Wednesday, January 21, 2009

don't let Tumnus break your heart

A has informed me that she doesn’t believe in Jesus but does believe in Santa Claus. She cites Santa’s presence at the Delmar holiday parade as evidence for this position. I’ve cautiously suggested that sometimes people like to dress up as Santa, but she does not think anyone other than Santa himself could produce a costume that good. Dan wonders if she’ll convert if we take her to a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Some people say they felt betrayed upon learning that Santa wasn’t real. I’m not concerned about that. The big betrayal of my childhood was perpetrated by C.S. Lewis. I read and reread The Chronicles of Narnia at an age when I could immerse myself in fantasy and half-believe that it was real. I longed to be Lucy and set up elaborate worlds with paper and glue and Playmobils and gerbils (one named Aslan).

I was 12 or so when I picked up The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe again and saw the religious symbolism. I was truly devastated. To see that something that meant so much to me was nothing more than a medium Lewis created to forward his religion (which was, by chance, the same ones I’d been raised in, but had never particularly subscribed to) was profoundly disillusioning. Now I can appreciate that most of the books can be read as damn good stories irregardless of Lewis’s intent (or was it that he used the proselytizing as an excuse to justify writing fantasy?) but as a teenager, no.

I’m not the only one who had this experience. I thoughtlessly mentioned it to an unsuspecting friend at summer camp in 1989 and he had to fight back tears.

I don’t think that C is as fanatical a reader as I was. While he reads continuously he never rereads books or uses their characters in his play. If I hand him the first book* it’s likely that he’ll whip through it cheerfully and then go back to drawing up his plans for snowball-throwing tanks**. On the one hand this makes me sad because I’d like to share the experience with him (in a way I really couldn’t with his WWII obsession) but on the other I hope it means that he’ll never experience the same sense of betrayal I did.

Until now I put off giving him the books because of the violence, but given his research on the invasion of Normandy that’s not really relevant at this point. I’ve considered mentioning the allegorical components to him but decided against it. I’m hoping that the joy he may obtain from reading them uncritically*** will override any loss he might feel when he recognizes what’s behind the story. And if he doesn’t read them soon he won’t appreciate it in the ways that only children can. But I still hesitate to do it, remembering how hurt I was and wanting to protect him from that.

* Meaning The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe- there’s a movement to reorder the books chronologically but starting with The Magician’s Nephew is WRONG. Gee, you think I have any emotional investment in this?

** Inspired by the go-carts in The Dangerous Book for Boys. Thanks Shannon- I think.

*** I am usually incapable of reading uncritically now which is somewhat of a shame.

1 comment:

poz said...

Interestingly, I never felt betrayed by the allegorical content of LW&W. Perhaps because I was too dense to recognize it until I was old enough to dismiss it.

Glad to hear that The Dangerous Book is doing what it's supposed to. :-)