One thing you’ll almost certainly notice in the Chronicles of Narnia is that, for a Christian series, there are a lot of beings from pagan mythology hanging out there. In addition to all the nymphs and fauns, there are wood-gods and river-gods, and even an appearance by Bacchus and Silenus.
John Goldthwaite is rather contemptuous of this in The Natural History of Make-Believe, writing, “What is a child to make, for example, of that passage in which Christ is seen sporting in the forest with an entourage of Naiads, Dryads, centaurs, and the like? Would he not conclude, if only unconsciously, that Christianity and Greek mythology are stories with equal claims to the truth, and perhaps even the same story in the end?”
I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a child becoming a pagan because they read the Narnia books. But then, despite C.S. Lewis’ obvious intentions, I’ve never heard of anyone becoming a CHRISTIAN because they read them, either. They’re popular with those who are already Christian, but does anyone go to church because of Aslan?
Now, I have to say that I’m a bit confused by why Lewis stuck so many different supernatural beings into Narnia. If Aslan is omniscient and omnipotent like the Christian God, why would he need help from Bacchus? And why is Father Christmas even in this alternate universe? I guess it’s possible that Narnia celebrates Christmas because its first rulers were English, but did Aslan create Father Christmas, or did he just sort of show up to personify the holiday?
That said, I think the fairy tale is somewhat inherently pagan. I mean, what is a fairy but a minor deity? Granted, not all fairy tales feature fairies, but even the ones that don’t often include some sort of supernatural assistance, quite frequently associated with an aspect of nature. Many of the versions of these tales that we have today, however, also include references to people saying their prayers and other Christian themes. The thing is, I think the form of paganism inherent in fairy tales is a non-religious paganism, if that makes any sense. Look at it this way. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, Dionysus/Bacchus was an object of worship, and hence a god in the religious sense. It’s rare, if not unheard of, to see anyone worshipping the supernatural helpers of the fairy tale world, though. And when Bacchus shows up in Narnia, he’s clearly subject to Aslan/Jesus, and isn’t really presented as a god in his own right. So no, I don’t think Lewis presents paganism as an equally valid religious path, but instead as a convenient place to obtain colorful characters. Now, Goldthwaite’s point that “by associating Christianity with a dead make-believe [Lewis] was implying to children that Christianity might itself be just a make-believe.” It’s just that, unlike Lewis and Goldthwaite, I don’t see this as a bad thing.