Many critics who first read The Chronicles of Narnia as children report being unaware of its Christian meanings or of any other hidden messages, but several complain that when they reread the books as adults they were shocked and dismayed.
Last year [Philip Pullman] denounced the Narnia books as religious propaganda, and called the series “ugly and poisonous.” He summed up their message as “Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on.”
There you have it. Religious propaganda, racism and anti-feminism – all masquerading in one convenient place as magic and high adventure.
One does sometimes find that works one read as a child without questions and with much enthusiasm become subject to doubt and deconstruction when re-viewed through adult contemporary lenses. Phenomena like Doctor Dolittle, Mary Poppins and the Swallows and the Amazons come to mind, to name but a few. And there was Edward Said and Kipling’s Kim, all very sad and difficult.
I know I came across an online catalogue of un-PC former children’s favorites, but can’t seem to find it again. Among those mentioned above, it also had things like Little Black Sambo, pretty much anything by Enid Blyton (golliwogs!) and Tintin in the Congo, as I recall. And there’s Little Women and Eight Cousins and those Louisa Alcott books (remember how the latest film version of Little Women worked in some very contemporary revisionist feminist/anti-slavery activism…?), and what about the What Katy Did series…?
How to deal with it? Another ghastly continuum in human affairs. In the end, I suppose, you muddle through to some accommodation — you can’t simply denounce and discard things that made up the very fabric of your development (nor do you particularly want to), but neither can you pretend they are as innocuous and wholesome as they appeared to you when you first read them as a child.
I suppose the real test of where you come down is whether you encourage or actively discourage your own children’s access to those books.