Lev Grossman interviewed Philip Pullman for Time, and some of the outtakes made it into Lev’s blog. I thought His Dark Materials was superb on the axis of science-fictional inventiveness, but in the end didn’t function well as a series of novels, especially in the second and third books. It’s natural to set up Pullman’s rather anti-clerical series about British teens falling through to another universe as a kind of Bizarro Narnia, and it seems that Pullman himself sees his work this way: about Narnia, he tells Lev:
I think you’d come away thinking that the highest Christian virtue is martial valor. Courage in battle. You’d also come away believing that a lot of other things are part of the Christian message. Such as the disparagement of women. Such as a suspicion and hatred of people with dark skin who smell of garlic.
You’d also come away believing that the greatest task of a Christian would be to get out of this world, get out of this earth, as quickly as possible and go to the next one. Because what Lewis does with the children in that story is to take them through all these adventures, they see wonderful things, and they learn great truths, and so on, and then he kills them. Instead of letting them go free, as I think would be the moral thing to do, the Christian thing to do, to use these truths they’ve learned and these strengths they’ve gained to make the world a better place. To do good! But he takes them away. Doesn’t allow them to do that! Lucky children, you’re dead! You can relax now!
I read the Narnia books as a kid, not knowing much about Christianity and certainly not knowing the book was supposed to be an allegory. To me all the business about the “old magic” bringing Aslan back to life seemed like a cheap trick to get the author out of an impossible situation. So I’m not qualified to say what lessons about Christianity one is meant to draw from the books. But I can say that I certainly don’t remember martial valor being rated as the chief virtue — rather, you were supposed to be the kind and loving person that Lucy and Peter were, and Susan and Edmund weren’t, and courage in battle was supposed to follow from this.
But I might not be the ideal judge, since my favorite of the Narnia books was the trippy prequel The Magician’s Nephew, which is a bit like having The Silmarillion as your favorite Lord of the Rings book. (I really sincerely hope someone reading this is nerdy enough to have The Silmarillion as their favorite, and valiant enough to cop to it in comments.)