“It’s an allegory—” “But what’s an allegory?” my little boy interrupted me. I searched my mind. He always asks such good questions, for the definitions and nature of things that we ourselves learned once and internalized before moving on, never to revisit. “An allegory is a story that refers to something else, that points to a different deeper story or truth. Narnia is an allegory about Jesus.” “Oh” he said.
I just finished the “Chronicles of Narnia” with my little boy – all of them, one chapter at a time each night. He is pretty proud of himself, having read a “big boy book” (one with no pictures) with me and finished it – all 767 pages. Narnia – because it is a story about faith, an epic tale of dragons and dwarfs and witches all jockeying for position and power against a powerful presence who remains distant and terrifying but also intervenes when necessary: Aslan the lion.
I’ll be honest, this was the first time I’d read Narnia in its entirety. I did not realize that it was the story of a whole world; the birth of its inhabitants through the different phases of their civilization, from dictatorship of the white witch and wars with the Calormenes and coups and palace intrigue and finally its collapse when the giant, Father Time, destroys it. Until it is reborn again into something new and much more beautiful. Throughout, two external forces exert themselves into the natural rhythm of history: the first is Aslan – the creator, the allegorical figure of Jesus – and the second are the human siblings Susan, Peter, Edmund and Lucy, who observe the entire life-cycle of the world.
Classical literature draws from the deep magic to preserve for humanity the truths which must be held and cherished from one generation to the next, through the medium of a story which is more indelible than the passing profanity of our times and more lasting than the hardest stone. Good and evil, right and wrong, destiny and will, fate and responsibility, wickedness and honor – they all come together in this children’s story. Most people only read “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” for it is by far the best of the seven; but in doing so (as I did) one misses the point of the series, interjecting oneself as one does then into one chapter of a sweeping and epic story. Sure, its easier but who said classical literature is easy?
As for me, I am on a quest to etch onto the consciousness of my son the truths that are self-evident and that never change and which are derived from literature, from stories and the chance that they give us to talk about the unbounding wisdom and the deep magic, things that will make him a fine man one day; and it gives me a chance to sit with him and read for a half hour each night and watch his eyes light up as the witch is vanquished and the lion is reborn – What can be better than this?