The Stone Table where Aslan dies in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is generally interpreted as a symbol of Christ’s Cross. However, the Table, as it appears in the first three books of the Narnian series, reveals a more complex meaning through a fugue-like repetition of two images: first, Aslan on the Table and second, the “table” itself with its possible history prior to Aslan’s death and its fate after His resurrection. The counterpoint of these two images reveals the mysticism of evangelical adventure to the Narnian travelers.
This fugue-like repetition is reflected in the various stories about the Table, its unsolved mythology and the visible completion of the Gospel. Lewis uses the adjectives “visible” and “unsolved” to denote two types of miracle: Christ’s death and resurrection is a “visible” type ,while the pagan mythology of Corn King or death and resurrection of the corn is not visible, so “still unsolved.” Regarding the echoing pattern of both the “visible” message of Christianity and the “unsolved” prophecy of mythology, Lewis uses the musical term “fugue” to compare the intertwined harmony of miracles to the reality of God: “Divine reality is like a fugue. All His acts are different, but they all rhyme or echo to one another, the liveness, the elusiveness, the intertwined harmonies.” This intertwined fugal harmony may be found in Lewis’s assertion that there is one Great Story, the “visible,” which transcends human stories of myth, the “unsolved.” He believes that the myths of pagan gods, dead and risen, were historically completed in the Gospel, the story of Jesus Christ who died and rose 2000 years ago.
To express his Christian ideas through his fictional works, Lewis uses a fugue-type method such as is commonly found in postmodernist literature. I have elsewhere termed Lewis’s characteristic literary approach “Christian Postmodernism.” Lewis adopts various literary approaches including the employment of multiple metafiction-style stories, the creation of a frame story, the blurring of the roles of narrator, author, and character, and the intrusion of the narrator as persona “I.” His use of a frame story or metafiction reflects his notion of the Gospel in which myth is beyond reason and thought. He starts The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW) with the form of a frame story in which the Pevensies are transported from this world into another world. Similarly, the Table is first introduced through a frame story when Caspian’s adventure is recounted to the Pevensies by Trumpkin.
The narrator of the Chronicles is also a character or persona in the stories. Its gender is not certain, but I provisionally use the male pronoun, for the voice sounds like a mixture of Lewis, Prof. Kirk, and an unknown third person. He usually keeps his objective stance as narrator but on rare occasions interludes the story, directly speaking to the reader. His voice is sometimes marked with parentheses: “None of the party except Edmund (and perhaps Trumpkin) was a rock climber.” He also directly speaks with a character of the story: “‘Why,’ said I, ‘was it so sad?’ ‘Sad!! No,’ said Lucy.” The persona “I” acts both as a narrator and a character, and his ambiguous roles blur between fact and fiction.
Lewis’s ultimate intention in using these various fugue-like techniques is to express a greater story that is beyond understanding. Lewis compares the divine reality to fugue. Just as God completed a beautiful miracle of the Gospel by mobilizing all his visible and invisible myths, so a fugue likewise creates a beautiful harmony made up of different parts that echo to one another. Lewis makes the fugue effect in Narnia by paralleling two stories of the Table, known and unknown, and also including a story of the Table in a frame story.
The beautiful quality of fugue in Narnia can be rephrased as its “Donegality”― Lewis’s concept as re-evaluated by Michael Ward in his book Planet Narnia. Ward’s work focuses on the atmospheric flavor of The Chronicles of Narnia: “Surveying the various words which Lewis uses to denote ipseitas, I propose to elect ‘Donegality’ for this particular destiny.” Lewis coined the term “Donegality” in his work Spenser’s Image of Life to encapsulate the significance of the spiritual essence that draws readers to repeatedly return to and re-read the same stories. As Ward explains, “Re-reading them is like going back to a fruit for its taste; to an air for… what? for itself; to a region for its whole atmosphere―to Donegal for its Donegality and London for its Londonness.” Ward offers no direct observations regarding the Table, and indeed few scholars speak of its significance. Paul Ford, however, envisions the heavenly communion when he sees the renewed feast and the Knife on Aslan’s table in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He associates the table with the Holy Grail in the Arthurian legends: “the eternal refreshment of the Eucharist as the heavenly banquet.” Colin Duriez sees several Celtic cultural elements in Narnia and connects the Stone Table with Celtic cromlechs. He focuses on “a transfiguration of the pagan by the Christian.” Neither Ford nor Duriez, however, appears to note the different representations of “table” and “Table” in The Voyage Dawn Treader (VDT). For example, Ford capitalizes “Table,” although it is expressed as “Aslan’s table” in VDT.
The Table in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
In LWW, the Table, reminiscent of death, ultimately offers the joy of resurrection. It visibly represents a jovial festivity for Lucy who was “laughing, though she didn’t know why.” Aslan delightedly and playfully races with Lucy and Susan beside the Table. “Round and round the hill-top he led them.” Aslan continues to play another game of tossing Lucy and Susan, like a ball, in the air: “whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.”
However, the Table is initially introduced first by the Beavers and then the White Witch indirectly in LWW. Although in the beginning, the four children are unaware of either Aslan or the Table, three of them (with the exception of Edmund) choose to trust the Beavers who tell them to go to the Table. One significant reason for this is Lucy’s handkerchief, which Mr. Tumnus had entrusted to Mr. Beaver, telling him to meet Lucy “if anything happened to him.” It may also stem from the spiritual feelings they experience on hearing Aslan’s name, “for once again that strange feeling—like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them.” Something awe-inspiring tells them that the Table is their only way to save Mr. Tumnus, and later Edmund, from the White Witch.
The Table is visibly presented to the reader, as well as to the Pevensies, in the latter part of the book. It is described by the narrator as a table-shaped stone construction that “was cut all over with strange lines and figures that might be the letters of an unknown language.” It is uncertain, however, who built the Table or why it was built. At this point in the narrative, although the lines and figures on the Table remain undeciphered, they exert a mysterious force on the travelers, as the narrator says, “They gave you a curious feeling when you looked at them.”
The age of the Stone Table is also unknown, but the White Witch has some knowledge of what is written on the Table. She appears to associate herself with the Norse god Odin. According to H.A. Guerber, who wrote histories of Norse mythology and was particularly influential on Lewis, Odin learns the secret of the magic runes by sacrificing himself, using his spear made of ash wood. The Witch invokes Odin when she refers to both “a spear” and “ash”: “Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the trunk of the World Ash Tree?” She seems to know something of the letters on the Table, at least the meaning of the Deep Magic. She asserts, “I have a right to kill a traitor.” Unlike Odin, however, who has come to gain the secret runes at the risk of his life, the Witch does not know the deeper meaning of the invisible letters, the Deeper Magic. As Aslan later explains, “If 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.”
The White Witch assumes that the Table’s purpose is for killing victims, for “that is where it [sacrifice] has always been done before.” Lewis does not clarify whether these other victims were killed by the White Witch or someone else. Devin Brown assumes that the victims were killed by the Witch on the Table, but “whether these other victims were traitors she had a right to kill or simply creatures she wanted dead is another aspect Lewis leaves unexplained.” The Table is described in negative terms as “a great grim slab.” Lewis includes this harsh element in his portrayal of the Table to emphasize it as an appropriate place for sacrifice. As Brown indicates, the word “grim … adds a somewhat paradoxical emotional coloring.”
Lewis must owe something in his portrayal of the Table’s harshness to the image of the megalithic site, Stonehenge. Although Vaus points out that there is no evidence that human or animal sacrifice occurred at Stonehenge, we may conjecture that Stonehenge would have provided Lewis with imaginative inspiration. Before Lewis converted to Christianity around 1931, he had had two kinds of strange experiences relating to the Stonehenge. One relates to a short story that he wrote about Stonehenge in 1916, an eerie tale called “The Meagre One,” and the second was an actual visit that he made to Stonehenge in 1925. While he does not speak directly of either Deep Magic or Deeper Magic, these experiences must have elicited some spiritual response in Lewis, a sense of what Rudolph Otto called, “the numinous,” a feeling of awe mixed with fear. In “The Meagre One” the main character is punished at Stonehenge for killing a spider, and he seems to derive a masochistic pleasure from tormenting himself. “No, the Meagre One was not born with a squint: but long, long, long ago, so long ago that Stonehenge had a roof and walls & was a new built temple, he killed a spider.”
Lewis visited Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in 1925, he wrote afterwards that he was shocked to hear the disgusting roar of military exercise around the field. “It was the first time I had heard a gun fired since I left France, and I cannot tell you how odd the sensation was.” Salisbury Plain is a unique site that hosts both prehistoric monuments and modern military exercises. A large portion of the plain has been used for military exercises since 1898. The sound of the army reminded Lewis of his grim days as an officer of the Third Battalion in France from 1917 to 1918.
In the story of “The Meagre One” set at Stonehenge, Lewis seemed to express himself as a slave to self-hatred, and on hearing the blasts in the vicinity of the Stonehenge, he must have felt experienced displeasure at the dehumanization caused by the modern technological age, though he simply expressed it as “odd.” Around three decades later, perhaps Lewis may have converted these negative emotions into a positive redeeming energy in LWW, just as he transformed the meanings of the Table from the site for Aslan’s death to His resurrection. He recreated the splitting sound of the Table in a new dimension. As the Table cracked it sounded the blast of Aslan’s redeeming sacrifice for Edmund, who was then a slave to self-hatred: “a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate.” Aslan’s redeeming energy extends from the Table to the rest of the natural world, which was locked in slavery to the White Witch. The redeeming sound of the Table echoes the roar of Aslan when renewing the wood in Narnia: “… all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.”
The Table in Prince Caspian
Prince Caspian (PC) opens with the four children’s pilgrimage to the Table. Like medieval pilgrims journeying to venerate the relics of a saint, the four travelers pay a visit to Aslan’s relics. However, the Pevensies visit not the tomb of a dead saint, but a tomb-like mound in which the Table is buried. They do not see Aslan’s body or bones there, but they meet the living Aslan on the way to the burial mound. When they see “the Great Mound” from a distance, Aslan himself appears to the travelers, reminiscent of Jesus joining his disciples as they walked to Emmaus. The Narnian travelers realize that reaching the Table is not their ultimate purpose, but actually meeting Aslan is the true goal. A pilgrimage or journey towards the relics of the Table serves as a spiritual aid that motivates them to meet Aslan.
On meeting Aslan, Prince Caspian and the travelers are given individual missions. Lucy and Susan help the King of the Wood to rescue his woods, and soon they see the trees again walking and dancing. The boys and the dwarf help Prince Caspian and the old Narnians fight against the usurping Narnian dictator, Miraz. Aslan tells Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin to go to the Mound and to “deal with what you will find there.” Like the Celtic pilgrims who visited “burial grounds as gateways to the other life,” the Pevensies’ journey ultimately seems to offer access to Aslan, the eternal being, unlimited by time and untamed by space.
During the first ten chapters of PC, the role of the Table is not fully explained for the reader. The burial mound is referred to as “Aslan’s How” in PC, but no reason is given as to why it was built, though the narrator offers some small glimpses into its long history. The How is connected to LWW explicitly when “the children could see the Great Mound, Aslan’s How, which had been raised over the Table since their days.” The word how is Old English for ‘mound’, and its usage, Duriez notes, reminds us of “the sweep of Narnia’s history.”
The How is only mentioned to the reader by a mythological creature, the dwarf Trumpkin. Lewis presents the tale of Trumpkin in the form of a frame story, within which the stories of Cornelius and Caspian are included. Listening to Trumpkin, the four children―and the reader―come to regard Aslan’s How as Aslan’s Table, but they do not fully understand the difference. Edmund sounds somewhat confused: “We’ll be at the Stone Table (Aslan’s How, I mean).” They are as yet unaware of the danger for they do not clearly understand the 1300 years of change that Narnia has experienced. Their lack of understanding engenders confusion. Geographically they are lost in the gorge, while spiritually they cannot trust Lucy, who has seen Aslan. Peter, their leader, makes the wrong decision to disregard his sister and admits, “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it.”
Trumpkin, the children’s main supporter on their journey, adds another confusing element. As the dwarf is skeptical of the existence of Aslan, he appears oblivious to the Table’s significance. Although the reader has good reason to disbelieve Trumpkin, he is nonetheless a loyal servant to his master Prince Caspian who does trust Aslan. Both the Pevensies and the reader must decide whether or not they can trust their guide.
Within Trumpkin’s story, we hear another tale of Aslan’s How from the mythological creature, Cornelius, who explains to the other Narnians that Aslan’s How was built by Narnians long ago: “Narnians raised in very ancient times over a very magical place, where stood—and perhaps still stands—a very magical Stone.” Although Cornelius, half-human and half-dwarf and presumably not believed by Trumpkin, emphasizes the magical nature of the Stone Table when he shares the story of the burial with the Narnians for the first time, he has never seen the site nor Aslan himself.
Through Trumpkin’s story, we hear about the impression that the mound makes on Caspian. Although the Prince does not know the exact date of its construction, the narrator describes the sense of awe surrounding the ancient mound: “a round green hill on top of another hill, long since grown over with trees, and one little, low doorway leading into it. The tunnels inside were a perfect maze till you got to know them, and they were lined and roofed with smooth stones.” Through the narrator’s voice, we, the reader, also see what Caspian saw: “Caspian saw strange characters and snaky patterns, and pictures in which the form of a Lion was repeated again and again.”
This description of the mound, inside and outside, evokes Newgrange, a prehistoric megalithic mound in the country of Lewis’s birth. It is a hill-like burial in Ireland, around fifty kilometers from Dublin, with an entrance stone engraved with curved lines and a straight tunnel of stones concealed inside the mound. The site is best known for the illumination of its tunnel by the winter solstice sun. In PC, Aslan appears to the travelers, not like the sunshine, but like moonlight at midnight, yet he illuminates their minds as would the solstice sunshine at Newgrange, showing them which way to go. “Aslan without hesitation led them to their left, farther up the gorge…. Fortunately the Moon shone right above the gorge so that neither side was in shadow.”
The Table was deliberately made inaccessible, buried in the hill, and covered by the wood. It is likely that this measure was taken to prevent some people from using the inspirational place to satisfy their own ambitions, perhaps because the Table was sacred. The dwarf Nikabrik provides a good sample of using the Table for self-serving purposes. His true character is ambiguously veiled while still outside Aslan’s How but is gradually revealed inside the mound. When he looks at the Table in the mound, he thinks not of Aslan, sacrificed on the Table, but rather remembers the White Witch who killed Aslan. He is possessed of an evil desire to use the Table as a tool to gain power. He says, “We want power: and we want a power that will be on our side. As for power, do not the stories say that the Witch defeated Aslan, and bound him, and killed him on that very stone which is over there, just beyond the light?”
Through stories related by mythological creatures, both Trumpkin, the cynical but loyal subject of Caspian, and Cornelius, the staunch believer in Aslan, the grand narrative of the Table is told and retold in the manner of a fugue, and finally its truth is mysteriously passed to the children and the reader, just as the smaller mythologies of ancient man reach completion the Grand Story of the Gospel.
The Table in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
In VDT, the word ‘table’ is defined as “a wide oblong space” and is represented in two ways. Lewis writes about the table with a lower-case ‘t’ while at other times, it appears as Table, with a capital ‘T’. In Chapters 13 and 14 of VDT, the table with a small ‘t’, is mentioned 22 times, excluding the pronoun ‘it’. The fugue-like counterpoint of two images ultimately allows the voyagers to experience the evangelical adventure.
There are two noteworthy contexts in which it is referred to as an ordinary ‘table’. The first is when the crew sees three sleepers who had been enchanted as retribution for their blasphemous self-assertion leading to their insulting the Stone Knife. The other is when a retired sky-star, Ramandu, and his daughter specify the flat stone space as “Aslan’s table.”
The Table―with a capital “T”―is represented when Lucy remembers it as the place where Aslan was killed, though she does not directly point to the oblong space. She seems to be uncomfortable when she hears the lady speak about the rectangular space as Aslan’s table: “‘Why is it called Aslan’s table?’ asked Lucy presently.” Although the lady explains that the table is called Aslan’s table because it has been set at Aslan’s order, the travelers continue to call it the ‘table’. They are reluctant to change their views even at the end of chapter 14. This is likely to result from the travelers’ lack of understanding as to what the stone table is for. They may perhaps suppose that this ‘table’ is not the ‘Table’ because it seems illogical to think of Aslan’s Table being set on the island of stars. It also seems physically impossible to think that the intact table could be Aslan’s Table, which has been split in two. It seems as though the travelers are under the control of an enchantment that must be broken. They need to see beyond to the invisible reality to unfold the remainder of the complete story. The narrator of VDT has a different perspective to that of the travelers on the flat space, referring to it twice at the end of chapter 14: “they all came trooping back to Aslan’s Table” and “they all ate and drank together at the great Table between the pillars where the feast was magically renewed.” Ramandu predicts that the enchantment that has been placed on the sleepers will be broken when the travelers journey east and return to the island of stars. Ramandu’s prediction may also prove true for the travelers’ lack of understanding, though it is not explicitly suggested that they will gain this perspective by which the table becomes the Table.
In the first two books of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Table is the destination that the travelers seek, but in the third book, VDT, the travelling companions are unaware how intrinsic the Table is to their voyage. Unlike in LWW and PC, there is no foreshadowing of the Table before chapters 13 and 14 of VDT. However, Lewis describes both chapters as though they were the foreshadowing of the three dramas in Chapter 16: the crew return to save the sleepers, a mouse-knight Reepicheep is left alone to save them and to journey possibly to Aslan’s Country, and three visitors from Earth reach the island of the Lamb.
Even after the travelers have discovered the whereabouts of the seven missing lords, they continue to sail to the end of the eastern sea. The primary reason for doing this is to break the enchantment that has been placed on the sleepers, as a mythological Ramandu guided their fate. It is also likely that the underlying reason is to break their own enchantment. On returning to the island of stars, the voyagers will probably see the merging of two images: sleepers and themselves, awakened. Then they can gain the restored sight of the Table.
The other voyagers can gain renewed perspective of the Table in different ways. Reepicheep is a reflection of Aslan at the Table who sacrificed himself to save Narnia. The noble mouse receives Ramandu’s prediction as a personal oracle: someone must be left behind to save the enchanted sleepers. The small knight whose life is guided by a dryad’s prophecy, is finally lifted up upon the waves, possibly to Aslan’s Country.
Aslan himself does not visibly appear at the Table on the island of stars, but He comes in the form of the Lamb at the next island and prepares breakfast for the children. While the travelers eat breakfast with the Lamb, they can see the Lamb’s transformation into Aslan, reminiscent of two disciples who recognized their companion as Jesus when they sat at meal with Him. They will be visibly at Aslan’s Table, though “the Table” is not explicitly mentioned in the text. They are opened to the intrinsic image of “the Table” while they eat.
The sharing of a meal with Jesus also reminds us of “the Lord’s Table” the day before Jesus was offered as the Lamb for Sacrifice. The Eucharist is a temporal feast to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” However, in the coming Kingdom of God we will have an eternal feast with the Lord. The children’s sharing of “the Table” is an invisible but prophetic vision of the eternal feast with the Lamb.
As evangelism is the saving of sleeping souls abroad and at home, so the crew on the ship in VDT returns to break the enchantment that has been placed on the sleepers, Reepicheep gives himself up to save others, and the visitors from Earth willingly share the invisible Table with the Lamb. The children finally come to understand that the real reason why they have come to Narnia is so that they may know Aslan in their own home country, and evangelize themselves in Narnia and to others on the earth.
The counterpoint of two images of the Table creates a fugue, that rhyme or echo to one another, intertwined harmonies, revealing to us that being with Aslan is the real reason for our adventure in Narnia, just as being with Jesus is the real reason for our adventure in this world. Like the two disciples at Emmaus who recognized Jesus at the table, the eyes of the Narnian travelers are opened to the mysticism of evangelical adventure through the Table. As Underhill finds the transcendent life revealed “in all those places where the direct and simple life of earth goes on,” the evangelical truth may be found at the most common facet of life, the Table.
Kyoko Yuasa is a lecturer of English Literature at Fuji Women’s University, Japan.
She is the author of “C.S. Lewis and Christian Postmodernism: Jewish Laughter Reversed” in Inklings Forever (2017), C. S. Lewis and Christian Postmodernism: Word, Image and Beyond (2016), and Japanese translator of Bruce L. Edwards’s A Rhetoric of Reading: C.S. Lewis’s Defense of Western Literacy (2007).
Kyoko Yuasa. “Table Narnia:Fugue to Evangelical Adventure.” An Unexpected Journal 1, no. 4. (Advent 2018): 109-125.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/table-narnia-fugue-to-evangelical-adventure/
 C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,”in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 22, 13.
 Ibid., 23.
 C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis Volume I: Family Letters 1905-1931 (New York: Harper, 2004), 970.
 Kyoko Yuasa, C.S. Lewis and Christian Postmodernism: Word, Image, and Beyond (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2016), 46-47.
 Ibid., 111.
 C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (New York: Harper, 1980), 129.
 C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Harper, 1980), 265.
 Michael Ward, Planet Narnia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 74.
 Ibid., 115.
 Paul F. Ford, Companion to Narnia (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 64.
 Colin Duriez, A Field Guide to Narnia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 211.
 Ford, Companion to Narnia, 64.
 Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 215.
 C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Harper, 1980), 225.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 111.
 Ibid., 173.
 H. A. Guerber, Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and Sagas. (London: George C. Harrap, 1908), 16, 33.
 Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 195.
 Ibid., 155.
 Ibid., 179.
 Ibid., 148.
 Devin Brown, Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 187.
 Ibid., 168.
 Will Vaus, “Lewis and Stonehenge,” The Official Website of C.S. Lewis, 17 October, 2018, accessed 30 November, 2018, http://www.cslewis.com/lewis-and-stonehenge/.
 Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (New York: Penguin, 1959), 151.
Lewis, The Collected Letters, 259.
 Ibid., 640.
 Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 186.
 Ibid., 180.
Lewis, Prince Caspian, 161.
 C. S. Lewis, The C. S. Lewis Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 1184.
 Lewis, Prince Caspian, 164.
 Philip Sheldrake, Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1995), 55.
 Lewis, Prince Caspian, 161.
 Duriez, A Field Guide to Narnia, 170.
 Lewis, Prince Caspian, 125.
 Ibid., 134.
 Ibid., 136.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 160.
 Ibid., 177.
 Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 207.
 Ibid., 215.
 Ibid., 229.
 Ibid., 217.
 Ibid., 311.
 Ibid., 313.
 Luke 24:30-31, NRSV.
 1 Cor. 11:26, NRSV.
 Rev. 3:20, NRSV.
 Evelyn Underhill, “Mysticism,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed 17 October, 2018, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/underhill/mysticism.pdf?membership_type=b10f8d8331236b8b61aa39bc6f86075c12d7e005.