Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 679
The Chronicles of Narnia is considered one of the most beloved works of children’s literature. C.S. Lewis’s novels explore serious themes in an easily read and delightful fairy-tale format. The seven books narrate the entire course of the history of the fantasy world of Narnia, beginning with its creation by Aslan and concluding when the world of Narnia comes to an end. Throughout that fictional and epic history, symbols and motifs abound.
The theme of good versus evil, with good always triumphing, certainly pervades these novels. Aslan, the great lion and deity, is the unambiguous symbol of righteousness. Jadis, or the White Witch, is equally clearly an evil presence. Lewis creates no questioning in the minds of readers as to which behaviors are good and right and which are unequivocally bad. He does, however, create good characters with flaws, characters who grow throughout the series, most notably Edmund and Eustace. While physical ugliness indicates evil in a character, certain personages, such as Jadis, are externally beautiful but wicked inside.
Critics have often pointed out the Christian allegory present throughout the series. There are many parallels between Aslan and Christ. Aslan is all-powerful, just, and loving. He dies to redeem Edmund’s treachery, then comes back to life to save all. He creates and ends Narnia, bringing his followers to dwell with him in his country, which resembles representations of the Christian heaven. The faithful, such as the ever-loyal Lucy, often receive visions and spiritual rewards. Lewis, himself a converted agnostic, pointed out he did not write the books as pure allegory. Indeed, one of the most oft-quoted lines supporting the Christian theme occurs when, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan reassures Lucy that he is in her own world too: “But there I have another 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.”
Mixed with the Christian symbolism of the novels are abundant images from other mythologies and cultural traditions. Many characters come directly from Greek and Roman mythology, including centaurs, fawns, nymphs, dryads, and even Bacchus. Dragons, giants, dwarves, werewolves, Father Christmas, and Father Time come from varied mythological sources and historical periods. Some critics have assessed this blending of various cultural folklores as inconsistent and anachronistic. However, Lewis proposes that time is unpredictable and relative by placing the two settings, England and Narnia, on different clocks altogether.
Nearly all of the novels contain a quest or journey toward growth. Digory finds the healing apple for his mother in The Magician’s Nephew. In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta undergoes adventures until he reaches Archenland, where he becomes a king. Prince Caspian reaches the end of the earth and finds the seven lost lords in a sort of spiritual voyage. Eustace and Jill descend to the underworld to free a lost prince in The Silver Chair. In each journey, characters undergo a fundamental transformation: They come to a personal revelation and a renewed commitment to the power of good, embodied by Aslan. Further, some critics have commented that the series as a whole demonstrates the journey as literary device.
Faith and loyalty appear as important motifs. Characters that exhibit these traits are generally rewarded, as Lucy is in Prince Caspian when she follows Aslan despite the others’ disbelief. That incident demonstrates the idea that only those who believe are able to see Aslan. In The Last Battle, the once revered Susan is excluded from Aslan’s country because she no longer has faith that Narnia exists.
Some critics have pointed out that the books perpetuate stereotypes of females and Middle Eastern people. The strongest and most righteous characters are male, and people such as the Calormenes that have dark skin and wear turbans are depicted as evil. Others have excused Lewis of these stereotypes because they were typical of his time and upbringing. Regardless of the criticism, millions have read these children’s classics and appreciated them for their entertainment value and inspirational qualities.