- Religion and Philosophy
The Spirituality of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia comes to the surface as a blockbuster movie in the 21st century, based on the popular novel by Clive Staples Lewis. Since then, people are realizing that this story is not just another story: it stores an enormous deposit of spirituality that C. S. Lewis wants to tell us. It is a story of spirituality and theology draped in children fairy tale. One has to be adult enough to understand this fiction and unlock the message behind it. Here we will examine the spirituality of C. S. Lewis based on his works, The Chronicles of Narnia.
Lewis was born on 29 November 1898 in Northern Ireland, and he spent most of his academic career in Oxford and Cambridge in England. Lewis, who is first an atheist, met J. R. R. Tolkien in a small literary group called the Inklings. Tolkien and Lewis' interest in philosophy leads him to the truth in 1929. After his conversion to Christianity, he produced major work related to Christian academics, such as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, etc. But perhaps his most popular fiction works was The Chronicles of Narnia, 7 series books popular not only for the kids but also for the adults. “Through his friendship with Tolkien, he came to believe that Christian mythology was in fact the outward manifestation of a deeper truth.”1 Lewis played a role as both Christian apologist and storyteller. His work has been credited as bringing many people to Christian faith.
Is The Chronicles of Narnia a Christian allegory? An allegory may not be a good word to label Narnia; instead it is an illustrated extension of what Jesus would do if there is another world besides our earth. It is imbued with his theology, spirituality and apologetics. His words described it best:
I did not say to myself 'Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia'; I said, 'Let us suppose 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.2
In other words, what would Jesus do if he came to the people in another planet, provided that they exist and have souls. In Narnia, God came as a talking lion, since Narnia is a world of talking beast. Compare this to our world: God came as Jesus, a human, since we are humans. Thus it is best to say that Narnia is just a fairy tale and since it is not an allegory, we have to be careful to draw the spiritual implications of the events/characters surrounding the Narnian world. What we are going to seek is the spirituality and not the minor details that will set us lost.
The 7 books of Narnia mainly contains the story of creation (The Magician's Nephew), crucifixion and resurrection (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), character development (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), and the end of the world (The Last Battle).3 We'll focus on these 4 books as it contains and represents the main Christian theme.
The Magician's Nephew
Although this book was written as the second last, it is first in chronological order. It tells the story of the creation of the world of Narnia. The whole story is comparable to the accounts of creation in Genesis 1-2. Of importance is when Aslan breathed on the animals and said: “Be Talking Beasts”, a parallel of God breathing a breath of life to Adam's nostrils (Genesis 2:7). The whole world of Narnia is created by Aslan's song, through his words, just like our world is created by the Word of God. Aslan also appoint the talking beasts and give them authority over the dumb beasts.
Just as The Fall happen to humanity, so is evil has entered the world of Narnia. “...before the new, clean world I gave you is seven hours old, a force of evil has already entered it; waked and brought hither by this son of Adam."4 In the world of Narnia, the evil (Jadis the witch) was brought by Digory to the newly born Narnia, hence bringing evil to the newborn world. Just as Adam and Eve was tempted to eat from the forbidden tree, Digory was also tempted by the Witch (evil) to eat the magic apple that Aslan has commanded him to bring to Narnia. Hence the next few books tells us the problems that the Narnians have to face since evil has entered their world.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The main theme of this book is about the sacrifice of Aslan to redeem Edmund the traitor. According to the “deep magic from the dawn of time”, the witch has the right to kill Edmund as he is a traitor. Aslan replaced Edmund to die and sacrificed himself, with a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” that allows someone who willingly dies in the place of another to be returned to life. This is an obvious depiction of Christ's sacrifice for humanity in the cross. Christ died in place of us, a wretched human being, in order that we may obtain life, just like Edmund the traitor get his life back. Aslan died when Edmund is still a traitor, just like Christ died for us when we were still sinners (1 Peter 2:22-24). The New Testament also talks about this “deep magic” and “deeper magic”: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”5 which is the tightly bound relationship between God's justice (first part) and love for humanity (second part). Just as Jesus is sorrowful before his death, so is Aslan; just as Jesus is humiliated at the cross, so is Aslan. After Aslan dies, the Stone Table is broken to two pieces, an echo of Matthew 27:51. When the evil witch seems to triumph against Aslan, all hope is lost until Aslan was resurrected.
Edmund seems to have an addictive confection to Turkish delight given by the witch that called herself the Queen of Narnia. The witch led him astray through his gluttony for food. What he could think of all the time is the witch's enchanted Turkish delight. To be able to test more Turkish delight, he stood by the witch's side and lied to his brothers and sisters. Lewis wants to tell us that the nature of sin is addictive, leads to another sin, and it will separate us from God. James has warned us of the dangerous nature of temptation (James 1:14-15).6
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader depicts a spiritual journey that every Christian should face. The main plot is centered upon Eustace, who is the cousin of the Pevensie children. There is a change in character from Eustace the annoying and selfish kid into Eustace a behaved hero throughout his adventurous voyage aboard the Dawn Treader. He was transformed into a dragon, undergoing pain, rejection and sorrow out of it. He was transformed back when Aslan told him to bathe in the healing waters he pointed out. The dragon has to unpeel his skin, his “dragonish nature”, for him to be transformed back into a human. At the end, he need Aslan to transform him back: “You will have to let me undress you.”7 Human can give their best attempt to get rid of their human nature, but only God can transform us completely. Eustace is undergoing a character change through a painful experience as a dragon. Lewis described pain and suffering as God's way to transform us: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world…”8 This is the process that transform Eustace into a well-behaved kid.
Each other characters also experienced temptations during their adventure: Edmund's greed on riches and power, Lucy's envy for her more beautiful sister, Caspian's attempt to abdicate his responsibility. At the end of their journey, Caspian is tempted to continue to Aslan's country (a portrayal of heaven) and leave behind his responsibility in Narnia. At the end he resisted, as it comes to his remembrance that he still has a responsibility as the king of Narnia, to serve the Narnians. Lewis may want to tell us that we have our own responsibility in this earth as the light and salt of the earth. God gives each of us a special vocation to be fulfilled with responsibility, not to be passive with the notion that we have been saved by the grace of God. Some people may abdicate his vocation and selfishly seek God's grace and salvation for himself, well known in the secular world as the Abolition of Work.9 This is contrary to the Bible, where God viewed work as good (Ephesians 4:28). Since the creation humans are given the responsibility to tend the nature (Genesis 2:15). The overall theme of the book is about the temptations that is depicted as coming not from outside but from inside their hearts, where they are advised by the star to be strong to be able to complete their journey. Lewis illustrated the examples of human struggle to be the new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Lewis intended Aslan to be a pointer towards Jesus Christ. In the last part of their voyage where Lucy and Edmund is not allowed to enter the Narnia again, Aslan mentioned:
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.10
This again confirmed Lewis' imagination of a parallel world. If he is called as Aslan in the Narnian world, then he is called Jesus in our world: the same God that takes different form in different world, but they are of the same essence." There is a way into my country (Aslan's) from all the worlds”, said the Lamb11 (Lewis' other form of Aslan in Narnia).
The Last Battle
Lewis ends his book series with the coming of an ape that fools the inhabitants of Narnia about Aslan. He and his follower, a cheated donkey, pretends to be Aslan and caused chaos in the lands of Narnia. It is beyond doubt that this is Lewis' depiction of the coming of Antichrist. There is a crisis of belief throughout the land of Narnia, with some decide to believe in the fake Aslan, some decide to believe in the true yet absent Aslan, and some decide to believe only in themselves (the dwarfs). The evil that befalls Narnia comes not only from the talking beast themselves, but also from a demonic presence of Tash, the God of the Calormenes. At the end, the land of Narnia is renewed by Aslan (just like how our earth will be renewed during his second coming), bringing together the faithful Narnians. This resembles what Jesus told his disciples of what will happen at the end times (Matthew 24-25).12 At the end of the story, Aslan's country is described as getting bigger and better, encompassing the earth as well. Aslan is the form of God in Narnia just as Jesus is the form of God in earth, if there exists another parallel world.
One passage that Lewis also focus on is about a Calormene (those who oppose Narnians) whose name is Emeth. Emeth (which means truth in Hebrew) is serving the god Tash the whole of his life. Tash is a demonic figure worshipped by the Calormenes. However, Emeth is zealous in seeking for the truth in the Tash that he knew. The false description of Aslan imposed by others made him an unbeliever in Aslan. When Emeth asked Aslan why was he in his renewed Narnia, Aslan answered him:
I take to me the services which thou hast done to him (Tash). For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.13
However, his truth-seeking heart leads him to Aslan, the creator of Narnia, in the after-world. In other words, Lewis is depicting God as justifying a heathen that is faithful to the light that he had. C. S. Lewis also mention an inclusivist claim in his famous writing Mere Christianity: “Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him?”14
It may be helpful to distinguish between Christian and 'believers'.15 “Believers are those who have responded to general revelation and exercised the faith principle of responding to God; however deficient their theology they are made acceptable to God on the basis of this faith.”16 Whereas Christians are those who know the fullness of truth in Jesus Christ explicitly. Of course, this does not imply that there is salvation out of Jesus Christ. What it means is that although these people do not know God, God knows them. The important issue is not that we know God, but God knows us. These people are also cleansed and redeemed only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia from 1950 to 1956. Before writing children fairy tale, he has dealt with Christian theology and apologetics. Narnia is not just another children fairy tale, not is it just another allegory of Christianity. It is a fairy tale that is ingrained with Christian truths. His idea of Narnia, a fictional parallel universe, was not an allegory; it is suppositional. Suppose if God would create Narnia, a world of talking beasts, what would he do when evil enters it? What would he do when a human traitor, Edmund, is going to be executed by the evil witch Jadis? What would he do to bring the faithful Narnians to his country? The figure of Christ is prevalent in Aslan; it contains many aspects of Christian truths and spirituality on which many Christian would find it useful for their spirituality. The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe teaches us about God's sacrificial love for his creation, despite our rebellious nature. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader makes us think of our own voyage in this earth toward God's island and all the struggles aboard: temptation, thirst of power and riches, envy, nobility, virtue, vocation and responsibility, selfishness, crisis of belief, etc. Finally, The Last Battle illustrates the events at the end times, our hope in the future of the consummation of the world and renewal of the earth. Through Lewis' work we can learn many truths and spirituality. It is not just a children's novel, but also an adult's novel. An adult that read it carefully would learn much more than a little child.
Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.17
- http://www.nndb.com/people/238/000044106/ accessed on 27 December 2010
- This is what Lewis wrote to some Maryland fifth graders (1954)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chronicles_of_Narnia accessed on 27 December 2010.
- C. S. Lewis, 'The Magician's Nephew' in The Chronicles of Narnia (London: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 80.
- Romans 6:23 (NIV)
- Christin Ditchfield, A Family Guide to Biblical Truths in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia (Ilinois: Crossway Books, 2003), p. 51.
- C. S. Lewis, 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' in The Chronicles of Narnia (London: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 475.
- C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Fransisco: HarperSanFransisco), p. 91.
- Bob Black, The Abolition of Work, a classic essay published on 1985.
- C. S. Lewis, 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' in The Chronicles of Narnia (London: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 541.
- Ibid, p. 540
- Richard Wagner, C. S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies (New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, 2005), p. 87.
- C. S. Lewis, 'The Last Battle' in The Chronicles of Narnia (London: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 756-757.
- C. S. Lewis, 'Mere Christianity' in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 60
- C. Pinnock, 'A Wideness in God's Mercy: the Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions' (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).
- Alan M. Linfield, “Sheep and Goats: Current Evangelical Thought On The Nature of Hell and The Scope of Salvation,” Evangelical Review of Theology 21.1 (Jan. 1997): 51-62.
- C.S. Lewis (The World's Last Night: And Other Essays)