Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Context


C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia

Throughout the story Leslie draws inspiration from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Narnia is a fantasy land with talking animals and mythical creatures, where magic abounds and anything is possible. Four human children enter the land of Narnia through a large wardrobe, and there they find allies and enemies, overcome obstacles and personal foibles, fight battles, and ultimately become kings and queens. Similarly, Jess and Leslie hold mock battles against giants and other creatures in Terabithia and plot to overcome enemies like their mutual foe, Janice Avery. Leslie appoints herself queen and names Jess as king; even their pup is dubbed as royalty: Prince Terrien. Katherine Paterson herself was inspired by Narnia in writing the book, particularly in the choice of the name Terabithia. "I thought I'd made up 'Terabithia,'" Patterson later said in an interview. "I realized when the book was nearly done, that there is an island in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis called Terebinthia."

Lewis, who authored many books and essays on Christianity, was a strong influence on Paterson, the daughter of missionaries and the wife of a minister. The Chronicles of Narnia make many allusions to spirituality and Christianity. Lewis's stories are considered allegorical in that many of the characters and events have clear Christian parallels. As in the Bible, Narnia has its own creation myth. There are struggles between good and evil, and a central character, Aslan, sacrifices his life and is resurrected. Finally, the end of the world comes to Narnia, along with a final judgment. Bridge to Terabithia echoes many of these events. Jess and Leslie create the world of Terabithia, where they live out the struggle against evil at a 10-year-old level, sometimes in real life and sometimes in make-believe. Leslie's attendance at church falls on Easter, with its story of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, not long before her own death. Leslie's passing seems to signal the end of the Terabithian world, but Jess resurrects its magic (and Leslie's spirit) by building the bridge. He has rendered a final judgment on himself: that he is a king worthy of carrying on the magic of Terabithia.

The Counterculture Movement

Bridge to Terabithia is set in the mid-1970s, sometime after the end of the Vietnam War in 1973. Protests against the Vietnam War gave rise to the "counterculture" movement, ideas supported by vocal groups of citizens who accepted neither the war nor prevailing cultural values. Coming primarily from educated, suburban middle-class backgrounds, the so-called "hippies" who personified this movement championed ideals such as peace, love, individuality, and social equality. The slogans of "Flower Power" and "Make Love Not War," the rejection of middle-class values, the idea of communal living, and a revived interest in folk music come from this time.

In Bridge to Terabithia the movement is represented by the character of Miss Edmunds, who is labeled a "hippie" and "peacenik" and looked down on by the small-town residents of Lark Creek because she wears jeans instead of dresses, wears her hair long and straight, plays the guitar, rejects stereotypical gender roles, and is genuinely interested in her students. The residents of Lark Creek do not hold with such values, as theirs generally remain unquestioned, traditional, and far removed from political or social rebelliousness as they struggle to eke out a living. The songs Miss Edmunds teaches her students reveal the values she holds. "Blowing in the Wind," "Free to Be You and Me," and "This Land Is Your Land" are among her choices, while the students are required to sing "God Bless America" only because Principal Turner insists on its inclusion.

"Back to the Land" Movement

Another shift in the social landscape of the United States in the 1970s was the "back to the land" movement. Disillusioned young people and educated urbanites and suburbanites alike chose to drop out of their corporate, competitive, money-based lives—the "rat race''—in favor of a simpler way of life based on farming, environmental consciousness, and self-sufficiency. Some people chose to live communally, others individually. In Bridge to Terabithia the Burke family reflects this trend; the Burkes are wealthy Washington, D.C., suburbanites who "reassess their value structure" and decide to move to the country to farm.

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