Salvation as Illuminated by the Planetary Imagery in

The Chronicles of Narnia

 

Like most fairy tales, The Chronicles of Narnia are salvation stories. As the parables of Jesus demonstrate, salvation is communicated best through a story because the Gospel is itself the great tale of rescue and restoration. Just as a marriage is much more than just an exchange of vows, so too our salvation in Christ is much more than a spiritual transaction; it is the multifaceted, storied truth of our cosmic redemption! It is the restoration of all things to divine order and right relationship with God. Through the form of fairy tale, C.S. Lewis crafted his Narnian Chronicles to give his readers an imaginative experience of this cosmic redemption. In his seminal work, Planet Narnia, Michael Ward revealed the framework of Medieval cosmology that Lewis used to subtly shape the symbolism in each of his seven salvation stories. Lewis explored the multidimensional, cosmic nature of salvation by composing seven different fairy tales shaped by the imagery of the seven different medieval planets. Ward’s decoding of this planetary imagery enables Lewis’s readers to better understand Narnia’s richly varying visions of Christ’s one great salvation.

In the first Chronicle, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, Lewis employs the imagery of King Jupiter to portray the cosmic stage upon which salvation’s great story is played. The entire cosmos is created to be rightly ordered in wondrous submission to its Creator who alone is the source of all goodness, truth, beauty, and being. However, evil entered the cosmos on the day the Son of Dawn fell from heaven and tore open the fabric of reality in his desire for an independent throne “above the stars of God.”[1] In The Lion, Lewis uses the high, distant, and cold symbolism of Saturn in contrast with the jocund, magnanimous, and joyful symbolism of Jupiter to embody this cosmic war between the Satanic reign of the White Witch and the redemptive rule of the Holy Lion. By comparing the Narnian stories to “The Planets,” an early poem where Lewis develops his understanding of each planet’s power and character, Ward deepens our understanding of how Lewis envisioned the battle between Aslan and the White Witch. Like Saturn, who devoured his own children to prevent the rise of a new kingdom, the Witch brings “pale pestilence” and makes Narnia “Sickly and uncertain” and “Weak with winters.”[2] But the reign of bright Jupiter, the true King, ascends with the return of the golden Aslan. The Jovial King brings “winter passed” and “righteous power” as he restores order in the land with “joy and jubilee.”[3]

It is within this great cosmic narrative that we can clearly see Edmund’s individual story of redemption. Long before the Pevensies entered the Wardrobe, the cosmic war between the Saturnocentric tyrant and the Jovial King cut through their hearts. Before Edmund’s foot felt one crunch of Narnian snow, he demonstrated a grumbling, deceptive, and Saturnine spirit. On their first night in the great house in England, Edmund “was tired and pretending not to be tired, which always made him bad-tempered.”[4] His attitude was sour and his sibling relationships tainted. While Peter warm-heartedly tries to encourage and care for Lucy, Edmund “could be spiteful,” and he taunted his sister cruelly before he ever came under the White Witch’s particular power.[5] Edmund resists being influenced by Peter’s cheerful, magnanimous spirit because he bitterly resented his place as the younger brother.

Edmund’s Saturnocentric orientation made him vulnerable to the White Witch’s power. She promised to make him the king of a different dynasty so he need not forever submit to his older brother. The usurping White Queen promises to make Edmund the “King of Narnia when I am gone” but only make his brother “a Duke and your sisters Duchesses.”[6] Edmund enjoys the deceptive delights of the Queen’s power and falls under her spell. The great lie enters his disordered heart and, like the treacherous Son of the Dawn, he lives set his own “throne on high.”[7] He turns traitor against the true King and betrays his brother and sisters to the White Witch.

To be saved, Edmund must be released from the treacherous power of the White Witch and reoriented to the Jovian spirit of Aslan who is the true and eternal King of Narnia. Edmund first begins to see the Witch’s true nature as her cruelty turns toward himself. Held her miserable prisoner, Edmund realizes that his proud fancy, fueled by the Queen’s fair language, has entirely misled him. “All the things he had said to make himself believe that she was good and kind and that her side was really the right side sounded to him silly now.”[8] Edmund demonstrates a truly changed heart when he tries to stop the Witch from turning the “merry party” of talking animals into stone at their Christmas feast. [9] From that moment on, when “Edmund for the first time in this story felt sorry for someone besides himself,”[10] the whole land of Narnia begins to mirror the thaw of her regent’s heart.

Edmund is soon rescued in body from the White Witch, but he still must be redeemed from his guilt. The wage of treachery is death and payment for Edmund’s sin must be made lest the “Deep Magic” be violated and all Narnia “be overturned and perish in fire and water.”[11] As a Son of Adam and regent of the King, Edmund’s guilt is intertwined with Narnia’s fate. Salvation is not an individual, private matter. When Adam sinned, creation fell. If Edmund, Son of Adam is redeemed, creation will be redeemed. Instead of allowing Edmund to die for his own sin, Aslan offers himself and reveals the true character of Jupiter’s joyous magnanimity. Aslan pays for Edmund’s guilt with his own blood and is raised in indestructible life by the “magic deeper still” of sacrificial love, the power which turns back the disordering power of death and makes all things new.[12] By the power of Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection, the battle against the Witch will be won and all four thrones at Cair Paravel will be filled. The rightful order and reign of all things in the Kingdom of Aslan is reestablished.

Saved from the Witch’s Saturnocentric power, Edmund is restored to a right relationship with Aslan. In repentance and humility, Edmund becomes loyal to the rightful King of Kings and submits to Peter as the anointed High King. This submission repairs and renews his relationships with his siblings. Courageously attacking the Witch in order to break her wand, Edmund proves he is a true Jovian king of Narnia by sacrificing himself as Aslan had sacrificed for him. Full redemption then comes to all Narnia when the resurrected Aslan finally kills the White Witch and sets the children as kings and queens forever upon the four thrones of Cair Paravel. The festive, magnanimous, and chivalrous character of Jupiter rules over the coronation and all the halcyon reign of the four high regents of Narnia.[13]

While the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe portrays the kingdom nature of salvation, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader highlights its transcendent character. As the Dawn Treader sails east, the Narnians traverse the realm of the sun, the illuminating “eye and mind of the whole universe” and “the heaven of theologians and philosophers.”[14] Sol turns sad, grey things to gleaming gold and “makes men wise and liberal.”[15] Through a thousand shining details, from the gilding of the ship to the Lion’s shining mane, we behold the radiance of Christ which is the light of men.

The unenlightened Eustace is most desperately in need of a solar salvation. Eustace is a comical embodiment of the materialist worldview. No detail of his life with his parents, Harold and Alberta, admits of the spiritual realm. Eustace’s darkened spirit is shriveled and immature, and the inner eye of his soul is stubbornly closed. His relationships are all utterly out of joint; he treats his parents as peers, shows no kind interest in others, has no friends, and takes no responsibility for his rude behavior, prompting the candid Reepicheep to dub him a “singularly discourteous person.”[16] He mocks art and virtue, and “deep down inside him he like[s] bossing and bullying.”[17] Eustace Scrub is possibly the most unenlightened, yet curiously entertaining boy one could imagine.

However, kicking and howling, Eustace is baptized violently into the spiritual realm imaginatively embodied by the wondrous world of Narnia. The first words he speaks in Narnia are those of denial: “Let me go. Let me back. I don’t like it.” “’Let you go?’ said Caspian, ‘But where?’”[18] After being plunged into the supernatural realm of Narnia, Eustace, the stauch materialist, frantically looks for a way out. Although the reality of this new world quickly becomes indubitable, yet Eustace persists in denying the true nature of his miraculous experiences. In anger, he demands “to be put ashore and said that at the first port he would ‘lodge a disposition’ against them all with the British Consul.”[19] He hopes it might be a dream.[20] Unable to understand the spiritual realities that give honor and strength to the Narnians, he calls “that idiot Caspian”[21] an “odious stuck-up prig.”[22] Ironically, he calls Reepicheep a “little beast,” but it is Eustace who usually acts as nothing more than an animated lump of cells. [23] He has a “beastly time”[24] and can hardly bear to eat the “beastly stuff” offered him on this “beastly boat.[25]

However, with “[d]ivine humility,” Aslan has gently prepared Eustace for his redemption, opening “the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”[26] Aslan snares Eustace with the only Solar power in which he is interested: gold. Eustace tries to take possession of the gold, but with a hardness that “is kinder than the softness of men,” the darkness of Eustace’s heart is brought into the light and he turns into a dragon.[27] Eustace is forced to see with his own dull eyes the dragonish stupidity of his heart. Eustace needed to experience his isolation physically in order to begin to see it spiritually. For the first time, “He began to wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed.”[28] Prompted by the burning but golden pain of enlightenment, Eustace begins to repent; he “lifted up its voice and wept.”[29] Grief broke the cold, hard, and lifeless ground of his heart so something new could grow.

Now acknowledging his own soul, Eustace is able to connect with other souls at last, and his relationships begin to heal. As “enormous and boiling tears … flowed from his eyes,” Eustace is literally turned inside out and others are, for the first time, allowed to see his real self.[30] Queen Lucy the Valiant kisses his scaly face and the others all encourage him with their friendship. Eustace begins to function spiritually. He finally perceives the needs of others and becomes helpful. He discovers “the pleasure (quite new to him) of being liked and, still more, of liking other people.”[31] His greatest adversary, Reepicheep, becomes “his most constant comforter.”[32]

Eustace is now awake but not yet fully redeemed. The darkness of his heart has been exposed and his soul has been softened but Aslan, sun-god, and “killer of dragons” must come with his solar light to finally dispel the darkness which entombs Eustace still.[33] Aslan kills the dragon of sin and sets the boy free. Eustace dies to his old self as “the very first tear [Aslan] made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart,”[34] but then he is raised into new spiritual life, “smooth and soft.”[35] Eustace is baptized by his Priest and King and drawn into the light of life itself.

Aslan does not ever speak aloud to Eustace, for he would teach him how to be illumined by God from within in order to live spiritually from the inside out. Although Eustace is still tempted to question its reality, and wonders aloud to Edmund if it “may have been all a dream,” his life has become permeable to the spiritual realm.[36] He is open to Edmund’s exhortation and he laughs and wonders at his new miraculous clothes. Most importantly, the redeemed Eustace takes responsibility for his own soul and apologizes to Edmund.

Furthermore, as it does in all the Chronicles, salvation also brings redemption to Eustace’s relationships. He now lives in a right relationship with Aslan, who is no longer to him the hated enemy but now the Light of his world. His relationship with his cousins, Caspian, and all the Narnians is made new. There was a “great … rejoicing when Edmund and the restored Eustace walked into the breakfast circle round the camp fire.”[37] Enlightenment has even restored Eustace’s relationship to the material realm. Eustace admits to Edmund, “You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms.”[38] He no longer sees his own body as just a bundle of nerves and molecules, but rather as a wondrous, holy gift.

If we could take the time to examine them one-by-one, we would see that all The Chronicles of Narnia are saturated with the glory of redemption. Each story is composed in harmony with the Great Story, wherein all things are redeemed and brought back into right relationship, all with all, and all part of “the majestic order that runs through all things.”[39] Lewis believed that the intricate and ordered dance of the planetary spheres in the old medieval model of the cosmos imaginatively embodied the harmonious, unified grandeur of the Gospel, and he delighted in its “combined splendor, sobriety, and coherence.”[40] By coloring each of his Chronicles with a different planetary atmosphere, Lewis artistically reflects this old vision of cosmic grandeur and reveals different aspects of what it means for our many stories to be shaped and transformed by Christ’s one salvation story. As we gaze into Narnia, through its varying planetary lenses, we can begin to see how the salvation of each saint and every kingdom is woven together in a glorious, multifaceted pattern of cosmic restoration.

Most often we cannot pinpoint the exact moment we too stepped through the Wardrobe or fell through a painting and into this great cosmic story ourselves. If we consider a specific minute we bowed our knees before God or the moment we were baptized before his people, “it would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that,” like Eustace, we were “from that time forth” utterly new creatures. However, “to be strictly accurate,” we must confess that this side of eternity, we too have only begun to be different. But oh, joy! The great cure has begun.[41]

Annie Crawford lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and three teenage daughters. She currently homeschools, teaches humanities courses, and serves on the Faith & Culture team at Christ Church Anglican while working to complete a Masters of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.

 

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Citation Information

Annie Crawford. “The Cure Has Begun: Salvation as Illuminated by the Planetary Imagery in The Chronicles of Narnia.” An Unexpected Journal 1, no. 4. (Advent 2018): 127-136.

Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/the-cure-has-begun/


Endnotes:

[1] Isa. 14:12-13.

[2] C.S. Lewis, “The Planets,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1992), 14-15.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperCollins 1995), 4.

[5] Ibid., 26.

[6] Ibid., 39.

[7] Is. 14:13

[8] Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 114.

[9] Ibid., 115.

[10] Ibid., 117.

[11] Ibid., 142.

[12] Ibid., 163.

[13] C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 106.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 16.

[17] Ibid., 4.

[18] Ibid., 13.

[19] Ibid., 27.

[20] Ibid., 30.

[21] Ibid., 75.

[22] Ibid., 74.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 105.

[25] Ibid., 71.

[26] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1994), 125.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 92.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., 100.

[31] Ibid., 102.

[32] Ibid., 103.

[33] Michael Ward, Planet Narnia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 113.

[34] Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 109.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., 106.

[37] Ibid., 111.

[38] Ibid., 109.

[39] Ward, Planet Narnia, 252.

[40] Lewis, The Discarded Image, 216.

[41] Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 112.

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