Study Guide

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Themes

By C.S. Lewis

  • Good vs. Evil

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, good and evil are straightforward and undisguised.

    Or, rather: thinly disguised. (Good as a lion, evil as a witch.)

    Good is ultimately more powerful than evil, although evil does seem to have a necessary place in the world. People who are good may still have to suffer and make difficult choices, but ultimately everything will work out for them and they will enjoy a happy ending. Even people who make serious mistakes can be redeemed and rejoin the side of good. Creatures who are truly evil will be vanquished in the end. Evil is most disturbing because it preys on our own weaknesses and negative traits.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Early in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund argues that the children should avoid choosing sides in Narnia before they are certain the White Witch is evil and Mr. Tumnus and his friends are good. Are his arguments persuasive? Why or why not?
    2. What kind of evil threat does the White Witch represent? How does her evil manifest, and what type(s) of suffering does she cause?
    3. What does Mr. Beaver mean when he says that Aslan "isn't safe. But he's good" (8.26)? What does the narrator mean when he describes Aslan as "good and terrible at the same time"?
    4. Is there ever any doubt that Aslan and the side of Good will triumph in the end?

    Chew on This

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, both good and evil are limited by certain constraints on the way the universe and morality work – the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time and the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time.

    Although Aslan is good, he is still unpredictable and fearsome.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    The ability to forgive those who have caused you harm or betrayed you is the most important virtue in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe...besides the virtue to Just Say No to Turkish delight. (Looking at you, Edmund.)

    People who are unable to forgive small slights find themselves drawn into a spiral of negative emotions. In order to be redeemed, they must find pity and sympathy for their fellow creatures somewhere in their own hearts. Good is able to triumph over evil through one great act of mercy and compassion. Forgiveness, when it comes, is complete. What's done is done, and it would be pointless to bring up past wrongs.

    Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

    1. Describe the first moment at which Edmund feels compassion for someone other than himself. (Hint: See Chapter 11: "Aslan is Nearer.") Why is this moment so important for the development of Edmund's character?
    2. Does Aslan forgive Edmund? Is sacrificing himself in Edmund's place the same thing as forgiveness, or is it something different?
    3. Why do Peter, Susan, and Lucy forgive Edmund right away when he apologizes to them? Do you think you could do the same? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Although Aslan redeems Edmund, he does not actually forgive Edmund's transgression against his siblings.

    By sacrificing himself for Edmund, Aslan implies that all Edmund's past behavior is forgiven and Edmund can begin with a clean slate.

  • Betrayal

    Betrayal is the greatest possible wrong that can be committed in the world of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe...and we're saying that in a world where people are turned into statues, sacrificed on rocks, and drafted into the army at a very young age.

    The consequences of treachery are not limited to the information recounted by a spy or the tactical advantage he gives. Instead, traitors themselves are forfeit to the other side, and they can only be redeemed by the sacrifices of others.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. What are Edmund's excuses for betraying his brother and sisters to the White Witch? Does he really believe these excuses in his own heart?
    2. Is Edmund surprised when the Witch double-crosses him? Support your answer with quotations from the book.
    3. Why isn't Mr. Beaver surprised by Edmund's betrayal? What signs does he notice that indicate Edmund might be treacherous?
    4. How might Edmund's experience as a traitor who is redeemed prepare him to become "King Edmund the Just" at the end of the book? Why is Edmund better suited to become a wise judge and councilor than Peter, who has never betrayed anyone?

    Chew on This

    Despite Edmund's treacherous alliance with the White Witch, he is always a good person at heart; he simply deludes himself briefly.

    Edmund's own experience as a traitor teaches him to understand the mindset of people who violate ethical principles, making him better suited to dole out justice as an adult than his brother or sisters.

  • Transformation

    There are a bunch of types of transformation in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    It's possible for individuals to transform from unpleasant and selfish people to wise and just ones, but only with the help of a powerful outside force. The world itself may be transformed by the mere presence of good into a beautiful paradise instead of a desolate wasteland. Children may be transformed into adults and back in order to fulfill the roles for which they are destined. The dead may be resurrected and the petrified may live again.

    Oh yeah; and innocuous-looking wardrobes can transform into portals to magical kingdoms. Can't leave that one out.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. Of the four Pevensie children, who transforms the most over the course of the book? How does this change happen?
    2. Describe the transformation of Narnia from a barren winter landscape to a lush summer paradise. How does this radical change in weather and season contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story?
    3. How is Aslan different after his resurrection?

    Chew on This

    Edmund is the only character who develops in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    Aslan's experience of death and resurrection makes him even stronger and more powerful than he was previously.

  • Spirituality

    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe functions as a spiritual allegory...and not, as the inclusion of fauns would suggest, an allegory of Greek mythology. (Come on: Aslan is way too nice to be modeled on a member of the Greek Pantheon.)

    The major characters parallel the central figures of the Christian religion, including Christ and Judas. Although religion itself isn't explicitly mentioned, there are clear references and allusions to Biblical history and principles. Religious truth is explored in a general, feeling-based manner, rather than expounded didactically. Truth and beauty are the most important ways to experience spiritual truth in this book. The ability to recognize spiritual good is transferable from one world to another.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. Compare and contrast Aslan, as he is depicted in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, with Christ, as he is depicted in the New Testament. How are they similar? How are they different?
    2. If The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a Christian allegory (and pretty much everyone agrees that it is), then why isn't Christ or the Bible ever mentioned? What kind of power does the story gain from alluding to Christian doctrine instead of stating it outright?
    3. How does Aslan make people feel? Based on your answer, can you infer what the book suggests about spiritual experience?
    4. One of the only religious references in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is to humans as "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve," a reference that the Pevensie children don't understand at first. Why is this reference so important that it bears repeating? Why do you think the children fail to recognize it right away?

    Chew on This

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, great spiritual good is terrifying and awe-inspiring.

    By approaching spiritual truth through allegory, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe makes the basic principles of Christian doctrine accessible to non-Christian readers.

  • Guilt and Blame

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, every individual must take full responsibility for his or her own actions...especially that little twerp, Edmund.

    We learn a bunch of big-deal lessons about guilt and blame in this book: like, when the responsibility is too great, someone else may step in and take it over, but only when absolutely necessary. Or that the Powers That Be don't assign blame for failure, but people who learn to accept their own failings will take responsibility for them anyway. Or hey: that blaming others for one's own problems is demonstrably foolish, and getting caught up in cycles of guilt and blame may interfere with the work that needs to be done.

    And we have to say—even if you're not a Christian and you balk at the Christian lessons in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe—there's a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from these pages about how to be an all-around good person.

    Questions About Guilt and Blame

    1. Is Peter really to blame, even in part, for Edmund's betrayal?
    2. At what point does Edmund start feeling guilty for betraying his brother and sisters to the White Witch? Why?
    3. How is Edmund's guilt finally expunged?

    Chew on This

    Peter is guilty of pushing Edmund further away and treating him rudely, which, although a small transgression, contributes to Edmund's larger betrayal.

  • Courage

    Courage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe isn't a feeling—it's a way you behave.

    Although you might feel despairing, frightened, or sick, you can still behave bravely. And even though bravery can't be learned, good people will find that they have unknown reserves of strength in difficult moments. Courage may mean the ability to face certain defeat, pain, suffering, or even death with patience and fortitude. The courage of a child to stand up to a nightmarish fear is just as valuable in this book as the brave deeds of a great warrior.

    And we think that's an awesome lesson to teach the young 'uns.

    Questions About Courage

    1. How does Lucy's courage manifest when she comes into contact with her siblings?
    2. What feelings does Peter experience while he is behaving courageously? For example, how does he feel when he defends Susan from Fenris Ulf? Based on your answer, what does this book suggest about the nature of courage?
    3. How does Aslan show courage through patience and passivity?
    4. Why isn't Lucy supposed to fight in the battle, even though she says she feels like she could be brave enough?

    Chew on This

    Feeling courageous is unimportant in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the important thing is to behave courageously no matter how you feel.

    Aslan defies everyone's expectations of courageous behavior by showing bravery and fortitude in the face of certain death, rather than simply killing the Witch immediately.

  • Family

     The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is all about the ties that bind. Family is about as important to the Pevensie kids as it is to, say, the Corleone clan.  The curse of the White Witch can only be broken by a group of humans. Even the forces of Good and Evil work together as a team...or like a family.

    As far as this book is concerned, the idea of "every man for himself" is rubbish. You have to stick together in order to accomplish anything—and you have to stick together through thick and thin.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why does it matter that the four children in this story are brothers and sisters? How would the book be different if they were simply four friends?
    2. Describe the relationship between Mr. Beaver and Mrs. Beaver. Are they meant to represent the "ideal" Narnian family? Explain your answer.
    3. Why are there several important bachelors in this story? Consider especially the Professor and Mr. Tumnus.
    4. Note that Aslan is described as the Son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. What do you think this means? How does it increase our understanding of Aslan to think of him as a son?

    Chew on This

    By making Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund siblings instead of just friends, C.S. Lewis develops them as a small community, rather than individual heroes.

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, single men are kindly and generous, but single women are dangerous and threatening.

  • The Supernatural

    Magic and miracles are two sides of the same coin in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and it can often be difficult to tell where a spiritual miracle ends and a magical happening begins.

    In order to convey spiritual ideas to a child audience, fantastic and supernatural tropes are used (we're talking to you, White Witch).

    In this book, magic can be good or evil, or even simply a fundamental structuring principle for the world. Magic doesn't always work in the same way twice, and miracles may be more complicated—and painful—than expected.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. What are the "Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time" and the "Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time"?
    2. Why does C.S. Lewis choose to describe events like Aslan's resurrection as "magic" instead of "miracles"?
    3. Consider the White Witch's magical powers, which include turning people into stone, creating an endless winter, and disguising herself as a tree stump. Why are freezing and stasis such important aspects of evil magic in this book?
    4. Why doesn't the wardrobe always work as a magical gateway between worlds? Why is it sometimes a door to Narnia and sometimes just a wardrobe?

    Chew on This

    By describing Aslan's resurrection as magic instead of a miracle, C.S. Lewis focuses on the fantasy-adventure dimension of the story, rather than the religious doctrine underlying it.

    C.S. Lewis chooses to describe Aslan's abilities as magic, rather than as miracles, because magic is an integral part of the world of Narnia and has clear, inviolable rules, while miracles imply an interruption or exception to a world's rules.

  • Man and the Natural World

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, human beings and other creatures are at their best when they live in harmony with the natural world and don't try to halt the passage of time or change nature in any one particular state.

    When the natural world is allowed to progress in its own way, it will become a paradise, and very little will need to be done to make it habitable. Radical reshaping of the world in order to make it "civilized" or "modern" is super-undesirable, though. Everything that people need can be found in nature if they know where to look for it.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. How does creating an endless winter in Narnia help the White Witch to control her subjects? What is the significance of it being always winter but never Christmas?
    2. Where and how do Narnians tend to live? Consider Mr. Tumnus's cave, Mr. Beaver's dam, and the Castle of Cair Paravel. How integrated are Narnians' lives with the rhythms of the earth?
    3. What are Dryads and Naiads? What are trees like in Narnia? How do these creatures contribute to the connection between Narnians and their land?

    Chew on This

    In order to restore the government of Narnia, Aslan must first reinstate a natural progression of the seasons.

    The importance of having Christmas during the winter in Narnia symbolizes the importance of balancing natural rhythms with man-made ones – the seasons must co-exist with human ways of marking time.

  • Exploration

    The desire to explore and experience new things is front and center in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And C.S. Lewis doesn't try to sugar-coat either the dangers or the thrills of exploration.

    He also doesn't limit the definition of "exploration." It might mean investigating the outdoors, the indoors, a magical world that exists in another dimension, or even one's own psychological world. When a closet filled with mothball-smelling jackets becomes a portal to a winter landscape, anything is possible,

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Why do Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy make their most exciting discoveries when exploring the Professor's house, instead of the woods around it? What is the symbolic significance of finding more inside than outside?
    2. Is it simply bad luck or fate that causes Edmund to meet the White Witch when he first explores Narnia on his own?
    3. What are Susan's objections to exploring Narnia? Do you agree or disagree with her reasoning?
    4. What does Peter mean when he says that exploring Narnia is going to be "exciting enough without any pretending" (6.23)?

    Chew on This

    The innocent desire of the Pevensie children to explore the world around them is contrasted with the selfish sightseeing conducted by the tourists who view the house with Mrs. Macready.