Merry Christmas! December’s “Tween the Weekends” falls today, on December 25, so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a wonderful tween book/series that incorporates the celebration of Christmas: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I have mentioned several times on this blog that one of the hallmarks of a good tween book is its ability to speak to multiple groups of readers, providing surface and deeper level meanings that can spark conversations and provide food for thought for tweens and adults alike.
For those few of you who might not have read Lewis’s classic series, it is set in Narnia, a magical country that has been cursed. The evil White Witch has by her power made it always winter – always winter, in the sorrowful words of Tumnus the Faun, and never Christmas.
This horrible scenario speaks to young readers at a visceral level, and also to adult readers on a more intellectual and theological plane. Christmas, the time in Western Civilization marked for joy and love, for gift-giving, laughter, and light, is done away with. In its place is winter, a time of cold and heaviness and death. Young readers are struck by the unfairness of it all. No time off of school. No carols. No holiday spirit. No Christmas presents! Truly, the White Witch is thoroughly evil and must be defeated. Similarly, the great lion Aslan first reveals his goodness from afar, as Father Christmas appears in Aslan’s name and gives presents to the book’s protagonists. All will be all right, the book indicates, now that Christmas has returned.
On a deeper level, this taking away and return of Christmas also speaks powerfully to the theological themes that C.S. Lewis purposefully weaves into his Narnia series. As a Christian theologian, Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to be a reimagining of the gospel story. In Christianity, Christmas is celebrated in remembrance of the fact that God came to Earth as a man, becoming one of His creatures in order to fulfill the promises that He made: that He would redeem them from their sins and bring them back into fellowship with Him. Without Christmas, there is no incarnation, no redemption, and no hope for mankind. “Always winter and never Christmas” is in fact a profound lament of the state of the soul of Narnia: cold, hard, frozen, and without hope.
The appearance of Father Christmas, therefore, not only is a tangible show of the joy and “Christmas Spirit” that return to Narnia as the White Witch’s power wanes, but also a nonverbal foreshadowing of the incarnation and redemption that will come in the rest of the book. Aslan is revealed to be the savior of Narnia, a talking beast who lived among talking beasts, the king of all and the son of the great Emperor Beyond the Sea, the good and faithful one who is willing to die in the place of a traitor and in doing so overturns death itself. The redemption of Edmund, the overthrow of the White Witch, and the establishment of the Golden Age of Narnia all flow directly from Aslan’s choice to enter the world which He sang into existence as a beast of flesh and blood. They flow directly from Christmas, which the White Witch cannot hold back once Aslan decides to return to Narnia.
And all of this wrapped up in a tween fantasy book loved by generations of children and adults. Wow. Now that’s a level of meaning-making for an author to strive for!