Growing up C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia were a staple fare in my literary diet. I was familiar with, and largely uncritical of, the standard evangelical interpretation of these works, namely that it was the story of Christ transposed into an imaginative and magical world and good triumphing over evil and so forth. Later on I came to resonate with Tolkien’s critique of the works – that they made the Christ-analogue too explicitly and literally thereby weaking the literary effect. Recently however, the Chronicles have returned to my thoughts, this time as an exemplary case of British Imperial propaganda. I have not developed a thorough reading on this level, it is more a series of thoughts, some of which may be slightly incoherent. One of the reasons I have been reflecting on this though is that I do think Lewis articulated, in the Chronicles of Narnia, a vision of North American Christianity that has been very destructive and continues to hold the Church in its thrall. It is a vision which disposes of traditional and indigenous forms of knowledge and expression and subordinates them to a particular kind of imperialist Christianity.
The character Aslan, on a facile reading an analogue for Christ, is in some ways much more in line with a certain rendering of the Arthurian myth, or some of its historical suppositions. One of the accolades Aslan receives -son of the Emperor across the Sea- suggests the figure of a Romano-British Arthur. At another level the accolade lends credence to a British ascendancy in North America, particularly in Canada. Aslan the ruler of Narnia(i.e. the colony) is the legitimate authority because he is the envoy of the Emperor from across the Sea (i.e. Britain.) The fact that Aslan is a (British) lion is not amiss here.
Under the auspices of this same lion the British are present at the very creation of this world. There are, notably, differing views among those present as to how this world is to be shaped. The (evil) magician Uncle Andrew sees it as an opportunity for exploiting wealth, whereas for the child Digory it is a much more wholesome fantasy. In the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe British children once again make it onto the Narnian scene this time as its destined rulers.The Land of Talking animals, which is a northern woodland and reflects certain First Nations stories about Raven, Coyote and so on, is created and ruled by a foreign animal associated not only with Christianity but also with British Imperial rule. The tie with British children and fantasy makes the connection even more explicit. Narnia is an analogue for North America, which Lewis sees as rightly under the rule of the British empire not only politically but also religiously and mythologically. Though here it is a particular rendering of British history that Lewis employs and it is one where the figure of Arthur and Merlin are conflated in Aslan thereby rendering null the indigenous history of England itself, that is, if one is to allow that Arthur represents Roman Christianity and Merlin an indigenous Celtic tradition. I think there is some warrant for such a reading even aside from the dubious history of Arthur and Merlin themselves.
Thus, in a nutshell, Narnia is not so much the story of Christ the Messiah, as it is the saga of European/British rule in North America not only politically but culturally/spiritually. Aslan, representative of a Britain whose entire history and tradition was subsumed under the colonization of Rome, is the author and guarantor of Narnia, representative of a debased North America created entirely in the image of the old Empire. Thus the myth of the New World perpetually denying the voice and history of what went on before it was “discovered.”