Friday, April 08, 2005

The Heart of an Adult

It would be far too easy (pedantic, really) to re-illuminate the basic spiritual allegory of this first-born of the Narnia Chronicles, in which Aslan is Jesus and Jadis is Satan and the parallel salvation story is wrapped up neatly with a silver string by the end.

But this is Lewis—a phenomenal Christian mind, an outstanding philosopher, a prolific, renowned author of works ranging from children’s books to science fiction to treatises on grief to thorough apologetics of the Christian faith. Given all of that, I am led to believe that there is more than the “basic” allegory in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. After all, if that were really all there were to it, why would six other books be necessary to complete the story?

So rather than focus directly on the widely-acknowledged allegory of The Fall of Man and God’s plan for redemption through His sacrifice, I’d like to move to the implications of such an allegory, and what we might be able to extrapolate from other analogous aspects of the story.

Narnia1StudyH.jpgFirst, let me reiterate that the fundamental parallels of the story—of sin entering the world and Aslan’s ultimate sacrifice and resurrection to overcome that fateful event—are not to be dismissed, nor deemed trivial because of their transparency. Particularly for the first-time reader (child or otherwise), these foundational plotlines connect us to that Great Myth which also happens to be true (as Lewis so eloquently stated). The dawning recognition of God’s compassion, His love, His justice and His mercy in the face of man’s sinfulness is a beautiful and integral—and intentional—component of Lewis’ work. But the allegorical is a tool for Lewis, not the goal. He did not aim to simply retell the salvation story. He intended the reader, I believe, to come away with a more abundant understanding not just of what God’s plan for salvation is, but what it means in our lives.

Narnia1StudyC.jpgFor instance, what do we observe about the nature of the relationship between the self-sacrificing God and the children? In The Magician’s Nephew, we witnessed the Creator Aslan—a Being whose power is equaled only by His compassion for and sorrow over His creation. (The illustration which always leaps to my mind is a tearful Aslan grieving with Digory over his mother’s illness, without disregarding Digory’s hand in bringing evil to His new world.) In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we see this powerful Aslan humbly submit Himself to Queen Jadis’ punishment, never disregarding Edmund’s role in the conflict yet never belaboring the point, either. Likewise, when Peter takes partial responsibility for Edmund’s betrayal, the Great Lion says “nothing either to excuse Peter or to blame him, but merely [stands] looking at him with His great golden eyes.” Ultimately, what we see is that Aslan’s kindness—not His power nor His wrath—is what leads Edmund back to Him (see Romans 2:4). Aslan’s unsevered relationship with Edmund offers an honest look at God’s overriding love for His broken people: He loved us first, and never stopped (see I John 4:19).

Narnia1Study2.jpgAnother question: Did you ever wonder while you were reading why the children are so uninquisitive of Aslan? Really—these are the remarkably curious children who have spent hours exploring their uncle’s old house, fascinated by the innumerable rooms and their individual qualities. These are the children whose dogged need to know drove them to ask Uncle Digory about Lucy’s crazy stories. Yet as the Lion reveals more and more to them about His plan, and about what will come in the future, and about their roles in Narnia, they are silent.

For example, when Aslan reveals that saving Edmund may be harder than they imagine, they do not question Him. They do not ask what they will do, or what the task will require, or who will be the one most responsible for saving the lost sibling.

Narnia1StudyB.jpgAnd Peter doesn’t seem the least surprised or overwhelmed when Aslan takes him to see the “far-off sight of the castle” where he will be king. Now, if I were Peter, my mind would have started racing: Excuse, me, did He say king? But I am only a boy! And just a moment ago I told him I was part to blame for Edmund’s betrayal… How can I be a king? Yet Lewis has Peter say nothing—not a word.

Similarly, the children are mute even in the face of the somewhat odd gifts that are bestowed on them by a rather anachronistic Father Christmas. (Just ask yourself: how can there be Christmas in Narnia without a Christ-child whose birth it would be celebrating? Yet the gifting is essential to the story…) The gifts for Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are reasonable enough—functional tools to help them do what they do best. But the gifts for the children… Not exactly what I would expect under my Christmas tree, Narnian or not:

  • The future King Peter receives a real shield and sword. Yet even when Father Christmas indicates the practicality of the gifts, Peter doesn’t ask how to use them, or why he needs them, or in what capacity he may be called upon to apply them.
  • Susan, who receives a defensive weapon, is likewise silent, accepting her gifts so unceremoniously as to not even warrant a description.
  • Lucy, whose weapon gift is also specifically defensive, while asserting her bravery does not question Father Christmas’ further explanation of women not belonging in battle.
Other instances of conspicuous speechlessness abound:
  • Edmund, the guilty betrayer, knows instinctively that as Aslan and Jadis wrestle over his life, silence—not emotional outburst, not desperate plea, not public self-deprecation—is what is called for.
  • Aslan, while outlining battle plans with Peter, reveals that He cannot guarantee His presence when the Witch returns, and Peter is silent.
  • When Aslan acknowledges His loneliness during the trek to the Sone Table (despite the girls' presence), Susan and Lucy do not question Him; and when He tells them they can come no further with Him, they cry, but say nothing.

When I take all of these examples together (and there are many more), I cannot help but notice a pattern of wordlessness when every part of my psyche is screaming for more information than what Lewis offers.

Narnia1StudyF.jpgSo what is it that the Pevensie children demonstrate in their silence? If the silence is deliberate on Lewis’ part, I have to ask myself: what does it mean?

The children do not question Aslan’s plans—the establishment of their Narnian royalty, His answer to Jadis’ call for blood, His reasons for not allowing them to stay with Him in the midst of His anguish. Edmund does not question the price of his redemption, nor his forgiveness by Aslan and his siblings, nor his place as king alongside King Peter and Queens Susan and Lucy. Peter, Susan, and Lucy do not question the gifts bestowed upon them by Father Christmas (who, with Aslan, obviously had good knowledge things to come). They weep, they mourn, but they do not question.

Narnia1Study6.jpgIn my world, I question everything. Like the toddler who learns that magic word WHY? and repeats it ad nauseum, I am seldom silent when God tells me anything. Why me? Why this way? What am I supposed to do with this? Are sure you want me to do this? Isn’t there someone more qualified? Have you really forgiven me? The questions are incessant, and I rarely stop questioning long enough to hear an answer, should He offer one I might want to try to understand.

But the Pevensies, on the other hand, know what it means to trust the Almighty One, and to know that He knows best regardless of how things seem to be. They know how to accept responsibility as well as redemption, gifts as well as admonition, grace as well as truth: with silence.

Narnia1Study7.jpgAnd I am brought back to the words of Christ in Matthew 18: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

So is there more to this story than a repackaging of the gospel in a children’s tale?

In a word, yes. Much more. More than a casual reading might reveal. More than we might want to admit that we missed the first (or twenty-first) time we read the book. More than a theologically-educated mind might wish to find in a “children’s” series. More than I could examine in one attempt—and certainly more than I bargained for.


Anonymous Liz the Brit said...

Great C. S. Lewis and "Narnia" article, Jenn. First-rate. (And if you see some of what I've put on the other pages of the site, about certain movies that have raised my ire, you would realise I don't give that sort of praise lightly!!)

By the way, I am not (any more much of a) Christian. But I still love C. S. Lewis as much as I ever did!!

Archetypes are my way of explaining things!!

4/14/2005 1:07 AM  
Blogger Kathy Bledsoe said...

Liz - Thanks for the kindness of your encouraging words. No praise is lightly taken as no constructive criticism is merely ignored. Now, that second statement is a "tickler". Care to expand on that? Thanks for visiting and commenting!

4/14/2005 7:38 AM  
Blogger Jenn Wright said...

Thank you for your positive feedback. We really appreciate hearing from our readers, and hopefully opening up some engaging dialogue. It sounds like you are particularly well-read -- we'd sure enjoy hearing more about what you think!

Thank you again!


4/14/2005 8:02 PM  

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