“Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”
This book has always been so special to me. I know that a lot of people read it as children without knowing about the allegorical aspects, and that some of these people feel tricked or even betrayed when they learn of those elements as adults. These readers were there for the fantasy of the story, and for it alone. I came to Narnia for wholly different reasons.
This review is really going to be more of an exploration of my faith and how this book impacted it. While I definitely am not trying to preach at anyone, you might want to avoid the rest of this review if you’re triggered by or sensitive regarding overtly Christian topics.
I became a Christian at the very early age of 6, and it was the hub around which the rest of my life turned. When I was in the early years of my schooling, this was how I introduced myself to new teachers and classmates and strangers in supermarkets:
“Hi, my name is Celeste and I have Jesus in my heart! He’s my best friend. He can be yours too, if you want. I can tell you how!”
Seriously, for years that was the first thing out of my mouth whenever I met someone new. I remember being around 8 years old or so, keeping a small Bible in my back pocket everyday at recess just in case anyone had questions about Jesus. It’s not that I was trying to be pushy or anything; I was just very passionate about Him and wanted to share that with everyone I met. I was also already a huge reader, and was rapidly outgrowing my classroom library. At one point my teacher started telling me about a series by a Christian author, which immediately piqued my interest.
“Imagine,” she said, “a world where Jesus was a real lion, instead of just having the title of Lion of Judah like he does in the Bible. And imagine that unicorns and centaurs and all kinds of other amazing creatures from the stories you’ve read lived there, and that it was a world where animals could talk. Now imagine that you could get there through your closet. That’s what this book is about.”
Obviously I was all over that.
The allegory of Narnia was what made me so fascinated by the story. Because my teacher had told me that Aslan was Jesus, I read every scene He was a part of with extreme care, looking for parallels. Remember how I said I was a huge reader? By this point in my life I had already read every Bible storybook I came across from cover to cover more than once, and had started trying to read my “grown-up” Bible as well, so I was already very familiar with the story of Christ. Seeing Jesus’s story told in another way like this gave it even more resonance and power in my mind. It moved me in a mighty way, and it still moves me as an adult woman who is edging into her thirties.
***From this point forward, there will be spoilers. Consider yourself warned!***
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
While I loved the book from cover to cover, the part that stuck with me so strongly was where Aslan gave himself to the White Witch in Edmund’s stead. We had just witnessed Edmund betray his siblings and Narnia and Aslan himself to the Witch in order to satisfy his selfish cravings. Edmund had made this decision with eyes wide open, knowing it was wrong even as he rationalized it within himself. He had just been saved from death at the Witch’s hand by the very creatures he sought to betray. And now Aslan, instead of returning the traitor to his accuser to suffer his deserved fate, goes to the Witch in Edmund’s place.
After the deal is struck, Aslan goes about His business until nightfall. At this time, Lucy and Susan are roused from their beds by a feeling of wrongness, and step outside to see Aslan leaving camp. Mirroring Jesus’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Aslan is accompanied by His followers, although in Aslan’s case they are more attentive. After He bids the girls to leave Him, Lucy and Susan witness an absolute travesty: the Witch has gathered her cohorts, and Aslan is allowing Himself to be beaten and belittled by them without defending Himself. He lets His abusers lead Him to the Stone Table, where they hack off His mane and bind His paws and fit Him with a muzzle. Just when the children believe things can’t possibly get any worse, they watch in horror as the Witch brings down her knife, killing Aslan where He lay. How could Aslan allow this to happen? The girls know beyond doubt that He could have stopped His torturers at any time, so why didn’t He?
“I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.”
Thankfully the story doesn’t end there, just as Jesus’s story didn’t end at the cross. Aslan had broken the Witch’s deep magic, which demanded a sacrifice, with an even older and deeper magic by becoming an innocent, willing stand-in for the accused. The Stone Table was broken in two, just as the Veil of the Temple was ripped from top to bottom the moment Jesus breathed His last. The idea of God loving man so much that He would die in their place, that justice might be served while grace is being given, is mind-blowing to me and is exactly why I became a Christian. Jesus and Aslan both had the power and love needed to lay down Their lives willingly, but death didn’t have the power to hold Them there. Just as Jesus rose, so did Aslan, and Narnia was never the same.
As a child I had a hard time relating to Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Christ. But I had no problem at all seeing myself in Edmund. I could relate to him and the choices he made, as well as the reasons behind them. But what I adore about Lewis’s Narnia so much was his decision to show both betrayal and redemption in the form of the same boy. While Judas definitely had the option to repent, and I believe wholeheartedly that God would have forgiven him, we don’t see that in the crucifixion narrative. Instead we see Judas’s horror at his own choices and his decision to kill himself. Whereas with Edmund, we see his repentance, as well as his total transformation into the boy who threw himself at the Witch during the battle and broke her wand, leaving her much weakened and bereft of her greatest power. It’s truly a beautiful addition to the story.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
There are a plethora of other parallels between Narnia and the Gospel, but these are the ones that still come to my mind when reading or even remembering the story of Jesus. I love Mr. Beaver’s comment about Aslan not being safe, but being good. God isn’t safe. Having a relationship with Jesus isn’t safe. He told His followers that the world would hate them because of Him, and we’ve seen that historically in the persecution of Christians around the world. Horrid things have been done in His name, but they went against everything He taught. I believe that those people who have used His name to excuse their hatred of or malice toward other people, who have killed and oppressed others on His behalf, will be told “depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you.” During His time on earth, Jesus boiled all of the Law down to two commandments: love God and love others. That hasn’t changed, and those who don’t follow those commands don’t know Him.
Lewis was an amazing author, and his work has had more of an impact on my faith than any other books outside of the Bible. Is this book perfect? No. The dialogue can feel stilted at times, and the gender roles are definitely outdated. (Lucy and Susan were given weapons but then told not to use them because “war is ugly when women are involved.” I obviously disagree with this. But times have changed.) However, it will always be magical for me, because it took a faith in which I already believed strongly and gave it this rich depth that has remained with me for more than twenty years. And that’s what it was meant to do. Lewis set out to write a fairytale version of the greatest story ever told, and in my eyes he unequivocally succeeded.
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