Study Guide

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Essay - Critical Essays

Criticism

Timothy Dunham

Dunham has a master's degree in communication and a bachelor's degree in English literature. In the following essay, he analyzes common critical misconceptions of Father Christmas's place in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and offers an alternative perspective.

The presence of Father Christmas in the land of Narnia has long been a source of puzzlement and consternation for critics and admirers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and has resulted in a variety of conjectures as to his appropriateness and significance in the story. Unlike the character of Aslan, whose role is generally interpreted one way, Father Christmas remains an enigma. Some insist that Father Christmas is a jarring incongruity in this fairy tale world of nymphs, fauns, and talking animals. Others, who are made uncomfortable by his presence yet hesitate to dismiss him entirely, try to explain him away as a literary device. Still others, in an attempt to defend his presence, imbue him with meaning by reducing him and his gifts to biblical allusions. Sifting through these discordant views reveals nuggets of truth, but on the whole, most of this scholarship seems to lack careful thoughtful analysis.

J. R. R. Tolkien registered the first negative reaction to Father Christmas as a Narnian character in 1948, two years before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published. Tolkien disapproved of Lewis's mixing of creatures with distinct mythological origins in a single setting; he thought it was artistically inappropriate and especially disliked Father Christmas's attendance among the creatures. On this point of contention (not taking into account the animosity he harbored toward Lewis), Tolkien dismissed the story entirely and pronounced it so bad that it was it beyond saving. Such scathing criticism from his longtime friend and colleague hurt Lewis deeply and further weakened his confidence in a story he already feared had little merit. Lewis might not have finished the book had it not been for the encouragement of Roger Green, a former pupil and friend who shared Lewis's love of fairy tales. Green greeted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with great enthusiasm and, unlike Tolkien, offered praise as well as helpful criticism. But he too reacted against the appearance of Father Christmas, seeing it as an artistic liability that worked to the story's detriment. Although not unlike Tolkien's opinion, Green's reason was more objective and less based on personal taste. He viewed Father Christmas as a kind of earthly intruder whose appearance in Narnia breaks the spell of this magical world, and Green urged Lewis to take out the character. But Lewis refused both Green's suggestion and Tolkien's opinion that mythologies should not be mixed. Narnia was his own imaginary world, and he was determined to fashion it according to his own imagination. He made it his artistic prerogative to borrow from many myths and to populate Narnia with any creature he deemed necessary to fulfill his creative vision. Father Christmas fit in perfectly. The purpose of this essay is to argue how Father Christmas, given the nature of his seemingly incongruous role in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a completely logical choice which provides an added spiritual dimension Lewis could not have achieved with any other character.

The assertions by Tolkien and Green regarding Father Christmas's being out of place in Narnia are peculiar given the fact that Father Christmas is as much a mythical character as others in the book. Then, too, he is the figure most frequently associated with gift giving in Western culture. It makes perfect sense to some readers that Lewis should chose Father Christmas for the role of gift giver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If Father Christmas fits in for Narnia, why is his appearance so jarring to certain readers, namely adults? The reason, Lewis may have believed, lies in his being so familiar. Father Christmas is a prominent, indeed ubiquitous, cultural figure; like an icon, he assumes less of a mythical and more of a religious status, and for him to take on a role in a fairy tale somehow comes across to some as scandalous. In removing Father Christmas from his iconic position in Western culture and locating him in a fantasy world, Lewis makes an important point about how far Christian societies have come in supplanting the meaning of Christmas with a myth: the real incongruity is not that Father Christmas is out of place in Narnia but that he is not more out of place in Christian societies. Consequently, to view Father Christmas's incongruous presence in Narnia as some kind of error in Lewis's artistic judgment is to miss the point entirely. Arguably, Lewis knew what he was doing when he selected Father Christmas to be the Narnian bearer of gifts. Father Christmas is incongruity with intent: By drawing attention to Father Christmas as a mythical figure, Lewis points to the spiritual reality Father Christmas has replaced. Apart from acting as a kind of spiritual indicator through his incongruity,...

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Wayne Martindale with Kathryn Welch

Skandar Keynes as Edmund Pevensie in the 2005 film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Published by Gale Cengage

In the following essay, the authors explore the permeating theme of eating in the Narnia books and the use of hunger as a metaphor, indicating self-centeredness or theocentric devotion.

Generations of readers hungry for the truth have found food for their souls in Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. Fittingly, of all the image patterns weaving in and out of the Narnia books, eating ranks among the most striking. From the first book to the last, as well as in many of Lewis's other works, we are never long without food. Lewis invites us to partake of not only the domestic meal but also the kingly feast. He tantalizes our taste buds with vividly described spreads of food but also gives us many symbolic scenes ranging from devouring demons to sacramental moments echoing the Lord's Supper, addressing the gamut of spiritual significance. Spiritually, imaginatively, and intellectually, all are invited to the high table: Narnia is food for the soul.

To dwell on the metaphor for a moment, Lewis's first gift is often to whet our appetites for spiritual nourishment. David Fagerberg ponders, "Why are we not naturally conformed to God's love? Our appetites have been misdirected, leading us to believe that there is a contradiction between God's glory and our own happiness, that we cannot submit our lives to God and still have what we really want. The 'original' sin is not primarily that man has 'disobeyed' God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for God and God alone." Here at once we have the root of human sin, its consequence in our dysfunctional relation to God, and, serendipitously, in the word "hungry" an entrée into one of Lewis's major metaphors for the spiritual life.

As humans, we need food—and the right food; we can't eat just anything. Only certain plants and animals constitute what we know to be "people food." In The Magician's Nephew, Digory and Polly look at each other in dismay when their horse, Fledge, enthusiastically suggests that they satiate their hunger with mouthfuls of grass. "But we can't eat grass," Digory insists. It's a simple but crucial point. Our bodies require specific nutrients, as is often reflected by our cravings. Likewise, we were created to be sustained by only certain spiritual food. But occasionally we need to be reminded, "No, that's not for eating." Good food is available, but not all food is good. What we eat can spell the difference between growth and stagnation or even life and death. One of the most moving uses of food as a metaphor for spiritual nourishment comes in The Problem of Pain. "God is the only good of all creatures;… that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream…. God gives us what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally." Our souls must be nourished by the bread of heaven.

The fact of human hunger is inescapable and is often the occasion of God's miraculous provision. When the Pevensie children are again whisked unsuspectingly off to Narnia in Prince Caspian, the first order of business is to provide for their basic needs of food and water. Susan insightfully observes, "I suppose we'll have to make some plans. We shall want something to eat before long." In his divine goodness God provides for their hunger. The children find a freshwater pool and apple trees—apple trees amidst the now ancient ruins of Cair Paravel where they had once feasted as royalty. Aslan, while providing for their needs, was intentionally leading them to a place prophetic of Narnia's return to right rule. Returning to the plight of Digory and Polly, we find the youngsters resting in the assurance that Aslan will supply them with food. Polly does indeed find some toffee in her pocket, but it's hardly enough to sustain them through their journey. They plant a piece, in faith, hoping to repeat the miracle of the lamppost grown from an iron bar. Sure enough, they awake the following morning to the sight of a toffee tree. The supply of "daily bread" is occasion enough for the miraculous as God supplies the needs he created us with, needs which demonstrate our dependence on him.

Lewis's application of eating imagery ranges from the ordinary and natural to the extraordinary and supernatural. As we have seen in these first examples, he deals extensively with food and drink realistically as an important part of everyday life. It is crucial not to overlook the realm of the ordinary, where we should not be surprised to find deep significance from a man who cherished routine and championed domesticity. What to most would be ordinary is to Lewis extraordinary: "There are no ordinary people," he says so memorably in "The Weight of Glory," "you have never talked to a mere mortal." His sense of God's immanence extends to all creation and all human acts, asserting that "there is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan." The same is true of such mundane human activity as making and eating meals and entertaining guests.

In fact, such domestic activities are, in Lewis's view, the very thing governments exist to protect, as he maintains in Mere Christianity: "The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for." If they are not aspiring to this end, Lewis continues, all of the laws and institutions of the State are "a waste of time." Lewis held quiet domesticity in such high esteem that it effectively legitimizes the state as its protector. One such encounter with the domestic comes early on in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver host the Pevensie children in their home and generously spread before them a home-cooked meal.

The meal is not simply filler. Not only does it provide a touch of realism; it espouses the value of hospitality. Each aspect of the scene, including Mr. Beaver's fetching of the fresh fish, the generous supply of butter, Mrs. Beaver's preparing of the sticky marmalade roll, the special allotment of milk for the children, and the intimate nature of the group sitting on wooden stools around a common table demonstrates the warmth and welcome inherent in hospitality. Clearly it is a grace. Hospitality certainly wasn't a foreign concept to Lewis, who treasured the ancient epics, reading them in the original languages. Homer's writings, for example, are saturated with the practice of hospitality. Upon the appearance of a stranger, the host must meet the guest's need for food, a bath, oil for the body, and rest before inquiring about the visitor's business. Such caretaking was necessary for survival in ancient travels. The prospect of a stranger being in actuality a god or goddess in disguise added extra incentive.

Biblical injunctions to hospitality provide a parallel in the caution that we may be entertaining angels unaware (Heb. 13:2). The apostle Peter gives an even more stunning context, instructing followers of Christ on how to live, knowing that "the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved" (2 Pet. 3:10 ESV): "The end of all things is near; therefore … be hospitable." (1 Pet. 4:7, 9). Since hospitality to friends and strangers ranks as a high virtue in both the biblical and classical sources Lewis esteemed, it does not surprise us to find Lewis emphasizing them in The Chronicles of Narnia. The domestic scene at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver's, which must soon be lost in the battle with usurping evil, is among the very things to be recovered by the victory—both in Narnia and on earth. The peace and intimacy of the shared meal has been threatened by forces of evil and must therefore be reclaimed in the name of the king.

Eating in Narnia often assumes a deeper theological significance, as illustrated in the plight of young Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund, as yet the very type of the spiteful and emotionally bullying older brother, has come into Narnia with egg on his face. Lucy is right; he is wrong. Enter Jadis, the white witch, with an offer he can't refuse. First, here's a chance to lord it over the others by becoming king of Narnia, knowing a secret they don't know, and tapping a power source unavailable to them. The apparent earnest on this promise is the magical appearance of his first wish, which is for the candy called Turkish delight—not for nourishment but for pleasure. Edmund assumes, since the witch came through on the Turkish delight, that she will come through on her promise to make him king. This is a case of wishful thinking, the sort that we all engage in when rationalizing some attractive indulgence we know deep down is sin.

It is no mere coincidence that, as with Adam and Eve, sin often takes the form of eating in The Chronicles. Here, abandoned to the dictates of his stomach, Edmund falls prey to the sin of gluttony. Gerard Reed remarks that "gluttony is a deadly sin because it so easily leads us to exchange essentially good things for things that superficially taste good." Edmund is later unable to appreciate the simple fare provided by the Beavers; rather, he fantasizes about Turkish delight. Gluttony necessarily excludes gratitude—the former wholly concerned with the filling of self; the latter centered on the subordination of self. Consequently gluttony focuses on the gift rather than the giver. Edmund's gorging on sweets contrasts starkly with the selfless hospitality of the...

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Colin Manlove

In the following essay, Manlove describes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the most complete volume in the Narnia series and states that it comes closest to the innocence of a fantastic world. He also explores the themes of "good" and "evil" and growth and expansion pervasive in all the Narnia books.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, probably the best known of the Narnia books, stands alone perhaps more than any other book of the Chronicles. It is true that several of the other stories are "finished" in the sense of being self-contained: a rightful king or prince is restored in Prince Caspian, The Silver Chair, and The Horse and His Boy; a voyage to the end of the...

(The entire section is 5066 words.)