C.S. provokes a curious and unique response
C.S. Lewis Aslan in, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, exactly mirrors Jesus Christ. Aslans sacrifice for a crime committed by Edmund is an exact mirror of Christs ultimate sacrifice for our sins. When Aslan is killed on the stone table and comes back to life he says, That though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know (Lewis, pg185). Christians see this deeper magic as the fact that Aslan, like Christ was there since the beginning of time, whereas the witch was not.
The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe is the story of four children Peter (14), Susan (12), Edmund (10) and Lucy (8) who are evacuated to the countryside in order to protect them from air raids in London. In the house of Professor Digory Kirke they discover a room that contains only a wardrobe (Vincent). Surprised when the wardrobe door opens, Lucy steps inside the enormous closet to find a snowy wood at the back of it. Intrigued, she explores the wood, knowing that the safe wardrobe is still behind her. Eventually she meets a faun, a creature that is half goat and half man (Hourihan, Ch. 1-2).
Then, all the children enter the wardrobe and discover the enchanted Land of Narnia. In this land, the White Witch has cast a spell that has plunged Narnia into a perpetual iciness where it is always winter and never Christmas(Lewis, pg118). But even under her curse, the beauty of Narnia remains evident. At Mr. and Mrs. Beavers house, the four children are told that Aslan is on the move(Lewis, pg141). At this point in the story, the children are only aware of the Witch and her evil spell over Narnia. They have never heard of Aslan, but the mere mention of his name provokes a curious and unique response in each child (Vincent):
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken his name everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer (Lewis, pg141).
It is obvious that Aslan is the god of Narnia. His immortality, awesome power and supreme benevolence is implied tacitly in the Beavers’ references to him. Couched in these terms, it is easy to see Aslan as a divine power. However, Lewis deliberately avoids using these terms. Lewis simply describes Aslan as a great, good king. The resulting effect is similar to the traditional feeling that a deity is inaccessible, remote and lofty. These are ways a child may feel about praying to a God that he or she is acquainted with solely through church. The story of Jesus is one important way to make God seem more tangible and less distant. However, that story is now 2,000 years old. Lewis presents us with a new god, in the form of a lion, and imbues it with mystical powers, giving us a fresh perspective on faith. At this point there is no compelling reason to believe that Aslan is a Jesus figure. For the moment, Lewis avoids drawing this connection. Instead, he establishes the personality and vibrancy of Aslan before helping us to connect it to the vibrant personality of Jesus (Hourihan, Ch. 8).
Aslan? said Mr. Beaver. Why, dont you know? Hes the King. Hes the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my fathers time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. Hell settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.
Is is he a man? asked Lucy.
Aslan a man! Mr. Beaver said sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Dont you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion the Lion, the great Lion(Lewis, pg146).
Lewis hints at the Christian doctrine of the Trinity by describing Aslan as the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea(Lewis). The Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea is never directly portrayed in any of the seven Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis thought it wiser to simply refer to the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, suggesting numinous majesty and transcendent inaccessibility without trying to show it. Aslan is the incarnate form of Deity not just a spiritual presence but an actual embodiment (Vincent).
The side note that explains that the Witch is partially descended from Lilith is significant. Lilith, in Jewish mythology, was Adam’s first wife. She left him as a rebellion against the subservient position that he demanded her to adopt. The legend says that she was created from dust just as Adam was, and she used to argue why she should be treated as his equal. After she abandoned Adam, God created Eve from Adam’s own rib, so that Eve would be inherently subservient to Adam. It seems doubtful that Lewis meant to invoke all of the sexual and gender implications of this myth. In the act of drawing on this myth, however, Lewis seeks to unify the two worlds of Earth and Narnia. He wants to ground them in common mythology and to imply that there is an overarching system of religion and reality that transcends the boundaries of the worlds and characters created in his book. Narnia is not completely imagined, but based on ideas found in the real world (Hourihan).
One of the reasons that Aslan is such a fascinating character is Lewis amazing ability to hold these two tensions in balance. Of course it cant be repeated enough: Aslan is not a safe playmate. When he roars, stop your ears. When he lets you ride on his back, hold on tight. Like Paul before him, Lewis asks us to, Behold the kindness and severity of God (Romans 11:22) (Vincent).
Lewis shifts the story’s point of view to Edmund. Edmund left the Beavers’ house after the children had already devised the plan to meet Aslan at the Stone Table. During Edmund’s long walk through the ice and the snow, he works hard to convince himself that the Witch is on the right side and everyone else is wrong. He persuades himself by focusing on Turkish Delight. Edmund also thinks about the modern changes he will make in Narnia after he becomes a prince. When he reaches the White Witch’s castle he finds a courtyard filled with stone statues. The first one he sees is a lion, which he believes to be Aslan. He assumes that the Witch has already triumphed over Aslan and turned him to stone. Edmund’s long argument with himself about whether the Witch is really good and kind is a sign that he is becoming more treacherous and deceitful. Before, he made his morally wrong decisions half-consciously and did not think through them carefully. Previously Edmund had a nagging doubt that the Witch was not on the right side, but now he actively convinces himself to believe that she is on the right side. Edmund embraces the Witch’s evil and cruelty and cannot turn back. Edmund still dreams about the Turkish Delight, but now he also thinks about getting even with Peter, keeping his sisters down, and making laws against beavers and dams and fauns and anyone else he senses to be on opposing side. Edmund’s corruption has gone far beyond simple greed and gluttony. Although Turkish Delight started the process, Edmund’s corruption continues due to his own free will (Hourihan, Ch. 9).
He tells her that he has brought his siblings with him and that Aslan has come to Narnia. She takes Edmund captive and commands her minions to find the children and kill them. Meanwhile, winter begins to end in Narnia as the White Witchs spell loses its power (Vincent).
Lewis does not make overwhelm us with symbolism, but he makes some clear connections between Aslan and Christ. In the story, the Aslan character arrives simultaneously with the advent of Christmas, which is the birth of Christ. The figure of Santa Claus is deeply established in legends and stories in our world, providing a strong link between the traditions in the fantasy world of Narnia and our world. Lewis, however, never makes the Narnian world a shadow of our own. Instead, Lewis only includes the figure of Father Christmas to bring an immediate, positive response from children reading this story. Although the figure of Father Christmas is the same between the worlds, they each have different roles. On Earth, Father Christmas is part of a joyous tradition and provides fun diversions like gifts. In Narnia, where there is danger and high stakes, his tone is more serious, and his presents are “tools, not toys” (Hourihan,
The petrification of the little party of small animals is really the first tragedy that we have witnessed firsthand in the novel. We know that the Witch is evil, cruel, and will gladly murder others, but we have so far only heard about her character indirectly. So, too, has Edmund. He realizes that Aslan’s side is the good one when the Witch treats him poorly, but his belief is initially superficial. Edmund expresses that he does not enjoy being cold, tied up and miserable. Lewis, however, tells us that when Edmund sees the feasting animals turned to stone, “for the first time in this story he felt sorry for someone besides himself”(Lewis, pg163). Edmund is affected very deeply, and he shifts from self- interest to empathy and pity. Edmund can be misled but he is not fundamentally evil. Edmund’s actions up until now have been spiteful and self-serving, but his core of essential goodness has not died, as it perhaps never does in a human being (Hourihan, Ch. 11).
Lewis suggests that any sinner, like Edmund, can be reformed, given the right circumstances and an open mind. In Edmund’s case he was the object of the Witch’s wrath himself and then witnessed the petrification of the animals at feast. This does not make him immune to future temptation and conflict. Edmund has taken the first steps toward reformation, but his redemption is not yet complete. The most important step has already been made, however, as he feels compassion for the poor animals. This does not affect him personally or directly in any way, and his ability to feel emotions for others shows that he has begun to change (Hourihan, Ch. 11-12).
When Aslan finally arrives, he sends an army of mythical creatures to rescue Edmund. They do so. But after their victory, the White Witch demands his return. Edmund is a traitor and, according to the Deep Magic, all traitors are her property.
Have you forgotten the Deep Magic? asked the Witch.
Let us say I have forgotten it, answered Aslan gravely. Tell us of this Deep Magic.
Tell you? said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill…. And so that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property… unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.
It is very true, said Aslan, I do not deny it(Lewis, pg.175).
In his fantasy world, Lewis used the word magic in a very specific way. Nowadays the word magic refers most often to sleight-of-hand tricks performed by entertainers. Lewis used the term more seriously and more broadly to describe anything marvelous or unexplained, from divine mysteries to diabolical sorcery. In short, Magic is Lewis shorthand for spiritual reality (Vincent).
The Deep Magic refers to the transcendent reality established by the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea that holds all things together. Put simply, the Deep Magic is Gods moral law and its obligations, requirements, and penalties. It is because Edmund betrayed his siblings that, by the authority of the Deep Magic, he is rightly the property of the White Witch. Aslan can do nothing about this. The Deep Magic must be honored, even when it is selfishly invoked by the White Witch, for her own advantage and purpose (Vincent).
The scene between Aslan and the Witch creates an overwhelming sense of dread. We realize that there are forces that even Aslan cannot fight, such as the Emperor’s Deep Magic. The grim reaction that Aslan has following his mysterious conversation with the Witch also establishes a sense of foreboding. Aslan’s powerlessness before the Deep Magic demonstrates that, although he may be the god of Narnia, even he must answer to a higher law. In Lewis’s Christian allegory, Aslan represents Christ, or God the Son, and the Emperor represents God the Father. Just as Christ is subject to his Father and must obey his commands, Aslan must obey the mystical laws set by the mysterious Emperor. Aslan cannot defy the Deep Magic. Instead, like Christ, he sacrifices himself to atone for another person’s sin (Hourihan, Ch 13).
Lewis establishes the Witch as a Satan-like figure. According to Christian belief, before the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, human souls were automatically forfeit to Satan after death. This state of affairs was due to Adam’s original sin in the Garden of Eden, when Adam disobeyed God’s order not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God gives human beings free will, knowing that they may choose to sin. Because God is merciful, He sends Christ to redeem humankind after Adam’s fall. But because God is just, someone has to die for the sins of human beings if humankind is to be redeemed, and this is what Christ takes upon himself to do (Hourihan).
These events set up the narrative of the execution of Aslan. The former account is incredibly similar in imagery to that of the death of Jesus in the Bible. Lucy and Susan, two of the four child protagonists in the novel, follow Aslan to his execution: “And both the girls cried bitterly (though they hardly knew why) and clung to the Lion” (Lewis, p.179). Jesus too had followers not unlike the children: “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him” (Luke 23:27). Once he is in the hands of the Witch, Aslan is subjected to humiliation and ridicule: “‘Stop!’ said the Witch. ‘Let him first be shaved.’…they worked about his face putting on the muzzle…he was surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him” (Lewis, pg 180). This imagery is, once again, remarkably similar to that of the Gospels: “The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, ‘Prophesy! Who hit you?’ And they said many other insulting things to him” (Luke 22:63-65) (Brennan).
Aslan’s resurrection involves the same kind of Biblical allusion. In the Gospel of Luke, the women who had followed Jesus went to his tomb: “Very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered; they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:1-3). In the same way, after Lucy and Susan take off Aslan’s muzzle, they leave the Stone Table where he was executed. In the early morning they return to find the Stone Table broken in two and the resurrected Aslan standing before them (Lewis, p.184-85). The breaking of the Stone Table is obviously not so similar to the stone in Jesus’ tomb as it is to the curtain of the temple being torn (Luke 23:45). The image is even more allusive to the breaking of the tablets containing the Commandments in the book of Exodus. These latter correlation, however, is probably not so much direct allegory as it is an example of Lewis’ command of Biblical imagery as a literary device (Brennan).
In the dark of night, at the Stone Table, Aslan, who describes himself as sad and lonely(Lewis, pg 179), gives himself over to humiliation and death at the hands of the White Witch and her minions. He is tied to the Stone Table and killed by the White Witch while Susan and Lucy look on from afar. With Aslan dead, the queen vows to kill the children. With Aslan dead, all hope seems lost (Vincent).
However, the dawn of the next day changes everything.
At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giants plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
Who’s done it? cried Susan. What does it mean? Is it more magic?
Yes! said a great voice from behind their backs. It is more magic. They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
Oh, Aslan! cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….
But what does it all mean? asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
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 further 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 backward(Lewis, pg184).
Upon comparing the creation stories in The Magician’s Nephew and the book of Genesis, Lewis’ technique of making animals a central part of his narrative is readily noticeable. In Genesis, God creates animals that inhabit land on the fifth day: “God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so.” (Gen 1:24-25). The interesting choice of words in this verse may well have been the inspiration for Lewis to write his creative description of the creation of animals in Narnia, where the animals are literally produced by the land, out of the ground: “In all directions it the land was swelling into humps. They were of very different sizes some no bigger than mole-hills, some as big as wheel-barrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps move and swelled until they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal” (Lewis, pg68-69). Lewis’ emphasis on the animals in his creation story is especially apparent with his use of Aslan the lion as a God figure: “The Lion opened his mouth…he was breathing out a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees.” (Lewis, pg70). This image of life-giving breath directly correlates to a passage in Genesis: “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7). Lewis equates the significance of the creation of man in Genesis with the creation of the animals in Narnia, and thereby appeals to a child’s natural attraction to animals by making them the central part of the Narnian creation story (Brennan).
What the White Witch did not know is that there are two kinds of magic in Narnia: the Deep Magic, and the Deeper Magic. Both have their source in the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Beyond this, there are a number of crucial differences. The Deep Magic exists from creation and is known to all creatures. The Deeper Magic has its source in eternity past and is unique knowledge known only by the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea and Aslan two eternal beings. The Deep Magic represents Gods moral law and its obligations, requirements, and penalties. The Deeper Magic represents Gods redemptive plan that was the subject of the divine counsel of God from eternity past (Vincent).
Aslan’s resurrection clearly parallels the resurrection of Christ. Moreover, the Stone Table on which he is sacrificed evokes the stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinaiand Lewis acknowledged that he had Moses’s tablets in mind when he described the Stone Table. The strange symbols and runes carved into this unimaginably ancient artifact seem to be relics of an old Narnian religion, the religion the Witch invokes when she calls upon the Deep Magic. Indeed, the Witch says that the Deep magic is carved into the Stone Table itself. When the Stone Table breaks, the event signifies the end of an era. Narnia undergoes a transition from an old, unforgiving faith to a new, vibrant, and compassionate one. The same thing can be said to have happened when Christ rose from the dead: God’s old covenant with man was replaced with a new covenant. Aslan’s suffering and death both renews and transforms the Deep Magic that governs the universe of Narnia (Hourihan).
Although Lewis clearly intended Aslan’s story to suggest Christ’s Passion (the Passion is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ), the two stories are not exactly parallel. Lewis repeatedly explained to his readers that he did not simply transplant the Gospel story into a new setting. Instead, he imagined what the life of a redeemer might be like if another world needed redemption. The most important difference between the stories is that Christ died to redeem all humankind, while Aslan dies to save one life. However, even this difference between Aslan’s and Christ’s stories reinforces the overall Christian message. In God’s eyes, one human life is as significant as all human lives. The story of Aslan thus stands on its own to a certain extent, both reflecting and restating Christian themes (Hourihan).
There are other differences between the two stories. Aslan rises the morning after he is killed, whereas Christ lay in the tomb for three days, a highly symbolic number in Christianity. Aslan immediately whirls into action the moment after he rises, speaks to Susan and Lucy, and then storms the Witch’s castle. Christ did not reveal himself to his disciples for a long time. In Narnia, once Aslan rises from the dead, the world returns to normal. The Christian legend explains that human beings must wait to go to heaven to experience such perfection. Jesus’ resurrection was not immediately followed by a new social order and the abolishment of evil. Although Lewis refers to the Christian story, he adapts it to fit the fantasy world of Narnia. Thus, Lewis creates a unique variation on an ancient tale and preserves the individuality of the magic kingdom of Narnia (Hourihan).
Because of the Deeper Magic agreed upon by the Father and Son, God created with full awareness of the personal cost to himself. God created knowing that, ultimately, the Son would suffer the full penalty of human sin. That is why the sacred Scriptures speak of the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8). This truth is alluded to in The Magicians Nephew, the prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the book, Aslan tells the beasts that, before the new, clean world I gave you is seven hours old, a force of evil has already entered it; waked and brought hither by this son of Adam Evil will come of that evil, but it is still a long way off, and I will see to it that the worst falls upon myself(Lewis, pg80) (Vincent).
The battle shows the triumph of good over evil, Christ over Satan, and death over life. We do not need to read too deeply to understand this scene. After all, Lewis is writing first and foremost about Narnia. The Christian allegory is secondary to the main story. The victory of Peter’s forces and the murder of the Witch are not important because they stand for the victory of Christianity and the defeat of Satan. More simply, they are important as a victory of good over bad. Lewis suggests that any battle where good triumphs over evil can be symbolic of Christ’s victory over Satan. Although the action of the novel continues through the battle scene, Chapters 16 and 17 comprise the denouement of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The climax of the book really comes when Aslan rises from the dead. The most noteworthy thing that occurs after the climax is Edmund’s sudden transformation. Edmund had moved to the side of good after deserting the witch, but it was an uneasy departure. Even Edmund’s talk with Aslan, though it had firmly convinced him of the need to stay on Aslan’s side, hadn’t been able to remove his lingering sense of guilt and doubt. Now, however, Edmund has fought his own battle and redeemed himself with his own hand. Ultimately, this is as important as Aslan’s self-sacrifice to save Edmund. A person cannot be simply carried through life into enlightenment and salvation, but must strive to achieve these goals through his or her own efforts. Human effort is as important as divine intercession. Edmund realizes that he must prove his worthiness and risks his own life to smash the Witch’s wand. When Aslan knights Edmund, it is a sign that Edmund has atoned for his sins and can now look upon the world without fear or shame (Hourihan).
Some have criticized Lewis story by arguing that Aslans work of salvation involves the deception of the White Witch. To this, three things must be said. First, Lewis is writing a fantasy that reflects Christ but is not intended to be a theological treatise. Second, though elements of substitutionary atonement are present, the larger theme is deliverance from the powers of evil. Aslan provides a ransom for Edmund. Thus, the ancient ransom theory of atonement, which for some church fathers, involves tricking the devil, is reflected in the story. Scot McKnight writes, To be fair, most today who adhere to the ransom theory no longer see Gods tricking of Satan as part of the mix. Instead, they speak of Gods powers being unleashed to liberate humans from sin and suffering and systemic evil. But, one will admit that the story of the early fathers was full of drama. Release from someones grip is an ageless story. Third, there certainly is a sense in which the evil powers had no way to conceive of what God was up to in Christ. Gods wisdom is simply too much for even the most powerful spiritual beings. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8:
But we speak Gods wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
In the end, the one thing that certainly comes through is that Aslan gives himself over to the powers of evil for the sake of the sinner, Edmund. There is no other reason for him to do this than divine love. In this way, we are reminded of what God has done for us all in Christ:
For while we were still sinners, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8) (Vincent).
So Aslan paid the ultimate price for Edmund, just as the White Witch said, You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill…. And so that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property (Lewis, pg175-180). Aslan instead gave his pure and innocent blood for Edmunds treachery, in this same way Christ came to die for the sins of all mankind.
Brennan, Matt. “The Lion, the Witch and the Allegory: An Analysis of Selected Narnia Chronicles.” Into the Wardrobe: a C. S. Lewis Web Site. 19 Apr. 2006 ;http://cslewis.drzeus.net/papers/lionwitchallegory.html;.
Hourihan, Kelly. “SparkNotes: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” SparkNotes. 17 Apr. 2006 ;http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/lion/;.
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Vincent, Rich. “TheoCenTriC: The Deeper Magic.” TheoCenTriC. 17 Apr. 2006 ;http://www.theocentric.com/theoarchives/000359.html;.