A whole chapter is given over to a consideration of charges against Lewis of misogyny, orientalism and violence. A subtle and convincing apologia is given in which Williams portrays Lewis as both typical of his age and also undercutting certain female stereotypes, as well as presenting violence as leading often to self-sacrifice. This chapter was positioned rather oddly between the chapter on the meaning of Narnia and that about Aslan, and rather destroyed the flow of the book.
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A more vibrant, engaged and even personal account of what pleasure Dr Williams derives from these stories would have been helpful to draw the reader in. It is all quite donnish.
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This brings me to the question of the audience for whom this book is written. For a scholar like myself it is full of interest and brilliance, especially in the way Lewis is shown to critique certain aspects of post-Enlightenment positivist accounts of reality.
The Narnia novels of C. Denounced as crypto-indoctrination by some, and defended as meditations upon Christian themes by others, they got at enough of us early enough to provoke strong feelings long into adulthood. Perhaps unusually, Rowan Williams has a strong affection for the works despite not having discovered them until he was an undergraduate at university.
The apologetic impulse in these novels, William suggests, has its root in a sense that when people rejected Christianity in the mid twentieth century and the same may well be true today , they imagined they knew what they were rejecting. Through a series of investigations of the particular narrative arcs and themes of the novels, Williams produces a compelling reading which continually relates them to this dramatization of religious experience, and to issues of narrative and the self.
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There are other problems with many readers have with Lewis which cannot be dealt with via questions of literary influence, and Williams does not ignore these. It is refreshing to see the words subjected to a careful critique based on their repetition through the series, and the uses to which they are put.
Williams makes connections from Lewis to Tolkien, Pratchett, Merton, Shakespeare and Augustine, always coupling a concern for the implications of the stories with an intense attention to the way they question and challenge the reader. While I did not discuss The Chronicles of Narnia, I can undeniably say that the fictional works of Lewis have shaped me spiritually.
From a young age, I have read and reread the Narnian stories. They have become a part of my spiritual formation and of many others as well.
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Lewis has had this effect on Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, as well. Lewis realized that he lived in a culture that thought they knew what Christianity was all about and denied it, without actually knowing what they denied. It was a culture that believed they knew what they were against because it was a part of their culture.
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Because of this, Lewis wrote fiction to help his readers engage with religion without religious speak. Lewis attempted to make world where we can encounter the Christian story in a strange new way, specifically a world aimed at children. The three main critiques of Lewis are racial stereotyping, sexism, and violence.