Myths of Our Times
By Andrea D. Hicks
My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that
girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for
fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older
still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales
More than 50 years have passed since C.S. Lewis wrote this letter
to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. The message, which precedes
the first chapter of his classic story, “The Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe,”
gives valuable insight into why fairy tales survive: they transcend
age and time.
Lewis’ craftsmanship and ability to find the best outlet to tell
his story, explains why readers from different generations still cherish
this fairy tale about a magical wardrobe and the interesting world within.
“All throughout western civilization there have been stories
that everybody knows and shares, that are passed on from generation
to generation, which tell us who we are, why we are here, and what values
are important,” said Professor Devin Brown, author of “Inside
Narnia: A Guide to Exploring the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Brown, who teaches an English class at Asbury College in Kentucky called
“C.S. Lewis and his Circle,” said his students show up the
first day of class already finished with the Narnia books. Based on
the popularity of class discussions and the upcoming film version, Brown
wrote a running commentary called “Inside Narnia: An Insider’s
Guide to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Brown believes the fairy tale, mythic format has kept this series a
favorite for many people over the years.
“Lewis was too modest to suggest that these stories are myths,
our culture’s myths. But these stories, in many cases, have been
read by grandparents to parents to their children, passed on for several
generations,” Brown said.
But readers have no problem calling them “the myths for our times,”
“And why is that? It has universality,” he said. “People
who go to the movies will see all kinds of people there, and people
who buy these books at the bookstore will see old people and young people
enjoying them the same; Christians and non-Christians; academics, non-academics,
even Christians from various denominations.”
Part of this universality stems from Lewis’ vivid imagination,
where seemingly unrelated characters such as Mr. Tumnus, the White Witch,
Father Christmas, and Aslan exist in Narnia.
Lewis himself said, “It began with a picture.” Since Lewis
was 16, he had an image in his mind of a faun, and one day he decided
to follow that thought.
“Here’s a faun that Lewis would have known from Greek and
Roman mythology, from around the Mediterranean, that’s been transported
in this strange land where there’s snow. And he has Christmas
packages wrapped in an umbrella; in a way Narnia is like this, this
mixing of strange events,” Brown said.
When Lucy first enters Narnia, readers see a black and white picture
of Mr. Tumnus carrying his packages through the snow. His entrance will
also be a great moment on the screen, as viewers are introduced to Narnia
along side Lucy, Brown said.
To those familiar with Lewis and his personal life and interests, many
of the characters appear to come from children in his life or other
works of art. To some extent, Brown said, all authors take “things
that are part of your life, whether you’ve read about them, dreamt
about them, met in real life, saw them in a painting, and somehow make
them your own.”
Sometimes that works, sometimes it does not. “Lewis said this:
when you’re writing a story and your reader is using their imagination
and following you, you have to be careful not to disrupt this imaginative
story with a bump that doesn’t fit there,” Brown said.
For some literary scholars, Father Christmas is that bump because Father
Christmas is associated with the birth of Jesus Christ in our world,
and Christ is not born on Dec. 25 in a manger in Narnia, Brown explained.
And, he added, Father Christmas is somewhat based on St. Nicholas from
“Now to me,” Brown said, “ he’s no more out
of place than a Greek faun, no more out of place than a Germanic dwarf
or other characters from European roots. Here’s the line: ‘Always
winter, never Christmas.’ Well, if you’re going to have
Christmas come back, you’re going to have to bring Father Christmas
back. If you throw out Father Christmas then you have to throw out Christmas.
Then it would be ‘It was always winter, and it was always winter.”
For those unfamiliar with the story, Father Christmas’s arrival
is an indication to Jadis, the self-proclaimed queen of Narnia, that
she is losing her authority over Narnia.
However, unlike Father Christmas, Mr.Tumnus, and Lucy, Brown asserts
that “Aslan is ‘awfully original.’ Lewis once said,
“I’ve been dreaming of lions and all of the sudden Aslan
comes bounding in.”
Whether Lewis intended for him to be an allegory for the story of Jesus
Christ’s death and resurrection, or if he was a creation from
Lewis’s imagination, is not the point, Brown asserted. “Some
people may, some may not [think that Aslan represents Christ], but everyone
understands that when you do wrong, there are consequences.”
The story also includes other essential moral lessons, which everyone
can comprehend: messages of sacrifice and redemption, duty and loyalty,
Instead, Brown said, readers should “see Aslan as someone who
gives up his life for someone else in a self-sacrificing redemption.
Kids can see that evil is not cool.”
“Lewis said ‘most people don’t understand that a
thing can be good and terrible at the same time.’ Some people
think good always means easy and prosperous…doing what’s
right means facing a lot of hardship. Hardship has to be taken seriously.
There’s real pain in doing what’s right. And real sacrifice,
it’s not this sugarized idea of good,” Brown said. “It’s
the same with evil. Not only do we see these people doing bad things,
we see why they’re doing them, inside their minds. And to them,
they’re not doing anything wrong.”
Edmund’s character represents the descent into evil. His choices
lead to a major repercussion.
Brown said, “Everyone understands that when you do things wrong,
there are consequences. When Edmund comes back, and he’s been
promised to be a prince, he becomes a prisoner…And he’s
been promised to be a prince over these people and he’s isolated
and alone. I think we’ve all had our Edmund moments, and they’re
On the other hand, “as the kids get closer and closer to Aslan,
they become more connected, life becomes more rich. There’s duty,
but they’re part of something bigger than themselves. And it’s
exciting, much better than their old lives,” Brown said.
But the needle that sews the story together is the depiction of free
will. The children cannot always enter Narnia through the wardrobe,
but once there, they can make the decision to leave at any time.
The White Witch is the opposite. Her desire is to dominate the creatures
of Narnia, and she wants nothing more than to make everyone do things
against their will, Brown said.
“The frozen statues are the perfect epitome for her because they
are living creatures totally under her will,” he explained.
“But in the end,” Brown said, “Lewis wants to suggest
that we’re human beings. Our defining element is our free will.
We’re not puppets. We’re not robots. We’re not animals.
We’re rational creatures who decide every day to make choices.”
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