This is more than just high storytelling, though; there is a deep theological importance in the ability of animals to speak. We are all, as Lewis reminds us in Mere Christianity, filled with a longing for the original holiness of Eden. We all too, he adds, long for paradise in the future. Narnia reminds us that an essential part of that longing is a healing of the old wound between man and beast. Was it not through a talking beast, the serpent, that temptation first entered the world? Ever since then, sin has separated man from God, and man from creation-including its animals. Sin has sundered man from God, the angels, the beasts, and even the inanimate world about him.
The world of Narnia is not free from these effects of the fall. But there is hope, given in certain kinds of literature. J. R. R. Tolkien comments on this hope with his usual insight in his essay "On Fairy Stories." Fairy tales, in his view, satisfy "the desire of men to hold communion with other living things." This remark naturally presupposes an absence of communion in our present state. For most of us, serpents do not tempt, donkeys do not rebuke their masters (Num. 22:28), and badgers do not offer us tea. "Living things," Tolkien adds, means more than dwarfs, fauns, and elves. He includes inanimate nature, too. We desire a kind of communion with all created things, animate and inanimate. Stones, rivers, birds, trees: Tolkien notes that fairy tales give speech to all these things. (We are thus not far from Tolkien's creation of the Ents, the talking trees, in The Lord of the Rings. How amusing and revealing are C. S. Lewis's recollections of Tolkien as a man who would actually embrace the trees. How rich that Tolkein would base his Entish leader Treebeard on Lewis.) In sum, man desires to be in communion with the whole world; he looks for right relationship with all of God's creation. Fairy tales in part reflect that desire.
In the great tradition of St. Francis of Assisi in the West or St. Anthony of Egypt in the East, C. S. Lewis gives us a world of nature where we may relate rightly to God. The world is, to borrow from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, charged with the grandeur of God. Hopkins himself merely echoes the psalmist in Psalm 19 who writes that the heavens declare God's glory. How much more, in their own way, do the creatures of the sea and the creatures of the land? To understand and love them is one of the chief ways one understands and loves him. God has us love him (whom we cannot see) by way of the things we can see: nature and neighbor alike. Indeed, it is by loving all that is in the world, forest and beast and neighbor, that one loves his Maker.
Furthermore, one comes to know mankind a little bit better by his furred and feathered friends. C. S. Lewis appreciated how one knows the greater (man) by the lesser (animals) in the created world. That is, by understanding the talking animals in fairy stories, one understands man, another "talking animal," in ordinary life. In his essay "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," Lewis remarks that it is precisely through animals acting humanly that one sees all the varieties of human psychology and character. The reader who has met Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows, for instance, acquires a firsthand knowledge of the type of man who is ever pursuing and ever disappointed by the shiny and the new. In fact, such a man is visiting my house next week. All the varieties of the human soul take on life and texture in the talking beasts of children's stories.