Friday, April 08, 2005

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


This is what all the fuss is about.

Published as the first volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, this story introduces us to C. S. Lewis' wardrobe, a literary device perhaps as well known as Lewis Carroll's looking glass or Aladdin's lamp. Certainly the most famous of the Narnian children's stories, it is also perhaps the most controversial.

In this month's edition of the Hollywood Jesus Narnia coverage, we will not only revisit the basic storyline of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but we will also examine some of the more curmudgeonly assessments of the book's literary merits as well as some of the lesser-analyzed spiritual issues in the text.

We apologize in advance for not doing fuller justice to the story's Christ allegory; but plenty has been written on that subject to date, and can be easily located elsewhere!

Story Synopsis: Into the Wardrobe...

Four children—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—are sent from London to the country house of an old professor because of the danger posed by German air raids during World War II. One day they decide to go exploring, but it is raining so they explore inside the old house. They find a room that is empty except for a large wardrobe. Everyone moves on except Lucy, the youngest, who looks into the wardrobe. She sees several long fur coats and climbs in among them. She expects to find the back of the wardrobe, but she walks until she feels trees instead of coats and snowy ground instead of the wood floor.

She sees a light ahead and discovers that it is a lamppost in a forest. A faun, named Tumnus, steps out from the trees and tells Lucy she is in the land of Narnia. He invites her to tea at his home which is a very nice dry, clean cave. After tea, Tumnus tells Lucy many stories of the forest and he plays a strange flute.

The tune has an odd effect on her. It makes her want to cry, laugh, dance, and sleep all at the same time. She eventually rouses herself and says she has to leave. Mr. Tumnus cries and tells Lucy about the White Witch who has ordered him to kidnap the first human he sees. He says he pretended to be her friend to lure her back to his cave, lull her to sleep with his flute, and turn her over to the White Witch.

He sees now that Lucy is a very nice human and he can’t kidnap her even though the tyrannical witch will be angry. He helps Lucy back through the forest to the lamppost and she finds her way to the wardrobe.

Lucy jumps out of the wardrobe and runs to her brothers and sister. Although it seems to her that she was occupied for hours, she finds out that she was only gone a moment. Her siblings have not missed her! She tells them about the faun and Narnia, but they think she is making up a story. This makes Lucy quite miserable. She is too truthful to say that it was only a story although that would settle it. Edmund, the next oldest, teases her and asks if she’s found any other countries in cupboards in the house.

The next rainy day the children play hide-and-seek inside, and Lucy goes to the room where wardrobe is. She climbs in when she hears Edmund approaching. He also climbs into the wardrobe expecting to find Lucy, but instead finds the snowy wood in Narnia. A reindeer-drawn sled driven by a dwarf appears. On a seat behind the dwarf is a very tall, beautiful woman dressed in white fur and holding a long, gold wand—the White Witch.

The White Witch discovers that Edmund is a human boy and tricks him into telling her all about Lucy, the faun, Peter, and Susan. After the witch leaves, Lucy and Edmund find each other. Lucy is happy because Edmund can tell the others that her stories of Narnia are true, but when they return Edmund lies and tells Peter and Susan that he and Lucy were pretending. Lucy rushes out of the room and Peter, the oldest, scolds Edmund for being so mean and indulging her stories.

Peter and Susan, worried something is wrong with Lucy, go to the professor for help. They are surprised when he tells them Lucy might be telling the truth. After that they make sure things go better for Lucy. That might have been the end of it, but on another rainy day all four children climb into the wardrobe to avoid a sightseeing party that is touring the old house. Once inside, they discover that Lucy’s stories are true because they find themselves in the wood. They borrow the fur coats to keep warm and follow Lucy to Mr. Tumnus’s cave. They are distressed to find Mr. Tumnus gone and his tidy home wrecked. He has been arrested by the witch’s chief of secret police.

The children decide to help Mr. Tumnus and wonder what to do—until they meet Mr. Beaver. He tells them that the great Lion, Aslan, may be in Narnia. They don’t know who Aslan is, but all of them, except for Edmund, feel wonderful at the sound of his name. Edmund feels a sense of horror. Mr. Beaver cautiously leads them back to his den where they meet Mrs. Beaver. The Beavers tell them that Mr. Tumnus has likely been taken to the witch’s house and turned into a statue. Mr. Beaver also tells them that the faun has been charged with taking the children to Aslan.

Mr. Beaver explains a Narnian prophecy: that when four human children sit upon the thrones in the castle at Cair Paravel, the witch’s wintry reign will end and she will die. This is why they must meet Aslan at the Stone Table as quickly as possible—the witch intends to kill the children to prevent the prophecy from coming true.

They now notice that Edmund is gone. Peter wants to mount a search, but Mr. Beaver tells them that Edmund has gone to the White Witch. If they are to save Edmund and themselves they must leave immediately to avoid being caught.

Edmund makes his way to the witch’s castle where he finds the courtyard full of statues. Edmund is treated very cruelly there, especially after the witch finds that his brother and sisters are not with him. He tells her that they are at the Beavers’ house so she sends Fenris Ulf, the wolf who is chief of her secret police, ahead to kill anyone there and, if they are gone, to meet her at the Stone Table.

Meanwhile, the Beavers and the children rush out into the cold, snowy night. They march for a long time then hide in a secret den that Mr. Beaver leads them to. When they wake in the morning they hear bells and worry it might be the witch’s sled. They are delighted to find instead that it is Father Christmas. The witch’s hold on Narnia must be weakening. Father Christmas gives them each gifts including a sword and shield for Peter, a horn for Susan, and a small liquid-filled bottle for Lucy.

During that same night Edmund has been forced to sit without a coat beside the witch as her sled covers mile after mile through the forest. He was covered with snow all night and is now wet to his skin. In the morning they come upon a party of forest creatures enjoying a feast that Father Christmas has given them. The witch is enraged to find out that her hold on the land is weakening and she turns the whole party to stone.

When they start out again Edmund notices it is getting warmer and the snow is getting wet. The snow continues to melt and the sled struggles until it can no longer move. The other children and the Beavers realize that the witch must be slowed by the thaw so they also slow to enjoy the spring that is blossoming around them.

As the sun goes down the children and the Beavers climb a hill and at the top they find the Stone Table, a gray slab of stone supported by four upright stones. To their right they see Aslan sitting in a crowd of creatures along with two leopards who carry his crown and standard.

At first the children are afraid to approach the lion, but eventually Peter moves forward and Aslan welcomes them. Aslan asks where the fourth child is and Mr. Beaver says that Edmund has gone over to the White Witch. Lucy asks if anything can be done for Edmund. Aslan says that all will be done, but it will be hard. Aslan takes Peter to the edge of the hilltop and shows him the castle where he will be king. Suddenly they hear Susan’s horn. Peter rushes off and finds her being chased into a tree by Fenris Ulf. Peter slays the wolf with his sword, but another wolf escapes.

Aslan sends his centaurs and eagles after the wolf, but it finds its way back to the witch. She sends the wolf to summon all her people to come fight. Then she has the dwarf tie Edmund to a tree. As she is about to kill him the eagles and centaurs arrive and rescue Edmund. The dwarf and witch escape, though.

The next morning when Peter, Susan, and Lucy wake, the Beavers tell them Edmund has been rescued. They find him talking with Aslan and Edmund tells them he is sorry. They don’t have much time to talk about it, though, because the dwarf comes and arranges a meeting between Aslan and the witch. She has come to remind Aslan of the Deep Magic by which every traitor belongs to her—and so Edmund’s life is forfeit by law.

Aslan admits that is true, but he has a private discussion with her and then announces the witch has given up her claim on Edmund. Instead of appearing defeated, she is oddly joyful. Aslan, on the other hand, is quiet and stern as they break camp and move to the Fords of Beruna. That night Susan and Lucy are so worried they cannot sleep. They go outside their tent and see Aslan walking into the woods. They follow him and see he is taking the route back to the Stone Table. In a clearing he discovers them, but allows them to accompany him. He is tired and overwhelmingly sad so he lets the girls stroke his fur to comfort him.

At the last tree before the clearing on the hilltop, Aslan tells the girls to hide. From there they see the witch’s people crowded around the stone table. Aslan walks proudly to the crowd and at first the witch’s army holds back in fear, but she orders Aslan be tied. Then the crowd beats him and drags him onto the stone table. The witch bares her arms and declares that the Deep Magic must be appeased. She will now rule Narnia forever and nothing can keep her from killing Edmund. As the girls cover their eyes she slays Aslan.

Afterward the hoard rushes past as the girls crouch in their hiding place. The girls go to Aslan and stay with him until morning, when friendly field mice gnaw away the ropes that bind him. The girls walk to the edge of the hilltop and as the sun rises they hear a deafening crack. They see the Stone Table has been broken in two and Aslan is gone. When Susan wonders out loud if it is more magic, the girls are overjoyed to hear Aslan’s voice reply that it is. They think it may be a ghost, but Aslan proves he is alive. He explains that, although the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time that is even more powerful.

Susan and Lucy climb on Aslan’s back and he runs across Narnia to the witch’s castle where he breathes on the statues in her courtyard and halls, turning them back into living creatures. He tells everyone to follow him to fight the witch. They rush out from the castle and soon find Peter, Edmund and Aslan’s army in a battle with the witch and her minions. With a great roar Aslan jumps onto the witch. All the others who have followed him also attack. The witch is killed and her army quickly defeated.

Peter tells Aslan that they lasted as long as they did because Edmund destroyed the witch’s wand. He was badly wounded doing it, however. Lucy uses the liquid from the bottle Father Christmas gave her to heal Edmund, as well as others who were wounded in the fight.

The next day the children, Aslan, and his people march to Cair Paravel. The children are crowned and Aslan quietly leaves. The children grow to be great Kings and Queens and govern Narnia well.

One day Mr. Tumnus comes to tell them the White Stag has been spotted—the White Stag who grants wishes if you catch him. The Kings and Queens hunt the stag and follow it into a thicket. They notice the thicket is very familiar and soon they find the lamppost. As they continue walking they are no longer among trees but among long fur coats. Suddenly they tumble out of the wardrobe. They are mere children once more, and scarcely a moment has passed since they climbed in to hide from the sightseers.

Later they tell the professor the whole story and wonder if they might ever get back to Narnia. He tells them that they will not likely get back through the wardrobe. But they will return to Narnia some day—when they aren’t looking for it, and when they least expect it.

The Heart of a Child

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is pedantic, often trite and repetitive, allegorized ad nauseum, poorly edited, and shocking to find in the repertoire of an author of C. S. Lewis’ caliber.

Now that I have your attention, allow me to explain why very little of the preceding statement is true.

Pedantry (here used as “unimaginative and pedestrian”—with apologies to Lemony Snicket!) is a term which might be applied to Lewis by the reader who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe only once. But Lewis’ juvenile writings are like the proverbial onion whose layers must be peeled away to reach the core. Just as the center of the onion often has the most concentrated flavor, the core of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yields fresh insights with each return to Narnia. Superficially read, the book might give the impression that it is just for children and so be easily dismissed by adults as another piece of fantasy claptrap that only serves the purpose of getting the kiddies to drift off to sleep at night. We might even focus on the similarities we see with other works of children’s fantasy and accuse Lewis of having no imagination of his own.

But what of the saying, “imitation is the highest form of praise”? Rather than calling Lewis unimaginative, we can praise the man for a mind that seems to have had the capacity to hold on to everything he had ever read. Lewis was naturally influenced by his experiences just as all of us are. It is not unimaginative plagiarism that causes Lewis to use a piece of furniture to invade the land of Narnia, but recognition that this device works. Why reinvent the wheel when a writing desk worked for George MacDonald, a looking glass sufficed for Lewis Carroll, and Barrie brought the delicious advent of pixie dust? And, as we are taught in college, the great author writes about what he knows. Lewis and his brother Warnie spent hours as children “imagining” in a spare room containing a big old wardrobe.

If The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not pedantry, then, what is it? We will see below that, in writing about what he knew, Lewis managed to address the deep needs of humanity through a very personal expression of faith using many such literary devices as allegory. In the process, Lewis provided a cathartic experience both for himself and his readers.

Narnia1StudyI.jpgThe wardrobe itself, of course, is the key to how this all works. Upon repeat readings of the book, we begin to understand that the wardrobe is more than a piece of furniture and that its usage has rules. Yes, the wardrobe is a doorway into another world, but it cannot be used carelessly or at the whim of any individual. Lack of access to their own world (whether because of weather or the crowding of adults) makes Narnia available and accessible to the Pevensie children. Lewis, through the story, is decrying the necessity of a time that required the removal of children from their familiar surroundings because of the danger of falling bombs. The perils of war remained heavy upon Lewis’ heart, as did the separation from his mother as a result of her untimely death when he was nine. The wardrobe becomes a way to escape and explore feelings too private to be shared otherwise.

For Lewis, there was good precedent for using fantasy to work out these ideas for both children and adults. In his essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” Lewis says that “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” He further offers that “there may be an author who at a particular moment finds not only fantasy but fantasy-for-children the exactly right form for what he wants to say.” He was supported in these statements by his friend and fellow fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien, who felt that if fantasy “is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults.”

Narnia1StudyA.jpgFantasy satisfies something deep within the human being that wants to create worlds and desires to interact with those worlds in ways that have been denied in our real one. Narnia is Lewis’ chance to participate in the creation of a land in which old tales can have different endings or may simply be explored to see why things have to happen the way they do. Animals talk, trees are alive, ideas are personified, time seems to stand still—all so that other things can be made sense of and explained. The great danger of fantasy, of course, is preferring the other worlds; but note that Lewis brings his heroes and heroines back out of the wardrobe for reality checks. He does not allow his characters (or himself) the luxury of “hiding” forever in Narnia.

In really good literature, there comes a point where the reader recognizes that the soul of the author is being laid bare. One may not always understand what drove the writer to expose himself through his prose, but there is a delicious sense of being allowed into secret places where one is tantalized with suggestions of things too personal and perhaps painful to expose other than through the veil of literature. The heart of C.S. Lewis lies exposed in The Chronicles of Narnia, most especially in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which becomes an outlet for the passion and the personal pain of a very private man.

Narnia1Study5.jpgSeveral of Lewis’ biographers concede that he would have continued writing only theological books if it had not been for a fateful debate with Elizabeth Anscombe in 1948. Lewis had just finished his book Miracles, and Anscombe took him to task at a public meeting over his philosophical definition of naturalism in chapter three. Although she was not questioning his faith, Lewis’ inability to answer her argument left him mortified and feeling like a failure. He resolved never to write another theological work so that he would never again be open to such humiliation. In addition, Lewis was in a constant search to understand the nature of God and the great gift he believed he had been given because of Jesus Christ. So in many ways, the creation of Narnia can be understood as an outlet for a passionate, private man—one searching to find his Maker in a relationship that had relevance for both the Creator (God) and the creature (Lewis). Rereading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from this perspective brings the man, Lewis, into sharper focus and presents good proof that there are indeed better ways of telling the truth than through mere argumentation.

Now we must turn to the issue of allegory. The following definition will suffice:

Allegory is a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons and actions in a narrative are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed or envy. Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

Narnia1StudyG.jpgImmediately upon reading the above definition, one might be led to say that Lewis does use the device too much. Lewis, in fact, embraced the use of allegory to such a degree that it disturbed his friend Tolkien, who abhorred the use of allegory and fought tooth and nail to keep people from finding it in any of his own “Fairy Stories.” Nonetheless, as blatant as Lewis’ use of allegory is, it works in this story for several reasons.

First of all, the use of allegory can enhance any story. How boring is it to read a story that only has one meaning? Multiple levels of meaning are what create a classic—a book to which we return over and over because there is always something new to find, or a new way to think about something because of ever-increasing progress in maturation. A twenty-something person doesn’t view or think about the world the same way that a forty-something person does—or as a child or teenager does.

Narnia1Study3.jpgHaving read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in at least four different stages of life now, I can honestly admit that it has meant something different to me every time I’ve read it. Discussing the book with a ten-year-old is profoundly different from discussing it with a group of adult peers as a fifty-year-old. As Lewis himself said in “Essay on Stories,” “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”

Secondly, Lewis’ use of allegory is completely blatant for good reason. There are no surprises and no guessing games as to what things could possibly mean. Lewis never stoops to the use of obscure references, theological language, or confusing double entendre. (Okay, there is that one reference to Lilith; but was Lewis being snobbishly well-read, or just trying to throw in something for his more esoteric friends?) When the children are in Narnia, the entire story is a metaphorical children’s Bible. Lewis capitalizes the pronouns used to describe Aslan just as the pronouns for Jesus are capitalized in the Bible. Aslan is a lion, a clear reference to one of Jesus’ messianic titles—the Lion of Judah. The stone table is decorated with pagan etchings, a place of sacrifice as pagan as the cross used by the Romans to kill Jesus. Narnia1Study4.jpgQueen Jadis is the personification of evil and, although not an exact representation of Satan, close enough to elicit the comparison. Edmund on one level is just a bratty little kid, but on another embodies greed, self-serving behavior, and disdain for the consequences of his actions for himself or others. Aslan willingly gives up his own life for Edmund, who is not worthy of the sacrifice. Mr. Tumnus, the faun, is the Judas who betrays the presence of the children to Queen Jadis, which ultimately leads to the capture of Aslan. Even Father Christmas is included. What child doesn’t recognize Father Christmas as the giver of good gifts? The list is endless and provides the opportunity for conversation on whatever level the conversers are capable of or comfortable with.

Thirdly, the use of allegory doesn’t mean that the comparisons have to be exact. After all, we are talking fantasy fiction, and the author has the prerogative of creating and composing his own tale. For instance, Queen Jadis may display many of the character traits known of Satan, but Lewis leads us more toward a personified evil than an exact duplication of a stereotypical character. Similarly, Aslan doesn’t die on a cross, yet his sacrifice is every bit as poignant and relevant within the context of this story as Jesus’ was in His. This is what Tolkien called “a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it.”

Narnia1StudyE.jpgAnd this leads us to the cathartic nature of the story. If we are to find the reading of the tale worthy of our time and relevant to our lives, we must trust the author to use what works—such as allegory—and allow him that artistic license. After all, a great part of the satisfaction of writing is found in the purification or purging of the emotions; that is, catharsis. Lewis’ use of allegory in his story allows for the release of his disillusionment, disappointment, and personal grief. We must allow Lewis to be Lewis, forcing him to “neither laugh at nor explain away the magic of the tale” (to once again use Tolkien’s words).

Ultimately, we recognize that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has accomplished well the four elements Tolkien considered essential for the fairy story: “Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation.” The book is good because we are free to become children without losing our identity as adults. We are encouraged to have the open and accepting heart of a child that is so hard to hold on to as we age and become jaded by our world.

Narnia1Study1.jpgWhile both Tolkien and Lewis agreed that fantasy could be a realm left for children, they believed that older people were probably most desperately in need of recovery, escape, and consolation. I would personally neither separate fantasy from adults nor the other three from children.

In the exercise of our imaginations we can find relief from the constant pressures of our world. Reading fantasy is the purest use of imagination aside from writing and creating it ourselves. It does not matter that our individual mental pictures of Aslan aren’t the exact mental picture that C. S. Lewis had of him. In sharing the fantasy, we become co-creators with Lewis and experience a partnership in a different world where problems may be confronted, worked on, and finally talked about and resolved for the benefit of the real world. The individual imaginations meet to compare, discuss, and grow. Books are the best vehicles for this exercise because the reader is not at the mercy of anyone else’s visualization of the story. How many of us have experienced the disappointment of a visual interpretation of a favorite story by a screenwriter or director in a movie?

Narnia1Study8.jpgRecovery—the need to take a step back to regain a fresh view and make a new start—is needed by all people, although it could be conceded that children do not have enough life experiences to necessitate fresh starts. However, if as adults we don’t take the time to stop and think about what we believe and why we believe it, we are in real danger of stagnation and decay. Lewis’ use of allegory proves to be a very non-threatening way to explore some hard topics, such as fear, death, suffering, pain, love, and commitment.

Only a very foolish or hypocritical person would deny the need for escape—which does not mean desertion, but rather a break to be able to assess where one is and appropriate the necessary means to recover the clear view. Remember that Lewis did not allow the four children to remain forever in Narnia, but took them back and forth through the wardrobe at different times and for different reasons.

Narnia1StudyD.jpgLastly, a good story provides consolation, i.e. the happy ending. This is what Tolkien coined “the Eucatastrophe”— the good catastrophe—that “denies universal defeat” and brings “Joy beyond the walls of the world.” We don’t always get to have happy endings in our lives, but if we lose the hope of an ultimately happy ending we can easily give up the need for imagining, recovery and escape, making life meaningless and empty. Lewis regained his own child-like heart by opening a wardrobe door to another world and he generously invites those who would read to come along.

Before concluding, I must briefly address two more parts of my opening salvo.

First, poor editing is just a fact we have to accept about Lewis, and is the only criticism that cannot be argued against in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. C. S. Lewis rapped out the seven books in this series between 1950 and 1957. He obviously was not the slave to detail that Tolkien was and was more interested in getting the story out there than noticing whether pronouns for Mr. Tumnus in one chapter match pronouns for Mr. Tumnus in the next chapter. Only the literature majors really pick up on such things (anyone else needing their their perception validated?).

And finally, many critics of Lewis’ juvenile fiction have accused him of the repetition of phrases and the overuse of some words and ideas, citing these “failures” as proof of poor writing. (As discussed above, the use of allegory falls into the supposedly-trite category.) But obviously, the man who was capable of writing books such as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy was not at a loss for words. In fact, Tolkien actually became miffed at Lewis’ productivity and accused him of being too prolific a writer.

Narnia1Study9.jpgBut the continued popularity of both Lewis’ nonfiction and fiction, long after his death, proves that people find what Lewis has to say relevant. It would be wise to remember that even though these Narnian tales were written for all ages to enjoy, the primary target audience was children, or at least those who could allow themselves to have the heart of a child. The repetition of a phrase like, “it is very silly to shut oneself into a wardrobe,” actually makes sense when we think about human nature. As children, all but the most profoundly exceptional have to hear the same admonitions and instructions over and over again before they are finally learned. Those who have raised a child have heard themselves say, “How often do I have to repeat myself?” more than they care to count.

And this tendency toward “deafness” is not limited to children. As adults, we find constant repetition in our workplaces, homes, churches—anywhere something significant has to be accomplished. Repetition may be annoying, but it’s how the human being learns.

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.


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Chapter 1
  • Air-raids. Bombing missions. During the early years of World War II, Germany frequently sent squadrons of bombers to lay waste to industrial and urban districts of England. The Allies, of course, sent similar missions to Germany, and did so more frequently after the Luftwaffe lost air supremacy in Europe.
  • Stag. Not an old bachelor, such as C.S. Lewis himself and his brother Warnie were, but an adult male deer.
  • Wireless. A radio. It’s unusual for an adjective to be used as a noun, but unusual devices sometimes acquire unusual names. In the first part of the twentieth century, the idea of receiving voices through the air (that is, via wireless technology) was as novel as cell phone technology is today.
  • Blue-bottle. A particular type of house fly.
  • Moth-ball. A manufactured product used to repel moths. Stored clothing (particularly woolens and furs) is susceptible to damage from moths.
  • Muffler. A heavy scarf. Much easier to wear and far less heavy than car parts (though probably not as warm!).
Chapter 2
  • Adam and Eve. The names given by the Bible to the first man and woman. In this context “Son of Adam” and “Daughter of Eve” mean “beings of human origin.”
  • Silenus. A satyr of Greek mythology, one with a fondness for wine. Satyrs were similar in appearance to fauns, like Tumnus, but apparently with fewer humanoid features.
  • Bacchus. The Roman name for the mythological god of wine. Narnia is an interesting place...
  • Christmas. As we see later in the story, a season of giving rather than the holiday with religious underpinnings which we practice in our world (the “Christ-Mass”).
  • Rather! A British expression indicating enthusiastic (and sometimes sarcastic) agreement. Similar to “Sure thing!” or “I suppose!”
Chapter 3
  • Sledge. Sometimes synonymous with “sled,” but indicating one of heavy construction and pulled by animals. (A sleigh is a lighter form of sledge.)
Chapter 4
  • Turkish Delight. A cube-shaped jelly-like candy. Think of sticky Gummi Bears covered in powdered sugar. Sort of.
Chapter 5
  • Queer. Simply “odd” in this context.
  • Sharp’s the word. An admonishment to be alert. In origin, used to alert shopkeepers to the threat of shoplifting.
Chapter 6
  • Camphor. The active ingredient in mothballs. It carries a distinctive odor (one that moths apparently dislike).
  • Bagged. Stolen. In origin, from poaching (illegal hunting), in which the meat was hidden in bags.
  • Crockery. Earthenware plates, bowls and so on. A step up from primitive wooden stuff, but still pretty rustic and certainly not fine china or the great plastic stuff we use today.
  • Chatelaine. The lady of a castle.
Chapter 7
  • Strain. A bit of the melody of a song.
  • Dripping. Grease or fat. Back when we all ate less healthily, it was quite common to leave the drippings from fried bacon, for instance, in the bottom of the pan. The liquid fat would solidify as it cooled and would liquefy again when reheated. Other food (such as fish, in this case) would then be fried in the drippings.
Chapter 8
  • Pedlars. British variant of “peddlers,” or traveling salesmen.
  • Lilith. The apocryphal and demonic first wife of Adam.
  • Jinn. Plural; synonomous with “genies.”
Chapter 9
  • Dunce’s caps. Back when teachers were allowed to insult and intimidate their students, slow learners might be made to wear a tall, cone-shaped paper hat to indicate that they were “dunces,” or stupid (dense in the head).
  • Cat-a-mountains. Mountain lions. Sometimes shortened to “catamounts.”
Chapter 10
  • Father Christmas. A European (but mostly British) version of Santa Claus.
Chapter 13
  • Boggle. Hobgoblin or bogie.
  • World Ash Tree. Yggdrasil, the tree of life (so to speak) from Norse mythology; as documented in the Younger Edda.
Chapter 14
  • Efreets. A branch of the Jinn.
  • Orknies. Possibly related to Tolkien’s “orcs,” or goblins of some type.
  • Wooses. Possibly related to Tolkien’s “woses,” or wild primitive woodmen.
  • Ettins. Giants. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the Ettenmoors are where the giant stone-trolls are found.
Chapter 15
  • Skirling. Shrill. A skirl is the sound made by Scottish bagpipes.
Chapter 17
  • White Stag. From Celtic mythology, a sign that the end is near.
  • Marry. An exclamation that has nothing to do with being married. Used a lot in Shakespeare, for instance.