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The Chronicles of Narnia (Series) | Themes

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Good versus Evil

In the world that Lewis creates, it's fairly easy to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys." The author makes use of time-tested characters from fairy tales and folklore to populate the pages, especially for "bad" creatures such witches, ogres, and hags. "Good" creatures include unicorns, winged horses, cute fauns and woodland creatures, and innocent children. Good versus evil matchups in the series include:

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Queen Jadis, the White Witch (evil) versus Aslan, the children, and the Narnians (good)
  • Prince Caspian: King Miraz (evil) versus Caspian (good)
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Governor Gumpas and the slave traders (evil) versus Caspian and the crew (good)
  • The Silver Chair: The Lady of the Green Kirtle (evil) versus Prince Rilian (good); the school bullies (evil) versus Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb (good)
  • The Horse and His Boy: Prince Rabadash and the invading Calormenes (evil) versus the Archenlanders and Narnians (good)
  • The Magician's Nephew: Queen Jadis and Uncle Andrew (evil) versus Aslan and the children (good)
  • The Last Battle: Shift (the ape) and the Calormenes (evil) versus King Tirian, the children, and the Narnians (good)

Not all instances of good and evil are so cut-and-dried, however. Many character types in the series can be either good or evil, depending on personality or personal choice. There are both heroic and villainous dwarfs, giants, talking animals, and humans. Even the generally evil Calormenes have good characters among them, such as the warrior Emeth from The Last Battle. It is important to note that Lewis, probably unconsciously, has given the Calormenes, consistently evil characters, dark skin, while consistently good characters (the English children) are fair-skinned. Twenty-first-century readers are more likely to see an underlying racial bias than Lewis's original readers would have.

And sometimes, good characters who mean no harm do the villains' dirty work. Edmund Pevensie betrays his own family to the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while the donkey Puzzle becomes an unwitting tool for the evil ape in The Last Battle. Character flaws in these characters permit evil to creep in. Edmund is spiteful and jealous, especially of his brother Peter Pevensie, and the Witch capitalizes on this by playing to his ego, offering him fantasies of becoming king of Narnia over his siblings. Puzzle is full of self-doubt and negative self-talk, feeling too stupid to make his own decisions even though his heart and instincts try to steer him toward goodness. There are also some characters, such as Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew, who believe they are doing good but in reality are perpetuating evil. Uncle Andrew sees himself as a great scientist working to discover whole new worlds—and it's true that his creation of the rings does lead to this discovery. However, the inherent weaknesses of his personality—greed, cowardice, and selfishness—cause great harm to everyone around him, from his family to innocent bystanders in London. For this reason, Uncle Andrew can be considered as an evil character, even if his intentions are not evil per se.

Of course, the narrative arc of the entire series, as well as of the individual books, focuses on the abilities of good people to thwart evil in whatever form it presents itself, whether it be school bullies or dictators who destroy millions of lives in their greed for power and/or wealth. Fantasy and fairy tales have long been used as vehicles to help readers see the evils of their own worlds, and to find strength to oppose those evils.

Temptation

Readers can also understand this theme in terms of free will, which most Christians believe God has given to humanity. Temptation tests the stories' heroes time and time again. When characters exercise free will judiciously, they can resist and overcome temptation, one of Lewis's marks of a hero. Because people, particularly children, often succumb to temptation, another mark of the hero—perhaps a more common one—is the ability to take responsibility for and learn from their own poor choices.

  • Temptation is a major theme of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with Edmund Pevensie being tempted by the White Witch, who offers him rooms full of Turkish delight and even the throne of Narnia to betray his siblings.
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace Scrubb is tempted by the dragon's treasure on Dragon Island, while Caspian is tempted by the prospect of gold and riches for his kingdom on the island of Deathwater. Lucy Pevensie resists the temptation to recite a spell to make herself beautiful, but gives in to temptation in reciting a spell to eavesdrop on her friends. What she overhears is a punishment in and of itself—she isn't as well-liked as she thought she was. The characters are also tempted to enjoy the feast on Aslan's table at World's End, though they refrain for fear the food might be enchanted.
  • In The Silver Chair, the temptation of soft beds, hot baths, and warm meals lures Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb to the dangerous city of Harfang, where they are nearly eaten as the main course in the giants' Autumn Feast.
  • Digory Kirke is tempted to ring the bell that awakens the Witch (with disastrous consequences) and Uncle Andrew is tempted by potential riches from Narnia in The Magician's Nephew. Digory is also tempted to eat one of the magical apples or to steal one to take home to his ailing mother, though his conscience overcomes this temptation.

Some characters, though, are above temptation. All the riches and power in the land cannot entice Aravis to marry the loathsome Ahoshta in The Horse and His Boy. Nor can anything tempt the noble mouse Reepicheep to give up his quest to reach Aslan's own country in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. However, the mark of maturity lies not only in a character's ability to resist temptation, but to take responsibility for their own weakness in the face of temptation and to ask forgiveness. For instance, Edmund, Eustace, and Digory are all redeemed from the harm they caused in succumbing to temptation by their willingness to admit their mistakes.

Faith

The characters' faith in Aslan, in each other, and in themselves, is frequently tested or demonstrated throughout the books.

  • In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy Pevensie puts her faith in the faun Tumnus to keep her safe from the White Witch, and he does keep her safe, at great peril to himself.
  • Lucy fails a test of faith in Prince Caspian when she is traveling with her siblings and Trumpkin through the forest. She continues with them in the wrong direction, even though she has seen Aslan and knows they should follow him. She is given a second test of faith in which Aslan shows himself to her again and urges her to follow him no matter what: "If they will not, then you at least must follow me alone." This time, she does—with Edmund Pevensie's support, for he has faith in her. When the party follows Lucy's lead, they eventually all come to see Aslan for themselves, too. Susan Pevensie has the least faith in the venture, and it is she who sees Aslan last of the children. Throughout the story, Trufflehunter remains steadfastly faithful to Aslan, even taking the risk of caring for the injured prince.
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep shows complete faith in Aslan when he paddles over the wall of water at the end of the world in his quest to find Aslan's country. As readers discover in The Last Battle, Reepicheep's faith is justified.
  • Puddleglum demonstrates deep faith in Narnia and Aslan in The Silver Chair when he defies the Emerald Witch by trampling out her enchanted fire to break the spell she is casting over himself, Jill Pole, and Eustace Scrubb. "I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it," he declares staunchly. His faith gives him the strength to resist the Emerald Witch's spells and lies, ultimately saving not only himself, Jill, and Eustace, but also Prince Rilian.
  • Faith begins to dawn on Shasta in The Horse and His Boy when he first encounters Aslan on the mountain pass between Archenland and Narnia. Aslan keeps him safe from danger during the fog and listens to the boy's sorrows, and as the mist clears, Shasta sees the radiant lion for the first time. He immediately falls at Aslan's feet in a gesture of submission to the creature's undeniable greatness. Although Shasta has known nothing of Aslan during his life in Calormene, he instinctively reveres the lion and immediately becomes his faithful servant.
  • Digory Kirke proves his faith in Aslan in The Magician's Nephew when he brings back the Apple of Life untasted to the lion. Although he desperately wants to taste it himself or to take it to his mother, Digory faithfully trusts that following the lion's wishes is the best course of action. He is rewarded for this faith when Aslan gives him an apple from the tree of protection and it cures his mother's illness.
  • King Tirian holds fast to his faith in Aslan and a free Narnia even when all hope seems lost in The Last Battle. Tirian is recognized for his faith by Aslan himself, who says, "Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour." Queen Susan (Pevensie) of old, however, has given up her faith in Narnia and Aslan, and Peter Pevensie solemnly states that she "is no longer a friend of Narnia."

In the series, as in Christianity, faith means to believe without seeing and to trust in the goodness and power of Aslan (or God). Faith protects characters not necessarily from physical harm, but from spiritual harm. Faith in Aslan leads characters to use their free will to make honorable choices that benefit the greater good and negate greed and selfishness.

Courage and Cowardice

In each book of the series, courage is a lauded trait, while cowardice shows a character's weakness or flaws. In some cases, characters not brave enough at first gain courage when they are put to the test.

  • Aslan sets the bar for courage in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when he willingly submits to torture and execution in order to save Edmund Pevensie's life. Even as a powerful, godlike character, this act is still difficult for the lion, who is both sad and lonely as the time draws near. He faces his death with both courage and grace, leading by example for his faithful followers. The faun Tumnus also shows moral character and courage when he refuses to turn Lucy over to the White Witch, even though he knows it could (and does) have dire consequences for himself. Courage enables self-sacrifice.
  • In Prince Caspian the young prince shows courage when he must unexpectedly flee from the castle to save his own life. Even when he awakens to overhear Nikabrik advising Trumpkin and Trufflehunter, Caspian thinks not of the danger to himself, but of his horse's well-being. Lucy Pevensie bravely awakens her companions and forces them to follow her even though they cannot see Aslan. Peter Pevensie courageously challenges King Miraz to single combat in order to spare his troops and to buy time for Caspian to arrive.
  • Reepicheep is a model of sheer courage in everything he does in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from jumping overboard to challenge the threatening Sea People to encouraging the others not to turn away from the blackness of the Dark Island but to sail directly into it. When the ship becomes lost in the darkness and Lucy calls to Aslan for help, he sends an albatross to lead them. Unheard by the others, the bird whispers, "Courage, dear heart" to Lucy as it circles the ship's mast. Eustace Scrubb, too, develops courage during the voyage, attacking the sea serpent in "the first brave thing he had ever done." On the other hand, the cowardly crewman Pittencream is punished by being left behind on Ramandu's island when the others sail onward toward the end of the world.
  • In The Silver Chair, Jill Pole puts on a very brave face in Harfang after the travelers realize they are in danger. She boldly plays up the "adorable child" role that the giants have cast her in, pretending to be delighted with everything and everyone—a wily move that gains them both time to act and the freedom to explore the castle at will. Puddleglum shows great courage when he stomps out the Witch's enchanted fire in The Silver Chair, as he fully expects to die for taking a stand. Courage means standing up for one's beliefs, even in the face of death.
  • Courage is a strong theme in The Horse and His Boy. Shasta, Bree, Aravis, and Hwin all show courage in escaping from their unhappy lives in Calormene, and each has further opportunities to prove their bravery during their journey northward. Shasta proves to be the bravest, perhaps, in turning back to try to defend Hwin and Aravis against the attacking lion. Bree, however, falters in this scene. The once-brave warhorse is too afraid to turn back, a failure that humbles and haunts him afterward. Even the silly Lasaraleen exhibits bravery in helping Aravis escape from Tashbaan, putting herself in true danger to help a friend.
  • The Magician's Nephew presents the prime example of cowardice in the series through Uncle Andrew, whom Digory Kirke even calls a coward directly. Rather than explore unknown worlds himself, Uncle Andrew sends helpless animals and children to face any dangers that may await them. Once they are in Narnia, Uncle Andrew several times tries to persuade Digory to sneak away via the magic rings and leave the others behind, a spineless, "every man for himself" attitude that repulses the boy. Digory, by contrast, shows true courage in going to retrieve Polly Plummer and in his attempts to wrangle the Witch out of London and back to her own world.
  • King Tirian and Jewel bravely—though foolishly—attack the Calormene guards in The Last Battle; they then bravely—and again foolishly—turn themselves in to Shift. After Tirian is rescued, the party shows courage when they sneak back to Stable Hill to rescue Jewel and Puzzle. The Calormene soldier Emeth dares to enter the stable, unafraid to meet his god Tash. Finally, all of the loyal Narnians face the last battle—and death—with noble courage.

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