On March 1, I had knee replacement surgery and began the process of recovery. For most of the month of March, I slept only a few hours at a time and in between, I would ice my leg, get comfortable on the couch, and listen to the Harper Audio version of the Chronicles of Narnia. This edition is wonderfully read, or rather “performed” as described in the book introductions, with each character’s voice having its own expression.
I found great comfort in listening to these stories and spending time with the good and terrible lion Aslan (Lewis once said, people who have not been to Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time).
When I was done with pain medication and could think straight, I went through the Kindle books and highlighted the quotes that were most significant to me. Here is one quote from each book that spoke to my heart as I listened.
In my research on Narnia, I discovered that C.S. Lewis had written a letter to a girl name Anne about the Christ-centered meaning of Chronicles of Narnia (you can read it here). I have used his descriptions in the book titles.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Crucifixion and Resurrection
In the first book, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy begin their adventures in Narnia. Lucy is the first to go through the wardrobe into the magical kingdom, followed by Edmund. But Edmund meets the White Witch and is drawn under her power, and eventually betrays the other three.
Aslan tells Lucy that saving Edmund after his betrayal may be harder than she thinks, and indeed it is. The death of the Lion in Edmund’s place (and by extension in the place of every traitor) is the most poignant and Christ affirming scene in the entire series.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer. “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known 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.”
Prince Caspian: Restoration of the True Religion after a Corruption
When the four children return to Narnia in this book, many years have passed and much has changed. As they are trying to find their way to a specific destination, Lucy sees Aslan but the others don’t, and she can’t convince them to follow him. As a result, they all get hopelessly lost until Aslan calls Lucy aside again, comforts her, strengthens her, and tells her she must follow, whether any of the others do.
Aslan’s words to Lucy at this first meeting described perfectly how I felt rereading these books; they had grown bigger since the last reading.
“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.” The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face. “Welcome, child,” he said. “Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Spiritual Life
Lucy and Edmund and their cousin Eustace have a marvelous adventure with King Caspian (who they helped put on the throne in the previous book) as they journey with Reepicheep to the end of the world. But their adventure in Narnia comes to an end and they discover they will not be returning.
As long as I have the books and recordings, I know I can return to Narnia whenever I want, but Aslan’s words to Lucy reminded me where my true focus should be.
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon.” “Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”
“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices. “You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.” “It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?” “But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan. “Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund. “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
The Silver Chair: The Continued War Against the Powers of Darkness
Eustace returns to Narnia with Jill, a companion from school, to liberate the heir to the throne from captivity to an evil queen. In the opening scene, Jill is separated from Eustace and has to overcome her fear and meet the Lion for the first time on her own. Aslan gives her a set of instructions to follow that play out through the rest of the book.
His instructions sound so much like Moses in Deuteronomy it is startling, and her inability to recognize the signs when they do happen is a reminder of how much we need the help of the Holy Spirit to remember God’s word.
But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. And now, daughter of Eve, farewell—
The Horse and his Boy: The Calling and Conversion of a Heathen
This adventure, unlike all of the others, features four inhabitants of Calormene, a country near Narnia: a poor boy named Shasta and his talking horse Bree and Aravis, the daughter of a Calormene noble, and her talking horse Hwin. All four are seeking freedom in Narnia, and eventually find it, where Shasta discovered he is actually the kidnapped son of the King of Archenland.
Throughout the story, each character encounters a lion at various points, whose actions affect the direction of their journey. Only at the end do they realize that their path has been directed by the Great Lion Aslan. Aslan’s explanation of his role to Shasta is a lovely picture of the sovereign hand of God, leading us and preserving us before we even knew and recognized him.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice. “What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and—” “There was only one: but he was swift of foot.” “How do you know?” “I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
The Magician’s Nephew: Creation and How Evil Entered Narnia
In this book, we get to experience the birth of Narnia and see the Lion sing creation into existence. But evil has already entered the lovely new world of Narnia in the form of a witch, brought by two children: Digory and his friend Polly. Digory’s uncle is a magician and has sent them into Narnia with magic rings.
There are many lovely and intriguing passages in this book, but the one that affected me most is Aslan’s conversation with Digory about his mother. Digory’s mother is dying back home and he desperately wants to find a cure for her. Lewis’s own mother died when he was 9 years old of a similar wasting illness. By the end of the story, Aslan has given Digory what he needs to save his mother’s life. It is hard not to imagine Lewis’s tears mixed with Aslan’s in this passage.
“But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”
The Last Battle: The coming of Antichrist, the End of the World, and the Last Judgment
In this final book of the Narnia series, evil arrives in the form of an ape that dresses up a donkey in a lion skin to pretends that it is Aslan. The deception continues to the point that he tries to merge the glorious Lion with the evil spirit Tash, the demonic God that rules over the Calormenes and demands human sacrifice.
This is how the ape addresses the gathered Narnians and King Tirian’s response. This passage gave me chills because of how timely it is in the post-modern world, where we are told that there is no difference in religion and that everyone is worshiping the same God in their own way:
Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”
“Ape,” King Rillian cried with a great voice, “you lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.” He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.
In the end, Aslan returns, and all the creatures must pass before him to the right or the left. Those on the right are able to enter into Aslan’s true country, where all the children featured in the previous books have also entered through a stable door. We are given a taste of the glories of Aslan’s country, the true home we have longed for that all others only shadow and the book ends on this glorious note:
But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this 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.