The Function of the Secondary World in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

July 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

C.S. Lewis uses a secondary world, Narnia, to convey complex, thought-provoking messages to readers of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This paper examines the way a selection of Narnia’s key characteristics prompt debates over logic and faith, comment on the nature of spiritual and metaphysical journeys, allow readers to broaden their conception of their own capabilities, encourage new reflection on the story of Christ and help to clarify conceptions of good and evil. Narnia’s first characteristic of note is the portal through which it is reached – the wardrobe. By connecting the secondary world with the first, ‘real’ one, rather than simply beginning the story within Narnia, Lewis is able to introduce thoughts about truth and rationality. As the first to discover Narnia, Lucy must convince her siblings that the second world does indeed exist. Here, the Professor gives the children a lesson about finding truth in a logical and considered manner: There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious she is not mad…we must assume she is telling the truth. (p.50) Lewis suggests that logic and faith are not necessarily opposed, but rather can inform the other and aid the pursuit of truth. Narnia needed to be a secondary world in order for the deliberation over its existence to occur in the story’s primary world, allowing the Professor’s lesson on truth to emerge.The wardrobe is significant for several other reasons. First, one cannot reach Narnia if he or she is seeking to either prove or disprove its existence. When Lucy brings her siblings to the wardrobe with the express goal of proving Narnia’s existence, the wardrobe does not function as a portal. It is only later, when the children are hiding from Mrs. Macready and are distracted from the debate over Narnia, that the wardrobe becomes a portal once again. Lewis may be suggesting that explorations of metaphysical and spiritual subjects (the ‘Narnias’ of our own world) are best suited to open, impartial minds. Second, the obscurity of Narnia’s entrance suggests that such journeys cannot be sought out or forced, but rather will present themselves at places and times we least expect. Finally, the use of an ordinary wardrobe as the portal to Narnia makes Lewis’s readers consider what fantastic journeys – physical or otherwise – may lay within the ordinariness of everyday existence. Another of Narnia’s key characteristics is that its inhabitants revere and depend upon the children. At their temporary home in England, the children are unsupervised and irrelevant. The Professor involves himself little with the children’s affairs – as Peter notes, “That old chap will let us do anything we like!” (p.2) – and Mrs. Macready displays impatient disregard for them. The children’s situation breeds problems. Lucy is afraid of the Professor and her new surroundings, Edmund mocks the Professor’s odd appearance and generally misbehaves, and Peter believes he and his siblings can be as mischievous as they please. The children bicker constantly. Without responsibilities and respect to accompany it, the freedom afforded by the Professor’s indifference does not translate into maturity.In Narnia, by contrast, the children immediately command attention and respect. The inhabitants of Narnia need the children, as the Narnian prophecy states: “When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone/ Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,/ The evil time will be over and done” (p.84). In the face of tremendous challenges and expectations, the children grow in ways and at a pace that would have been unthinkable in England. They free a country from tyranny and emerge as Narnia’s beloved kings and queens, complete with impressive titles: ‘Lucy the Valiant’, ‘Peter the Magnificent’, ‘Susan the Gentle’ and ‘Edmund the Just’ (p.195). A summary of their rule, expressed in the future, is equally praiseful:They made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being cut down and liberated young dwarfs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live (p.195). With the children’s transformation in Narnia, Lewis comments on the boundless potential of people (particularly children) to grow and achieve when they are treated with dignity and afforded responsibilities. Another lesson within this book comes from Narnia’s physical transformation. The world appears empty and lifeless when the children first arrive. The children only come across a handful of other characters throughout their journey, and barring Father Christmas, none of them are human. This creates the feeling that Narnia exists exclusively for the four children, as though they have been predestined to find it. In addition, the barren, snow-covered landscape Lewis describes creates a sense that life has been suspended. The children’s arrival and subsequent actions are what ultimately end the hundred-year winter.Narnia’s physical change prompts further reflection on the contrast between the children’s irrelevance in England and importance in Narnia. Again, the comparison would not have been possible if the book were set entirely in Narnia, nor would it have been as distinct without the barren, snowy landscape Lewis so ably depicts. The transformation may inspire readers to believe that a figurative Narnia waits for them, too – a place, person or situation that needs that particular reader’s unique influence in order to thrive.Perhaps the most important characteristic of Lewis’ secondary world is the presence of Aslan, Narnia’s lion Messiah. The parallels between Aslan’s experience in this story and the Passion of Christ in the New Testament are numerous; the most notable of these is Aslan’s willing death and unexpected resurrection. This difference is that the Christian resurrection carries very heavy baggage, with many people skeptical of the story, deterred by preconceptions about Christianity, or resentful of the church’s expectations. In Narnia, by contrast, inhabitants are not expected to understand the significance of Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection and do not feel obligated to love him for it. By making this distinction, Lewis adapts the story of Christ in a way that generates new reactions from readers. He does this by creating a secondary world and an unfamiliar animal savior about whom we have no preconceptions. Had Lewis set the entire story within Narnia, this may not have been possible. Aslan’s story would be read more as an allegory of Christ’s story than a separate tale in its own right. Because the primary and secondary worlds meet, the reader must accept Narnia as real (as it was for the children) and thus must take Aslan as real, not merely a symbol. We are distanced from our preconceptions of Jesus and come to appreciate Aslan for Aslan’s sake. In doing so, we may in fact come to have a new perspective – transferring the ‘free’ emotions we have felt towards Aslan onto Jesus. This is arguably the main lesson Lewis tried to convey in this book.The final characteristic of Narnia that will be considered here is the one-dimensionality of its inhabitants. During their quest to save Narnia, the children must constantly decide who is good and who is evil. Aside from Edmund’s debacle with the White Witch, each character encountered by the children is very clearly one or the other. Mr Tumnus, the Beavers, Aslan, Father Christmas and the red robin are all essentially good, and it is relatively easy for the children to decide these characters should be trusted. Conversely, the White Witch and her minions are all presented as supremely bad, with no redeeming qualities. It is clear to the children that they must not be trusted. In one instance, this is illustrated through Mr Tumnus’s frenzied rant about what he believes the Witch would do to him, were he to go against her orders: She’ll have my tail cut off, my horns sawn off…and my beard plucked out. If she is extra and specially angry she’ll turn me into stone and I shall be only a statue of a Faun in her horrible house! (p.19) Such clear-cut and extreme representations do not occur in the children’s primary world. For example, the character of the Professor is more ambiguous. He is intimidating (‘Lucy was a little afraid of him’), pitiful (‘Edmund wanted to laugh’) and kind, as Susan remarks: ‘I think he’s an old dear’ (p.2). The children are not certain of how he should be received. By crafting the journey into Narnia, Lewis gives the children a vision of clear values, where good and evil are clearly distinct. This is a contrast to the children’s primary world and the world of the reader, where things are not always as they seem, people are complex and layered, and the process of discerning good from evil is a precarious task. Narnia provides an ideal; a land of moral certainty. It allows us to return to the real world with greater certainty of our own values. In conclusion, the secondary world of Narnia in C.S Lewis’ epic tale offers much by way of literary significance. It provokes debate over abstract, complex ideas such as truth and faith. It allows reflection on our role in the ‘real’ world. It inspires hope that we all serve a purpose; that we are capable of affecting change. It provokes new reflections on the story of Jesus and the meaning of sacrifice. Finally, it presents us with a vision of clear values; stripping good and evil down to their cores so that we may return to the real world more certain of our own convictions.

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