters Aslan in what is eventually revealed as the afterlife (though this fact is initially unknown to him). Thinking his destruction is at hand, he is surprised to find that Aslan welcomes him as a “Son.” Aslan explains:

Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.…Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, an it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.

Emeth then replies, “But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” Aslan answers, “Beloved…unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

Before evaluating this exchange, let me first say this: I’m sure there are bigger C. S. Lewis fans than I am out there, but the list is not a long one. I would argue that everything he wrote is worth reading. But having said that, I’m under no illusion that either he or his writing is perfect, and the above passage is clearly an example.

I say that because, particularly when it’s viewed in the larger context of the book, the conversation between Emeth and Aslan seems clearly to support the idea that someone with the right character can and will find his way to the true God after death, even though his (sincere) earthly belief is quite misplaced. Though such a position is popular in our culture, including among some Christians, it simply cannot be supported by a reading of the biblical text that respects the intentions of its original authors (a vitally important factor in the proper interpretation of anything, let alone the Bible). Romans 10:9-17 and John 8:24 are just two of many passages that could be marshaled in support of this point. When all is said and done, to assent to what Lewis appears to advocate in the Emeth/Aslan exchange is to make a crucial and potentially disastrous theological error.

Having said that, would I dissuade anyone, or more pointedly, my own son from reading The Chronicles of Narnia in general or The Last Battle in particular? Absolutely not. Yes, I would certainly point out and discuss the error and its significance. But there is so much of great value in these books in regard to both artistic excellence and truth that is solidly consistent with biblical revelation (not to mention the exemplary melding of the two), that I’m convinced it would be an act of great impoverishment to turn people away from their pages. If you want just a one of many, many possible examples of what I mean, read the final page of The Last Battle.

If you keep an eye on current events, you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this. A few days ago, J. K. Rowling, the author of the wildly popular (and already controversial among Christians for other reasons) Harry Potter series, revealed that one of the books’ most important and beloved characters, Albus Dumbledore, was gay (read the story here). What does this revelation mean for Christians and their approach to the books?

Consider the issue in light of the discussion above. Here again, we have a divisive cultural issue, as well as an accomplished author apparently endorsing a view on said issue that is inconsistent with scriptural truth. For the moment, let’s lay aside the fact that one can easily read the books without picking up any notion that Dumbledore is gay. I and many others did; his sexual preference was specifically revealed by Rowling only in a conversation with fans several weeks after the book was published. It is not clearly portrayed in the narrative itself–a fact that raises other issues. Still, even if we give Rowling the benefit of the doubt, should we turn our backs on the entire Harry Potter saga because of Dumbledore’s sexuality?

Frankly, I doubt it very much. I would readily acknowledge the purposes of the two authors’ fantasy works are not identical, just as I realize that most of us would more readily trust C. S. Lewis to encourage spiritual development in readers than J. K. Rowling, and justifiably so. Still, I would argue there is a great wealth of legitimate enjoyment to be gleaned from the Harry Potter saga, as well as what might strike many as a surprising amount of biblically consistent truth (see Wheaton College professor Alan Jacob’s article in the latest issue of Books and Culture to see what I mean). Yes, we may need to have careful conversations with each other and our children as we read these books, but to dismiss the books entirely on the basis of this particular issue would be tantamount to throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. (As an aside, this is something we thankfully have not done with many other authors of note, including the likes of Augustine, Calvin, and Luther—all of whom occasionally advocated positions evangelical theologians would now say are inconsistent with Scripture.)

I would add this observation: at the end of the day, which is a more serious theological mistake: the belief that one may, on the basis of the proper character, find the true God after death, or the perspective that homosexuality is a morally permissible lifestyle? Again, neither is in line with Scripture. Neither is insignificant by any means. I want to stress those points firmly. But what does it say that many of us would more readily notice—not to mention get more exercised by—the latter than the former?

All of this underscores the fact that, as people who want to earnestly follow Christ in the way he expects to be followed, we should be developing a view of art and culture that is thoroughly rooted in and carefully nuanced by Scripture. If you’d like to take a step in that direction, I’d invite you to consider two things:

1. Attending The Crossing Book Discussion’s presentation of a special lecture by Covenant Seminary Professor Jerram Barrs entitled “Harry Potter and the Triumph of Sacrificial Love.” The event will take place on Wednesday, November 14th at The Crossing (for more info and/or to RSVP, click here).

2. Reading Francis Schaeffer’s short work, Art and the Bible, for an excellent and readable introduction to a biblically shaped view of engagement with the arts. This book is available at The Crossing Bookstore on Sunday mornings.

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