Allegory, Aslan, belief, Christ, Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, Dawn Treader, Eustace Scrubb, faith, Fiction, frame of reference, M. Giroux, message, Narnia, Narnia Chronicles, Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Writing
In my last post I referenced C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. When I was a kid, I loved the Narnia books, mostly because most of them included a character dealing with the supposedly “impossible,” which, as I said, I absolutely love. In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory and Polly go world jumping for the first time, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe it’s all four protagonists dealing with the wardrobe, in The Horse and His Boy, Shasta has to deal with talking horses for the first time, in Dawn Treader it’s Eustace Clarence Scrubb’s first turn in Narnia, and in The Silver Chair Jill gets to come along for the first time and Caspian gets to see our world as well. It’s wonderful.
However, as I got older, I realized that while the multi-word idea is fascinating, the strength of these books lies not in the plot, but in the Christian allegory. These books aren’t really about the protagonists as much as they are about Aslan (the Christ figure) stepping in and saving the day every time. In many places they’re allegories first, rather than stories unto themselves.
In fact, C. S. Lewis isn’t the only writer I’ve come across who does this. There are plenty of writers who use their Science Fiction or Fantasy primarily as an tool for explaining their beliefs about the real word to readers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that kind of story, and I can’t blame the people who chose to write it. In fact, authors of allegorical fiction have a clear grasp on something that most people forget: That all stories promote certain messages about the world, true or false. While people aren’t always aware of the messages in fiction, they’re sometimes more likely to listen to these messages than to those they receive outright, because the stories are less boring than a dissertation on the state of the universe, so allegorical fiction writers take advantage of the interest stories hold and use them as billboards to promote things they think are important.
However, while I think it’s important for writers to make sure that the messages they send out in their fiction are things they actually believe in, I have a couple of problems reading some allegorical fiction. First of all, if I agree with the message behind an allegorical work, I usually like it, because I like the message. But if I disagree with a lot of what the author is trying to say, then the whole story starts to annoy me, which makes me sad if the premise is good. Also, in some of the less well written allegories, two very sad things tend to happen. First, the real story makes absolutely no sense by itself, but only when taken as an allegory, and second, a great portion of the dialogue, particularly from the “wiser” characters, morphs into a lecture on the nature of the universe or mankind (or about their symbols within the context of the story) rather than actually driving the plot forward. The story becomes more of a sermon with a little make believe thrown in than actual entertainment.
So, while I respect anyone who is willing to write allegorical fiction, I don’t intend to do so myself, because my first priority in writing will always be to tell a good story, rather than to make an allegory. I won’t tell a good story that sends out a message I don’t believe in, but neither will I tell a bad story to promote a message that I do believe in. I want my stories to stand on their own, so they’re enjoyable even for a person who doesn’t care about what I think. And if, somewhere along the way, I can make a point about something I believe in as well, that’s great, but I don’t want to beat my readers over the head with the moral of the story, because I don’t think that lecturing is the best way to get people to listen to you, especially if they showed up to be entertained.
So what are your thoughts on allegorical fiction? Do you like it? Hate it? Or maybe (like me) you only like it when you can agree with it? Comment at the top of the page.
- An Untold Tale of Narnia (leeduigon.com)
- The Narnia Roadtrip (butcheringsaint.wordpress.com)
- Legendary And/or Mythic in Fantasy Texts (judsjottings.wordpress.com)