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Aslan and the White Witch talk privately, and Aslan declares Edmund free from the witch’s claim. But the look of joy on the witch’s face as she departs, and her allusion to a promise Aslan has made, indicate that something ominous is about to happen. Late that night, Aslan leaves the camp “head hung low” and walking slowly. As Lucy and Susan watch from a distance in horror and disbelief, the witch and all manner of evil creatures bind Aslan to the Stone Table, shave him, and muzzle him. Finally, the witch takes a stone knife and kills Aslan. Exhausted by grief, Lucy and Susan wait for morning. As the sun rises, they hear a loud crack and see the Stone Table broken in two. But there is no Aslan.
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?” “Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It’s more magic.”
Aslan is alive! He is real, not a ghost. He licks Susan’s forehead. The girls are overjoyed and throw themselves on him, kissing him repeatedly. When they calm down, Susan asks: “But what does it all mean?”
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little farther back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
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:
• The origin of the name Aslan is from the notes of Lane’s Arabian Nights. It is Turkish for lion. Lewis pronounced it Ass-lan. He did mean to portray the Lion of Judah (Jesus!).
• LWW was originally planned to be a single, stand alone book, not part of a series.
• It took ten years from 1938 (when Lewis first had the idea of a children’s story) till 1948 to actually get down to completing the task.
• After LWW, the rest of the books came quickly— published one per year after 1950.
• Father Christmas, though thought by some (Roger Green and J.R.R. Tolkien) to be an alien intrusion into the story (LWW), serves an important role. First, his arrival shows that the spell “always winter and never Christmas” has begun to be broken. Second, the gifts he brings serve an important role in LWW (and in other books of the series): Peter—shield and armor; Susan—bow, quiver and ivory horn; Lucy—bottle of cordial and a small dagger.
• The magic in Narnia contrasts with the Harry Potter series. In the Narnia books magic is part of the genre of fairy tale and an affirmation that the supernatural is real. Magic exists in LWW and others of the series primarily in the fantasy world, not in our world. Whereas in Harry Potter, magic is the central focus, draws attention to itself, and is located in our world. In LWW, magic is practiced by supernatural agents, whereas in Harry Potter magic is a result of human spellcasting and occult practice. In Narnia the children are not generally permitted to engage in magic, but invited to call on Aslan for help.
• There have been about 85 million sets of The Chronicles of Narnia sold since their publication.
• The chronology of the seven Narnia books cover 2,555 Narnian years to only 52 English or earth years.
• Strange mythological creatures present on Aslan’s side—dryads, naiads, centaurs, unicorns, a bull with the head of a man, a great dog, animals with symbolic meanings (pelican, eagle, leopards)—indicate a historical continuity, ancient myth coming to its fulfillment in Aslan.
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:
. . . there is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.
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.]
To summarize the message of LWW in a nutshell: the Emperor beyond the sea created Narnia through Aslan, it had come under a spell from the White Witch making it “always winter, never Christmas,” Aslan came to reverse the curse and to sacrifice himself for Edmund’s sin. Though there are more battles to be fought, the time will come when the kids will truly live “happily ever after.” They will forever enter the great Adventure, like a book where every chapter is better than the one before. In short, it is the timeless message of creation, fall, redemption, consummation put into a new disarming form.
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.