I have to admit something that most Christians wouldn’t want to admit. I have never read the Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve made it through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and part of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Well, I have decided it is time (and the fact that I can probably make it through most of the books on the south side of 2 hours doesn’t hurt). I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW) in essentially one sitting, and had a few thoughts I wanted to share.
If there is anyone else out there who hasn’t read it… this is your spoiler warning.
Now, I want to get a few things out there first.
- I realize that the works are not Systematic Theology volumes
- I realize that the works were written for children
- I realize that Lewis’s theology developed over time and that this is probably not the most accurate representation of it
That being said, I think that we can glean some theological insight into Lewis’s positions by reading his allegory. I am a firm believer that the analogies people use to explain their theology, even if they recognize the pitfalls of the analogy and deny them, reveal to us something about a person’s theology. In cases where they recognize the pitfalls, I think it often shows what kind of potential error a person is comfortable with and even at times the fact that a person recognizes certain logical trajectories of their thoughts. In cases where they do not, I think it can show unintended consequences of their theology.
C.S. Lewis in the Story
Now, the first observation, and I think it was more of a “hmmm… that sure is interesting” observation, however, it may become significant as the series progresses. After Lucy returns from her second trip into Narnia, and Edmund denies having also made his way into the land beyond the coats, Susan and Peter speak with the professor regarding their concern for their sister. He responds in a few ways that made me think. First, he presents the logical trilemma that Lewis is famous for advancing in the apologetic realm. Either Lucy is lying, she is crazy, or she is telling the truth. He points out that Lucy is trustworthy, her reasoning seems clear and she doesn’t seem crazy, leaving the only remaining option to be that she is telling the truth. Second, the professor laments the fact that they don’t seem to teach logic in schools these days. Now, I’ve heard this lament attributed to him in other contexts, but it is unclear to me if those contexts are related to this quote. Either way, it seems to me that a reasonable conclusion based on these observations is that Lewis has cast himself into the books as the professor. This seems to me to be bolstered by the fact that the book was written to his god-daughter Lucy, who is arguably the primary human character throughout the series. It will be interesting to see how things play out throughout the remainder of the series.
Narnian Anthropology and Original Sin
Second, I noted a curious little quirk that may or may not play out in Lewis’s theology but was somewhat troubling to me. When the characters first hear of Aslan there are two distinct reactions. There is the reaction of the three children who have not met the White Witch, and there is the reaction of Edmund (who has). The three children are excited by the mere mention of his name and long to meet him. Edmund is upset and angered by it. The three children immediately recognize that Aslan is good and the true ruler of Narnia. Edmund not only doubts it but impugns the character of Aslan (whom he has never met). It seems to me that the “default” mode of a Son of Adam (and Daughter of Eve) in the books is to accept the lordship of Aslan unless they have been tainted by the evil of the White Witch. However, if Aslan is Christ and the human children are in some way representative of the average Christian as they progress toward faith… then the reality is precisely the opposite. We are not oriented toward Christ until tainted, we are dead in sin until vivified. The experience of those tainted by original sin is that of Edmund, rejecting and warring against a God whom we have not met and do not know. To me, this seems to present a sort of optimistic view of human nature that seems to be an implicit denial of the doctrine of original sin.
Aslan’s Sacrifice and Ransom Theory
Finally, the way things play out with Aslan’s sacrifice on behalf of Edmund is somewhat troublesome. Now, this is perhaps the clearest allusion to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, so one may wonder how it could be troublesome. It is widely known that Lewis rejected Penal Substitution, and even though it may seem at first that this instance flies in the face of that… it really doesn’t. Let’s take a look at how things play out.
- Edmund betrays the king by conspiring with his enemy
- Edmund is physically rescued from the White Witch by the forces of Aslan’s army (but not Aslan himself)
- The White Witch walks into the encampment of Aslan unopposed by Aslan and his Army
- The White Witch lays claim to Edmund as her right according to the Deep Magic
- Aslan negotiates with the White Witch and secures Edmund’s freedom by offering himself as a sacrifice
- The White Witch slays Aslan believing that she has killed the king and now will rule unopposed (which means she can actually still kill Edmund and the other children)
- Aslan returns to life and states that the Witch’s power was broken by a deeper magic than she was aware of
Now, as I said, at first blush this appears to be a pretty straight forward substitutionary atonement, but there are a few specific things that call this into question.
First, Edmund is rescued by Aslan’s army, not Aslan. What exactly is this first rescue? It seems to me that if the Witch has a legitimate claim on Edmund’s life (which she does) then this is actually an unlawful rescue. This is problematic, to say the least.
Second, the Witch has a claim that was given to her by the Emperor-beyond-the-sea. This claim was built into the very nature of Narnia because of the Deep Magic. In fact, it is this claim which seems to be the source of the Queen’s misappropriated rule. Mr. Bever even remarks, “So, that’s how you came to imagine yourself a queen – because you were the Emperor’s hangman.”
Third, the Witch’s power is undone ultimately because she thought she was accomplishing the death of Aslan, but her murder of an innocent victim shattered the power she had over Narnia (and Edmund).
Now, it should be clear from the title of this section where I think these points lead to. Lewis here seems to be drifting toward some kind of ransom theory. There are many affinities that are present. Here the Witch is the Emperor’s hangman. In Ransom Theory, Satan is God’s jailer. Here Aslan pays for Edmund’s release with his own life. In Ransom Theory, Christ pays for the release of Satan’s convicts with his own life. Here the Witch is defeated because she was allowed to think one thing was happening, but in reality, something else was happening. In Ransom Theory, Satan is tricked into thinking he has defeated God but in reality, he has destroyed himself according to a deeper law. The parallels are stunning.
Whether or not Lewis explicitly advocated Ransom Theory, he certainly seems to be portraying the atoning act in categories that are consonant with it. What is unclear, however, is how this will play into the rest of the story. I will refrain from speculating based on what I think I know about how the rest of things play out. Also, this isn’t the place for a diatribe about Ransom Theory and how ridiculous I think it is to believe that God deceived the devil (okay… maybe just a tiny diatribe…), but needless to say I disagree with the doctrine on several points. For this reason, it concerns me how many Christians accept this allegorical representation of Christ’s death as a good analogy for the reality of Christ’s death. While there are some substitution overtones, Edmund’s salvation is not ultimately achieved by it. In fact, Edmund himself must physically battle the White Witch the very next day, and she mortally wounds him. Not only does he nearly die, but it isn’t even Aslan who saves him… it is Lucy (using a gift from Father Christmas).
Much more could be said, but I think that’s enough for now. Other interesting thoughts for you to ponder as you think through your memories of the books (or read/re-read them).
- What does the fact that it is the human children who ultimately rule Narnia say about Lewis’ eschatology?
- What does the fact that there is still death in Narnia after Aslan’s sacrifice supposedly causes death to work backward mean?
- What does the fact that even after the Queen’s power is broken on the Stone Tablet that she still has essentially all of her powers (Command of an army, power to turn living beings to stone, etc.) mean?
 The edition of LWW that I read and will be citing is the HarperTrophy edition, ISBN: 0-06-440499-4
 Lewis, C. S. (1950, 1978, 1994), “5 – Back on This Side of the Door”, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, New York: HarperCollins, p. 48
 Ibid, “8 – What Happened After Dinner”, p. 80
 Ibid, “9 – In the Witch’s House”, p. 88
 Ibid, “13 – Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time”, p. 141
 Ibid, “13 – Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time”, p. 142
 Ibid, “15 Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time”, p. 163