Recently I finished reading Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, in which he unveils Lewis’ driving vision for The Chronicles of Narnia. Ward writes that Lewis, in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, wanted to renew his readers’ imaginations so that they longed for a true king to submit to, not because of their weakness, but because of the true king’s greatness.
Lewis believed that when we submit to the right authority, we do not lose our freedom and individuality. Instead, we become more free, more human, and more lovely. Ward shows how Lewis did this in The Lion:
Peter’s kingship, like Aslan’s, is obedient to higher authority: when he first meets Aslan he apologizes for the way he treated Edmund … and [Peter’s] sincerity is tested when, at Aslan’s bidding, he risks his life to save Susan. … Edmund learns the same lesson of willing subjection to higher authority in his private conversation with Aslan, and he acts accordingly in his apology to his siblings and his courage on the battlefield.
By subjecting themselves to the true king, the children become humble and brave.
Today, unfortunately, we connect kings, lords, and emperors to tyranny, violence, and oppression. Our history books rightfully tell horror stories about human monarchy. Therefore, we suspect that Lewis’ story only works because it is a fairy tale, and not real. But when we witness Aslan’s gentleness with Lucy, hear his roar in battle, and taste the joy of his army, we long for a king. Why? Because human kings are a dark shadow of true kingship. True kingship is joyous, courageous, and self-sacrificial. That sort of kingship makes us want to submit. Ward writes,
Aslan’s sacrifice, which lays upon the altar …. is performative and effectual, not theatrical; this is kingliness in action, the tragic splendour of … gentleness, and strength. As a consequence the children’s [submission] to Aslan feels clean and honest. There is no [fearful] masochism in their [submission] before him. He has earned their deepest devotion.
So it is with the true king who Aslan reflects. Our King, though he deserves our allegiance, does not merely demand it; he wins it in death and life. In submission we are not only reconciled to the most loving being in the universe, but the most worthy being, so that we might find ourselves brave and humble. Or, more simply, truly human.