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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Reconciliation of Justice and Love: A Literary Criticism on the movie Narnia (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)

by Jill Christianae A. Rendon

Narnia, a film based on the novel by C.S. Lewis has a theme based on the hero archetype that follows the pattern of a sacrifice-atonement-catharsis. The story is based on the foundation of the Christian faith that since humans could not save themselves from sin, Jesus Christ who is God, took upon himself the penalty for those sins which is death by choosing to suffer and die through crucifixion. After his death, he would resurrect, giving atonement for the sins of all.

The hero in the character of Aslan, a lion who is the King of Narnia represents the character of Jesus Christ who was destined to be the sacrificial scapegoat, unblemished and holy for the atonement of the sin of humankind. “He was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)Lion which is symbolic of authority, strength and enlightenment often represents God in the Bible. “The lion has roared - so who isn’t frightened? The Sovereign Lord has spoken— so who can refuse to proclaim his message? (Amos 3:8) “…Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory...” (Revelation 5:5) Humankind is represented in Narnia by the character of Edmund whose disobedience and stubbornness highlight human’s sinful nature. “Why can’t you just do as you’re told?” Peter rhetorically asks him.

The story starts with a war which sets the mood of a “disorder”. This atmosphere is juxtaposed against the tension caused by the “disobedience” of Edmund in the fire scene, impressing in us the connection between disobedience and disorder. Then we fast forward to the scene wherein having been sent to live in an old house away from London during the war, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy discover a closet which is a passage to the world of Narnia. Symbolically, a closet represents a way into a world, a passage to some truth, a journey that these four children take on, with themselves as the main characters. Then we discover that Narnia is a very cold place, deprived of Christmas for 100 years. By this alone, we know that Narnia has been under a curse, having been dominated by the Queen of Narnia, the Witch whose robe is colored white - symbolic of death and terror. Wondering why the main characters are children and not adults, we see that it takes the characteristics of children to take on the journey and complete it. Children are meek, teachable and open – reflected by the character of Lucy; gullible, thoughtless and stubborn – shown by the character of Edmund. This also brings out the sense of family in the story confirmed by Aslan when he says, “I do want my family safe.” A sense of relationship is established, implying that he who is King is also a Father to them and that the kind of people who would be drawn to him are meek, teachable and open, though gullible, thoughtless and stubborn at the same time. This explains the Christian belief that no man or woman is perfect, but that God accepts them for who they are. The conflict of the story which is human vs. another human (the witch) is centered on Edmund’s betrayal or offense, motivated by his appetite for sweets. This appetite actually refers to the various appetites of humankind according to the Christian faith: appetite for power, fame, wealth and many other things that are the evidence of sin. Edmund’s offense became central to the heightened tension between Aslan and the Witch who both know that according to the tradition of the Deep Magic, traitors and offenders are to die on a stone-table. With reference to the Bible, this is explained by this verse: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)Aslan knows that to refuse this punishment for Edmund is to defy his character of being just and to not be himself. "My God, my Holy One…your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong!" (Habakkuk 1:12-13) By this alone, Edmund is doomed. However, Aslan has one character, he also could not deny – love. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness..” (John 1:14) He loves Edmund that he can not allow him to die. Thus, to resolve the conflict between justice and love, Aslan makes a deal with the Witch. He does so for this “sacred order” - and not out of threat. Despite the enmity between them, they are not to be seen as equals. The Witch is under the authority of Aslan, explaining the silence of the former at the roar of the latter. Aslan has Edmund’s best interest in mind in the deal – a deal that would reconcile justice and love – springing from another undeniable character of his – grace. Grace is defined as an undeserved favor. The giver gives it because of who he is, not because of who the receiver is or what he has done. Such is the situation between Aslan and Edmund. He decides to save Edmund simply because Edmund is his son. “For by grace, you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) By this time, we are now convinced of the helplessness of humans to save themselves and wherein a scapegoat, a “savior” has to interfere to save them. As a sacrificial hero, Aslan is to go through suffering and humiliation and finally die. At the sight of Aslan being given to the hands of his enemies, Lucy asks, “Why doesn’t he fight back?” The answer to this describes the very heart of Aslan – his active submission to his bitter destiny, his commitment to Edmund and his great humility. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) The mane of a lion is his pride, thus, having it shaved by the enemies, those under his authority is utter humiliation, a disgrace to the core. Aslan dies and rises again. In the event of his resurrection, he appears with the sun in the background, symbolizing new life and enlightenment. This is not only true for him but for the children as they are saved by him in the war against the Witch who sincerely thought Aslan could be killed.

“If the witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she might have interpreted the deep magic differently, that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery is killed on traitor’s stead, the stone-table will crack and death itself will turn backwards.” - Aslan

When Aslan says, “It is finished,” he has just marked the completion of his mission, the atonement of the sin of humans. By this, he means that his work is complete. Humans are assured of freedom from the penalty of sin. This is emphasized by the breaking of the stone-table which alludes to the veil, mentioned in Exodus 26:33, “…The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy.” This veil was what separated sinful humans from the holy presence of God. But because the death and resurrection of Christ broke this veil, humans are reconciled with him. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19)

At the last part of the film, Aslan crowns the four children as kings and queens, showing the royal inheritance he shares with them. At the sight of Aslan going away, Thomas, Lucy’s friend says, “We’ll see him again,” an indicative of the second coming of Christ.

The lamp marks the end of the story of Narnia and the children’s return to reality. The presence of the professor at the end and his interest to hear their story suggests its significance – significance that transcends time, age and culture because of the inevitability of people committing mistakes due to the “appetite” of the sinful nature of humankind. Saved from the doom of the penalty of sin, he or she is reconciled to a just yet loving God, by his grace through the power of his death and resurrection. He chose to die that humans may live. His captive brought them freedom. Sacrifice-Atonement-Catharsis.


Guerin, W. (2005). A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.

n.a. (2007). Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Seoul, Korea: Agape Publishing Co., Ltd.

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