This semester I’m taking a 400 level C.S. Lewis course for which we are expected to read one of Lewis’ books a week. This past Monday our class discussed The Chronicles of Narnia. Doodling in my notes, I came across a visual reason that the lion Aslan might be such a potent Christ-figure.
According to Lewis, most of his stories began with powerful images, and it was the image of the lion Aslan that inspired The Chronicles of Narnia:
One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Chronicles of Narnia all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.”
At first I had very little idea about how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.
One reason that the image of a lion captured Lewis’ attention might be that the lion’s mane is a built-in halo (as seen in iconography of Jesus). During the execution of Aslan, we see that, like the halo, the mane is a symbol of Aslan’s power (and divinity, really)—and so the White Witch Jadis is eager to see that it is shaved.
“Stop!” said the Witch. “Let him first be shaved”
Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan’s head. Snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground. Then the ogre stood back and the children, watching from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without its mane. The enemies also saw the difference.
“Why he’s only a great cat after all!”
Christ’s enemies, watching Him die, also jeered, “Why he’s only a man after all!” The great irony is that Christ’s relinquishment of the privileges of divinity is ultimately Satan’s undoing. Satan attempts to snuff out Christ’s divinity—represented by his halo—by destroying Christ’s physical body. Yet because of Christ’s victory over death, and resurrection, Satan only magnifies Christ’s divinity all the more.
There shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
Thought some of you LOTR fans out there might appreciate this bit of news.
“An unfinished book by JRR Tolkien will be published in April after being completed by the late author’s son.”
“But director Peter Jackson has been ruled out of making a film of Tokien’s other classic, The Hobbit.”
I recently skimmed an article which maintains that certain art forms are soul-damaging and fallen. I agree that art which portrays only the discordant and ugly is dangerous.
However portrayals of ugliness may have their place. Scenes of the crucifixion contrast the sickening horror of all the world’s evil with the majestic selfless love of the suffering bridegroom. Movies such as Lord of the Rings portray Mordor and ugly orcs, pitting them against beautiful and noble creatures. These kinds of expressions allow us to deal with and acknowledge the evil inside our own hearts.
It seems significant that an artist who understood beauty as well as Da Vinci, practiced drawing grotesques in his spare time. Perhaps this was a secret infatuation with profanity. Or perhaps, just as repentance precedes redemption, a creature’s understanding of its own fallenness is one of its keys to understanding divine beauty.
So what of my crazy cartoons? I’ve been drawing bizarre wacky characters on every scrap piece of paper I could get my hands on since the second grade. Do they subvert beauty? Well, not so fast. Nature has its clowns and I believe that even the strangest creatures are beautiful. CS Lewis writes in his book Miracles that nature has a personality of its own with more than one trait. Very true. She is at once both exacting & mathematical and spontaneous & surprising. A tree’s branches follow a pattern, but twist and turn expressively. Every tree is unique just as no two snowflakes are identical. Animals sometimes have surprising traits we can’t account for.
Even nature’s ugliest creatures can seem beautiful at times. Yesterday I watched a wasp catch the light of the sun and I saw his shimmering armor like I’d never seen it before. Even the wasp’s dangling legs had their grotesque appearance removed. In Perelandra, CS Lewis’ character Ransom has a similar experience with a giant centipede-creature:
Ransom…turned to face the other horror [the insect-like creature]. But where had the horror gone? The creature was there, a curiously shaped creature no doubt, but all loathing had vanished clean out of his mind, so that neither then nor at any other time could he remember it, no ever understand again why one should quarrel with an animal for having more legs or eyes than oneself. All that he had felt from childhood about insects and reptiles died that moment; died utterly, as hideous music does when you switch off the wireless. Apparently it had all, even from the beginning, been a dark enchantment of the enemy’s.
Once, as he had sat writing near an open window in Cambridge, he had looked up and shuddered to see, as he supposed, a many coloured beetle of unusually hideous shape crawling across his paper. A second glance showed him that it was a dead leaf, moved by the breeze; and instantly the very curves and re-entrants which had made its ugliness turned into its beauties. At this moment he had almost the same sensation. He saw at once that the creature intended him no harm – had indeed no intentions at all. It had been drawn thither by the Un-man, and now stood still, tentatively moving its antennae.
Then again, there might be a level on which I need to refine my sensibilities. Virgil chides Dante for having a taste for vulgar things. Perhaps I too have a taste for things that need to be redeemed.
Another thing to note (and something Lewis points out) is that though nature is beautiful and awe-inspiring, she is also somewhat fallen and corrupted. The fallenness and excellence of nature is irrevocably connected to our relationship with it. We were intended to be its appointed governors, its kings and queens. We are related to it—nature itself is a part of our minds, a part of our artwork. But as go the king and queen, so goes the kingdom. Suppose God became corrupted and became a wicked being (impossible, I know). We who find our existence in him could not help either following in his train and becoming evil ourselves, or worse, ceasing to exist entirely. There is a reason our fairy tales imagine the woods to be full of both fairies & elves and goblins & witches.
One thing I will say is that the best cartoons have an ordering principle. Disney characters’ faces can be extra rubbery—but they only stretch so far. After a certain point we want to see the faces snap back into their original shapes. Good comics bend the rules–they don’t break them altogether. This is done in order to enhance a character’s expressiveness. Comic short-hand (a type of language in and of itself) might spring from a God-given love for human expression/communication.
Can cartoons make us better? Can they bring us closer to God? Can they make us more human? Can cartoons minister to people?
Here are several examples to consider:
The Roman Catholic Church is something towards which I felt indifference for most of my life. Admittedly, my interests are heavily shaped by the people I meet. I have friends from a Charismatic background whom I admire, and so was interested in their interpretation of spiritual gifts for a time. I encountered people I admire who are Emergent, Reformed, Baptist who practice street evangelism who are members of the Church of Christ, and who are members of the Christian Church—I have listened to each of them with interest.
The reason I’m interested in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism, therefore, is probably partly because I currently know (or know of) admirable people who are Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican. Of course the admirability of any given person isn’t a reason to accept his or her belief-system and I know very kind considerate people who believe things I can’t accept.
But this aside, the real reason I am fascinated with Catholicism is the issue of authority. By authority I don’t just mean the papal authority but also the authority of longstanding tradition. What Protestantism seems to offer me is a buffet filled with many different flavors of Christianity. I can fill up my plate with whatever suits me best—A pile of Christian activism, some Southern Republican Christianity on the side, a bit of Pentecostalism for some flavor, and throw a hint of liberal Christianity in so as not to offend. I can easily reject any doctrine which disturbs me. There are hundreds of thousands of pastors in this country, all of whom believe slightly different things, so I should have no trouble finding a church that teaches what I am already comfortable with believing. In doing this, I run the danger of conforming God to myself rather than conforming myself to God. If there is nothing about my God that makes me uncomfortable, he is probably a creation of my own design.
I very well may be wrong on this point, but it seems that The Catholic Church has enjoyed a continuity that the heirs of the Reformation have not. Yes, the Reformers claimed they were returning to the uncorrupted early Christian Church. That was their intent, but instead they introduced an age in which countless factions claim different interpretations of that same early church. Catholicism by contrast offered a comparatively unified time-tested interpretation of scripture.
Right now I’m finishingA Biblical Defense of Catholicism by David Armstrong. It is a book of Catholic apologetics written from the perspective of a former evangelical Protestant. The book may have some weaknesses. For instance, I have heard that Catholicism doesn’t really require Biblical proof-texts in the same way that Protestantism does. Even if this is the case, I think the Catholic Church at least maintains that its teachings are consistent with the Bible and that its teachings are certainly not unbiblical.
I hope to finish the book soon—by the end of the week. I’ll probably share more at that time.