The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Theme Analysis
Narnia is a symbolic Eden, an ideal garden land of happiness, with all the creatures living in harmony until the Witch usurps power and claims herself Queen. Life under her rule represents all the wrong tendencies of life that the author wishes to emphasize bring evil into the world. The Witch rules through fear, terrifying her subjects and keeping order with her spies and secret police. She is the embodiment of selfishness, greed, and power. Whenever humans participate in this kind of set-up, Lewis implies, there will be suffering. Edmund buys into the Witch’s lies because he is spiteful. He does everything he can to thwart Lucy and his other siblings, instead of cooperating. He brings doubt and dishonor to Lucy, denying the door in the wardrobe, turning their summer vacation to misery.
Likewise, the Witch enjoys tormenting others and destroying their enjoyment. The dancing of Dryads and Fauns is stopped. The creatures have to hide in their holes in perpetual winter. The Queen thinks only of herself and denies the freedom and autonomy of others. As she prepares to kill Edmund, she refers to him as “it” (Chpt. 13, p. 136). Those who disagree are turned to stone. All the creatures of nature are in bondage, mere statues in her castle, “as the pieces stand on a chessboard when it is halfway through the game” (Chpt. 9, p. 96). The Witch is therefore the model for how to kill life and create suffering.
When Peter asks if the Witch is human, Mr. Beaver says she pretends she is and that is her claim to be Queen. Actually, she is nonhuman, being the daughter of, Lilith, an evil spirit. Lilith is traditionally a female demon who takes energy from men to sustain herself. She was Adam’s first and disobedient wife, associated with infertility. The Witch represents subhuman behavior as Aslan represents superhuman behavior. When Edmund models himself on the Witch, trying to be on her side, he becomes miserable and almost dies. His final disillusionment is to watch her turn a merry Christmas dinner among the animals into a stone statue. At that moment he becomes sorry.
Aslan is loving and attracts love. He is the Christ figure of Narnia and the example of good to the children. When he liberates the stone statues in the Witch’s castle, “the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, . . . songs and laughter” (Chpt. 16, p. 169). All the tree spirits, animals, giants, fauns, centaurs, unicorns, and humans follow Aslan to defeat the Witch and reclaim Narnia. Everything unfreezes and comes to life. Aslan and Father Christmas represent the principles that support paradise, such as happiness, tolerance, freedom, fellowship, giving, sharing, justice, and love. The prophecies predict that Narnia will be in balance when the human Kings and Queens are on their thrones, the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve. They are the just guardians of Narnia, appointed by Aslan and trained by him to administer the land properly.
As in Eden, humans are the rightful rulers who can maintain paradise when they are good and obedient to Aslan, and to the Emperor and his law. When the four children are crowned by Aslan and installed at Cair Paravel, they give rewards to all those who helped them and entertain with a great feast. All of nature sings in gratitude, and Aslan will “often drop in” (Chpt. 17, p. 182). The Kings and Queens continued to stamp out evil and “made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from unnecessarily being cut down” (Chpt. 17, p. 183). They bring freedom with the encouragement “to live and let live” (Chpt. 17, p. 183). They create alliances and grow wise. The White Stag once again appears “who would give you wishes if you caught him” (Chpt. 17, p.184). Thus educated properly in Narnia on how humans should behave, the children once again find their way back through the wardrobe to the earth where hopefully they will bring these values with them.
The great Christian theme of Christ’s sacrifice, his death and resurrection, is enacted symbolically in the death of Aslan on the Stone Table. Aslan atones for Edmund’s sin of betrayal. As the Witch rightly points out, the law, made by the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea (God) is that a betrayer must die. This is one of the laws of the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time, and it is inscribed on the Stone Table, the place of execution for those who disobey. Supposedly such a law is to keep the balance and to prevent chaos. In Biblical terms it would be the Old Testament law of reparation, an eye for an eye. In most legal systems, someone who breaks the law is required to give satisfaction or to pay, to forfeit freedom, life, or money. The Witch is ready to kill Edmund as a betrayer, even though he did nothing to her. She takes satisfaction, as Mr. Beaver says sarcastically, in being “the Emperor’s hangman” (Chpt. 13, p.142).
Aslan agrees to make the payment for Edmund to spare his life. The Witch is delighted, since this will be the end of her enemy. The whole drama of crucifixion is played out with the girls following Aslan to the execution, trying to comfort him and crying over him. They watch as the Witch and evil goblins torture him and cut off his mane, put him on the Table and kill him. Aslan does not lift a paw to stop them though he could kill all of them. The next morning they are amazed when the Stone Table cracks and Aslan is gone. He suddenly appears again quite alive and more powerful than ever. Thus, having paid for Edmund, he is free to destroy the Witch and restore Narnia.
Sacrifice, or the giving oneself for others, is the opposite of selfishness and a lesson the children have to learn as well, for it is what makes a human noble and wise, like Aslan. When the children find out about Mr. Tumnus’s arrest and see his home destroyed, Susan wants to go back through the wardrobe. She is hungry and does not want to get into some trouble over a Faun. Lucy, however, claims they cannot leave Mr. Tumnus because he sacrificed himself for her. They all agree that would not be right. They go through danger and hardship to find a way to release Tumnus from the Witch’s castle. The Beavers also sacrifice. They see that the Faun got arrested and that they too will be in danger for harboring the human fugitives, but they do it anyway, opening their home to the children. Edmund, having been chastened by his misadventures, becomes a hero in the war, actually taking on the Witch and defeating her, though he is wounded and almost dies. It is only through sacrifices like these that Narnia can be restored and made whole again.
Forgiveness vs. Revenge
Aslan creates a new law with his sacrifice. His sacrifice destroys the old law of revenge and establishes forgiveness as a Deeper Magic From Before the Dawn of Time. Aslan explains that within “the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned” there is a different law (Chpt. 15, p.163). The new law is that “when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward” (Chpt. 15, p. 163). This refers to Christ defeating death for humans, giving them a chance for immortal life. Again, Aslan is associated with life and even, everlasting life. After Edmund has been rescued by Aslan’s army just at the moment when the Witch is about to kill him for his crime, he is taken to Aslan’s pavilion. He is seen walking with Aslan for a long time, during which, it is implied, Aslan forgives him but also teaches him that what he did was wrong. Edmund approaches his brothers and sisters and asks for forgiveness, and they give it.
Even in his worst moment of betraying them, the narrator tells us, “You mustn’t think that even now Edmund was quite so bad that he actually wanted his brother and sisters to be turned into stone. He did want Turkish Delight and to be a Prince” (Chpt. 9, p. 89). Greed and revenge (he wanted “to pay Peter out for calling him a beast” [p. 89]) are his motives for allying himself the Witch. He convinces himself that she is his friend, but “deep down inside him he really knew the White Witch was bad and cruel” (Chpt. 9, p. 89). His moral nature is once again wakened when he sees the Witch about to turn the Christmas party to stone. He pleads, “Oh, don’t, don’t, please don’t” (Chpt. 11, p. 116). The Witch strikes him for standing up for them. Edmund learns the hard way that revenge is not sweet; it just creates more hate and strife. There is no end to revenge, except through forgiveness. Even though the obnoxious and unlovable child, Edmund is forgiven for his mistake and taken back by Aslan and the other children. This changes him into a responsible person. The new Narnia is based on the principle of live and let live. Although it is not elucidated in the story, it is implied that the fair rule of Aslan and of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve is based on forgiveness and love rather than revenge.