Good and Evil in Narnia
By Robert Velarde
Author, The Heart of Narnia
The Last Battle — the final volume of the Chronicles of Narnia — is dark and sad, especially for those who love Narnia and are reading the book for the first time. Beyond the hint in the title, the opening words of the book, “In the last days of Narnia,” are disconcerting.1 Not much later, Tirian is referred to as the last king of Narnia. The reader senses that something dreadful
is going to happen. But what? The warlike Calormenes, who have formed an alliance with a traitorous ape named Shift, have secretly been entering Narnia and are bent on conquest. Surely the great lion Aslan will send help, won’t he? And so he does send aid by way of Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole. But it is not enough. The Calormenes are victorious, and Narnia comes to an end. The story, however, does not end. Evil exists, but as in Christianity, good will ultimately prevail.
It is not only in the final volume but also all the way through the Chronicles of Narnia that we see themes of good and evil displayed. Characters are presented with challenges and choices and must make a decision about how to act. What they decide to do has repercussions in their own lives and the lives of those with whom they are connected. All this sounds a lot like our own life stories, doesn’t it? Indeed, our daily ethical challenges, both great and small, are reflected in many ways in the pages of the Chronicles. Without forgetting that we are reading a made-up narrative, and certainly without losing a sense of the fun of it all, we can learn valuable lessons in morality from these seven classic tales. In the chapters that follow, we will look at what are, for the most part, pairs of ethical opposites — virtues and vices — as reflected in the Chronicles of NarniaThese will help us wrangle with specific ethical issues that each of us must face in life. Before that, though, it will be helpful to gain an overall view of C. S. Lewis’s ethical beliefs, especially as they are reflected in the Chronicles. The first thing to note is that Lewis was by no means infected by the modern (or, more accurately, postmodern) hesitancy in calling wrong, wrong.
Most people would condemn such things as rape, child abuse, and terrorism. But why? (Or, more disturbingly, why not?) On what basis do we determine right and wrong? Do cultural conventions set the standards? Or could it be that a God exists and is the source of such standards for all people at all times? Ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with right and wrong and, consequently, with how one should or should not live.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis explained that as an atheist, he argued against God on the basis of evil and suffering in the world. He asked how he had gotten the idea of what is just and unjust, reasoning that in order to consider something as wrong, one must have a concept of right. But where does this standard come from?2 Following his
conversion to Christianity, Lewis often made the case for objective moral truth. He was aware of fine ethical distinctions and moral ambiguities, but, more basically, he wanted to affirm the difference between good and evil. Paul Ford correctly observed in reference to morality in Narnia, “Lewis believed there was a clear distinction
between right and wrong; between morality and immorality; and between good acts and bad acts.”3
Lewis wrote before postmodernism had gained the popularity it did in the late twentieth century. His position on moral absolutes reflected the earlier, “modern” view that truth (meaning truth that is valid for all times and in all places) really exists and can really be known. Later thinkers in the postmodern vein were more likely to view truth and morality as relative to culture and to individual situations or tastes. Alan Jacobs elaborated, “Lewis
wrote in a time when, among the educated British public if not among their professional philosophers, there was considerably more agreement than there is now about, for instance, what constitutes a valid and rational argument for a given case. . . . His apologetic works presuppose, and rarely make any argument for, the criteria for rationality themselves. Today those criteria simply cannot be assumed.”4
These days, Lewis’s argument for objective moral law would have to be bolstered for those influenced by relativistic ethics. But it may be that the climate of our day is warming again to ideas of definite right and wrong. Lewis’s words still resonate with those who sense the danger of an ethic in which any type of behavior might be acceptable under the right circumstances. As old-fashioned as the ideas of virtue and vice in the Chronicles of
Narnia might at first appear to be, they speak to an eternal need to know how to act when we are faced with a choice. Few books can inspire us so well with the courage to do what is right as can these simple tales. Maybe their underlying philosophy is not weak or outmoded after all.
Of course, Lewis did not develop his ethical ideas without the influence of past thinkers. While a thorough analysis of the philosophical influences on C. S. Lewis is beyond the scope of this chapter, it will be beneficial to gain at least a basic understanding of these influences.5
Great Thinkers Who Influenced Lewis
Lewis was clearly moved by the likes of English journalist and writer G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) and Scottish novelist George MacDonald (1824–1905).6 Some elements of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) are also reflected in Lewis’s ethical concepts. As Armand Nicholi has observed, “Lewis agrees with German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who pointed to the ‘moral law within’ as a powerful witness to the greatness of God.”7 But the greater philosophical influences on Lewis were classical philosophers. Gilbert Meilaender rightly explained, “Lewis’ views are best characterized not by reference to contemporary thinkers but . . . by reference to Augustine, Plato, and Aristotle.”8 So great were the influences of Plato and Aristotle on Lewis that he once
wrote that losing the influence of these two philosophers would be like the amputation of a limb.9
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Excerpted from The Heart of Narnia: Wisdom, Virtue, and Life Lessons from the Classic Chronicles by Robert Velarde, NavPress Publishing Group, 2008. Used with Permission.
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