“Who is Aslan?”
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver. “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.”
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” Mr. Beaver said sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you!”
This week (October 16 to be exact) marks the 61st anniversary of the first publication of the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wordrobe. In celebration of this wondrous occasion, I wanted to write, not a review, but a simple rendition of how I came to discover Narnia…or perhaps, how I came to be discovered by a world of magic, fantasy, freedom, truth and intimacy.
You see, I was deprived.
I never read Narnia as a child. It was never read aloud to me. I never watched the BBC films. In fact, I didn’t hear of Narnia until I was in college. Looking back, I realized that I knew peers who were reading The Lion when I was in middle school. However, I was turned off by the title, wary of how strange a book with such a name might be. I didn’t know it was a classic, and often confused it with A Wrinkle in Time. I was busy reading other high quality literature at the time – The Boxcar Children, The Babysitter’s Club, Choose Your Own Adventure and a little known series by Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising, which starts with a book called Over Sea, Under Stone.
I bought the box set during my first year of Bible college, somewhat ashamed that I had never read what was commonly considered recommended reading for any English speaking Christian. I didn’t get around to reading it until that winter, having traveled home for Christmas vacation. I now see this as divine providence, for I believe The Lion is best read during the Holiday Season. I read the whole series in a matter of a few days. I cried at least once during the course of each novel. I was struck by the simple beauty of Narnia. I was overwhelmed by the elegant spiritual subtleties. I was being taught Theology by beavers! I learned more about my faith and what it meant to follow Jesus from those seven books than I did in my first year of Bible college.
The next winter, I read the series out loud to my little sister, then just barely old enough to understand the story. She, too, fell in love with the series, in a more naive way than I had, but nonetheless wholeheartedly. She became an intensely loyal fan, whose love for the series wasn’t even moved by the ghastly film adaptation abomination of The Dawn Treader. Lovely girl, that one.
A couple of years later, a group of 15 – 20 friends and I would gather in my home, once a week, in the evenings to read Narnia out loud to one another. This seemed an anomaly to me. It was a wonderful experience, but who ever heard of a group of 21 year old men and women coming together to read children’s books to one another…complete with bad British accents! These meetings became a bonding experience, at times riotous, at others worshipful. We went through a kind of separation anxiety mixed with triumphant anticipation as we got nearer to the final chapters of The Last Battle. The group was so knit together by our shared experiences in Narnia, that we could bare to disband when finished. We went on to read other books in our weekly gatherings – The Princess and The Goblin, by MacDonald, Lewis’ mentor; The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, by G.K. Chesterton, a good friend of Lewis’; The Metamorphosis, by Kafka. The reading of Narnia made us better friends, better students, better Christians and better people.
Still, I would place The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the top of my list of favorite books. I see and learn something new every time I open it. Right beneath the Bible itself, Narnia has taught me more of what it means to be a follower of Christ than any other book I can recall.
On this, its birthday, I wish us all happier. I bid us all to answer the call to come –
“Further up and Further in!”