Christmas Presents: Bear Them Well.
For Christmas this year, I have returned to an old seasonal favourite: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I am a huge fan of Narnia and of CS Lewis, and on this 50th anniversary of his death, it seems appropriate to write something about Narnia, as well as about Christmas.
You know what's coming, don't you? Yes, I'd like to take a few moments to think about the gifts Father Christmas gives the children in Narnia, and some of the symbolism attached to them.
Peter's sword and shield
Who wouldn't want to get these for Christmas? These presents are a sign to Peter that he will become a knight. There's an obvious connection with St Paul's letter to the Ephesians: "Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes". (1) Peter will ultimately be called upon to fight evil in the form of the White Witch and her army. The rampant red lion on the shield shows not only his alliegance to Aslan, but Aslan's presence with him even when it seems he has deserted Peter (as in the Battle of Beruna). The strength and courage of the Lion will infuse Peter. The same thing later happens to Lucy in Prince Caspian when she buries her face in Aslan's mane and, "could feel lion-strength going into her." (2) Aslan tells her, "Now you are a lioness." (3) Peter's future kingship resonates with such legends as that of Richard the Lion-Heart, the ideal of a king who is also a valiant knight.
But Peter does not become a knight (or a king, or a lion) all at once. The sword and shield do not make him one. Aslan only knights him after he has slain the wolf, Maugrim. Peter has to prove himself. This is reminiscent of Anodos in Phantastes (mentioned in other posts, and a great influence on CS Lewis). Throughout his travels in Fairy-land, Anodos encounters knights several times and sincerely wishes to become one, but it is only when he becomes brother to two knights and helps them slay three giants (ie when he actually does something knightly rather than just dreaming about it) that he becomes a true knight. And even then, there is more to learn. Peter's journey is similar. His transition from boy to knight to High King is a coming-of-age tale to which we can all relate.
Susan's bow, quiver and horn
In terms of the spiritual symbolism of the weapons (from Ephesians) it is necessary for all the children to go armed, to show they have the means to defeat evil. But in terms of the story, Susan's weapons are not for battle, as Peter's are. Her three gifts are actually accoutrements of the hunt. With them, we are in another part of medieval romance. Not battles and tournaments, but journeys in the enchanted forest. We think of the hunt for the White Stag, "who would give you wishes if you caught him" (4). Susan's gifts will help open her eyes to the magic of Narnia and give her oneness with its woods, its dryads and fauns, the creatures her sister Lucy has already learned to love. The bow and quiver - let us not forget - are the chosen weapons of the chaste huntress Diana, so most suitable for "gentle" Susan, the girly girl of Narnia.
Susan's horn is particularly special, coming again in Prince Caspian and other books. Not only does it bring Susan help when she needs it, but it has the power to return the four children to Narnia in Caspian's hour of need. This puts it on a footing with other legendary horns with the power to awaken sleeping warriors, such as King Arthur and his knights. CS Lewis refers to this specifically in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when he says: "When the Pevensie children returned to Narnia...it was (for the Narnians) as if King Arthur came back to Britain, as some people say he will. And I say the sooner the better" (5). The horn's power to bring back a golden past - a time of innocence and faith - makes it an antidote to Susan's growing cynicisn throughout the Narnia chronicles. Not only will it bring her literal help, but it can call back a part of herself she is in danger of losing.
Lucy's dagger and bottle
Lucy (the valiant) is a very different girl from Susan, and Father Christmas has to forbid her from using her dagger in the battle rather than for self-defence, because, "battles are ugly when women fight" (6). However, Lucy later gets her own way as queen. We are told in The Horse and his Boy, "Queen Lucy's going to be with the archers," (7) in the battle against Prince Rabadash. The makers of the most recent films of The Chronicles of Narnia had an interesting take on Lucy's dagger, seeing it as a smaller version of Peter's sword, "a nod to the close relationship the siblings shared" (8). Again, we have that linking of lion/lioness. But, like Peter, Lucy will have to grow up some more before she becomes a true lion-heart.
Lucy's diamond bottle of healing cordial is her most important gift, and reappears in several books. Lucy - the light-bringer - is also the life-giver. Her cordial revives Edmund on the battle field (where, like Peter before him, Aslan makes Edmund a knight). Aslan is the Great Redeemer, but Lucy is the redeeming child figure necessary to so many rebirth stories. Her light counters Edmund's descent into darkness, and it is she who leads her brothers and sister into Narnia, both now and in Prince Caspian. The film-makers had an interesting take on the cordial too. They said: "Assuming that the fire-flower plant was one and the same, as the fire-berry bush mentioned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Christian (Pearce, prop designer) depicted a moment from the story of Ramandu in which the Bird of the Morning flies back from the Mountains of the Sun bearing the fire-berry to revive him in its grip" (9). Again, we see light, life and rebirth, as the fire-berry makes Ramandu younger and younger until "I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday," (10) and once again becomes a star in the sky. Lucy's gift is to restore not only life, but a childlike sense of wonder to those she encounters, for "unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (11).
Three very different children. The boy who would be king, the girl in danger of losing herself in the woods, and the innocent but valiant child redeemer. Three perfectly tailored gifts. Which would you like to receive? Which do you think you need most? Happy Christmas!
1. Ephesians 6:11 New International Version (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973)
2. CS Lewis, Prince Caspian 1951 (London: Fontana, 1980) pp. 125-6
3. Ibid. p. 126
4. CS Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe 1950 (London: Fontana, 1980) p. 167
5. CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 1952 (London: Fontana, 1980) p. 15
6. CS Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe 1950 (London: Fontana, 1980) p. 100
7. CS Lewis, The Horse and His Boy 1954 (London:Fontana, 1980) p. 152
8. Weta Workshop, The Crafting of Narnia (London: Harper Collins, 2008) p. 50
9. Weta Workshop, The Crafting of Narnia (London: Harper Collins, 2008) p. 53
10. CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 1952 (London: Fontana, 1980) p. 159
11. Matthew 18:3 New International Version (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973)
George MacDonald, Phantastes 1858 (London: Ballantine Books, 1970)