Monthly Archives: December 2014

Who Is Aslan?

By Tenethia

“Who is Aslan? Why, he’s only the king of the whole wood! The top geezer! The real king of Narnia!” – Mr. Beaver, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (Walden Media film, 2005)

When the Pevensies first arrived in Narnia, they didn’t know or understand who Aslan was, or how he would affect their lives. Of course, we as readers of the Chronicles do know who Aslan is – the high king above all high kings, and the son of the Emperor-Over-The-Sea. Through the course of the stories, the Pevensies had the joy and privilege of learning who Aslan was for themselves.

However, is this all he is? Is this all Aslan is meant to be? In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy that “in your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name.” Lewis never explicitly reveals to us what Aslan’s name in our world is, but if we look, we can understand who Aslan told Lucy he was. His name is revealed by three roles Aslan plays in the stories: he is the creator, the redeemer, and the king.

In The Magician’s Nephew, we learn that Aslan is the creator of Narnia. He spoke – sang, rather – the world into being and created each of the creatures in that world. He was the one who gave the animals the ability to speak. He created everything good.

Aslan is the redeemer. When Edmund betrayed his siblings, his blood was required by law. Only the death of a completely innocent person could redeem him. When Jadis agreed, Aslan was slain in Edmund’s stead. His blood redeemed Edmund’s life. Then he rose from death in the morning, and defeated Jadis.

Aslan is the king. He is sovereign over all the events in Narnia. He is honored above the kings of Narnia, and the royalty answer to him for what they do. The loyal Narnians serve him. Even his title “King above all High Kings,” reflects his lordship.

So who is Aslan? What is his name? In the eyes of a Christian, Aslan is a supposal for God incarnate – Jesus Christ, our creator, redeemer, and king. By “supposal” we mean that he is a representation of what Jesus Christ might have been like in a world of talking beasts such as Narnia, were it real.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In only six days, God created the world, the animals and plants, and the human race. God made man with special care. He called the earth good, and us He called very good. He made the world perfectly. He is our creator.  We know that God the Son (Jesus) was there at creation because John 1:3 tells us “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

Romans 6:23 tells us “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When we sinned, and betrayed our Creator, we deserved death according to the law, just as Edmund had for his treachery in Narnia. However, Jesus Christ agreed to be our redemption, and came to earth as a human, fully man and fully God, to die on a cross for us. He took our punishment on Himself, just as Aslan took Edmund’s punishment on himself. Then, Jesus rose again to defeat death for us!

Christ Jesus is our ruler, our king. He is sovereign over all. He directs the pathways of kings and rulers, and knows the past, the present, and the future. He has the ability to do what he pleases with whom he pleases for whatever reason he pleases. In Revelation (19:16) he is referred to as “The King of kings and Lord of lords.” We are to follow Him and give Him the glory He deserves.

 Just as Aslan was creator, redeemer and king in Narnia, so is Jesus Christ creator, redeemer and king in our own world. Based on these similarities we can conclude that Jesus Christ is the “other name” to which Aslan referred when talking to Lucy.

The Spiritual Themes of the Narnian Tales

By Always Narnian

This season, as Christmas comes and the year draws to an end, it is appropriate to direct our focus to the core of this holiday and the reason for it: Jesus Christ. The way I am choosing to do so in this article is by bringing to mind that “The whole Narnian story is about Christ”, as Lewis said in a letter to an individual named Anne. In this letter Lewis also laid out the foremost spiritual themes of each Narnian story. C.S. Lewis’ own description of these themes will precede my thoughts on each book. [1]

The Magician’s Nephew tells the creation and how evil entered Narnia.”
As God spoke everything into existence, so Aslan creates Narnia with his song in The Magician’s Nephew. Aslan sets a King and Queen to rule over the talking beasts, just as God placed man in authority over the earth: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26). Though man was created perfect and without sin, they were tempted by the serpent to disobey God, thus causing a rift between themselves and the holy Creator. In a similar manner Digory played a part in bringing evil to the world of Narnia, in the fact that with him came the Witch Jadis.

The Lion etc — the Crucifixion and Resurrection”
Just as our sin needs an atonement, so Edmund’s treacherous deeds in the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe could only be wiped away by Aslan’s sacrifice. Edmund was worthy of death, yet Aslan took his place, just as Christ did ours: “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Death was not the end of Christ, for he rose again out of the tomb. Lewis painted a beautiful picture of this Resurrection in Aslan’s return from the dead.

Prince Caspian — restoration of the true religion after a corruption”
Just as the Telmarines tried to extinguish the true Narnians, so often the world seeks to overtake the people who believe in God and His word. Persecutions have been started by evil and depraved people who try and get rid of God and His people. The Lord knew this tribulation would come to His followers, yet He has kept His word alive and His children remain. “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The Horse and his Boy — the calling and conversion of a heathen.”
One of the most touching moments in The Horse and His Boy is the scene where Aslan reveals himself to Shasta — how he had directed Shasta’s course so many times and how Shasta had not known it then. As Aslan chose to reveal himself to the “unconverted” Shasta through different events in his life, so God chooses to reveal himself to all through his creation: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). He also makes his character known to us through his revealed Word and through his Son Jesus — that Word made flesh: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — the spiritual life (specially in Reepicheep)”
The Christian’s spiritual life is marked with a great longing to be with Jesus Christ, as Reepicheep longed to sail to Aslan’s country: “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

The Silver Chair — continued war against the powers of darkness”
Spiritual warfare in the Christian’s life is perhaps, though in a different way, very relatable to the difficulties that Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum face. From the seemingly simple struggle Jill has remembering and keeping the signs, to the Lady of the Green Kirtle’s attempts to make them forget everything they had once known in Narnia, these things reflect the Christian’s everyday life: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Last Battle — the coming of Antichrist (the Ape). The end of the world, and the Last Judgement”
Knowing that the world will one day end is a sobering thought, and The Last Battle is indeed a story with more gravity, yet with a great and triumphant closing. Near Revelation’s end, there is a verse that describes the new Jerusalem and those in it: “And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5) Those who enter Aslan’s country have this type of glorious homecoming as well: “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Creation, Jesus’ death and resurrection, His involvement in His children’s lives, and His second coming are all key events that Narnia brings to the reader through the medium of fiction. Even near the close of the Narnia series, Lucy draws attention to Christ’s advent: “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember that Christ is the center of all things and that this holiday is about something greater than what the world has made it, just as Narnia is more than a good story.

[1] All quoted Spiritual Themes from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963

Cultural Influences in the Narnia Series

By Always Narnian

C.S. Lewis’ world in The Chronicles of Narnia is a fantastical one, though in several ways it was inspired by actual countries and cultures. The two stories that really allow you to see these cultural influences are The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle. As a result of this, we shall mostly be focusing on the lands of Narnia and Calormen, though we shall briefly touch on a few others.

Narnia is a land seemingly influenced by European history and culture. The fact that King Frank and Queen Helen (the first rulers of Narnia) were an English couple may explain why Narnia reminds one greatly of England. However, many of the creatures in Narnia are based off of characters in Greek Mythology.

Calormen, a land south of Narnia, is very much like a Middle-Eastern country. Calormen’s greatest city, Tashbaan, rests next to a great expanse of desert. In a letter to his publisher, C.S. Lewis said of Pauline Baynes’ inspiration for illustrating The Horse and His Boy: “As to realism in the new one, Miss Baynes may base her ideas of Calormene culture either on the picture of the Arabian Nights world, or on her picture of Babylon and Persepolis (all the Herodotus and Old Testament orient) or any mixture of the two.” [1] Persepolis was the capital of the ancient Persian Empire around 515 B.C. Also known as Parsa, Persepolis was a city built on terraces— the same fashion in which Tashbaan is built. [2]

The people of Narnia are often fair-haired and white, whereas the Calormenes are dark. A description is found in The Horse and His Boy, commenting on how even the characteristics of Narnians were different from that of the Calormenes: “…instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed.” The Calormenes have rigid ceremonies and elaborate gear, and also speak with eloquence, as seen in The Horse and His Boy, where story-telling is nearly considered an art to be learned by all Calormenes.

Persian shamshir

Persian shamshir

The straight swords used in the land of Narnia are broadswords, which were often used in Europe during the Middle Ages. Calormenes carry scimitars, swords with curved blades. Curved swords were used by cultures such as the Turks, Persians, and Arabs. These swords likely began with Turko-Mongol sabers. The word ‘scimitar’ could possibly be a derivation of the word ‘shamshir,’ a sword of the Persians. [3] Scimitars are often used on horseback— an interesting fact considering the importance of war horses in Calormen.

Kulah khud helmet

Kulah khud helmet

Calormenes wear turbans while Narnians either uncover their heads or wear metal caps. Pauline Baynes even drew the Narnian’s helmets in The Last Battle very alike to European skullcap or cervellière helmets. Calormenes wear spiked helmets, oftentimes surrounded by a turban. Aravis is illustrated with a helmet that resembles an Indo-Persian helmet called a kulah khud.

In The Horse and His Boy there is a man, Ahoshta Tarkaan, who becomes the Grand Vizier. ‘Vizier’ was a word used for an officer of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. The title ‘grand vizier’ was also used in the Ottoman Empire a little later for the representative of the sultan. [4] Cair Paravel, the main castle of Narnia, where Peter the High King and his siblings ruled, has an etymology of British, Old French, and Latin words. Another fascinating thing to note is the money of Calormen is called ‘crescents.’ This is significant because the symbol of the Ottoman Empire became the crescent after their conquest of Constantinople.

Although there is much information to reasonably verify that Narnia is based off of Europe and Calormen off the Middle East, there are a few other cultures in Narnia where speculation is the only tool we can use. An example of this would be the Telmarine people. Though we know that the Telmarines were a piratical people from the South Sea in our world, were transferred into the land of Telmar, and from there went on to conquer Narnia, little is known about their culture or fashion. They have a fear of the woods and the sea— this fear having arisen from the tales they heard of Aslan coming over the sea.

Another land to consider is Archenland, where King Frank and Queen Helen’s second son became king. This land appears to be much akin to Narnia, as seen in Bree saying of Shasta: “…he’s certainly either a Narnian or an Archenlander.” Thus, making it most likely that Archenland is also a land of European influence, and that the people of Narnia and Archenland are similar in appearance.

Charn is a kingdom only briefly visited in The Magician’s Nephew, but a few things are said about it that we could theorize upon. There is a scene that describes Charn as having “temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges” and that “Once a great river had flowed through the city…” Jadis also describes the city as “the wonder of the world, perhaps of all worlds.” Chariots are mentioned, as well as the river running red (likely from blood) during the disastrous last battle of Charn. Jadis is also depicted in the drawings with a band around her arm which appears to be made in the likeness of a coiled snake. All these things seem to point to an Egyptian influence, though this cannot be completely proven, and in some places Charn could also be thought to take after ancient Persia, as to Jadis’ mention of Charn being “the city of the King of Kings” (a title of Kingship Darius of Persia took as well).

Existent cultures can either be a richening addition to fantasy realms, or else a distraction. C.S. Lewis’ incorporation seems to work well, adding variety and depth to his stories— realism, as Lewis said in his letter about Pauline Baynes’ work on The Horse and His Boy. This type of realism mixes history with fiction, allowing the reader to relate with the story in a familiar way. What are your thoughts on this technique and what are some influences you may have observed in the Narnia series?

[1] The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963
[2] Ancient History Encyclopedia
[3] Weaponry: An Illustrated History by Chuck Wills
[4] Encyclopædia Britannica

(photo sources: Wikimedia Commons)