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A fantasy world about the real world: my analysis of Narnia,
This review is from: The Chronicles of Narnia / The Magician's Nephew / The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe [Boxset] (Paperback)
On the level of children, the Narnia Chronicles function as a perfectly comprehensible and exciting fantasy adventure about children who are magically transported into the world of Narnia, a parallel world with fantastic creatures (fauns, giants, dwarves, and witches) and exciting events (battles, journeys, and voyages). Each story functions independently, and features children from the real world who are faced with a quest to help the Narnians, a quest they complete with the vital involvement of the great Lion, Aslan. The Harry Potter series - often regarded as a worthy successor of the Narnia series - is a success because it mirrored our real world. But the Narnia tales are superior and successful for different reasons. They are more demanding on the reader and more imaginative precisely because they doesn't mirror the real world. And that is their strength. Full of suspense, fantasy, excitement, and adventure, when assessed purely as an imaginative story for children, the Narnia Chronicles are worthy of the success they has enjoyed.
But when read on an adult level, the Narnia Chronicles function as a powerful medium used by Lewis to impart powerful spiritual truths about Christianity and theology. Readers familiar with the Bible will especially find Biblical allusions numerous and recognizable. In "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" there are allusions to Satan's deceptive schemes in promising mankind kingship over the world, as well as to the death and resurrection of Christ as a substitutionary atonement in saving sinners from Satan (p.165ff). This cannot be regarded as a strict allegory, because otherwise one will be quick to point out its shortcomings (in Scripture it is God's justice, not Satan, that Christ must make a deal with). "Prince Caspian" portrays spiritual warfare, showing the importance of our sufficiency being in Christ and not in ourselves (p.270). It also demonstrates the folly of atheism and importance of living by faith and not by sight, since God's invisible nature does not mean he does not exist (p.150). "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" presents a vivid portrait of a sinner as a dragon that needs Christ to take off the scales of his old nature and dress him in the clothes of a new nature (p.155ff). One of the highlights of the series, it depicts a journey to the end of time as a geographical journey to the end of the world, portraying time as a place. "The Silver Chair" emphasizes the truth of Deuteronomy 6 that the signs of God's Word need to be carefully remembered and obeyed, no matter what the appearances (p.24-25). Sin is clearly the fault of man (p.123), and the only solution is to drink from Christ the living water, for there is no other source of water apart from him (p.20-21). "The Horse and the Boy" marvellously shows how by the providence of God, Christ is behind all the events of our life, even hurt and pain, working for good (p.175) - "It wasn't luck at all really, it was Him!" (p.180). "The Magician's Nephew" reflects on the motifs of creation and fall, as evil enters a beautiful world where a man and his wife are king and queen (p.142). And appropriately "The Last Battle" features an antichrist (donkey in a lion's skin) with its terrible result - "he had never dreamed that one of the results of an ape's setting up a false Aslan would be to stop people believing in the real one." (p.92). Complete with apocalyptic imagery of the sun going blood red (p.196), there is a final battle which ushers in eternal life, painted by Lewis in vivid colours.
The key to the whole series, however, is evident in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", where Aslan says "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." About the real world, Aslan observes "There I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name." (p.270). This is an apparent inconsistency in the Narnia Chronicles, because none of the characters actually seem to know Christ in the real world - Eustace doesn't even know Adam and Eve ("The Silver Chair" p.40). Yet it is clear that Lewis wants our understanding of Aslan in the world of Narnia to lead to a growing knowledge of Christ in the real world. Like Christ, Alsan inspires, comforts, and guides. Meeting Aslan evokes a sense of awe, fear and delight ("The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe", p.86), because he is "both terrible and good" (p.140ff), paralleling the holiness and mercy of the only Saviour Jesus Christ. In all the upheavals and conflicts of Narnia, there is one constant: Aslan.
In light of these profound spiritual truths underlying the story-line, one must be compelled to acknowledge the enduring significance of Lewis' achievement in the Narnia Chronicles, and agree that this series has rightfully garnered a status among the literary classics. Even Lewis, however, has weaknesses. Why the "good guys" needed to resort to occultic practices such as astrology and use of crystals was beyond me. Moreover, the occasional use of expletives such as "Lor", "gosh" and "golly" (once even "Gawd") seemed to me a thinly-veiled form of blasphemy. Particularly puzzling is the suggestion of a kind of limited universalism in "The Last Battle", as Aslan accepts the unbeliever Emeth's service to the false god Tash as service rendered to him (p.205).
But these are minor quibbles, not foundational criticisms. Narnia may exist only in Lewis imagination and ours, but a journey there will not be without profit. Lewis has given us a legacy that will not only entertain us with a sparkling and imaginative fantasy world, but will remind us of very real spiritual truths about Jesus Christ. "All worlds draw to an end, except Aslan's own country" ("The Last Battle" p.111) and those who know Him will indeed live forever.