C. S. Lewis published his classic tale, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which would serve as the first of the Narnia Chronicles, in 1950. The story takes place a decade earlier during the Second World War when, in order to escape the Blitz, the four Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) are sent to live with an elderly professor in the English countryside. While exploring the house shortly after their arrival, the youngest sibling, Lucy, discovers the magical world of Narnia after entering a wardrobe. While none of the other children believe her at first, each child is eventually drawn into this other kingdom and its unfolding drama. For Narnia has been laid asleep in a permanent “winter without Christmas” under the spell of the evil White Witch. This villain has literally petrified many of the residents, blanketing this other world in mistrust and fear. The four children’s arrival now heralds the fulfillment of a prophecy that “two sons of Adam” and “two daughters of Eve” will undo the curse, and hasten the return of the King, Aslan, who is signified by a mighty lion. The return of this beloved King, his restitution of the traitor child, Edmund, through the sacrifice of his very own life, and the ultimate slaying of the White Witch ensure Narnia’s restoration to verdant happiness.
Each of the four siblings plays a profound role in the story. Lucy, the youngest, is the first to discover the portal through the wardrobe to the magical kingdom, and the one whose faith never wavers. She is courage personified, and so aptly named Queen Lucy the Valiant by the story’s end. Peter, the eldest, moves heartedly from disbelief to belief, embodying loyalty both to his own family and to his acquaintances of this new world: as a result, he is crowned King Peter the Magnificent. Susan, the second oldest, also remains true to the cause after her initial “conversion,” thus becoming Queen Susan the Gentle. But it is the troublemaker, Edmund, who stands out as the “black” sheep, or perhaps more appropriately here, the “lost” one, as he betrays his siblings, and then his new found friends, all for the false temptations offered by the White Witch. Eventually he repents, and his life is spared by the witch only because Aslan offers his own life in return. In his subsequent “crucifixion” and “resurrection,” then, Aslan offers a type of the Christ figure. And so we see how Lewis penned a universally appealing and enduring “story for children” embedded, in fact, with the Gospel. Thus, too, we see how, rightly and poetically, the forgiven and redeemed Edmund joins his siblings, crowned now as King Edmund the Just.
I love to return to this story. I have again and again, and each time, I glean something new, something more miraculous in the overall mystery and even within the minute details. Growing up, I had never conceived of it as a “Christian allegory;” it was just a good story. But it is just this goodness, I now see, that is precisely the draw: for Scripture, undeniably, is just a good story, too. I was not raised with any kind of definitive faith, really, and so when I returned to Lewis’ tale later, with the eyes first of an English literature scholar, and then, finally, as a Christian myself, it was like walking through the wardrobe door anew: with eyes opened and truly seeing this time. Now when I watch others enter, I feel akin to the character of Professor Kirke who takes in the children and who has experienced the mystery firsthand, and yet who allows them the delight and the dignity of discovering it on their own.
As a lover of God, and a lover of literature, reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from the vantage point of having been now through the door, so to speak, myself, has led me to make the following conclusion:
Nothing lies outside of the Christ story.
I would argue that the Bible is the necessary foundation of any reading life, first because of its obvious a priori importance to the Christian faith, and thus saving truth relevant to all of humankind. But also second, because of how every piece of literature I have ever encountered resonates with and ultimately upholds Biblical truths.
Put another way: Nothing lies beyond the reach of the Great Author’s mercy, salvation and transformative power.
Every day – amidst our own figurative “wars” – we are sent to be among “strangers,” to uphold family, to depend upon friends. Every day, we face the door of most profound decision; the portal upon which every other decision – and all meaning ultimately – depends.
The doubting Thomas in each of us looks upon the wardrobe door, or perhaps hears of others’ testimonies, and asks: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
But the Lord answers the adult Thomas with all of the love, and none of the condescension, a parent holds for a child: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father, as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:5-7).
Once we have heard the Gospel, we can never unhear it. There is no excuse. The leap ahead into faith may be daunting, but as Sheldon Vanauken put so well, the gap of denial is far worse.
The door sits before us. We all know this. We deceive ourselves, we sidestep the door-step, we delay the lifting of the latch. We distract ourselves with all sorts of things, including our own self-justifications, to avoid assuming the mantel of the majesty intended for us: our king or queenship – the ways in which we actually most deeply desire to be healed, loved, crowned.
Will we open that door? Not only once, into the face of the mystery, but multiple times, over and over again, in the heartbeat of our living? To engage in it, to not deny it, to eventually merge into it, so that the reality that looks too good to be true in fact becomes the only truth we can assert with any real credibility or veracity to actually matter?
In the story to end all stories (and herald the Great Beginning), Jesus tells us: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
A story such as Lewis’ for all children of God urges us to not only answer the knock, but to throw the door open wide … to push past the fur coats of materialism, to keep walking regardless of the denials around us, and to trust in the thaw.
I look at my children’s expectant faces as I crack open the cover.
Aslan is indeed on the move. And he arrives more quickly, we glimpse more fully the glory, when we, like the justified prodigals we each are, rush to meet him on the way.