Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Narnia’

Aslan of Narnia, ‘The Shack,’ and the Second Commandment

March 1, 2017 3 comments

Tim Challies recently posted an article that provides a good contrast between ‘The Shack’ and the Aslan character of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.  I find such articles interesting, as they consider and contrast different types of literature–in answer to the many superficial comparisons made by people who would lump all fiction into the same category.  In a post last year, I referenced a good online article that examines in detail seven key differences between Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in reference to the literary use of magic.

Challies’ post provides similar comparison between the Chronicles of Narnia and another newer fiction work, The Shack, noting three key differences:  these are different genres of literature, portray different characters, and teach different messages.  He makes good points concerning the difference between Narnia and The Shack in overall terms, of the type of fiction and especially the serious doctrinal error being taught in The Shack.

Challies notes these differences, and then concludes that because of these differences, The Shack violates the Second Commandment, but Aslan the Lion of Narnia does not.  As he points out, The Shack has characters representing all three members of the Godhead:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, whereas Narnia only represents the second person of the Trinity, the Son.  However, I think Challies’ answer on one particular point is weak:  his assertion that Aslan is like Christ, a Christ-like figure rather than actually representing Christ:

Aslan is a Christ-like figure, but is not Christ. We should expect to find a general but not perfect correspondence between the words and deeds of Aslan and the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. A right reading of Narnia does not lead to the declaration, “Aslan is Jesus,” but the realization, “Aslan is like Jesus.” Lewis meant for Aslan to evoke a kind of wonder that would cause the reader to search for someone in the real world who is equally awe-inspiring.

The Narnia stories, through the “general allegory” fiction, present many Christian doctrines.  True, not all doctrines are brought out within the context of the seven stories—and a few of the doctrines presented are Arminianism and “wider mercy” (both in The Last Battle: the dwarves with free-will, and Emeth the saved pagan).  Yet it is clear that Lewis intended an actual identification of Aslan with Christ, and not merely “to evoke a kind of wonder that would cause the reader to search for someone in the real world who is equally awe-inspiring.”  Keep in mind the following specific points.

  • In the original volume (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) Aslan only dies for Edmund.  However, in The Last Battle the last Narnian king (Tirian) holds to an atonement belief that encompasses all Narnians:

He [Tirian] meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.

  • At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that they cannot return to Narnia because they are too old, and adds that he is known by another name “in your world” and that they will come to know him better by that name.

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am [in your world].’ said Aslan. ‘But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. 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.”

The ending of The Last Battle provides Lewis’ clearest and direct identification of Aslan with Christ.  His stepson Douglas Gresham, in an email discussion years later, also specifically pointed this out. Notice the use of the capital letter in the pronoun He:

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion…And for us this is the end…But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

So, while The Chronicles of Narnia clearly is a different genre of fiction, and clearly teaches a different message than the blasphemy of The Shack, the question of Aslan in reference to the Second Commandment and images representing God, is not so clear cut.  From googling, I found a few other articles that have previously considered this question–at the time of other movie releases such as Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and the Disney version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”  A sampling of these includes people who recognize the close connection of Aslan to Christ, and thus do consider the portrayal on film of Aslan the lion as a Second Commandment problem.  One example is R.C. Sproul Jr’s comments at the Ligionier blog:

The root of idolatry, however, is here—images move us at a basic level, and evoke worship in us, worship that God abhors. I first felt this watching another movie that presented an image of Christ—The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Aslan first appeared on the screen my heart swelled and like a teetotaler taking his first drink, a health nut tasting his first Twinky, I thought, “Oh, so this is what He warned us about.” I was taken up, enraptured, spellbound because of the sheer majestic beauty of the Lion.

This discussion from 2005 at the Puritan board is also helpful, a Reformed perspective on the question of Aslan and other fictional works, especially this observation:

To me, a devout Christian writing a story about a Lion who is a king and gives his life for his people is a bit too obvious not to be seen as a direct representation of Christ.

Furthermore, since the second commandment applies equally to all the readers and viewers just as much as it did to Lewis himself, does his authorial intent really even have any bearing on people’s own obedience to the commandment when they see Aslan and purposefully think of Christ?

So, while Challies’ article is helpful for pointing out the major differences between Narnia and The Shack, it misses the mark in his attempt to downplay the role of Aslan as not really representing God the Son.  Lewis’ writing and intent was rather obvious, of Aslan representing Christ, the Son of God — as Lewis saw it, Christ as He would choose to reveal Himself if such a world as Narnia existed.  For further study, the following article looks at the many parallels between Aslan and the Son of God: Symbolism and the Identity of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

I did not say to myself ‘Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia’: I said ‘Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would have happened.’

Christian Worldview: J.R. R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings

October 14, 2016 3 comments

Both the Deuteronomy and the 1689 Confession study series are at a halt, pending any new lessons yet to be posted online,  and so I am taking a break and revisiting an old love, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  (I consider myself a book purist, and do not particularly care for Peter Jackson’s movie variations.) I first read Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, in my early Christian years about 25 years ago.  Tolkien’s LOTR endures through the years, good and fresh for many re-readings; it ranks as number four in the top ten of all-time most read books.  Online articles that mention Tolkien and Lord of the Rings abound to this day, with several such articles in the past few months (note this recent post from Justin Taylor, remembering what happened 85 years ago), and more over just the last few years.  The Gospel Coalition blog alone features several articles, including the aspect of “reading for worldview,” and this good observation:

Those who dismiss The Lord of the Rings as simply Harry Potter for grown-ups, or as a source of bumper sticker material for aging hippies to put on their Volvos (“Not all those who wander are lost”) have really missed the central prophetic vision of the books—a prophetic stance taken against modernity . . . or perhaps what we might want to call mordornity. This is the prophetic element that makes Tolkien’s vision a fundamentally Christian one. There are places where I prefer Lewis’s Protestant take to Tolkien’s Catholicism, obviously, but on this issue Tolkien reflects the ethical perspective of the entire Christian tradition. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Also, from the introductory “Reading for Worldviews” article:

Oddly, many modern readers are not only drawn to books that reflect their own personal worldview, but also to those that present them with a radically different worldview. On the one hand, they want to see the values they hold dear acted out on a fictional stage, partly so that they may study, and be challenged by, the decisions made by the hero. On the other hand, they want to explore realities that stand outside their normal experience and thus carry with them a sense of danger that is strangely appealing.

Thus, Christian readers are drawn to The Lord of the Rings because they encounter within its pages a world that affirms Judeo-Christian concepts of good and evil, virtue and vice. And yet, at the same time, Tolkien’s epic fantasy has attracted tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of atheist and agnostic readers intrigued by a world that privileges many of the things they reject: absolute standards of right and wrong; hierarchy and kingship; the reality of a supernatural realm that impinges upon the natural; the existence of a higher purpose that chooses us rather than us choosing it.

Yet at least some Christians continue to dismiss LOTR and lump it into the same category of “problematic/evil reading” along with Harry Potter and all fairy tale stories.  The following article Harry Potter vs Gandalf – a rather lengthy essay that may take more than one reading session  — (the author is knowledgeable regarding the literature of Tolkien, Lewis, and J.K. Rowling) takes a detailed look at how “magic” is used in different literature, noting seven literary “hedges” that Tolkien and Lewis employed to “fence off” magic from the reader in this world, hedges which are not present in the Harry Potter novels:

  1. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to wholly imaginary realms, with place-names like Middle-earth and Narnia — worlds that cannot be located either in time or in space with reference to our own world, and which stand outside Judeo-Christian salvation history and divine revelation. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a fictionalized version of our own world that is recognizable in time and space, in a country called England (which is at least nominally a Christian nation), in a timeframe of our own era.
  2. Reinforcing the above point, in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fictional worlds where magic is practiced, the existence of magic is an openly known reality of which the inhabitants of those worlds are as aware as we are of rocket science — even if most of them might have as little chance of actually encountering magic as most of us would of riding in the space shuttle. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a world in which magic is a secret, hidden reality acknowledged openly only among a magical elite, a world in which (as in our world) most people apparently believe there is no such thing as magic.
  3. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are numbered among the supporting cast, not the protagonists with whom the reader is primarily to identify. By contrast, Harry Potter, a student of wizardry, is the title character and hero of his novels.
  4. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis include cautionary threads in which exposure to magical forces proves to be a corrupting influence on their protagonists: Frodo is almost consumed by the great Ring; Lucy and Digory succumb to temptation and use magic in ways they shouldn’t. By contrast, the practice of magic is Harry Potter’s salvation from his horrible relatives and from virtually every adversity he must overcome.
  5. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are not in fact human beings (for although Gandalf and Coriakin are human in appearance, we are in fact told that they are, respectively, a semi-incarnate angelic being and an earthbound star.) In Harry Potter’s world, by contrast, while some human beings (called “Muggles”) lack the capacity for magic, others (including Harry’s true parents and of course Harry himself) do not.
  6. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis emphasize the pursuit of magic as the safe and lawful occupation of characters who, in appearance, stature, behavior, and role, embody a certain wizard archetype — white-haired old men with beards and robes and staffs, mysterious, remote, unapproachable, who serve to guide and mentor the heroes. Harry Potter, by contrast, is a wizard-in-training who is in many crucial respects the peer of many of his avid young readers, a boy with the same problems and interests that they have.
  7. Finally, Tolkien and Lewis devote no narrative space to the process by which their magical specialists acquire their magical prowess. Although study may be assumed as part of the back story, the wizard appears as a finished product with powers in place, and the reader is not in the least encouraged to think about or dwell on the process of acquiring prowess in magic. In the Harry Potter books, by contrast, Harry’s acquisition of mastery over magical forces at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is a central organizing principle in the story-arc of the series as a whole.

A few more links to some interesting posts about the Lord of the Rings, from Christian blogs:

A final thought, excerpted from the above-linked “Tolkien on Fairy Stories”

Perhaps the most persistent (and nastiest!) critique leveled against Tolkien is that his work is “escapist,” that it draws its readers away from the rigors of the “real world.” Tolkien gives the lie to this critique by reminding his readers of something so obvious it is often overlooked: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

Tolkien is not thinking here of a killer or rapist confined to a jail cell for the protection of society, but of a political or military prisoner who has been captured by the enemy. In the latter case, the prisoner who escapes is neither naïve nor juvenile. Indeed, he is both practical and realistic. Far from donning rose-colored classes or acting like a cock-eyed optimist, he bravely and maturely refuses to define himself by the artificial boundaries around him and yearns for the free open air that he knows exists outside his prison walls.

Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn, and Faramir are all escapists, for they risk their lives to free the world of Middle-earth from the control of forces (Smaug, Sauron, Saruman, Shelob) that would steal life, kill joy, and destroy the earth. They do not accept the creeping darkness that relativizes, existentializes, and uglifies. Rather, in the face of this onslaught, they uphold a counter-vision of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.