Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

I know the Chronicles of Narnia are not straightforward allegory, but I also know that the stone table of Aslan is the cross of Christ (depending on what the meaning of “is” is).

And without any cramming or reductionism, astute readers can follow the imagination of C.S. Lewis as it maps out the coordinates of theological truth and reality in his fairy-tale land of remythologization: Creation and eschatology, objective redemption and individual salvation, the role of the law in the Christian life and obedience to the words of a written revelation are all expounded in Narnian idiom. In none of these cases could we simply have predicted how Aslan would act out the part of Christ in the land of talking animals. But he does it. There are even complex combinations of the major Christian ideas in Narnia, like the way Lewis puts the epic battle of the church militant into the space between the death and resurrection of Aslan.

But what I wonder about lately is, why didn’t Lewis provide a Narnian placeholder for “The Grand Miracle,” the incarnation? Maybe I’m only wondering because the Narnia movies have now become a Christmas event. But doctrinally and spiritually speaking, isn’t it interesting that Lewis didn’t provide an Aslan-Becomes-Talking-Animal storyline? What we get instead is the rumor that “Aslan is on the move” in fulfillment of the prophecies. Father Christmas even shows up, which (as Tolkien pointed out) makes no sense whatsoever. But no nativity!

In one sense, how beautiful the elements of the nativity story could have been, transmuted into fairy tale and populated with Narnians. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine where Lewis could have stopped if he had taken the first step down that road: At the first mention of baby Aslan as a divine-feline lion cub, you’d have to provide a mother, and soon you’d have the whole lineage of feline David scratching at the stable door. It just wouldn’t work. The fantasy world would collapse under the pressure of parallelism.

But Lewis was clever, and his baptized imagination would probably have found a way around that mythopoeic challenge. I think there is a properly theological reason for the lack of a Narnian nativity. The real impossibility is a Narnian incarnation (try saying that three times fast). Aslan may be how Christ appears in a world of talking animals, but at those key points where Lewis has to indicate how Narnia is related to the real world (England = “the real world”), he gives priority to the real world precisely because Christ is actually incarnate in this world. Lewis’ mind seems to have repelled the idea of multiple incarnations of the one Son of God all over the multiverse. In the Space Trilogy, for example, younger planets are populated by humanoids instead of walking celery sticks, because it just wouldn’t be appropriate for intelligent life to be brought into being in vegetable form once the incarnation happened on that one silent planet. And in Narnia, Aslan is on the move, conducting business with the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, but not becoming Lion to save Lionkind. The word did not become Lion. He was already Lion. And he was already something else, which he had already taken on in our world: human. But in the fullness of Narnian time, he was on the move.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles