Craving Aslan

I just finished reading the entire Narnia series for the first time and loved it. I had read most of it as a kid, but this was the first time all the way through.

One thing that I noticed about myself was how much I looked forward to each little moral vignette between Aslan and one of the characters (usually one of the kids). I found myself craving those (mostly) gentle moments and sometimes would even well up with tears reading them.

It was a little bit of a strange sensation, because I knew that I rarely had this experience reading about the actual Jesus in the Bible (who Aslan is obviously supposed to represent). One could say that this means that C. S. Lewis has altered the presentation of Jesus somehow–maybe made him a bit too likeable and pleasant to read about in his portrayal as Aslan. But that didn’t ring true for me for a few different reasons.

First, Lewis goes to lengths to talk about how Aslan isn’t “tame” and many of the interactions he has with other characters in the books are not happy ones. Secondly, far too many Christians seem to agree that, of all recent Christians, C. S. Lewis was one of the best at capturing the character of God in his writings, so it seemed a strange conclusion that Aslan is far off from the character of Jesus in the Bible.

Before I go on, I need to mention one other thing. It is a common strand of more conservative forms of Christianity that “everything you need” is in the Bible. If that were true, that would add support to the idea that Lewis is “adding” to (or changing) the character of Jesus when he describes Aslan’s actions, and that’s why I’m having a different reaction. Which is of course a disappointing thing to think, because that means my positive reactions to Aslan are empty or possibly even evil, since it’s not to the real Jesus.

But after thinking about all this, I realized there is an entirely different answer. And it’s really a simple and straightforward one. It starts with the fact that the gospel writers were not writing using modern storytelling techniques, and so are extremely sparse in their narrative. Even the tender moments are often handled in just one or two sentences. “Jesus wept” is a tender, extremely theological rich verse, but it’s literally two words. Another tender moment is when Jesus simply says “Mary” near the end of John’s gospel after his resurrection, but that’s literally a single word! Contrast that with episodes with Aslan where you get all the rich modern storytelling aspects we now expect. This changes everything!

To my relief, I realized that was the only difference here. How Aslan deals with people really is extremely similar to Jesus, but it’s simply described in more detail in the 3D color of a modern narrative. Surely, similar episodes in the gospels would evoke the same emotion in me if the same amount of detail and storytelling were there.

This leads me to my final point which is that, in a sense, the Bible is not enough. Of course it never was supposed to be enough since it’s Christ himself that saves us after all, not a book. But beyond that, we greatly benefit from fuller explanations and descriptions of God’s character to enrich our lives as we grow in our faith and live our lives. Probably the primary way we receive that is through each other’s stories and biographies; I remember my mom saying how Christian biographies were probably the most important Christian literature for her to grow her faith and know God more. When we hear other Christians’ stories, we’re getting the same sort of richly detailed vignettes that C. S. Lewis offers (his through fiction) in Narnia.

We need those. Not because they are different from the gospels, but because they fill in gaps that the gospels were never capable of filling, and they fill them in in a way that is harmonious with what is already there.

So don’t be afraid to crave Aslan. As Lewis once wrote back to the mother of a young boy who was concerned he loved Aslan more than Jesus, “[He] can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus … For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”