From the days of cavemen chipping images on stone walls to the nights parents read to their children from an Amazon Kindle, storytelling has been a universal means of relaying cultural values. Stories aren’t just created to entertain and pass the time. They’re meant to teach something important about life, to provoke a person to serious self-reflection and examnination of the world around them. The moral of a tale can concern religion, politics, psychology, economics, science, history, or even art itself. Oftentimes a story remains in our heads not only because of its exciting plot and memorable characters but because of its message, the themes and ideas the author wishes to convey to the reader.
In the middle of the twentieth century, famous Christian apologist 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. It was one of the first novels I read as a child. Though I enjoyed the storyline, the morals Lewis sought to highlight didn’t penetrate my mind back then. I simply didn’t care about any deeper messages, only if the story was fun to read. Writing primarily for children, Lewis interwove religious themes into the plot through his characters and their actions. He wished to introduce Christianity to young readers, not through sermon or theological discourse, as was often the case in Christian cultures for generations, but through fiction. It was an uncommon, and, in the view of some conservative Christians, unorthodox method of training future generations to think biblically. Yet the story was successful, inspiring film adaptations over the years and opening doors for religious authors to explore the possibilites of mingling Chrisitian morality with imaginative modes of expression.
The four main characters in the story, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, have just arrived in the magical land of Narnia through a wardrobe. After traveling through a snowy forest, 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 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.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word for “Lord” is “Adonai.” Some examples of its usage include Psalm 86:5: “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in stedfast love to all who call upon you” and Job 28:28: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” In the Greek New Testament, the word for “Lord” is “Kyrios.” Some examples of its usage are Matthew 10:27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” and Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” By having Mr. Beaver refer to Aslan as “Lord,” Lewis hints that Aslan is a metaphor for the God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ. So the reader can expect Aslan’s actions in the novel to be signifcant in that they teach them about God and His ways.
Another important character in the book is the White Witch. Her magic has 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 spells for malignant purposes. Her name juxtaposes two ideas that don’t logically belong together. Though she induces Edmund, Lucy’s older brother, 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 2nd Corinthians 11:14 that Satan masquerades as an “angel of light.” Like the people who follow his crooked ways, the devil is nothing more than a liar appearing as a truth teller. Satan constantly rebels against God by tempting His people with enticing offers of glory, wealth, and power, which seem fulfilling at first, but eventually lead to spiritual demise. His desire is to see God fail in His plans and purposes for the world. Now the reader is reminded not only of God but his enemy as well and must now reflect on what can be learned from the Witch’s schemes regarding sin and evil.
The animals who live in Narnia long for Aslan’s return, which will free their country from the witch’s winter; according to a prophecy, 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 chirp merrily through the fresh air. It is foretold that when Aslan returns, the Witch will be defeated for good. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, speaks of God’s returning to the world to overthrow Satan and all his forces for eternity, instituting an enduring kingdom of peace and harmony. In chapter 20, verse 10 we read “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” God’s righteous judgement on Satan will be the end of evil on Earth and one of many great victories for God’s people. The world will be released from the burdens of sin, pain, and death once and for all. And a new Heaven will come for all Christians; we read in chapter 21 verse 4: “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 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 isn’t 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’s gotten into a situation not easily fixed. In the biblical book of Genesis, Satan, as a serpent, tells 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 didn’t 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 humanity is born into sin from the beginnings of the Fall (Adam and Eve’s tramsgression) and on through history.
Though Edmund eventually finds his way to Aslan, seeking refuge, the Witch claims that he 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 Romans, remarks that “those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (verse 8). Edmund is guilty in his betrayal. So he must pay the price by dying at the hands of the Witch, just as unrepentant sinners do before God.
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 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 repent of their sins and 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 to Him is restored. A famous section of the New Testament, John 3:16, mentions “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Aslan’s resurrection also points to the teaching that Christ came back from the dead three days after His execution. As the resurrected Savior, He promises His people eternal victory over death, death in both its physcial and spiritual senses.
So when one reads The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one not only encounters an engrossing tale of fantasy, a story of four children’s exploits in a magical land with a heroic lion and an evil witch, but also an extended metaphor of the biblical story of mankind’s fall from grace and their redemption by the mercy of God. A plot that bears only some resemblances to our everyday world suddenly reminds us of our public and personal lives even as it takes our mind away from our normal routine. Quite a humorous irony there, in my opinion. Lewis gave his readers a new and fresh way to learn the precepts of the Bible, and to this end he seems to have succeeded quite well considering his popularity in the sphere of Christian apologetics and fiction. Granted, Lewis’s Christian convictions may not resonate with all readers personally, but one cannot deny the role of spirituality and religion in the world we live in. Even if one does not believe in the Christian dogma, one can still enjoy an easy, entertianing book concerning the bonds of siblings, bravery, deception, and the pain and triumph of loving sacrifice.
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: Harper Collins, 1950. Print