Reviewed by Ted Gioia

In his book The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis discusses the
peculiar tendency of allegorical literature to externalize
the inner life. As Lewis explains,
people in the Middle Ages, who
didn't have access to Freud or
Jung (perhaps a blessing?), were
forced to “personify their passions.”
Lacking a technical language for
discussing psychological states,
they explored them by means of

This led to, in Lewis’s words, “the
emergence of mental facts into
allegory.” Two characters meet
on the battlefield, one is named Avarice and the other is
called Charity, or one is Wrath and the other Mercy.  By
presenting their confrontation in personified form, the
medieval mind could describe inner conflicts that were
difficult to circumscribe, at the time, in more abstract

To some extent, a youngster’s mind is much like the
medieval psyche. Children learn about their own
characters and choices through stories, not concepts. For
this reason, the externalization of inner conflicts in the
form of action-oriented narratives is a perfect foundation
for their tales—or, put more directly, for their journeys of
self-discovery, which at a young age are made via stories
of imagination. Don’t talk to kids about ego, id and super-
ego. Don’t try to explain Jungian archetypes and
synchronicity to them. Just tell them a tale.

And Lewis does just that, magnificently, in
The Chronicles
of Narnia
. True, there are other stories for youngsters
that have more action and sharper hooks in the plot.
There are certainly more modern and progressive tales
for children.  Heaven knows, there are spectacles for the
young with more dazzling special effects.  But no writer
does a better job of imparting mythic grandeur to his
storytelling than Lewis, of creating an external world that
mirrors the deepest conflicts of a child’s inner life.

Laura Miller describes her own adult conflict, trying to
reconcile the appeal of the Narnia with the author’s
didactic intentions. She describes feeling “tricked” and
“horrified” when she learned about the “secret” meaning
in a text that had so delighted her at age nine. Yet when
given the assignment to describe a work of literature that
changed her life, she returned to C.S. Lewis, and realized
that her disagreements with the author didn't destroy the
radiance of the story. “When I finally came back to
Narnia,” she writes, “I found that, for me, it had not lost
its power or beauty, or at least not entirely. . . . What I
dislike about Narnia no longer eclipses what I love about

Of course, you don’t need to understand the religious
symbolism of this work to fall under the sway of its quasi-
medieval splendor—and I suspect that a significant
proportion of its fans have read it without probing deeply,
or at all, into its theology. I read the entire series aloud to
my sons, and did not explain any of the Christian
symbolism to them at the time. Yet their lack of insight
into Lewis’s personal values did not limit their fascination
with the tales of Narnia. They could feel a larger-than-life
significance in Aslan, without having to assign it to a
specific religious denomination.

I prefer to follow Lewis’s own lead, as demonstrated in
another of his books—the much under-rated
Abolition of Man—and point out that the most important
values are those that tend to cut across the standard party
lines, whether philosophical, ideological or denominational.

The Chronicles of Narnia is much the same. You cannot
reduce this work to a catechism any more than you need
to believe in Zeus and Athena in order to appreciate
Homer. Lewis’s work has enjoyed its well-deserved
popularity because it is built on an acute psychological
understanding of human nature, not dogma.

What about Aslan? Is he simply a sugar-coated Christ, and
Lewis no different than the proselytizers who leave
pamphlets at your door? In point of fact, we have known
at least since Sir James Frazer published
The Golden
that the concept of the dying and resurrected deity
predates Christianity. It is a timeless story, eternally
linked with the natural realities of death and regeneration.
Elements of it exist in almost every culture. As I point out
in my own book
Healing Songs the Greek story of
Orpheus bringing his wife Eurydice back from the dead is
echoed in similar stories found in over fifty Native
American tribes. Did Greek mythology travel to pre-
Columbian America? Hardly. The appeal of the rising-
from-the-dead story is trans-cultural, respecting no
dividing line between nations, races, creeds.

Children’s adventure books always have heroes and
villains, and Lewis’s series is no different in this regard.
Yet despite what you may have heard about these books,
they are especially nuanced in looking at that murky area
between self-righteousness and villainy. Characters in this
work are constantly confronting hard choices, and
sometimes making bad decisions. Even better, they find
ways of recovering from the wrong choices of the past—a
matter of great interest to youngsters, but rarely dealt
with in children’s literature. Forgiving others—and
forgiving yourself; finding ways not to right past mistakes
(sometimes they can’t be made right) but recovering from
them nonetheless; learning from painful experience . . .
these are matters that Lewis handles masterfully. And not
by talking about them in a pedagogical way. As with the
allegorists that Lewis wrote about with such discernment,
this novelist always weaves the deepest interior issues
into a vivid external landscape, populated by characters
who grapple mano-a-mano with the obstacles at hand.

All that said, I am not sure that these stories work as well
for adult readers. After you have tasted the rich
psychological novels, the fruits of James and Dostoevsky
and others, it is hard to assume the mind-set that would
allow one to enter fully into the universe of Narnia. The
Harry Potter books, for example, are much better suited
to appeal to both children and adults. I did not read C.S.
Lewis as a child, and only came to his stories as a grown-
up and a parent. I fear that this limited my ability to give
myself over completely to the magic of this alternative

But for the fresh, unimpeded mind of a nine year old—the
mind that knows even better than us jaded grown-ups
that the universe is a magical place—
The Chronicles of
have an almost inexhaustible richness. Moreover,
the stories are built on such enduring themes of youthful
wish-fulfillment, that they are likely to hold their charm
for later generations. It’s almost impossible to predict
literary trends these day—who knows if we will even have
books and book retailers in a few decades time?—but I
have confidence that the youngsters enjoying these stories
today will be sharing them with their own children and
The Year
(click here)
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
The Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
Welcome to my year of magical
reading.  Each week during the
course of 2012,  I will explore an
important work of fiction that
incorporates elements of magic,
fantasy or the surreal.  My choices
will cross conventional boundary
lines of genre, style and historical
period—indeed, one of my intentions
in this project is to show how the
conventional labels applied to these
works have become constraining,
deadening and misleading.

In its earliest days, storytelling almost
always partook of the magical. Only
in recent years have we segregated
works arising from this venerable
tradition into publishing industry
categories such as "magical realism"
or "paranormal" or "fantasy" or some
other 'genre' pigeonhole. These
labels are not without their value, but
too often they have blinded us to the
rich and multidimensional heritage
beyond category that these works

This larger heritage is mimicked in
our individual lives: most of us first
experienced the joys of narrative
fiction through stories of myth and
magic, the fanciful and
phantasmagorical; but only a very
few retain into adulthood this sense
of the kind of enchantment possible
only through storytelling.  As such,
revisiting this stream of fiction from a
mature, literate perspective both
broadens our horizons and allows us
to recapture some of that magic in
our imaginative lives.

The Year of Magical Reading:

Week 1:
Midnight's Children by
Salman Rushdie

Week 2:  The House of the Spirits by
Isabel Allende

Week 3:  The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike

Week 4:  Magic for Beginners by
Kelly Link

Week 5:  The Tin Drum by Günter

Week 6:  The Golden Ass by

Week 7:  The Tiger's Wife by Téa

Week 8:  One Hundred Years of
Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez

Week 9:  The Book of Laughter and
Forgetting by Milan Kundera

Week 10: Gargantua and Pantagruel
François Rabelais

Week 11: The Famished Road by
Ben Okri

Week 12: Like Water for Chocolate
Laura Esquivel

Week 13: Winter's Tale by Mark

Week 14: Dhalgren by Samuel R.

Week 15:  Johnathan Strange & Mr.
Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Week 16:  The Master and
Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Week 17:  Dangerous Laughter by
Steven Millhauser

Week 18:  Conjure Wife by Fritz

Week 19:  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Week 20:  The Hobbit by J.R.R.

Week 21:  Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Week 22:  Dr. Faustus by Thomas

Week 23:  Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Week 24:  Little, Big by John Crowley

Week 25:  The White Hotel by D.M.

Week 26:  Neverwhere by Neil

Week 27:  Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Week 28:  Fifth Business by
Robertson Davies

Week 29:  The Kingdom of This
World by Alejo Carpentier

Week 30:  The Bear Comes Home
by R
afi Zabor

Week 31:  The Color of Magic by
Terry Pratchett

Week 32:  Ficciones by Jorge Luis

Week 33:  Beloved by Toni Morrison

Week 34:  Dona Flor and Her Two
Husbands by Jorge Amado

Week 35:  Hard-Boiled Wonderland
and the End of the World by Haruki

Week 36:  What Dreams May Come
by Richard Matheson

Week 37:  Practical Magic by Alice

Week 38:  Blindess by José

Week 39:  The Fortress of Solitude
by J
onathan Lethem

Week 40:  The Magicians by Lev

Week 41:  Suddenly, A Knock at the
Door by Etgar Keret

Week 42:  Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Week 43:  The Obscene Bird of
NIght by José Donoso

Week 44:  The Fifty Year Sword by
Mark Z. Danielewski

Week 45:  Gulliver's Travels by
Jonathan Swift

Week 46:  Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Week 47:  The End of the Affair by
Graham Greene

Week 48:  The Chronicles of Narnia
by C
.S. Lewis

Week 49:  Hieroglyphic Tales by
Horace Walpole

Week 50:  The View from the
Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier

Week 51:  Gods Without Men by
Hari Kunzru

Week 52:  At Swim-Two-Birds by
Flann O'Brien
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
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