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Christian Symbolism

Throughout history authors have incorporated religious meaning in their writing. Christian symbolism can often play a role in British literature. C. S Lewis, one of the most recognized literary British scholars to ever live, did just that. The Chronicles of Narnia is often revered as one of the most admired children’s series of fantasy novels with Christian parallels playing a vital role throughout the series. Clive Staples Lewis was the most popular author of Christian books of his era. He attended Oxford and graduated with honors.

He later taught English at Magadalen College for twenty-nine years. Lewis wrote adult fiction, essays, poetry, and Christian apologetics. In addition, he wrote a series of children’s fantasy novels called the Chronicles of Narnia (Coren). In 1957, the most prestigious award for children’s literature in Britain, the Carnegie Medal, was presented to Lewis. He received this medal for writing The Last Battle which was the final book in the Narnia series (Barratt). The Chronicles of Narnia are more popular today than they were during his lifetime.

Lewis’s story telling ability serves as a channel for him to convey Christianity and faith to his readers. As a boy, Lewis didn’t enjoy children’s storybooks because they were not appealing to him. For this very reason, as an adult, he was motivated to write children’s books that were imaginative and intriguing (Barratt). Lewis’ chronicles were set in a fantasy world known as Narnia. In the beginning Nania was not a thought out plan. It actually started as a bunch of images Lewis had developed in his mind. These images included a faun with an umbrella, a pail queen, and a lion.

Although many Christian themes can be interpreted from the series, Lewis denies having written them solely for that purpose: ‘At first there wasn’t even Ware 3 anything Christian about them, that element pushed itself in of its own accord’ (Downing). Through the process of writing his story, his Christian ideas began to take shape and develop within his characters. His goal then became to create an imaginary world where doctrines of Christianity could be incorporated. As Burner and Ware describe, “Although all the key elements of Christian theology are here… he did not want his readers to feel that they were reading a work of veiled theology.

Instead, he saw the goal of the Narnian tales as that of preparing his reader for the gospel. ” Aslan, a majestic lion, is the main character that is present throughout all the books of the series. According to McGrath, “Aslan is a literary Christ figure who plays a pivotal role in the story of Narnia, just as Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith”. Lewis does not describe to the reader what Jesus Christ is like but through Aslan’s actions, allows the reader to discover and interpret his characteristics for themselves (McGrath).

One important characteristic of Aslan is that he is a comforter. In several of the books in the series, Aslan comforts his followers on assignments he has given to them, many times through dreams or visions. This is similar to several times in the Bible when God communicates to Daniel, Joseph, and Jacob in a dream (Downing). Another example that exhibits Aslan as a comforter is in The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” when Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that they will not be able to return to Narnia. Lucy is distraught because she cannot return to Narnia and is leaving Aslan behind.

She is upset because she thinks she will not be able to see him again when she returns to Earth. Aslan informs her that he will still be present in their world but can be known by a different name. Aslan reassures Lucy that they will meet again in her world when he explains to her that she was Ware 4 brought to Nania for a reason. Since she has experienced and known Aslan in Narnia, she would know him even better in her own world (Downing). Thompson explains that through this conversation it is implied by Lewis that Aslan is not just a “Christ figure” but “Christ himself”.

Aslan’s characteristic of righteousness parallels to that of Christ. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the white witch enforces the “deep magic” law, calling for Edmund to die. Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund’s transgression, even though he did nothing wrong. He takes Edmunds place on the stone table. He is tied down and the witch kills him by stabbing him. In the same way, Christ was beaten and nailed to a cross to take the place of sinners. Aslan spends a night alone in sadness just like Christ did in the garden before he was crucified.

Aslan conquers the “deeper magic” by rising from the dead just as Jesus rose from the dead and defeated death (Downing). Zaleski sums it up eloquently when he says “Aslan is an icon of Christ, ‘son of the Great Emperor-beyond-the-sea’, who gives his life to pay a sinners debt, and in so doing confounds the enemy, releases the ‘deeper magic from before the dawn of time,’ and breaks the rule of sin and death. ” Although Aslan is the key Christ icon, there are several other Christian references throughout the series.

These include sin, baptism, the Trinity, the fall, and the antichrist. In The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” Eustace is consumed with greed and is very self-centered. He is changed into a dragon and is covered with scales that he is unable to remove. The Dragon represents sin’s power to “entrap, captivate, and imprison people”. Aslan rips off the scales with his powerful claws. He immersed the bleeding Eustace into a well who then “emerges purified and renewed”. Eustace’s submergence in the well water “reflects the New Testament’s language

Ware 5 about baptism as dying to self and rising to Christ” (McGrath). The three persons of the Trinity correlate with the illustration of when Aslan is pushed to give his identity. He repeats three times “I AM” implying the three “Persons of the Trinity”. In the Bible, God appears to Moses in the burning bush and God says to him “I Am” which he repeats three times (Zaleski). The ape, Shift, represents In The Last Battle, the symbol of the antichrist. He tricks the bewildered donkey named Puzzle into putting on the lion’s skin.

Shift keeps Puzzle at a distance from the other Narnians so they cannot see that he is not a real lion. Puzzle acts as an impostor for Aslan, while Shift gives the Narnians misleading information. This bears comparison with the book of Revelation when the antichrist appears as the false prophet (Zaleski). In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory rings the bell that awakens the White Witch. Awakening her allows her to enter into the world of Narnia. This parallels to the fall of man when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden apple therefore allowing sin to enter the world (Downing).

Christian parallels play a pivotal role throughout the fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis has a God-given ability to engross the reader in the adventure of the story while at the same time teaching them moral and Christian truths. As Bruner and Ware describe “The same is true for us. Lewis draws us into another world so that we might experience Christ by another name. And when we return home from the adventure, we bring with us a better understanding and deeper love for the Savior, or at the very least, we return having smelled the aroma of joy-and craving its true source”.

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