I just read Bill Hampl’s book review of The Magicians Book by Laura Miller in American Atheist magazine. It brought back memories of laying up in the top bunk of the family RV, with the whole box set of the Chronicles of Narnia that my Mom gave me just before a long trip. The books were my childhood and teen favorites, and it was not until the Harry Potter series came along that the series were displaced in my mind as the best books in the world.
Unlike Laura Miller, when I was a child the Christian symbolism of Narnia was the most obvious and natural thing in the world to me. I was a Christian child and was used to interpreting just about anything in Biblical terms, from the self-sacrifice of Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, to the creation of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew. But there was a problem for me in terms of my faith…I loved Aslan and knew he was intended as an analogue for Jesus. But I could not fully believe that the things Aslan said and did were really representative of Jesus.
Take, for example, this scene from The Last Battle, which is rather like the “Book of Revelations” of Narnia. A great battle is depicted between the forces of Aslan, and those of Tash, a grotesque rival god/demon. Yet, at the end, one of Tash’s young soldiers is welcomed by Aslan into paradise, the New Narnia. Here is the scene in his words after he has entered the New Narnia (the analogue for heaven), having no clue what to expect:
“But I said [to Aslan], Alas, Lord, I am no some of thine but a servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me. . . not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and note that is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me he has truly sworn, although he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted…”
I have always seen this as C.S. Lewis’s idea of what Jesus is like, and how he would reward the good and kind things done by people even if they did them in the name of another religion or another God. Nevermind for a moment that this type of thinking could be used to say that vile things done in the name of God weren’t really done in the name of God. I thought then, and still do now, that any good and just God would accept a person of good intention even if that person was not a believer. This, however, is what I was not taught about God. I could see it as being C.S. Lewis’s view of Jesus, but not how Jesus was portrayed via the Bible and in my church. In the Bible, having the correct belief and professing the correct God was so much more important than that. And I could not accept an interpretation of Jesus that was not compatible with what the Bible said, just because it would be pleasant and a guy who was a theologian liked to think of Jesus that way.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan always reveals himself to those who honestly doubt him, such as Bree in The Horse and His Boy, even if with a bit of a rebuke. He counts the mythical creatures and gods of Greek and pagan mythology among his followers. He always comes though, like any good hero of fiction. And best of all he was mysterious and exciting: “Not a tame lion.” He was all the things to me that Jesus was supposed to be, but somehow just wasn’t.
I just found this article, which describes the situation of another child who had the same thoughts as I did about Aslan and Jesus, that is, Aslan is better. C.S. Lewis’s response is telling.
“Tell Laurence from me, with my love,” Lewis wrote in a detailed letter, “ … [He] can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. … I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) … .”
Of course, Jesus didn’t say just about anything that Aslan says in the books–it’s all artistic licence and interpretation by C.S. Lewis. It’s an example to me of people putting words in to Jesus’s mouth, because that’s the sort of Jesus they want to believe in. Of course, you can put whatever words you want into the mouth of your own fictional character.