Today, I’m posting the first installment in my new series, Of Fairy-Tales and the Father. The series will explore the Christian elements found in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, illustrating how fantasy can communicate biblical concepts. Our journey begins with The Magician’s Nephew, the first installment in C. S. Lewis’ tales of Narnia…
At first read, The Magician’s Nephew is just a retelling of the creation story. In a few pages, Lewis takes the reader from a realm of nothingness to a world bursting with light, life, and laughter. Aslan, the Great Lion, sings it all into being, making everything perfect. There’s just one problem: Digory Kirke, a boy from our world, has arrived, and he’s brought a witch with him. Just as Adam and Eve brought evil into our world when they sinned in the Garden, so a Son of Adam has set evil loose in the innocent world of Narnia before it’s even a day old. There’s only one way to set it right: Digory must find a special apple and bring it back to Aslan, so he can plant a tree that will keep the witch away for centuries to come. As Jesus, the second Adam, came to earth to die and set His people free from sin, so this Son of Adam would rectify his mistake and help heal the hurts he had inflicted on this land.
This is already a beautiful depiction of the Gospel and how Jesus offers healing for the hurts we all bear because of Adam’s sin. But Lewis doesn’t stop there. Though the creation/fall/redemption allegory is at the center of the book, the theme goes much deeper than that. Ultimately, this is a story about God’s grace.
See, Digory’s mother is dying. A few chapters prior to falling into Narnia, Digory overheard his aunt predict that nothing in their world could help his mother; only fruit from the Land of Youth would help her. When Digory comes to Narnia, he believes that it might actually be that land—which means perhaps there is something here that could heal his mother. But when he goes to ask Aslan for help, the Great Lion proclaims Digory the boy who has brought evil into Narnia. He then gives him the task of fetching the apple and setting things to rights. Digory loses nearly all hope at this. He has ruined this Lion’s world; surely Aslan must hate him. Why had he ever thought he would get help from him? But in his final desperation, he pleads once more for help:
“Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down hear his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
“‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.’”p. 154
In this brief interaction, Lewis illustrates the depths of God’s compassion for humanity. Like Digory, we come before God as sinners, people who have destroyed the perfect vision He had for the world. All we can look at is His wrath, knowing we deserve every punishment He has to throw at us. But something prompts us to look up, to gaze into His face, to beg for His mercy even though we are completely unworthy of it. And when we do, our breath is snatched away as we realize that He has made our sorrows His own. He weeps for what grieves us. He loves whom we love. He treats us as if we were His children—which, in fact, we as believers are. According to Romans 8:15, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” As Aslan called Digory his son as he wept for his mother, so God calls us His children as He mourns our sorrows.
The story doesn’t end there. Digory still has to go fetch the apple, which he does at great personal cost. He meets the witch along the way, and she tempts him to take the apple home to his mother, claiming it will heal her. Digory manages to resist the temptation, but he is miserable, knowing deep down the witch was telling the truth. But he wouldn’t break his promise to Aslan. When he returns, he plants the apple at the Lion’s request, and it immediately grows into a tree.
Aslan knows of Digory’s temptation, and he explains that though the fruit would have indeed healed his mother, it would have ended in misery. Digory truly loses hope this time. If not even this Apple of Youth can heal his mother, nothing will.
“Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper:
“‘That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. […] Go. Pluck her an apple from the Tree.’”p. 191
What a picture of grace! Digory has failed, time and time again. But his faithfulness to the Lion results in him receiving exactly what he needs, in a way he never could have imagined. He doesn’t deserve it. If it weren’t for him, there would have been no need for a Tree of Protection. But even that worked ultimately for his good. When he takes the apple home, the apple plucked from the tree he planted, it does indeed revive his mother, making her well again. All because of Aslan’s grace towards a wayward boy who had ruined his perfect world.
“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).