The Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-volume saga for children of CS Lewis, reveals a world found parallel to our own, populated by men and women, dwarfs and talking animals, giants and merpeople, centaurs and faunas, and ruled by a kind, but terribly greedy and giant lion named Aslan. Lewis, who died on the same day as JFK, on 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 our moral struggles on the faces of the world.
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 Nazi bombing, they are boarded by an elderly undergraduate professor in his wandering mansion in the country.
While playing hide and seek, Lucy, the youngest of 8 years, hides in an old wardrobe filled with racks of overcoats. Moving further back to escape discovery, she pushes past the coats and expects to hit the back of the wardrobe at any point. Lucy, instead, senses the branches of evergreen trees, hears the snowdrop at her feet, and looks in the distant glow of a lantern pillow like the ones she had seen many times back in London.
This marks the beginning of the many adventures of the four siblings in Narnia. Each of the books, although loosely linked 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 look for it, Lewis has filled Narnia, not only with interesting characters, majestic nature 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 homeland and this world as the place where they are visitors. In his books on Christian apologetics, Lewis describes the spiritual world as existing in parallel with the physical, having the quality of being, not shady and immaterial compared to physical, but more real, more colorful and much, much more vivid.
As Paul explains,
… many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are 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 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 pinnacle of the story is a beautiful victim, Lewis’s images of Christ’s death.
If you go to the film, be sure to break the stone table, which symbolizes how the death and resurrection of Christ brought the end of the Mosaic Law by meeting its demands for the atonement of blood. Also look for the role Susan and Lucy play in witnessing Aslan’s death and resurrection, similar to the historical role played by women as mourners at Jesus’ death and burial and as the first witnesses to his resurrection.
Professor helps Peter and Susan figure out how to receive Lucy’s testimony about Narnia: if she’s not a liar and she’s not crazy, then logically she should tell the truth. This corresponds to the testimony Jesus gave of his own identification, and the testimony His followers gave about him – what Lewis elsewhere describes as the trilemma of Jesus: is he Lord, liar or lunatic?
Another significant parallel is this: Aslan’s loyal followers play a significant role in the fight against the White Witch. Like our own spiritual warfare, Christ secures the final victory, but encourages his followers to engage personally in the battle. For sections relevant to this 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).
There are plans for another six films to follow this first, with the rest of Narnia’s story taking place. If they are just as true to the books and well conceived and produced as this one is, we all diehard Lewis fans applaud them as an introduction of Narnia to a blurry world. We hope viewers can understand and appreciate the allegorical features as much as they do surface history. The goal is not only to know about Aslan and Narnia, but to become his friend and subject and live in his kingdom forever.
Want to go deeper?
You can search for papers that go into more detail into the allegory of Narnia, including these three: “The Lion, the Witch and the Allegory,” “The Wardrobe as a Christian Metaphor,” and “Myth Made Truth: The Origins of the Chronicles of Narnia.”
If you want to buy and read your own copy of The Chronicles of Narnia, they come in a variety of versions, from the one-volume softcover edition to the seven-volume boxed set in either hardback or softcover. Also available Officially illustrated movie companion to The lion, the witch and the wardrobe, with photos from the film and interviews by the director and cast members as well as E. J. Kirk’s Beyond the Wardrobe: The Official Guide to Narnia. (My blog contains links to all of these to give you significant discounts, from 24% to 33% off retail prices.)