Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The wood between the worlds

There's a sense in which The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy are Christian allegories, although Lewis resisted that classification: 

Here's another way we might draw the distinction: a necessary element of allegory is for an allegory to be set in our world. The Pilgrim's Progress is set in our world; likewise, Dante's comedy is set in our world, according to medieval cosmography. 

By contrast, Narnia represent a parallel universe. Narnia, Charn, and English represent parallel universes in a multiverse. The wood between the worlds exists outside any particular world. Likewise Aslan's Country exists outside individual worlds. Although the worlds are separate, it's possible to travel from one world to another. 

So, for instance, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe illustrates how Christian theology might play out in a fallen world with a different world history and talking animals. 

The Space Trilogy is superficially different. However, the Mars and Venus of The Space Trilogy were never meant to be astronomically realistic descriptions of Mars and Venus as they exist in our universe. So they're not allegorical in the sense that they're not set in our world, but a different kind of world. Perelandra is not an allegory of the Fall because it belongs to a universe with a different world history than the Venus of our own universe.  

Of course, there's a sense in which they are allegorical because they are fictional, and their theology derives from the real world in which Lewis exists. And they are products of his imagination. So we might say the stories are allegorical from a viewpoint outside the world of the stories, but are not allegorical from a viewpoint inside the world of the stories. 


  1. I would make the distinction from allegory a little differently: In allegory, various characters stand for ideas or abstract qualities rather than being realistic characters within the story world. Or they are absolutely universal types, such as Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. A giant stands for Despair, etc. Moreover, in an allegory, the events in the narrative world are supposed to stand for events in the real world. Hence, Christian's fight with Apollyon stands for a real Christian's fight with sin.

    In Lewis's stories, the narrative world is meant to be complete and realistic in itself. When Aslan dies in Narnia, as you say, that is a parallel universe, and the idea is that he *also* died in our universe. The death in Narnia does not stand for the death in our world. It occurs in addition to it. The treachery of Edmund does not stand for the betrayal of Judas. It occurs in addition to it within the narrative world, and both are examples of human treachery and wickedness.

    There are no realistically portrayed characters in any of Lewis's fiction that stand for an idea, as in an allegory. The nearest he comes is in Till We Have Faces, where Psyche might be said to stand for the soul who must respond to the love of God. But I think even there one can argue that Psyche is a sufficiently fleshed-out character, living in a particular, little, barbarous kingdom on the outskirts of a more civilized empire, that she is a real character within the narrative world rather than an allegorical figure standing for an idea.

  2. Interestingly it might be arguable that Tolkien’s Middle-earth is a parallel universe in the same wood between the worlds multiverse.

    Also, it might be arguable that our world to come is a parallel “heaven” to Aslan’s country.