In the middle of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis published one of his most enduring works: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The book is the first of seven stories in the The Chronicles of Narnia series. Writing it primarily for children, Lewis interwove religious themes into the plot through his characters and situations. He desired to introduce Christianity to young readers, not through the medium of sermon or theological discourse, but through fiction. Thus, in the novel, Lewis employs symbolism to represent the teachings of Christian doctrine.
The four main characters in the story, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, have just arrived in the magical land of Narnia through a wardrobe. They find themselves in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Mr. Beaver mentions “Aslan” at his dinner table, a great lion prophesied to return to Narnia and restore peace. Susan asks Mr. Beaver “Who is Aslan?” (Lewis 85). Mr. Beaver replies “‘Who is Aslan? Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood'” (Lewis 85). The words “King” and “Lord” are high royal titles reserved for someone in authority. They are words of reverence. Most kings throughout history were always addressed as “Lord” as a sign of deep respect. In the holy text of Christianity, the Bible, God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, is often referred to as “Lord.” Using these titles for Aslan, Lewis symbolizes God. Thus far, the reader is reminded of the God of the Bible, the one whom the Bible centers on.
Another significant character in the book is the White Witch. She’s brought a curse to Narnia; the land experiences a never ending winter year round. The witch’s name itself is oxymoronic: the word “white” usually represents purity, holiness, and goodness. But the word “witch” refers to someone who dabbles in evil magical arts for malignant purposes. Her name juxtaposes two ideas that don’t belong together. Though she induces Edmund to join her side, at least for a time, in the battle against Aslan’s supporters, it’s only through charming deception. She promises Edmund a share in her kingdom, but never fulfills that promise. She enslaves him instead. The apostle Paul makes the same distinction in the New Testament referring to God’s ultimate adversary, Satan. Paul writes in one of his letters to the Corinthians that Satan masquerades as an “angel of light.” He is nothing more than a liar appearing as a truth teller. Satan constantly rebels against God by tempting God’s people with enticing offers of glory, wealth, and power, which seem fulfilling at first, but eventually lead to spiritual demise. Satan’s desire is to see God fail in His plans and purposes for the world.
Yet the animals who live in Narnia long for Aslan’s return, which will free their country from the witch’s winter; the lion will usher in a new spring. Spring is the season of the year in which life starts anew, as flowers once again grow from the soil and birds merrily chirp. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, speaks of God’s returning to the world to overthrow Satan and all his forces for good, instituting an eternal kingdom of peace and harmony. The world will be free from the burdens of sin, pain, and death once and for all. So the reader can see God’s promise to His own through the prophecy the animals eagerly expect to be fulfilled.
But the price Aslan has to pay to deliver such a promise is not pleasant. It is fraught with deep anguish. Edmund runs away from his brother and sisters, joining with the White Witch, believing she will grant him power and turkish delight (his favorite sweet treat). But once he discovers the witch to be a liar, he realizes he has gotten into a situation not easily amended. In the biblical book of Genesis, Satan, as a serpent, lies to Eve that if she eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God forbade her to eat from, then she will be “like God, knowing good from evil.” Eve takes the fruit and eats. Adam partakes too. As a result, the forerunners of the human race have sinned against God. This leads to a spiritual seperation from God, a grim fact that they did not count on. Not only they, but every human being from their lineage, are sinful slaves to Satan. They are spiritually dead to God, unable to please Him on their own terms. This concept is what Saint Augustine would refer to as “Original Sin,” that human beings are born in sin from the beginnings of the Fall and on through history. Edmund eventually finds his way to Aslan. But the Witch claims that Edmund is to be punished: “You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill” (Lewis 155). She refers to this law as the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time. According to the Bible, because the human race disobeys God’s commands, they are entitled to God’s everlasting judgment. Turning against God’s Law is a serious offense, one that earns an unbearable penalty. Paul, in his New Testament letter to the Galatians, remarks that those who do not obey every one of God’s commands are “under a curse.” Edmund is guilty in his betrayal. So he must pay the price by dying at the hands of the Witch.
Aslan, however, decides to step into the matter and take Edmund’s place. He’s put to death on the Stone Table at the hands of the Witch, so that Edmund may be free from that same punishment. Yet Aslan’s loving sacrifice seems pointless; now that he is dead, who will protect Narnia from the witch? Susan and Lucy, witnesses to Aslan’s execution, despair, unsure as to what hope they can hold on to. But as soon as everything seems lost, Aslan reappears to them, alive and well. Astounded and rejoicing, Susan asks Aslan what his miraculous return means: “‘It means’ said Aslan ‘that though the witch knew the deep magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know…she would have known that when a willing victim who had commited no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, then the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward'” (Lewis 178-179). This heart warming climax to the story points the reader to the Bible’s ultimate teaching: the Gospel. The Gospel teaches that God came to earth as a man named Jesus Christ. Christ was put to death on a cross to bear God’s eternal punishment on sin. In this way, Christ’s death satisfies the penalty of God’s Law, that all those who transgress it must ultimately perish in Hell. Not only that, but Christ’s perfect obedience to God also earned a status of righteousness for God’s people; Christians, (those who believe in Christ’s work for their salvation) are counted righteous in God’s sight because of Christ’s merit, even though Christians are sinners themselves and by no means perfect, upstanding people. Because of Christ’s life and death, Christians are forgiven of their sins before God. Their relationship with Him is restored. Aslan’s resurrection also points to the teaching that Christ came back form the dead three days after His execution. As the resurrected Savior, He has purchased eternal salvation for any who will trust in Him for it. Christians will rise from the dead as He did. Death, in both its physical and spiritual implications, will be overthrown by God.
By using symbolism, C.S. Lewis points the reader of his fictional story to God’s great love for His people, exemplified through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Because of God, Satan has lost his claims to those who trust in His Son alone for salvation. Such a salvation may seem too good to be true or authentic. Sometimes our guilt and pain seem too real to believe in a redemption that takes care of all our deepest fears and self loathings. Yet Edmund teaches us that faith in God’s promises is the only sure way to live one’s life after all is said and done. Our guilt is not even enough to seperate us from the love of God. Lewis makes a moving remark on page 155: “‘You have a traitor there, Aslan,’ said the Witch. Of course, everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through…he just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the witch said.”
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: Harper Collins, 1950. Print.