We are finally publishing the winners of our much delayed essay contest challenging readers to make their case for which book is the best in C. S. Lewis’s beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Our series kicks off today with Chandler Moore’s case for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
To some extent, arguing for the best book of Narnia feels wrong, almost like choosing a favorite book of the Bible. Does not all Scripture point us to Christ? Is it not all to be treasured as God’s Word and therefore equally adored? In a similar vein we may hesitate to choose our favorite tale from the magical pen of Lewis. Does not each story add to the collective wonder that is Narnia? Shall we really compare the silver curves of Luna to that joyful giant Jove? And yet, just as I have my favorite book of Scripture, I also have my most beloved adventure in Narnia. Indeed, it my belief that it is only through The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that we discover the real heart, and true wonder, of Narnia; it is only at the Stone Table that we behold the complete glory, and full power, of Aslan.
As we push through those soft coats, ignoring the aroma of mothballs, and enter once more into this most familiar tale, we would do well not to let familiarity dampen our appreciation for the artistry within. We are never too old for fairytales, nor can we return to them too many times. It is with this mindset that we too can feel that something jump in our insides at the name of Aslan. Even if we have already heard an echo of that lion’s first song, we will still wonder with Lucy, who is Aslan? No matter how well acquainted, we will still have those same nagging questions, is he safe? With those awful claws and that terrible mane, we must ask again, for we are not yet assured, is he good?
As the nature of the lion occupies our thoughts, we can easily lose sight of the one who is not safe, of the one who is not good. This one seeks his own good at the expense of other’s safety. This one is full of greed, a slave to his own desires, held captive by powers he does not understand. If he excels in any area at all it is in the self-justifying of his own crooked actions. And it is here, having just felt that tremor at the proclamation of the lion’s name, that the story fastens its grip upon me, time and time again. For there is something present in Edmund that I simply cannot ignore, familiarity. No, not with the story of Edmund, but the boy himself. In one sense, in various ways and at different places, I feel a similar thing with the others as well. The bravery of Peter, the innocence of Lucy, from Polly and Digory to Eustace and Jill, even in Beaver and Reepicheep, there is something within each character that I resonate with, and yet, here faced with Edmund at his worst, I find myself reflected within the ink.
As I slowly tread forward through the story, moving more carefully now, I somehow know that Aslan shall be safe and good to Lucy and Peter, and to so many others, but as the snow thins I deeply start to wonder, who will Aslan be to Edmund? That is the question that reverberates within, that hangs over every sentence. And with it, following naturally, comes another, who will Aslan be to me? What will all that power look like when I meet with it face to face? And maybe you’re like me, maybe you see enough of yourself to not imagine being the noble or the innocent one, but as the fallen one, as the one worthy of a traitor’s death. If so, the lines that follow will capture you as no others can, for you and I will meet Aslan in the only place that is safe for us to do so. Did we not hear Mr. Beaver say that the place for meeting Aslan is the Stone Table? With that shadow of a thought we perceive that it is only through a mist, a haze, a veil, that we have seen him before, who he is lies hidden, soon to be revealed. We hold our breath when sweet Lucy begs, “Please Aslan, can anything be done to save Edmund?”
It is harder than we thought. We are not distracted by the reflection of ransom within, for we know our life is forfeit, our blood may not be the property of the witch, but how clearly we know that there must be the shedding of blood; shall it not be our death that springs forth justice with these rightful accusations laid against us? And yet it is here, at our lowest, our most desperate, dead in our transgressions and without hope, that the beauty of the lion roars loudest of all. But it is a sound we never expected. It is silent. It is sacrifice. It is substitution. The just for the unjust. All that power is used to protect what is worthy of death, to redeem that which is rightfully condemned. It is in the humiliation of the lion that we find out who he really is, and of what his power shall look like when it is directed toward us. This power, at its most lofty, its most radiant, shall manifest itself in perfect love, of a type which cannot be earned, only given. It shall be for us a lantern of hope which no winter of darkness can quell.
It is only at the Table that the depths of the glory of that wonderful beast can be fully revealed. Tooth and claw, muscle and paw, all of it rightfully makes us tremble and draws forth our respect, but it is when we witness all that strength being willingly laid aside, it is when we watch that great lion die, that we come to truly believe, “Yes, he is safe. Yes, he is good. Even for me, even to me.” It is at that moment when the Lion becomes the Lamb that we weary travelers from the far woods of the West, burdened by our race’s ceaseless march eastward, will behold the true power and wonder of Narnia. In all of our other adventures, though they are grand, can this beauty be seen more richly anywhere else? I think not. If such is the case, how could any story capture our hearts as much as this one? It is through the Wardrobe, and at the Stone Table, that we, along with Lewis, come to realize that we are not the hunters of the true Lion, it is the other way around. And if we are his, we will not be lost, for he is good, and in him, we are safe.