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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Messages in Fantasy – Part 4


In my past three posts about Messages in Fantasy (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3), I discussed the works of three specific modern authors still living today. Now I feel it’s very relevant to mention the work of an author whose work is more classic. C.S. Lewis has made a profound impact in children’s fiction as well as the fantasy genre. Just like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia is a work of fantasy fiction that delighted many of today’s fantasy readers in their younger years.


Those who know C.S. Lewis’s background as a Christian apologist should not be surprised to hear of or notice the Christian theme throughout The Chronicles of Narnia series. Many children who read the books would probably not notice any Christian themes; and probably some adults as well, as, though there are very clear comparisons to the character of Aslan and Christ, the message is subtle in many ways—but may be noticeable to a Christian or someone with a knowledge of Christianity. Lewis does not plant any kind of evangelizing message in his series (at least nothing obvious), but he builds each book around a story which will include a hint of Christian elements. However, books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle have the most apparent Christian message; with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe presenting the symbolism of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and The Last Battle showing an idea of the Judgment Day and heaven.


The essence of the entire series is Aslan the lion. Aslan is the messianic deity throughout The Chronicles of Narnia; who is the son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea and creator of Narnia. In the Bible, Christ is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelations 5:5), which is one of the reasons why Lewis used the lion, Aslan (which means “lion” in Turkish), in his stories. The Bible also calls Christ the Lamb of God (John 1:29, Revelation chapters 5 & 6), and toward the conclusion of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan briefly appears in the form of a lamb.


The most obvious parallel between Aslan and Christ is in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan surrenders his life to the White Witch in place of Edmund (due to the boy’s treachery)this is symbolic of Christ laying down his life for the sins of mankind. Then the scene (known as the Stone Table scene or Stone Table sacrifice) occurs, which is depicted similarly to the scripture of Isaiah 53:7,8 which reads:


7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

In chapter 14 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the scene of Aslan’s “crucifixion” is written with the lion being scoffed at, bound and sheared, and placed onto the Stone Table to be killed; and while all that happened he did not open his mouth or speak a word.

At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that they will not return to Narnia, because they are too old, and they should come close to their own world. Lucy responds with: "It isn't Narnia, you know. It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?" 

Aslan replies with: “But you shall meet me, dear one.”

Edmund asks: “Are — are you there too, Sir?”

And Aslan answers: “I am. 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."

By the time the reader comes to the scene mentioned above (considering that they’re reading the series in order) they can conclude that Aslan is known as Jesus Christ in Edmund and Lucy’s world (which is our world).

In chapter 14 of The Last Battle (the final book in the series), the story reads much like parts of the book of Revelation in the Bible. There’s a scene where Aslan silently “judges” a great multitude of beings, very similar to Matthew 25:32 and Revelation 20:11-13. There is a new Narnia created, almost like what you would find in Revelation chapter 21 (the new Heaven and the new Earth). As you read the last two chapters of the book, there’s an evident depiction of heaven, where characters in the series who were long dead reappear, and other characters enter the new Narnia after being made worthy by Aslan. Now, even though there are similarities to the Bible, it all works within the story that C.S. Lewis is telling, and not at all preachy.

There are many subtle scenes throughout the series where Aslan has that Christ-like influence and relationship with the characters. He is loving and kind, yet also instructive and powerful; and it works within the nature of the character.

Lewis has clearly dismissed any responses suggesting that The Chronicles of Narnia are works of allegory. In a letter that he wrote in 1958 to a Mrs. Hook at Magdalen College in Oxford, discussing allegory in his writing, he said:

“By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyan, a giant represents Despair.

“If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way on which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all.”

In Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, Lewis writes:

“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology, and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them.  This is all pure moonshine.  I couldn’t write that way at all.  Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion.  At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord…

“The Lion began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.  This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen.  Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’  At first I had very little idea how the story would go.  But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it.  I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time.  Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came.  But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.”

Even though C.S. Lewis resisted any inclination that the Narnia stories were works of allegory, or that he made an effort to write a Christian story, he does not deny the Christian meanings therein. He felt that the books were more of an analogy than an allegory. Whether analogy or allegory, Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, thought that the Christian meanings in the Narnia books were too obvious (which was only one of Tolkien’s dislikes about the Narnia books).

In a letter that Lewis wrote to a ten-year-old girl in 1961 (read about it here and here), he summed up the meaning of his series saying:

“The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself ‘Supposing that there really was a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours), what might have happened?’ The stories are my answers. Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called ‘The Lion of Judah’ in the Bible; (c) I’d been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.
The Magician’s Nephew  ---  tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  ---  the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Prince Caspian  ---  restoration of the true religion after corruption.
The Horse and His Boy  ---  the calling and conversion of a heathen.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  --- the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep).
The Silver Chair   ---  the continuing war with the powers of darkness.
The Last
Battle  ---  the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgment.”
Again, one would have to either be a Christian or someone who has knowledge of Christianity to catch most of the meanings described above. The Narnia books do not preach, but tell delightful children’s stories for all to enjoy—as what has been proven through the decades.

In conclusion of this 4-part series on Messages in Fantasy, it is certain that books with a message can be good, but when the message is louder than the story it can ruin a work of art. The origin of fiction started with the means to convey a message and to entertain. Today, the means to entertain now overshadows the focus to teach or uplift the reader. There has to be a perfect balance between message and entertainment. A story filled with too much entertainment (action, violence, sex, twists) is like eating junk food—it eventually makes you sick. A story filled with too much message (philosophy, religion, politics) is like eating too much health food—you eventually get sick of it. The best books (in my opinion) are the ones where you can read and get your dose of entertainment with a seasoning of messaging—much like sitting and eating a balanced meal.

Inspirations of Fantasy

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