The Chronicles of Narnia, the fabulous fantasy series for children of all ages, combines many endearing elements of childhood fantasy: enchantment, tricks with time, other worlds, talking animals, and royal, courtly procedures. The successful and convincing combination of all these elements engages the reader. The avuncular narration and the ease of reading invite early readers to engage in independent reading while amazing adult readers with its clarity and simplicity. The Bible provides the moral backbone and the values of the Chronicles.
Characters, both animal and human simultaneously fear and revere the ruler lion Aslan. Aslan the lion is the Christ of Narnia; the analogies to the Christian faith are deliberate throughout the series. Nevertheless, the main pleasure in reading the stories is not in the obvious Christian elements but in the integrity of the adventures and the characters themselves; the interwoven elements of Christianity emerge as exciting, appealing, and tangible. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the parallel with Christ in the character of Aslan, to show how Lewis created this character as a very real lion with his own history and reality. We will examine Aslan: the lion as supreme ruler of Narnia, the fear and awe instilled in various characters throughout the series in his presence, and the notions of respect, consequence, redemption and love in the series as dictated by him.
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The lion is an apt choice of Lewis as supreme ruler of Narnia. Known as king of the jungle, the lion is huge, vicious, unrelenting in control of his pride, and gloriously noble in his appearance – his mane is his crown inspiring mystical awe. Lewis mentions often that Aslan is not a tame lion and can be fearsome as well as loving: “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time… when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and they found they couldn’t look at them and went all trembly” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 126).
Aslan embodies so many wonderful elements: power, majesty, glory, tenderness, and nobility; he is endearing, trustworthy and supernatural. Unlike any other character, he appears in all seven books. Aslan is the Christ-like eternal being, and ultimate authority, the character who upholds the rules and appears to have even made them. Aslan sings Narnia into existence in The Magicians’ Nephew: “A voice began to sing… There were no words. There was hardly even a tune.
But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it” (87).
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he sacrifices himself for Edmund’s sins only to be resurrected and defeat the evil White Witch. The identification of Aslan to Christ is made stronger still in The Dawn Treader. Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that they will not return to Narnia but comforts them by indicating that he is present in their world by a different 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” (247).
Shasta, in The Horse and his Boy, asks Aslan “who are you?” , to which Aslan responds, “Myself… Myself… Myself,” the first response deep and low, the second, loud and clear and the last a soft whisper (164).
This hints at the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. In The Last Battle, the tale that concludes the series, we witness the end of Narnia and its re-creation into a permanent paradise. Aslan as rightful ruler, is the resource of good, guiding the way to the end and new beginning: “And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them…
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the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (210-211).
If we accept that parallels to the Bible exist in the series in general, and to Aslan as a Christ figure in particular, how does Lewis endeavour to create a real approachable presence in the lion? The scene leading up to the sacrifice scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe humanizes Aslan with great clarity and emotion. Susan and Lucy are able to delight and take comfort in Aslan’s physical presence in order to sooth his emotions: “Are you ill, dear Aslan? Asked Susan. No, said Aslan.
I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that. And so the girls did… what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him – buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and… walked with him” (150).
Lewis gives basic emotion to Aslan – sadness and loneliness, happiness and joy; he consummates the girls’ longing to feel the presence of Aslan.
The sacrifice, where Aslan is stripped of his royal trappings (his mane), taunted, muzzled and eventually killed is more heartfelt because of the preceding scene. His resurrection is also more joyous and tangible as Lucy and Susan celebrate, dance and sing with the newly invigorated Aslan. In the presence of Aslan, each character is incapable of concealing his true essence. The underlying theme of sin and redemption is prevalent throughout the series.
The Chronicles’ characters battle betrayal, greed, pride, selfishness and disbelief; evil inner forces that reveal how small decisions carry huge consequences. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund faces the grim consequences of his betrayal to Aslan and his brothers and sisters; the White Witch claims Edmund as a traitor. Aslan however offers to take Edmunds place unbeknownst to him: “and there they saw Aslan and Edmund walking together… there is no need to tell you… what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot” (139).
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Edmund acknowledges his treachery and this delivers him great wisdom.
Using this wisdom Edmund defeats the White Witch by attacking her wand knowing that without it she was defenceless. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader bears witness to Eustace’s transformation from greed to selflessness: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy dragon ish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself” (91).
Of course, he is returned to his boy status, painfully peeled of his dragon-ness like an onion, upon realization of how selfish he had been. The Horse and his Boy has Ar avis attacked by a mighty lion (Aslan): “The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her.
You needed to know what it felt like” (201-202).
One final example of sin and redemption comes from The Last Battle although this example illuminates forgiveness more than redemption. Loyal to Tash, the noble Calor mene Emeth dies and finds himself in Heaven. Surprised by this he asks Aslan why; Aslan replies that Emeth’s loyalty to Tash is noble and worthy of praise; paradise awaits anyone of good will: “For all find what they truly seek” (189).
Talking animals are an endearing feature of children’s literature.
It adds insight to many scenes. For example, Uncle Andrew in The Magicians’ Nephew has always seen animals as objects: “He had never liked animals at the best of times, being usually rather afraid of them; and of course years of doing cruel experiments on animals had made him hate and fear them far more” (114).
His refusal to accept animals as subjects leaves him quite ignorant to their language and likewise hears nothing but threatening noises when they do speak: “And when they laughed… [t]hat was worse… than anything… such a horrid, bloodthirsty din of hungry and angry brutes he had never heard in his life” (113).
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Uncle Andrew’s fear rises from his ignorance, which ultimately stems from his presumption of objectivity toward the animals. The message here seems to be that those who remain ignorant to the voice of God dwells in the house of fear. As a result, Uncle Andrew will never see the grace and goodness of the lion, only his immense fearsome presence and terrifying roar. By fleshing out Christ in the character of Aslan, in the genre of children’s literature, He becomes real by association. The tangible aspects Lewis adds to his Aslan character engage children; the initiation to Christian stories wrapped in fantasy perhaps charms an eventual acceptance of Christ into their hearts. To what measure are the Chronicles of Narnia a fantastic and entertaining fantasy series or a reworking of Christian tales presented in the form of children’s literature? In the end, I do not think it really matters; they simultaneously are and are not in equal measures both things with resounding success.
The appeal of goodness prevailing over evil is universal, regardless of religion.