What's Christian About Narnia?
There's that death and resurrection of Aslan, for one thing. But that's only the beginning.
Recently, I was chatting with my friend Summer. She's never read C. S. Lewis's great apologetics for the Christian faith, "Mere Christianity." Nor has she read his conversion story, "Surprised by Joy," or his adult fiction, or his essays of literary criticism. But she did, years ago as a kid, read his "Chronicles of Narnia," at about the same time she read "Anne of Green Gables" and "Nancy Drew." "Now, I know these Narnias are supposed to be Christian allegory, but I never saw anything Christian about them," she told me. "Frankly, I'm not sure I see them as much more religious than Anne or Nancy."
My friend is not alone. Part of what distinguishes the Narnia series is that it can be read on so many different levels. Setting aside any religious interpretation, it's still just a heck of a good tale.
Nonetheless, a deeply Christian vision shapes Narnia. The most unmistakably Christian trope in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"-- Lewis's famous novel about four British children who find themselves in a magical land called Narnia where they meet witches and fauns and a wonderful lion called Aslan--is Aslan's death and resurrection. In order to save one of the children from death at the hands of the evil White Witch, Aslan allows himself to be killed upon a great Stone Table. The "crucifiers" mock him, just as Jesus was mocked: "Why, he's only a great cat after all!"; "Poor Puss! Poor Pussy.... How many mice have you caught today, Cat?" These jeers, of course, recall the soldiers' cry to Jesus:If you are king of the Jews, save yourself!
The resurrected Aslan then reappears to Lucy and Susan. The girls, of course, are taken aback--Susan fears that she is seeing a ghost. But Lucy realizes this is no specter: "Oh, you're real, you're real! Oh, Aslan!" she cries. And Aslan explains that while the White Witch's magic is powerful, there is a deeper, truer, more powerful magic at work--and now that an innocent and willing victim was killed in the intended victim's place, "Death itself would start working backward."
That phrase is about as concise a summary of the Gospel message as one could hope for. Yet the story of Aslan is so engrossing in itself that readers understandably don't always make the connection. Pauline Baynes, who illustrated the first edition of The Chronicles, says she wept while creating the illustration for this scene--but she didn't realize until later that Aslan's death mirrored Christ's suffering on the cross.