“Death Working Backwards:” Narnia, Deeper Magic, and Easter
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
While truth comes to us in many forms, it is most vividly received in the context of story. It is within the context of story that readers are invited into the literary and emotional landscape, and experience truth through the eyes of its characters.
And this principle holds true for C.S. Lewis‘ beloved Narnia series, which have recently been brought to life on the silver screen. Even casual readers and viewers are now aware that the books reflect a strong Christian theme, and that there is a deep theological richness contained within these pages.
Aslan is an allegory for Christ, who stands in opposition to the White Witch, who holds the fantasy world of Narnia captive – “always winter, never Christmas.” But when a group of children stumble through an old wardrobe to discover this world, it is young Edmund who betrays Aslan and his friends.
“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch…
“Well,” said Aslan. “His offense was not against you.”
“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.
“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”
“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?…You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill…And so, that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.” […]
“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”
“Oh, Aslan!” whispered Susan in the Lion’s ear, “can’t we – I mean, you won’t, will you? Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?”
“Work against the Emperor’s magic?” said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.
Lewis’ story reflects an older, though historically ingrained theological tradition called the “ransom theory” of the atonement (if you read his “Space Trilogy,” you’ll recall that the lead character of those novels is named “Ransom”).
It finds its basis in Jesus’ promise to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The early church, seeking to understand this concept, suggested that mankind is the captive property of the devil. On the cross, Jesus paid the “ransom payment,” liberating man from this bondage.
We rightly recognize that while Jesus and the early writers employed the language of “ransom,” suggesting that God owed the devil some payment is bit of a stretch.
Still, Lewis’ story makes clear the “costliness” of redemption – and even the word “redemption” carries the meaning of “payment” or “exchange.”
As we read on, we see that there is an even “deeper magic” to be counted on.
Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed.
At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
DEATH WORKING BACKWARDS
C.S. Lewis is speaking quite meaningfully of the hope of resurrection – a “deeper magic” than our traditional categories of decay and death.
In Christianity, the cross and resurrection serve a two-fold purpose: to pay the costly price of sin, and to show victory over its consequence, namely death.
Historically, the empty tomb and risen, embodied Savior served as evidence for this event – that faith and hope are built not on idle speculation or sentimental desire, but on the knowledge of the resurrection.
And the joy – the deepest, most fantastic joy of all – is that there is a “deeper magic” available for all of us.
We soon will be celebrating Easter. What is Easter? Easter is “death working backwards.” It is both the celebration of the historical reality of the resurrection, as well as the hope in the future promise of our own.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.