The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: The Greatest Image of the Whole

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, perhaps the most well known book in the entire Narnia series, offers a multitude of Biblical imagery for its readers to take notice of.  Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy wander into Narnia through an old large wardrobe and eventually find out from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver its cold, snowy dreariness is due to the reign of the evil White Witch.  After losing Edmund to the White Witch through tempting him with Turkish Delight, Peter, Susan, and Lucy train for battle against the dark forces with Aslan at their side.  It is before the battle that we come to one of the greatest (if not the greatest) pieces of Biblical imagery in the whole of the seven volumes of Narnian mythology, the death and resurrection of Aslan.

As I said, Edmund was tempted and led into following the White Witch through her delectable desert Turkish Delight.  Edmund eventually learned that the promises of the White Witch were as empty and cold as her heart was.  Peter, Susan, Lucy, and others broke into the camp of the Witch’s evil minions to rescue Edmund.  They succeed and take Edmund back to their camp.  By this time Edmund is well aware of his own fall into sin and is very happy to be out of the evil Witch’s grasp.  Back in Aslan’s camp, Aslan takes Edmund aside to have a chat with him, and though the reader does not get to hear the details of it, it is clear that Edmund has been forgiven and restored to his previous position as joyful a Son of Adam.  This section of the narrative has much to tell the reader of temptation, sin, the folly of it, and the graciousness of God in our failure and guilt.

Shortly thereafter the White Witch fearfully strolls into Aslan’s camp and claims to still have ownership over Edmund because he is a traitor, and all traitors belong to her.  Aslan invites her into his tent, they talk, and she leaves the camp without Edmund.  We learn in the pages after this that Aslan made peace for Edmund by giving the Witch something in his place.  Night falls and while the whole camp is sleeping Susan and Lucy see Aslan leave camp walking off into the woods.  They follow Aslan and to their shock eventually see that he is going to meet the Witch and her minions at the sacred Stone Table.  They now understand what has happened.  Aslan has offered the Witch payment by giving her himself in return for Edmunds freedom.  Susan and Lucy watch in horror as Aslan begins to be beaten, mocked, scourged, shaved, and eventually killed by the Witch.  All hope seems to be lost.  The hilltop where the sacred Stone Table was broken in two from Aslan’s death is now empty and Susan and Lucy are weeping over the dead body of Aslan, when all of sudden a blinding light shines behind them and Aslan appears in resurrected bodily form alive and well.  He explains to the girls that there was a deeper and stronger magic from the dawn of time[1] that the Witch did not know about.  The three of them run back to the battle, which is already underway and going in favor of the Witch, and defeat the Witch and her minions for good.[2]

The first thing to be said is that Lewis has surely done a masterpiece here in this narrative.  The reader feels triumphant jubilance as the Witch is destroyed by Aslan in the end after what happened to him.  No doubt Lewis is making a very Christian theological statement in this book.  Sacrifice, love, substitutionary atonement, ransom, burial, death, and resurrection are all present within this passage.  Clearly Lewis has written the death of Jesus Christ into the Narnian mythologies.  The question to at hand is; is this a helpful or hurtful image of the death of the Son of God?  To which I answer; yes and no.  Yes this image is extremely helpful because so much in here is so obviously and richly Biblical.  Space and length prohibit me from going into all the Scripture fueling this image about the substitutionary atoning death and sacrifice of the Son of God Jesus Christ on behalf of His people.  Just as the innocent Aslan took the blame for guilty Edmund standing in his place to die for sins he himself did not commit, so too innocent, perfect, and sinless Jesus Christ was treated by God as sin though He never knew sin, taking the fatal blow for the elect that we would know and treasure Him above all things.  In this manner the passage points forward a reality greater than itself ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But do you notice that the images are not identical?  This is why I must say that in part, the image of Aslan’s death is hurtful to the readers.  Who did Aslan offer himself up to on the Stone Table?  The White Witch.  Who did Jesus offer Himself up to on the cross?  God, not Satan.[3] It is precisely here that Lewis portrays a divergent view of the atonement called the Ranson-to-Satan theory. This theory defines the atonement of Christ as a ransom paid to Satan to pay for the debts mankind had accrued to him.[4] Origen, along with several other early Church fathers held this view, though they each stated it in a different manner.  Anselm’s writings show hints of this view here and there, but Berkhof shows that this view gradually disappeared for its lack of intelligent support soon after.[5]

Therefore, though this is by far the greatest piece of Biblical imagery (probably the one piece which stood out most to Lewis’ critics) in the entire Narnian mythology and therefore incredibly helpful, it is faulty in its understanding of atonement and therefore hurtful to the reader no matter the age.

[1] The reader is left feeling that this stronger magic from the dawn of time is the love with which Aslan loved Edmund and gave himself for his freedom.  Also echoes of the creation event at the dawn in Narnia where Aslan sung Narnia into existence come back to mind from The Magicians Nephew.  Perhaps Aslan was moved by love to create Narnia?

[2] This story is found on Lewis, 172-186.

[3] See Romans 3:21-26, Jesus died for God, not Satan.

[4] Berkhof, 384.

[5] Berkhof, 385.

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