11 April 2007

Christianity and literature

I have a number of web pages on Christianity and literature, linked to one main page on the topic, and I had a look at the statistics for the main page today to see who had been visiting it.

Num Perc. Country Name
drill down2133.33%United StatesUnited States
drill down1320.63%GermanyGermany
drill down69.52%MalaysiaMalaysia
drill down57.94%South AfricaSouth Africa
drill down57.94%CanadaCanada
drill down34.76%PhilippinesPhilippines
drill down23.17%New ZealandNew Zealand
drill down23.17%JordanJordan
drill down11.59%AustraliaAustralia
drill down11.59%MoroccoMorocco
drill down11.59%AustriaAustria
drill down11.59%United KingdomUnited Kingdom
drill down11.59%PolandPoland
drill down11.59%BelgiumBelgium

One of the things that surprised me was the number of visitors from Muslim countries - Malaysia, Jordan and Morocco. Nobody left comments in my guestbook or message forum linked to the page to say why they were visiting the page (unless they were the ones who keep visiting my guestbook to enter advertising spam, which I delete before anyone has seen it). So it leaves me wondering if there are Muslims who are interested in discussions of Christianity and literature, and whether there are Muslims who are interested in the kind of literature I discuss on those pages (mainly fantasy literature by the Inklings (Lewis, Williams, Tolkien & Co) and Beat generation literature).

Another thing is that there are no Second-World countries on the list. One thing that struck me when I was doing my doctoral research on Orthodox mission was the number of young people at the end of the Bolshevik period who came to faith in Christ through reading fantasy literature by the Inklings. Quite a number of them were interested in space travel and science fiction, and when they came across the space travel books of C.S. Lewis, like Out of the silent planet, said that these had changed their perception of the Christian faith, and aroused their interest in it. Have changing times caused them to lose that interest?

Statistics by StatCounter - see sidebar for link


philjohnson said...


There is some web discussion going on about Tolkien's depiction of the orcs etc as being a disguised portrait of Arab Muslims armies. I tend to think that this is a misnomer given the Germanic-Norse world of myth that Tolkien drew on.

I noted that some Muslims attended the film screening of the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe but I have not come across any discussions among Muslims about Narnia (which just reflects the fact that I have not made any effort to check).

However, I do wonder if Charles Williams' novel Many Dimensions might have some appeal given that the miraculous stone in the story was held in the sacred custody of Muslims, and that a Muslim character speaks to Lord Arglay's secretary Chloe and says to her that she "is of Islam".

Williams it seems had some deep appreciation for the utter transcendence, anti-idolatry and strict monotheism expressed in Islam. The question though is whether Williams' books have found their way into Islamic countries?

I suppose if we burrow back in time we might say that Muslims in different epochs have appreciated non-Islamic literature. When the Arab empire covered the realms from Spain to India there was much scholarly interaction and exchange of books found in those places where the Arabs had conquered.

In Christian apologetics the use of parables is attested such as in Theodore Abu Qurrah's apologia, and he was Bishop of Harran. One of the great European thinkers and a missionary to boot to islam was Raymond Lull. Lull wrote the first attested Christian apologetic novel Blanquerna. Blanquerna is if you wish a very ancient forebear through which one moves forward in time to other literary apologists like Bunyan, and then specifically George MacDonald, then the Inklings, and perhaps also Steven Lawhead.

Steve Hayes said...

Orcs as disguised Arab Muslim armies? I've never heard that suggestion before! Who's saying that?

I have heard people suggesting that the Calormenes in the Narnia stories are intended to represent Muslims, but though their material culture and manners could be derived from the Arabian nights, their religion is anything but Islamic, though there may be some resemblance to the pre-Islamic religions of the Middle East -- Assyrian, Babylonian etc.

Many dimensions does, as you say, present Islam in a favourable light, and that could have attracted attention, but I don't remember discussing it much on those pages -- I'll need to check.

philjohnson said...


I'll supply you with a few curious links from both Muslims and non-Muslims on Tolkien (and Lewis) as anti-Islamic in their writings:

1. The actor Rhys-Davies (played Gimli) has stirred the pot about Islam and LOTR see:

2. A message from a Muslim woman at the Canadian Council of Muslim Women specifically mentions Narnia and LOTR see:

3. A Muslim from Pakistan makes a few remarks about Islamic stereotypes and Tolkien see:

4. Claims that Lewis and Tolkien were directly influenced by the medievalist specialist Hilaire Belloc in their ideas about Islam and how that is reflected in their stories -- this is by a Christian:


5. Claims that LOTR battles reflect crusaders vs Muslims:

6. "Why the Left hates LOTR" see allusions to Muslims and orcs etc


philjohnson said...

PS the links to items 1 and 4 seemed to have been snipped off.

Here they are again:

For no. 1


For no. 4


Steve Hayes said...


Thanks for those links.

When you mentioned this in your first comments I asked about this in some of the Inklings newsgroups, and it provoked quite an interesting discussion there too -- see alt.books.inklings.

I found the second reference interesting for another reason -- some Christian writers have explicitly rejected terms like "non-Christian" as injurious to interfaith relations, yet here is a Muslim writer, specifically trying to promote religious tolerance, writing about non-Muslims, and I have no objection to being described as "non-Muslim" there.

Her allegorical interpretation of Tolkien is, however, bizarre, given that Tolkien (and to a lesser extent Lewis) rejected allegorical interpretations of their works. It is particularly bizarre in the suggestion that Saruman represents the Catholic Church (of which Tolkien himself was a member).

Several of those who responded in the newsgroups said that this perception (of orcs as representing the Muslim hordes) was provoked by the films rather than the book. I notice that the writer of the third article seems to make a similar point. Though I've read the book several times, I have not seen the film, mainly because I don't want the film interfering with the pictures in my head when I read the book. But it seems that the films may change the way in which popular culture sees the books.

And the picture of orcs in my head when I read the books is the protalised indoctrinated and brainwashed c\products of the 20th-century dictatorships, the "footsoldiers of apartheid" who did their masters' bidding, because their masters shaped and reinforced their prejudices until there was little else but prejudice.

The last one, on "Why the left hates LOTR" also strikes me as bizarre. A friend of mine, Irving Hexham, who teaches religious studies at Calgary University in Canada, has on several occasions averred that Lewis and Tolkien were fascist. I've always disagreed with him on that point, as my experience has been that the left loves LOTR, and Lewis and Tolkien helped to turn me into a liberal, and to reinforce it. In fact one of the articles in the "Christianity and literature" group deals with this very point.

In my view, the Stentorian lot seem pretty orcish!

philjohnson said...

I agree that some of those sites discuss some peculiar views.

I think that the Stentorian site is odd, and to an outsider who does not share its politics it seems as if God's country (the USA) only retains its purity as long as conservative political values prevail (and with it the corresponding clash between radicalised Muslim movements and the USA).

I agree that Tolkien disliked allegory, especially any allegorical meaning being attributed to LOTR. However he did affirm it was deeply mythic, and there are occasions where he alluded to aspects of his Christian worldview being infused in LOTR and the Silmarillion. he also denied that the "ring" was inspired by the atom bomb. It is easy to forget that he began composing pieces about middle earth while in the trenches in 1917, and that LOTR was a work that he started, stopped and restarted over many years (both pre and post WW2).

As for the "fascist" leanings of Tolkien and Lewis, I have read many of their books, various biographies, studies about the Inklings, and various kinds of "commentaries" about their writings.

I think that in some respects Tolkien held to both a conservative theology and some conservative political values. He was, for example, inclined to sympathise with General Franco's side in the Spanish civil war. He was also appalled by the Leninist and Stalinist expressions of Marxism. However, in some respects Tolkien was also "a greenie" well before the term came into currency.

As for Lewis, I do not recall from any of the biographical studies on him much being said about his political preferences. Like Tolkien he did not have much empathy for the Soviet system and some of his antipathy is reflected in The Pilgrim's Regress.

If anything he was different from the great trends that were in vogue at Oxford in the 20s and 30s such as Freudian, Marxist and the new poets (like T S Eliot).

I vaguely recall the odd remark recorded in one of the biographies about Lewis' antipathy to a Labour Party victory in one of the elections. However, I don't recall him making pro-fascist remarks.

What I do recall from my reading is that he disagreed with Tolkien over having empathy for Franco's cause in Spain. To what extent that merely represented Lewis' Ulster resistance to "Popery" and to what extent it represented anti-fascism, I don't know.

Perhaps what we do have a hint of in his fiction about degraded politics is in That Hideous Strength. There he seems to be appalled by the marriage of an unbridled scientism with the state. But That Hideous Strength is also heavily influenced by Charles Williams' Arthurian mythology.


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