by C.S. Lewis
Christian Allegory or Supposal
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Lots o' readers—religious and non-religious alike—read the Chronicles of Narnia books as Christian allegories, and Prince Caspian is no exception.
Here's how it usually looks:
- Aslan becomes a panthera allegory for Jesus Christ with his death, resurrection, and vigilance against evil.
- The White Witch becomes our allegorical Satan.
- Characters like Peter and Caspian stand in for the traditional Christian knighthood.
- Trumpkin stands in for our "skeptic who later sees the light" character.
But we want to try something a little different. Alan Jacobs believes the Narnia books are better thought of as "supposals" and not allegories. The difference? According to him, an allegory is a "purely and evidently fictional" story where the "persons and events correspond, more or less strictly, to persons and events in our world" (source). But…
You might have noticed that Narnia is not a wholly separate world from our own. It's written as a hidden world where in "what appears to be the same space there can be a Queen of England but also a Queen of Faery." And if you "happen to be a Christian, suppose that although that world is in some respects alien to ours it is nevertheless the creation of the same God, who loves and cares for those people just as he loves and cares for us" (source). In this reading, the Emperor-Over-the-Sea is not an allegory for God. He is God. He's what God would be if Narnia existed.
Aslan and Jesus obviously aren't the same person, but in Lewis's fiction, Aslan is still the son spoken of in the Trinity—same as Jesus. That makes Aslan more of a parallel world relative or mirror image of Jesus than an allegorical symbol of that most famous of Nazarenes.
Jacobs's conclusion? That Prince Caspian and the other Narnia books may look, feel, taste, and smell like an allegory, but they don't technically function as allegory since they ask you to suppose and not substitute.
Of course, that doesn't mean they don't have allegorical elements* in them. The most obvious are the death and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and, in Prince Caspian, the allegorical stand-in for William the Conqueror, one Caspian the Conqueror by name.
Okay, so maybe we're getting a little too technical here, but we thought it was a nifty idea all the same. What do you think? Is Jacobs onto something or is it a swing and a miss?
*Fear not, intrepid Shmooper. We won't forget to include more traditional, allegorical readings throughout this learning guide. We figure, there's enough room in Narnia for both these readings.