Archive for the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ Category

After many years, I’m rereading the Chronicles of Narnia.  Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair, are the stories I best remember, in large part due to the BBC dramatizations from the early 1990s, of which I especially appreciated The Silver Chair.  So, to this day, I still have mental pictures of the young teenagers who played Eustace and Jill, and of course Tom Baker (who I remembered and loved from my earlier Dr. Who fandom days, in his 7 years as the 4th Doctor) as Puddleglum.  The BBC versions were low-budget compared to Hollywood movies, but quite faithful to the original stories, and provided 3 hour renditions of both The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair, giving short shrift of only 1 hours to Prince Caspian and 2 hours to Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The last one in this BBC mini-series, The Silver Chair, was the best quality in my opinion.

Reading the books again is a good refresher, to include parts omitted or slightly changed in the 3 hour BBC version; the audio book of The Silver Chair is slightly over 5 hours, so at least the 3 hour dramatization gets relatively close, as compared to most movie dramatizations of popular books.

The descriptions of The Experiment House are classic C.S. Lewis comments against the problems of modernism and progressivist, anti-Christian thought, that was one of Lewis’ key focus throughout his fiction and non-fiction writings.  I’m also noticing how Jill, early in the adventure, complains a lot and desires the comforts of home such as a bed with blankets and hot baths.  That strong desire for comfort indeed becomes a major failure and plot point, how they end up at the giants’ castle and then have to escape from it.  This same desire for comfort and dislike for adventure, of course, is also brought out regarding Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit — though not to the extreme exhibited by Jill and even Eustace, to the point of wrong, sinful choices made in order to achieve the desired comfort.

Another interesting point I had forgotten, but now note the significance of:  behind the gym, when Eustace in conversation with his classmate Jill considers formally asking Aslan if they can go to Narnia, he makes a special point about the proper position for making such a request.  Their request is in effect a type of prayer, though Lewis never uses the actual term prayer.  But a petition is certainly a large part of what is involved in prayer.    How Aslan should be asked, included hands stretched forward with palms down — as Eustace had observed done on Ramandu’s Island near the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — and facing to the east.

As an aside, this scene also is one of the examples cited by modern feminists and secularists, of the supposedly sexist dialogue in C.S. Lewis’ writing:  Eustace’s line to Jill, that girls don’t know their direction on a compass.  Not mentioned by these critics, is Jill’s retort that Eustace himself obviously didn’t know — at that particular location they were at — which direction was east; and later in the story, the narrator author admits that he does not know if such lack of compass directions is true of all girls, but that it was true for Jill in particular.

In all my years growing up as a Protestant Christian, then coming to saving faith as a Protestant (Evangelical) Christian as a young adult and the many years since then as a Protestant Christian, I had never known the significance of facing east in prayer.  (I had heard this about cemetery plots, but nothing else.)  In prior readings of The Silver Chair I probably attributed this point to the internal plot of the Narnia story itself, since in the previous book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the characters did indeed quite literally sail East to Aslan’s country.  However, as I recently learned, as part of my study of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (the faith of the early church and its adherents to this day), it has always been a significant part of Orthodox Christian practice to pray facing this particular compass direction, of East.  Just as in Judaism before it, synagogues would face the direction of Jerusalem and the direction of East was held in high regard, and as the men of Gondor in Middle Earth turned in the specific direction of West toward Numenor in their prayer and moment of silence (link: previous post), the early Church saw significance of praying to the East.  As St. Basil observed in the 4th century (in his work, On the Holy Spirit):

For example, let us especially make note of the first and commonest thing: that those who hope in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross. Who taught this in Scripture? Which Scripture instructed us that we should turn to the east in prayer? …Is this not the silent and secret tradition?   … Is it not from this unpublished and unspoken teaching which our Fathers have preserved in a silence inaccessible to curiosity and scrutiny, because they were thoroughly instructed to preserve in silence the sanctity of the Mysteries [i.e., Sacraments]? For what propriety would there be to proclaim in writing a teaching concerning that which it is not allowed for the unbaptized even to behold?

For further explanation of why the early Church (and Orthodoxy to this day) face East in their prayers, here are two helpful articles:  Why Orthodox Churches Face East and Why do the Altars of Orthodox Churches Face East? 

Returning to C.S. Lewis and this story detail (the children facing East when making their petition to Aslan):  I find this interesting, as another piece fitting quite well into the picture of C.S. Lewis as being closest in his beliefs to Eastern Orthodoxy, as I also have recently learned from other online sources.  For further reference, here is a podcast episode and an article regarding C.S. Lewis’ beliefs and Eastern Orthodoxy.

I’m still re-reading The Silver Chair, and looking forward to finding even more story incidents that allude to early church practices.  I already know about this one (near the end of The Silver Chair), mentioned in this free online book Know the Faith: A Handbook for Orthodox Christians and Inquirers:

In C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, from his Chronicles of Narnia series, we encounter a beautiful description of a most natural, God-inspired act of icon veneration. Finding his formerly blackened shield now immaculate and revealing the blood-red image of the lion (Aslan, Lewis’s Christ figure), Prince Rilian addresses his small band of fellow travelers: “Now by my counsel, we shall all kneel and kiss his likeness, and then all shake hands one with another, as true friends that may shortly be parted.” The solemn act of love and reverence for the one who had delivered them from the delusion of the green witch was appropriately followed by acts of reconciliation and forgiveness.

I welcome any reader thoughts here — your thoughts about the Narnia movies (either the BBC series or other versions), as well as your comments about the overall story.

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I’m revisiting the Chronicles of Narnia series after many years, and just finished the second one in the series, Prince Caspian.  When people mention their favorites within The Chronicles of Narnia, they usually mention the first one (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and a few others often get mentioned.  Prince Caspian, sometimes subtitled The Return to Narnia, is usually not in the list of the top favorites.  Indeed, in the reviews at Goodreads, I noted one reviewer’s three star rating, with criticism that Prince Caspian  doesn’t have much action in the story – mainly a lot of travelling and celebrating — and that the book’s only “spiritual lesson” is Aslan’s invisibility and the step of faith they take in following his lead, and then as they follow him they can see him.

I agree, that is one great spiritual lesson, in which Lucy is more spiritually-inclined and sees Aslan, and then realizes that she must follow Aslan, even when the other children (all older than her) don’t believe her — and that she must follow him even if the others won’t go with her.  As referenced above, at the second sighting of Aslan, on Lucy’s insistence, the others do follow after Lucy who follows Aslan — and then gradually the others (first Edmund, then Peter, and lastly Susan and the Dwarf) are able to see Aslan.

Yet even Prince Caspian has many other spiritual lessons, as well as points that might not seem all that significant in our modern / post-modern rationalist world.  Especially near the end, we see several more allusions to biblical truth, including the great scene where Aslan asks Caspian if he thinks he’s ready to be a king — revealing young Caspian’s humble response (rather like the young King Solomon).  Another great scene occurs with Reepicheep and his fellow mice.  When Reepicheep’s friends show their willingness to cut off their own tails (to match Reepicheep’s wound), Aslan responds favorably, in a scene that reminds me of the “faith of a few close friends” that brought their paralyzed friend on a mat down through the roof of a house, in front of Jesus for healing (Mark 2:1-12).

You have great hearts!  Not for the sake of your dignity, Reepicheep, but for the love that is between you and your people, and still more for the kindness your people showed me long ago when you ate away the cords that bound me on the stone table …. you shall have your tail again.

But now to another very intriguing aspect of Prince Caspian:  the historical belief in this world of “faeries” — or as C.S. Lewis referred to them in “The Discarded Image,”  longaevi (“long-livers”): so as to not confuse his readers with a term co-opted by Disney for a very different usage.  Here is a four-part series with interesting information, noting the pre-modern belief, in every culture throughout the world — up until the Enlightenment age — in nature spirits:

These articles mention C.S. Lewis and his belief, as well as writings from J.R.R. Tolkien, but also from the early Church Fathers and one prominent modern-day Orthodox Christian.  As I read these articles, I thought also of Prince Caspian — maybe we 21st century modernists and urban dwellers are like the Telmarines, who rejected belief in the spirits of nature and kept away from Old Narnia.  Interestingly enough, the writer of these articles also mentioned Lewis’ Prince Caspian, in this very connection:

While many other examples could be given from the writings of Lewis, Prince Caspian is another book worth mentioning — the entire story revolves around the reenchantment of Narnia after all of the trees had fallen asleep and the few talking animals and magic creatures left alive had all retreated deep into hiding, following generations of rule by “Enlightened” men who did not believe in foolish superstitions.

A similar idea comes out in Tolkien’s The Two Towers, in the second part of King Theoden’s healing.  After Gandalf has restored Theoden to his right mind, and removed him from Wormtongue’s bewitchment, Theoden has a second startling experience to re-shape his world.  He suddenly finds that the “nursery tales” that he never paid attention to, are quite true, and he observes them, the trees which have been there through the ages:

‘They are the shepherds of the trees,’ answered Gandalf.  ‘Is it so long since you listened to tales by the fireside?  There are children in your land who, out of the twisted threads of story, could pick the answer to your question.  You have seen Ents, O King…. Did you think that the name was given only in idle fancy?  Nay, Theoden, it is otherwise: to them you are but the passing tale; all the years from Eorl the Young to Theoden the Old are of little count to them; and all the deeds of your house but a small matter.’

(Theoden) ‘Out of the shadows of legend I begin a little to understand the marvel of the trees, I think.  I have lived to see strange days.  Long we have tended our beasts and our fields, built our houses, wrought our tools, or ridden away to help in the wars of Minas Tirith.  And that we called the life of Men, the way of the world.  We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our own land.  Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom.  And now the songs have come down among us out of strange places, and walk visible under the Sun.’

As I continue to explore the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth, along with study of the early church, it is fascinating to find out about the truths and possible truths behind the ancient legends.

I welcome your thoughts here.  What do you think about the faeries, from the points mentioned here in this post, as well as from the linked articles?

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In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, did Aslan die (only) for Edmund?  Or is there more to it than that?  A superficial reading might give the idea that Aslan died for the treacherous Edmund, in a  “ransom theory” atonement, such that the price was paid to the White Witch.  (Several years ago, I heard –in a SermonAudio lesson–a Sunday School teacher commenting on the “ransom theory” atonement, mentioning that some people had criticized C.S. Lewis about that, and noting that Lewis had responded, to not press the story details too far; it was fiction, a story, after all.)

I first read The Chronicles of Narnia in the early 1990s, and from the local bookstore bought the encyclopedic Companion to Narnia  — the original edition; it is now available in an updated, revised edition.  It is a great resource, a wealth of information with hundreds of pages of entries on numerous topics having to do with the characters, events, places, and history of Narnia, along with several black & white illustrations from the books.  Along with that wealth of information, though, it was also my first introduction to “the world of higher criticism.” The author, Paul F. Ford, believed that the Pentateuch was written many years after the fact by later, unknown authors — rather than the traditional view of Moses’ authorship.  Interestingly enough, he expressed this view in the Introduction to Companion to Narnia, as a reason for reading the Narnia books in their published order, rather than in the strictly chronological sequence that would start with the creation story, The Magician’s Nephew.

Many modern Christian theologians, basing their thinking on the best of modern biblical scholarship, have discerned that the Hebrews first knew themselves as a people as a result of their having been miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt.  Their first experience was one of redemption.  Only later, when they came into contact with the Babylonian culture in which an elaborate explanation of the creation of the world was given, did they gather their own creation stories together and write, under inspiration, their own origins and the origins of the universe.

The author also maintained a limited view of Aslan’s atonement: as only for Edmund. He mentions this only in passing, I cannot recall the exact reference, but in one entry he states that the later character, King Tirian, who claimed that Aslan died for all Narnia, was incorrect — since Aslan only died for Edmund.  Another entry, for “Stone Table,” states:  it was decreed before time began that the table would crack when a willing and innocent victim was killed “in a traitor’s stead”—exactly the circumstances of Aslan’s self-sacrifice for Edmund’s sake—and time would begin to run backwards. 

But a closer look tells us that C.S. Lewis intended much more, and he brought this out in several ways.  Soon after Aslan’s resurrection, for one thing, Aslan goes out and frees all the captives of the White Witch.  He breathes on each statue, each captive in the White Witch’s castle — restoring them to life, setting them free, work that is symbolic of what our Lord accomplished in His death and resurrection, of releasing the prisoners, setting the captives free from sin and Satan’s dominion (reference Colossians 1:13).  Aslan also brings an end to the 100 years “Always Winter” rule of the White Witch, ushering in a new era for a redeemed and freed Narnia.  A self-sacrifice, a substitutionary death for Edmund the traitor, and only for Edmund, could not have brought about such wondrous results for everyone else; Edmund might have been freed to return to his home in England, but such a limited scope would have left Narnia still in bondage and her prisoners as statues at her castle.

The later statements, such as in Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle, further attest to the truth understood by the Narnians — and of course what C.S. Lewis clearly intended for Narnia.  Edmund himself, in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, told Eustace that Aslan had died for him, and for all Narnia:  He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor over Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia.  In The Last Battle, the last Narnian King, Tirian, after declaring that the ape was lying, meant to continue his speech, to include a description of the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.

So in our appreciation for the Chronicles of Narnia, as we consider the many analogies and parallels to Christianity, we must look at the full scope of all seven books, and even at later events in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  To insist that Aslan’s death was only for Edmund, as described in the one scene in LWW, is to miss the full story that C.S. Lewis told, along with the many other biblical associations in the Narnia redemption story.

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For those interested, I recently found this online class series.  Michael J. Kruger, from Reformed Theological Seminary, did a 7 part series on the worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as a Wednesday night class with student interaction, in the fall of 2020.  This post has all of the mp3 downloads as well as powerpoint “handout” files showing the topic outlines for each session.  After the intro on the authors, each week takes a look at various Christian themes in Tolkien’s writings as well as in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series:

  • The Fall: Sin and Evil in Narnia and Middle Earth
  • Redemption: Images of Christ in Narnia
  • Redemption: Images of Christ in Middle Earth
  • Sanctification: Duty, Honor and Courage
  • Sanctification: Friendship and Loyalty
  • Glorification: End Times in Narnia and Middle Earth

So far I’ve listened to the second lesson, and it’s a good general overview with some specific character examples.  He makes reference to The Silmarillion in addition to the Lord of the Rings, and mentioned that, though he would give examples from both Tolkien and Lewis, he tended to favor Tolkien and would likely have more teaching there, as he had more familiarity with Tolkien’s writings — plus, as he said, there’s more content to work with from Tolkien.  As just a minor criticism, I observe that Kruger must not have read the appendices after Return of the King, as he is off on his pronunciations.  (The word “Cirith” as in Cirith Ungol, in Tolkien’s world is pronounced with a “K” sound as Kirith, not Sirith, for example.)

Overall, though, Kruger’s series is interesting so far and worth listening to, or reading through the Powerpoint notes outlines.  I’ve previously listened to some of Kruger’s other teachings, including some of his study on the book of Hebrews.  I recall that Kruger from time to time has used illustrations from Narnia and Middle Earth in his other teaching series.  In the Hebrews series, for instance, he mentioned the character of Susan Pevensie as an example of an apostate, the one described in the book of Hebrews that had experienced and tasted the good things of God’s word, and then had rejected them — and thus unable to be restored to the faith.  I find that an interesting application of the story about Susan Pevensie — but I tend to disagree with that interpretation, especially since C.S. Lewis himself, the author, had a quite different view regarding the future of Susan Pevensie.  But that’s another topic, maybe for a future blog post.

Does anyone have further thoughts to share, on the topics mentioned here today?  Such as on Michael Kruger’s teachings?  Or the pronunciation of words in Middle Earth?  Or the fate of Susan Pevensie of the Chronicles of Narnia series?


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