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Matt Mikalatos

Why Did Aslan Have to Die? Theories of Atonement in Narnia

When I was a child, I had no idea what was coming when Susan and Lucy snuck out of their tents. Aslan seemed sad, and the girls wanted to see why. Aslan told them how lonely he was, and invited them to join him on his long walk—on the condition that they will leave when ordered. My first time reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan’s words filled me with a deep and unshakeable dread. Aslan seemed to feel the same thing, walking with his head so low to the ground that it was practically dragging. The girls put their hands in his mane and stroked his head, and tried to comfort him.

When they reached the Stone Table, every evil beast of Narnia was waiting, including Jadis herself, whose long winter had begun to thaw at last. To Susan and Lucy’s horror (and mine!), Aslan had agreed to be murdered—sacrificed—upon the Stone Table, so that their brother Edmund could live.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Neither Allegory Nor Lion: Aslan and the Chronicles of Narnia

A third of the way into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children come across two friendly beavers named, appropriately enough, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Mr. Beaver is the first person to mention the only character to appear in all seven Narnia books: Aslan the Lion. Aslan won’t appear until the final third of the book, but he’s clearly the most important person in it. As Mr. Beaver says, Aslan—not the children—is the one who will fix what’s wrong with Narnia.

Lewis said he was struggling to find Narnia’s direction until, “…suddenly Aslan came bounding into it.” Aslan is, in many ways, the beating heart at the center of the Narnia stories, the literal deus who shows up ex machina in more than one tale, and he provides at some times a sort of safety net, or an introduction to greater danger, or words of affirmation or rebuke, depending on what a character needs at the moment.

So where did the great Lion come from?

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Messy, Beautiful Worldbuilding of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

It all started, we’re told, with a picture of a faun, walking through a snowy wood and carrying some parcels and an umbrella. The image had come to C.S. Lewis when he was 16 years old, and many years later it became the seed of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—which, incidentally, celebrates its anniversary today, having been published on October 16, 1950.

It’s a strange scene, symbolic of the wonderful mythological hodgepodge that passes for Narnia’s worldbuilding. In most myths up until that point, fauns weren’t particularly child-friendly, known mostly as symbols of fertility or followers of the wise drunkard Silenus. We definitely wouldn’t expect them to be trotting along with an umbrella and parcels (we’re never told what’s in those parcels or where they came from). Mr. Tumnus (that’s the polite little faun’s name) also has a long tail which he drapes over his arm…an odd detail for someone who is half goat.

Lewis’s disregard for cohesive worldbuilding was cause for critique among a number of his friends. J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t appreciate the mythological jumble. Poet Ruth Pitter complained that if it’s always winter in Narnia, the Beaver family shouldn’t be able to grow potatoes or serve fresh marmalade rolls. In fact, Lewis burned an earlier draft of something similar to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because, “It was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it.”

[But he kept coming back to that civilized little faun…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Introducing the Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Once upon a time, two men named Jack and Tollers took a walk in the woods. They talked about literature and their love of speculative fiction…they both enjoyed the stories of H.G. Wells, though they were a bit too humanistic for Jack’s taste. They were both professors, and both published. Tollers had written A Middle English Vocabulary, a companion to Sisam’s Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. Jack had published a couple small books of poetry—which had not been particularly well received—as well as an allegorical spiritual tale called The Pilgrim’s Regress.

It wasn’t, of course, that there were no speculative stories being written at all—it was the 1930s after all—but that they both wanted work that dealt with deeper issues. They wanted speculative fiction that pressed in to philosophy and theology and, most importantly, that touched deep mythical chords.

“Tollers,” Jack said, “There is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves.” Tollers agreed, and they flipped a coin to see who would write about space and who would write about time.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Problematic Classics: Four Questions to Ask When Beloved Books Haven’t Aged Well

I recently decided to reread T.H. White’s legendary classic, The Once and Future King. At first, I was delighted by the exact book I remembered from my youth: Wart (young King Arthur) being taught by Merlin, goofy King Pellinore, sullen Kay, a lot of ridiculous adventures, with some anti-war, anti-totalitarian commentary mixed in for good measure.

As I continued, I found some bits I didn’t remember. I hadn’t noticed the occasional asides about the “base Indians.” White says archery was a serious business once, before it was turned over to “Indians and boys.” He talks about the “destructive Indians” who chased the settlers across the plains. I did not feel good about this.

[Then I found the n-word…]

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