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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 80, Spring 1999

Don't Let Your Children Go to Narnia Original Article

by Philip Hensher(The published source of this article is not known.)

I’M CERTAINLY NOT in favour of banning or burning books, but there are a
few books in this world which would make even the most fervent liberal
twitch for a box of matches. For me, it is not the 120 Days of Sodom or
Mein Kampf that marks the outer boundaries of acceptability, but something
infinitely more poisonous and corrupting. If I were going to lock away a
single thing in the private cabinets of the British Library, have a work of
literature removed from the shelves of bookshops and schools everywhere, it
would have to be something widely thought of as innocuous, and perhaps even
beneficial. It looks like a fairy story about some nicely behaved children,
a wicked witch or two and some talking animals, but it is the sheerest

Let us drop CS Lewis and his ghastly, priggish, half-witted, money-making
drivel about Narnia down the nearest deep hole, as soon as is conveniently
possible. In fact, I’d more or less assumed that these frightful books had
stopped being read years ago. It turns out that this year marks Lewis’s
centenary and, to mark it, the Royal Shakespeare Company, no less, is
putting on what promises to be a spectacular stage production of the first
book in the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Spectacular in setting, I presume, since nothing on earth could make the
products of Lewis’s mind intellectually spectacular, or even interesting.
They are revoltingly mean-minded books, written to corrupt the minds of the
young with allegory, smugly denouncing anything that differs in the
slightest respect from Lewis’s creed of clean-living, muscular
Christianity, pipe-smoking, misogyny, racism, and the most vulgar snobbery.

I think I knew there was something wrong with the books when I read them as
a child. I couldn’t have identified their blunt allegory (the Creation in
The Magician’s Nephew, the Crucifixion and Resurrection in The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe, Armageddon in The Last Battle) but I knew that here
were some books with some fairly unhealthy designs on me as a reader. All
that guff about Deep Magic and Deeper Magic when that lion comes back from
the dead struck me as cheating with the plot, and still makes no sense
unless you import great loads of Christian doctrine into it. To be honest,
I’m still pretty vague about a lot of Christian doctrine, which is probably
why great swaths of the series make absolutely no sense to me at all. What
on earth is The Last Battle going on about, with that donkey and Plato and
the poor girl who gets sent to hell for wearing nylons and lipstick? What
is its doctrinaire bullying doing in a book for children, and why did
people ever think of it as appropriate reading for the under-10s? The books
embody some pretty unpleasant social attitudes. The loathing of
vegetarians, socialism, anti-smoking and “cleverness” is a recurrent theme;
the racism is extreme, even by the standards of the time (you would
probably gather from A Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle that Islam was
some kind of Satanic cult).

You just know that if Lewis were alive today, he would be writing idiotic,
sniggering articles about “political correctness” for The Daily Telegraph.
But I think the most corrupting feature of it all is the poverty of the
imagination. It is often thought that these books are richly imaginative
pieces of work. They are not; they are thin, doctrinaire tracts of social
and religious instruction, which allow no dissent, and which embody only
the bullying voice of their author. Other books of the time look fairly
dubious, if judged by contemporary standards. It’s easy to have problems
with the racial attitudes of The Lord of the Rings, with those heroic,
tall, blond Elves talking Welsh, and the ghastly dark, squat, hairy little
Orcs with their Turkish consonants. But, to some extent, Tolkien is rescued
by the variety of his imagination, and by a vision which, if it is not rich
or profound, is at least intricately patterned and satisfying. Those Narnia
books, instead, are second-hand, commonplace, and allegorical in the most
boring way. They serve as vehicles for a narrow-minded man’s pet
obsessions, and, with their second-hand props of fauns and centaurs, can
only make a child think that literature is something that can never be

Don’t give your children CS Lewis to read; not the Narnia books, not the
Screwtape Letters, not that appalling Is God an Astronaut? science fiction.
It looks like rich fantasy, but it is the product of a mean, narrow little
mind, burrowing into their ideas and pooh-poohing them. Give them anything
else — Last Exit to Brooklyn, a bottle of vodka, a phial of prussic acid,
even Winnie the Pooh — but keep them away from The Voyage of the Dawn