It’s hard to imagine that most writers want their career-defining work to be a series of children’s books, but C.S. Lewis’s staple children’s book is more than good bedtime material. It’s the most clever Christian allegory since Pilgrim’s Progress.
It is important to note that not every piece of this allegory is necessarily intentional. Lewis himself said once that people had drawn such clever and intricate symbolism from his books that he wished he’d have thought of it himself. But what is undeniable is that there are themes of godly love, temptation, sacrifice, and redemption so simply expressed that adults and children alike can appreciate them.
The story itself is simple enough. Four children stumble through a wardrobe which is actually a portal to another world, Narnia. Narnia is under the terrible reign of an evil witch who makes the entire country a wintery wasteland, while the good people (talking animals, that is) of Narnia await their rightful lion king to come back and deliver them.
Sounding familiar about now, isn’t it?
And from there, the Biblical themes come in droves. Edmund is enticed by the witch’s Turkish Delight and believes the witch to be misunderstood, which quickly ensnares him in the worst kind of slavery imaginable. Aslan, the rightful king coming back, is the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-sea, and sacrifices himself to release Edmund from the witch’s grasp. The witch’s demise is told of by a prophecy which the appearance of Aslan seems to fulfill, and there are even direct references to Adam and Eve made throughout the story (humans are referred to as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve).
Even beyond the Christian allegories, it’s just a really cool story. The fantasy elements mainly consist of talking animals and occasional magic, but C.S. Lewis’s brilliant writing makes it as fresh as a story can be. His reminders that no sensible person completely closes a wardrobe are a perfect example of the sort of narration that makes this story come to life. He maintains a very conversational tone throughout the entire book, and you’re even tempted to wonder if the Professor, with his kind ways and unorthodox, quirky thinking, is indeed Lewis himself.
But by the end of the book you really get the sense that it’s not about the Professor, or even the Pevensie children; it’s about Aslan. Very early on the book draws a line of demarcation when the children first hear Aslan’s name. The name causes a very optimistic feeling in Peter, Susan, and Lucy, but a feeling more like trepidation in Edmund, obviously because he’s allowed himself to be seduced by the witch. That focus on Aslan continues, emphasizing the extent of his might, and telling us that even though Aslan is a savior, we shouldn’t view him as timid. In the words of Mr. Beaver, “Haven’t you been listening? Of course he isn’t safe!”
This is a very refreshing look on who is ultimately Jesus. We often look at Him as timid, always lowly and always calm. But Aslan isn’t always that way. He’s calm, yes, and he’s compassionate and merciful; but he also roars. He engages the witch in battle and frightens her away with his ferocity. And that’s not to say that he’s mean, either. He’s inclusive, a fact that another lion in the story revels in when he says “us lions” instead of making it clear that he’s in a completely different class (which everyone clearly knows and accepts).
This book is clever not just because Lewis is a great storyteller or that it’s allegorical, but because it presents to us what is perhaps the most balanced and accurate view of God we will get from a mere man writing a fiction book. Get it, read it, and then read it to your kids. If you don’t have kids, read it anyway. We can all benefit from seeing Jesus the way He ought to be seen.