illustration of an open wardrobe door with a castle and lion visible in through the door and an outline of a young girl standing on the opposite side of the door

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

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Timothy Dunham

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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...

(This entire section contains 2071 words.)

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should chose Father Christmas for the role of gift giver inThe 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, Father Christmas serves another spiritual function through his role as a gift giver.

Taking a different position, Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead, in their book A Reader's Guide through the Wardrobe, see Father Christmas as a device to foreshadow future events. At first, it appears, they do not know quite know what to do with him and would like to dismiss him entirely, but without going so far as Tolkien or Green in deeming him inappropriate and out of place, Ryken and Mead make the following criticism:

Surely on a first reading his appearance is totally unexpected. He seems stuck into the action. He makes an appearance and then disappears from the story, as though he were some sort of phantom figure. The whole episode is interpolated into the main story, and nothing would be missing from the main action if this episode were omitted.

Ryken and Mead see the character's purpose as both symbolic and prophetic. They explain that his appearance and "distributing of gifts are the first proof that a great reversal is just around the corner" and that "the particular gifts Father Christmas gives, along with the specific person whom he designates as the recipient of each present, foreshadow future action." This is all well and good, but nonetheless a misunderstanding of Father Christmas's role. The real significance of Father Christmas is as a helper who performs a similar function in Narnia as Christians believe the Holy Spirit performs in their world.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that Father Christmas is not an allegory for the Holy Spirit, but rather what Lewis thought of as a supposition. The difference between the two may be described as follows: an allegory shares a direct one-to-one relationship with the thing signified, whereas a supposed figure shares only certain characteristics with the thing signified. Lewis used the latter concept for describing the relationship between Aslan and Christ. In C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children, Lewis says his intent was not to recreate the scriptural Jesus in the form of a lion in Narnia, but something quite different: "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 have happened.'" If Aslan were an allegory, he would possess all the divine attributes of Christ, which he does not, and his life would parallel that of Christ's in every detail, which it does not. Because Aslan is what Lewis called a supposal (a supposed or imagined figure), he possesses only some attributed to Christ; for example, he is good, just, compassionate, self-sacrificing; he is treated as a deity, the King of creation and conqueror of death. Father Christmas is a supposal in a similar way. Unlike the Holy Spirit, Father Christmas is not a deity, nor is he a spirit who dwells within the King's followers; but like the Holy Spirit. Father Christmas bestows gifts on the faithful to help them fight the good fight while awaiting the King's triumphal return.

While some critics recognize the correlation between Father Christmas and the Holy Spirit, they tend to gloss over shared character attributes and focus on the individual gifts. In so doing, they end up over-spiritualizing the gifts and forcing parallels where they may not exist. Both Paul F. Ford, in Companion to Narnia, and Marvin D. Hinten, in his essay "'Deeper Magic': Allusions in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," consider Father Christmas's combat gifts to be an allusion to the "whole armor of God" found in Ephesians 6:11-17, in which the shield represents faith, and the sword stands for the Word of God. But there are too many discrepancies between the armor given by Father Christmas and that found in the Bible for this theory to be convincing. There are, for example, no armor of God equivalencies for Susan's horn and bow and arrow or for Lucy's cordial and dagger. Similarly, none of the children is given a belt, breastplate, shoes, or helmet, all of which are part of the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6. Another problem with this view is that spiritual armor is not, biblically speaking, a gift, nor is the outfitting of believers with spiritual armor an activity of the Holy Spirit. Quite simply, Ford and Hinten do not provide enough evidence in order to draw a convincing parallel between the combat gifts and scriptural idea of the armor of God.

With regard to Susan's horn and Lucy's cordial, Hinten suggests these gifts have other spiritual overtones: the horn is "analogous to prayer" while the cordial represents the gift of healing. Such a reading may be valid, but because Hinton does not or cannot point out individual analogical functions for all of the gifts, it is difficult to accept. Critics such as Hinton who analyze Father Christmas's gifts in an attempt to discover Christian meanings may be missing the bigger picture. The significance of the gifts may be better understood if Father Christmas is seen to function as a supposal or supposed figure representing the Holy Spirit.

As mentioned earlier, Father Christmas is a helper who performs a function in Narnia that is similar to the scriptural description of the Holy Spirit's function. In John 14:16, Jesus tells his disciples that after He departs, the Heavenly Father will send "another Helper," namely, the Holy Spirit. The New Testament Greek word for "Helper" is "Parakletos," a word associated also with the idea of "encouragement." According to Lewis's religious beliefs, the Holy Spirit's primary activity, then, is to encourage Christ's followers, and one of ways the Spirit accomplishes this is by giving "perfect" gifts (James 1:17) to meet their needs (Philippians 4:19) and the needs of the body of believers (I Corinthians 12:7). Father Christmas's primary activity is exactly the same and so is the means by which he accomplishes it. The gifts he gives, however, have no correlation to gifts given by the Holy Spirit; they are not supposed to. Each gift is uniquely tailored to meet the needs of the individual receiving it for the collective good of Narnia. With this reading in mind, one may see Peter's sword and shield are perfect gifts for him because, at the time he receives them, he lacks the necessary courage to fight in the upcoming battles. The gifts encourage Peter to step forward in battle, become the great leader he is meant to be, and help overthrow the forces of evil in Narnia.

Land of Narnia by Brian Sibley includes a photograph of Lewis at three years of age, holding a favorite toy—Father Christmas riding a donkey. The image is striking because of the way it conjoins the myth of Father Christmas with imagery associated with Jesus. The toy evokes Jesus's entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, and it most certainly brings to mind Father Christmas's role as Helper in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Years before the book's publication, Father Christmas's function in Narnia was misunderstood and misinterpreted by critics and scholars who, fo0r whatever reason, failed to grasp the supposal. Only by applying logic, carefully analyzing the text, and looking to scripture can Father Christmas's place in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe be properly understood.

Source: Timothy Dunham, Critical Essay on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.

Wayne Martindale with Kathryn Welch

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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 Beavers and the other Pevensie children's enjoyment of their food and company. Edmund never gets enough, which is always the way with sin—it never satisfies—and, on top of that, it ruins his appetite for healthy food. So obsessed does Edmund become with the memory of Turkish delight that he is impelled to slip away from the small band at supper and seek out the white witch. Jadis recognizes the children as a threat to her claim on Narnia, so she entices this "son of Adam" by appealing to his baser nature. Like his original, Edmund is not long in Narnia before he succumbs to the tempter. Lulled into a fantasy world of endless Turkish delight and kingly command, Edmund unwittingly conspires to bring about even his own ruin. Edmund's indulgence of his appetite to a sinful degree leads him to betray his friends and family.

That gluttony is a serious sin with serious consequences we need not doubt, and Edmund is not the only one to learn this lesson. The demon Screwtape, who knows it from the other side, berates his nephew Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters upon the latter's dismissal of gluttony as inconsequential. Screwtape explains that desensitizing humans to gluttony's damning potential is one of Satan's greatest advances. In Screwtape's hands the temptation is far more subtle, and we learn that it is possible not only to partake of the wrong foods but to partake of food wrongly. Reed explains, "Too often limited to discussions of specific acts—overeating or drunkenness—gluttony actually refers to the abuse of good things. It's more an attitude than an act, more evident in the priorities by which we live than the portions of meat and potatoes we place on our plates." Gluttony is a deeply rooted sin that, while exercised on the physical level, ultimately involves the heart.

The church has traditionally understood the "vice of gluttony" as the act of eating "hastily, sumptuously, too much, greedily, daintily." Traditionally, gluttony doesn't necessarily presuppose the consumption of large portions of food. The Screwtape Letters offers a poignant example of what Lewis termed "gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess." We make the acquaintance of a woman gluttonous in her demands on people, always wanting something other than what is offered, just a little, of course, if it is not too much trouble—but it always is. She loudly insists that her food be prepared in just such a manner as she indicates. Lewis observes that, as is true of all gluttons, this woman's "belly now dominates her whole life." Accordingly, gluttony is a sin that dictates lifestyle and mind-set alike. The main focus is self and fulfilling of selfish desires.

Eustace Scrubb, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and in one of the most dramatic episodes of The Chronicles, awakes to find himself in the form of a dragon. The sin of greed is at the root of his metamorphosis; and greed, of course, is rooted in self. He emerges from the dragon cave in search of food and, finding a dragon carcass nearby, devours it. He is, in fact, eating a fellow dragon in the same way that the demons (followers of "that old serpent, the Devil") see even one another as food. There is, then, some truth to the saying that "you are what you eat." Reed aptly observes that "whatever we ingest—physically, intellectually, or spiritually—we digest." In the most literal sense possible, Eustace becomes the sin that he indulges. Eustace has a dragonish greed that lures him to desert his tried shipmates and then enter a dragon's cave where he finds and dons a gold bracelet, then becomes a dragon. His greedy, dragonish thoughts precipitate his transformation into a dragon, even to the point of eating dragon's food—other dragons.

The Silver Chair, which recounts the travels of Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole, and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, explores the danger of selfishly focusing on personal comfort, feasting when they should be fasting. Having sought shelter at the castle of Harfang, home to a family of giants, the trio of Narnians is hosted generously. What would be a virtue in a different setting with different motives is here a treacherous trap. The queen orders comforts to be supplied to her guests, including a lavish meal and toys. One giant whispers to the weepy Jill, "Don't cry, little girl, or you won't be good for anything when the feast comes." Lulled in the lap of luxury, Jill readily yields to sleep in her soft bed. She forgets Aslan's directive to daily repeat the "signs." The danger of gluttony in this case is much more subtle and ironic: the Narnians are intended to be the feast! Only Aslan's dramatic appearance to Jill enables the Narnians to escape with their lives. As the episode of Harfang illustrates, we must take not only the right food but at the right time and in the right circumstances.

As in the book of Revelation, Aslan brings joy and feasting, a common motif in Narnia, when he finishes some great work. It draws on the chivalric elements that thread through the stories and parallel Jesus' ministry. On more than one occasion, Jesus fed multitudes miraculously, and he promises the grandest feast of all when he gathers us in heaven for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Feasting is associated both with life, as a necessity, and with joyful celebration in peace and plenty. Still there is a degree of trust involved in feasting: you must trust the host. We read that Ramandu's feast in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is "such a banquet as had never been seen." However, the comrades are reluctant to taste the spread because it seems that magic is afoot. Edmund inquires of the young woman who invites them to eat how they can know it's safe. Her reply is simply, "You can't know…. You can only believe—or not." The party is aware that the table is set and sustained by Aslan's decree, but they are faced with risk regardless. Implicit here is the truth that eating at God's table requires an element of trust.

This feast is appropriately situated in the chapter entitled. "The Beginning of the End of the World." This reminds us that the destination of the Dawn Treader is Aslan's country. Couched in sacramental imagery and classical elements of hospitality, Ramandu's table serves a dual purpose. First, it refreshes the weary travelers on the way to their true destination. Food is provided to give strength and allow the journey to continue. Second, it prepares the travelers for what is to come. This daily-renewed feast gives a foretaste of what lies at the end of the world for those who are seeking it.

As they sail nearer to Aslan's country, references to Christ and our heavenly home accumulate quickly. Reepicheep discovers that the water is sweet! Caspian describes the phenomenon with synesthesia, using the terms of one sense experience to describe another: "It—it's like light more than anything else." The water is also filling, such that the Narnians no longer have to eat. This echoes Jesus' words to the woman at the well that one drinking of the water he gives never will thirst again. Then at the world's end the children see a lamb cooking fish on the shore, a lamb that turns into Aslan the lion. This episode is meant to recall Jesus' cooking fish for his disciples, which he eats to prove that he has risen from the dead. His appearance as lamb reminds that he is the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

Like the Narnians at Ramandu's table, Jill Pole struggles with trust as a necessity for obtaining living water in The Silver Chair. She is intensely thirsty, but the lion Aslan is between her and the stream. When Jill prevails upon him to "go away" so she can drink without perceived threat, Aslan responds with a low growl of disapproval. Since he won't move, Jill tries to exact assurances from him:

"Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

"Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

This passage is loaded with theological significance and biblical echoes. Most immediately it evokes the account in John 4 of Jesus with a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus implies, as he straightforwardly claims elsewhere, that he is the living water and anyone who drinks this water "will never be thirsty forever" (John 4:14 ESV). When Jill Pole decides she must risk all and drink from the stream, she finds it "the most refreshing water she had ever tasted" and that "you didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once." The drinking in both events also suggests Holy Communion, in which we drink of Jesus. And Lewis often uses the metaphors of eating and drinking to suggest total commitment and hence total blessing. First the total necessity: "He claims all because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us…. Therefore, in love He claims all. There is no bargaining with Him."

In The Horse and His Boy, Bree the Narnian-talking war horse, like most of us, likes to be in charge and has his full quotient of pride and must, predictably, be humbled. Like Jill he wants to command his own destiny and is fearful of Aslan. Unlike either of these two, Hwin, a Narnian mare, is so trusting, so simply in love with Aslan, that she wholly submits in this poignantly metaphorical language (we read it as metaphor, but she really means it): "Please, you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else." This contrasts with Jill's fear of being eaten by Aslan and with eating as a selfish act of dominance, as in The Screwtape Letters with Screw-tape threatening to consume Wormwood, the demons threatening to dine on every human they can dupe, and Tash gobbling up Shift in The Last Battle. Hwin's submission to be eaten by Aslan is a desire to be consumed by him, a metaphor for complete union, which is our heart's deepest desire, the consummation of all desires. It contrasts directly with hell's aim, which is to consume and enlarge the self at others' expense. Screwtape, in his "Toast," views all humans won to hell as food. Hwin's submission to be eaten by Aslan overflows with love and trust; Screwtape's with hatred, double cross, and the gluttony of the persistently asserted self.

It is evident by this point that we have transitioned from the ordinary to the extraordinary: from the Beavers' mealtime hospitality to miraculous provisions at Ramandu's table; from raw dragon, as Eustace feeds upon his scaly counterpart, to devouring demons contrasted by the total submission of Hwin, as she literally offers herself to be eaten by Aslan. Finally we have seen episodes of eating rich with biblical allusion to Christ, from his earthly use of food to teach about himself and his kingdom to the communion meal, all with overtones of the supernatural. We have seen that every example of eating in The Chronicles, including the most ordinary, is imbued with spiritual significance of the highest degree.

We feed on the spoiled fruits of sin when we are self-centered, but our palates are ultimately satisfied by the bread of heaven and water of life when we yield ourselves to God to taste of him and see that he is good (Ps. 34:8). Thus, a dichotomy is established: the unrighteous live to eat, while the righteous eat to live. The biblical model of eating, as embodied perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ, engenders an entirely self-sacrificial devotion to God. Shortly after his conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus' disciples join him, urging him to eat something. "But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about'" Bewildered, the disciples wonder if someone could have brought him food. "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'" (John 4:32, 34 ESV). This is a picture of ultimate communion, where life is totally Christ centered and therefore food in and of itself. The feasting is continuous as long as we are hungry for God.

Lewis says the "joys of Heaven are, for most of us in our present condition, 'an acquired taste'—and certain ways of life may render the taste impossible of acquisition." This truth is all too apparent in The Last Battle. The dwarfs are utterly incapable of appreciating the feast spread before them by Aslan. They mistake the pies and meats for hay and turnips, and each one suspecting that his neighbor has received a better dish than he, they begin to brawl. Their prideful proclamation. "The dwarfs are for the dwarfs," amply summarizes their constriction into the self. The bread of heaven is an acquired taste. We don't have all the time in the world to acquire that taste. We have only our time in the world. In Jesus, the feast is before us, and all are invited. Let us heed Aslan's warning, for "there is no other."

Source: Wayne Martindale with Kathryn Welch, "Food for the Soul: Eating in Narnia," in Narnia Beckons, edited by Ted Baehr and James Baehr, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005, pp. 103-111.

Colin Manlove

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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 world is completed in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." Yet we know that these narratives are excerpts from the history of Narnia, with a before and after, where the first book is our first account of the country. (We know too that Lewis originally wrote it with no thought to a sequel.) Lewis struck in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a blend of fantasy and the everyday that he was not again to match. The book is an extraordinary mixture of diverse things, from a lion who is a Narnian Christ to a witch out of fairy tale, from a Father Christmas out of myth to a female beaver with a sewing machine drawn from Beatrix Potter, from a society of articulate beasts and animate trees to a group of strongly characterized children partly derived from Edith Nesbit. This is the only book in which the children themselves become kings and queens of Narnia. In all the others they are relative outsiders, and in all but The Magician's Nephew the rulers of Narnia come from within the fantastic realm. This separation adds to the sense of a Narnia that goes on without them. The "proximity" of the children to Narnia in The Lion, their close involvement in its transformation from deathly winter to the spring of new life, gives that book a special poignancy: the children do not come so close to the innocence of a fantastic world again, not even in The Magician's Nephew, where the Narnia is created by Aslan. In The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," the image of spiritual longing realized in the risen life of Aslan, and the victory and enthronement of the children as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, is found only by going out of the world, by journeying across the seas to its end and beyond: what was "immanent" in The Lion is there found only by a process of transcendence. Narnia in The Lion is increasingly and uniquely shot through with holiness, embodied in the coming and eventual victory of Aslan. In the later books it is a much more secular world, with Aslan's presence more limited. The Lion seems to contain a pattern of spiritual renewal sufficient to itself: the winter of the White Witch is turned to spring, the cold laws of the Stone Table are transcended by the grace of Aslan's sacrifice, the sin of man is washed away in the restoration of Adam and Eve's lineage to their rightful thrones, the devil in the shape of the White Witch is finally slain, the paradise that was lost is regained. The whole seems to encapsulate something of the primal rhythm of Christian history, within the idiom of another world.

Lewis's method of introducing us to the realm of Narnia is, perhaps naturally, much more gradual in The Lion than in the later books, where the children are suddenly whisked away from a railway station where they are waiting to go their several ways to boarding school (Prince Caspian), or fall into a picture of an ancient sailing ship (The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"), or are transported to Narnia via their deaths in a railway crash (The Last Battle). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe portrays the gradual joining of two worlds. The emphasis in this novel, as in The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle, which respectively describe the creation and eventual "uncreation" of Narnia, is on the permeability of Narnia (there through its fragility of being, here as part of a divine plan): it is entered, variously, by the children (on three different occasions), by Father Christmas, and by Aslan himself. It is of course a place that needs stimulus from the outside if it is to regain life at all, for it is a world frozen to perpetual winter by an evil witch, and nothing will change so long as she and her ice have power over it. But more than this, the book describes a gradual incarnating: not only Aslan's actions but the children's presence, long prophesied, in making themselves part of this world, will overthrow the witch and restore Narnia to its true nature.

For the moment let us deal with the first point, the gradualness of the approach. First the children are withdrawn from society by being sent away from the London air raids in wartime to their uncle's house in the remote country, "ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office." This uncle is odd-looking; he has so much white hair that it "grew over most of his face as well as on his head." The servants of the house are mentioned only to be dismissed as of no consequence to the story. The children are left free to do as they wish. All the time, identity and boundaries are melting away. The house is vast and uncharted. The world outside it seems a wilderness of mountains and woods, with the possibility of eagles, stags, and hawks among them, as well as the more domestic badgers, foxes, and rabbits. There is a hint here of likeness to the landscape of the world the children are to enter.

The discovery of Narnia, too, is gradual. One rainy day the children set out to explore the house, and one of them, Lucy (from lux meaning "light" or "perception"), investigates the inside of an old wardrobe in an otherwise empty room. It is a casual-seeming occurrence that turns to something quite other. Beyond one line of fur coats in the wardrobe Lucy finds another, and then as she pushes through that and feels the ground begin to crunch under her feet, fur turns to fir and she finds herself in a pine forest with the snow falling. The gradualism here is a marvelous tapering of everyday world into fantastic realm.

Once in this strange new world, Lucy meets a faun, Mr. Tumnus, in the forest, and it emerges, as she takes tea with him in his home, that he is a spy for the wicked White Witch. Having remorsefully confessed this, he ushers Lucy back through the wardrobe into her own world. Lucy is amazed to find that no time has passed in her absence—which could make her experience seem a dream. She tells the others of her adventure but they do not believe her, least of all the scoffing Edmund; and the wardrobe when examined by the children is now obstinately nothing but a wardrobe. Aslan's purposes transcend human wish and will. After some days, during a game of hide-and-seek on another wet day, Lucy has hidden in the wardrobe and Edmund pursues her there, only to find himself in Narnia. He then meets the White Witch herself, and she, mindful of the menace to her if the prophecy should come true and four humans become rightful kings and queens of Narnia, bribes Edmund to bring his brother and sisters to her castle. Edmund find Lucy on his way back to the wardrobe in the Narnian woods (she has been with Mr. Tumnus again), but when they return to their uncle's house and Lucy looks to Edmund for support, he tells the others that he has only been humoring Lucy's delusion. The next move occurs one day when all four children are trying to escape a group of visitors who are being given a tour through the house. They are eventually driven to the room with the wardrobe and through the wardrobe itself into Narnia. Now all believe, and what is believed in has shifted from an indefinite place to another world in which they are set. First one, then two, then four children have entered Narnia.

Once there, there are further gradations. At first visitors, the children are brought to realize that they are in part the focus of the hopes of the Narnian creatures. What seemed accident is part of a larger pattern, if they will play their part, and if Aslan comes to help. Initially guests of the Beavers, the three children (Edmund having sneaked away to the witch) are soon active agents in the cause of Narnia. And what Narnia is and means continually deepens. At first perhaps a fairy-tale world, it does not stop being that while also being a landscape of the spirit frozen in primal sin; and the witch, who seems something straight out of Hans Christian Andersen, retains something of this fairy-tale "lightness" while at the same time becoming an agent of ultimate evil, daughter of Lilith and the giants, and ancient enemy of Aslan. Then, too, we have what seem to be layers of magic, with the witch's evil wand that turns creatures to stone at one level, and the "Deep Magic" by which Aslan may through sacrificial death rise again, at quite another. Aslan himself is lion and much more than lion. As for the children, they do not till the end stop being themselves even when accomplishing heroic deeds. The Peter who slays Maugrim, the witch's great wolf, is still a frightened but resolute boy, and the Edmund who, reformed, hinders the witch from final victory in the battle by breaking her wand, is awarded plaudits which make him at once heroic and the brightest boy in the class.

But by this point the children are very "far in" (to use one of Lewis's favorite phrases). Just as the story has taken them to a world inside a wardrobe inside a room in a house within the heart of beleaguered England, so they have penetrated to the center of Narnia and in the end become its cynosures, as they sit dispensing justice and largess on the four thrones at the castle of Cair Paravel. They are the sovereign human element long missing from the hierarchy of rational or "Talking Beasts" of Narnia, and in that sense they belong most fully to that world. At that point things have changed: they are no longer children but young adults, they have forgotten their own world, and they speak the elevated language of medieval romance. That loss of former self, and the length of sojourn in Narnia, is found with no other of the children of the Chronicles: Lewis has steadily moved the children away from their old selves and understandings until they become wholly part of another world. Even the style that describes them has changed: "And they entered into friendship and alliance with countries beyond the sea and paid them visits of state and received visits of state from them. And they themselves grew and changed as the years passed over them"; "So they lived in great joy and if ever they remembered their life in this world it was only as one remembers a dream." And then having accomplished this, Lewis briskly returns the children to their own world through their pursuit of a white stag that leads them to a thicket wherein is the wardrobe; through which they return to England, abruptly restored to child form and their present-day clothes, having been absent, by the time of this world, for not one moment. This perhaps serves as an exercise in humility and a reminder that nothing that is mortal is permanent (a point to be made much more openly concerning Narnia itself in The Last Battle).

To some extent what is portrayed in this process is a form of spiritual development on the part of the children. They are asked to develop out of an old awareness into a new. They must show faith, trust, compassion, perception, and courage in transforming Narnia. It may be mistaken to see what happens too much from Narnia's point of view, with the children its promised saviors. It might be better to recall also that Lewis was steeped in allegory, and particularly in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, in which the landscape of Fairy Land is that of the soul. Narnia is, in one sense at least, a country within a wardrobe; a wardrobe seems an appropriate conveyance to Narnia, as it is a place for different clothes. If, too, we were to think of the children not just as four individuals, but also potentially as four parts of the one spirit, we might not always be wide of the mark. When the children first see Mr. Beaver surreptitiously beckoning to them from among the Narnian trees, the following exchange ensues:

"It wants us to go to it," said Susan, "and it is warning us not to make a noise."

"I know," said Peter. "The question is, are we to go to it or not? What do you think, Lu?"

"I think it's a nice beaver," said Lucy.

"Yes, but how do we know?" said Edmund.

"Shan't we have to risk it?" said Susan. "I mean, it's no good just standing here and I feel I want some dinner."

It is possible to see Susan as "the body" here, simply observing and registering physical needs, with Peter as "reason," Lucy as the enlightened soul, and Edmund as the evil side of the self. Such a reading is certainly too stark, and the characters do play other roles elsewhere in the narrative. But the story as a whole can be seen as a spiritual journey through a landscape of the soul, from the frost of original sin to the flowers of the redeemed spirit; one in which the kingship and queenship reached at the end, and the completion of the hierarchy of creation in Narnia by the humans, suggest the integration and potential perfection of the soul in Christ. Such a reading might explain why in this book, the children are frequently isolated from one another (just as, say, Una and Redcrosse are divided in the first book of The Faerie Queene): Lucy alone, then Edmund alone, then Edmund away from the other three, then the girls absent from their brothers, and finally all four united. It is as though the spirit is broken up to be reconstituted. This reading at the very least shows how no single understanding of Narnia or the characters in it is adequate—there are multiple possibilities.

Either way, literally or allegorically, what is portrayed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is growth away from the old self. Growth out of death is a theme central to the book, as Aslan dies to bring new life and winter turns to spring: that is the allegorical and anagogical level of the book (to use Dante's terms), where with the children the development is at the moral or tropological level. The antitype here is of course the witch. She is concerned only with maintaining her power over Narnia. She does nothing with it, exists for no other reason than to keep it (in contrast to the multiple activities of the children when they are kings and queens of Narnia). And Narnia expresses the nature of her spirit: frozen, uniform, static. For all life that thinks to exist independently of her will she has one answer: turn it to stone. Her castle seems to have nothing in it, and she herself in the end is nothing. That was the course Edmund would have gone. Drawn to her by his own self-conceit (where Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus, he "happens" upon the witch), he is tempted to bring his brother and sisters into her power to satisfy his appetites in the form of the Turkish Delight she offers him.

Where those whose allegiance is to the witch take, those whose allegiance is to Aslan give. The children are the long-awaited gift to Narnia. Aslan is a gift beyond telling, his coming turning winter to spring. He gives his life for Edmund's. Even Narnia itself, as a place of recovered innocence, is a gift of high adventure to the children. Right at the center of the narrative, not the anomaly he has sometimes been seen, is the arrival of Father Christmas, with a sackful of gifts for everyone. And The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a whole is a "box of delights" full for the reader of the most wonderful creatures and events, which become still richer as one "opens" them. The book, as a progressive revelation of Aslan's nature and of the deepest potential of the children, is like a gift gradually arrived at.

The narrowness of the self is "answered" in the character of the narrative of the book. Its title, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, suggests its creation out of at least three separate acts of the imagination. But all come together to make a pattern long foreseen: each "separate" item is part of a larger unity. So it is with the plot itself, which is really a series of "microplots." At first there is the issue of whether or not Narnia is real. Then there is the plan of the witch to seize the children and their escape from her. With Aslan's arrival, and spring's, the witch seems defeated, especially when Edmund is rescued from death at her hands. But then there is a new plot begun by her claim to Edmund's life through an old law that makes traitors forfeit to her. The later stages of conflict with the witch involve two plots: in one Peter, Edmund, and the Narnians fight her and her forces, while in the other Aslan breathes new life into the Narnians who were made statues at the witch's castle so that they may come to the aid of the others. All these little plots amalgamate to bring about the realization of the grand design, like little selves cooperating with others. And this idea of cooperation, of society, is central. The children themselves are constituents of Narnian society, to which we are progressively introduced throughout. This particular use of microplots is unique to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Other books (apart from The Magician's Nephew) have a much more clear-cut quest or objective from the outset, but here a series of apparently local and unconnected doings together provide the key to unlock Narnia. In a sense, too, these isolated doings might in some cases suggest the benightedness of the soul amid evil: conditions under the witch in Narnia are such that incoherence is inevitable. Then the nighttime setting of many of the scenes in Narnia is also significant; and that Father Christmas arrives, Aslan rises again, and final victory over the witch is won in the morning.

Other features of the book seem to belong to this rejection of narrowness. For one thing, there is, as already partly seen, the theme of growing and of expansion. Growth is inherent in the story itself, which from apparently small beginnings involving a girl and a faun becomes an epic on which the fate of an entire world depends. Narnia is wakened from its sleep, the talking animals from their hiding-places, the spellbound creatures from stone, Aslan from death itself. The adventure begins through a "narrow" wardrobe that turns out to open onto a whole world. Inside Narnia the perspective gradually expands. At first the omnipresence of the snow makes the adventures relatively local: Mr. Tumnus here, the Beavers there, the White Witch beyond. Gradually creatures congregate, and we begin to get a sense of Narnia as a whole and of the issues at stake. The Stone Table commands a view of all Narnia. Cair Paravel, the ultimate destination of the children, is in an open place by the shore of a sea that stretches to the world's end. The witch's castle however, is set in a hollow among hills, shut in on itself. She lives alone, but for the children the whole story involves an increase of friends: they themselves become the centers of a whole society.

We might extrapolate from the way that the White Witch has converted Narnia to a mirror image of herself in the form of one monotonous dead white, the mode by which Lewis refuses to let us settle to one view of a thing. Throughout, the children continually have their assumptions displaced. Mr. Tumnus is not just the jolly domestic host he appears to be; the wardrobe is more than a wardrobe; Narnia is not an illusion; Edmund is not rewarded by the witch; Edmund's rescue from the witch is not final; Aslan is not dead, but even more alive than before; they who were kings and queens of Narnia are in an instant returned to being modern children. Reality is not to be appropriated; its richness and depth elude ready absorption by mind. Our idea of Narnia is continually altered: at first apparently a little "play" world, it becomes more threatening with the witch, more metaphysical with Aslan, more holy in its ultimate foundation through Aslan's journey. Even then we are not to know the true and further realities until the afterworlds of The Last Battle are revealed, and Narnia upon Narnia lead us "farther up and farther in." Nothing is "mere": Lewis chose children as heroic protagonists to demonstrate that fact.

The object of the witch is to reduce all things to one dead level, to draw them back into herself. But the object of the story is in part to show how different, how "other" from one another things can be. To our minds Narnia may suggest the world of Andersen's "Snow Queen," of Kenneth Grahame or of traditional Christmas, but such a stereotype is swiftly dispelled as we find that this is a world in which the struggle between good and evil is between God and the devil. And if we then proceed to see similarities between Aslan's sacrifice and that of Christ in our world, we at once see that they are also quite different. Aslan is a lion in another world called Narnia. His voluntary death as a substitute for Edmund is not the same as Christ's less-chosen Crucifixion, nor His effective death on behalf of all men. Even the special sordid intimacy of Aslan's stabbing by the witch is quite different from Christ's more solitary and drawn-out bodily pain on the cross. Nor is it Aslan alone who saves Narnia: he does that through the mortal agency of the children and the Narnians themselves. The Deep Magic ordained by the "Emperor," whereby all traitors are forfeit to the witch or else all Narnia will be destroyed, is quite different in form from the "magic" that binds our world. Of course there are similarities. The process whereby Aslan dies only to rise again transfigured, is like Christ's death and resurrection. The breaking of the great Stone Table on which he is sacrificed is perhaps like the breaking of the power of the grave: as he tells the children, the witch did not know the "Deeper Magic" that "when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards." In terms of ultimate metaphysics, this is what Christ's death brought about in our world: though in Narnia the idea of death working backward has much more immediate and absolute import, in the sense that the deathlike winter of the witch's power over Narnia is now destroyed, and with the children enthroned Narnia will for the time become a recovered paradise. The basic pattern of the magic that Aslan enacts, because it is a spiritual rhythm based on divine reality, will be the same in all worlds; but in all worlds it will also be uniquely manifested.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then, dramatizes the difference between good and evil. There is more attention to the good, because it is more real. The witch as yet has no name, nor has her dwarf; she and her agents are present much less than the Narnians, Aslan, and the children. Where she is separate from Narnia, the children become progressively more involved, "farther in." She can only reduce things—Narnia to stasis, the rational creatures of Narnia to stone, Aslan to a shorn cat—even herself, at Edmund's rescue, to a mere formless boulder. In opposition to her the book is full of selves and "things." In no other of the Narnia books are the children so distinguished from one another: the impetuous, loving and perceptive Lucy, the rather more stolid and self-regarding Susan, the cynical and jealous Edmund, the rational and brave Peter. In themselves they are complex, a varying compound of good and evil that the witch can never be; and as a group they form a multiple nature. Further, they all change and develop through the narrative. Then there is the variety of creatures in Narnia, and of the objects that surround them. There are a faun, a pair of beavers, Father Christmas, a great lion who is more than lion, and a group of modern children. The variety is heightened by juxtapositions—fur coats and fir trees, a lamppost in a wood, a faun with an umbrella, a female beaver with a sewing machine. The book conveys a gradual increase of population—first one faun, then two beavers, then a party of Narnians at a table; by the time the children and the beavers reach the hill of the Stone table where a pavilion is pitched, the pace of creation seems suddenly to leap, as they find Aslan surrounded by a whole group of Narnians as though they had been begotten by him—which, since he has released them from the Narnian winter, is in part true. Still more it is true later when he recreates more of the Narnians out of the stone to which the witch has turned them by the even more deadly winter of her wand. For Aslan death "is only more life." Everything that is good grows, and grows still more like its true nature.

At the center is Aslan. We see the witch early, but he is long heralded before his appearance. When first we see him the first words are, "Aslan stood." He is the creator, not the created; he is supreme being, Yahweh, "I am" (Exodus 3:14), to the witch's negativity. He radiates being to all about him. In him oppositions are not at war, as in most mortals, but are brought into energetic unity: he is both god and lion, both lovable and fearful. "People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan's face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him and went all trembly." In the wake of the shame and humiliation of his death he can still play with the children in a romp at which "whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind."

The theme of growth and expansion that we have seen in this story is one that will be found throughout the Chronicles of Narnia; the enemy will always be that which shuts in, isolates or immobilizes. Every story will have a variation on the idea of no time at all passing in our world while the children have their adventures in Narnia, so that they return to waiting at a railway station, looking at a picture in a bedroom, or to a school where they are being pursued by bullies, at exactly the moment they left. Every book will show a gradual increase in society, from more or less isolated figures at the start, to gathering groups and then often meetings with whole peoples. Space, too, will grow, just as in The Lion a wardrobe opened into a forest, and that forest was found to be part of a whole country, and that country of a world…. There will be a similar process in Prince Caspian. In The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" a picture of a ship will turn into an actual ship on a wide ocean, and a voyage to the east will extend through realm after realm until it reaches the truest realm of all. In The Silver Chair we will begin to explore the lands to the west of Narnia. In The Horse and His Boy we will be outside Narnia, in the land of Calormen, travelling back. In The Magician's Nephew we will enter three different worlds by magic. And in The Last Battle the Narnia we know will give way to larger and ever more real Narnias beyond it. And all this enlargement will be preparing us for the final journey to Aslan's country at the end of The Last Battle, a place of living paradox where the smaller contains the greater, where true progression is found where there is no time, where to go "farther up and farther in" is to go farther out, and where one's true identity exists beyond the loss of self in death. Meanwhile, throughout, the Chronicles of Narnia will be telling a story, a chronicle, of the birth, life, and death of Narnia: but they will also passingly embody, through paradox, reversals of narrative and often-felt Divine Providence behind the action, a sense within each "net of successive moments" of "something that is not successive," the eternity that is Aslan ablaze about the coiled filament of Narnian time.

Source: Colin Manlove, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," in "The Chronicles of Narnia": The Patterning of a Fantastic World, Twayne Publishers, 1993, pp. 30-42.


Critical Overview