Sunday, February 26, 2017

Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia: Are The Chronicles Too Violent for Children?




This is another topical post rather than from one of the remaining Chronicles. Another recurring criticism of the stories is that they are too violent for children. There is plenty of fighting and war in them. If your standard is that any violence is too much, that children should not be exposed to such material, then, yes, Lewis’ stories are too violent for children. But is this reasonable or even possible in our world?

Taking possibility first, I doubt anyone would think that a child raised in the West today can be shielded from violence. It hardly seems possible even if one deems it desirable. This seems to me self-evident. For good or ill violence sells and whatever sells hits the media. And what’s in the media gets into our homes, heads, and hearts. No matter how vigilant we as parents may be.

Even if we could block our children from every hint of violence, is this a good thing? I don’t think so. Unrestricted abundance of violence is surely bad. And not just for children. We’re not talking about that. But our children are going to see some violence, warfare, and death in the course of growing up. What role might violence in The Chronicles play for its young readers?

A first matter is literary. Lewis affects a medieval chivalric style in most of the stories. The honorable knight serving the Lord and the land with his sword is how he portrays many of his male characters. Battle, then, is a part of the style of the stories.

G. K. Chesterton points in one direction.

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”[1]

          Further, martial imagery in the stories prepares children and reminds adults that life is in one sense or another a struggle, a battle, a war. We must be called, equipped, trained, and deployed by that to which we are committed. This war has been won by Aslan. But there remain battles to be fought and resistance pacified as the reality of that victory spreads far and wide. It is this part of the struggle God calls us to participate in.

          The Bible also sees God’s people engaged in battle on God’s behalf. Not physical combat, of course. At least in the New Testament. The Old Testament is another matter for another time and place. St. Paul, in fact, says God has given us his very own armor for the battle to which we are called. He also says our warfare is not against other human beings but against malignant spiritual forces. But it is no less battle for that!

          Lewis’ stories reflect this biblical perspective that we are engaged in God’s side on battle against evil in the world. We must have that mentality if we are to faithfully serve him. This awareness communicated through fairy stories allow young readers to gain a measure of realism on the world they live in and the sense that greater powers have and are acting powerfully on their behalf.

          For these reasons, I submit, the martial and violent features of the stories are part and parcel of what young readers need to grapple with their world and gain a sense of their place in God’s purposes for them.  



 [1]Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: "The Red Angel"

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