Aslan is the great lion who rules Narnia. He is described as the King of Narnia, the King of Beasts, the Lord of the Wood, and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Aslan is the embodiment of all that is Good and Just and Right and Perfect and all the snazzy things which are easy for characters to stand up for in movies, but tough for people to stand up for in real life.
When The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe begins, Aslan hasn't been seen in Narnia for generations, and his return is nothing short of the fulfillment of prophecy. As you may have guessed, Aslan is a Christ figure. We don't mean that we have a little pet theory that Aslan is a bit like Jesus. We mean that C.S. Lewis definitely intended Aslan to be an allegorical representation of Jesus Christ, and most of Aslan's actions in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are comparable to parts of the story of Jesus. This is an explicitly Christian fantasy story, with an explicitly Christ-like hero at the center of it. Except that here, Christ is represented by a giant talking lion with a wild, dangerous edge. As Mr. Beaver says, Aslan "isn't safe. But he's good" (8.26).
Aslan's name itself is powerful, even for people who don't know who he is yet:
At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays. (7.35)
It's interesting to notice that, when they hear Aslan's name, the children not only perceive his power, but also become a little bit more themselves. Edmund, who has betrayed his family, feels dread as a result of his treachery. Peter, who is in the process of becoming a leader and one day a High King, feels even braver. Susan, who loves beautiful things, feels like she is perceiving one. And Lucy, who is young and excitable, feels her excitement and sense of freedom increase. What we've learned is that Aslan makes an impression on everyone, but that impression varies depending on what the individual is like, what he or she has done, and how they view the world.
When Aslan returns to Narnia, pretty much everyone there expects him to whup the White Witch, rescue the traitorous Edmund, bring back spring, and basically make everything perfect. Mr. Beaver recites a prophetic rhyme that suggests Aslan can fix everything in a jiffy:
"Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again." (8.18)
Instead of simply taking out the Witch with a wave of his paw, though, Aslan must operate within certain moral and magical limitations. There is a "Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time" which makes Edmund's treachery require some kind of punishment. Instead of allowing Edmund to be murdered by the White Witch, Aslan sacrifices himself in Edmund's place. Like Christ's crucifixion, Aslan's sacrifice involves humiliation and torment, and for a long time he lies dead. But, also like Christ, Aslan is resurrected. Aslan tells Lucy and Susan that a "Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time" saved him – that "when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards" (15.38). Similarly, Christians believe that Jesus' crucifixion substitutes for the sacrifices due from sinners, freeing them from punishment.
Aslan is notable for always doing the unexpected. When everyone expects him to be a great military leader and conduct a battle against the Witch, instead he allows himself to be sacrificed. Although he does kill the Witch in the end, he appoints others to fight the battle while he does work elsewhere – but he's such a good judge of who is capable of doing what that everything works out for the best. He doesn't stay in Narnia and rule it in person; he's got other things to do, and he likes to let people run their own lives. (Heard of free will?) And even though he presides at the crowning of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, he doesn't hang around and give them advice. As Mr. Beaver says, "He doesn't like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion" (17.20). We'd say that Aslan works in mysterious ways, but maybe that would be hammering it home a little too far.Timeline