A Jewish Narnia?

April 8, 2010

I’ve never had much use for fantasy literature. I’m aware that some of
it is well done. But I prefer to read fiction rooted squarely in the
real world. In the evangelical culture in which I grew up, this was
sometimes an unpopular view.

I did read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid. But while my sister and many of our friends were devouring the Narnia series, I moved on to other things. Years later, when the film adaptation
came out, I listened to these friends describe being magically
transported back to their childhood. My reaction to the film was to
remember that not even J.R.R. Tolkien found much to like in C. S. Lewis’s overt allegory and endless talking animals.

Lewis
loomed large when I was at Wheaton College; during my four years he was
the focus of multiple conferences in multiple disciplines, although the
focus wasn’t always on his fantasy writing. Tolkien was everywhere too,
as ubiquitous a dorm-room presence in 1997 as the first Counting Crows record.
In a survey course in 20th-century British literature—one of few such
classes, I suspect, in which D.H. Lawrence, E.M Forster and Wilfred Owen
were ignored—The Lord of the Rings was assigned in its entirety. When the Tolkien films came out, they were the only thing many of my Wheaton friends wanted to talk about.

There
may be obvious reasons for fantasy literature’s popularity among
Christian writers and readers. Less obvious is why there’s no Jewish
parallel. Michael Weingrad raises this question in his review of new books by Lev Grossman and Hagar Yanai, and he offers some provocative possibilities.