John over at Confessing Evangelical has a series of thoughtful posts on C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. The discussion really resides on his blog and on those to which he links, and rather than trying to reproduce everything that’s already there I encourage interested parties simply to take a look over there. (Of course, if you’ve discovered my little hole in the blogsphere you must have been there already, as he has been at this longer and tends to be both more consistent and more thoughtful in his posts.)

A large part of the discussion is the character of Aslan: love him or hate him? That is, is the Lion an appropriate characterization for the Christ-character? I myself am sympathetic to those who suggest that the Lion is a poor choice, given Scriptural evidence like that in Isaiah 53.2: he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes in this same vein, also quoted over at CE:

Yet a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reëmerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth.

This understanding certainly does get at an important aspect of Christianity and of the person and work of Christ, but it’s not the whole story (neither is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe the whole story of Narnia). Jesus is not merely some carpenter’s son from a backwater town in Palestine, although he certainly is that. He is also the Son of God (although he is also not simply that). Jesus Christ is both God and man.

It seems that critics of Lewis’ choice of the Lion for Aslan tend to miss two significant points. In the first place, the work of Christ may be divided into the state of humiliation (in the words of the Creed, “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”) and the state of exaltation (“he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thense he shall come to judge the living and the dead”. The character of the donkey might very well answer for a “humiliation” character, but…then what? Where is our exaltation character? Or what does this character look like in his exaltation (without jumping ahead to The Last Battle)?

The second point is that any allegory is going to be found wanting in some sense. Even the parables of Jesus can be pushed to a point beyond which they cease to work. So you take the best you can. I think Lewis chose wisely.

For a well written response, check out Old Solar.


One Response to Aslan

  1. Interesting thoghts. I hadn’t really gotten around to think about the whole “is a lion a good representation of Christ” thing. But as I contemplate it I would say that in this case, yes, I think it is just fine. My reason is this: Lewis was writing for children and he wanted to represent a very strong Christ figure. One of the strongest creatures there is in the natural kingdom is the lion. Lets not take the symbolism too far. I don’t think its such a big deal what the shape of the “Christ” figure took in the movie, but what the “Christ” figure did. Either way, great food for thought. Thanks.

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