The whole art and joy of words":
Aslan's speech in the Chronicles of Narnia
by Joy Alexander
THERE are many instances in literature of characters stepping out of the books which create them. What I mean is that many people recognise and know about Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, or Peter Pan who have certainly never read the stories in which they feature. Another example is Aslan, who is widely known to be a lion and can perhaps be associated with Narnia even though little else about the Narnian Chronicles may be known. Nor is there likely to be much argument that he is the dominant character in the Narnian tales.
C. S. Lewis always resisted making any simple equation that Aslan is Jesus Christ. In his first novel, The Pilgrim's Regress, he came closest to allegory but he spent the remainder of his prolific career retreating from anything so explicit. He discussed the specific case of Narnia on several occasions in his letters. For example, on May 29, 1954, he wrote to some fifth-graders:
You are mistaken when you think that everything in the books 'represents' something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim's Progress but I'm not writing in that way. I did not say to myself 'Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia': I said 'Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would have happened.' If you think about it, you will see that it is quite a different thing. (Hooper 425)
Although allegory is disavowed, Aslan is clearly a character redolent of divinity and with godlike connotations. This is explicitly reinforced by Lewis when, less than a month after writing to the fifth-graders, on June 19, he replied, when the idea of a cartoon version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was suggested to him: "I am sure you understand that Aslan is a divine figure, and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simple blasphemy" (438). It is obvious that C. S. Lewis took the character of Aslan very seriously and intended that he should be suggestive of the Christian Son of God. Consequently as a writer he placed himself under extraordinary constraints in depicting such a character when inappropriate treatment would apparently be construed by him as blasphemy. It is interesting therefore to study Aslan's appearances and speech in the Narnian Chronicles and to consider the special ways in which he is presented.
Given his dominance in the reader's memory of the tales, it may come as a surprise to realise that Aslan's appearances are actually strictly limited: (1)
Number of pages in book
Pages where Aslan is physically present
Silver 23-27, 186-89
What is immediately evident is that Aslan is actually present in the stories relatively little--at most for one third of the novel, but more often for much less. Of course, for a number of these pages even though he is present, he may be taking little part in what is happening. On the other hand, during the substantial parts of the tales where he is not present, he is often referred to and spoken of, so that he is never forgotten about for long. However, what the table above also shows is that Aslan's appearances are, with one exception, reserved for the final stages of each story. The Chronicles have an essentially simple structure and Aslan is used right at the very end to sort things out and to bring closure, a deus ex excelsis rather than a deus ex machina. The sole exception is The Silver Chair,...
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