Monday, December 19, 2005

More on the Narnia "Allegory." I meant to mention this earlier, but just forgot. While I was at my parents for Thanksgiving, my nephew, Brian, passed on his New Yorker magazine and I read an interesting essay by Adam Gopnik on C. S. Lewis. In the essay, Gopnik demonstrates considerable knowledge of the Lewis oeuvre, yet he misses the fact that Lewis was emphatic that the Narnia series was not an allegory:
When “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (magical title!) opens, four children who have been sent to the countryside discover an enchanted land on the other side of an old wardrobe; this is Narnia, and it has been enslaved by a White Witch, who has turned the country to eternal winter. The talking animals who live in Narnia wait desperately for the return of Aslan, the lion-king, who might restore their freedom. At last, Aslan returns. Beautiful and brave and instantly attractive, he has a deep voice and a commanding presence, obviously kingly. The White Witch conspires to have him killed, and succeeds, in part because of the children’s errors. Miraculously, he returns to life, liberates Narnia, and returns the land to spring.

Yet a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reëmerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth. (emphasis added)
As I note below (and please see the references), this was not an allegory. Yet, even if it was, I think Gopnik misses the central point of the Gospel story -- in fact Jesus is the King Lion. Yes, he came to us as a Lamb, last time, in the incarnation. He was not originally a lowly and bedraggled donkey. As is expressed in the letter to the Philippians while Jesus was,
... in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8 (New International Version) (See also, the Message version of this passage).

The central point is that God became human, lived as a human, but being the only sinless and innocent human was able to die in our place to redeem us, so "death itself would start working backward." The central point wasn't a rallying of underclass animals to lead a rebellion against the ruling classes -- that's been done before.

The thing I think I still like best about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is that is shows that Aslan would be willing to die for even one to redeem that one. Similarly, I know if we had some vast Garden of Eden and everyone else passed the test and lived sinless and I was the only one who sinned (yeah, I know I'm cutting big swatches in Christian Theology, but bear with me), Jesus would come and die in my stead to redeem me.

That's the central point.

He died for me.

He died for you.

Still more:

As I was checking this before posting, I came to this interesting post (and series of comments) by LaShawn Barber, where she argues "..."'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' is most assuredly an allegory." Interesting web journal (why hadn't I noticed this before?).

Finally and almost completely unrelated to any of the above:

This SNL rap on Narnia.