71 years ago today, the fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was first published. It is the first of The Chronicles of Narnia series, and to this day remains the most popular. Written in the late ‘40s, the novel is very much a product of its time. Not to say it’s terribly dated. Only that WWII was fresh on everyone’s minds, and is even the catalyst for the novel’s plot.
The author was a man named C.S. Lewis. Today he is best known for Narnia, but in his time Lewis was a prolific Christian writer, thinker, lecturer, and debater. Lewis was also close friends with none other than J.R.R. Tolkien: the man behind The Lord of the Rings.
Set in England during WWII, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe centers around siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy relocating to a family friend’s manor for safety. One day, during a game of hide and seek, Lucy hides in an unassuming wardrobe–and is transported to another world called Narnia. The children’s adventures into this fantastical realm, and unwitting fulfillment of an ancient prophecy have captivated readers for decades.
Despite being a children’s book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has remained both relevant and beloved this 71 years. It is even celebrated by, and has won awards from the BBC! The novel was so popular it was adapted into a film by the same name in 2005, to respectable success. Not Lord of the Rings success, but nothing can quite compete.
All of that said, this first Narnia novel wasn’t well received when first published. Critics found it too violent, too fantastical rather than educational, and containing too many overtly Christian elements. These first two criticisms have faded over time. But what about the last?
Lewis’s writing style is best described as conversational. As such, his worldview flows naturally as he narrates. However, there is one major event in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that is blatantly Christian in origin: one of the children, Edmund, breaks Narnia law and is set for execution as a result. Aslan, the Lion takes Edmund’s place, and is humiliated and executed instead. He is then resurrected from the dead.
If any doubt remains as to whether Aslan is a reference to Jesus Christ, the lion himself offers these words to the children: “In your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by it. That was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little bit, you may know me better there.”
C.S. Lewis famously, or perhaps infamously wrote all his books with little to no regard to their reception. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is no exception. He enjoyed writing it so much, in fact, he started the sequel immediately! As in, before he’d published the first, and before he’d received any feedback. In the end, one can only admire that writing spirit, even if they don’t agree with what Lewis sought to do with his works. Perhaps I’m only speaking for myself, but 71 years of attention from both religious and secular institutions makes me think otherwise.