The Lion,
Earth and
the Soul

Gabriele Dessin

I think that by now you, as I did, will have understood who is hidden behind Aslan, who when he first appears at the borders of his kingdom, Over-the-Sea, is not a lion but a lamb.

     There are places that do not exist in nature – at least not in the same way as the Sahara or the Indian Ocean – but which belong in their own right to our personal geography, to the maps of our individuality. These places are close and familiar to us, like our bedroom, our garden or our grandparents’ dining room. There can be many such places, for example the Hundred Acre Wood, Wonderland, Middle Earth or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. One of those I hold most dearly is inhabited by strange and wonderful creatures – talking animals, fauns, centaurs, woodland and river gods – and stretches from the Lost Lantern in the west to the easternmost edge of the Lonely Islands. As you probably already guessed, I’m talking about the Kingdom of Narnia: the only land in the world that is bordered by… Well, a wardrobe! 

     I was a child when I first read these seven novels, and I must admit that what I gained from them was only the pleasure of great adventures, victorious heroes and punished villains as well as descriptions of magnificent places and funny characters that are hard to forget. I wrote ‘only’, but these are not by all means trivial. In those days Mr. Tumnus the faun, Glenstorm the centaur, the giant Rumblebuffin, the dwarf Trumpkin, the Arthropods and that hopeless pessimist, Puddlegum the marsh-wiggle, were as dear to me as the friends I met at school or the cousins who visited my home. Now, having ‘grown up’ and completed strict studies at university, I can grasp far deeper ties and more important lessons between the lines; I can gather all or most of those precious gems that Clive S. Lewis has woven into the plot of his novels. But to tell you the truth – I must confess –  I still have not gotten over my great desire to visit the woods of Narnia, to visit the four kings in Car Paravel, to fish with Puddlegum in the marshes of Esting, to travel on the Dawn Treader with Caspian X to the Lone Islands and finally, to disembark at the sea of white water lilies near the ends of the world to cross the threshold of Aslan’s kingdom with the brave mouse Reepicheep. 

     Aslan: An unforgettable name for anyone who knows the land of Narnia. He is a lion, an enormous magical lion, son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea. At the beginning of the first novel we witness, together with Digory and Polly, the creation of Narnia: the great lion chants the world, and everything emerges from the endless darkness. However, it is not only Aslan who creates the world: it is also Aslan who chooses some animals and gives them the power of speech, it is he who crowns the coachman Frank and his wife Helen as the first kings of Narnia, and it is he who sends Digory to the Secret Garden to get the fruit that, once planted and grown into a tree, will keep the White Witch away for centuries – the last survivor of the evil world of Charn, who escaped its destruction because of Digory, who unintentionally takes her first to London and then to Narnia. Whenever Aslan is mentioned, his name lifts the hearts of the good and the righteous as much as it terrifies the wicked. It is he who carries the children of Adam and Eve – us humans – to Narnia when it is in danger, and who watches over them. There is a remarkable fact that is worth telling. The four great kings who established the golden age of the kingdom are the four Pevensie siblings: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. When they first arrive in Narnia, it has been in winter’s grasp for a hundred years (always winter and never Christmas!) and is ruled by Jadis the White Witch. Unfortunately, Edmund (naively) joins forces with her, and thus betrays his siblings. When he comes to his senses and asks for forgiveness, the Witch asserts her ancient right: all traitors must be handed over to her so that she can kill them. At this point Aslan, in order to save young Edmund, offers himself in his place and undergoes the terrible torture on the Stone Table. The sacrifice is carried out – with its atrocious ordeal – but what the Witch does not know is that before the beginning of time a spell, even more ancient than the one that gives her power over traitors, was cast by the Emperor-Over-the-Sea: if a voluntary and innocent victim is sacrificed in the traitor’s place, the Table will break and the victim will rise from the dead. I think that by now you, as I did, will have understood who is hidden behind Aslan, who when he first appears at the borders of his kingdom, Over-the-Sea, is not a lion but a lamb. 

     I would not like you to think that everything that happens in Narnia is necessarily good or happy. I have already mentioned this fact: the children of Adam and Eve are only summoned when everything appears to go wrong, and their task is to remedy the evil that poor Digory brought with him to that newborn world. Between one visit and another, a few years or many centuries may have passed – the time equivalence between the two worlds remains a mystery – and many of the friends they have met have either passed away or perished during the quest. There are many sacrifices, sufferings and moments of despair. The last book was the most incomprehensible for me when I was a child.  It is shorter than the others, less fantastical or adventurous, and the situation spirals down to the point of no return. There is one particular fact, no less tragic than many others, but which as a child filled me with horror and despair:

King Tiran and the two Beasts knew at once that she was the nymph of a beech tree.

“Justice, Lord King!” she cried. “Come to our aid. Protect your people. They are felling us in Lantern Waste. Forty great trunks of my brothers and sisters are already on the ground.”

“What, Lady! Felling Lantern Waste? Murdered the talking trees?” cried the King, leaping to his feet and drawing his sword. “How dare they? And who dares it? Now by the Mane of Aslan -”

“A-a-a-h,” gasped the Dryad, shuddering is if in pain – shuddering time after time as if under repeated blows. Then all at once she fell sideways as suddenly as if both her feet had been cut from under her. For a second they saw her lying dead on the grass and then she vanished. They knew what had happened. Her tree, miles away, had been cut down.  [1] 

To me, who at that time used to live in intimate contact with the woods and trees, this was simply heartbreaking. 

     But – and thankfully so – there is a second half to this book which recounts what happens after the destruction of Narnia. Father Time, awakened by Aslan’s roar, orders the stars to fall from the sky, plunges the earth under the sea, and crushes the dying sun and moon with the grasp of his hand. All of the inhabitants reach the door of Aslan’s kingdom: the wicked do not pass through and disappear forever into darkness; the righteous cross the threshold and find themselves in the land of the real Narnia. The kingdom of Aslan is the actual reality of life, the real world of which the Narnia in which our heroes rejoiced and suffered is only a mere shadow – as is ours. In it is the heart of life, and the closer you get to its core, the truer, clearer, bigger and brighter everything is. 

     At first glance, it might seem that The Chronicles of Narnia can only be fully appreciated by those who have faith in Christian revelation; that is, those who believe in the trinity of God, in the incarnation of his son, in his death and resurrection, and in the universal judgement – when the living and the dead will be called to account before Christ on the throne.  I do not believe this to be the case. I think that to penetrate the depths of this work and draw nourishment for the soul, it is sufficient to have faith. Mind you, I don’t necessarily mean Christian faith, but rather a paradoxical faith of such a subtle nature that it is the original basis of faith itself. Cristina Campo cites it as “a profession of disbelief in the omnipotence of the visible”, that is, believing that what can be perceived with the five senses is not all that exists. Those who possess this attitude of the soul will be able to rejoice at the statues brought back to life at the Castle of Jadis, they will tremble with fear at the roar of Aslan that shakes the earth, and weep for the death of King Caspian on the dock of Car Paravel; they will laugh at the Ineptus and their ingenuity, and the sufferings and joys of the talking animals will be their own. It is only in this way that they will discover that, although they do not actually exist, these geographical places of the soul are also real. After all, these places and our Earth may be nothing more than the prelude to the True Story of our existence.

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily after ever. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in his world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. [2]

[1] Clive S. Lewis, The Last Battle, in The Chronicles of Narnia,  chapter 2.

[2] Ivi, chapter 16. 

Ti è piaciuto l’articolo? Lascia qui la tua opinione su La Livella.

Did you enjoy the article? Leave here your feedback on La Livella.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email