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  • Platonic Shadows in C. S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles
  • William G. Johnson and Marcia K. Houtman (bio)

As a Literary Critic, Science Fiction Writer, Christian apologist, and creator of the Chronicles of Narnia, in the last several decades C. S. Lewis has attained a reputation and following enviable in size and amazing in diversity. In many ways the quiet Oxbridge professor's achievements have assumed an air of authority, an aura of credibility, difficult to explain; Lewis, after all, is not an "apologist" in the same sense as Merton, nor a critic with a comprehensive system such as McLuhan. He is not, likewise, a fiction writer whose "science" background even begins to parallel that of Asimov, whose characterizations approach those of Faulkner, whose ethical dilemmas rival Greene's, and whose epic sweep is as broad as Tolkien's.

What Lewis' fiction has, however, and what captures his readers, is a sense of "story"—not just "story" as plot, but "story" as myth, as archetype, as dreams recalled. And what Lewis succeeds in doing so well is creating in the fiction a reality that draws readers into worlds seemingly more real than those in which the readers live. Behind Lewis' process and method of the "real" fiction set in opposition to the "fictionalized" [End Page 75] world of reality is a long tradition of Platonized Christianity with which Lewis was very familiar and from which he selected elements to incorporate into his personal beliefs.

In his scholarly works Lewis makes quite clear his knowledge of, and familiarity with, Plato's works. Indeed, it is Lewis the critic of Medieval and Renaissance literature who was prominent in affirming the "Platonic" nature of those two literary-historical periods. His Allegory of Love, The Discarded Image, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, A Preface to "Paradise Lost," and Spenser's Images of Life make clear how extensively Plato and the Neo-Platonists influenced the Christian humanist writers of those respective literary periods. In Lewis' own fiction some elements of the Christian Platonism are easily identifiable, whereas others are so intermingled with Lewis' own theology that they are almost overlooked or, at least, hardly recognizable as being Greek in origin. At times Lewis himself not only points the way to such sources but even allows characters to point them out.

Such is the case with Lewis' character Digory Kirke, the professor who appears in five of the seven Narnia Chronicles. Variously depicted as the one "very wise grown-up" to whom the adventurous children can entrust their story of Narnia, as a young boy in The Magician's Nephew and as a rejuvenated, handsome Lord Digory in The Last Battle, Digory Kirke is also presented as being human enough to have all the foibles and failings of a middle-aged professorial bachelor. In The Magician's Nephew, for example, it is a younger Digory, with his uncontrolled curiosity, who wanders too far and loses the path back to earth; in the same book it is Digory who falls under the spell of Jadis, the White Witch, whom he finds the most beautiful woman he ever saw—refusing to recognize her terrible power and evil intent (which even the children can see). Yet it is an older Digory, motivated so often by the love of his sick mother, who is both transformed into a handsome young lord in The Last Battle and proffers his "explanation" for the apocalypse just witnessed in Narnia: "It's all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!" (170).

But the professorial Digory goes too far in such a hasty glossing as this. Certainly some of what has just occurred in The Last Battle is "in Plato" and can be explained by Platonic concepts; but just as certainly much of what the earth travelers have just seen has little or no base in the Greek philosophies. Lewis' own Platonism is highly selective and highly diffused, and although he was quite familiar with the corpus of Plato's writings, the application of Plato's ideas is through Lewis' Platonized Christianity (more so than through any Christianized Platonism).

If put to the test one might find Platonic...


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