C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. The adventures of dwarves, talking animals, and some plucky children have engaged people throughout generations — but Lewis was selling more than just stories — he was also selling Christianity, having discovered, “that a children’s book was the best way of conveying his devoutly Christian message to the world.” While Christianity is indisputably intertwined with the chronicles, according to Mark Jones, writing for The Independent, Lewis’ work also contains a less obvious theme — politics. When we walk with Lucy through the cupboard door into Narnia, we should be aware we are entering a world with a political agenda.
… The four children from England are now kings and queens of Narnia. This is how they rule: “They made good laws and kept the peace … and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.”
I don’t know if Boris Johnson read Narnia as a child. He’d be a rare English middle-class child if he hadn’t. But the adult Johnson could easily lift those words for his next manifesto. As a summary of benign, libertarian Conservative politics, it is nigh-on perfect. And it’s the libertarians who are most on his back now. A visit to Narnia might do him the power of good.
In Narnia Lewis created a vision of these islands that Johnson, not to say Michael Gove and Nigel Farage would heartily endorse. It’s a happy, small, independent nation, bursting with neighbourliness and godliness, where the food is honest and healthy, the beer is excellent, where everyone knows their place – and they’re happy with it.
Narnia also resents modernism and progress — apparent in the third chronicle, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
The central theme of the story is a familiar one: a priggish, unpleasant boy called Eustace Scrubb comes to acknowledge god through the figure of Aslan, learning courage, steadfastness and loyalty along the way. He has a Lewisian mountain to climb.
On that first page we discover Eustace’s mother and father are “modern parents” in the manner satirised a few decades later in Viz magazine. He calls them Harold and Alberta, not mother and father. They are “very up to date and advanced people”. Among their many sins – and there is no question Lewis does view these things as sins – they are vegetarian, teetotal non-smokers who (shame!) like to have their windows open and, bizarrely – what was on Lewis’s mind? – “wore a special kind of underclothes”.
But don’t despair of Narnia just yet. It may be full of religious and political messages you are not expecting, but it is also a magical story that children have loved for 70 years.
But there are other roads we can take. Lewis had every chance to “get at” me, in Pullman’s words: I’ve read the chronicles dozens of times as well as his adult novels and Christian apologetics. Yet I turned out to be an atheist, liberal pro-European – a Narnia-loving one.