I loved Narnia as a kid, of course (though never as much as Middle–earth). I never really revisited it after my teens, though – until now, when one of my Goodreads friends pointed me to the free Chrissi Hart podcast–format reading of the whole series, which I couldn’t resist.
The narration is not the best ever, with occasional (sometimes frequent) misplaced emphasis and eyebrow–raising pronunciation, but it is definitely fond and earnest, by a woman who clearly loves this world – and who has a great voice, an engaging accent, and a facility for character voices that don’t come off as cartoonish. I’m not sure I’d pay for it, but free? I’m not about to quibble.
OK. There’s an elephant in the room (are there elephants in Narnia? If there are lions it stands to reason there might be elephants and giraffes and things…), and I’m going to go blindly poke at it to try to figure out what it is. (Hello, my friend Mixed Metaphor.) A lot of people are turned off the books – or turned on by them – because of the heavy allegory of Aslan as a Christ figure. And I have to say that maybe I’m very obtuse – always possible – but I don’t quite get it. I mean, obviously I see the immortal and beneficent but sometimes terrifying guardian and sometimes leader with healing and other powers. (I’m not that obtuse.) My problem with the parallel is that – well, I don’t see Christ romping and frolicking with his followers, even in the joy of his resurrection.
More importantly, though, is the tenet that Christ suffered and died for all of his followers, present and future – he went to hell so we don’t have to. He did nothing criminal (well, beyond rabble–rousing), but allowed himself to suffer and die to break a pattern and preserve those who believe in him and follow him, accepting punishment on their behalf. Aslan, though – Aslan died for one person: Edmund. Edmund screwed up, and out of ignorance, greed, and pettiness betrayed Aslan (whom he’d never met, so he’s not much of a Judas figure) and his siblings and the cause of the good guys, and because of this by ancient tradition his life is forfeit. And instead of allowing his execution, Aslan takes his place. His death accomplished nothing but Edmund’s salvation; if anything, it was harmful to the anti–Witch cause, because his death and revival and romp meant a significant delay before getting to her home to de–statueify all the scores of creatures trapped in stone at the castle, who were significant in winning the war.
It’s all a bit muddled by the idea that Christmas exists in Narnia (though pretty much only embodied in a gift–giving Father Christmas; Christ has nothing to do with it here).
And really it’s not fair to Edmund. I mean, they’d all heard a bit of talk about Aslan, and the other three were impressed and interested, and even Edmund in his cranky self-absorption must have gotten an idea of what it was all about. But none of them really understood what was really up was until they met Aslan. And Ed never had the chance to do that until later – the Winter Queen got to him first, and punched every button he had. I don’t think any betrayal of Aslan can be held too much against him – he had no idea what he was betraying. There, at least… he certainly betrayed his family. But he honestly didn’t believe in the stakes – it could be argued that he still didn’t quite believe in this fantasy world, entirely.
I’m just glad that (spoiler!) Edmund gets more chances. When all’s said and done, C.S. Lewis’s voice is still very appealing after all these years, and I love these (astonishingly lucky) English children. I’d still rather go to Middle-earth – but Narnia is a lovely place to visit too.