What's Christian About Narnia?

There's that death and resurrection of Aslan, for one thing. But that's only the beginning.

BY: Lauren Winner

 

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For literary representations of the end times and the consummation of the new heavens and new earth, I'll take that over the apocalyptic "Left Behind" any day.

Beyond the larger story of Aslan's death and resurrection, one could comb through the Chronicles page by page and point out innumerable ways in which Lewis specifically invokes Scripture. These are just a few examples:

  • A favorite "old rhyme" in Narnia, "At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more," echoes Hosea 11:10-11--"They shall go after the Lord, he will roar like a lion..."--and also Isaiah 65:19, "...no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress."

  • Aslan's admission, shortly before he is killed, that he is "sad and lonely" recalls Jesus' telling his disciples "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

  • "The Last Battle"'s "rock with refreshing water" echoes Paul's words in I Corinthians 10:4 that "our forefathers... drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."

    Lewis, however, never intended the "Chronicles of Narnia" to be read simply as a coded retelling of the Bible. He insisted that he didn't set out to write a "Christian children's story." Narnia came to him first as a series of images--a faun, a lion. That an unmistakably biblical narrative emerged is perhaps a testimony to Lewis's own formation, a reminder of how deeply steeped he was in the Christian story. Indeed, Lewis never liked to call the Chronicles "allegory," with the term's implication that every last animal, tree, and chair was simply a cipher, standing for some specific thing in the Bible. He preferred to think of the Chronicles as "supposals"--"Let us suppose," he wrote in his essay "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said," "that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen."

    Lewis once received a letter from a worried correspondent, who was distressed to find that Aslan's death stirred him more deeply than the biblical accounts of Christ's passion ever had. "The reason why the Passion of Aslan sometimes moves people more than the real story of the Gospels is," replied Lewis, "...that it takes them off their guard. In reading the real story the fatal knowledge that one ought to feel a certain way often inhibits the feeling."

    This may be one reason that "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" continually delights and startles Christian readers. For the novel not only offers an emotionally engaging retelling of the crucifixion story. It also gets at the essence of the wonderful, strange, remarkable fact of God's incarnation as a human being. For aren't we, Christians and non-Christians alike, a little uncomfortable with the idea that, in order to have communion with and redeem the creatures of Narnia, God became a lion. A lion? Surely not. I mean, maybe it's even a little sacrilegious to think of God becoming a cat.

    But the biblical story of God becoming man is no less startling. Of course, it doesn't startle us so much anymore, because after 2,000 years we've gotten used to it. Even Christians sometimes forget how bold and odd the Incarnation is: All our sweet Christmas pageants have domesticated, even tamed, the story of Jesus being born a babe in a manger. Christmas rolls around and it is hard, amid all the shopping, to recapture the radical shock of God becoming a baby. For those of us who proclaim the Christian faith, Narnia makes a fine Advent devotional, inspiring in us a little of the awe and discomfort that the Incarnation demands.

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