Lessons from Narnia

On Tuesday I finished reading Prince Caspian. I had read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy a couple of years ago, and with the new Narnia movie coming out soon, I figured I should read the book before I see the movie. I wanted to do this because it’s much more fun reading a book and using your imagination to come up with what each character and scene looks like, rather than seeing it all done for you in a movie. I know this because I watched The Fellowship of the Ring before reading the books, and so most of the imaginative work was done for me already, which I don’t like. Of course, some would argue that watching the movie before reading the book prevents you from being surprised at a very different movie than you were imagining, but I prefer to see that as just another person sharing what their imagination imagined the characters to look like. That’s what I like about fiction books – to a certain extent, each person who reads them makes them their own, since we all imagine the characters and scenes in a different way.

Anyway, as far as the content of the new movie is concerned, I read somewhere that the new movie’s plot strays a lot from the book. I guess I can live with that, as long as they don’t do anything major like add or omit a character. Part of me is still recovering after the complete omission of Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings movies. I am most curious to see how Prince Caspian’s producers portray some of the obvious Christian imagery present throughout the entire Chronicles of Narnia series. Even though the movie isn’t, to my knowledge, being produced by an organization with any explicit Christian ties, I thought the first movie kept C. S. Lewis’ imagery fairly intact, although of course the movie left the ultimate meanings of the imagery quite vague so as to avoid controversy. I still am hopeful that these movies will at least spur some viewers on to explore Christianity, the Bible, or at least the Narnia books.

Also, in the coming years, it will be especially interesting to watch the public draw their opinionated lines in the sand between the atheistic-leaning His Dark Materials trilogy (of which The Golden Compass was part 1 of 3 to hit theatres in the near future) and the Christian-themed Narnia series (that is, if they are planning to make any more Narnia books into movies, which I would guess they are). I thought that The Golden Compass was a well-made film, although I was very aware of the vast worldview differences between myself and the author, Philip Pullman. I posted a more in-depth review of it on this blog in January, which you can read here.

But back to Prince Caspian. It was the first fiction book that I’ve read recently. I found it quite good; I enjoyed it even more than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The story progressed smoothly and the characters were interesting. I loved the names that Lewis gave his characters: Reepicheep, Trufflehunter, and my personal favourite, Clodsley Shovel.

During my reading of the book, I found that I rediscovered my love of the Christian allegory and imagery which Lewis so deftly embedded in the story. In my mind, this refreshingly explicit imagery is what separates the Narnia series from The Lord of the Rings books. While Tolkien disliked his readers drawing allegorical parallels from his story, Lewis quite blatantly peppered his books with stories that illustrated many Christian beliefs so clearly and simply. Near the end of Prince Caspian, I found two examples that really hit me, so much so that they caused me to put the book down and just think about the meaning Lewis had placed behind them. The myths and metaphors found in the book seemed to put a new twist on an aspect of the Christian faith that I thought was old-hat for me. As Lewis himself said, “The value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity.”

I wanted to share a couple of those instances with you. If you haven’t read Prince Caspian, I apologize in advance if I ruin some of the story for you since both of these events occur in the last chapter of the book. The first comes as Aslan addresses Caspian for the first time. He asks Caspian if he feels up to the task of being the king of Narnia. “I don’t think I do, Sir, I’m only a kid,” comes Caspian’s reply. “Good,” Aslan tells him, “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.”

What I love about this encounter is the honesty. So many people in places of power, and even some with little or no power, feel the need to puff themselves up or make themselves seem tougher than they really are. I’ve struggled with this myself when I worked on construction sites. Caspian’s honesty rattles the reader because his reply it’s such an un-kingly thing to say. It’s also counter-cultural for us today. The world tells us that we should lie and say we are capable of anything, even if we are not. Then we are to try to accomplish things through our own strength. But Christ does the opposite. He requires us to admit our shortcomings and weaknesses before he will work with us. This mirrors what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10: “[Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Again, I love how counter-cultural this teaching is. It’s another great example of how Jesus took a popular belief of his (and our) day and flipped it on its head.

The second instance occurs just a few pages later, when Caspian tells Aslan that he wishes his family lineage was more noble and honourable. Aslan replies, “You came of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

This exchange between Aslan and Caspian serves to remind us in a new way about our nature as human beings. We are a curious mix: made in the image of God and loved dearly by Him, yet spiritually dead to God if we do not confess our weaknesses and sin to Him and accept the sacrifice of Jesus’ death to pay our debt. Truly, this is enough to make us feel eternally grateful to God for his grace.

There were a few other moments in the book that really hit me, but this post is already growing quite long so I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself. If you haven’t read the Narnia books since your parents read them to you at age 6, I would recommend that you give at least one of them another read, since some of the Christian themes present in them can only be fully appreciated by an adult mind.

On a somewhat related note, Switchfoot has released a new song called This is Home, which they wrote for the Prince Caspian movie. It apparently plays during the end credits. I think it’s pretty good, although I should point out that I am completely biased towards Switchfoot since they’re one of my favourite bands. If you want to check out the video for the song, I’ve posted it below. Have a great long weekend!

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