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The C.S. Lewis Files - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Introduction to the Book

The C.S. Lewis Files - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Introduction to the Book
Introduction to the Book
 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the best known and most popular of C S Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and it was the first of the series to be published (in 1950).   It ranked ninth in the BBC’s ‘the Big Read” - a poll to find the UK’s best loved novel.  According to Wikipedia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been published in 47 languages.  Time magazine included it in a list of the best young adult books of all time.
 
When it was first published, critics did not warm to The Lion, so it could so easily have disappeared from bookstores without trace.  But it was saved because children loved it and have done so ever since.
 
 
The story in a few sentences
 
The story tells us about the adventures of four English children (Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter) who enter the land of Narnia through a magic wardrobe.  Narnia is in the grip of a wicked Witch but Narnia’s creator, Aslan (a huge lion), is on the move and intent on reclaiming his kingdom.   Edmund allies himself with the Witch and agrees to betray his brother and sisters to her but then finds himself her prisoner.  He is rescued by forces loyal to Aslan, but the Witch then demands Edmund’s life because of his treachery.  Aslan takes Edmund’s place and is killed by the Witch on an ancient stone judgment table.  The Witch now believes she has won – with Aslan out of the way who can stop her?  But Aslan rises from the dead to destroy both the Witch and her army.
 
 
There are a lot of spiritual insights in the book:
 
1. Names have power: Christians (taking their cue from the Bible) often speak of the “name of the LORD” or the “name of Jesus” as something imbued with power and importance.   But still, “the name” remains a difficult concept for westerners to relate to because, in our culture, names are no more than labels.   So, it is delightful to read how the name of Aslan affects the children, when they first hear it.
 
Here the Beaver’s voice sank into silence, and it gave one or two very mysterious nods. Then, signalling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could... it added in a low whisper – 
“They say Aslan is on the move – perhaps has already landed”
And now a very curious thing happened.  None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver has spoken these words everyone felt quite different.  Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something to you which you don’t understand but the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning – either a tarrying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or a else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing that you could get into that dream again.  It was like that now.”
 
2. Not safe, but: If we are not careful, there is risk that the holiness of God takes a back seat to our understanding of his love and compassion.  But in the character of Aslan, Lewis paints a picture of a saviour who is, at one and the same time, both great and good.
 
“if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”
 
And this thought re-emerges again in a slightly different form, when the children actually meet Aslan:
 
“But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him.  People who have not been to 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.”  (p.137)
 
3. Lost and found: Edmund is a figure we can all identify with.  His selfishness, his unkind thoughts towards his brother and sisters and the way he tries (but doesn’t quite succeed) to justify his actions to himself paint a picture which is all too familiar.  Likewise, his coming to his senses, and his acceptance by Aslan and the forgiveness and burying of his sins, are richly, though gently, told:
 
They saw Aslan and Edmund walking together in the dewy grass, apart from the rest... There is no need to tell you (and no one ever heard) what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot.  As the other others drew nearer Aslan turned...
 
“Here is your brother,” he said, “and – there is no need to talk to him about what is past.”
 
Later, there is a nice touch – shortly after the Witch has demanded Edmund’s life – where Lewis brings out Edmund’s new dependence on Aslan.
 
Edmund was on the other side of Aslan, looking all the time at Aslan’s face.  He felt a choking feeling and wondered if he ought to say something; but a moment later he felt that he was not expected to do anything except wait, and do what he was told.
 
Towards the end of the book, Lewis briefly touches on the new Edmund, bringing out the extent of his transformation:
 
Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgement.  He was called King Edmund the Just.
 
4. Not quite parallel: Chapters 14 & 15 vividly tell the story of Aslan’s death in place of Edmund and his resurrection.   This is rich in Christian meaning with significant parallels between the death and resurrection of Aslan and that of the Lord Jesus.  Lewis intended that his young audience would come to understand and appreciate the central Christian gospel through his story – but he wasn’t aiming for a precise parallel which matched the details moment by moment.  For example, Aslan’s resurrection happens quite quickly, not on the third day as happened with Jesus.  The story is best enjoyed as Lewis intended it – as an imaginative fantasy, which carries truth with it, not as a precise retelling of the Biblical account.
 
5. On the move: There are shades of the Kingdom of God on the one hand, and the “the world, the flesh and the devil” on the other in how C S Lewis contrasts the rule of Aslan with that of the Witch.   Under the Witch it was “always winter but never Christmas” – a phrase to horrify children (and adults).  But everything starts to change when “Aslan is on the move” – a phrase which should linger in our imagination as we think about the coming of the Kingdom of God.   
 
The sky became bluer and bluer, and now there were white clouds hurrying across it from time to time.  In the wide glades there were primroses.  A light breeze sprang up which scattered drops of moisture from the swaying branches and carried cool, delicious scents against the faces of the travelers.  The trees began to come fully alive.  The larches and birches were covered with green, the laburnums with gold.  Soon the beech trees had put forth their delicate, transparent leaves...  
 
“This is no thaw,” said the dwarf, suddenly stopping.  “This is Spring.  What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you!  This is Aslan’s doing.”
 
I’ve enjoyed “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, what’s next?

The next (and third) book in the Chronicles of Narnia, is The Horse and his Boy.....

You can read my blog on that book here

Also available:

Christopher Simpson

Chris Simpson lives in Sheffield, UK, with his wife where they are members of Meadowhead Christian Fellowship. Chris is well-known for his interest in C S Lewis.

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