The books made me aware that something was lacking in my daily routine of school and Hebrew school, of TV cartoons on Saturday mornings and games of handball in the apartment garage. I longed to step into another world, one that would be wilder, more fluid, and more infused with wonder than the decidedly unmagical San Fernando valley where I lived.
That longing began my own spiritual search. I had a strong Jewish upbringing, and many years of Jewish education. I read Bible stories in the original Hebrew, and learned the wisdom of my ancestors encoded in the Talmud. But there was a different kind of Mystery I sensed in the Narnia books, something that was less about study and prayer and more entwined with nature and wildness, freedom and courage.
I know "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is seen as a Christian story, and certainly C.S. Lewis meant it that way. Sometime in my ninth or 10th reading of the book, I suddenly caught the echoes of Jesus' story in Aslan's sacrifice. Being Jewish, I was probably slow to grasp this, as the whole story of the crucifixion was alien territory to me. I was dismayed, and immediately felt guilty. Would Narnia have to go into the category of attractive but forbidden Christian things, like the beautiful carols I didn't sing at school, or the Christmas trees I secretly desired? My mother would never have forbidden me to read the books any more than she would have stopped me from helping a friend to decorate a Christmas tree. It was my own sense of exclusion-that if the essence of this secret world was Christian, it could no longer be my secret world.
No, I swiftly decided; the Christian imagery was only one part of the book, after all, and subtle enough that possibly no one but I had made the connection. I could ignore it and continue loving the books and slipping between their covers into Narnia.
Grasping the book's underlying symbolism didn't make me a Christian. Perhaps it made me a writer: It was my first realization of the multiple layers of meaning that literature can convey. And "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" conveys more than Lewis may have intended.
Edmund is a child, who betrays his family out of just those childish impulses that we've all felt at some time: resentment, spite, the urge to get back at an older brother. He gives in to the worst side of his nature, with dreadful consequences that require a huge sacrifice to redeem.
Aslan chastens, forgives and protects him, as adults do for children. Like the God of my own upbringing, he functions as a protective father. And like Christ--but also like all the dying and reviving Gods of nature--he is resurrected.
What I miss most in Lewis' books, now, is some powerful, positive woman figure. J.R.R. Tolkien gives us Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn who chafes against the restrictions of her gender. But for Lewis, positive visions of female power are limited to little girls and mothers.