Part 1: Summoned Through A Wardrobe
Why is it that just about everyone loves the series of fantasy books by C.S. Lewis called The Chronicles of Narnia? I fell in love with them myself when I read them for the first time as a teenager, and they have been at “the top of my charts” ever since; my daughter even referred to me once as a “Narniac”!
Perhaps it is the same for you: perhaps someone read to you the first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when you were quite young, and maybe other books from the Narnia series as well. You may not have become a full-blown “Narniac” like me, but still, you sensed there was something special there — “deep magic” as Lewis would have called it — something that tugged on your heart-strings while you were reading it, and has never let you go. The fact is, most readers long to go through the wardrobe and into that country where we hope we will find … well, more on that later.
And how about the Narnia films? Especially the first one, on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? The first movie was so well done that I ended the film shedding tears of joy in the theater (much to the chagrin of my daughter, who complained: “Dad, it’s embarrassing when you cry at movies!”). OK, but I really could not help it: that film opened a secret door in my heart, as it did for so many others (if you have never seen it, I strongly recommend that you pick up the DVD, or download it on Netflix and watch it after reading these reflections).
So, the question remains: what is it that we long for so much, and think we may find through that wardrobe?
I suggest that what we are looking and longing for is the solution to our human predicament: the broken and wounded condition that we all inherit (as Christians believe) from the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Narnia is the place where we sense that healing-of-hearts can begin to happen, a place where we can discover who we really are, and who we are meant to be (as the Pevensey children do when they go to Narnia in the stories). It is a place where we can find our true selves, by being-found by Someone else. …
First, let’s go back in time a bit. Where did the Narnia stories come from? Well, from the imagination of C.S. Lewis, of course. But he was a most unlikely person to write the most popular children’s fantasy books of all time. After all, he was a confirmed bachelor for most of his life, a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature and a Christian apologist; moreover, he had very little contact with children in his life prior to writing the Narnia stories, and he even confessed to not being entirely comfortable around them.
So what was the key to his success?
The key was that he did not actually write his books solely for children; rather, he wrote them for the childlike spirit buried within each and every one of us, especially our childlike wonder at the mystery of the world around us, our longing to find out who we really are, and the “deep magic” behind it all.
Lewis says that the Chronicles began with a scene that popped into his head one day: an image of a faun (that is, a mythical creature half-human and half-goat) carrying some packages in the midst of a snowfall, and shielding himself from the snow with an umbrella. After a while, he started spinning a tale around this faun (Who was he? Why was he walking in the snow?) — and then, Lewis says, another figure came into his head: that of a lion. “Suddenly, Aslan came bounding into it,” he wrote. “I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions at that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the lion came from or why he came.”
It was not long, however, before Lewis realized who Aslan really was, and so he began asking himself a question: What would happen if the Son of God became incarnate as a lion in this new, fantasy world of Narnia, just as He had become incarnate in our world as a human being long ago?” From those images, dreams, and questions, the Narnia tales were born.
Just as in the fantasy books Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, the children who go to visit Narnia are invited to journey from our world into another world: they are beckoned, called, drawn in by Aslan Himself, for a very particular reason.
Jesus said in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door….” Well, the children at first just seem to stumble into Narnia through the door of the wardrobe, but later in the book, we learn that it was far from an accident: they had been summoned there, called there in order to find something, and Someone.
That “Someone” is, of course, Aslan Himself, the Great Lion. Everyone and everything in Narnia is defined by its relationship to Him: to His challenging, yet gracious love. Those who are true and loyal to Him — like Reepicheep, the cavalier mouse — find in Him their deepest heart’s desire, while those who serve other masters, or only themselves — like King Miraz, or Jadis, the White Witch—miss out on the fullness of joy that He offers, and spiritually fester and decay instead.
Aslan is the Creator who gives life to all creatures in Narnia, and commands them to care for one another, right from the start. He says in His first charge to the Talking Beasts on the very day that they were made:
Gradually, the Pevensey children who come into Narnia (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy — and later in the series, Eustace, Jill, Polly and Digory) all come to realize that Aslan is not a “tame” lion after all. He comes and goes as He pleases, according to His own mysterious plan, a plan which is often full of surprises. But as they also realize, even though He is not a tame lion, He is very good.
The most important thing that the children (and the readers of the Chronicles) are meant to encounter in Narnia, therefore, is Aslan Himself. In some ways, this is what makes little Lucy Pevensey the most important human character in the whole series. She is the one who really “gets it,” the one who truly comes to understand what Narnia is all about. This comes out most clearly at the end of her third, and final visit to Narnia, recorded in the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Aslan breaks the news to Lucy and her brother Edmund that this will be their last adventure in Narnia, and that they will never be able to return. They must begin to come close to their own world now. Lucy’s reply is poignant, and profound:
You see, the whole reason they were brought to Narnia in the first place (and for us, the readers, to be brought with them), was that they might come to know Aslan personally and deeply, both in Narnia and in our own world, in a way that never leaves them the same again.
Robert Stackpole, STD
©The Fellowship of Catholics and Evangelicals, 2016