Narnia: Layers of Meaning

All summer I worked on developing courses on C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. In one sense, it was labor, but some labors provide spiritual satisfaction. This was one of those labors. I’m now presenting the fruit of that labor to a room of seventy people at my church who seem eager to learn what Lewis has given us in these presumably “children’s” tales. What they are discovering, I trust, is that they are just as meaningful to adults.

I’m beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I prefer the published order. Although I had read the entire series earlier in my life, coming back to the books now, as a more mature adult (I write that in faith), I am amazed by how much I had forgotten from my previous reading. This brings home Lewis’s own advice that it is important to re-read good books—you can never get everything from just one reading.

In the case of LWW, what I received this time was not only a deeper grasp of the spiritual nature of the story, but also even the whimsical elements.

I kept coming across that comment in the first couple of chapters and wondered why Lewis would say that over and over. I found the answer in one of my resource books, David Downing’s Into the Wardrobe:

When Lewis sent Owen Barfield a draft of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Barfield’s wife Maud was concerned lest children read the story and accidentally lock themselves inside a wardrobe. Lewis took this cautionary note to heart and ended up adding five warnings to [the book] about not closing the door and locking oneself in.

After the story was published, a little boy in Oxford took a hatchet and chopped a hole in the back of a family wardrobe, hoping to find his own way into Narnia.

Why begin with LWW instead of The Magician’s Nephew? It has to do with the sense of wonder and mystery that awaits as one goes through that wardrobe . . .

. . . and what one will find there—perhaps a friend?

A friend who makes you feel so welcome and at home—literally.

Yet there is a plot twist as we discover the friend may not be a friend at all.

But when the faun, Mr. Tumnus, can’t go through with his betrayal, Lucy offers immediate love and forgiveness. She holds no bitterness toward him. Might not that be a great lesson for any adult?

With the help of another resource, Christin Ditchfield’s A Family Guide to Narnia, I begin each chapter with some Biblical passages for consideration as we discuss the chapter, like these, for instance:

There are layers of meaning in all of the Narnia books. As I continue teaching, I pray that the adults in the room will take to heart what the Lord gave to Lewis and what now He is offering to us through Lewis.