Why are C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” – especially their showcase opener, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – so popular, fifty years after their author’s death? Many answers might be given, from the obvious fact that they are stories well told, to the suggestion that they call us back to a lost childhood. But perhaps there is something deeper going on here.
To understand the deep appeal of Narnia, we need first to appreciate the place of stories in helping us to make sense of reality, and our own place within it. The “Chronicles of Narnia” resonate strongly with the basic human intuition that our own story is part of something greater and grander – something which, once we have grasped it, allows us to see our situation in a new and more meaningful way. A veil is lifted; a door is opened; a curtain is drawn aside; we are enabled to enter a new realm. Our own story is now seen to be part of a much bigger story, which both helps us understand how we fit into a greater scheme of things, and discover the difference we can make.
Like his Oxford friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis was deeply aware of the imaginative power of “myths” – stories told to make sense of who we are, where we find ourselves, what has gone wrong with things, and what can be done about it. A “myth,” as Lewis uses the term, is not a false story told to deceive, but a story that on the one hand resonates with the deepest structures of reality, and on the other has an ability to connect up with the human imagination.