Study Guide

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By C.S. Lewis

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Aslan's Sacrifice and Christ's Crucifixion

There's lots of magic in Narnia, but there are two bits of magic that are particularly important for the plot: the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time and the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. The Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time is basically an eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth moral law. As the White Witch explains:

"[…] every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and […] for every treachery I have a right to a kill." (13.41)

Although at first glance this might seem like a law that's all about the Witch, it's really about the treachery that a person commits. When somebody commits a great crime, the way that Edmund does when he betrays his family, then they have to face the moral consequences of that crime. To put it in religious terms (as Lewis was probably thinking about it), they have to atone for their sins. In this sense, the Witch is just a mechanical function built into the world to carry out this moral law, the way that Satan is supposed to punish sinners. Or, to use the symbolism from a different religion, the way karma brings the consequences of your actions back to you. We can think of the Deep Magic as similar to the laws and rules laid down in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament.

Still, in Narnia, just like in Christianity, there's a major loophole in this law: the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. Aslan explains:

"[…] when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead […] Death itself would start working backwards." (15.38)

This is the amazing thing about Aslan's sacrifice: by taking Edmund's place, Aslan is able to save Edmund, but also to save himself and everyone else. There's a special power he can access by being a willing and innocent victim. Allegorically, Aslan's sacrifice represents Christ's crucifixion – the great act of sacrifice by which Jesus is supposed to take on the sins of the world. We can think of the Deeper Magic as symbolic of the grace, mercy, and sacrifice emphasized in the Christian New Testament.

Of course, there are differences between Aslan's sacrifice and Christ's crucifixion. Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, while Christ sacrifices himself for everyone in the world. Christ, unlike Aslan, is not a giant talking lion (just thought we'd point that out). You know, those sorts of things. Yet there are also a lot of parallels in the way the sacrifice happens. Like Jesus, Aslan knows what he has to do and is depressed about it. Like Jesus, Aslan is tormented and humiliated before being killed. Also, like Jesus, Aslan appears first after his resurrection to some of his faithful female followers.

If you want to think about some other aspects of the Christian allegory underlying The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, consider comparing Susan and Lucy to Mary and Martha, or Edmund to Judas. We've got more on these ideas in the "Characters" section, so check those out too!

The Wardrobe

Lucy and her brothers and sister enter Narnia through a magic wardrobe – a piece of furniture intended to be used as a closet in rooms that don't have built-in closets. (If you're interested in where this particular wardrobe came from and why it's magic, we suggest you read The Magician's Nephew.) Lucy is drawn into the wardrobe because she wants to feel the fur coats that are hanging in it. Instead of having a normal back, though, the wardrobe opens out into the woods in the west of Narnia:

Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and prickly. "Why, it is just like branches of trees!" exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. (1.24)

We notice that, instead of going out into the world of Narnia, Lucy goes further and further inward. After all, she is only exploring the Professor's house because it's raining outside and so she can't go outside to explore the country. In the depths of the house she finds a spare room, and in the spare room she finds the wardrobe, and in the wardrobe she finds all of Narnia. OK, we know, if you read the other books, it becomes obvious that the wardrobe is a door and that Narnia isn't actually all contained in the wardrobe, but symbolically it kind of feels that way, in this book, at least. We might also think of Narnia as "inward" in a more abstract sense – to find her adventure and her destiny, Lucy, along with her siblings, goes deeper and deeper into herself.

The other interesting thing about the wardrobe is that it doesn't work all the time. After Lucy's first trip to Narnia, she tries to show the others, only to discover that now the wardrobe has a normal wooden back. The next time she tries, it is once again a magical gateway, and this time Edmund gets through too – but again it switches back to cupboard form when Peter and Susan come in. Peter and Susan feel that, if something is real, it must be real all the time, but the Professor suggests reality might be more complicated than that.

Oh, one last thing about the wardrobe – C.S. Lewis wasn't the first person to write a fantasy story for kids in which the protagonists get to the magical world through a wardrobe. To find out who was, check out the "Trivia" section!

The Lamppost

The first thing Lucy sees in the snowy woods of Narnia is a lamppost. (If you're wondering how the lamppost got there, well, you'll have to read The Magician's Nephew…we know it's kind of irritating that we keep mentioning it, but it is the prequel, so it answers all sorts of questions.) In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the lamppost functions as a beacon, showing the children the way to Narnia when the come into it from our world, and showing them the way back when they need to leave.

The lamppost is also a halfway-thing, not quite a real Narnian item (since Narnia seems a bit more pseudo-medieval than that – fighting with swords doesn't quite jive with having lampposts), but not quite something out of the Pevensies' England, either (it's too old-fashioned – it actually has a flame burning in it, not an electric bulb, which means it is from several decades earlier than the 1940s). At the end of the adventure, it is the lamppost which leads the way home for the children, triggering their memories of their old lives in England.

If all these things didn't make it important enough, the lamppost also causes Edmund to slip up and prove to Peter and Susan that he lied about his first trip to Narnia – the fact that he knows which way to go to find it proves he has been there before.

The Stone Table

The Stone Table is an ancient Narnian monument – a slab of stone held up on pillars and covered in mysterious writing. The White Witch and her Dwarf discuss the Stone Table as the proper place for traitors to be executed and sacrifices made. When Aslan agrees to let himself be sacrificed in Edmund's place, the Witch binds him to the Stone Table and kills him there. When Aslan is miraculously resurrected, though, thanks to the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time, the Stone Table cracks. Aslan explains that this, too, was part of a prophecy. We can think of the Stone Table as symbolizing the normal laws of the universe – but Aslan's sacrifice is so special that it breaks the Table in half forever. If you're really into Christian symbolism, the cracking of the Stone Table reminds us of the veil in the temple tearing in half during Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

Cair Paravel

Cair Paravel is a palace on the eastern coast of Narnia, described as the true capital of the land and the place where the four Pevensie children will reign as Kings and Queens of Narnia. Cair Paravel is as far east as you can get and still be in the land of Narnia instead of in the ocean. This seems to be important, because the east is somewhat holy – Aslan's father, the Emperor, is supposed to be Beyond-the-Sea, so Cair Paravel is made to commune with him. Cair Paravel also represents a juncture between the natural world and the man-made one; although it is a palace, with a throne room and a court, the eastern door opens right onto the sea and mermaids and mermen are able to swim close enough to the castle steps for their singing to be heard within.

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