Over the weekend, Rachel got a wild hair of an idea for something she wanted to do with Ella, and asked me what I thought about it.
“Do you think she would like it?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “She might. Of course, she might also get the fool scared out of her.”
“Well, I think she’ll love it,” Rachel said.
I nodded. “Then let’s see what happens.”
Rachel was right – Ella loved it. Loved so much, in fact, that she became obsessed with it over the course of the weekend. It took the arrival of Halloween and the prospect of 7,000 lbs. of candy to actually derail her train of thought. But I fully expect that she’ll be asking for an encore sometime in the future.
What exactly was this magical thing to which we exposed our daughter?
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. You know, the good one from 2005.
Ella loved it, and I was genuinely surprised. I shouldn’t have been, but I was afraid that the story might be a little too slow for her, what with the back and forth between reality and Narnia. I was also concerned that Ella wouldn’t grasp that Narnia was an independent place that existed outside of time and reality (and to be honest, there were a couple of headache-inducing discussions on that topic). So it was with much delight that I watched as my daughter settled into the movie with rapt attention and thoroughly enjoyed it.
And I know she enjoyed it because she asked questions throughout the entire thing. All 3 times she watched it.
I’ve written before of Ella’s movie questioning habits, and how I hope that they lead to a career as a writer or other such weaver of imaginary realms. Her questions with TLTWTW were no less interesting, and a great deal more insightful. With human actors, she was much more empathetic with each character (indeed, she even felt sorry for Edmund at the beginning because he was obviously “a very sad and mean little boy”), and she seemed even more attuned to the nuances of the story.
“Why is it always winter but never Christmas?”
“Why does the White Witch treat Edmund nice?”
“Why does Mr. Tumnus get turned into stone for being good?”
“Why does Santa Claus give them swords and weapons?”
“Will Lucy use her magic stuff to heal everyone?”
But my favorite exchange came at what should’ve been the movie’s climax (and, movie critic hat on for a moment, that this scene is treated a little too mutedly is my biggest gripe with the film). Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia, has voluntarily given himself up as a sacrifice to the Deep Magic of Narnia, in the place of the human traitor Edmund. Brutally beaten by those creatures who serve the White Witch (and a hideous imaginarium of creatures it is), Aslan is finally shaved of his majestic mane, tied down like a helpless house cat, and tossed onto the Stone Table at the feet of the Witch (played by Tilda Swinton with some seriously malicious joy). After gloating over the deposed cat’s figure, the Witch plunges a dagger into the lion with near ecstatic abandon and the great cat’s eyes close in death.
Ella turned to me, her eyes wide with horror, and said, “Daddy, why did Aslan have to die?”
“Because he loved Edmund and was willing to take his place.”
Her eyes rimmed red. “But that’s not fair. Aslan didn’t deserve to die.”
“No he didn’t,” I said, “but that’s what sacrifice is all about.”
“But why did Aslan have to die?”
“To satisfy the law.”
“Just think of it this way, Ella: Aslan is like Jesus, who died for our sins, even though he didn’t deserve to. That’s who Aslan represents: Jesus.”
She went mute for the next few minutes as the story turned. The forces of evil seemed poised to take Narnia for themselves. The forces of good seemed deflated (if still courageous) with the news of Aslan’s death. The opposing armies marched to face each other on the field of battle and suddenly Ella turned to me.
“Is Aslan going to come back to life?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“If Aslan is like Jesus, is he going to come back to life?”
“Just watch and see.”
“Please? Just tell me.”
“Nope,” I said. “You’ll just have to watch and see.”
Now, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that they do a good job of building up the tension to the big reveal: at sunrise, the Stone Table cracks and Aslan does indeed rise from the dead (personally, it was hard for the movie to capture my favorite part of the book; Lewis writes of the resurrected Lion, “There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again), stood Aslan himself” I just love that small detail that communicates so much!).
And as the camera reveals the Living Lion, Ella turns to me and says, “He’s alive, daddy! Just like Jesus!”
Now, plenty of people before and after me will better communicate the importance of Aslan in fiction, and there have certainly been plenty of essayists who have debated whether or not Aslan was really intended to represent the Christian Savior (personally, I say yes). All I can add to the discussion is merely this:
Sitting there, watching one of my childhood’s favorite stories played out onscreen, accompanied by my daughter, I was able to use the magnificence of art and imagination to communicate something deeply held and more deeply felt with my daughter. In a way that my mere words could never do, the character of Aslan told my daughter of the unfathomable love of Jesus for humanity and made that love live inside her heart. Her eyes when she said, “He’s alive, daddy!” were lit in a way that I’ve never seen them before, as if something greater than she’d ever known had taken root inside of her heart.
I won’t tell you that Ella Tebowed right there and made a profession of faith. I won’t even tell you that one glorious moment stuck with her the rest of the weekend (it didn’t; as usual, Ella was more concerned with why the White Witch was such a bad person). But for that one moment, the central truth to which I’ve dedicated my life to proclaim was as clearly and powerfully communicated as I’ve ever seen it. I will never, with mere words of theology or inspiration, accomplish what Lewis’ little fiction did. And as a writer, reader, and father, I couldn’t be more pleased to have shared that moment with Ella.
I’ll end with one of the more famous passages from the entire book. I think it sums up quite nicely some things that many preachers could never say in a lifetime.
“Is–is he a man?” asked Susan.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”