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Why our children need Narnia more than ever

Chronicles-Narnia-Aslan-CS-Lewis-book-

Julia Perova

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 02/25/24

The climactic ending of the Chronicles of Narnia seems totally inappropriate for a children's book series -- and that's what makes it so important.

As a mother of little ones, I frequently find myself asking moms of older children for advice and wisdom. 

If their kids are grown and doing well, I can’t help wondering, “What are you glad you did when they were little? Is there anything you would change? What was most important?”

Once, a mom of 10 kids, most of them grown, gave me some unusual but unforgettable advice: “The most important thing is to read aloud the Narnia books,” she said. “Read them to your kids over and over.”

Although I was very familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, which were some of my favorite books as a child (I turned eight with a “Narnian Princess” birthday), her advice baffled me. What does Narnia have to do with raising children? Why did she recommend this particular series, and not any of the other great children’s books out there?

It wasn’t until a recent reading of the series with my own kids that I began to see just how perceptive her suggestion was.

*Plot spoilers ahead. If you’re not familiar with Narnia, you may want to stop here.

An absolutely backwards story

My oldest child has read the entire series already and is very familiar with it, but my seven-year-old is just listening to the series for the first time. 

My oldest simply cannot help giving the occasional plot spoiler, so a few days ago my seven-year-old came up to me wailing, “I don’t want to read Narnia anymore! Is it true that all the kids die at the end?!”

I paused to think about how to answer. Yes, actually, it is true that almost all the child protagonists of the seven Narnia books die in a train crash at the end of the series in a book called The Last Battle.

And at first glance, this ending sounds upside-down and backwards — and utterly inappropriate for a kids’ book. On hearing about it, you might feel a sense of shock and outrage. 

What kind of heartless monster writes a book series for children that ends with the sudden deaths of almost all the children in it? Doesn’t that seem cruel and just plain messed up? 

Why would C.S. Lewis do such a thing, especially in a series that’s supposed to be this wholesome wonderful Christian children’s story?!

Door in a snowy forest

That’s the whole point

It turns out that the ending of the series, in which the children die and enter “Aslan’s Country” (the Narnian name for Heaven), is the complete and total fulfillment of the series’ Christian message. Their deaths at the end are literally the whole point, the climax that puts the entire series into perspective.

This totally backwards and upside-down ending is the most fitting proclamation of the Gospel in any children’s book ever written, short of the Bible itself, of course.

Let’s stop and think about what C.S. Lewis is doing here.

What is the core of the Gospel? That Christ conquered death. That we need no longer fear our deaths, because Christ opened the gates of heaven. That our time on earth includes a healthy longing for Heaven, because as St. Therese of Lisieux once said, “The world is thy ship, not thy home.”

Knowing this is why the martyrs went singing to their executions; it’s why Scripture proclaims, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

For the faithful, death is not something to fear. Heaven is home, so death itself is the happy ending. Death is the doorway to eternal life and to a future more glorious and joyful than we have ever known.

When C.S. Lewis made the climactic and triumphant ending to his children’s series that the children all die and go to Heaven, he is teaching our kids the most important thing we can ever hope they learn. The Narnia books show that the grave is not the end. Our lives have a purpose and plan that does not end with death but stretches into eternity. 

God is still with us, during and after death. Love does not end with death, and neither does joy or happiness. For the “friends of Narnia,” what comes after death is not fear and annihilation but the best adventure of all—or as the Narnians would say upon arrival in Aslan’s Country:

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now … Come further up, come further in!

What I told my seven-year-old

It was hard to explain all this to my child without reading it in the actual book, as C.S. Lewis handles the topic with such gentle prudence and care that it is not upsetting or sad at all. In fact, in The Last Battle, the children don’t realize they are dead until they are already in Aslan’s Country and have begun on their best adventure of all. The way he tells it, the ending of the series with the children in Heaven is not upsetting but beautiful, moving, and joyful.

“It’s not sad when they die at the end, because it’s just the start of their happy adventures with Jesus in Heaven,” I explained. “It’s actually a really happy ending, the happiest ending any of us can ever have.”

I finally understand why that mom friend told me to read Narnia to my kids over and over. These books show our kids that we were made for Heaven.

Our children already know about death, that it is inevitable for every one of us. This is an inescapable reality. But Narnia shows them that death is not something to fear, not with Christ beside us. It shows our kids that Heaven is waiting for them. 

It’s both the most honest and the most profoundly Christian message in any children’s book that I know of. 

As that mom once told me, the Narnia books are something special, something different. They proclaim Christ’s message to our kids in a way they can understand and enjoy, sharing the most important message they will ever hear. 

In a world that tells our kids that everything is about immediate gratification in the here and now, the upside-down story of Narnia brings our children the hope of Christ.

Tags:
BooksC.S.LewisChildrenEducationParenting
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