The Narnian Tarot

My nine-year-old daughter absolutely adores the Chronicles of Narnia. Nothing unusual about that, really — lots of kids do — but why?


After all, isn’t Narnia Christian allegory? It’s blatantly obvious to anyone who gives it a moment’s thought. But I’ve argued elsewhere that children are natural born pagans. So what’s the attraction? Does Christianity touch something in children, after all? Or is Narnia not wholly Christian?

Is Narnia Really Christian?

Some parts are, and very obviously so. Elements that are commonly cited (just from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe):

  • The themes of betrayal, death, resurrection, & redemption;
  • The presence of a heavy-handed State that martyrs the hero;
  • The humiliation prior to death;
  • The martyr who sacrifices to save a sinner;
  • Women tending the body are the first to see him resurrected;
  • Aslan suffering Edmund’s penalty, and buying him back from the White Witch, who was entitled to him by reason of his treachery, thus paralleling the Christian theories of satisfaction and ransom;
  • Aslan asking the children to comfort him, as Jesus asked of his disciples;
  • The Stone Table shattering when Aslan is resurrected, just as the curtain in the Temple is rent at Jesus’s resurrection.

However, The Wardrobe can’t be an allegory in the strictest sense. You can’t line up the characters and events precisely and get a nice picture. Why are there four children (and not, say, twelve)? Who is Mr. Tumnus, the faun who tries to seduce Lucy, and then repents and tries to save her? How about the Beavers and Father Christmas? Assuming the White Witch is some kind of amalgam of the Devil and Pontius Pilate, what can we say about her servants, the wolf and the dwarf?…

Lewis himself said that The Wardrobe was no allegory:

“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

— CS Lewis, Of Other Worlds

As he worked with these images, another idea came to him:

“Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would have happened.”

Aslan, then, is a sort of alternate-world Jesus.

The Character of Narnia

What kind of alternate world is Narnia? It wasn’t constructed like Middle-Earth — designed and redesigned over decades, carefully made consistent in history and atmosphere, rich in detail. No, Lewis threw the kitchen sink at Narnia. Mixed up in it are:

  • Tons of overt pagan imagery. On practically every page you can find the reverence for the natural world, the awe in the turning of the seasons, polytheism (Greek and Norse gods actually appear in the books), animism, and nature spirits.
  • Martial heroism. Most of the books culminate in a great battle, in which militarism is praised, despite some of Jesus’s important teachings about peace.
  • The divine right of kings. Peter is planted as the High King by Aslan, and it’s made clear in subsequent books that the King of Narnia always serves at Aslan’s pleasure.
  • Anti-feminism. Just about everyone in Narnia is male, except some of the human children from our world, and of course the Witch. The roles of the male and female children are always carefully kept separate and different.
  • The place of the child’s imagination in the real world. The question of how “real” Narnia is comes up again and again in the books.
  • And possibly Lewis’s ideas about alchemy and astrology. Recently, scholar Michael Ward has suggested that the books are meant to reflect the attributes and symbolism of the seven planets of medieval times: The Wardrobe is Jupiter, Prince Caspian is Mars, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the Sun, The Silver Chair is the Moon, The Horse and His Boy is Mercury, The Magician’s Nephew is Venus, and The Last Battle is Saturn. If this is true, the polytheistic character of the books is even more plain.

The Call to the Heart of the Child

So where is the attraction for our pagan children? Well, the pagan elements I listed above are extremely obvious, and that’s got to be part of it. Lewis’s sympathy for his heroes and heroines is also compelling, and on top of that, he’s an engaging author. But take these all together, and you still don’t necessarily have an enduring classic.

I think what’s going on here is that Lewis is channeling not only the Christian story, but the Universal Story — the one echoed in Gilgamesh, the life of the Buddha, King Arthur, Star Wars, and the Tarot. This is the story of the hero who leaves the ordinary world, encounters a place of marvels and tests, achieves a new level of spiritual insight, and returns home again. This, I think, is the story that children connect to when they read the books, and the reason for their enduring popularity.

Rather than belabor the point, I’m going to present an outline for a Narnian Tarot. I can’t think of a better way to show how all the crucial elements of the universal monomyth appear in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Narnian Tarot


  • Edmund = The Fool; entering the Wardrobe. The adventure begins with the steps into the unknown. More than anyone else, the whole book is Edmund’s journey.
  • The Professor = The Magician Digory Kirke. The hero of The Magician’s Nephew, and the maker of the Wardrobe.
  • Lucy = The High Priestess. Lucy serves to initiate the other children into Narnia by leading them into the Wardrobe. Also, through her good sense, grounded yet sensitive personality, and healing powers (through the vial given to her by Father Christmas), she continues to guide and support the group.
  • Susan = Empress. Headstrong and commanding, but also nurturing.
  • Peter = Emperor. The High King himself, and war hero.
  • Aslan = Heirophant. The spiritual leader of Narnia, even in absentia.
  • The Beavers = Lovers. This one was hard, given the nature of the book — the Lovers theme simply is not well developed. But the love between the Beavers, and their love for Narnia and Aslan, are essential parts of the story.
  • The Sleigh = Chariot. This represents both the Witch’s Sledge and Santa’s sleigh, which are contrasted sharply in the book.
  • Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time = Justice. This is the unbreakable law that Aslan and the Witch must both follow.
  • Mr. Tumnus = The Hermit. Another hard one, but it seems to fit, given the fact that he lives alone at the edge of Narnia, and his singular emotional journey.
  • The Wardrobe = The Wheel of Fortune. It is both the container of the world, and the doorway that leads to changes in fortune.
  • Strength = Strength: Lucy and Susan on Aslan’s back. Not only does this nicely match the original Tarot image, but the scene in which they ride him is a celebration of Aslan’s strength and power.
  • The Stone Table = The Hanged Man. No one is on the table in the card, since Edmund should be on it, but Aslan takes his place.
  • The Stone Knife = Death. The ritual object to be used with the Stone Table, the Stone Knife is a primal tool.
  • Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time = Temperance. Transcending justice and earthly law, the Deeper Magic allows Aslan to save Edmund’s life.
  • The White Witch = The Devil. All traitors “belong” to her, and it is clear she is unmitigated evil.
  • The Wand = The Tower. In the final battle, Edmund breaks the Witch’s wand, destroying her power.
  • The Lamp Post = The Star. Appearing at the beginning and end of the book, leading the way to the next stage of life.
  • Winter = The Moon. Narnia lies asleep, preparing to be awakened by the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve.
  • Spring = The Sun. All of Narnia comes alive under Aslan.
  • The Breath of Aslan = Judgment. Aslan returns and nature spirits from sleep by breathing on them.
  • Cair Paravel = The World. The final goal; the place from which the characters rule all of Narnia.


  • Vials. Representing water; from Lucy’s Christmas present of the vial of healing potion.
  • Swords. Representing air; from Peter’s Christmas present of a sword and shield.
  • Arrows. Representing fire; from Susan’s Christmas present of a bow and arrows.
  • Stones. Representing earth; from the Stone Table and Stone Knife, the implements of Edmund’s present, redemption.

One day it might be neat to make this deck. I’d definitely choose illustrations from Pauline Baynes for the cards…

However, since the book reflects Lewis’s worldview, it doesn’t provide a full, three-dimensional exemplar of each of these archetypes. Edmund the Fool, for example, is already flawed and in need of redemption when the book begins; and other trumps are similarly incomplete in character, as noted above. I find myself wondering what it would take to “flesh out” these archetypes, to bring them more closely in line with the universal story. For example, suppose Edmund were a girl. Would that make his struggle with the Witch even more meaningful? Should Kirke, the Magician, have played a more overt role? How could the Lovers have been better represented in the story?…

And then there are the other six books. Working with them is left as an exercise for the reader…

80 responses to “The Narnian Tarot”

  1. It may be premature for this, but I’m curious whether y’all have considered the question of reversals? Will your deck use them, and if so how they’ll read? Not all decks do include reversed readings, which is why I thought about it…


  2. I’ll leave the question of reversals (and their meanings) to Jeff — after we have a full deck to “play” with! However, to me it seems logical that the reversed meanings of other Tarot card decks would apply, too: e.g., reversing the Queen-Susan-hosting-a-royal-ball card would give the same meanings that standard Tarot decks attribute to a reversed Empress.

    One idea: to make the deck easier for beginners to use (since, quite likely, this Tarot will appeal to many teens and pre-teens), print some basic summary/hints re each card’s meaning — such as a description of the specific incident portrayed — in the top and bottom of that card, in the top/bottom margin between the picture’s edge and the edge of the card. (The info printed in the top margin would apply to the normal [non-reversed] view of the card; the info printed in the bottom margin would apply to the reversed view of the card.)


  3. Kate (from July 24:) The information about Lewis’s changing attitudes towards Judaism is fascinating. May I say it’s fantastic to have a collaborator who knows so much about this!

    I think we can easily agree that the Stone Table will not represent the Old Testament in our deck. 🙂 Your mention of “something coming from ‘deep down somewhere’ and bringing about unforeseen but most welcome consequences that temper an earlier harsh decree” reminds me of Tolkien’s notion of eucatastrophe, which he explicitly attaches to the Christian story. However, the theme definitely appears in non-Christian stories.

    As for whatever anti-feminist stance there is in Narnia: it’s definitely not something I noticed when I read it as a child, but it rubbed my wife the wrong way on the first reading.

    It’s true what you say about Rowling’s characterization of the wizarding world — to have it be classist and racist, but not sexist, would indeed have been jarring. And the books really are about classism, I think — this is Voldemort’s big hang-up — so it makes sense that she would emphasize that over sexism.

    Re: reversed cards — I’m not sure how I feel about that. I have always had mixed results trying to use the “reversed” meanings of the cards. I guess my preference would be to focus on the primary upright meanings, and let the reversed meanings look after themselves. 🙂

    I am also torn about having meanings printed on the cards. We should discuss that further.


  4. There is actually a deck that does have the meanings (upright and reversed) printed on the cards – look here to get a feel for it.

    I’m afraid that having the meanings written on the card would distract from the art and the “storyboarding” that any good tarot reading involves… FWIW


  5. That sums up my reservations, too, Erik.

    It would be neat, perhaps, to have the meanings on the back of the cards. But that would be REALLY expensive to make. 🙂


  6. Dakota Stengel Avatar
    Dakota Stengel

    Jeff — I encourage you to follow your own intuitions on such matters as (not) printing the meanings on the cards, (not) listing meanings for reversed cards, etc. — I, too, think w should talk further

    Thanks, as always, for approving various other ideas of mine! (and, no, DON’T print the card-meanings on the cards’ backs, either: too expensive, and liable to look less-than-appealing in the finished deck. Also, card-backs with printed meanings may inadvertently affect how the deck-user shuffles the deck, by giving him/her an unconscious glimpse of what the cards will say.)


  7. Re:

    ” … how all the crucial elements of the universal monomyth appear in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”:

    Have you ever considered writing something about how (or *if*) “all the crucial elements of the universal monomyth” appear in various religions’ scriptures/sacred stories?
    Or — perhaps even more interesting — have you ever sought for counter-examples in the same works: looking for ways in which the lives of major figures *depart* from, or even flatly contradict, “the universal monomyth”? After all, someone propounding/adopting a hypothesis [such as “This story is universal”] needs to look for counter-examples to the hypothesis *at* *least* as much as looking for supportive examples.

    An instance of cases where purported “universals” turn out, well, not all that universal:

    many anthropologists/comparative religionists/etc., will tell you that “all cultures’ creation/origin stories narrate the efforts of a god or hero to impose order on an original and natural state of chaos” … **but** …

    those who probe deeper (e.g., the late Gregory Bateson in his STEPS TO AN ECOLOGY OF MIND) often find otherwise.

    (Bateson notes that the creation story of the Iatmul people in New Guinea goes entirely opposite to what we think of as a “normal” or “universal” creation story: the Iatmul creator-god/hero begins the universe by creating *chaos* from an original state of *order*: a sort of “default state” to which the universe would inevitably return if left undisturbed to re-organize itself!

    Specifically, instead of imposing structure and clarity on a chaos “without form and void” as in Genesis or the Rig-Veda, the Iatmul creator finds something clear and structured (a still pool) and disturbs its ecology *into* chaos by stirring it up with a pointed stick : this pool — the universe — becomes chaotic and murky, but would soon settle back to its natural state of organization without the creator’s intervention to create and maintain chaos.
    (Bateson, in his chapter on this sort of myth, does a great job of tying-in this “In the beginning was order” story with key features of Iatmul society: and an equally great job of tying in the better-known “In the beginning was chaos” type of story with key features of the societies that have this type of creation story instead of the Iatmul type.)

    And now I have to wonder what the NARNIA books (particularly, THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW) would have looked like, if C. S. Lewis had grown up among the Iatmul rather than among the British …

    Seriously, though, one has to take great care in deciding whether or not to call “universal” an assumption or practice you grew up thinking that “everybody has.” This can lead to immense distortions — you may remember that, soon after the events of September 2001 brought Islam into media prominence, news articles about winter-solstice holidays of the world often included Ramadan on the list: because Ramadan, whose date works backward through the seasons and may therefore fall in any season, had fallen in November/December for the past few years.

    (In fact, when in December 2001 I visited Disneyland, signage in the “Morocco” area of the park’s “Epcot World Showcase” identified Ramadan as, basically, Muslim Christmas: Muslim employees told me they’d tried without success to get Disney to change this one: letters and memos to Disney headquarters, from employees as well as visitors, simply went unanswered.)

    Similarly — at least some people who complained to newspapers after seeing Ramadan enthusiastically mis-explained as just another solstice celebration received editors’ replies saying stuff like “whether it is, or isn’t, about the solstice shouldn’t be important — putting it in the familiar category of a solstice celebration is necessary in order to make Ramadan understandable to our many readers who are not generally familiar with Muslim culture and beliefs and who would naturally assume that a winter solstice celebration must be universal.”

    And I have to admit here that this very matter (of deciding that locally familiar practices “must be universal”) lost me a dear friendship with at least one Pagan. She had sent all her friends an e-mail wishing them “a Merry Winter Solstice, whether you call it Christmas or Yule or Ramadan or Chanukah … ” — I had written back querying this, enclosing a brief list of Ramadan dates for recent/forthcoming years, noting that about half of them fell in the spring or summer, and quoting a Muslim source explaining that Islam has no solar/seasonal holidays because all Muslim holidays depend on a lunar calendar 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. (Another friend, a Muslim who had received the same card, apparently wrote the card-sender a similar letter with similar enclosures/citations: including, in her case, a quote from the imam of her mosque.) Well, these facts *infuriated* the well-meaning card-sender! She wrote back in high dudgeon that no culture or religion anywhere on Planet Earth could possibly NOT have an annual winter solstice celebration — “to have a winter solstice celebration is part of what it means to be human and a child of the Goddess” — so how DARE my Muslim friend and I give her this “anti-human, anti-nature nonsense” about some major religion just ignoring the sun when it came to setting the dates of its holidays?
    (I hope and trust that seeing the actual — changing — dates of Ramadan will sooner or later straighten her out, as newspapers increase their coverage of Islam. Ramadan for 2008 will come in early fall … a few years thereafter, it will arrive in summer … and eventually, I suppose, she will have to notice the fact if the newspapers keep running Ramadan stories.)


  8. Kate, you are full of fascinating examples! I will have to read this Bateson fellow sometime. To be fair to Campbell other proponents of the monomyth, there are different “kinds” of universals; and one kind is the “statistical universal”, which is a universal that is really just a statistical preponderance, with much greater than chance frequency. There are lots of these in linguistics. For example, the vast majority of human languages are basically subject-object-verb (like Hindi) or subject-verb-object (like English), but there are a few examples of verb-first languages (such as the Celtic languages), a handful of object-subject-verb languages, and exactly one example of object-verb-subject. There is no cut-and-dried universal here, but the pattern is too prevalent to be ignored. What is really going on here (I think) is that there ARE universals at work, but not on the surface; the interaction of subsurface universal principles creates a surface semi-disorder. For an example in the physical sciences: to a first approximation, planets go in circles around the sun. There are exceptions all over the place. The universal principle of gravitation, which creates pretty ellipses, is at work, but it isn’t obvious. In the same way, the not-quite-universal monomyth may be a surface manifestation of an underlying true universal.


  9. Thanks, Jeff!

    If expounders of the monomyth — everyone from Dr. Campbell to my Wiccan former friend — had said what you said (or had talked about “oft-seen patterns” rather than universals) — they would have gotten their point across much more clearly.

    For an example of the harm which comes when someone takes common phenomena for universals: follow a link to some testimony (site opens as a PDF) in a religious-liberty case at
    briefly (if you don’t want to follow the link right now), in a prison where inmates had permission to conduct Wiccan religious services, the staff required all such services to seat the participants in rows and to have the officiating cleric up front giving a sermon: on the grounds that (according to the prison’s rules for determining what does or doesn’t enjoy the protections given to religious worship) all legitimate religious worship seats the worshipers in rows and includes a sermon. (As an outsider like me understands it — from the legal testimony and from other sources available to outsiders — this violates the core of Wiccan worship in much the same way [and to about the same extent] that — for example — one could violate a Jewish Sabbath service by barging in and requiring the participants to replace the Torah-reading ceremony and other key elements with Çatholic Eucharist on the grounds that “all real religion has the Eucharist.”)

    Or, to put it via a linguistic analogy: imagine that the prison had authorized classes in Welsh … but at each lesson, guards showed up and required all use of the language to follow English word-order, to incorporate English idioms, and to use all — and only — the speech-sounds that English uses …

    And, yes, I have actually seen this sort of thing in real life: I’ve run into at least one kid taking Japanese at school whose parents followed along with his homework at first, out of interest, and then turned their interest into punishing him for adhering to what they called “the cockeyed and impossible word-order” [subject-verb-object] of a typical Japanese sentence: they still demanded that he get “A”s, though — and they refused to speak with his teacher about the matter, when the student asked the teacher to raise it with them.
    So the kid ended up doing all his homework twice: once incorrectly for Mom and Dad to see, then again correctly & secretly [after bed-time] to actually hand in. Then his parents caught him out at this “disobedience” …
    What makes the above *really* strange and ironic: the mother herself (an English-teacher at a different school) knew a very few phrases of Japanese from her own childhood (daughter of a Japanese war-bride who had done her best to “Americanize” and “fit in”) — no grammar, just a few scattered phrases such as “Thank you” and “Good night.” She and her husband wanted this son, for various reasons, to know more than she had learned or remembered … in fact, she had hoped to somewhat increase her own knowledge, and her husband had wanted to learn a bit too (this explains why they followed their son’s homework) … but, as soon as they got to anything which violated their mental expectations of “how language[s] must work,” they couldn’t take it.

    (Now — because you have discovered a very productive analogy between religion/spirituality and language — take a moment and ponder what the religious/spiritual analogue of some such family situation would look like: e.g., for the child involved, and/or for the various adults in the situation. Whatever you think of in that connection, I can guarantee that this, too, happens pretty darned frequently in the USA, at least … )


  10. RE: the back of the cards

    My 2 cents – for what it’s worth, I just had a pretty intense flash on this; I saw the backs of the cards with the image of a (just barely cracked open) wardrobe door, with pale winter light showing through the opening…


  11. Dakota Stengel Avatar
    Dakota Stengel

    Jeff — Co-incidentally (?), early this morning the very same image as Erik’s popped into my mind for the back-pattern (instead of the more elaborate notion I’d had earlier). So please use Erik’s idea instead of my original one (the tree with seven fruits). It sounds far easier to do, anyway.


  12. Re the male-chauvinist-piggery in the NARNIA books: sure, I noticed that a bit as a child (just as I later noticed the same in Rowling’s wizard society), but I *also* noticed that …

    — Lucy (not one of the boys, but the youngest female in the books — and the smallest female except for Mr. Beaver) takes the first step into Narnia.

    — The first female Narnia-resident we meet has (despite her horrendous evilness)
    … the power to stare Aslan in the face for a while (a longer while, as one of the Beavers comments, than one would have expected),
    … the power to recruit to her side (and also the power to take down) both males and females (not just little boys like Edmund, but large powerful males like her petrifaction-victims who include Tumnus, a lion large enough that Edmund takes him for Aslan, and a giant several hundred feet tall)

    — Lucy again (not one of the boys) has to put up with the other kids accusing her of lying and/or succumbing to delusions even though (as the other kids admit) they KNOW her for the most truthful and open-eyed among them. (This happens in at least two of the books: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and PRINCE CASPIAN). Generally, when Lucy disagrees with/disobeys one or more other people, the facts turn out to support Lucy. (A more fully rah-rah-for-boys-and-men author would have made Peter or Edmund, not Lucy, consistently the right-but-rejected one.)

    — in defending the truthfulness and sanity of Lucy, Professor Kirke (apparently the series’ “portrait” of Lewis himself) uses the same argument that the real-world Lewis used (in MIRACLES and other non-fiction writings/talks of his at the same period) to defend the truthfulness and sanity of Jesus.

    — Lucy takes a very active role in the exploring and so on throughout VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER: she has the courage, for instance, to do a very brave thing (acknowledged as brave by the ship’s crew and the Duffers alike) by going into Coriakin’s chambers to find and read the “reverse invisibility” spell: a responsibility she takes on even though (as she and others point out) the Chief Duffer’s daughter could & probably should have done it.

    — the later books (written after Lewis let a woman into his heart) start treating girls/women rather better than the earlier ones: Aravis (throughout THE HORSE AND HIS BOY) definitely does not qualify as a wimp or “typical girl”; neither does Jill throughout THE SILVER CHAIR or THE LAST BATTLE. (In fact, in THE LAST BATTLE a king of Narnia praises her outdoors/spying skills, which Lewis notes that she learned partly in the Girl Guides [ = Girl Scouts] and partly through escaping bullying at a school where apparently both the male and female students bullied her. Calling attention to a girl’s skills in traditionally male areas — then noting that she learned some of those lessons via an organization of girls, and the rest of those lessons via conflict with both males and females trying to oppress her, does not sound male-chauvinistic to me at all … though, again, it does not sound like anything we would have read in the earlier books before a woman entered Lewis’ life.)


  13. BTW, I mentioned this discussion to my wife last night, and as soon as I said “backs of the cards” she said she saw the same image that Kate and I did… 🙂


  14. Dakota Stengel Avatar
    Dakota Stengel

    Well, I guess that makes it official, then:
    We Have Received A Message.



  15. Dakota Stengel Avatar
    Dakota Stengel

    Speaking of Tarot — another Druid’s site (Isaac Bonewits’ blog at ) praises a buccaneer-themed deck called TAROT OF THE PIRATES.

    The deck’s page has some reviews, one of which tells us this deck’s four suits —
    Barrels of Rum [cups],
    Oars [wands],
    Cutlasses [swords],
    & Doubloons [pentacles] —
    and very interestingly describes specific cards in the suits and in the trumps.

    Seeing news of a pirate-themed Tarot deck had left me fearing that it would descend into corniness — that it would feature a Yo-Ho-Hierophant or something equally appalling — but it looks “solid” enough that I’ve asked my husband to keep it in mind if he runs short of ideas on some future gift-giving occasion.


  16. Dakota Stengel Avatar
    Dakota Stengel

    The following web-page —
    reviews a recent book of essays on Narnia,
    whose contributors include pagan and Christian theologians.
    Judging from the review (I’ve yet to read the book),
    the essays grapple with much of what has risen within this blog’s Narnia thread.


  17. Re: “I will have to read this [Dr. Gregory] Bateson fellow sometime” — when you do, also read the works of another Bateson: Dr. Catherine Bateson, the daughter that Gregory Bateson had with Margaret Mead. (She followed both her parents into an interestingly hard-to-describe mix of anthropology, comparative religion [with a neurobiological flair like her dad’s writing on the subject], and other careers.)

    You probably would most enjoy Dr. Catherine Bateson’s unfortunately-titled book ANGELS FEAR: TOWARDS AN EPISTEMOLOGY OF THE SACRED.
    I call the title “unfortunate” because:

    /a/ the part *before* the colon, like the cover-art, very misleadingly suggests one of those soppy “angel stories” books that had such a vogue around 1988 when this book appeared

    (presumably, her publisher wanted to capitalize on the fad for angel-this-and-angel-that-and-angel-everything-imaginab le — so the publisher used a couple of words from a very famous Alexander Pope quotation that the book takes in a direction Pope may not have meant it to go!)

    /b/ the part *after* the colon probably scared away people who would otherwise have bought the book just because the cover had the word “angels.” (In my limited experience, most people who seek out “angel stuff” run in the opposite direction from any book whose cover has a big word, especially a word that the prospective reader does not already know and use: “epistemology,” key to ANGELS FEAR, fits both categories.

    Anyway, a great deal of the material in ANGELS FEAR *very* usefully dovetails, one way or another, with most of the various subject-matters on your blog. You will probably get a lot of interesting blog-fodder (as I got a lot of interesting food-for-thought and laughter) from the book’s account/evaluation of what one Native American religious group had to go through in order to get its main sacrament (the peyote cactus) declared legal for them to use.

    I won’t say another word about the book, for fear of spoiling it. I suggest you Google both Batesons (the father and the daughter) and — if you can’t afford even used copies from Amazon — ask your local library to order the relevant titles!


  18. Kate — thanks for the WalloWorld link; that sounds like a neat book, as does the Bateson title. I am really beginning to despair, though, that I will never read all the wonderful things that have been written in this great and terrible world… Still, it will be fun to try. 🙂


  19. Jeff — I’ll respond to your various comments over the next week, after I’ve had time to ponder them.

    For now: I’d appreciate if you as a nonviolence-advocate and Narnia-fan (and perhaps your Narnia-fan daughter, too) could ponder and respond to the question:

    “What would the Narnia books — and the world of Narnia as a whole —
    have looked like/felt like/’read’ like if —

    instead of the way C. S. Lewis really wrote them —

    all through the books, nobody on Aslan’s side had *ever* used, advocated, or supplied resources/help for performing/planning/recruiting violence in any form or for any purpose whatsoever?

    No swords, daggers, or bows in the hands of the good guys — not even for defending oneself or for defending someone/something weaker and/or more deserving than oneself — not even when one has tried all non-violent means of influence, and all non-violent means have failed —

    imagine Narnians [in this hypothetical “pacifist re-write”]
    unarmed and unwilling to arm,
    while Calormenes and Telmarines and demons and witches and giants [as in the actual books] purely bristle with deadly weapons and the knowledge & willingness to use them —

    imagine Father Christmas handing out, not sword and bow and dagger, but Gandhi’s autobiography and a biography of George Fox and the works of Thoreau … ”

    If C. S. Lewis had written such a “pacifist NARNIA series” instead of the one he actually did write, how might the stories have gone in such an imagined world … and how might the readers have responded?


  20. Kate, if Lewis had been as pacifist as that, would he even have been Christian? I can’t really answer how HE would have written Narnia — he would have been a very different person, I think. I can tell you what I would do very simply.

    There would be a lot of heroic suffering, and nonviolent resistance (which can in fact make very exciting reading), until Aslan arrived.

    And Aslan would deal with violent attacks the same way the Buddha did. By his mere presence, he converted every attacker into a follower.


  21. Kate, thanks for your heartfelt reply. I don’t think I can answer you properly in just a comment, so I’m going to have to defer to a later blog post. As I said, you’re awfully good at inspiring topics! 🙂

    Let me just quickly address the Narnia part of your comment. Obviously the books would need to be vastly different, and Aslan would in no way represent Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a compelling story. Let me ‘splain…

    One thing that I particularly like about Lewis’s works (and he does this much better than, say, Tolkien) is the fact that just about every character is given enough personality that the reader can clearly see that they have an independent will and are making their own choices. Even Jadis is, if I remember rightly, shown having moments of self-doubt; and the sense is that if she had made different, better choices, she could have entered Heaven at the end of the Last Battle herself. The scene in that book where the souls file past Aslan is particularly telling: it is quite clear, the way he describes it, that the choice of whether to enter Heaven is really the individual’s choice, not Aslan’s choice. This reaffirms the doctrine of free will.

    Now imagine a “battle” scene in a “pacifist Narnia”. (I place “battle” in quotes because, of course, it would really be a slaughter.) Focus in on the faces of the attackers as they strike down the unresisting heroes, and let’s get a glimmer of their internal thoughts as they do so. Some have doubts, but do the task anyway. Some feel ashamed at killing defenseless people. Some find they cannot do the deed, and throw down their weapons.

    Later, in the slave pens, some of the guards and warriors will come to the leaders of the resistance and try to explain themselves (“I was just following orders”). Some may even beg for forgiveness.

    Then, when the deus ex leo (Aslan/Buddha) appears, the peace and calm that descends upon people has to be described subjectively — because what he’s doing is not mind control, but showing a living example of what true peace and illumination is like. No one can look on it without having the desire for peace and illumination as well. The author can make this believable by showing how the doubts and worries and guilts of the Bad Guy warriors and guards grow stronger and stronger; their internal struggles against their fears and egos; and how, when Aslan appears, they see the peace and joy in him and wonder whether they could have that for themselves.

    If done properly, the story’s focus would not be “Isn’t Buddha great!”, but “everyone has some good in them”. I do think it would be hard to do properly, but I think that’s a function of the difficulty most people (myself certainly included) would have in thinking and feeling and writing at a level approaching what Buddha is supposed to have achieved.

    As for whether children would enjoy such stories (done well): I can attest that we have a number of Buddhist books, including a life of the Buddha and a book of Buddhist fairy tales, and the kids adore them. This is because, again, the emphasis is either on the work that the Buddha does to achieve his state, or the people that he helps to improve their lives. Such emphases help to ground the story so that they aren’t as insipid as the ones you describe. 🙂


  22. I agree that “heroic suffering, and nonviolent resistance … can … make very exciting reading” — but I can’t see myself taking seriously (not even seriously enough to enjoy as children’s fiction) the notion that, well, when a sufficiently good Good Guy walks in, the Bad Guys immediately turn into Good Guys.

    I may note here that Lewis himself presumably could not have written such a story, even if he’d believed in pacifism. Pretty obviously, to make Aslan’s mere presence an irresistible convincer would have made Aslan far more powerful than Jesus: or, more precisely, it would have meant that Aslan a/k/a Jesus had a particular power in Narnia that he lacked on Earth: Lewis would then have had to explain how and why this could have happened.

    In other words, if Lewis as a Christian had given Aslan the power to convince people by just showing up, Lewis would then have had to explain how people on Earth [but NOT people/Talking Beasts in Narnia] had the power to still choose evil even with Aslan/Jesus around:

    something very hard to work into this type of story, unless one assumed/explained that inhabitants of Earth have far greater powers of mental resistance than inhabitants of Narnia … which would have made for a very creepy series, given that Aslan *created* Narnia and most of its inhabitants or their ancestors …

    so, if Lewis had written that folks on the planet Narnia couldn’t resist Aslan, he would have lain himself open to the counter: “Well, obviously: Aslan made Narnia, so he simply made it that the inhabitants of this planet could never resist him!”

    Of course, if you ever do write one or more pacifist “Narnia”-type stories for children, knowing your skill as a writer I’ll certainly read them (and — given your skill as a writer — I leave open the possibility that anything you write in this line may cause me to withdraw my incredulity).

    Still, for the present — from where I stand —

    … not only have I never seen perfect goodness magically recruit evildoers, just by existing (since I have never had the good fortune to observe Buddha or anyone remotely similar),

    but I think kids (and grown-ups, too) need some inspiration/mindset/plans of action for the all-too-frequent occasions when the Buddha/Aslan/other Supernally Convincing Good Guy *doesn’t* show up & change the evildoers’ minds by just showing up.

    Don’t get me wrong — I believe that non-violent means *must* come first. Before even considering violence, one must consider and apply all possible non-violent means — resorting to violence as a solution indicates that one hasn’t successfully applied non-violence as a solution:
    just as (for many diseases) going in for surgery means that one has failed to arrest/reverse the condition by non-surgical means.

    By that same token — as it seems to me — when to the best of one’s ability one has tried all non-violent approaches and they have signally failed, one MAY have to resort to force as a sort of desperate “second best”: a sign that one has failed to heal the situation by means that one would have preferred (rather like eventually having to go in for surgery if other less invasive/non-violent treatments have failed to work. Just as some people owe their lives to surgery, so — from time to time — I have owed my life to people who did violence to defend someone weaker than themselves. For me to call that “wrong,” I would have to call it “wrong” that I live. Had I — or others in my behalf — acted pacifistically, you would not now have me as your WARDROBE TAROT collaborator!)

    From my end, at least, when anything from Buddhist scripture to a work of fantasy depends, for its successful resolution, on Super-Goodness merely walking into the room — this reminds me all too painfully of the sort of thing that most of my schoolteachers and classmates tried to get me to adopt as a guiding premise for life: “If you were only the right kind of person, dear, you wouldn’t have all these problems getting attacked by your classmates and even your teachers, because — if you were a worthwhile person — we would see it and we would want to help you and to be your friends instead of being your enemies. If you just made yourself a better person, don’t you see that other people wouldn’t even *want* to push you downstairs if you stopped fighting back when they felt like doing it? The next time someone does that to you, let them, so they can see you are being a better person and they will stop!”

    Such books and stories as you describe (in suggesting what a “pacifist NARNIA” might look like) I in fact had in childhood among the school-library offerings and other required/recommended/available reading at one school I attended: not necessarily pacifist books, but books in which the good guys would get into impossible situations, and then a _deus_ex_machina_ would save the day by merely existing.

    In a typical plot, the child hero or heroes would initially attempt good action[s] under impossible circumstances

    (“good action” meaning anything from
    “save the world from evil adults who have created a super-weapon to vaporize all countries they disapprove of”
    to “get the local police to believe that a burglar is prowling around the school”
    to “stop evil adults/children from bullying/otherwise harming children and other weak people and/or animals”
    to “convince the child-hero’s family to follow, and thereby to allow the child-hero to follow, those practices required by the faith which operates the school and publishes the books”) —

    the child[ren] would try heroically (or, more often, would see no way to even begin trying), would fail mightily again and again, would (generally) fall into despair …
    and then, magically, either the international gangsters or burglars would suddenly hand themselves over to the police (no reason or explanation given),

    or the smaller-scale opponents (parents/other family members or schoolyard bullies) would similarly suddenly change their minds because of no evident reason,

    and in either case the plot would melt away into pink clouds of “happily-ever-after.”

    Let’s just say that these disappointed me — literarily and in other ways — so far that I wonder whether *any* author (of Lewis’s talent, or your own) could build readable fiction on such a premise. But don’t ask me — ask your children: ask them if they, themselves, would want to read a story where “Aslan … [b]y his mere presence, … converted every attacker into a follower.


  23. Since (sensibly enough) your response addresses only the “Narnia stuff,” I don’t mind waiting as long as needful for a blog-post on other matters I raised.

    And I definitely agree with you that much of the appeal of Lewis and Tolkien comes from how clearly they show the importance of individual choice and free will: in the examples you give, and in other examples — such as THE LAST BATTLE, where some dwarves who actually made it into Heaven perceive it as just a filthy stable because Aslan cannot “get through” the obstacles raised by their own free will, given the fact that their prior experiences discovering a fake Aslan have led them to regard the real Aslan and his realm as just more fakery.

    (By the way, I’ve always believed that Aslan would — given eternity to work in — eventually “get through” to the suffering dwarves, even if he had to do it in tiny, tiny steps. After all:

    /a/ the dwarves disbelieve for very honest and admirable reason: they and others have just spent the whole book suffering mightily at the orders of a fake Aslan, which has understandably soured them on the real one! (whom they regard as just another fake).
    Hard as Aslan may find it to work with soured cynics like the dwarves or me (even given all eternity), I believe that Aslan *just* *might* have even a harder time working with folks who don’t even care as much as the dwarves cared about reality-versus-fakery. (If some dwarf — still not believing in Aslan’s Country — had claimed to believe, perhaps hoping that such hypocrisy would get him out of the “filthy stable” … or if some dwarf “in the stable” had tried to hypnotize himself into believing in the beautiful country which he did not actually see … well, I think Aslan would [at the VERY least!] have snarled and shown his fangs!)

    In a similar situation once before in Narnia (when the witch in THE SILVER CHAIR hypnotized her prisoners to disbelieve in Aslan and in the entire surface world), Puddleglum broke the spell by stepping on the incense-laden fire and filling the room with the “not at all magical” smell of burnt Marsh-wiggle flesh. I can’t believe that Aslan in all eternity won’t manage to accomplish what a mere mortal swamp-creature can do in half a second. As Aslan himself says about the hallucinating dwarves in THE LAST BATTLE: “All that can be done will be done.”

    Re your vivid portrayal of a a slaughter-scene (and its aftermath) in a “pacifist’s Narnia” — this does indeed make me hope that you’ll write fiction for children! (I believe that, well, sometimes pacifism works and sometimes it does not work — Gandhi’s tactics worked well against the British, but the same tactics [used by admirers/students of Gandhi’s work, among others] did not work nearly so well in the slave pens/death camps of 1930s/1940s Germany.)

    And — well, even if the following *does* keep me experiencing a filthy stable for all of eternity, I just don’t have it in me to believe (no matter how many times I might read it or hear about it) that, “when the deus ex leo[ne] (Aslan/Buddha) appears, the peace and calm that descends upon people … [has the effect that n]o one can look on it without having the desire for peace and illumination as well.”

    Speaking only for myself, it would take actually meeting Aslan or Buddha (not just reading about such a meeting in even the most thrilling storybook or other account) to get me to believe that. (And, yes, I realize that this says at least as much about me as it does about whoever may write the account!) As you say: ” … it would be hard to do properly, but I think that’s a function of the difficulty … in thinking and feeling and writing at a level approaching what Buddha is supposed to have achieved.”
    (In fact, C. S. Lewis used similar reasoning in explaining — in the intro to SCREWTAPE — why he had not similarly written a parallel narrative showing a senior angel’s advice to the same human’s guardian angel: it would take an angel to write such a book!)

    Thanks, anyway, for reassuring me that stories can teach/encourage the avoidance of violence without descending into insipidity.


  24. Wow, you guys are getting into some deep territory here!

    My daughter (just turned 8 ) loves – as do I – a pair of books by Ioanna Salajan called “Zen Comics” (and “ZC 2”). Hunt them down, they’re brilliantly funny and insightful.


  25. I fully intend to track down and read ZEN COMICS — so thanks, Erik!


  26. Yes, thank you Erik!!

    By the way, I looked up Zen Comics, and Google has some samples available for viewing in Book Search: look here. It gives a wonderful flavor. I remember seeing these somewhere before… It reminds me of my Mom. 🙂 Maybe she had them lying around at some point.


  27. They were originally created for the newsletter of a Dutch sangha in the 70’s, so I suppose it’s possible…


  28. Interesting post. I like your points and that you brought up the questioning of many of the world creation/resurrection myths.


  29. I see there is no comments beyond 2008 but I really HOPE that one day this tarot deck is made. It would combine my two loves, tarot and narnia! This is such a brilliant idea I really cannot believe it hasn’t been done already. Please create this deck!


    1. Ashley, I’d like to see the deck made someday as well. Shortly after this post was written, my marriage ended (for unrelated reasons!), and in the five or six years since then, I’ve had to move and change jobs twice, plus I remarried… And other creative projects came along as well (like the books you see in the sidebar). So… lots going on. But I do think the deck deserves to be made, and I hope someone (not necessarily me) does do it at some point.


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