I2. Power of the Air Part 2: The Magic World of C. S. Lewis



C. S. Lewis’s view of Christianity is infused with mythology and sorcery–things which are anathema to God. Lewis’s fiction portrays demonic creatures and powerful magicians as being sometimes good, sometimes bad; whereas in God’s word they are always forbidden to God’s people.

Lewis’s popularity

C. S. Lewis is often quoted in Sunday sermons and in writings by Christian authors. One could say that his status in some Protestant circles is akin to that of a saint among Roman Catholics. Lewis’s books are regarded as important material for introducing children and unbelievers to the Christian faith. So if there is something wrong with those books, it is important for Christians to know about it and be warned. It is especially important for Christian parents to know that Lewis’s books are not only the wrong way to introduce their children to Christianity, but they actually present some very harmful and ungodly teaching.

Lewis’s background

Lewis did not become a Christian until he was in his thirties, at which time he was a professor of medieval literature at Oxford. He was fascinated by mythology and sorcery. The figures of ancient mythology and Arthurian legend became so vivid in his mind as to seem almost real. The result was that Christianity never truly superseded mythology in Lewis’s mind. Christianity landed on top of the pile, but it never removed the pile.

Mythology does not mix with Christianity

The books in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series portray ordinary human children encountering centaurs, unicorns, fauns, satyrs, dryads (Lewis describes one dryad as “a nymph of a beech tree,” The Last Battle, 21). But Lewis is not trying to give us a lesson about Greek mythology, showing us how silly Greek religious thinking was. His story is intended to illustrate elements of Christian theology for children. In the Bible, however, creatures like these are condemned as Satanic elements of pagan religions. Satyrs, for example, were objects of worship which drew the people of Israel away from God. God instructed Moses to warn the people away from such worship, saying, “So they shall no more slay their sacrifices for satyrs, after whom they play the harlot” (Leviticus 17:7). In the Bible, such creatures appear only in desolate places where God is absent. For example, in this passage in Isaiah, God is describing what Edom will look like when God takes vengeance on her: “And wild beasts shall meet with hyenas, the satyr shall cry to his fellow; yea, there shall the night hag alight, and find for herself a resting place” (Isaiah 34:14). Yet in Lewis’s literary universe, such creatures appear as morally neutral: sometimes on God’s side and sometimes the enemy’s side.

Lewis’s knowledge of such creatures is far-ranging. He brings in Jinns—demon spirits from Arab tradition which are mentioned in the Qur’an. And he speaks of Lilith—the supposed “first wife” of Adam—as though her existence were historical fact, rather than an invention of Jewish mythology (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 88). When Lewis runs out of strange beings in the spiritual world, he doesn’t hesitate to invent new ones, as with the eldils in That Hideous Strength.

Magic does not mix with Christianity

Most crucially, nothing important happens in Lewis’s fiction without magic being involved. (Here we are not talking about sleight-of-hand magic; we’re talking about real magic which calls on powers of the air.) The children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are transported from one world to another by means of magic. In fact, magic is honored with a capital M, “Magic” (e.g. in The Last Battle, 158). In the Narnia series, Aslan the lion represents a Christ figure, and even this Christ figure appears to depend on magic: as when he brings a “magic spring” to melt away the witch’s winter (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 136).

In the Bible, it would be anathema to describe Jesus or any of God’s prophets as performing miracles by use of magic. Included in the law that Moses gave to the people of Israel was the following commandment:

“There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord; and because of these abominable practices the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations, which you are about to dispossess, give heed to soothsayers and to diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you so to do.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-14)

In the New Testament we read how the apostles continually preached against those who practiced magic arts. One result is recorded in the book of Acts:

Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily. (Acts 19:18-20)

The word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily—against the world of sorcery and magic, that is.

Merlin the magician is not a Christian

In That Hideous Strength, Lewis does something extraordinary: He has Merlin the magician resurrected from his sixth century grave into modern England. This resurrection is accomplished with no mention of God or Christ, as though self-resurrection is something one could expect from a powerful magician. Lewis has Dr. Dimble explain Merlin’s role when he wonders “whether Merlin doesn’t represent the last trace of something the later tradition has quite forgotten about—something that became impossible when the only people in touch with the supernatural were either white or black, either priests or sorcerers” (That Hideous Strength, 30). Later in the book, Ransom thinks “Merlin’s art was the last survival of something … going back to an era in which the general relations of mind and matter on this planet had been other than those we know” (p. 198). Still later, Ransom (who is the authoritative figure for those supposedly on the side of God) declares Merlin to be a Christian (p. 277)! In simple terms, Merlin represents in Lewis’s world a re-birth of what might be called “good magic”—a thing the Bible unequivocally declares to be impossible. And Lewis even portrays this magic as compatible with Christianity!

By the way, the resurrected Merlin remains a magician after his resurrection. He is identified as a druid (p. 283), he can hypnotize people at will (p. 327), and he can make a tramp speak a foreign language (p. 331), just to cite a few examples. These are signs that Merlin is invoking demonic powers, even though Lewis portrays Merlin’s actions as happening toward a good end.

Clairvoyance is condemned by God

In That Hideous Strength there is also a character named Jane who is referred to as a “seer”; Jane has dreams which foretell future events. In other words, Jane is a clairvoyant—a person with psychic powers that are not from God.  In the book, this ability is termed a “faculty” of Jane’s which she has inherited (p. 236) and which is not dependent on any relationship with God (Jane is not a Christian).

Jane’s powers to foresee the future through dreams are to be contrasted with the powers of Joseph in the Bible. When Pharaoh told Joseph he had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams, Joseph replied: “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16). The Biblical prophet Daniel also interpreted dreams, and he made a similar statement before interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

Daniel answered the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery which the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” (Daniel 2:27-28)

In other words, Lewis makes it appear that in his world magic powers and sorcery can be used to good ends, and in some cases they can accomplish things which (according to the Bible) can only be accomplished by God Almighty. Lewis is giving glory to demonic powers for things that can only come from God.

Astrology does not mix with Christianity

As That Hideous Strength progresses, we find Merlin acknowledging that Dr. Ransom has even greater powers than Merlin, and Merlin gives worship to Ransom. At this point it becomes clear that Ransom is a Christ figure, because Ransom is the leader of those who use supernatural powers to defeat the evil N.I.C.E. organization. (The N.I.C.E. organization evidently is intended to serve as a parody of the Nazi party in World War II.) Then we read this astonishing statement by Dr. Ransom: “I have stood before Mars himself in the sphere of Mars and before Venus herself in the sphere of Venus. It is their strength, and the strength of some greater than they, which will destroy our enemies” (p. 287). Lewis’s spiritual train has come completely off the track! He has a Christ figure declaring that astrology has hidden, saving powers to destroy evil, whereas we know from the Bible that astrology is a tool of Satan.

Platonic philosophy does not mix with Christianity

The world of sorcery does not provide sufficient false teaching to satisfy Lewis; he also has to bring in Platonic philosophy. In The Last Battle (p. 195), Lord Digory tells the children that the Narnia they lived in “was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world.” Then he adds: “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!”

Lord Digory is referring to the Platonic analogy in which Plato imagines himself sitting near a campfire inside a cave. When he turns his back to the fire, he is staring at the wall of the cave, and he notices that any objects which are between the wall of the cave and the fire will cast shadows onto the wall. He cannot see the objects themselves from where he is sitting, but he can see their shadows on the cave wall. He likens those shadows to our present world, and he sees the objects which are casting the shadows as the real or original world.  So Lewis is suggesting that what the Christians call heaven is equivalent to Plato’s “real” world, and our present world is equivalent to Plato’s shadows on the wall.

But this teaching of Plato is not at all Biblical! The Bible says that after this world is gone there will be a new heaven and a new earth which God “will” create (future tense, see Isaiah 66:22 and 2 Peter 3:13 for example). According to the Bible, this present world is not a shadow of something which already exists in heaven—some “original” or “real” world. This world we live in is a completely real and completely original creation of God; it is not a projection of some other more “real” world.

The wisdom of this world is folly with God

“For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19).

In the end, Lewis provides us with an example in his own person of how the wisdom of this world is opposed to God’s wisdom and can corrupt our thinking. Lewis’s mind was so filled with worldly wisdom that he was unable to shake loose from all his learning and approach the Bible on its own terms. He was unable to see the Bible as a document containing wisdom which supersedes all other wisdom.

This is a warning. Parents, teach your children the Bible from the Bible itself, not from C. S. Lewis. College students, if you try to reconcile the stuff you learn in your philosophy course with the teachings of the Bible, you will only end up in a muddle. The wisdom of the Bible (which is the wisdom of God) does not mix with any philosophy or any other religion in the world. It stands on its own and supersedes all others. New believers, if you want to learn about Christianity, pick up a Bible and begin by reading the gospel of Matthew; don’t try to figure it out from C. S. Lewis. In particular, do not try to know the Lord Jesus Christ from reading about Aslan the lion or about Dr. Ransom who led the victory over N.I.C.E.

God’s word is nothing like the words of the philosophers, or the stories of Greek mythology, or the tales of medieval literature, or the fantasies of C.S. Lewis. “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)