The Lion, the Witch, and the War

No that’s not a typo. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve felt moved to re-read my childhood favourites, the Chronicles of Narnia, as Christian allegories. As a child I had no knowledge of Christianity and so took the Chronicles simply as entertaining stories. Now, as a Christian, I can see where Lewis has taken elements from Christianity and weaved them into his story. But I think that is as far as I’d go, stopping short of calling the stories allegorical, any more than The Lord of the Rings is an allegory of World War II.

I just finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and saw the many parallels with the Gospels, especially in the last few chapters. Every detail of the sacrifice of Aslan has its Gospel equivalent: his sad night walk with Lucy and Susan (the agony), his beating by the horde of evil creatures (the scourging), the shearing of his mane and subsequent ridicule (the crowning with thorns), and of course the “deeper magic” whereby if an innocent gives himself up to be sacrificed in a traitor’s stead then Death will be vanquished. Also, the breaking of the stone table echoes the tearing of the temple veil, and Aslan’s brief absence recalls the empty tomb.

The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeHowever, there are some departures from the Gospels, mostly to do with violence, which prevent me from calling the story a Christian allegory. First of all, when the White Witch’s police arrive, Aslan does not stay his Peter’s sword, but in fact encourages him to draw and use it, afterward giving him solemn instructions to clean the blood off his sword after battle. While Jesus instructed his followers to baptize, heal, exorcise demons, and preach the good news, Aslan instructs Peter in how to wage war against the White Witch’s army. Far from praying for forgiveness for his killers, the first thing Aslan does upon seeing the White Witch is kill her. Lewis assures us that even those “bad” creatures who were not killed in battle were eventually hunted down and “destroyed.”

I know C.S. Lewis was not a pacifist; indeed, how difficult it would have been to espouse nonviolence at the time he wrote these books. But a story ending with the complete annihilation of the “enemy” can never be called Christian. It is in the tradition of the Crusades, not the Gospels. I wonder if this is not why, as a child, and even as a baptized adult, I never associated the Chronicles of Narnia with Christianity.

Of course Lewis’ glorification of war doesn’t make the Chronicles any less enjoyable as stories. I appreciate a well-crafted “good versus evil” violent catharsis as much as the next person. But I think Tolkein took the safer route by creating a purely pagan world where violence can indeed end violence. By trying to shoehorn the Prince of Peace into a war story Lewis lends false legitimacy to violence and waters down the power of the Christian message of nonviolent love, thus defeating his own (albeit secondary) purpose of introducing children to the fundamentals of Christianity.

The Companion to Narnia by Paul Ford offers this “Christian Creed in Narnian terms”:

I believe in the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea who has put within time the Deep Magic, and, before all time, the Deeper Magic.

I believe in his Son Aslan who sang into being all the worlds and all that they contain: Talking Beasts and humans, dumb animals and shining spirits. And I believe that Aslan was a true beast, the king of beasts, a Lion; that for Edmund, a traitor because of his desire for Turkish Delight, he gave himself into the power of the White Witch, who satisfied the requirements of the Deep Magic by killing him most horribly. At the dawn following that darkest, coldest night, he was restored to full life by the Deeper Magic, cracking the Stone Table and, from that moment, setting death to work backwards. He exulted in his new life and went off to rescue all those who had been turned into stone by the Witch’s wand and to deliver the whole land from everlasting winter. He will be behind all the stories of our lives; and, when it is time, he will appear again in our world to wind it up, calling all of his creatures whose hearts’ desire is to live “farther in and farther up” in his country which contains all real countries.

I believe that upon us all falls the breath of Aslan and that ours are the sweet waters of the Last Sea which enable us to look steadily at the sun. I believe that all who have thrilled or will thrill at the sound of Aslan’s name are now our fellow voyagers and our fellow kings and queens; that all of us can be for ever free of our dragonish thoughts and actions; and that one day we will pass through the door of death into “Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on for ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”


12 comments on “The Lion, the Witch, and the War

  1. Galant says:

    Hi there, first time to visit and I arrived via The Grace Pages. Currnetly reading th e Chronicles of Narnia myself and so immediately noticed this post. I agree that the books cannot be taken as complete allegory, although there are undoubtedly allegorical references strewn throughout.
    One thing I think I'd have to bring up though, is that I believe you have mistakenly interpreted Lewis' allegory. The Witch in the story does not represent Pilate or Caiaphas but satan – if I'm reading it rightly. If that's the case then when battle is waged, Peter and the others are fighting against spiritual forces not human ones. That then would be a wholly Christian thing.
    I realise that Lewis, in the story, has physical being fighting physical being, but then that's the nature of his having written fantasy tales.

  2. Sylvia says:

    That's an interesting way of looking at it. I don't think the White Witch can represent Satan, though, because of some later developments in the Chronicles that I can't really go into it without spoiling your reading of the last two books! In some respects Narnia could be a spiritual realm, but in other ways not; again I can't go into because it's in the later books.
    More importantly, though, Lewis was not a pacifist, and even said soldiers should be proud of killing their enemies and not feel as though it were an unfortunate necessity. So, knowing that background, I don't think there is much point in trying to make the Chronicles nonviolent.
    Lewis' prejudices on numerous topics, from food to dress to Mediterranean food, are clear and abundant in the books, and that includes his views on the nobility of violence under the right circumstances. In my opinion we can't pick and choose which of his views to take at face falue and which to explain away. I think he meant everything he said.
    Remember, these books were partly intended to introduce children to Christianity, so they can't be viewed simply as works of the imagination. They were intended to convey Christian principles, as Lewis saw them.
    Sorry to disagree but thanks for visiting!

  3. Galant says:

    No problem. I'm working on the last book now, so I suppose I'll have to wait and see.
    I'm assuming you hold a pacifist view, and so Lewis' non-pacificst stance provides room for disagreement. Understood. I think I can see where he's coming from, and appreciate what he's trying to say. I don't particularly have a problem with his making use of violence in his tales. But I think we'll have to agree to disagree on that. You said before that you don't see Lewis' books as whole analogies, but stories with small pieces of analogy woven in, if that's the case then I don't see a problem with reading some parts as spiritual and others as not. I'll see what comes out of this Last Battle and weigh me evaluation then.

  4. Sylvia says:

    Ah, well if you're read the Silver Chair then you already know that the White Witch is not one of a kind but one of a race, so while she may represent evil, she can't represent Satan per se. Of course it is possible that Lewis hadn't worked out her genealogy at the time he wrote TLWW.
    For me it's not a question of whether I agree with Lewis' principles, but whether the Chronicles of Narnia are Christian. Jesus said to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for our persecutors. I don't see alot of that happening in Narnia! In Narnia enemies are to be slain, albeit in “clean battle.” Christ said that those who humble themselves will be exalted; Lewis' characters (e.g. Reepicheep) use violence to protect their honour. Vengeance is also honoured in Narnia (Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Even if the characters are all angels and demons, I don't recall any place in the Bible where demons can be killed; they are only banished. And in the last chapters of The Last Battle you'll see more evidence for Narnia being a physical world parallel to ours.
    Thanks for the discussion!

  5. Galant says:

    I hope you don't mind me continuing this one on. Tell me to just shut up if you've had enough. πŸ™‚
    Regarding the White Witch's 'family', whilst there is continuity with the Chronicles I think they also stand alone, and I think your idea that Lewis hadn't figured out the genealogy etc. would be right. I don't think he was trying to provide a long, continuing analogy, but was weaving insights and ideas into a fantasy narrative.
    I would place the same evil of the White Witch in the serpent witch of the Silver Chair. Whenever evils of that type arise, I tend to always view them as spiritual. I do though see forgiveness within the books. That of Edward of course, and also the mercy offered to Rabadash in the Horse and His Boy. I suppose it would be most accurate to describe Narnia's battles as good against evil. In that case I think each individual colours those terms with their own meaning. My Christian understanding, informed by Scripture, would see the struggle as spiritual – my enemies being spiritual, not human – and for a very real battle to be waged there. Granted, it's not my place to become some kind of fantasy demon-slayer, but I think to start to read into the Chronicles to hat extent is to be unfair to the text. one thing that is certain is that Lewis wasn't offering them as directions for , or exemplary illustrations of, the Christian life.
    I do think, though, that Lewis would not have shied away from the idea that there are times in practical human life when violence is necessary, and when one does need to 'fight' against other human beings. When such fighting can be seen as necessary and even honourable. I think that needs to be seen in the light of the war-time to which he refers now and then in the human world of the Chronicles and the times in which Lewis lived and wrote.
    Of course, all of these lead to the bigger questions of pacificism which aren't the focus of these comments. For Lewis I think the matter might come down to something as simple as the example of Hitler, and that in the face of such evil in humanity, other good humans need to take action to prevent its further rampage. That's my assumption though.

  6. Sylvia says:

    Me had enough of debating? Puh-lease! πŸ˜‰
    You're quite right, there is some mercy and forgiveness in the books, just not on the scale I would expect from Christian allegory (i.e. universal mercy and forgiveness).
    No, the books are not primers on the Christian life, but Aslan very definitely was intended to represent Jesus. What I have a problem with is that Aslan, unlike Jesus, was violent and encouraged violence. Jesus never even killed demons (though probably it is not possible), he only cast them out of human beings. Nor did he kill Satan when tempted in the desert, he just told him to be on his way.
    I can't agree that the books deal with some sort of spirit world. The spirit world, heaven, hell, etc., are barely mentioned in the Gospels, and descriptions of them makes up a very small (and difficult to interpret) part of the Bible. The Bible, and Jesus, are primarily concerned with us and with our world and what we do in it. So why would Lewis, wanting to introduce children to the tenets of Christianity, write seven books representing a realm that is of minor importance in the bible and, I would have to say, in Christianity as a whole? As you said, it's not our place to slay demons, it is our place to love God and neighbour *and enemy*. The first two are certainly represented in the Chronicles, but the last one is not just lacking but contradicted by Lewis.
    I certainly do agree (as I alluded in the post) that given Lewis' historical context it's easy to see how physical violence against evildoers would appear to be the right and Christian thing to do. To preach love of enemy at that time would have been an easy way to get, well, crucified. However that is what Christians are called to do.

  7. Galant says:

    Although it would seem that God has not the most pleasant things in mind for demons and satan later on in life.
    Also, even Scripture does not shy away from making use of battle imagery, it's found right through out the Bible.
    Concerning Lewis' World War situation, were you to suggest that the answer to Hitler's evil massacres and invasions was to 'love' him (not sure what that would involve), I think Lewis might ask you how you intended to show love to those being attacked, oppressed and killed by Hitler, or one's own family?

  8. Sylvia says:

    Yes, there is alot of violence in the Bible (to put it mildly), but I do not take that as an endorsement of violence. On the contrary, scripture reflects our violence back to us in such a way as to (hopefully) make us aware of the evil of human violence. What a gift that the people of Israel preserved their history, “warts and all,” for all humanity to learn from. (Not that they were any more violent than anyone else, just that their closeness to God enabled them to be honest about it.)
    I am not suggesting that love is the answer to someone like Hitler; it was Jesus who suggested it. How can we doubt him? Unfortunately most people equate Christian love with emotion or inaction. Jesus meant neither, but he certainly did not mean violence either.
    “… If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (Jn 18:36)

  9. Galant says:

    Actual acts of violence – questionable or not – aside, within the New Testament images of soldiers are used and battle analogies given.
    This is of course to be taken spiritually, but is nonetheless battle.
    That verse from John has relevance only in defining Jesus' earthly ministry as different from that which most Jews and some other contemporaries would expect.
    If love is the answer for Hitler but it is not emotion, inaction, or violence what is it?
    What do you do when someone being raped, tortured and killed right in front of you and the offender means not to stop and to carry on the same with others? What action do you take?
    What about your obligation to love the person being attacked? How do you love them?
    I'm getting off track though, this isn't a place to debate pacifism.
    Concerning Narnian imagery you talked of Lewis 'shoehorning Jesus into a war story' – but isn't that exactly what we see happening in Scripture in Revelation in a spiritual sense? Don't New Testament authors 'shoehorn' war imagery into teaching about Christianity and faith?

  10. Sylvia says:

    I'm afraid I'm not too familiar with violent imagery in the New Testament intended as a model for how Christians should act (spiritually or physically). Jesus' explicit message seems to be one of peace, *both* spiritually and physically. Not only are we to love our enemies by doing them good, we are to pray for their good.
    If I have to choose between Jesus' advice (love your enemy) and the world's logic (destroy your enemy), I will have to stand by Jesus, even if I can't exactly see how it would work in every hypothetical situation. How could I even question whether it would work? This is God's Word!
    I've heard wonderful stories of people getting out of sticky (e.g. life-threatening) situations by loving their attacker(s). It does work, but you have to have a change of heart and a change of mind. You have to empty yourself of hatred and fear to make room for the Holy Spirit to work through you. And of course even if it doesn't “work,” that does not mean we have been defeated. If it did, then the cross would be defeat too. We are only defeated when violence makes us violent too.

  11. Galant says:

    Paul makes a number of references comparing Christians to soldiers and Christ in Revelation is portrayed as a warrior defeating His enemies in battle.
    These are spiritual references, not intended to make militant Christians who spread their gospel through war and violence, but refer to the spiritual battles the Christian faces, and the enemy they must engage. However, my point is that just as Scripture is unafraid to use military and violent imagery to reflect spiritual truths so too Lewis makes use of the violent, showing that the Christian is a warrior is a spiritual nature. Christ did not require us to pray for Satan or spiritual enemies, or to treat them with love.
    So then, it comes down to how we treat fellow humans. For me it's easiest when it comes down to a personal situation. If I'm confronted with a situation where an assailant is attacking someone else – murder, rape, torture, whichever – and I am able to intervene and stop them, do I act and possibly put myself into a situation where I'll be forced to kill the assailant, or do I let them continue the assault? To love both requires that I show love to the victim by intervening, and love to the assailant by doing what I can to not kill them or harm beyond what is necessary. If I'm forced to the point where it's one or the other, I think I'd have to choose to defend the victim.
    To me, I can see how it might be possible, in certain circumstances, for love of the assailant to be perceived as hatred for the victim.

  12. Sylvia says:

    I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree about Narnia being a spiritual versus physical world. In the last book Narnia is equated with Earth and other physical worlds. Also the characters in Narnia go on to an afterlife (either Aslan's “heaven” and Tash's “hell”). I can't see any other conclusion than that Narnia is a physical not a spiritual world. Therefore, “spiritual” or “anti-demonic” warfare doesn't apply. The fact that C.S. Lewis was certainly not against war also encourages me to think that it's actual, physical killing in his stories.
    Jesus prevented Peter from defending him from those who were going to kill him. He also encouraged Paul to continue his work despite the fact that it would bring him injury and death. Did Jesus not love himself or Paul, or his other followers who he knew would suffer for him? Did he tell them to stay safe or intervene to prevent their deaths? No, because there are more important things than physical survival. Being a Christian means asking for trouble!
    Father Charles Emmanuel McCarthy, a strong advocate for peace, says that it's pointless to consider hypothetical situations because a real situation is infinitely more complex and will have opportunities and openings for peace-making that you could never predict. This is why one has to be open to the Spirit and have the disposition to love already ingrained through practice. Furthermore, you are not always going to be in a situation where you can neutralize your enemy with force, so where does that leave you? Love is the only power that can end violence.

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