by Hugh Duncan
When I was five years old, my family moved to a new house. One of the first things I checked was my closet—because I wanted to see if I could find the land of Narnia. You see, my parents had given up their valuable time, put down their work, turned off the television, and read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to me. This book by C.S. Lewis describes the adventures of four children who entered a magical land through a wardrobe. It awakened my imagination like few other stories.
My parents probably had no idea how much the writing of Lewis would affect my thoughts, work, and spiritual life, but those moments reading together were invested well. Parents who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and other books from The Chronicles of Narnia invite their children to explore a faith that is joyful, intellectually satisfying, and worth passing on to others.
Searching for joy
C.S. Lewis himself was inspired as a boy by reading stories. They awakened in him a combination of pleasure and longing he called “joy.” It was a sense that there must be some reality outside our universe. This sense of joy can lead a child to check closets for magical worlds, and it can also cause the same child to start searching the Bible for the ultimate source of joy.
That is what happened to a young man who goes by the name of Rilian. He writes for NarniaWeb.com and hosts the Narnia Web Podcast. Like me, he would occasionally check the doors in his home as a boy, hoping to find Narnia in a wardrobe. He remembers his father telling him that one of the books described the origins of Narnia.
“I would say, ‘Oh my goodness!’” Rilian recalls, “I imagined him pulling down some ancient manuscript so he could read to me about how Narnia was created.” He eventually became aware of the biblical echoes in the Narnia books and started to appreciate their spiritual significance. Those who are excited to read about the creation of Narnia will have a greater appetite for learning about the God who said, “Let there be light.”
Another reason to read The Chronicles of Narnia to children is the lasting quality of these books. Many who grow up hearing these stories return as teenagers, discovering meanings they had previously overlooked and finding a role model in C.S. Lewis.
The creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer, grew up with the Narnia books in his house. As a teenager, he gained a new appreciation for Lewis. “It was encouraging for me to see a thinking Christian who wasn’t just arguing a point but was actually illustrating the gospel through story. That was inspiring because that was the path I ended up taking.” He appreciated the way Lewis understood the truth “and let it fly through story.”
A lot of teenagers take comfort in discovering the author who invited their imaginations to fly was also a brilliant intellectual. In a season of great questioning, when many teenagers are determining whether to embrace truths they were taught as children, C.S. Lewis provides a model of someone whose faith was compatible with both imagination and intellectual rigor.
Marjorie Lamp Mead, author of A Reader’s Guide to Caspian, says her thought process as a teenager was shaped by C.S. Lewis. “He helped me realize that the Christian faith was intellectually viable. You didn’t have to stop thinking when you were a Christian. Obviously there are many other authors who can do that but it was the first author I had encountered as a young person who made me realize I could think and ask questions and that the Christian faith held up to that.”
When you read Narnia books to your children, you are introducing them to an author who has been invaluable to many during times of great searching. His book, Mere Christianity, has been a lifeline for countless college students whose faith is being challenged by their peers and teachers.
Author Tim Muelhoff remembers reading Mere Christianity in college and thinking, “This makes absolute sense to me.” He says the book “emboldened me to want to share my faith with others because now I believed in my head as much as I had believed in my heart.”
Sharing the stories
When a parent reads literature like The Chronicles of Narnia to their children, they are setting a powerful example that can be repeated for generations to come. Children who listen to stories become parents who read stories. Those parents discover new layers of meaning when reading the books to their kids.
Tim Challies is a popular blogger who started reading The Chronicles of Narnia to his children while doing research for his first book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He was surprised at how much the books had to teach him about the topic he had been studying. He says, “Discernment and Christian maturity are rather prevalent themes in his books. It’s been interesting reading that and finding examples I can apply in future writing and speaking.”
There is a lot of value for parents who revisit Narnia from their child’s perspective, especially if they have been hearing biblical content so long that they have lost their sense of joy.
“It’s almost like you’re inoculated to the excitement of these truths,” says Jim Ware, co-author of Finding God in the Land of Narnia, “Lewis said that by couching these truths and cloaking them in other garments—in the story about Aslan, dwarfs, and all these imaginary creatures—he could sneak up on the reader and make them see these things as if it were for the first time. It had that impact on me.”
When my parents read The Chronicles of Narnia to me as a child, the books awakened a sense of joy in me. That longing for joy deepened and matured as I read these books and Lewis’ other works for myself as a teenager. The joy continues to resonate as I read the books to my daughter. My childhood closet did not lead me to Narnia, but my parents’ investment helped lead me to discover the true source of joy in this world and the hope in the world we are awaiting. What impact could a few minutes of your time have on your child for years to come?
Copyright © 2008 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.