C. S. Lewis’s Tales of Narnia, from Genesis to ‘Shadowlands’ – Stealing Past Dragons.

A Life Between Faith and Literature:

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis
Lewis, age 48
Died
22 November 1963 (aged 64)
Oxford, England

Clive Staples Lewis became the most popular defender of orthodox Christianity in the English-speaking world in the mid-twentieth century. Born in Belfast in 1898, he was brought up an Anglican and educated at Malvern College. As a young man, C. S. Lewis had served in the trenches of World War One and, by the time he went up to Oxford in 1917, he had become an atheist. After a long intellectual battle, he became a Christian in 1931. Gifted with an extraordinary intellect and a reasoning mind, his conversion triggered off a rich variety of creativity. His international best-seller, The Screwtape Letters (1942) won him the reputation of being able to ‘make righteousness readable’. He wrote many other works of theology and fantasy with theological dimensions, but remained a Professor of English Literature, first at Magdalen College, Oxford, until 1954, and then at Cambridge.

Magdalen College, Oxford

Over the years he also wrote many works of literary criticism, the best known being The Allegory of Love. Lewis achieved further fame as a preacher, debater, and a brilliantly effective ‘apostle to the sceptics’. Believing, as he said, that all that is not eternal is eternally out of date, he was completely orthodox and therefore admired by Christians from all branches of the church.

A jovial and ‘saintly’ man, he was a prolific author and could have amassed a fortune, but following his conversion he gave away most of his earnings to charities. His autobiography, Surprised by Joy, traces the story of his conversion.

In 1940, when the bombing of Britain began, he took up duties as an air raid warden. He also began giving talks to men in the Royal Air Force, who knew that after just thirteen bombing missions, most of them would be declared dead or missing. Their situation prompted Lewis to speak about the problems of suffering, pain and evil, work that resulted in him being asked by the BBC to give a series of wartime broadcasts on the Christian faith. By 1940, Lewis, known as ‘Jack’ to family and friends, was already an established writer of serious books on literature and religion but, as a bachelor who did not know many children, he had never thought of writing a book for young readers. The nature of the Second World War changed that, because it was ordinary citizens, including children, who suffered most, as their small island home was bombarded by four hundred planes a night in the infamous “Blitz” that changed the face of war, turning civilians and their cities into the front lines.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 005-2.jpg

Delivered over the air from 1942 to 1944, his speeches were gathered into the book Mere Christianity (1944, 1952; 2016 issue cover picture above) in which he set out his straightforward view of his faith, as demonstrated in the following quotation, dealing with a popular view of Jesus:

I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

It was also during the Second World War, when children from London were being evacuated to the country, four youngsters were billeted at Jack’s home, The Kilns, near Oxford. Surprised to find how few imaginative stories his young guests knew, he decided to write one for them and scribbled down the opening sentences of a story about four children who were sent away from London because of the air raids and went to stay with an old professor in the country. That is all he wrote at the time, but several years later he returned to the story. The children (now named Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) found their way into another world, a world that he eventually named ‘Narnia’. More pictures came into his mind: ‘a queen on a sledge’ and ‘a magnificent lion’. For a long time, he did not know what these meant, nor what the story was about. As he put it later:

But then, suddenly Aslan came bounding in… I don’t know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together.

The Mountains of Mourne in Ireland inspired Lewis to write about the landscape in The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis wrote, “I have seen landscapes … which, under a particular light, make me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.”
Photo by Marksie531 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1088242

After that, all kinds of elements went into the making of Narnia. There was the intriguing question of the youngest evacuee as to what was behind the big old wardrobe of which stood in The Kilns. And there were his own childhood memories: how he and his brother, Warnie, used to climb into that very wardrobe, made by their grandfather, and tell each other stories in the dark. Some of Jack’s inspiration came from the books he had loved as a child: the talking animals in the tales of Beatrix Potter; the magical adventures that happened in the stories of E. Nesbit, such as The Railway Children (1906)the wicked queen from a Hans Andersen fairy tale; the dwarves from the old German myths; Irish folk tales, myths and legends, and mythological creatures from the legends of Ancient Greece. But these were just some of the ingredients for what Jack mixed into an entirely original confection of the oldest stories ever told, those of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament.

The stories in these seven books began as a series of pictures in the author’s head. When he was forty, he decided to try to make a story out of it. He once said, “People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.” In doing so, he wrote books that millions of others also wanted to read. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published in 1950 with illustrations by Pauline Baynes, a young artist who perfectly captured, in line drawings, the pictures that ‘Jack’ Lewis had imagined. It began with the image of a snowy wood with a little goat-footed faun scurrying along carrying an umbrella and a pile of parcels. He later recalled that this picture had been in his mind since he was about sixteen.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 004-5.jpg

Excellent as Lewis’s descriptions are, the books are so enhanced by the illustrations of Pauline Baynes that it would be a serious omission not to refer right from the start to her part in the success of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as the books became known eventually. The combination of stories and illustrations is one of the happiest in children’s literature, for recalling in 1978 her meetings with the author, she told a documentary film maker:

C. S. Lewis told me that he had actually gone into a bookshop and asked the assistant there if she could recommend someone who could draw children and animals. I don’t know if he was just being kind to me and making me feel that I was more important than I was or whether he’d simply heard about me from his friend Tolkien.

Lewis had indeed admired Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham (1949) and he wrote to Walter Hooper that he had ‘endless admiration’ for her illustrations to his Narnian books, particularly her drawings of his animal characters. Hooper wrote that of all those who had drawn anthropomorphic beasts and fantasy creatures, she was very near the top of the list. Walter Hooper was born in 1931 in North Carolina, and began corresponding with C. S. Lewis in 1954, while serving in the US Army. After ending his service, he read theology and then lectured on Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Kentucky. He was later to become Lewis’s secretary (see below) and Trustee of his estate.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 001-4.jpg

 

The seventh and last book for children in C. S. Lewis’ Tales of Narnia is The Last Battle, first published in 1956. This was just a year after the ‘first’ book, The Magician’s Nephew was published in 1955, though actually the sixth book Lewis wrote. It told of how the journeying between the two parallel worlds, ours and Narnia, began, as well as explaining various mysteries, such as how the wardrobe came to be a door into Narnia, and why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood. This final book, The Last Battle, as the cover of its 1961 reprint (above) shows, won the Carnegie Award for the best children’s book of 1956, the highest mark of excellence in children’s literature.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 002-3.jpg

Seeking Joy Within – ‘Hwyl’ & ‘Hiraeth’:

In Lewis’ autobiography (1955), Surprised by Joy, we get the impession of two lives, the ‘outer’ and the ‘inner’, the life of the intellect and the life of the imagination – being lived over against each other, albeit at the same time. The ‘outer’ life is chiefly concerned with those things that he spoke and wrote about openly: namely the ‘Animal-Land’ of his childhood which gradually metamorphosed into ‘Narnia’. Yet grown-up matters, which were all-in-all to Lewis when he wrote about Animal-Land, find no mention whatsoever in The Chronicles of Narnia. The ‘inner’ life – and this is what Surprised by Joy is mainly about – essentially the story of Joy (i.e., intense longing) working on his imagination. Narnia would never have come into existence had Lewis not come to understanding the meaning and purpose of deep-felt ‘Joy’, what, in my understanding, the Welsh refer to as ‘hwyl’, though, in many ways, in Lewis’ definition, it is closer to the Welsh word ‘hiraeth’ which is used for a sense of heart-felt longing, akin to homesickness. These ancient ‘Cymric’ words have no one-word equivalent in modern English which captures the intensity of the feelings they express.

In his autobiography Lewis defines Joy by first recording three experiences from his early childhood. While standing by a flowering currant bush on a summer day there arose in him the memory of a yet earlier morning in which his brother had brought into the nursery a toy garden. This memory within a memory caused a sensation of desire to break over him. Before he could know what he desired, the desire itself was gone and he was left with a ‘longing for the longing that had just ceased’. His second ‘glimpse of Joy’ came through Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. This little book troubled him with the ‘Idea of Autumn’, and he was plunged once more into the experience of intense desire. The third came to him while reading Longfellow’s poem Tegner’s Drapa. When he read,

I heard a voice that cried,

Balder the beautiful

Is dead, is dead …

… his mind was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky. At the very moment he was stabbed by desire, he left himself falling out of that desire and wishing he were back in it. Lewis tells us that Joy, the quality common to these three experiences, is an unsatisfied longing which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. It was when he went to boarding school in Malvern, Worcestershire, that his eyes fell on one of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, that his sense of joyful longing returned. In an instant, he was plunged back into the past of Balder and sunward sailing cranes, and felt the old inconsolable longing. The memory of his own past Joy and the ‘Twilight of the Gods’ flowed together, he said, into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which … had eluded me at the vey moment when I could first say “It is”.

The young Lewis made many mistakes in his pursuit of Joy. As the old thrill became less and less frequent, he attempted most desperately to ‘have it again’. He turned from one medium of Joy to another, hoping always to find permanent satisfaction. He shifted to erotic pleasure, only to find that Joy is not a substitute for sex, sex is very often a substitute for Joy. Lewis lost his virginity while at Malvern, but it was ‘potent, ubiquitous and unabashed’ eroticism of William Moris’s romances which chiefly persuaded him that sex might be the substance of Joy. When he went up to Oxford after serving in the trenches during World War One, Lewis was determined that there were to be no flirtations with the idea of the supernatural. All the images he associated with Joy were, he concluded, sheer fantasies. He had at last ‘seen through’ them, and the important thing was to get ahead with the ‘good life’ without Christian ‘mythology’.

It is therefore surprising how, one by one, all Lewis’s reservations about the Christian faith were swept away, as described in Surprised by Joy. After long searching and with much reluctance, he was brought to his knees in the summer of 1929 and forced to admit that God was God. As Walter Hooper remarked, He who is the Joy of all men’s desiring came upon him and compelled him by divine mercy to surrender a long-besieged fortress. His surrender, however, was in becoming a Theist. The ‘second stage’ of his conversion came two years later while riding to Whipsnade Zoo in his brother’s motorcycle sidecar. When they left Oxford, he did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God; when they reached the zoo, he did. After that, the old ‘bittersweet stabs of Joy’ continued as before. But now he knew to what, or rather to whom they pointed.

Fairy Tales for Children & Adults – Faith & Heaven:

Ernest H. Shepherd’s 1959 colour illustration for Kenneth Grahame’s (1908) book, The Wind in the Willows. London: Methuen. Chapter II: The Open Road: ‘Sitting by the side of the cart Toad talked about all he was going to do.’

There was, however, a good stretch of time between his conversion on the way to Whipsnade and his writing of the Tales of Narnia. Throughout this time, Lewis remained open to those physical similarities that men and beasts have in common. This is why he felt that Kenneth Grahame, in The Wind in the Willows, made exactly the right choice in giving his principal character the form of a toad. The toad’s face, with its fixed ‘grin’, bears such a striking resemblance to a certain type of human face that no other animal would have suited the part so well. Lewis saw these physical similarities as extending still further: some animals can be most interestingly used in pictures and literature as representing the actual archetypes of some human and animal characteristics. He had an uncanny eye for their specific traits, as exemplified in his poem Impenitence:

… cool primness of cats, or coney’s

Half indignant stare of amazement, mouse’s

Twinkling adroitness,

Tipsy bear’s rotundity, toad’s complacence …

… cry out to be used as symbols,

Masks for Man, cartoons, parodies by Nature

Formed to reveal us.

There is no credit for this illustration showing a scene from The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’.

In his 1980 Fount paperback, Past Watchful Dragons: A Guide to the Chronicles of Narnia, Walter Hooper argued that there was also an important connection between Lewis’s personal experience of intense longing and the Narnian Chronicles. Surprised by Joy is the story of how this longing led to Lewis’s conversion. But one of his reasons for writing the book was that he felt it to be a common experience, easily misunderstood, difficult to bring to the forefront of consciousness, and of immense importance. The Pilgrim’s Regress, which is partly autobiographical, is the story of Pilgrim’s quest for a far-off island, the vision of which has stung him with ‘sweet desire’. When Lewis realised that the word Romanticism in the subtitle was misunderstood, he wrote a preface to the third edition (1943) explaining the meaning he gave the word. For him, it meant ‘Joy’, the same Joy, or longing, that we can feel for our own far-off country, as in the Cymric hiraeth: ‘the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell’, as he wrote in the Weights of Glory in 1965. A longing which, although painful, is felt somehow to be a delight. A hunger more satisfying than fullness; a poverty better than any wealth. A desire which is itself the object of desire, so much so that the new desiring becomes an instance of the original one. We feel we know what the object of our desire is, but in the final achievement of that desire, we know that the real object of our desire is somewhere else entirely …

eluding us like the cuckoo’s voice or the rainbow’s end. “All I want”, someone will say, is a university degree, or a happy marriage, or a steady job … But when he is married or settled into the right job, or gets whatever it was he wants, it proves itself to be a cheat. It is not enough. It is not what he is actually looking for.

Lewis reasoned that if we find in ourselves a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for a different world. A happy marriage or a successful career was never intended to satisfy our desire for the far-off country; more likely they were meant to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. The far-off country is of course Heaven and nothing other than God can be our ultimate bliss. There is a connection between our between our longing for Heaven and fairy tales such as those Lewis wrote, although almost every aspect of modern life fixes our minds on this world, and to bring up the subjects of Heaven and fairy tales in some quarters was to be howled down as nostalgic, romantic, sentimental, or adolescent. Many literary critics, writing in the 1950s and early 1960s, equated ‘fantastic’ literature with ‘escapism’ and wishful thinking.

Lewis said that ‘marvellous’ literature evoked his desire for Heaven; at the same time, he believed that there is no literature less likely to give a person a false impression of the world than are fairy tales. His thoughts on the subject are clearly revealed in his essay, ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children’. In it he first of all draws our attention to a fundamental point made by his friend J. R. R. Tolkien that fairy tales were not originally written for children but gravitated to the nursery when they became unfashionable in literary circles. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, for example, was written and published as a two-volume satirical work in 1726 and was only re-published by J. M. Dent in a collection of Tales for Children from Many lands, edited by F. C. Tilney, in circa 1910, illustrated in colour by Arthur Rackham. Tilney wrote that, in preparing the first edition for children,

… one should think of that immortal work more as a fairy tale than as a contribution to literature of the ‘Utopia’ order; for it is a great punishment to the youthful mind to have its breathless rapture stayed whilst the understanding labours over arid tracts of social and political import never intended for it.

Some children and some adults like fairy stories, some do not. So-called ‘realistic’ stories, Lewis maintained, are far more likely to deceive than are fairy tales, because, though the adventures and successes in them are possible, they are almost infinitely improbable. While it is possible to become a duke with a palace or a millionaire with a yacht, it is improbable that this will happen to all but a very few of us. On the other hand, no one expects the real world to be like that of the fairy tales. The longing for fairyland is a different sort of longing, for it cannot be supposed that the boy who longs for fairyland really longs for the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale. Lewis wrote further on this theme in his essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

It would be much truer to say that fairyland arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension in depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing.

Many professional educators of the 1950s and ‘60s claimed that the Narnian battles and wicked characters frightened children and gave them nightmares. While Lewis agreed with them that nothing should be done likely to give the child those haunting, disabling pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless, he was strongly opposed to the notion that we must keep out of the child’s mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. In this matter, he declared himself to be on the side of ‘the human race’ against ‘the modern reformer’:

Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.

In 1963, Walter Hooper travelled to Oxford simply to have afternoon tea with C. S. Lewis, and within a week the Professor asked him to become his companion-secretary, a post he fulfilled for the remaining months of the Professor’s life, also becoming for him ‘the son I should have had’. Besides being joint author of a biography of Lewis, he edited ten volumes of Lewis’s works, and also continued to deal with a lot of the Professor’s ‘fan-mail’, much of it from children. Hooper claimed that while he had met some adults who consider Lewis’s fairy tales too violent for children, he had never met a child who did not love the Narnian tales intensely. During his lifetime Lewis received thousands of letters from children and, seventeen years after his death, it was still Hooper’s responsibility to answer these letters which children from all over the world continued to address to the author.

It would perhaps, have been an intelligent guess to assume that Lewis began with the things he wanted to say about Christianity and other interests and then fixed on the fairy tale as a way of saying them. But that is not what happened. Lewis said he could not and would not write in that way; that he never actually ‘made’ a story. It all began with seeing ‘pictures’; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. It was, he remembered, more like ‘bird-watching’ than talking or building. Sometimes a whole set of images would join themselves together, but it was necessary to do some ‘deliberate inventing’, contriving reasons as to why characters should in various places be doing various things.

‘As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard the pitter patter of feet coming towards her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post.’
Chapter One, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Biblical,Theological and Literary Parallels:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 012-1.jpg

These books also represent his most delightful approach to the Word of God, and are probably his most loved works, even for those adults who have also read some of his other literary and theological works. Lewis believed that there are three elements in all developed religions, and in Christianity one more. The first is the experience of the Numinous. If you were made aware of a mighty spirit in the room with you, you would feel a sense of wonder and a sense of inadequacy at one and the same time. The shrinking feeling which the numinous object excites in you is awe. A good biblical example of this is Jacob’s vision of a ladder reaching from earth to Heaven upon which ascend and descend the angels of God:

On this journey, Jacob lay down to sleep with his head on a stone and had a vivid dream. He saw a vision of a gigantic stairway, with its bottom on earth and its top reaching all the way up and down it. Angels were climbing up and down it. At the top was God. He spoke to Jacob and promised, “I will give this land to you and your many descendants.”

Genesis 28.

When Jacob awoke, he felt amazed that God had spoken to him and exclaimed ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How dreadful is this place!’ (Genesis 28: 16f).

The second element in religion is the consciousness of a moral law, and the third appears when we realise that the numinous power is the guardian of the morality to which we feel an obligation. The fourth is unique to Christianity: the historical event through which we recognise that the incarnate Son of God is the ‘awful haunter of nature and the giver of the moral law’. In each of the Narnian stories, all these elements are vested in the person of the great, golden Lion of Narnia, but it is the Numinous, the dreadful presence, that a first strikes us so directly. When, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children first hear the name of Aslan, something jumps in their insides. When they see him, they know that they are face to face with one who is both great and terrible. The sight of his great royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes causes them to go ‘all trembly’ (chapter twelve). He is a figure of immense power and beauty.  When, after his ‘resurrection’,

‘he opened his mouth to roar, his face became so terrible that they did not dare look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bent before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.’

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter fifteen.

Walter Hooper commented that:

There is never any doubt in anyone’s mind that Aslan is the Lord of that world. Even his enemies believe this (‘the devils also believe, and tremble’, James 2: 19). If I had not read the Narnian Chronicles, I could not have believed an author could concentrate so much good into one being – none of the soulful, over-nice qualities we sometimes find in people we feel we ought to like but cannot. Here, in this magnificent Lion is absolute, thrilling goodness beyond anything we could imagine. Qualities we think of as opposites meet in him and blend.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 001-8.jpg
From Chapter Nine of ‘The Magician’s Nephew’: ‘The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lifting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, ripping music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave.

Nowhere in the Narnian books is the large, embracing love of Aslan for every creature in all worlds so poignantly felt as when Digory, in chapter twelve of The Magician’s Nephew, is anxious to draw the Lion’s attention to the fact that his mother lies dying and blurts out:

‘But please, please – won’t you, can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at his face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears shone in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 004-3.jpg

‘My son, my son’, said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.’

But later, when he has given up all hope of a magical cure, Aslan sends Digory into a dream, and allows by him to pluck an apple from a tree, the ‘Apple of Youth’ and to take it home to his mother to eat and miraculously recover.

      

There are others whom Aslan is unable to help. In The Last Battle, there are the Dwarfs who are so determined not to be taken in that they stop their ears and close their eyes against anything that can do them good. When, for instance, a glorious feast is spread before them, pictured above, they see and taste only such fare as they would expect to find in a stable. ‘The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs’, they constantly reiterate to their spurious comfort and their eternal undoing. Aslan says of them,

“They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is there only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

The Last Battle, chapter thirteen.

And when, again in The Magician’s Nephew, the self-imposed blindness of Uncle Andrew, the ‘magician’, erects a barrier between himself and the comfort that Aslan longs to give him, the Lion says,

“Oh, Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!”

The Magician’s Nephew, chapter fourteen.

This is reminiscent of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, reported by Matthew (23: 37). But Lewis maintained that at first there was nothing specifically Christian about the pictures he was seeing in his mind, but that that element, as with Aslan, pushed its way in of its own accord. In another of his essays in Of Other Worlds; Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said, touching directly on the Narnian stories, Lewis wrote that he chose the fairy tale as the form for his stories because of its brevity, its severe restraints upon description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and ‘gas’.

“Do not fly too high,” said Aslan. “Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places, and fly through them. There will always be a way through. And now be gone with my blessing.” “Oh, Fledge!” said Digory, leaning forward to pat the Horse’s glossy neck. “This is fun. Hold on to me tight, Polly.” The Magicians Nephew, chapter twelve.

It was a form he had long been in love with, and when the time came, he felt he would burst if he did not write one. Choosing the form, he said, was allowing the author in him to have its say. But then the man in him began to have his turn. He also saw how stories such as he had in mind could ‘steal past’ certain inhibitions that he had had in childhood. He believed that the reason we find it so hard to feel as we ought to about God and the sufferings of Christ is because an obligation to do so freezes feelings. He found that:

The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all of these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

So, yes, in reading the stories, we come to understand that Aslan represents Christ, but we do not want to spoil Lewis’ attempt to get past those ‘watchful dragons’ by explaining who Aslan is in advance. An ‘explanation’ on our part is, says Hooper, unwise, as it would be likely to frustrate Lewis’ purpose and blunt the effectiveness of the books. It is often, precisely because many readers, both children and adults, do not know who Aslan is before they start reading that the Narnian tales have been so effective in ‘getting into the bloodstream of the secular world.’ The stories were not written to be deciphered, but to give pleasure as an unconscious preparation of the imagination. Hooper argues that if the fairy tales succeed in breaking down the partition of prejudices that prevent non-believers from even thinking about the Christian tenets, then our efforts will be very much in demand.

As Walter Hooper is at pains to point out, we will not find an exact, geometrically perfect equivalent of Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, and Ascension in the Narnian stories. We are not meant to. This is why we should not press the analogies too closely or expect to find in the tales the same logic we find in the Christian story. For example, Lewis uses the term ‘incarnate’ rather loosely here, for Aslan is never incarnate as Lion in the same way that Christ was Man. Quite apart from the biblical parallels with ‘the Lion of Judah’ (Genesis 49: 9), Narnia is after all predominantly a world of animals, and the Lion, the traditional King of Beasts, seems the most natural and appropriate choice for Lewis to have made for his ‘hero’. Nevertheless, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we see the Lion undergoing something genuinely like the passion of Christ:

But how slowly he walked! And his great, royal head drooped so that his nose nearly touched the grass. Presently he stumbled and gave a low moan.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 14.
“Stop!” said the Witch. “Let him first be shaved.”

But the most reliable hints about the new, resurrected nature are found, not in this first told tale, but in the final chapter of The Last Battle, which will be discussed last below. For now, it is important to accept Lewis’ own advice on reading mythological literature. Writing about the medieval books of Malory’s Arthur and Chrestien’s Lancelot:

Within a given story, an object, person, or place is neither more nor less nor other than what that story effectively shows it to be. The ingredients of one story cannot ‘be’ anything in another story, for they are not in it at all.

Even those most integrally involved in the Chronicles did not immediately make the connections between the Gospel stories and the Narnian tales. Pauline Baynes told Hooper that, while she was deeply moved by the story of the self-sacrifice made by Aslan, it was only after she had finished illustrating The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that it broke on her who he was meant to ‘represent’. Even those likenesses which seem to bear the closest resemblance to historical events in this world can be so similar without being the same. These similarities did not need a mature theological analysis for their perception; indeed, children, whom Lewis regarded as the most aware of his readers, were the first to respond to the ultimate likeness. Lewis replied to one little girl:

All your points are in a sense right. But I’m not exactly ‘representing the real (Christian) story in symbols. I’m more saying, ‘suppose there were a world like Narnia, and it needed restoring and the Son of God (or the Great Emperor-Over-Sea) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?’

Lewis then set out in his letter seven points of similarity which were also ‘the same thing as you thought but not quite’. For example, ‘the Ape and Puzzle, just before the Last Judgement (in the Last Battle) are like the coming of Antichrist’. But Hooper argues that such parallels, variously transfigured as they are in Narnia, are not what the books are about. It is not the identifiably biblical elements which make us think of the Narnian stories as Christian. Almost every page of every book is suffused throughout by with moral substance of a quality which no-one, whatever their confessional beliefs, could object to. The tales are not based around premeditated moral themes, however, but these themes grew out of the telling and are as much a part of the narrative as scent is to a flower.

The Chronology of Narnia:                         

Lewis had not drawn out a scheme for the whole Narnian series before writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, although he wrote ‘An Outline of Narnian history so far as it is known’ after all the books had been written. He gave the Outline to Walter Hooper, who re-produced and published it as it appears below. All told, there are 2,555 Narnian years between its Creation and its End: only fifty-two Earthly years pass during those Narnian ones, however. Lewis had long entertained the thought that other worlds might measure qualities in different ways. The ‘thickness’ of Narnian time not only provided the children with more interesting and varied adventures than they might otherwise have had, but Lewis seems to have found in it a means of demonstrating a great truth. That is that, as we do not know what stage of the world we are living in at any given moment or period, we cannot possibly understand the meaning of the whole of history until it is over. To use Lewis’s favourite analogy:

We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who are the minor characters. The Author knows.

In examining the table below, however, we need to remember that while Lewis had entertained various notions of time before writing any of the Chronicles, he had not worked out anything like a ‘scheme’ of Narnia/ Earth equivalence. Having finished all the books in the sequence, he then devised the following chronology, then passing it to Walter Hooper, who added his personal comments about why Lewis decided to leave the Tales as they are today:

Because there was no definite scheme from the beginning, there are a few inconsistencies in the stories. Initially, most children, and adults, read them in the order they could buy them in the bookshops, as they were published. Now, it is probably better to read them in their proper chronological sequence, although experience suggests that, with the possible exception of The Last Battle, they can be enjoyed in any order. The correct order, as Lewis asked Hooper to copy it down was: The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. All were published between 1950 and 1956. However, on the back of another book Lewis was writing in 1939 or 1940, Walter Hooper later found what he believed to be the germinal passage of what ten years later became his first story:

This book is about four children whose names were Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter. But it is mostly about Peter who was the youngest. They all had to go away from London suddenly because of the Air Raids, and because Father, who was in the army, had gone off to the war and Mother was doing some kind of war work. They were sent to stay with a very old Professor who lived by himself in the country.

Ross Wilson’s statue of Professor Kirke (Digory) in front of the wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in East Belfast
By “Genvessel” – https://www.flickr.com/photos/genvessel/149269475/in/set-72057594139281324/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=826864

This ‘beginning’ of this story has been seen as something of a ‘mirror image’ of how Lewis himself had entertained four real schoolgirl evacuees soon after the outbreak of war. However, if his characters were based on particular real personalities, these could have been drawn from any combination of the dozen evacuees that stayed with him during the first year of the war, especially given the balance between boys and girls among his characters. It is unclear how much of the story Lewis wrote down over the next decade, but these characters had evolved by 1950 into Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, with Peter becoming the eldest sibling. The youngest, Lucy, hides in the wardrobe in the spare room and discovers it to be an entrance into the world of Narnia. She meets a faun there, Mr Tumnus, from whom she learns that Narnia is ruled by the White Witch, who has cast the country into perpetual winter. …                      

And so Lucy found herself walking through the wood arm in arm with this strange creature as if they had known one another all their lives.’
Chapter Two, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

While we know that Lewis wavered occasionally in ordering some of the events in the first six Chronicles of Narnia, and that he had to do a little ’deliberate inventing’ here and there, no one can say that that he gave no inklings of the ’twist’ he was to put in The Last Battle.

A Doorway to Heaven and a Re-birth of Images:

By the time C. S. Lewis became a Christian he had already come a long way towards seeing that ‘Joy’, the deepest of longings of all men is, at the bottom, a desire for Heaven. In this context, from the last book that C. S. Lewis was to write, Letters to Malcolm, the final paragraphs have become possibly the most famous he was ever to pen:

I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity, I do think that while we are in this ’valley of tears’, cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial  condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.

For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order – with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate and beautiful order?  How can you find any image of this in in the ’serious’ activities  either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? – either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some ways, a ’via crucis’…

… It is only in our ‘hours-off’, only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. … But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.

In the first six stories of Narnia, hint after hint is thrown out in all the other stories that no-one may ‘camp’ indefinitely in Narnia, just as no-one may live for ever in this world. But it would not be fair to suggest that anything remotely like despair is what Lewis was after. Every hint of impending separation frpom the old Narnia is underpinned by persistent intimations of how great a loss it would be to lose the royal and all-loving Aslan, how complete would be our happiness to enjoy him for ever. The English children in the tales are, from a Narnian point of view, ‘Gentiles’ from an unknown world who become Narnians by adoption. There are, however, native Narnians, who, when they see the Lion for the first time, feel a natural and spontaneous devotion to the person of the divine Aslan. Aslan, the “magnificent lion”, plays an important role in every story: in The Magician’s Nephew (1955), he gives life to Narnia in a ‘Genesis’ saga; in the final volume of what is now known as “The Chronicles of Narnia”, The Last Battle (1956)Aslan concludes the story by leading its faithful friends into a new world.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 003-4.jpg
… the whole thing was rather like a theatre. The crowd of Narnians were like the people in the seats; the little grassy place just in front of the stable, where the bonfire burned and the Ape and the Captain stood to talk to the crowd, was like the stage; the stable itself was like the scenery at the back of the stage; and Tirian and his friends were like people peering round from behind the scenery. … Rishda Tarkaan dragged the Ape up close to the fire. … “Now monkey” said Rishda Tarkaan in a low voice. “Say the words that wiser heads have put in your mouth.” “Do leave me alone,” muttered Shift. But he sat up straighter and began, in a louder voice – “At this very moment, when the Terrible One himself is among us – there in the stable just behind me – one wicked Beast has … dressed itself up in a lion skin and is wandering about in these woods pretending to be Aslan.
(From chapter XI, The Great Meeting on Stable Hill).

But from here we must move on to the culmination of the triumphant theme of Joy as ‘the serious business of Heaven’. In the opinion of Walter Hooper, The Last Battle is the best written and ‘the most sublime’ of all the tales of Narnia, ‘the crowning glory of the whole Narnian creation’. Everything else in all the other six stories finds its ultimate meaning in relation to this seventh and final book. It must be read last of all, because, as Lewis would say, you have to understand the ‘play’ by seeing it through to its end. In it, Lewis takes us to the end of Narnia, and beyond. The story recounts the end of Narnia, many centuries after Aslan was last seen moving visibly through the world. Shift the Ape dresses the simple ass, Puzzle, in the skin of a lion and deceives the Talking Beasts and the dwarfs into thinking that it is Aslan himself. Lewis’s didactic purpose ought to be clear to those who are conversant with orthodox Christianity. He uses his own invented world to illustrate what the Church has been teaching since its beginning, but which is becoming more and more neglected or forgotten. Namely, that this world will come to an end; it was never meant to be our real home – that lies elsewhere; we do not know, nor can we, when the end will come, but we know that it will come from without, not from within. Most of the events in The Last Battle are based on the apocalyptic prophecies recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. The treachery of Shift the Ape is clearly suggested in the words of Jesus:

“If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”

Matthew 24: 23f
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 007-2.jpg

By that deception the Calormenes who worship the devil Tash are enabled to overrun the country. Tirian, the last king of Narnia, prays to Aslan for help and is rescued from the Calormenes by Eustace and Jill, who have been mysteriously pulled into Narnia from a moving train. They then steal Puzzle from the stable. At this point, the story also becomes painful to read because we begin to sense that almost everything we have come to love in the all the old, familiar Narnia, is about to be taken from us. Our sense of loss is made more excruciating because we are allowed, even encouraged, to believe that things will eventually get back to ‘normal’. We feel certain that the King, at least, will not be deceived by Shift the Ape’s trickery: but he is. When Eustace and Jill arrive, we feel reassured that that it will only be a matter of time until all is put right. Yet, despite their willingness to help, there is so little they can do without Aslan. Shift the Ape almost succeeds in deceiving even the most faithful followers of Aslan, first through trickery and, later, through the deliberate confusion of Aslan with the devil Tash as ‘Tashlan’. As the ape is a parody of a man, so his ‘new theology’ is a parody of the truth. We are prepared for ordinary wickedness in an adventure story, but we are now moved into a new and dreadful dimension where ordinary courage seems helpless in the face of sheer evil. Nevertheless, our hearts warm as Jewel the Unicorn recounts the centuries of past happiness in which every week and day in Narnia had seemed better than the last:

As he went on, the picture of all those happy years, all the thousands of them, piled up in Jill’s mind till it was rather like looking down from a high hill on to a rich, lovely plain full of woods and waters and corn-fields, which spread away and away till it got thin and misty from distance. And she said:

“Oh, I do hope we can soon settle the Ape and get back to those good, ordinary times. And then I hope they’ll go on for ever and ever and ever. Our world is going to have an end someday. Perhaps this one won’t. Oh Jewel – wouldn’t it be lovely if Narnia just went on and on – like what you said it has been?”

“Nay, sister,” answered Jewel, “all worlds draw to an end; except Aslan’s own country.”

“Well, at least” said Jill, “I hope the end of this one is millions of millions of millions of years away.”

The Last Battle, chapter eight.

But moments later the party came to a sudden halt. …

The King and Eustace and the Dwarf were all staring up at the sky. Jill shuddered, remembering what horrors they had seen already. … “I dare say,” said the Unicorn, “from its flight, that it is a talking bird.”… If one had known what was to happen next it would have been a great treat to watch the grace and ease with which the huge bird glided down. He alighted on a rocky crag a few feet from Tirian, bowed his crested head and said in his strange eagle’s-voice, “Hail King … when you have heard my news you will be sorrier of my coming than of the greatest woe that ever befell you.”

Farsight the Eagle (above) brings word that Cair Paravel, the high seat of all the Kings of Narnia, has been captured by the Calormenes. And, as he lay dying, Roonwit the Centaur asked the King to remember that,

‘… all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no-one is too poor to buy.’

Last Battle, chapter eight.

From this point onwards, Lewis lets go the full power of his imagination, and we are carried relentlessly forward into what is truly the last battle for Narnia, in front of the stable.

Tirian and the remnant of the faithful Narnians are either slain in the Last Battle or make their way to the stable, which seems much bigger on the inside than the battlefield they have come from. Drawing out this brilliant piece of symbolism, Lewis has Jill say in a moment of selfless appreciation:

In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Last Battle, chapter thirteen

Numbered among the blessed in the eternal Narnia is Emeth the Calormene, whom Aslan has redeemed. Lewis had already justified this departure from his stereotyping of the Calormenes as the forces of evil by asking, in his 1952 edition of Mere Christianity:  

Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in him? But the truth is God has not told us what his arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know him can be saved through him.

Emeth sought Aslan with all heart even when circumstances make it all but impossible to find him. And though he did not know Aslan until he went through the Stable door, it is Aslan, nevertheless, who becomes his Saviour there. The beautiful telling of Emeth’s meeting with Aslan echoes many Gospel utterances, especially…

“… and other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

John 10: 16.

Lewis goes on to describe how the Stable is transformed into a magical door which appears in front of Peter, Tirian and the ‘children’, the reunited kings and queens:

Tirian looked and saw the queerest and most ridiculous thing you can imagine. Only a few yards away, clear to be seen in the sunlight, there stood up a rough wooden door, and round it, the framework of the doorway: nothing else, no doorway, no roof. He walked towards it, and the others followed, watching to see what he would do. He walked round to the other side of the door. But it looked just the same from the other side: he was still in the open air, on a summer morning. The door was simply standing up by itself as if it had grown there like a tree. …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 003-3.jpg

Tirian put his eye to the hole. At first, he could see nothing but blackness. Then, as his eyes grew used to it, he saw the dull red glow of a bonfire that was nearly going out and, above that, in a black sky, stars. …

The Calormenes discover in that same stable the odious Tash (in whom they have lost faith) who carries off the Calormene leader and Shift the Ape.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 009-1.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 001-5.jpg

He looked around again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was the blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and all his new friends around him, laughing …The sweet air grew suddenly sweeter. A brightness flashed behind them. All turned. Tirian turned last because he was afraid. There stood his heart’s desire, huge and real, the golden Lion, Aslan himself, and already the others were kneeling in a circle round his forepaws and burying their hands and faces in his mane as he stooped his great head to touch them with his tongue. Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion’s feet and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour.” …

He went to the Door, and they all followed him. He raised his head and roared, “Now it is time!” then louder “Time!”; then so loud that it could have shaken the stars, “TIME.” The Door flew open.

Aslan then passes through to the door to his kingdom. As all the kings and queens of Narnia stand beside Aslan at the door, on his right, they see through the open doorway another black shape, this time the shape of a man, the hugest of all giants. He is standing on the high moorlands to the North. Jill and Eustace remember how once, in the deep caves beneath those moors, they had seen this great giant asleep and had been told that his name was Father Time and that he would wake at the end of the world. He now raises a horn to his mouth and makes a sound ‘high and terrible, yet of a strange, deadly beauty.’ With this terrible beauty that makes the heart ache, we are told of how Aslan goes to the Stable door and holds his Last Judgement. Those who are worthy pass in, the others turn away into darkness. Inside the doorway, the children witness the beginning of the end of the world of Narnia, with the stars falling from the sky and the arrival at the doorway of all kinds of creatures, men and mythical beings, ‘by thousands and by millions’, all running towards where Aslan stood:

The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer to and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face; I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly – it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Beasts, the fear and hatred lasted only a for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to the right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which… streamed away to the left of the doorway. …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 004-2.jpg

But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right. There were some queer specimens among them. … Among the happy creatures who came crowding round Tirian, and his friends were all those whom they had thought were dead. There was Roonwit the Centaur and Jewel the Unicorn and the good Boar and the good Bear, and Farsight the Eagle, and the dear Dogs and Horses, and Poggin the Dwarf.

Farther in and higher up!

This dramatic re-telling of Jesus’ last parable of ‘The Sheep and the Goats’ serves as a prelude to the drowning of Narnia by a great ‘tidal wave’ or ‘tsunami’.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 004-3.jpg

“Farther in and higher up!” cried Roonwit and thundered away in a gallop to the West. And though they did not understand him, the words somehow set them tingling all over.

The water came swirling up to the very threshold of the Doorway (but never passed it) so that the foam splashed around Aslan’s forefeet:

Then Aslan said, “Now make an end.”

The giant threw his horn into the sea … Then he stretched out one arm… across the sky till his hand reached the Sun. He… squeezed it in his hand as you would squeeze an orange. And instantly there was total darkness.

Everyone except Aslan jumped back from the ice-cold air which now blew through the Doorway. Its edges were already covered with icicles.

“Peter, High King of Narnia,” said Aslan, “Shut the door”.

Peter, shivering with cold, leaned out into the darkness and pulled the Door to. It scraped over ice as he pulled it. Then, rather clumsily… he took out a golden key and locked it. They had seen strange things enough through that Doorway. But it was stranger than any of them to look round and find themselves in warm daylight, the blue sky above them, flowers at their feet, and laughter in Aslan’s eyes. He turned swiftly around, crouched lower, lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.

“Come farther in! Come farther up!” he shouted over his shoulder. But who could keep up with him at that pace? They set out walking westward to follow him.

As Night Falls on Narnia, the children and their friends are led into a land Farther Up and Farther In, where they must say Farewell to Shadowlands (the titles of the last three chapters). After this dazzling feat of the imagination, one might reasonably expect that Lewis could not help but let us down in ‘unwinding’ his story. He knew that the merest slip of the pen could have cast a shadow of incredulity over all that went before, and he proceeded very cautiously in opening the children’s eyes to where they are. The question was how to portray Heaven? How to make it heavenly? How to ‘unwind’ upwards? The answer lay in finding, and then trying to describe the differences between the earthly and the eternal worlds. In order to stride the pitfalls involved in this, it is necessary to avoid calling this an ‘allegory’. Lewis claimed that none of his Narnian stories were ‘allegories’ in the traditional sense of the term: by allegory he meant the use of something real and tangible to stand for something real but intangible. Anything immaterial can be allegorised and represented by physical objects, but Aslan, for example, is already a physical object. To try to represent what Christ would be like in Narnia is to turn one physical being into another, and that does not fall within Lewis’s definition of what constitutes an allegory. On the other hand, there is much in the tales, and especially in The Last Battle, which would fit Lewis’s own description of symbolism, that we are the ‘frigid personifications’; the heavens above us are the ‘shadowy abstractions’. He believed that Heaven is the real thing, of which earth is an imperfect copy.

Therefore, after some time, the children begin to recognise the landscapes around them as ‘Narnian’; that is, they recognise significant features of the world they have left behind them which they had watched being destroyed. Yet they appear curiously different, changed for the better.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 005-1.jpg

Suddenly Farsight the Eagle spread his wings, soared thirty or forty feet up into the air, circled round and then alighted on the ground.

“Kings and Queens,” he cried, “we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are. From up there I have seen it all – Ettinsmuir, Beaverdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Northern Sea. Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia.”

As they rejoice in this discovery, Lord Digory, whom we first meet as Professor Kirke in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, explains to them the difference between the two: the Narnia that was destroyed was not the ‘real Narnia’, but only a temporary shadow of the real Narnia which was always there and always would be there. All of the ‘old Narnia’ that mattered, including all the “dear creatures” had been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. Of course, this ‘new Narnia’ was as different “as a real thing is from its shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”

One especially important detail which can be easily overlooked, is the manner in which the children’s resurrected bodies differ from their earthly ones. They discover that they can scale waterfalls and run faster than an arrow flies. This is meant to be a parallel to the gospel accounts of Christ’s risen body: though still corporeal, He is able to move through locked doors (Jn. 20: 19) and ascend bodily into Heaven (Mark 16: 9). But whereas Christ had been the ‘first fruits’ of the Resurrection, all now share in this mighty and glorious immortality as prefigured by Paul when he wrote:

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

I Corinthians 15: 51f.

The children now went ‘farther up’ into ‘the Western Wild’, which they had never seen, but the Lord Digory and Lady Polly had journeyed there on the very day the world was made. They all ran faster and faster until they found themselves at the bottom of a smooth green hill. It sides were as steep as the sides of a pyramid and round the very top of it ran a green wall: above the wall rose the branches of trees whose leaves looked like silver and their fruit like gold’. Reaching the top, they found themselves facing great golden gates. A horn sounded from inside and out came a little, sleek, bright-eyed Talking Mouse with a red feather stuck in its left paw resting on a long sword. It was, as they all cried out “Reepicheep!”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 004-4.jpg

He urged them all to come inside the golden gates into the garden inside, which had a delicious smell and a ‘cool mixture of sunlight and shadow’ under the trees and a springy turf… dotted with white flowers. The very first thing that struck everyone about the garden was that it was far larger than it had seemed from the outside. There they met everyone else they had journeyed and sojourned with on the adventures in Narnia; Puddlegum the Marsh-wiggle (see the BBC photo below) and all the other heroes, and a host of friends from the first six books. Looking around the garden, and talking with her old friend Mr Tumnus, the Faun, Lucy realised that the garden was not really a garden but another whole world, with its own rivers and woods and seas and mountains, which she already knew. She observed that:

“This is still Narnia, and, more real and more beautiful than the one below. … I see … world within world, Narnia within Narnia …”

The Last Battle, chapter sixteen.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 001-6.jpg

The children are shown that ‘no good thing is destroyed’ and that all the countries that were worth saving have become parts of the whole – ‘spurs jutting out from the great mountains of Aslan’. Uneasy, however, that their Joy may yet be snatched away from them and that they may be sent back to earth, they turn to Aslan who answers the question in their minds:

“Have you not guessed? The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as he spoke, he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. 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 title of the page; now at last they were beginning 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.

The Last Battle, chapter 16

Returning to the Shadowlands – A Tailpiece:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 001-7.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 002-5.jpg

Brian Sibley’s 1985 book, Through the Shadowlands, was given the prestigious Gold Medallion Book Award. It was later re-published as The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. He was also a distinguished broadcaster and authority on the Narnia Tales, serialising them for BBC radio, and was asked to be a consultant to the BBC Film of his book, the screenplay Shadowlands having been written by William Nicholson in 1985. It was aired on British television and starred Joss Acland and Claire Bloom. It was also staged as a theatre play with Nigel Hawthorne in 1989. It was then made into the phenomenally successful 1993 feature film of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger (pictued above and below). Live-action film adaptations have been made of three of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

The Cover of the BBC DVD of the TV series of The Siver Chair, starring Tom Baker as the Marsh-wiggle, Puddlegum, together with Jill and Eustace, the child characters who also feature prominently in ‘The Last Battle’.

These followed on from an earlier BBC television series broadcast in the 1990s, which brought four of the books to the small screen, ending with The Silver Chair in 1996 (above). In 1998, for the centenary of Lewis’s birth, Brian Sibley also wrote a special introduction for the book, The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, a compendium of all seven stories, with original drawings by Pauline Baynes coloured by the artist herself, as shown in the text above. Her work on the Chronicles, therefore, had spanned five decades.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 002-4.jpg

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

Walter Hooper (1980), Past Watchful Dragons: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. London: Fount Paperbacks (Collins).

Tim Dowley (ed.) (1977), The History of Christianity. Berkhamsted: Lion Publishing.

Martin Manser (2000), Bible Stories. Bath: Parragon

C. S. Lewis (1956, 1961), The Last Battle: A Story for Children. London: The Bodley Head.

C. S. Lewis (1998), The Chronicles of Narnia. London: Harper Collins.

C. S. Lewis (1944, 1952), Mere Christianity. London: William Collins (HarperCollins).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: