Click here to
March 27, 2008
Click Here to Order!
Return to Home Page Return to Old Archive Home Page Doctrine, Scripture, Morality, Vocation, Community Identity, Sexuality, Family, Healing, Work Art, Ideas, Technology, Science, Business Politics, Bioethics, Ecology, Justice, Peace Spirituality, Prayers, Poems, and Witness Archive of top news from around the web Columns, Reviews and Personal Essays What is Godspy?
faith article
GK Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture

Second Spring
A journal of faith and culture

The Lion in Winter: Why ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ is Winning Over America, by John Zmirak
How did a movie about crusaders, a sacrificial lion and talking beavers gross $67 million in its opening weekend? The not-so-unlikely marriage of Hollywood and C.S. Lewis.

Click here to buy the movie...
Click here to see the video!
Click here to buy!
Click to buy at Amazon.com
Click here to buy!


Almost every reader—young and old alike—who encounters the character of Aslan, the Lord of Narnia, wants him to be real. There’s a good reason for that. We need him. And he is real.

Click here to buy the book at Amazon.com

When I first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis I had a very strong sense of the personality of Aslan, and of his reality. I felt as if he had entered my life—that he was a person I could have a relationship with, perhaps someone with whom I had always had a relationship without realizing it. Was I wrong? Was this simply wishful thinking? Was it something like reading Robinson Crusoe or Peter Pan? After all, the character of Crusoe or Pan, too, enters our mind through the imagination and becomes real to us.

The process of reading about Aslan is not like an ordinary reading experience.
Obviously the success of the Narnia stories is partly in helping us to visualize and experience in our imaginations a world that has some internal consistency and infinite charm. It is a beautiful place, an exciting place where endless adventures are possible. It is a place full of wonderful creatures and personalities—Reepicheep the Mouse, Roonwit the Centaur, Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, Prince Caspian, Bree the Horse.... The particular feeling I had about Aslan went a bit further than that, though. Aslan was a character in the stories whose presence in the world of Narnia, and the world of the stories (the "secondary world" constructed by literary art and entered by the willing reader), was a bit different in kind from all these other characters, fun though they are. Aslan mysteriously transcended that world, and although he appears there as a talking Lion that is only an appearance. His reality is something else, something deeper. In fact Lewis constructed him not as a character within the story, but as the presence within the story of something more real than the story, more real than the author himself.

"But between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagles' eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb. 'Come and have breakfast,' said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice. Then they noticed for the first time that there was a fire lit on the grass and fish roasting on it. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted. 'Please, Lamb,' said Lucy, 'is this the way to Aslan's country?' 'Not for you,' said the Lamb. 'For you the door into Aslan's country is from your own world.' 'What!' said Edmund. 'Is there a way into Aslan's country from our world too?' 'There is a way into my country from all the worlds,' said the Lamb...." (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ch. XVI)

Aslan is not a tame lion. He comes and goes unpredictably, he can be seen by Lucy when she is ready to see him and not by the others, he speaks to the children through the events that happen to them even when he is not with them, he can control the elements of nature but at the same time he submits to a higher authority (the Emperor Over the Sea). In ways like this Aslan is not actually present in the stories at allor rather, he is not fully present, his reality is not exhausted by his presence in the stories. What Lewis gives us in the personality of Aslan is a glorious loose end—one end of a thread that leads out of the story, back into the real world, deeper within ourselves.

Aslan is one end of a thread that leads out of the story, back into the real world, deeper within ourselves.
In other words, the process of reading about Aslan is not like an ordinary reading experience. Of course, in every good novel we meet aspects of ourselves and of the author's personality dressed up as characters in the plot. We learn things about the way the author's mind works, and about the way he thinks the real world works. Are good deeds rewarded, or is everything meaningless and random? Are there clear differences between right and wrong, noble and base, true and false, or does the author think a world can be made where these distinctions are blurred? In that sense there is always a relationship between literary art and the "primary world" in which we are reading the book. But in some books we find something that breaks the boundaries between the imaginative and the real world in a peculiar way. It awakens our consciousness of something we had almost forgotten, something we had perhaps suppressed or dismissed, but which we know to be true. We go to a point in our imagination where suddenly we find ourselves on the other side of a wardrobe door or a mirror and find ourselves in a place that is neither imaginary nor "real" in the everyday sense, but more than both.

What other book does that? Where did Lewis learn that mysterious art? The Gospels have that same elusive quality. They too are works that tell a story, that we enter through our imagination. There too we find ourselves encountering something or someone who transcends the authors' imagination, someone who is represented as though a greater reality had intruded into the story from Someplace Else, and the authors were simply being faithful to what they had experienced in allowing him to do so. 

"Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, 'Children, have you any fish?' They answered him, 'No.' He said to them, 'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.'... When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.... Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'" (John 21:4-12)

If I said that Aslan was too beautiful not to be true, it would sound like wishful thinking. But there is a sense in which certain things cannot not be true, or not be real, and it is related to their beauty. Thirst exists in us because we are creatures that need water to live. The experience of thirst is a sign of the reality of water. The pleasure we take in drinking is a sign that we have found something that corresponds to a need in our nature. Beauty is the name we give to a quality that attracts, that we desire to join ourselves to, to become united with. It indicates something real, something we were made for. We may mistake it, we may misjudge it, but it is always possible to track down the reality that corresponds to a need.

What other book does that? The Gospels have that same elusive quality.
In fact different parts of us, of our personalities and of our bodies, need different things. Part of us yearns for food, part yearns for sexual pleasure, another part for affection or for truth. But the greatest beauty we desire corresponds to the need of the whole person, of all the parts of ourselves united together. No rock, no plant, no animal, can answer that need, but only a person. The highest beauty is real and true because it corresponds to that which fulfils us. But we can only be fulfilled by love. What is more we can only be fulfilled by a love that is in some sense infinite.

When St Anselm proposed his ontological argument for the existence of God, there was an obvious objection. He had said that "That than which a greater cannot be thought" (= God) must exist in reality, because it is greater to exist in reality than not. His opponents said: But I can think of a "perfect island," and that does not mean it actually exists. To which the answer would be, yes it does. If it is perfect. But the island you are thinking of is not perfect. Only one is perfect, and that is God. The perfect island would be Godwho is also the perfect rock, the perfect sun, the perfect castle, the perfect kiss. Thomas Aquinas put the same thing another way. He said that God is a unique concept—the concept of a being that is being. God is not something that has a particular definition, but then also happens to exist. Existence is the very definition of God. As such, God exists prior to all else that exists, and (in that sense at least) cannot be thought not to be.

Aslan also cannot be thought not to be. That is because Aslan is not just the name of an imagined character who may or may not exist, and probably doesn't (like the lovely unicorn, Jewel, in The Last Battle). Aslan infinitely exceeds what we are given in the books. The Aslan in the book just gives us a taste of the real Aslan. Once we have that taste, once the book has done its work, we have been introduced to someone who could not but exist, because he is perfect. To be perfect in this sense is to be unlimited being, and unlimited being is not less than a person, less than a "character" (as it might be if it were just an impersonal force, a lifeenergy or cosmic law), but more than that, in fact infinitely more. Nevertheless, in relation to us unlimited being has a face, a face which does not limit but expresses its nature.

We can only be fulfilled by a love that is in some sense infinite.
So if you feel moved to speak to Aslan, to pray to him, there is nothing wrong with that. You are praying to someone that exists. Test it out and see if he answers. Just as the noble young Calormene, Emeth, found out after death that the prayers he had directed to Tash were counted by Aslan as prayers to himself, you may find that prayers to Aslan have been redirected to the One of whom Aslan is a fictional image. What I am saying is not that the Narnia stories are just copying the Gospels, and that we have to decode the events and characters so they can be translated into Christian terms. I am saying that in the imaginary world (just as in the Gospels if we read them in the right spirit) we can find things stirring in us that are true, that exceed what is on the page, that are present in our imagination as tokens of something deeper and truer than the imaginary world.

Where they may lead us is up to us. They may lead us eventually to Christian belief, as they have for many people, or they may not. The important thing is to follow—not to follow C. S. Lewis, but to follow the tracks of infinite desire that we find in his story, to pick up the trail of something real, and not pretend we have sensed nothing that speaks to us about our own life. There is something called wishful thinking, and we have to be on guard against it. But there is also wishless thinking, or cynical thinking, like that of the dwarfs in The Last Battle who refuse to be taken in. We need to be searching for truth, and to settle for nothing less.

January 2, 2006

STRATFORD CALDECOTT is editor of Second Spring (www.secondspring.co.uk), UK director of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture, and author of 'The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien'.

©2005, Stratford Caldecott. All rights reserved.

Email A Friend
01.10.06   DLMurphy says:
This is a beautiful reflection, and for me captures what (or rather Who) is the most memorable aspect of the Narnia series.It also, however, highlights for me what was the nagging disappointment of the movie---I would have wished for a more powerful voice for Aslan. As much as I lika Liam Neeson, there was something a bit to "tame" about him. But I quibble; it was a lovely film in many ways, and a great film for children trying to grasp the essence of the Christian "mythos".

01.09.06   1karen says:
We love Narnia. My daughter (now 17) and I go back every so often and read all 7 books. We still take turns reading them out loud, like we did when she was much younger. We always knew who Aslan was for us. Whenever the problems facing the Church from within and from without overwhelm us, or whenever we're tempted to despair in the face of the insanity of our world (abortion, terrorism, gay marriages, women marrying dolphins in Jerusalem...), we remind each other that "Aslan is coming." There's a part in the trailer for the movie where everyone drops to one knee and bows their head and you tremble knowing what will happen next and then Aslan appears from the tent. The identification with Another is so strong for me that I could hardly breathe when I saw him.

01.02.06   Godspy says:
Almost every reader—young and old alike—who encounters the character of Aslan, the Lord of Narnia, wants him to be real. There’s a good reason for that. We need him. And he is real.

Click to buy at Amazon.com!
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Advertise | About Us