Whose Side Are You On?
Ah, Narnia. The magical world that has enchanted readers for generations, led thousands of children to reach vainly for the backs of their wardrobes, and had me hunched over listening over and over again to the audiobook until the tapes went squeaky and unravelled and had to be rewound with a pencil.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a tale of adventure and friendship and good versus evil. We see within it a very real representation of this struggle on the battlefield. Yet at its most basic level it remains a children’s story whose characters are painted pretty black and white. The distinctions between good and bad, wise and foolish are made very clear. Those who align themselves with evil do not fare well, while those who follow the good are duly honoured.
But what is it that defines this standard?
In this parallel world of talking animals and spells on the seasons, characters are good or bad depending on their ultimate response to the Lion. We find we can trust those who are on Aslan’s side even without knowing them.
The moment when the four children first hear of Aslan from the Beavers is striking as a picture (albeit an incomplete one) of the spectrum of faith, as they each react with a sense of horror, bravery, pleasure, or excitement.
Edmund has a somewhat shaky start as a traitor who has to be rescued and brought back to Aslan’s camp, his trespass paid for with the Lion’s own life. However, despite going astray, Edmund is aware of his errors even as he makes them. He lives sacrificially once he has been rescued by another’s sacrifice, and becomes a fierce fighter for what he knows is right. It is a joy to see him help others to respond to Aslan in turn, including his obstinate cousin Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Peter, as the eldest, matures as the warrior, keen to bravely fight for the good. Susan meanwhile is always the more cautious and rational sibling. If we follow the story through the whole series, we see how Susan’s outlook becomes increasingly cynical and superior, and her interest in things of this world takes over.
Of all the characters, I think that in entering this world we are invited to put ourselves in Lucy’s shoes, as the first one to explore the magical place within the wardrobe. Lucy’s attitude to this new world and all she meets is one of childlike simplicity; her choices seem clear and she swiftly embraces Narnia and all its delights. She makes friends with a fawn, and once he is captured by the evil Witch she does all in her power to help him. Most of all, her joyful and trusting response to Aslan is one to be imitated.
But what of this Lion? He is the great king of Narnia, the one to be loved and feared, who is good, but not necessarily safe! It is surely significant that almost the very first thing we witness of this Lion is his lovingly and sacrificially buying back a traitor.
We see that a right response to Aslan is characterised by more than acknowledging his power. The Witch knows of him and his power, but she refuses to submit and sets herself in opposition to him as queen of the land. Yet for the many gathered around Aslan, his will is enough for them to leap into battle on his behalf, to win back Narnia from the Witch’s clutches.
It seems clear that when it comes to facing Aslan, there is not the option to sit on the fence. There is a battle going on, and people must pick a side.