I’ve mentioned before that one of my pet hates is the tendency of some Christian adults when they get near a microphone at a conference to announce in awed, whispery tones that “Aslan is on the move.” It’s meant to sound edgy and spiritual. It’s usually in response to some perceived spiritual moment. I want to respond with “No, Aslan is not on the move. Aslan is a fictional character from a children’s story.” I was reminded of this recently because someone was talking about cringy ways in which Christians sign off their emails and said that their worst example was someone who always signed off “between Aslan’s paws.”
Now, don’t hear me wrong on this. I grew up with a deep love for the Narnia stories and am in fact a CS Lewis fan. I’d encourage you to take a look at his Science Fiction trilogy and also pick up some of his collected essays. I don’t agree with him on everything. He was after all not an evangelical although since very much adopted by us, he was more at home in a high church context. However, he was often deeply insightful. The Narnia stories themselves were brilliant at hooking you in and transporting you to a magical world.
However, because they are children’s fiction, that should cause us to pause before transposing them straight onto our Christian faith. You see, first of all we want to think apologetically. What message are we sending out? Well we are giving the impression that either we cannot tell the difference between children’s fiction or there is in fact no difference. Are the stories of Jesus just sweet tales that we tell our little ones to teach them how to live kind and responsible lives and to find a little bit of light in a dark and frightening world? Or are they more than that? Are we describing the real historical events when God stepped into history to rescue us?
Furthermore, I don’t think it pays enough attention to what Lewis does in the stories. Now, there are clearly what we might consider to be allegorical links or hints between Narnia and the Gospel. There’s a creation story in the Magician’s Nephew, a Satanic like enemy (the white witch), a tree with fruit that tempts but also offers life, there’s death and resurrection, a “to the ends of the earth” journey and a last battle before the end of that world.
However, Lewis did not consider the stories to be “an allegory” in the sense that he was not intending to deliberately write a story with one on one links between the Bible and Narnia. To be sure, we can see in Edmund’s treason echoes of Judas’ betrayal and Susan and Lucy remind us of the women at the tomb but for obvious reasons, Edmund who is restored is not Judas and we aren’t meant to try and work out which of the disciples Mr and Mrs Beaver correspond to.
Indeed, as a friend of mine, David Hellsten pointed out in response to the first version of this article, the Narnia stories present Aslan as having been absent for some time. That of course reflects the 400 years of prophetic silence before the Gospels. However, it is inadequate. Unlike with Aslan, we cannot say that God has been absent at any point from his creation.
Rather than seeing his work as offering an exact like for like, one for one allegorical match, Lewis saw it as an act of imagination, just as with Voyage to Venus he explores what might happen if other worlds exist -how might Satan attack in those and what would it mean for God to step in redemptively? He referred to it as supposition – an act in “just supposing.”
We might also consider it a form of “fictional typology.” Just as the historical types in the Old Testament, David, Melchizedek, Moses etc were both a little like but also very unlike the Messiah to come, we can see that Lewis’ creation is like but also very much unlike Jesus. There are hints, echoes, pointers to the Gospel but The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is not the Gospel.
Partly because it is an exercise in “supposing that…” and partly because Lewis brings his own theological framework to bear on the stories, we will find a lot of examples where even though there are hints of the Gospel in Narnia, it isn’t quite the same. The Bible is always better! For example, let’s home in on the events at the Stone Table. First, it seems that Aslan is bound, almost against his will to the “deep magic” put in place by his Father, the emperor. Christ on the other hand was united in will with his Father, it was his purpose and will that he should die.
Secondly, Aslan acts to die in the place of someone who has come into Narnia from outside. His rescue of the Narnians wasn’t dependent upon that. Indeed, for Narnia, the problem of evil is always a problem from the outside coming in. The Narnians are innocent, their suffering is caused by others and whilst they need rescuing, they do not need forgiving. Indeed, you might argue fthat their world is not a completely distinct parallel world but an extension of this creation and so what happens there revolves around what happens in the world of men. The Narnian creatures are no different from the creatures of this world except they can talk. They are made to be ruled by humanity and they suffer because of human sin. That would of course suggest that Aslan as Christ in this other world doesn’t actually need to die for Edmund in Narnia because he already died for him here on this earth.
Thirdly, on the evening of Christ’s betrayal before his execution, we see that his primary concern is for his disciples. He loves them right up until then end according to John 13. Yet, Aslan cuts are far more fragile and vulnerable figure who needs the comfort of Lucy and Susan.
Now, of course you want to interject at this point and remind me that these were simply children’s stories. We were not meant to subject them to a theological critique. But that’s the point. We don’t rely on children’s stories for our theology. We don’t look to Aslan to help us picture Christ. Indeed, seeking to conform Christ to the image and story of Aslan risks becoming idolatrous. I suspect though thar CS Lewis himself would have had no truck with such whimsy. Remember that the aim of the children going to Narnia is so that they will get to know Aslan by his name in this world. Lewis would want his readers to discover the true Christ and to love him by his name, the name above all other names. We don’t need to rely on other stories about Christ, we don’t need to invent other names for him.
So enjoy the stories. But when you want to talk about what God is doing, talk about him, talk about how the Holy Spirit is on the move, talk about being safe in the hand of Jesus, express your love and affection for the Father.