Jack the Giant Slayer
CS Lewis, or Jack as his friends called him, gave the world a great gift in the seven Chronicles of Narnia. My hope in these talks is to show that Lewis is a modern-day “Jack the Giant Slayer”. His insightful story-telling shapes and teaches us how to overcome all variety of dragons, giants, and grumpy cousins named Eustace.
Some Film Critic Nit-Pics
In Disney’s adaptation of LWW, one moment stands out as indicative of how someone can completely miss the central point of the source material. The scene is in the Beaver’s Dam, when Mr. Beaver tells the four children, “Aslan is on the move.” The music swells, the children have looks of wonder, and then Edmund asks with confusion, “Who’s Aslan?” The film makes this a comedic moment. Mr. Beaver laughs at how anyone could not know who Aslan is. But Peter doubles down, and confusedly explains they have no idea who or what Aslan is.
By contrast, in the book, the moment at which Aslan’s name is first spoken is a converting moment for three of the four children, while it is the aroma of death to Edmund. The filmmakers make the mistake of turning the first mention of Aslan’s name from a moment of converting power and wonder to a moment where Mr. Beaver is panned for being so dense and lacking all self-awareness. In Disney’s Narnia, there is no magic in Aslan’s name.
But what else should we expect from the unenchanted modernist/postmodernist world which Hollywood believes we live in? Lewis’ fantasy world is of course intended to help us better see the enchantment of our own world.
Magic & Deeper Magic
Lucy’s entrance into the snowy forest of Lantern Waste brings us into a different world. A world of fauns, talking beasts, nymphs, and a White Witch. A world seemingly unlike our own. And yet, in this Narnian world, we find an out-of-place reference to Christmas: it’s always winter & never Christmas in Narnia. Not only that, but later on, Father Christmas makes an appearance in a world where Christ was not born. This along with the “hodge-podge” of mythical creatures and characters has been often criticized by Lewis’ detractors.
But this is no literary mis-step. There is deeper literary magic at work. Of course, we are at once confronted with Narnia’s “magicality”: a Faun, a Lamppost in the middle of a wood, the Witch giving Edmund enchanted Turkish Delight, and we soon learn that it is her magic which maintains Narnia’s enduring winter.
Her magic is powerful. Her magic turns to stone. Her magic holds Edmund in sway. Her magic prevents Christmas. But though evil ones always try, Christmas cannot be stopped. Just ask Herod or Athaliah. And if Christmas cannot be stopped, neither can Easter.
Lewis brings us into a magical world, where magic is used for cruelty, to snuff out joy, to make the world a colorless white and have all the vibrancy of stone statues. But then the deeper magic turns everything golden as the sunrise, golden as the Lion’s mane.
The Emperor’s deeper magic decreed, before that world began, that a willing substitute for traitors was promised resurrection. Lewis wants his readers to feel & know that the Incarnation & Resurrection are the reason our world is magical. God became a man. The God-man died. But the God-man then killed death and lives forever. The resurrection overthrew the powers and principalities. We now live in a world in which a Man who rose from the dead rules the world for all eternity.
This insight in Narnia should enable us to spot when magic is being misused by tyrants and cruel men. Magic (technology, medicine, etc.) will always be wielded by the wicked as a means to crush joy. We distract ourselves to death with these magical pocket devises. Porn has led to a generation who is increasingly disinterested in the glory & fruitfulness of marital intercourse. Plants and chemicals are used to “balance” the chemicals in our brains, held out by the pharmaceutical companies as the means to restore joy. Instead, users are turned to stone. We call them stoners for a reason. This is a generation lost in an enchantment of make-believe, whether in the form of cosplayers & LARPers, or in the more grievous transgender attempt to going beyond costume and carve the body to suit the imagination.
Lewis offers us a breath of fresh air. The cruel try to wield the magic of our world for their own empire of icicles & stone; all the while they are ignorant of the deeper magic. The Resurrection thwarts the petty magic of the wicked, and summons the Sons of Adam & Daughters of Eve to reign with Christ.
A Royal Calling
It is this “royal calling” which drives the narrative in LWW. Thus, Lewis opted to employ Jovian imagery to reinforce this. As Michael Ward has masterfully pointed out, the seven books of Narnia map onto the seven planets. LWW is presented in prevailingly Jovial terms. Royalty returning. Thrones & Coronation. Prophetic glory. The largess of gift-giving. The dying & rising God.
Notice, that throughout the story the theme is that Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve are royal titles. The Pevensie children are fulfilling an almost “messianic” prophecy. Narnia was never right except when ruled by Adam’s offspring. The Pevensies were not mighty ones in and of themselves. But Aslan made them mighty, and by what we would call Providence, he ensured their ascent from commoners to eternal King’s & Queen’s of Narnia.
This is one of the central lessons of LWW. This first adventure in Narnia is intended, in part, to fortify us to rule in this world as the lawful heirs of this world. The meek shall inherit the earth.
Even for Traitors
Perhaps the clearest lesson, however, is presented in the character arcs of the two younger Pevensies. In Lucy & Edmund we’re confronted with a question: will you believe or will your bitterness lead you to betrayal? Lucy, throughout the books, is an embodiment of child-like faith. She takes Tumnus’ word without any doubt. She is delighted by the simple joys of sardines on toast, and a humble Faun’s cave. Edmund, loaded with cynicism & bitter resentment, caves quickly to the Witch’s enticement.
While it is far preferable to be a “Lucy”, Lewis goes out of his way to make it clear that the restoration of Narnia will be incomplete unless even the worst sinner is redeemed. The Good News is plainly presented to us here. While we all should be a “Lucy”, in reality we’re all Edmunds. We’ve betrayed our brothers & sisters. We’ve been in league with evil. Thus, it is only by the shedding of innocent blood whereby we might be restored to our calling to rule.
Aslan lays down his life so that Edmund might be given a knighthood, a throne, a crown, and a title (a new name). He goes from Edmund the bitter, Edmund the traitor, Edmund the worst; to Edmund the Just. Indeed, Peter tells us that their victory over the Witch in the Battle of Beruna was “all Edmund’s doing.” Those forgiven much, love much.
I’ll close with two final observations which should be of great encouragement to our faith in this enchanted world we live in. First, while Aslan is not a tame lion, he is good. You won’t get far if you think you can keep God on a leash, or whistle Him up when it is convenient. You are in His Story, so boldly follow Him in His wild romps of restoration, knowing that even when things get messy it is all working together for your good and His glory.
Lastly, the most touching moment of LWW is when Lucy and Susan discuss whether to let Edmund know all that Aslan did & suffered to redeem him:
“Does he know.” whispered Lucy to Susan, “what Aslan did for him? Does he know what the arrangement with the Witch really was?”
“Hush! No, of course not,” said Susan.
“Oughtn’t he to be told?” said Lucy.
“Oh, surely not.” said Susan. “It would be too awful for him. Think how you’d feel if you were he?”
“All the same I think he ought to know,” said Lucy.
Lucy is interrupted, so we never find out if she told Edmund. I’d like to think Lucy did tell Edmund, but all the same, he could never comprehend all the greatness of what was done for him. The poignant truth which Lewis brings in this exchange is that we too have been told of our redemption, and though we cannot comprehend the full scope of all that was done by Christ in our stead, we are brought to be, as Wesley’s hymn puts it, “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”