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Fairy stories say it best: Aslan embodies saving grace and divine authority.

Why is it sometimes necessary to search outside of the formal writing of theologians to understand our faith? I am best able to understand the majesty of Christ not when I read Karl Barth, but when I look at the lion, Aslan. I am best able to imagine how evil works not when I read John Calvin, but when I consider the one ring and how it destroyed the life of Gollum. I am best able to grasp the courage of our convictions, not when I read Jurgen Moltmann, but when I see Harry Potter's refusal to be seduced by the power that Voldemort offers him.

For me, literature and faith have always walked hand in hand. Even as a young girl, when my father read a chapter a night of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings to my brother and I as bedtime stories, I could see echoes of the Christian faith in the adventures of Frodo. When Aragom called Faramir out of a death-like sleep at the end of The Return of the King, I heard Christ calling Lazarus out of death.

When he'd finished with Lord of the Rings, Dad began to read us the Narnia Chronicles. Though I was a child, I understood that the way Lucy felt about Aslan was the way I felt about Jesus.

I grew up on these stories and so it is no great surprise that the first time I saw a preview of the current film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I grabbed my father's arm in the darkened theatre as tears filled my eyes.

With the advent of the first Narnia film from Disney comes a marketing opportunity, which means that a slew of Narnia-related products will be hitting the shelves just before Christmas. One of these is Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles. This insightful collection of essays discusses topics such as whether the Chronicles are meant for adults or children, in which order they should properly be read and what effect his friendship with Tolkien had on how Lewis shaped and viewed the Chronicles.

My favourite essay is Aslan Is On The Move: Images Of Providence In The Chronicles of Narnia by Russell W. Dalton, the associate professor of Christian Education at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Dalton examines how different facets of Christ--his saving grace, his divine sovereignty, his inability to be tamed--are embodied in Aslan. He also spends some time answering the question I posed at the beginning of this article.

C.S. Lewis believed that Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said (the title of one of his essays). While it is a well-known fact that Lewis was never interested in writing a pure allegory, he did believe that some thing about "loose" allegory (the kind which we find in Chronicles) allows the human brain to better grasp the truths of the Christian faith. While scholars debate Lewis's original intent in writing the Chronicles, there is no doubt that some of what he imagined in Narnia clarifies his theology in a way that is imaginative and free from the constraints of more formal writing.

Perhaps that is the point in the end. God is a creative and imaginative being. To attempt to understand him in a purely rational way is to ignore part of who God is. Lewis felt the frustration and limitation of the rational arguments for faith. Therefore, he left off writing theological essays for a while to start writing fairy stories. What he produced in this phase of his writing is a rich group of stories, which continue to be mined by today's Christian thinkers for the gold of theological insight that is hidden in the prose of Narnia.

Rebekah Mitchell is currently enrolled in her final year of the M.Div. program at Knox College, where she serves as President of the Mission and Theological Society.
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Author:Mitchell, Rebekah
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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