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|From the Winter 2005 issue of Knowing & Doing:|
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis's best-loved classic
by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
inally, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is coming to the big screen. The anticipation is great. The book has already been at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. Many people, both believers and nonbelievers, will see the film, and it will be an opportunity to speak to others about the film’s meaning as well as about C.S. Lewis. There are already plans for other volumes of the Narnia series to be made into movies, so it is possible that all seven might eventually be filmed. Any preparation we do now may prepare us for future opportunities, so it’s good to learn more about the Narnia series and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW).
One of the first questions that arises about the series is: Are the books allegories, where each detail of the books has symbolic spiritual meaning? The answer is “No.” Lewis stressed that each volume started with pictures in his mind, which he turned into a story. For instance, LWW started with the image in Lewis’s mind of a Faun carrying packages, and he had been having dreams about lions. As he wrote, some of his Christian beliefs crept into the story, but it is important not to press every detail of the story as you might do with The Pilgrim’s Progress.
For Children or for Adults?
In response to the charge that fairy stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia were childish, Lewis distinguished between fairy tales and children’s stories. He pointed out that many children do not like fairy stories, while many adults do, and that a good story is a good story no matter what the reader’s age. “Children’s” stories retain their appeal through the generations. Lewis says:
Lewis felt that to grow into adulthood without developing your imagination was to be impoverished. One five-year-old boy who visited Lewis’s home outside Oxford during the bombing of London in World War II, had never been exposed to fairy tales. Lewis lamented that “his poor imagination has been left without any natural food at all.” Lewis felt that it was important (as Jesus taught) for adults to keep a childlike outlook on the world: “Only those adults who have retained, with whatever additions and enrichments, their first childlike responses to poetry unimpaired can be said to have grown up at all.” In Experiment in Criticism, Lewis writes:
Lewis’s friend Ruth Pitter said that Lewis had a child’s sense of glory and nightmare. Lewis said about himself, “Parts of me are still twelve, and I think parts were already fifty when I was twelve.” In any case, the capacity to avoid being hardened by cynicism and suspicion was regarded as essential to human well being.
The first thing that needs to be said about LWW is that it is meant to be enjoyed. Before you analyze or pick apart the story, realize that Lewis wrote it so that children (and others) could delight in the story itself. Next, we might ask why the story has had such appeal to so many. Perhaps some of the elements would include a magical entry to Narnia through a wardrobe, an invented world populated with strange creatures, talking animals, sibling rivalry (Lucy vs. Edmund), an aloof professor, a vivid portrayal of evil in the White Witch, a cosmic problem (always winter and never Christmas), its British-ness, temptation (Turkish Delight), places of rest and refreshment (the Beavers’ house), adventure, and above all, the lion, Aslan.
There are many dimensions of the book we could examine, and there are plenty of new books on LWW or The Chronicles of Narnia to help you do so; but the central character is the lion, Aslan. Although the children hear about Aslan at the Beavers’ house in chapter seven, they don’t actually meet him till chapter twelve.
Not Safe but Good
Soon after the children arrive in Narnia, their new friend Mr. Beaver tells them: “They say Aslan is on the move— perhaps has already landed.” When the children first hear the name Aslan, it stirs each of them in a different way:
They find out Aslan is a king and hear about an old rhyme, a kind of prophecy:
Susan asks, “Is he quite safe?” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “....Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.” Eventually, Aslan appears and the battle between good and evil begins in earnest. As the story unfolds, Aslan shows up when and where he will. He does not appear often, almost never on demand, and always at his own discretion. And, he does not have to be visible in order for his power to be felt.
The Lion Who Sacrifices Himself
In LWW there is a confrontation between the White Witch and Aslan. She comes to claim the life of Edmund because he has turned traitor. She appeals to a deep magic from the beginning of time saying that “Every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey” and that “for every treachery I have a right to kill.”
Just as Aslan was killed in Edmund’s stead and saved his life, so Jesus’ death for us not only takes away our guilt for what we have done or left undone, but when we believe in Him, new life begins to transform us from the inside out, from death to life that will go on for all eternity. This story has the capacity to sneak “past watchful dragons” of our religious upbringing, giving us a new view of an old message. LWW can prepare people to hear the gospel in a new way.
Here are a few interesting tidbits or insights on Narnia in general or LWW in particular, gleaned from my recent reading of C.S. Lewis’s books:
Battle Between Good and Evil
Lewis believed that the battle between good and evil that we see in LWW and in the rest of the Narnia series is a battle in which we all partake. We need to take sides. Lewis wrote:
Although Narnia is an imagined world, it can point us to central truths we need to grasp anew in our own world. LWW also provides opportunities to talk to others not only about The Chronicles of Narnia series but also about what C.S. Lewis believed about other things. [There are many helpful books written to help us grasp this moment of opportunity. See this issue and our web site for a review of C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ.]
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Dr. Arthur W. Lindsley Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute – Art Lindsley has served at the C.S. Lewis Institute since 1987. Formerly, he was Director of Educational Ministries at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, and Staff Specialist with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. He is the author of C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, True Truth, Love: The Ultimate Apologetic, and co-author with R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner of Classical Apologetics, and has written numerous articles on theology, apologetics, C.S. Lewis, and the lives and works of many other authors and teachers. Art earned his M.Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently the Vice President of Theological Initiatives for the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.
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