The Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-volume saga for children by C. S. Lewis, reveals a world that exists parallel to our own, populated by men and women, dwarves and talking animals, giants and merpeople, centaurs and fauns, and ruled by a kind but awesomely ferocious and gigantic lion named Aslan. Lewis, who died on the same day as JFK, November 22, 1963, combined the three passions of his life–classical mythology, medieval lore, and Christian-based philosophy–to create in Narnia a microcosm of the moral struggles our own world faces.
Characters and plot
Along with Aslan himself, the heroes of the Narnia books are the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Taken away from their London home to avoid the Nazi bombings, they are boarded with an elderly bachelor professor in his rambling mansion in the country.
While playing hide-and-seek, Lucy, the youngest at age 8, hides in an old wardrobe filled with racks of overcoats. Moving farther back to escape detection, she pushes her way past the coats, expecting to hit against the back of the wardrobe at any moment. Lucy feels instead the boughs of evergreen trees, hears the crunch of snow at her feet, and sees in the distance the glow of a lamppost just like those she had seen many times back in London.
This marks the beginning of the four siblings’ many adventures in Narnia. Each of the books, though loosely connected to the others, can also stand alone. Eventually we learn where the lamppost came from and how the wardrobe became a portal. We also learn more about Aslan, what it takes to be his friend, and who his enemies are.
The deeper meaning
For those who know to watch for it, Lewis has filled Narnia, not only with interesting characters, majestic scenery, and exciting action, but also with Christian allegory. Aslan himself represents Jesus Christ, “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 7:14). The Pevensie children eventually become so much at home in Narnia that they see it as their native land and this world as the place where they are visitors. Lewis, in his books on Christian apologetics, describes the spiritual world as existing parallel to the physical one, having the quality of being, not shadowy and insubstantial as compared to physicality, but more real, more colorful, and much, much more alive.
As Paul explains,
…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…. –Philippians 3:18-20 (see also Hebrews 11:13-16).
The Disney movie
The first book of the seven, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is now the subject of a major motion picture produced by Walt Disney Pictures & Walden Media and directed by Andrew Adamson. At the climax of the story is a beautiful sacrifice, Lewis’s pictures the death of Christ.
If you go to the movie, watch for the breaking of the Stone Table, which symbolizes how Christ’s death and resurrection brought about the end of the Law of Moses by meeting its demands for blood atonement. Watch also for the role Susan and Lucy play in witnessing the death and revival of Aslan, corresponding to the historical role women played as mourners at Jesus’ death and burial and as the first witnesses of His resurrection.
The professor helps Peter and Susan to sort through how to receive Lucy’s testimony about Narnia: if she’s not a liar and she’s not crazy, then logically, she must be telling the truth. This corresponds to the testimony Jesus gave about His own identify, and the testimony His follows gave about Him–what Lewis elsewhere describes as the trilemma about Jesus: is He Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?
Another significant parallel is this: Aslan’s loyal followers play a significant role in the battle against the White Witch. Like our own spiritual warfare, Christ ensures the final victory, but calls on His followers to engage personally in the fight. For passages relevant to that conflict, see Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 6:12; and 2 Timothy 4:7).
Plans are for six more movies to follow this first one, in which the rest of the history of Narnia unfolds. If they are as faithful to the books and well-conceived and produced as this one was, all of us diehard Lewis fans welcome them as an introduction of Narnia to a jaded world. We hope that viewers will grasp and appreciate the allegorical features as much as they do the surface story. The goal is not only to know about Aslan and Narnia, but to become His friend and subject and to live in His realm forever.
Want to go deeper?
You can do a search for papers going into more detail on the allegory of Narnia, including these three: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Allegory,” “The Wardrobe as Christian Metaphor,” and “Myth Made Truth: The Origins of the Chronicles of Narnia.”
If you want to purchase and read your own copy of The Chronicles of Narnia, they are available in a variety of editions, from the one-volume edition in softcover to the seven-volume boxed set in either hardback or softcover. Available also is the Official Illustrated Movie Companion for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with photos from the movie and interviews of the director and cast members, as well as E. J. Kirk’s Beyond the Wardrobe: The Official Guide to Narnia. (My blog provides links to all of these, enabling you to access substantial discounts, from 24% to 33% off the retail prices.)
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