Jewish Review of Books


Why There Is No Jewish Narnia

The Magicians
by Lev Grossman
Viking, 416 pp., $26.95

Ha-Mayim she-bein ha-olamot (The Water Between the Worlds)

by Hagar Yanai
Keter, 313 pp., 88 NIS

Lo! We have heard how near and far over middle-earth Moses declared his ordinances to men . . .
(The Old English “Exodus” poem, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien)

Although it might seem unlikely that anyone would wonder whether the author of The Lord of the Rings was Jewish, the Nazis took no chances. When the publishing firm of Ruetten & Loening was negotiating with J. R. R. Tolkien over a German translation of The Hobbit in 1938, they demanded that Tolkien provide written assurance that he was an Aryan. Tolkien chastised the publishers for “impertinent and irrelevant inquiries,” and—ever the professor of philology— lectured them on the proper meaning of the term: “As far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects.” As to being Jewish, Tolkien regretted that “I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”

Needless to say, C. S. Lewis wasn’t Jewish either, though he did marry a Jewish convert to Anglican Christianity (played by Deborah Winger in the film Shadowlands). In fact, when one of her two sons from a previous marriage became increasingly observant, Lewis turned to the great Jewish historian Cecil Roth for advice on finding kosher food and shabbat hospitality for his stepson. But of course no one would suppose the author of Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia to have been Jewish himself. Tolkien had famously converted his friend and fellow Oxford don from skepticism to Christianity through a series of conversations that led Lewis to the realization that “the story of Christ is simply a true myth.”

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About the Author

Michael Weingrad directs the Jewish Studies program at Portland State University. His book, American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in the United States will be published this fall by Syracuse University Press.


len on July 9, 2013 at 11:58 pm
Let's not forget "The Grail of Hearts," 1993, by Susan Shwartz, along with other works of fantasy fiction written by her.
MatthewAnish56 on February 20, 2014 at 7:54 pm
I refer you to my post = Reflections of a Jewish Tolkienist. Also my poem - Passover at Bilbo's House. I see the point about the Midlle Ages - but personally I enjoy fantasy. Isn't the late Isaac B.Singer a fantasy writer in a way? There are occult elements in some of his writing and plenty of out of the ordinary things going on? Some people think Mr. Potok's novels are fantsy - they have a heavy religious message.
Matthew Abish
JewishPrincess on April 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm
Perhaps authentic Jewish fantasy will need to reach back farther than the Middle Ages, to a time erased from our negative genetic memories, the days of King David, our once and future king, or the magical time of Daniel's court days in Babylon. Michael Weingrad is correct that Lewis'and Tolkien's prodigious academic and intellectual accum provided the authenticity that made their works timeless.

I hope the author is correct, and there is an individual somewhere, (an Aspie like Lewis, I suspect)likely an unrecognized creative genius whose obsession is the ancient Babylonian Empire or the Davidic Kingdom typing away on his/her laptop. That someone must value authenticity over popular psychobabble memes.

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