Dunham has a master's degree in communication and a bachelor's degree in English literature. In the following essay, he analyzes common critical misconceptions of Father Christmas's place in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and offers an alternative perspective.
The presence of Father Christmas in the land of Narnia has long been a source of puzzlement and consternation for critics and admirers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and has resulted in a variety of conjectures as to his appropriateness and significance in the story. Unlike the character of Aslan, whose role is generally interpreted one way, Father Christmas remains an enigma. Some insist that Father Christmas is a jarring incongruity in this fairy tale world of nymphs, fauns, and talking animals. Others, who are made uncomfortable by his presence yet hesitate to dismiss him entirely, try to explain him away as a literary device. Still others, in an attempt to defend his presence, imbue him with meaning by reducing him and his gifts to biblical allusions. Sifting through these discordant views reveals nuggets of truth, but on the whole, most of this scholarship seems to lack careful thoughtful analysis.
J. R. R. Tolkien registered the first negative reaction to Father Christmas as a Narnian character in 1948, two years before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published. Tolkien disapproved of Lewis's mixing of creatures with distinct mythological origins in a single setting; he thought it was artistically inappropriate and especially disliked Father Christmas's attendance among the creatures. On this point of contention (not taking into account the animosity he harbored toward Lewis), Tolkien dismissed the story entirely and pronounced it so bad that it was it beyond saving. Such scathing criticism from his longtime friend and colleague hurt Lewis deeply and further weakened his confidence in a story he already feared had little merit. Lewis might not have finished the book had it not been for the encouragement of Roger Green, a former pupil and friend who shared Lewis's love of fairy tales. Green greeted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with great enthusiasm and, unlike Tolkien, offered praise as well as helpful criticism. But he too reacted against the appearance of Father Christmas, seeing it as an artistic liability that worked to the story's detriment. Although not unlike Tolkien's opinion, Green's reason was more objective and less based on personal taste. He viewed Father Christmas as a kind of earthly intruder whose appearance in Narnia breaks the spell of this magical world, and Green urged Lewis to take out the character. But Lewis refused both Green's suggestion and Tolkien's opinion that mythologies should not be mixed. Narnia was his own imaginary world, and he was determined to fashion it according to his own imagination. He made it his artistic prerogative to borrow from many myths and to populate Narnia with any creature he deemed necessary to fulfill his creative vision. Father Christmas fit in perfectly. The purpose of this essay is to argue how Father Christmas, given the nature of his seemingly incongruous role in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a completely logical choice which provides an added spiritual dimension Lewis could not have achieved with any other character.
The assertions by Tolkien and Green regarding Father Christmas's being out of place in Narnia are peculiar given the fact that Father Christmas is as much a mythical character as others in the book. Then, too, he is the figure most frequently associated with gift giving in Western culture. It makes perfect sense to some readers that Lewis should chose Father Christmas for the role of gift giver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If Father Christmas fits in for Narnia, why is his appearance so jarring to certain readers, namely adults? The reason, Lewis may have believed, lies in his being so familiar. Father Christmas is a prominent, indeed ubiquitous, cultural figure; like an icon, he assumes less of a mythical and more of a religious status, and for him to take on a role in a fairy tale somehow comes across to some as scandalous. In removing Father Christmas from his iconic position in Western culture and locating him in a fantasy world, Lewis makes an important point about how far Christian societies have come in supplanting the meaning of Christmas with a myth: the real incongruity is not that Father Christmas is out of place in Narnia but that he is not more out of place in Christian societies. Consequently, to view Father Christmas's incongruous presence in Narnia as some kind of error in Lewis's artistic judgment is to miss the point entirely. Arguably, Lewis knew what he was doing when he selected Father Christmas to be the Narnian bearer of gifts. Father Christmas is incongruity with intent: By drawing attention to Father Christmas as a mythical figure, Lewis points to the spiritual reality Father Christmas has replaced. Apart from acting as a kind of spiritual indicator through his incongruity,...
(The entire section is 2071 words.)