Monday, August 01, 2005

Aslanus Nāzarēnus Rex Narniēnsum (SPOILERS)

I've gone through three main stages in literacy in my life:
  1. Books with many pictures
  2. Books with a single picture at the start of each chapter
  3. Books with no pictures

The Chronicles of Narnia books by CS Lewis were the climax of stage #2 (I read them in publishing order, btw). After finishing them, I moved on to stage #3 with JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in fourth grade.

I loved the Narnia books, and reread them a number of times, although I had always found them a bit weird. For instance, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, why the heck would Aslan let himself be killed in place of Edmund? I mean, it's all heroic and stuff to be self-sacrificing, but c'mon, just waste the witch! She's evil, she's killing people, she's killed enough people already. Just kick her scrawny snow-white butt back to Charn and be done with it! What's with all the show?

Oh, and then the biggest let-down was the end of the series. After reading 6 books about the struggle to create, maintain, recreate and protect Narnia (and hey, what's Archenland been doing all this time, anyway?), CS Lewis just goes and destroys the whole world at the end! What the heck is up with that? Everything's just supposed to be all good now, since everyone's in "Heaven"? The whole world's GONE! That's not a happy ending! That's not even a tragic ending! It's just.... gah!

Anyway, eventually I realized why i just didn't get it. Because the whole thing is one big Christian Allegory. Aslan = Jesus. Aslan getting killed on the stone altar to free Edmund and save Narnia = Jesus getting crucified to save our souls. "Happy" ending with everyone dead and in Heaven = "Kingdom of Heaven" is more important than this world. At least we don't get any scenes of eternal burning torment of sinners in Hell. CS Lewis was actually a pretty accepting Christian philosopher — Aslan says that all good deeds, even if done in the name of Tash (the evil 'Satanic' god of the dark-skinned desert-dwelling people of Calormen), are accepted by him. None of this Southern Baptist "God does not hear the prayers of a Jew" stuff.

So the realization that all of Narnia is just one big Christian Allegory sort of ruined it for me. It's hard to enjoy a story when the author's underlying and overarching themes keep on poking at you and you don't agree with them. So I started thinking, what would Narnia look like as a Jewish Allegory?

First of all, the world wouldn't just end like that. That's no fun, and sort of useless. Instead, the world itself would be repaired, and made better, and the moor giants would lie down with the fauns, and the Calormenes and Narnians would beat their weapons into agricultural implements, and everyone would live happily ever after.

And needless to say, Aslan wouldn't have sacrificed himself on the altar. He would have led the humans and all the furry talking animals in an epic battle, with regular people in charge, and they would have vanquished evil all together with their own effort. And he wouldn't be "the Son of the Emperor-Over-Sea", that's for sure.

While we're at it, is there some kind of mysterious connection going on between Aslan, Tash, and the archeological site of Arslan-Tash in Syria? What's up with that? Hmm... it seems that aslan and taş are Turkish for "lion" and "stone" respectively. That's pretty cool.

And if you're wondering why I care and how this is possibly relevant (relevance? on a blog?), there's a new Narnia movie coming out in a few months!

Alan Scott brought up a good point in response to this post, and asked me:
     so in narnia, who's the ice witch?
     the yehudim?

That could very well be. After all, she's a relic of a dying world, interfering in the New order; and she's also a Shylock-esque figure, obsessed with the proper enforcement of laws and rules and using them to hurt (read: kill) people.


Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Yeah, I, too, enjoyed the Narnia books as a child. By the time I got to the fourth book (The Silver Chair), I realized that Aslan was supposed to represent god-- which, I assumed, meant our God (יתברך שמו!). I thought it was really weird, though, that Aslan's blood was used to resuscitate the old king Caspian, though, at the end of Book IV.

As an older child, I read Paul Ford's Companion to Narnia, through which I figured out all the Christian symbolism. (By the way, I tried to find this book online a year or two ago, and found that it is virtually unavailable today. I have not been able to locate a copy.)

I am in favor* reading the books in published order. One understands Lewis's whole system by first reading his salvation-myth, and only then reading his creation-myth, which is less important to his system. [Should we teach kids שמות before בראשית?] Also, Lewis's ideas about his parallel universes evolved as he wrote the series, and the facts of Book VI (The Magician's Nephew) fit exactly with the facts of books V and VII, but have great discrepancies with Book I.

*[I qualify this statement by saying that I'm not sure whether I'm in favor of encouraging Jewish children to read this books at all. I used to date a girl who was really into natzrus (נצרות), because she had read the Narnia books as a child, then proceeded to read other C.S. Lewis, and finally accepted אותו האיש. When I have children of my own, if I give them these books to read, I shall need to give them a LOT of guidance while reading them.]

A few years ago, I picked up a copy of Book VII (The Last Battle), and began to re-read it. I was offended not so much by the destruction of the world at the end (I'm not even sure I got that far), but by the racism and parochialism of the book. The book clearly has a late-medieval/early-modern Christian European view of the world, in which the Calormen = the Muslims (in fact, probably the Turks), and the Narnians and Archenlanders = the Christian Europeans. The Muslims are perceived as worshippers of the Devil (Tash), and very cruel people. While it is acknowledged that one worshipper of the Devil (Emeth-- or, as Lipman might say, Emmeth) might really be a worshiper of the Christian god, there is no idea that the Muslims might really be worshipers of the Christian god.

Oh, wait-- maybe they're not. After all, the Muslims don't believe in a god who took on flesh and died.

8/01/2005 3:36 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Which makes us all Calormenes, then, i guess :-) .

About the precedence of Salvation myths to Creation myths, i think Bǝrēˀšīţ Bŏrŏˀ should be taught before Vǝɔēllĕʰ Šǝmōţ — after all. it's important to know where we came from and how we got there before we learn how we got out of there.

Speaking of which, maybe I'll post my drš on בראשית soon also instead of just sticking with the topics i listed a few posts back. Still have to finish my Chabad one, though...

8/01/2005 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can only read the "B r s-curve t-cedilla V l-tail l-tail S-curve m t-cedilla" in "Bereshit bara ve'eleh shemot"

8/01/2005 4:08 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

What, no comments on my blog in the last two hours? What is the world coming to....?

8/01/2005 4:19 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


You need to get yourself some better Unicode fonts, then.

The L's are regular, btw; it's just the font that makes them tailly at the end.

8/01/2005 4:21 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Mar, i'm really sorry about your ex-girlfriend. That's very scary.

8/01/2005 4:31 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

In Latin, the inhabitants of Narnia (a place mentioned by Pliny the Younger) are known as "Narnienses", not "Narnii". Therefore, "king of the Narnians" would be "rex Narniensum", not "rex Narniorum". Also, I would probably give Aslan case-endings, because he is such a significant character in the Narnian corpus. (Just as, להבדיל אלף הבדלות, Moses's name gets case-endings in the Septuagint, whereas Tselofhhadh's name does not.)

Thus, I would write:

"Aslanus Nazarenus, Rex Narniensum".

PS: How do you change the font that is to appear in the "comments" window? And what font are you using? I see most of the characters (more than A.S.), but not all.

8/01/2005 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I am pretty sure you already know, the NARNIA books are loosly based on the Bible, so the reason why Aslan took the place of Ed, is because he represents Jesus, so it was like him being crucifyed. Yea, welll I just thought I would put my two cents in, oh and also, the reason why the world is destroyed in the end is becuase of the way CS sees how this world will end, and going along with the Bible, it does say that this world will come to and end (can't wait)

8/01/2005 4:49 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Sounds good! Not only do i not know Latin, i was also trying to stick to the original "INRI" formula as much as possible. I guess changing the ending wouldn't hurt that much.
גְּרָתְיָה אַמְפְּלָה

Btw, are there any long vowels in Aslanus Nazarenus, Rex Narniensum?

I'm not sure what font i'm using... i think the blogspot system calls for Trebuchet, but my browser may just be inserting the needed characters from various other fonts.

8/01/2005 4:56 PM  
Blogger BrooklynWolf said...

Everything's just supposed to be all good now, since everyone's in "Heaven"?

Except for Susan, of course, because she's into nylons... :)

The Wolf

8/01/2005 5:18 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Aslānus Nāzarēnus Rex Narniēnsum

(Although I made up the long A in Aslānus, because it's not a Latin word. However, it does sound better that way. Does Turkish have vowel-length? If so, does anyone know what the length of the A is in aslan?

8/01/2005 5:28 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Turkish orthography, at least, records no distinctions in vowel length. Which i'd assume it would, considering it was engineered not that long ago. Thanks!

8/01/2005 5:33 PM  
Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

I loved this!

As for the Jews being in it--I assume we're lumped in with the 'Orientals', ie Calormenes, but I'm really pretty sure they're Turks. Or, there always seemed something vaguely Persian about them to me.

The White Witch--my pagan friends are convinced that she's a goddess figure. Hadn't considered the other possibility.

8/01/2005 11:09 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Wow, I couldn've written this post (except for the JRR Tolkien stuff--my foray into fantasy began and ended with Narnia). In fact, I was planning on doing a Narnia post for awhile!

Although C.S. Lewis was not a new-fangled Covenant theologist, he wasn't an antisemite by any means. The Ice Queen represents the Power That Be, in this case, her, in ancient Judea the Romans--I mean the Sanhedrin. ;)

Paranthetically, I once saw a mikva with a dedication plaque by a man named Aslan Somethingorother. In Hebrew it was, of course, Aryeh.

8/02/2005 8:32 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

As far as being offended by the "orientalism" in the series, bear in mind the age of the writer and when it was written.

8/02/2005 8:33 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Paranthetically, I once saw a mikva with a dedication plaque by a man named Aslan Somethingorother. In Hebrew it was, of course, Aryeh.


As far as being offended by the "orientalism" in the series, bear in mind the age of the writer and when it was written.

Right. See today's thread on כאלו מלמדה תפלות on Hirhurim.

By the way, I read somewhere that C. S. Lewis's wife was born a Jew[ess], and that when her son became interested in Judaism, C.S. Lewis (the boy's step-father) gave him some books about Judaism. I read this somewhere on the internet, and (if I have time), I shall do a Google search for it.

8/02/2005 8:57 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...


Either he was Turkish or he had a Turkish name. The mikva was in a Sefardi neighborhood.

8/02/2005 9:11 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

"Somethingorother" is a great Turkish last name.

(This is a joke. I'm not an idiot; I realize that when you wrote "Somethingorother", you were alluding to the English words "something or other". OK? Let's move on.)

Wouldn't it be cool if some kid had that as a middle name, and claimed that it were Turkish? (I think that the were is proper in that sentence, because we're still inside the conditional. But very few people are maqpidh on sequence-of-tenses in English, even I.)

8/02/2005 9:33 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

'were' or 'was'?

8/02/2005 12:58 PM  

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