A UK paper is reporting that a new letter C.S. Lewis wrote to a child has been found by literary advisor to Lewis’ estate, Walter Hooper. It supposedly puts to rest any doubt that The Chronicles of Narnia are explicitly Christian.
As soon as I read the first line of the letter, "Supposing there really was a world like Narnia…", I knew for certain that I’d read it before. To make sure I wasn’t just experiencing deja vu, I did a little digging.
I was right. I had indeed heard that line before.
First of all, this "new" letter has been known to exist since at least 1999, and at the time was suspected to be a forgery. I won’t get into it now, but this isn’t the first time Mr. Hooper has been accused of forging Lewisian works. The letter:
Magdalen College, Cambridge
5 March 1961
What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense plain enough. Read the earlier book in this series called, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and you will find the full story of how he was killed by the White Witch and came to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is a deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I ask myself, "Supposing there really was a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?" The stories are my answer.
Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called the "Lion of Judah" in the Bible; (c) I had been having strange dreams about lions when I began the work. The whole series works out like this:
"The Magician’s Nephew" tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" tells of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. "Prince Caspian" tells the Restoration of the true religion after a corruption. "The Horse and His Boy" tells the calling and conversion of a heathen. "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" tells of spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep). "The Silver Chair" tells of the continued war against the powers of darkness. "The Last Battle" tells of the coming of the Anti-Christ (The Ape) the end of the world and the last judgement.
C. S. Lewis
"The name Ann Jenkins seems to echo some of the previous Lewis forgeries. In ‘Forms of Things Unknown’ the protagonist’s name is John Jenkin. In Ed Brown’s manuscript version of ‘The Man born Blind’ the wife’s name is changed from Mary to Anne. And in the bogus opening of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on the back of page 1 of the Dark Tower manuscript, the name Susan has been changed to Ann: ‘This book is about four children whose names were Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter.’"
"Unfortunately, I can’t believe that this letter was really written by Lewis; it doesn’t sound anything like his real letters to children in style or sentiment. If a little girl had written to ask about Aslan dying, Lewis would not have wasted her time and his writing ‘What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense plain enough." (In what sense?) He would not have spoiled the suspense of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by telling her in advance that the White Witch kills Aslan and he comes back to life. He would not have spoiled the series by recounting the didactic purpose of each of the books. And he would never have dumped the following ‘simple language’ on a child: the Crucifixion and Resurrection. the calling and conversion of a heathen. spiritual life, war against the powers of darkness. and the coming of the Anti-Christ, the end of the world, and the last judgement."
There’s more to this, though. The version of the letter that I remembered reading is more likely one written on December 24, 1959 to a Sophia Storr.
""When I started The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe I don’t think I foresaw what Aslan was going to do and suffer. I think He just insisted on behaving in His own way. This of course I did understand and the whole series became Christian."
"But it is not, as some people think, an allegory. That is, I don’t say ‘Let us represent Christ as Aslan.’ I say, ‘Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there.’ See?""
I can’t seem to find the full text of that letter, but that’s OK, because it’s consistent with the following, which can be found in Letters to Children, published in 1985 – hardly new.
The Kilns, KilnLane
8 June 1960
All your points are in a sense right. But I’m not exactly "representing" the real (Christian) story in symbols. I’m more saying "Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emporer oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?" Perhaps it comes to much the same thing as you thought, but not quite.
1. The creation of Narnia is the Son of God creating a world (not specially our world.
2. Japis plucking the apple is, like Adam’s sin, an act of disobedience, but it doesn’t fill the same place in her life as his plucking did his. She was already fallen (very much so) before she ate it.
3. The stone table is meant to remind one of Moses’ table.
4. The Passion and Resurrection of Aslan are the Passion and Resurrection Christ might be supposed to have had in that world – like those in our world but not exactly like.
5. Edmund is like Judas a sneak and a traitor. But unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven (as Judas no doubt w[oul]d. have been if he’d repented).
6. Yes. At the v.[ery] edge of the Narnian world Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as He is known in this world. Hence, the Lamb. Hence, the breakfast – like at the end of St. John’s Gospel. Does not He say "You have been allowed to know me in this world (Narnia) so that you may know me better when you get back to your own"?
7. And of course the Ape and Puzzle, just before the last Judgement (in The Last Battle) are like the coming of Antichrist before the end of our world.
I’m so glad you like the books.
Whether the letter to Ann is a forgery, by Hooper or anyone else, I do not know and am unqualified to even guess. Perhaps Lewis simply got tired of answering the same question about allegory over and over again and had developed a boilerplate response. I don’t know. What I do know is that the Sunday Times got fooled. The "new" letter isn’t any more unpublished or conclusive than any previously known letter on the subject. This is non-news.
Any guesses how many news outlets pick this up anyhow?