Was C.S. Lewis Wrong to Allow Magic in Narnia?

Some Christian readers don’t like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia because certain characters in the stories use magic. For these readers, “magic” is the same as “witchcraft,” a practice strongly condemned in the Bible: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18).

I don’t think we need to spend any time defending C.S. Lewis against a charge of promoting the use of witchcraft. Even so, he might have been well-advised to be more careful.

Dr. Cornelius, a dwarf, has “some small magic” which includes a sleeping spell. The magician Coriakin has a book of spells which apparently anyone can open and use (kind of like leaving a loaded gun lying around the house). Uncle Andrew makes a great deal of trouble for himself by fooling around with magic that he doesn’t understand. And there are a werewolf and a hag who intend to use magic to call up the White Witch from the dead, but are killed before they can do it.

More serious magic–imposing perpetual winter on Narnia, turning people into stone–is done by the White Witch herself, who is not human, and who wiped out all life on her own world by speaking The Deplorable Word. I am not counting as “magic” the actions of Aslan, the Great Lion, who sang life into existence on Narnia. Aslan is a symbolic representation of Jesus Christ; and “magic” is much too vulgar a word to describe Christ’s works–which were done so that we would be able to believe He is the Son of God.

Those of us who love the Chronicles–are we being careless? Speaking only for myself, I’ve always just let the magic slide right past me. What I really get a charge out of is how Lewis, by forcing me to look at Jesus from another, unfamiliar angle, startles me into seeing Jesus afresh. It’s kind of like running into Jesus unexpectedly: and I think that’s sometimes a very good way to encounter Him.

If you don’t like the Narnia books on account of the magic, and think you’re better off steering clear of them, I won’t attempt to persuade you otherwise. I respect your position.

How much do I respect it?

In my own fantasy novels, prominently featured on this blog, I have avoided the use of magic altogether. Characters may think that some of the things they see are magical; but thinking doesn’t make it so. I allow only such things as the Bible allows–which you’ll have to admit gives me pretty wide latitude. Prophecy, tongues, healing, divine guidance–okay. Turning people into stone, or summoning up the dead–not okay.

Have I succeeded? Well, I don’t know how many of you out there have actually read my books: “the few, the proud,” whatever. But if you have, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

About leeduigon

I have lived in Metuchen, NJ, all my life. I have been married to my wife Patricia since 1977. I am a former newspaper editor and reporter. I was also the owner-operator of my own small business for several years. I wrote various novels and short stories published during 1980s and 1990s. I am a long-time student of judo and Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu). I also play chess, basketball, and military and sports simulations. View all posts by leeduigon

12 responses to “Was C.S. Lewis Wrong to Allow Magic in Narnia?

  • benaiah@mischenko.com

    Certainly, in the case of evil characters such as the hag attempting to bring back the White Witch, Lewis is justified, as he is simply portraying witchcraft without promoting it. The Bible speaks of a similar occasion on which Samuel’s spirit was brought back from the dead – which is all the hag managed to do to the White Witch anyway.

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    • leeduigon

      Actually the hag didn’t even get that far. She was permanently interrupted on account of her head being cut off. For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, see Prince Caspian.

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  • lauraeandrews

    I think there’s also an important distinction to be made here between Narnia and Harry Potter (for those who think the two are both to be avoided as promoting witchcraft): in Harry Potter, the children are taught witchcraft (yes, I’ve read some of Harry Potter); in Narnia, the children aren’t *taught* anything about magic. Yes, they’re given magical items, like Susan’s horn and Lucy’s cordial, but really, are those that different from, say, a cell phone or a bottle of medicine? When the children do attempt to use magic, such as when Lucy says the eavesdropping spell, they are reminded that it’s wrong.
    On the other hand, the wicked characters, such as the White Witch and Uncle Andrew, practice real witchcraft and are shown to be evil. Sometimes I think that this is the magic that people have a problem with when they are reading, as if merely reading about it will somehow adversely influence them, even if it’s portrayed as evil.

    In the Harry Potter books, Harry’s muggle aunt whines about how her father thought it was wonderful that her sister had become a witch, but that she didn’t like it at all. The muggles are shown as stupid (not even allowing Harry to say, ‘What’s the magic word?’ in other words, the word ‘Please’) and intolerant, as well as cruel and unjust.

    Really, the only thing I’ve ever seen as wrong in Narnia is a little bit of Lewis’ theology. Other than that, I have no problem with the ‘magic’, the mythical creatures, or anything else. And I think they are quite possibly the best children’s books ever written.

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    • Marty Running Wolfe

      Ok,…I like reading different types of fiction, however…I must point out one thing when it comes to Harry Potter. But first, to get my point across…if you have children, and you are Christian, would you go to a Occult book store and buy your children a book of spells, etc.??? If the answer is no…then let warn you about Harry Potter books. The books actually contain spells ( I’n not exagerating), it is true. The Author of Harry Potter is a Wiccan. This is another fact. Satan uses subtle tricks to lure the innocent and naive. Truth is covered up, in order to lure those who are unsuspecting. If wone loves their Children, and claims to be Christian, the best thing to do is steer away from Harry Potter books, in order to keep your children from evil enfluences. I am not commanind you or anything….just rying to point out a couple of things so you can think about it.

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    • leeduigon

      Bravo, Laura–well said.

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  • UnKnowable

    I won’t pass judgement on C.S. Lewis one way or the other. Deuteronomy 18:10 “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.”

    From what I can tell, casting spells is put on par with witchcraft and divination. When it comes to this one, I prefer to err to the side of caution. There are some angry and powerful resistors in the spirit realm and I don’t want to be anywhere near their influence.

    I appreciate greatly that your books draw the line where they do. It’s one of the reasons that I read them. While the Harry Potter books are, at times, framed as a struggle between good and evil they are about magic and witchcraft, and I have had nothing to do with them. 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?”

    While that is usually applied to marriage, it really lays a groundwork. Our strength in the battle against evil does not come from us, and it certainly could never come from using Satan’s power. Our strength is in Christ. 1 John 5 “And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” He already has proven this ability. John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

    I read your books with joy, Lee, because the power in those books comes from prayer and faith. Even Wytt, the most amazing creature in the book, derives his abilities from the amazing sensory abilities of the animal world and not from any sort of supernatural power. While I don’t believe for a second that C.S. Lewis intended any harm, I wouldn’t enjoy a story where nefarious means are used to effect good.

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    • leeduigon

      Well, I enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia for their spirit; but Lewis’ good friend, Tolkien, warned him about introducing elements of classical paganism into his stories. Tolkien, of course, depicted powerful “magic” in his books: but all of it was done either by a supernatural agent, like Gandalf, with power delegated to him by God (like Moses and Aaron), or else by evil supernatural beings, fallen angels as it were, in rebellion against God.

      Again, I chose not to go even that far.

      Anyhow, we ought to keep in mind that C.S. Lewis was a former atheist who came to Christ late in life but with all his heart. He had a lot to unlearn. He slipped up here and there–but don’t we all?

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      • UnKnowable

        I certainly wouldn’t pass judgement on Lewis. While I endeavor to apply scripture to my life to the best of my abilities, I don’t impose my conscience on others, or at least I try not to.

        It’s a fine line, at times, because we don’t really know exact boundaries are. Meditation, Yoga, etc; I’ve heard convincing arguments on both sides of the issue.

        The supernatural events of the Bible are from God, and that’s another matter altogether. I can’t use God’s power for my own ends, but He has allowed men to demonstrate His power in certain situations. Miraculous hearings, ressuractions, and other events throughout the Scriptures attest to God’s power, but that is far from casting spells for human to human problems.

        As you describe Tolkien’s writings and your writings seem to me more on the order of biblically based fiction. The situations and plots are yours, but the interaction of God with mankind seems in line with the Bible. Reading your books, it is obvious that you are quite familiar with the Bible.

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