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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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From the archives of The American Prospect:
Fantasia: The Gospel According to C.S. Lewis

The Stone Table

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Hollywood Jesus
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Narnia Confidential: A resource for all seven books in the series


Always Winter, Never Christmas

Setting the Climate for Conversion

Written By Emilie Griffin

Snow melting off pine needlesYou will remember that the White Witch cast her spell on Narnia, decreeing that it must be always winter and never Christmas. So when the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first arrive in this amazing place, the fields are covered with snow.

A simple enough device for a good fairy tale, don’t you agree? But Aslan, the true king, who is a royal lion, has returned to save the Narnia kingdom from the White Witch.

When the spell of the White Witch is broken, the melting begins.

C.S. Lewis reveals this change in a scene with the children and those jolly Narnians, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Father Christmas arrives with sleigh bells jingling. At once the children and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver suspect that the White Witch is losing her powers.

He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.…

Now that the children actually stood looking at him… he was so big, so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.

Father Christmas has brought presents for everyone. He intends to deliver to Mrs. Beaver a new and better sewing machine, and says he will drop it off at her house. When Mrs. Beaver mentions that her house is locked up, Father Christmas says, “Locks and bolts make no difference to me.”

Mr. Beaver’s Christmas gift also will be found when he gets home. “You will find your dam finished and mended and all the leaks stopped and a new sluice gate fitted.”

The children receive presents as well—"tools, not toys," Father Christmas explains, saying “Bear them well"—the time to use them may be near at hand.

For Peter: a shield and a sword. “The shield was the color of silver and on it was a red lion, as bright as a ripe strawberry when you pick it ...also…a sword belt and a was just the right size and weight for Peter to use."

For Eve's daughter Susan: a quiver full of arrows and a little ivory horn. “When you put this horn to your lips and blow it, wherever you are, some kind of help will come to you,” he tells her.

For Lucy, Eve’s daughter: a little glass bottle of healing cordial and a small dagger. “In this bottle is a cordial...," Father Christmas explains. "If any of your friends are hurt, a few drops of this will restore you. And the dagger is to defend yourself.”

Then from his bag Father Christmas brings out a large tray with five cups and saucers, and cream, and sugar, and a teapot sizzling and piping hot!

Not at all what one of our American Santas might do at the mall.

When departing, Father Christmas calls out, “A Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” He cracks his whip and the reindeer and sledge are soon out of sight.

Not long ago, while leading a discussion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at a nearby Episcopal church, I realized the source of the winter spell in Narnia, and its ending. This figure of snow melting is one way that Lewis describes the last stage of his own experience of religious conversion. He describes his own conversion, with all its fits and starts, in Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life.

For Lewis, conversion was a long, slow process—first an acceptance of Theism and later, belief in and surrender to Jesus Christ.

There was one special moment “before God closed in on me,” Lewis writes. At a given time in a bus at the top of Headington Hill it seemed to Lewis he was offered a moment of “wholly free choice.”

Lewis became aware that he was holding something at bay or shutting something out. He felt as though he was tightly dressed up in stiff clothing like a lobster. There was a door he could open or keep shut. But there were no bribes, no rewards or punishments either way.

Lewis made the choice for God. He insists his conversion was not dramatic, but quiet.

After accepting God there was, however, “repercussion on the imaginative level.” Lewis suggests it all happened without words and images, but he uses vivid words and images to describe his inner change of heart.

“I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.”

A few pages later, he insists that his conversion was almost without consolation. “There was no strain of music from within, no smell of eternal orchards at the threshold, when I was dragged through the doorway. No kind of desire was present at all.”

Lewis’s figure of snow melting is a good one, I think, to suggest how a person’s long coldness of heart may be changed, bit by bit, into a warmer, living heart for God.

Small wonder that Lewis later used this figure of snow, enlarging it to a whole snowy kingdom under the White Witch’s spell.When the snow of Narnia melts, Lewis is suggesting how winter in our hearts gives way to a springtime of faith.

Another passage in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe heightens the drama of snow melting. It is when Edmund (who has been captured by the White Witch) realizes that her powers are declining.

Now they were steadily racing on again. And soon Edmund noticed that the snow which splashed against them as they rushed through it was much wetter than it had been last night....

After a few moments Edmund realizes that the White Witch’s spell has been broken.

All around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realised that the frost was over.

Patches of green grass and green tree-branches were beginning to appear throughout the forest. Aslan had broken the White Witch’s power.

And much nearer there was a drip-drip-drip from the branches of all the trees.

(It’s a clear parallel to the language in Surprised by Joy.)

Though the Witch fights it every step, Edmund can see more clearly than she. Her slave the Dwarf holds Edmund hostage and keeps yanking on the rope that binds him. But Lewis writes:

This didn’t prevent Edmund from seeing. Only five minutes later he noticed a dozen crocuses growing around the foot of an old tree—gold and purple and white.

It’s a simple but powerful metaphor: winter cold suggesting the deathblow of evil in human lives; and springtime to suggest personal transformation and the redemption of the whole human race.

Because his cold heart had been warmed by the love of God, C.S. Lewis extended the metaphor to Narnia, and thus we see the melting snow when Aslan is on the move.

Copyright ©2005 Emilie Griffin

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
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