This is post 2 of 2 in the series “C.S. LEWIS AND THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA"
- C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia Session 1
- C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia Session 2
C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia Session 2
Providence Presbyterian Church
Let’s pray. Holy God, we thank You that there is so much that is hidden and unseen beyond what is easily visible to each one of us. We thank You that You are at work in the universe in ways that spark our imagination. And we thank You, Lord God, for the gift of art, in this case, for the gift of C. S. Lewis and the way You poured forth Your truth through him. And we thank You in advance for the way that You have set that on the screen for this visual generation. Bless us as we seek to see beyond the text and read between the lines, in Christ’s name, amen.
Welcome to Narnia! Don’t worry if you can’t read all the names on the map yet. Don’t worry if I pronounce them differently than you might when you read it. Now, Narnia was once merely the name of a small medieval town in Italy, halfway between Rome and Assisi. But now, oh, now, Narnia is a land of mystery. A land of adventure. A land of intrigue. A land of learning. It is in some ways a fairyland. It is a land that lies for humans beyond the wardrobe. It is a parallel reality. It is, I will argue, more than simply a metaphor. More maybe like a myth, but one that spurs the imagination to ask questions of reality.
Upon entering into this wonderland through the wardrobe, Lucy, one of the four children whom you will meet, encounters a faun. A faun is half man and half goat. And like all of the animals of Narnia, he talks. He asks Lucy how she, a daughter of Eve—to you and I, a little girl—came to be in the land of Narnia. And Lucy replies with the question that would be, first and foremost, on all of our minds having heard the word for the first time, “Narnia? What’s that?” “This is the land of Narnia,” says Mr. Tumnus, the faun, “where we are now; all that lies between Cair Paravel and the eastern sea. And you—you have come from the wild woods of the west?” To which Lucy replies, “I got through the wardrobe in the spare room.” “Ah,” says the faun, “if only I had worked harder at geography when I was a little faun, I should no doubt know about all these strange countries.”
So I give you a map, a bit of a treasure map, if you will, to accompany you on your journey as you read not only The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but all of the Chronicles of Narnia. Fold it up and put it with your set of books and unfold it as you read and find those places where these exciting adventures…so I’m giving you this map to accompany you on your journey through Narnia.
Now, The Chronicles of Narnia in order of their publication are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle. In the late 1940s, C. S. Lewis was incredibly busy, as we learned last week. He was under a good deal of pressure. As you will recall, he was reading everything that had been written and everything that had been translated into English in the 16th Century in preparation for writing the Oxford History series on that subject. He was also still caring for Mrs. Moore, who was by now an invalid. As a creative outlet—a diversion if you will, C. S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia.
They were first published in order of their writing. In the 1980s, it was agreed by publishers that they would henceforth be packaged in order of events. So, in order of events, we should first be reading, and therefore, first be seeing on film, The Magician’s Nephew, followed only then by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. You will note that in this ordering, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does not appear first. Lewis wrote what we would today call a prequel, a book that explains where the wardrobe came from, which is a question a child would ask. This story of where the wardrobe came from is contained in The Magician’s Nephew. Now, I will admit that read in this order, The Chronicles will make more sense to you as an adult. But I recommend that when it comes to engaging children with the story, the right place to start is where C. S. Lewis himself started, and that is with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Because there are so many biblical allusions, parallel, and principles contained in The Chronicles, there is a temptation to read, specifically, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but The Chronicles, in general, as allegory. Allegory is a form of extended metaphor in which the character’s objects and actions are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning is moral, social, religious or political in nature. And the characters often personify abstract ideas. If you’re familiar with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, that is the best example of allegory that I could come up with. An allegory, then, is a story that has two meanings. It has the meaning that’s on the surface and the one that’s under the surface. The meaning of the text itself and the subtext. It has a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. Has anyone ever read the Bible? Yeah. Is there usually a meaning there beyond what you first encounter when you look with spiritual eyes?
C. S. Lewis, as a professor of literature, had a very strict definition of allegory. He declined to describe The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in that way. Why, you ask? Because for C. S. Lewis, an allegory was a composition in which immaterial realities are represented by famed physical objects. “If Aslan,” Lewis says, “represented an immaterial deity, then this would be an allegory.” But Lewis says, “In reality, Aslan is an invention giving an answer to the question, what might Christ become if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually did in ours?” Lewis described The Chronicles then as supposition. Stories that arose from his supposing what it would be like if Christ were to come to another entirely fictional world. The result of that supposing is the tale and adventure of Narnia.
Perhaps it would be useful to think of The Chronicles as parables, stories that indirectly teach deep, Christian truths. Lewis himself described The Chronicles as “fairy tale”. Now, you and I might have a limited understanding of what “fairy tale” is. Lewis described the writings of Tolkien as “fairy tale”. You and I might describe them otherwise. Tolkien certainly did. But there are elements of fantasy and myth. There are reclamations from Greek mythology and from literature, and there are allusions that are bound to scripture. There is indeed, in The Chronicles of Narnia, lots of magic. Now, who today is the great magician on the scene and in books that children read?—Harry Potter. I dare say that Harry Potter has prepared the way for children’s imaginations in this generation to be opened up to The Chronicles of Narnia and the adventures that the children have there. You will be amazed how magic is treated.
Magic, you say? Magic? There is no good magic! Well, there is, in Narnia, deep magic and deeper magic still. There is, in relationship to the concept of magic: law. When you read The Chronicles of Narnia, when you see the word magic, you think of law, natural and supernatural. You might think of the deep magic as natural law even including the Ten Commandments. You might consider the deeper law to be the law of the heart of God, the law of grace. “Oh, the places you will go in your adventures of Narnia, oh, the things you will see, the truth you will meet. And He has a name. The life you will find if you venture therein”.
The entire adventure of Narnia begins with a child’s curiosity. What’s at the end of that empty room? What’s hiding under that dusty sheet? What’s behind those closed carved doors? What’s inside that wardrobe? Is there a reality beyond what we can see? Is there any mystery? Is there any hope? There are things that are hidden from those who are too busy or too distracted to venture beyond the comfortable and the ordinary into the extraordinary surprising surpassing joy of the adventures God has for us.
Now, this whimsical nation, this whimsical land, began with a picture in C. S. Lewis’s mind. It was a picture of faun—half-man, half-goat, carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. C. S. Lewis was only 16 when this image came into his mind. It was more than 30 years later that he remembered the scene as he had first vividly imagined it. And one day, this, by now, world-famous professor, author and lecturer decided that he would try to write a story about the picture. As he thought about it, other pictures began to appear in his mind’s eye—a queen on a sleigh and then a magnificent lion. Lewis later explained, “Suddenly, Aslan came bounding in. I don’t know where the lion came from. I don’t know why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together.”
In the very first sentence of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we meet the principal characters, four English children named Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund. Now, here you can pronounce their last name in about 100 different ways. I will say “Pevensie”. And next week, when the movie comes out, you will find it is pronounced differently than that I’m sure. The children have been sent away from wartime London to escape the air raids to the country mansion of an old professor named Kirke. In Lewis’ own life, his principal professor throughout his life was Professor Kirkpatrick.
Peter is the eldest of the four children, and he is a born leader. He shows strength and courage in addition to a great love for adventure. Susan is the oldest sister. And in her parent’s absence, she takes on the responsibility of watching over her brothers and sister and trying to keep everyone in line. She’s overly cautious, even fearful. Susan would rather avoid the unknown dangers that an adventure in Narnia would present, but she also refuses to be left out for she feels a great deal of responsibility and duty, and that helps her to move into the challenge of the Narnia experience.
Lucy is the youngest of the four children and the first to discover Narnia. In many ways, a little child shall lead them. Lucy is always truthful and tender-hearted. She suffers a great deal when her older siblings do not believe her story. You will undoubtedly love Lucy. Lewis did. Edmund then is another story. Edmund is greedy, selfish, mean-spirited. He enjoys provoking his brother and his sisters. Edmund is the one who falls under the spell of the White Witch. Edmund is the one who betrays them all. Edmund is the one whose sin sets the stage for the most dramatic events of the story for his salvation comes at a great price.
I think I will note here that Lucy was the daughter of Lewis’ friend, Owen Barfield, and it was to this real-life Lucy that Lewis dedicated his book. When you read the dedication, remember then that Lucy is real. As with all of us, a journey of faith begins with one small step. It is not the suspension of reality. It is the suspension of disbelief—“Come, won’t you, into Narnia?”
Narnia is a land in bondage held captive for 100 years under the spell of the evil White Witch. It’s she that makes it always winter, always winter and never Christmas. Prophecies have foretold the end of the witch’s reign. One day, Aslan will return to Narnia. Aslan, the great lion, the king of beasts, son of the emperor beyond the sea. Furthermore, as the saying goes, two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, two boys and two girls, will one day sit on the four thrones at Cair Paravel and will rule as kings and queens in Narnia. Now that these four children are here, could it be that Narnia’s deliverance is at hand? Just as the creation in which we live waits with eager longing for the Son of God to be revealed in hope that it too will be liberated from its bondage to decay and death, Narnia awaits redemption. Narnia awaits restoration—It awaits spring.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you and I, if we read between the lines and if we read the subtext, we will encounter the story of the greater gospel. It is the story not only of personal salvation, it is the story of the restoration of creation itself and the personal sacrifice that God makes in order that that salvation be possible. Speaking specifically about the issue of personal salvation, Edmund falls under the spell of the White Witch, succumbing to his own pride, selfishness and greed. Edmund becomes a traitor. And according to the deep magic, according to the law on which Narnia is founded, Edmund must pay the penalty for his sin. And the wages of sin is death. The only hope for Narnia, the only hope for Edmund, is Aslan. Only Aslan, the one who created Narnia, can now deliver it from the power of the White Witch. And it is Aslan who will lay down his own life for Edmund. Taking his punishment—Dying in his stead. The good news is that beyond the natural law of Narnia, beyond the deep magic, there is deeper magic still. You and I know its name. Enter Edmund.
Now, in many fairy tales, a White Witch is a good witch. White magic is good magic as opposed to dark magic or black magic or evil. But in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis uses white to represent winter and death, painting a picture of a world that is cold, frozen, stiff, colorless. The White Witch, also known as the queen, has found Edmund alone in the snowy woods. And under the guise of friendship and compassion, she invites the shivering boy to warm himself in her sleigh, and she gives him the most delightful food he has ever eaten—Turkish delight.
But what Edmund doesn’t know is going to hurt him. The sweet, gooey candy that tastes so good is actually bite by bite poisoning him. Under its influence, he loses his sense of judgment. He will ignore all warnings that something is not right. He will lie about having ever met the queen. He will pretend he knows nothing about the frozen land over which she reigns. He will ridicule those who do believe. The Turkish delight will take complete control over Edmund. He will indeed become a slave to sin. And his insatiable addiction will ultimately lead him down the path of betrayal and distraction.
You can easily see then, the parallels to the power of sin in our lives. When we give in to temptation, we let go of wisdom and sound judgment doing what we know we should not do. And that initiates a sort of domino effect in our lives or a chain reaction explained to us by James in the first chapter. Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death—the death of joy, the death of peace, the death of our relationships, not only with God but with others, and eventually, if we do not repent—eternal spiritual death. The lesson then here is that no matter how tempting, no matter how delicious a sinful choice may be, it is not ultimately worth the price we have to pay.
Further along in the adventure, another character, Mr. Beaver, announces that Aslan is on the move. It’s a phrase you will hear more than once throughout The Chronicles. It is at the mention of his name that the children have what theologians call numinous. It’s a mysterious supernatural experience of the divine presence. Maybe you’ve felt it. The sense that God is really here, really present. Your senses are much more alert and attune. You are somehow more awake than you were a moment earlier. There’s a tingling sensation up your spine and maybe even the hairs on the back of your neck or hair on your arms stand at attention. You may feel warm all over or you may feel a sudden chill run through you.
There is a certain awe-inspiring sense when the name of God is spoken. There is a reason that it is ineffable among Jews. Because at the very name, the reality is called forth and it is awesome. It is, yes, wonderful, but it is at the same time quite dreadful. It is the feeling at once of great peace, and yet at the same time, no small measure of fear. It awakens our spirit and it elicits a personal response. To the righteous, scripture says, the name of the Lord is glorious and awesome, majestic and worthy of praise. But to the wicked, the name of God speaks immediately of judgment and wrath and becomes the object of scorn.
Aslan. He has many names. He is king. He is lord. He is son of the great emperor beyond the sea. He is the king of beasts. He is the great lion. Recall then, if you will, what the Bible tells us. That among other names, Jesus is called the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Son of God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of peace, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah. Like Aslan, the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. He does not exist to serve us, but we to serve Him. We cannot always understand what He chooses to do, and we often misunderstand what He chooses not to do. But this we know. The Lord is good. His steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting. His faithfulness is to all generations.
The White Witch ultimately has no power over Aslan. Like the demons who are subject to Christ, she is even unable to fully stand in his presence. Lucy wants to know if Aslan is safe. He is a lion after all. It’s a reasonable question for a child to ask. “Is he safe?” “Safe?” Says Mr. Beaver, “Who said anything about safe? Of course, he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Consider for a moment the challenge of explaining God to someone who has never heard of Him, never seen Him, never experienced Him. And then consider how you would explain that to a little child. “He’s real, I tell you. God, He’s real.”
But then the words that come to us as adults are He’s pre-existent and He’s eternal and He’s perfectly holy and He’s perfectly just. He’s slow to anger and He’s abounding in steadfast love. At which point, they totally glaze over. God is love. He is worthy to be praised. God is good, but He is not safe. Children can understand that. God has total authority over all things. He is completely sovereign. To a child, like the lion, king of the beasts, we should approach God with fear and trembling, not because He is mean, but because He is so great, so grand, so awesome, so worthy to be praised, worthy of reverence and respect. To a child, the way that you would approach, be drawn to and yet, at the same time, terrified of, a great lion.
So much of who God is and what God is is beyond our capacity or ability to understand, as if God is a completely different kind of creature. He doesn’t walk like us. He doesn’t talk like us. He doesn’t smell like us. He certainly doesn’t live like us. Somehow above all things, proud and full and robust and strong and unintimidated. Be assured God is good. God always makes good on His promises. And God is always working for the good of those who love Him. And God is love. But do not be deceived, God is not safe. But in Him, we are safe. Aslan is not safe, but when you are with him, you are safe.
At one point in the story, the children meet Father Christmas. That is not him on the screen. Father Christmas is a much larger character than you and I might think of when we think of Santa Claus. Father Christmas gives gifts or presents to the children. Those are pictured here. But they are not toys; they are tools. Peter’s gift is a sword and a shield. Susan receives a bow and a quiver of arrows and a horn to summon help in times of distress. Lucy is given a dagger and she’s given a cordial. You and I might think of it as anointing oil to bring healing to those who are sick or wounded. These Christmas gifts are not playthings. Indeed, they are tools, not toys. The children are, you see, being equipped for war. The gifts the children have been given will help them to fulfill their calling and to face the challenges that Aslan knows surely lie ahead.
There is a battle of good and evil raging constantly all around us. Even when we are totally unaware of it, the spiritual warfare is at work within us, it is at work among us, and it is at work around us. C. S. Lewis once explained, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Ephesians 6 then urges us to put on every day the full armor of God that we might be prepared to stand against the devil’s schemes. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil at work in the heavenly realms”.
There is something going on beyond the surface. There is something going on behind the wardrobe. There is a reality that goes beyond what you and I can see here and now. There is a spiritual battle of epic proportions underway. You and I are challenged every day to suit up for that battle. And we have been given the tools—not the toys—that we might engage in it.
Scripture tells us you see, that in addition to the full armor of God provided to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, each and every one of us is given spiritual gifts. These gifts are supernatural talents, deeper magic if you will. They enable us to do the work, the extraordinary work, the eternal work, of the building up of the Body of Christ in this generation.
Harry Potter—We got way more tricks up our sleeves than that. We’ve got a much deeper magic to offer to children than Harry Potter has ever dreamed of. We have the spiritual gifts that come from the very creator Himself, placed upon our lives like a mantle, given to us that we might be fully equipped for the calling to which we are called. Beyond who we are now. Beyond what we see all around us. Contrary to the circumstances in which we are living. I find it interesting that Harry Potter was kept trapped in a wardrobe or a closet. Lucy simply opened the back of it.
There are steps of faith to be taken. They are not steps to be taken lightly. And the spiritual gifts we have been given are not toys that we play with for our own edification. They are given to the saints to do the work of the kingdom for the eternal battle which is at hand. You have been given tools, not toys, for the adventure of faith.
You learn that one of the gifts that Susan received was a horn that she might use it to call out in times of distress that help would come. Susan’s horn is at one point found. It’s not a good sign. She was obviously not able to use it, and she lost it. Aslan then speaks to Peter in a low voice, “It is your sister’s horn.” For a moment, Peter did not understand. Then, when he saw all the other creatures start forward and heard Aslan say with a wave of his paw, “Back! Let the prince win his spurs,” Peter did understand. He set off running as hard as he could to the pavilion. And there he saw a dreadful sight. Peter did not feel very brave. Indeed, he felt as if he were going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do. He rushed straight up to the monster and aimed a slash of his sword at its side. Aslan could have rescued Susan himself. The other creatures could have fought off the wolf. But Aslan gave Peter the responsibility, the ability to respond. Everything that he needed to be able to overcome the challenge that he found himself in. Peter was equipped to come to his sister’s defense.
God does the same for each one of us. God is constantly working in our lives, teaching us, training us, preparing us, encouraging us. Certainly, God could remove every obstacle from our path. God could save us from every distress. But instead, God gives us everything that is necessary to overcome, to conquer, to persevere because God wants us to develop the courage and the faith and the wisdom and the confidence and the spiritual strength. We discover the reality in the power of God in our lives by discovering that God is with us in our distress. God is working in us. And God is working through us. Not only working on our behalf, in spite of us. I believe that’s why James could exclaim, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of any kind because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in any good thing.”
Peter’s battle with the wolf is not the last battle that comes at the end of the series. Peter’s battle with the wolf is not even the last battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There is a battle yet to be waged. A sacrifice to be made, a deep magic, a law to be satisfied. As a traitor, Edmund stands condemned. And the punishment for Edmund’s sin cannot be ignored. It cannot be forgotten. It cannot, somehow, by a deep desire for it not to be true, be suspended. The penalty must be paid. And Aslan takes the responsibility upon himself. He bore the sin. Aslan did not respond to the taunts, offered no resistance, and it will seem to you, when you see it on the screen, as if evil has triumphed. As if the White Witch has won. As if death has found its victory.
After he is dead, the girls tenderly care for Aslan’s bruised and broken body, and they openly grieve. You will not be able to keep out of your mind the women who tended to the body of Christ. We who know the great gospel story know that this is not the end, don’t we?
Children will instinctively know that too because they see all those other books. The grave has no victory. It’s phrased this way, “The great lion roared. The lion roars. The stone table is cracked, and death itself begins working backward.” Does that sound familiar to anybody? The stone tablet is not—or the stone table is not an altar like you might think of from mythology or from cults. It is very specifically the stone tablet upon which the law was written and given to Moses. It is the law, the deep magic that is broken by being satisfied by the blood sacrifice, offered as a substitution for another.
For you see, there is a deeper magic, a greater law, what the apostle Paul spoke of this way. “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God has destined for our glory before time began.” None of the rulers of this age understood it. For if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Why not? Because in crucifying Jesus Christ, they made it possible for Him to unleash this deeper magic, this greater law, this gospel of grace. In crucifying Jesus, they were actually making it possible for Him to accomplish what He had come to this earth to do. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law and the spell was broken, and captive hearts were set free and death was swallowed up. The Lion of Judah roared from an empty tomb. Aslan, as well, roars into resurrection and newness of life.
C. S. Lewis wound powerful biblical truths through every chapter of The Chronicles of Narnia. In book five, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the great lion tells the children that their adventures in Narnia have come to an end. They will not be returning to this country again. And Edmund and Lucy were understandably upset. Lucy sobs to Aslan, “It isn’t Narnia you know. It’s you. We shan’t meet you here. And how can we live never meeting you?” “But you shall meet me, dear one,” Aslan assured, which provoked Edmund to ask the question, “Are you there too, sir?” Aslan said, “I am. But there, I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
Years ago, after reading those words, a little girl named Hila wrote to C. S. Lewis asking him to tell her Aslan’s other name. Lewis responded, “I want you to guess. Has there ever been anyone in this world who, (1) arrived at the same time as Father Christmas? (2) said He was the son of the great emperor? (3) gave Himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people? (4) came to life again? (5) is sometimes spoken of as the Lamb? Don’t you really know His name in this world? Think it over, and let me know your answer.”
The Chronicles of Narnia, and specifically, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are written to provoke the imagination of children. They are not childish. They are deeply profound. I would encourage you not only to read them yourself and to go see the movie, I would encourage you to find a little child to read them with or read them to and take them with you.
You and I are old enough again to appreciate fairy tales. That’s what Lewis says to Lucy in the dedication. He wrote the book for her. But what he did not know when he started is that little girls grow much faster than books, and that by the time it is finished and then printed and bound, she would be too old for fairy tales. And so it was his hope that one day, when she got old enough for fairy tales again, she would take it off some shelf and dust it off and read it and let him know what she thought. He figured that by then, he would be too old to understand or hear her, but he would still affectionately be her godfather.
These books, but specifically, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of the great gospel, written in a way that any child can understand. It is an invitation to come to know Aslan and to come to know grace and to come to know forgiveness. That in the living of this life, in this reality, we might better understand who Jesus is.
Just as the children’s adventures in the land of Narnia help them to understand the inexplicable nature of God, I hope that our adventures in Narnia will help us better understand the adventure of faith we are now living. Amen.