G.K. Chesterton once reported that when he outgrew the nursery he left the fairy tale books lying next to his crib, only to discover much later that they contained more wisdom than the many books he had read as an adult. That was my experience too. I loved fairy tales as a child, but as I grew older I left them behind with my childhood toys.
The Narnia tales were not a part of my early years. I had to wait until I was a teenager to discover C.S. Lewis. The first book of his that I read was "The Screwtape Letters." Later I went on to "Mere Christianity" and several other of the books in which he explains and defends Christianity. I had heard about his Narnia stories, but I considered myself too grown-up for such things. It was only when I became a parent, reading children's stories to my son, that I finally got around to Narnia. It did not take me long to realize that this was not like reading "The Pokey Little Puppy." This was a story for the likes of me. I will never forget the sense of wonder I experienced as an adult reader when Lucy, in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," steps into the clothes closet, only to realize that she is suddenly standing on snow-covered ground in a magical forest.
These days I seldom find a reason to return to Lewis's more "adult" works. But to the world of lions and witches, accessible only to people who know that secret bedroom entrance, I regularly return to rekindle my spiritual imagination. Lewis's stories about that enchanted realm continue to inform and inspire me in my faith journey.
In the early 20th century the great German sociologist Max Weber reported that science-and particularly the emerging social sciences in which he was a pioneer-had succeeded in "disenchanting" the universe. In the past, people had tried to explain the unknown by talking about demons, angels, ghosts, and gods. Now the human race had reached a point, he argued, where an adequate understanding of reality could be achieved solely within the framework of a universe governed by natural causes and effects. The magical had finally been banished from the world.
A hundred years later, Weber's proclamation does not ring as true as it may have sounded to many of his contemporaries. In many ways we have been experiencing the "re-enchantment" of reality. For those of us who believe that the magic never really departed, the widespread present-day interest in spirituality-including a fascination with the occult-is a vindication of sorts.
To be sure, many traditional believers would recoil at my suggestion that we live in a world in which magic has its place. But the repudiation of all things magical can itself play into the schemes of the dis-enchanters. And this is precisely why C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories are so instructive. He portrays an enchanted universe that is held together by what he calls a "Deep Magic." To rebel against magic's laws is to threaten widespread destruction. The witch may be exercising her craft for wicked purposes, but she does have very real universal forces at her command. Aslan, the majestic lion, knows this. He has opposed the witch's magic and he is aware that he must pay the price: his own death.
But Aslan also knows of an even more basic truth. The witch may use her deep magic to satisfy her lust for power. But there exists a Deeper Magic, which subverts the laws that govern the "ordinary" magical reality. As the story unfolds, this Deeper Magic raises Aslan from the dead and brings about an ultimate restoration of all things.
C.S. Lewis warned us not to read too much Christian theology into the stories of Narnia, but it is difficult to avoid at least some theologizing in the tale of the death and resurrection of Aslan. The magical outcome in Aslan's case is not an isolated event. His dying and coming back to life has cosmic results. At the very least this kind of mysterious transaction opens us up to the profound New Testament teaching that "in Christ all shall be made alive."
This does not mean that I see the forthcoming release of the film version of the Narnia tales as a piece of Christian propaganda. But I do hope it will serve as an invitation for many people to reflect on the nature of world in which we live. C.S. Lewis's depth imagery is important for our present-day spiritual quests. Scholarly commentaries on our "postmodern condition" often make much of our fixation on the surfaces of reality. In such a context it is a good thing to be encouraged to go beyond the superficial, exploring not only the Deeper Magic, but also the other below-the-surface forces that drive our lives, even when we do not acknowledge their existence: our Deeper Hopes and our Deeper Fears-those Deeper Yearnings that we ignore only at the expense of our humanness.