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Narnia according to Lewis

 

Narnia according to Lewis

by Andrew Lansdown

Prince Caspian, the sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, began screening in Australian cinemas in the first week of June and I went along with my family to see it on the first day of its release. We had been looking forward to it since seeing The Lion two years ago and we were not disappointed with it.

Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian involves four children from our world going into the world of Narnia, where they play a major role in the deliverance of Narnia from bondage—bondage to an evil witch in the first film and evil men in the second. Although only one year has passed for the children in our world, 1,300 years have passed in the world to which they return. So there are a lot of shocks and rediscoveries for the children and the Narnians alike!

Prince Caspian is a faster, more action-packed film than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the special effects and battle scenes are even more spectacular. But, sadly, the noble Lion, Aslan, plays less of a role in this film than in the first, although the part he does play is crucial and wonderful.

Prince Caspian and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are based on (and are reasonably faithful adaptations of) novels with the same names by the great Christian thinker and writer, CS Lewis. These fantasy novels are two of seven that make up The Chronicles of Narnia. This series has been in print for over half a century and has impacted hundreds of millions of readers—children and adults alike, Christians and non-Christians alike. Hopefully, the films will ensure that the books find new readers and lovers for years to come.

To celebrate the cinema release of Prince Caspian, and to facilitate a greater appreciation of it and its companions, I have compiled a selection of quotations from CS Lewis about how and why he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Some of these quotations show a touching kindness and sensitivity on Lewis’s part towards his young readers. Others reveal his dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ, his insight into the Christian faith and his concern to help children and adults come to and grow in Christ. Yet others reveal his passion for good writing, his competence as a writer and his humility about his achievements. Together, they make for fascinating and enlightening reading.

Here, then, is Clive Staples Lewis on The Chronicles of Narnia:

How Narnia began

The Editor [of The Radio Times, “Junior Section”] has asked me to tell you how I came to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I will try …

One thing I am sure of. All seven of my Narnia books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my head since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: “Let’s try to make a story about it.”

At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him.

“It All Began With a Picture” (p. 529)

How the series developed

I think I agree with your order for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion, [the Witch and the Wardrobe] I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P[rince] Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage [of the “Dawn Treader”] I felt quite sure it would be the last. But I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them.

Letters to Children (p. 68-69)

The story process

[I]n a certain sense, I have never exactly “made” a story. With me the process is much more like bird-watching than like either talking or building. I see pictures. Some of these pictures have a common flavour, almost a common smell, which groups them together. Keep quiet and watch and they will begin joining themselves up. If you were very lucky (I have never been as lucky as all that) a whole set might join themselves so consistently that there you had a complete story; without doing anything yourself.
But more often (in my experience always) there are gaps. Then at last you have to do some deliberate inventing, have to contrive reasons why these characters should be in theses various places doing these various things. I have no idea whether this is the usual way of writing stories, still less whether it is the best. It is the only one I know: images will always come first.

“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (pp. 513-514)

Finding the right form

Then [after the mental images] came the Form. As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and “gas”. I was now enamoured of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer.

… I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said” (p. 527)

Not moralistic but artistic

Some people think that I began [writing the Narnia books] by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said”, p. 527

Using fantasy to intensify reality

I thought I saw how stories of this kind [fairy tales/fantasy stories] could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

“Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said”
(p. 527-528)

Aslan’s name

I found the name in the notes to Lane’s Arabian Nights: it is the Turkish for Lion. I pronounce it Ass-lan myself. And of course I meant the Lion of Judah. I am so glad you liked [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe]. I hope you will like the sequel (Prince Caspian) which came out in November [1951].

Letters to Children (p. 29)

Aslan’s other name

As to Alsan’s other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don’t you really know His name in this world. Think it over and let me know your answer!

Letters to Children (p. 32)

How the “symbolism” works

You are mistaken when you think that everything in the [Narnia] books “represents” something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim’s Progress [by John Bunyan] but I’m not writing in that way. I did not say to myself “Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia”: I said “Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.” If you think about it, you will see that it is quite a different thing. So the answer to your first two questions is that [in Prince Caspian] Reepicheep and Nick-i-brick don’t, in that sense, represent anyone. But of course anyone in our world who devotes his whole life to seeking Heaven will be like R[eepicheep], and anyone who wants some worldly thing so badly that he is ready to use wicked means to get it will be likely to behave like N[ick-i-brick].

Letters to Children (p. 44-45)

Like, but not exactly like

All your points are in a sense right. But I’m not exactly “representing” the real (Christian) story in symbols. I’m more saying, “Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emperor over-sea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?” Perhaps it comes to much the same thing as you thought, but not quite.

1. The creation of Narnia is the Son of God creating a world (not specifically our world).

2. Jadis plucking the apple is, like Adam’s sin, an act of disobedience, but it doesn’t fill the same place in her life as his plucking did in his. She was already fallen (very much so) before she ate it.

3. The stone table is meant to remind one of Moses’ table.

4. The Passion and Resurrection of Aslan are the Passion and Resurrection Christ might be supposed to have had in that world—like those in our world but not exactly like.

5. Edmund is like Judas a sneak and traitor. But unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven (as Judas no doubt w[oul]d have been if he’d repented).

6. Yes. At the v[ery] edge of the Narnian world Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as He is known in this world. Hence, the Lamb. Hence, the breakfast—like at the end of St. John’s Gospel. Does not He say “You have been allowed to know me in this world (Narnia) so that you may know me better when you get back to your own”?

7. And of course the Ape and Puzzle, just before the last Judgment (in the Last Battle) are like the coming of Antichrist before the end of the world.

All clear?

I’m so glad you like the books.

Letters to Children (pp. 92-93)

Cottoning on

To begin with, may I congratulate you on writing such a remarkably good letter; I certainly could not have written it at your age. And to go on with, thank you for telling me that you like my books, a thing an author is always pleased to hear. It is a funny thing that all the children who have written to me see at once who Aslan is, and grown ups never do!

Letters to Children (pp. 113-114)

Loving Aslan more than Jesus

[When Laurence, a nine-year-old American boy, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus, his mother wrote to CS Lewis in care of Macmillan Publishing Company. Just ten days later to her surprise and delight, she received this answer to her son’s questions. (ed.)]

Tell Laurence from me, with love:

1. Even if he was loving Aslan more than Jesus (I’ll explain in a moment why he can’t really be doing this) he would not be an idol-worshipper. If he was an idol-worshipper he’d be doing it on purpose, whereas he’s now doing it because he can’t help doing it, and trying hard not to do it. But God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won’t be angry with us as long as we are trying. And He will help us.

2. But Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he isreally loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. Of course there is one thing Aslan has that Jesus has not—I mean, the body of a lion. (But remember, if there are other worlds and they need to be saved and Christ were to save them as He would—He may really have taken all sorts of bodies in them which we don’t know about.) Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.

3. If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: “Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what you want and growing more like you.” That is the sort of thing I think Laurence should say to himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added, “And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.”

Will this help? I am terribly sorry to have caused such trouble, and would take it as a great favour if you would write again and tell me how Laurence goes on. I shall of course have him daily in my prayers. He must be a corker of a boy: I hope you are prepared for the possibility he might turn out a saint. I daresay the saints’ mothers have, in some ways, a rough time.

Letters to Children (p. 52-53)

Aslan’s influence

It makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him [Jesus] more real to you. Because He could have used anyone—as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam.

Letters to Children (p. 75)

Getting to Aslan’s country

Yes, Reepicheep did get to Aslan’s country. And Caspian did return safely: it says so on the last page of The [Voyage of the] “Dawn Treader”. Eustace did get back to Narnia, as you will find when you read The Silver Chair. As for who reigns in Narnia today, you won’t know till you have had the seventh and last book. …

The only way for us to [get to] Aslan’s country is through death, as far as I know: perhaps some very good people get just a glimpse before then.

Best love to you all [Dear Fifth Graders]. When you say your prayers sometimes ask God to bless me.

Letters to Children (p. 45)

The real Aslan’s goodness (1)

Well, I can’t say I have had a happy Easter [April 1957], for I have lately got married and my wife is very, very ill. I am sure Aslan knows best and whether He leaves her with me or takes her to His own country, He will do what is right. But of course it makes me very sad.

Letters to Children (p. 69)

The real Aslan’s goodness (2)

It is lovely to hear that you still enjoy the Narnian stories. … Last year I married, at her bedside in hospital, a woman who seemed to be dying: so you can imagine it was a sad wedding. But Aslan has done great things for us and she is now [December 1957] walking about again …

Letters to Children (p. 76)

Lewis’s sentiments on Narnia

It’s fun laying out all my books as a cathedral. Personally I’d make Miracles and the other “treatises” the cathedral school: my children’s stories are the real side-chapels, each with its own little alter.

Letter to Professor William Kinter, quoted in Letters to Children (p. 3)

Imaginary children

No. I didn’t start with four real children in mind: I just made them up.

Letters to Children (p. 51)

Peter and Susan

Peter gets back to Narnia in it [The Last Battle]. I am afraid Susan does not. Haven’t you noticed in the two you have read that she is rather fond of being too grownup. I am sorry to say that side of her got stronger and she forgot about Narnia.

Letters to Children (p. 51)

What happened to Susan

The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end—in her own way. I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the sort that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was “all nonsense.”

Letters to Children (p. 67)

Nesbit and Tolkein

I love E. Nesbit too and I think I have learned a lot from her about how to write stories of this kind. Do you know Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? I think you w[oul]d like it.

Letters to Children (p. 75)

Being appreciated

I am so glad to hear that you liked the Narnian books, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you did. Everyone is pleased, you know, to be appreciated, even elderly authors!

Letters to Children (p. 101)

Fill up the gaps

And why not write stories for yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history? I’ve left you plenty of hints—especially where Lucy and the Unicorn are talking in The Last Battle. I feel I have done all I can!

Letters to Children (p. 104)

Come to an end

Many thanks for your kind letter, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you like my books; and what a very good letter you write for your age!

If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so. I’m so thankful that you realized [the] “hidden story” in the Narnian books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grown-ups hardly ever.

I’m afraid the Narnian series has come to an end, and am sorry to tell you that you can expect no more.

God bless you.

Letters to Children (p. 111)

Acknowledgements

1.C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children, eds, Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead (Collins/Fount Paperbacks: London, 1985)
2.C.S. Lewis: Essay Collections and Other Short Pieces, ed, Lesley Walmsley (HarperCollins: London, 2000)


I have added the headings and the comments in square brackets. AL

Selection copyright © Andrew Lansdown 2008


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