When I was a kid, my first love was…World War II. I hate to burst your Space Bubble, but I did not waltz into the world all wide-eyed with optimistic love for the future, an adoration of science fiction, or faith in the bold new American century powered by Our Friend the Atom. Like many men in my generation, early — and I mean early — fascination with Saturday-afternoon war movies led later to backyard games in which the “Krauts” were hiding around every corner, trying to prevent us from blowing up the heavy water plant. Upon our capture, one of us would switch roles to play the sadistic SS commander and snarl “We have ways of making you talk!” in an accent equal parts Major Strasser, Pepe Le Pew and Charro. I didn’t discover fantasy until I discovered C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, round about fourth grade.
I loved these books, and I loved C.S. Lewis. I adore Lewis’s many eloquent accounts of his quest for a spiritual place in the world, which led to a very different place for him than it did for me but nonetheless comes from the same deep craving to not just experience but to accept the beauty in the world and in our fellow living things. Lewis was Surprised by Joy because he needed it so bad he could effin’ taste it. I’m very down with that, Clive.
Of course, I cannot count the number of my fellow atheists (and agnostics) who said they simply can’t enjoy the Narnia books because of their blatant Christian message. And when I say that I can, they roll their eyes as if questioning my ethics. You see, I grew up as a wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth, his-heart-is-lifted, his-face-is-joy 1970s crypto-hippie Irish American Catholic. I’ve had my fondness for the Narnia books ascribed, quite often, to that fact.