Why Edmund isn’t Judas: The Chronicles of Narnia, Allegory or Supposition?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Friends and Family,

One thing that I constantly hear from well-meaning Christians is how the Chronicles of Narnia, especially The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, are allegorical. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this would anger Lewis were he still alive today (and how much it did when he was alive). The Chronicles of Narnia are not allegorical, this becomes increasing clear with each book. Nevertheless, I understand why The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe keeps being so labeled.

On first blush its obvious: Aslan represents Jesus; Peter, Peter; Susan and Lucy, Mary Magdalen and the other women who followed Jesus; the White Witch, Satan; and Edmund is Judas, right? Right here, amongst other places, is where it falls apart. Edmund can’t be Judas. First, he doesn’t betray Aslan to the White Witch, he betrays his siblings. Second, Edmund, overwrought with grief, doesn’t commit suicide. You might try to argue that because it’s a children’s book Lewis decided to give Judas a happier ending, but that alone would make this not an allegory.

In an allegory, each character and/or event is a direct representation of something else. For instance, in John Bunyon’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the title character is called Christian because he represents Christians. The are other characters like Faith and Charity who represent those things explicitly. This isn’t what Lewis has done in the Chronicles. Peter would be a poor representation of the Apostle with the same name since he never denies Aslan. Also, what about all the animals and mythological creatures? Is Tumnus supposed to be Matthew? What about the Beavers? Where does the giant fit in? Or the good being turned to stone? It just isn’t an allegory, there is no one-to-one representation.

Instead, the Chronicles of Narnia are what is called suppositional. That is, suppose God created a world where the rational creatures were certain animals and mythological creatures. Then, suppose that world were fallen and in need of redemption. How might God redeem that world? How would he incarnate himself? Perhaps as a great Lion. This way Aslan can be Aslan (and, in one sense Jesus, but not simply a representation of Jesus); Peter can be Peter; and Edmund can be Edmund.

So, the next time you sit down to read The Chronicles of Narnia, don’t try to decode it. Don’t try and figure out who represents what (or whom). Instead, let the book speak for itself and then let it speak to you.


7 comments on “Why Edmund isn’t Judas: The Chronicles of Narnia, Allegory or Supposition?

  1. Thinking about your post and my recent reading of the Space Trilogy, I wonder if it would be fair to compare Narnia more with something like Perelandra instead of an allegorical story. In Perelandra, Lewis explores what it may have been like for newly created people to stand against the first temptation on the planet of Venus. It’s not an allegorical representation of the Genesis story, but more like a thought experiment. What if God had made life on Venus? Or, in the case of Narnia, what would happened if life were created in another world with talking animals?

    Do you think this is a fair comparison?

    • Pete,

      I think that’s fair. Though I’ve often read Perelandra as a commentary on Genesis, or at least supposition of what would have happened if Adam and Eve didn’t fall. Nevertheless, you’re right, neither of them is allegorical.

  2. […] Why Edmund isn’t Judas: The Chronicles of Narnia, Allegory or Supposition? (elflandletters.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] Why Edmund isn’t Judas: The Chronicles of Narnia, Allegory or Supposition? […]

  4. Michael says:

    You’re right, it isn’t a precise allegory. But there are certain allegorical elements and themes with Christianity, such as how Aslan was killed in the place of a traitor (Edmund), just as Jesus Christ was crucified to bear our just punishment, as we are traitors to God when we sin. There are prophecies of this event, in both Sacred Scripture and The Lion the Witch, and the wardrobe.

    In many ways, the story is original in itself, but the overall theme of the Narnia series is a theme of Christianity. My favorite is the last battle. The references made to the book of Revelation in the Bible are great. “And there shall be a new heaven and a new Earth, and the old one will pass away…” “We will run and not grow weary”(Ok that second one is from Isaiah) I love that series.

    • Michael,

      You’re not wrong about the parallels between Christianity. However, as I tried to explain in the post, the parallels are because Lewis is supposing that the God of Christianity created Narnia as well and needed to redeem it. That is not allegory, but a supposition. Thanks for commenting.


  5. […] Why Edmund isn’t Judas: The Chronicles of Narnia, Allegory or Supposition? […]

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