Previous | Next

Fall 2010 · Vol. 39 No. 2 · pp. 204–219 

Monopods, Magic, and Mission: C.S. Lewis’s ‘Spell for Making Hidden Theology Visible’

Randy Klassen

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952; hereafter VDT 1) is one of the perennial favorites of C.S. Lewis’s famous Chronicles of Narnia, a series that has found a solid place within popular culture. With the imminent release this winter of the feature-length movie version, 2 this seems like a good time to re-examine Lewis’s original literary art. One can approach the Chronicles—and within them, the VDT—in many different literary and theological ways. Some examples: Schakel (1979) sees the center of VDT as a theme of “progress,” based on a passage in Mere Christianity where Lewis talks about the occasional necessity of “putting the clock back,” versus the modern myth of progress. 3 A quarter century later, in an updated work, Schakel (2005) declares VDT to be centered on “longing and learning.” 4 Glover presents the story as “the quest for holiness, the penetration into the mystery of . . . mercy and justice, meekness and power.” 5 Manlove discerns several key themes: the geographic movement from islands to continent mirrors personal journeys from selfishness or isolation to community; the relationship of fiction to the real world; and the role that imagination plays within that relationship. 6 Myers sees the Chronicles as embodying “the Anglican spiritual style,” and VDT specifically as aiming at “what it means to be a member of the church.” 7 And there is Michael Ward’s recent and provocative “astrological” approach to Narnia, 8 which we will examine in more detail later on.

There is something noteworthy and missionally effective about Lewis’s integrative, rather than confrontational or dismissive, approach to pagan mythology.

When I first encountered VDT as a young child, I enjoyed it simply for its swashbuckling story and evocative imagery. As a maturing reader shaped by biblical study, theological imagery slowly but unmistakably appeared before my eyes. At first, the transparent allusions to baptism (Eustace’s restoration, chapter seven) and Eucharist (Aslan’s Table, chapter thirteen). 9 More recently, I have seen a consistent pattern of imagery emerge in much of the rest of the book, which undergirds a distinctly ecclesiological thrust (similar to Myers). This pattern is anchored, for example, in the fact that “ship” is an ancient and widespread symbol of the Christian church. 10 But within this consistent pattern of ecclesiological imagery, detailing the church’s “journey of faith,” the episode dealing with Island of the Duffers (chapters nine through eleven) seemed stubbornly resistant. This is a particular puzzle, since these three chapters also form the longest sustained episode in the entire narrative. It is this puzzle that I want to explore in this paper. Ultimately, I will propose that these chapters give expression to Lewis’s Christian vision for ecclesial life.

Before we embark, we must of course reckon with the fact that Lewis’s Chronicles are not, strictly speaking, allegories 11—a fact about which Lewis himself was quite clear. 12 They are first and foremost fairy tales, and their primary meaning and enjoyment derives from the standard ingredients of character, plot, and setting. At the same time, Lewis the classicist and medieval scholar knew that no author manufactures words and images ex nihilo: every word has a history, and potent images have been shaped by generations, if not centuries, of use. Lewis the fantasist was well aware of the power of symbolism. Lewis clearly made both literary allusion and mythopoeic symbolism part of his Narnian opus. 13 The method pursued in this article is literary and exegetical: to unpack the literary allusions and symbolic motifs utilized by Lewis, and to ask why he might have used them the way he did. The three chapters present us with three central figures: the Duffers, the Magic Book, and the Magician. We will look at each of these figures twice: first of all, with an eye to the clear allusions—what we might call known literary “destinations.” Second, we will venture into new and unknown territory, exploring further literary or symbolic resonances. My contention is that the episode dealing with “the Island of the Voices” is informed by a consistent pattern of allusion and imagery organized around Lewis’s conception of the church’s mission to pagans.


Some portions of VDT (such as chapter 16, “The Very End of the World”) incorporate a striking number of literary allusions, either biblical or classical. In chapters nine through eleven they are more sparse: there are three primary literary allusions here, one for each of the central figures.

We begin with the Duffers. 14 The inhabitants of the island are initially invisible: thus, while we are introduced to them in various ways, we do not receive a visual description for the majority of the episode. (They are also anonymous for as long as they are invisible, only being named as “Duffers” once they are seen—an effective literary strategy.) Once we are given a visual description of the Duffers as Monopods, we can recognize that they are no free creation of Lewis’s. As many commentators point out, they clearly allude to a passage from Pliny’s Natural History:

Ctesias . . . also describes a tribe of men called the Monocoli who have only one leg, and who move in jumps with surprising speed; the same are called the Umbrella-foot tribe [Sciapodas], because in hotter weather they lie on their backs on the ground and protect themselves with the shadow of their feet. 15

This fragment of an ancient Greek travel narrative (Ctesias’ Persica and Indica) shows the classical source of Lewis’s Duffers. Pliny’s Latin name for them, “Monocoli,” derives from the Greek for “single-limbed” (monokoloi, not to be confused with “one-eyed” monoculi). They are part of Pliny’s catalogue of human “marvels” (miraculis). The adjectival form of the word (miraculus) also carries the nuance of “freakish, deformed.” This sort of human freak-show became a standard literary feature of the ancient and medieval travel narrative, such as the sailors of Narnia’s Lone Islands also told: “wild stories of islands inhabited by headless men.” 16 Pliny’s Monocoli are located in “India and parts of Ethiopia”—in other words, lands which defined the eastern and southern reaches of the “known world” of Greco-Roman civilization. Lewis’s Duffers are also found on the eastern edge of the world of Narnia. We shall draw out some further implications of Lewis’s use of the Monocoli later in the paper.

The second key figure in the episode under consideration is the Magic Book. Here we find a number of literary references. There is the magic spell “to give a man an ass’s head (as they did to poor Bottom)”: an overt reference to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is the “infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals.” Lucy watches an image of herself come alive in the Magic Book, as “all the Kings of the world fought because of her beauty. After that it turned from tournaments to real wars” (166). The allusion is to Helen of Troy. 17 But the most significant spell, even though not the object of the Duffers’ request, was the spell “for the refreshment of the spirit.”

Lewis describes this spell in a number of ways. At its heart is the evocation of four fleeting images: “It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much.” These four images converge (again, as many commentators have pointed out) on the biblical Passion of Christ. These symbols tend to be multivalent; it is not helpful to argue about which aspect of each image is being referred to, since they are evocative, not restrictive. 18 “Cup”: a symbol of suffering (cf. Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, Matt. 26:39) and of communion with his disciples (the Last Supper, Matt. 26:27). “Sword”: also a symbol of suffering; and the sword “which will pierce [Mary’s] own soul too” (Lk. 2:35). 19 It may also allude to the “sword” as symbol of the state—the imperial powers which led to the crucifixion (cf. Rom. 13:4). “Tree”: after “cross” (stauros), the second most common word in the New Testament for the instrument of Jesus’ death (xulon; e.g. Acts 5:30, Gal. 3:13, 1 Pet. 2:24). 20 Finally, “green hill”: not a specifically biblical phrase, but undoubtedly an allusion to the hymn by Cecil Alexander (published in Hymns for Little Children, 1848):

There is a green hill far away,
Outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

Despite Lewis’s self-confessed dislike for hymnody, 21 the likelihood is that he would have been familiar with this text from his childhood, since it had a strong Irish-Anglican provenance (the hymnwriter’s husband, William Alexander, was a bishop and one-time Anglican primate for Ireland). These four images together reinforce a strong impression of the Passion, while evoking a tone that is (apart from the unmistakable violence of the “sword”) remarkably gentle and “refreshing.” 22 Lewis has more to say about this spell of spells, but again, we shall have to wait for the pieces to fall into place.

The third figure connected with a clear literary allusion is Coriakin. Lewis masterfully sets up the reader for a dread meeting with this Magician, but when Lucy finally encounters him, it is with joy, not fear. For it turns out he too is a friend of Aslan. The two of them, Aslan and the Magician, begin chapter eleven with a rich conversation discussing the Duffers. Coriakin confides that he is sometimes “a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic” (175). And with these three final words, Lewis conjures up a reference to Shakespeare’s most prominent magician, Prospero of The Tempest (V.1.50–51). 23

We need some context to understand Lewis’s borrowing from the Bard. In this climactic scene, Prospero is about to offer reconciliation to those who have usurped and exiled him (his brother Antonio and King Alonso of Naples), to grant the sprite Ariel freedom after years of servitude, and to pardon his other monster-servant, Caliban, for his part in a planned coup. With these grand gestures of reconciliation and freedom imminent, Prospero also vows another act of personal renunciation, forswearing “this rough magic” which permitted him these acts in the first place: “I’ll break my staff . . . and drown my book.” He shifts strategies—or rather, grows in character—by a move from “rough magic” to rhetoric. The former is external, a manipulation of the elements: raising sea-storms and so forth. The latter aims to persuade the human heart. The shift from the one to the other signals a move from power to persuasion, and, it seems, from moral immaturity to a mature authority.

The reader finds out only much later (chapter 14)—by way of the mysterious Ramandu—of a deeper significance to this reference and this issue of personal growth. For Coriakin is himself under a form of probation. He has been appointed to rule this island not simply as Aslan’s gift—rather, “you might call it a punishment” (227). In other words, his desire to “abjure this rough magic” is not only for the Duffers’ sake but also for his own.

In summary: within these chapters, we have two clear and significant classical allusions. The travel narratives of Pliny set up the Duffers as an exemplar of the “foreigner,” the “other.” Shakespeare’s Prospero sets up Coriakin as a magician who is maturing—or at least shifting roles—as the master of his house and realm. Finally, the Magic Book that is the point of contact and contention between the magician and his subjects emerges as a type of the Gospel.


The next point to be made deals again with Coriakin. The reader discovers, along with the fact of his “probation,” also the fact of his “race”: he is a star-being (227). Unlike Ramandu, however, he is not retired and rejuvenating; he is in rehabilitation. The source of his offence remains tantalizingly off limits to the human characters—as also to the reader! (228). But he is in need of reform—or, was: the warm and generous conversation between him and Aslan (174–175) hints that his cure is almost complete.

Coriakin’s stellar nature points us to another strand of symbolism, one that is firmly rooted in the biblical tradition but may seem strange to modern readers of Scripture. The tradition is rooted in the recognition that within the ancient cosmology shared by biblical, classical, and medieval writers, stars are angelic beings. In the Hebrew Bible their most common title is “sons of God” (b’ney elohîm). The clearest exposition of this understanding is Job 38:7, where the term is virtually equated with “morning stars,” those who “sang together” at the beginning of the world. (Note that Ramandu and his daughter “sing together” to greet the new day—“a cold kind of song, an early morning kind of song” [223].)

The Book of Deuteronomy has some interesting, even puzzling, things to say about these “sons of God.” Its concluding Song of Moses speaks of the uniqueness of the people of Israel, among all the nations of the earth:

When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the sons of Adam,

he set the bounds of the people
according to the number of the children of Israel. (32:8 KJV)

This verse contains an important textual issue: whereas the traditional Masoretic Text concludes with b’ney yisrael, a version of the text from the Dead Sea Scrolls reads b’ney el “sons of God.” 24 This is evidently also what the translators of the Septuagint read, for they rendered the verse as “according to the number of the angels (angelon) of God,” a regular paraphrase for “sons of God” (e.g., Job 1.6, 38.7 LXX). The ancient worldview regarded these supernatural beings, whom we might best describe as angels, as each related to the nations—in marked distinction to Israel, who does not relate to one of these celestial “princes” but is directly subject to the heavenly King.

That these celestial powers are seen to rule over the nations is confirmed by another passage in Deuteronomy. In Moses’ preamble to the Ten Commandments (in particular, the second), he says: “And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven” (4:19).

This facet of rulership over human society (excepting Israel) already shows itself in Genesis 1: the heavenly lights are created “to rule” (mashal, 1:18), and for the purpose of “signs and seasons, days and years” (v. 14)—things which have a uniquely human and cultural import (recognizing the chief meaning of mo’edîm “seasons” as “religious gatherings,” not merely meteorological changes). The concept of governing spiritual powers also seems to surface with the mention of “national angels” in Daniel 10 (e.g., the “prince of the kingdom of Persia,” 10:13), and probably again in the Pauline phrase of “powers and principalities” (e.g., Col. 1:16). This biblical tradition is well known among biblical scholars, but has not, to my knowledge, been applied to Coriakin. He is portrayed as this sort of celestial supernatural being. His station in life is that of an errant star (aster planetes, cf. Jude 13) who is charged with oversight of a society still in need of a governing intermediary. The Duffers are not able—or, as Aslan tells Coriakin, not yet able—to encounter the Lord of Narnia profitably: “Many stars will grow old . . . before your people are ripe for that” (175). And the Duffers are placed in the same position as the goyim, Gentiles: under the rulership of an intermediary astral power.

Another perspective that also involves celestial powers has recently emerged in studies of Lewis’s Narnia stories. Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia: the Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (2008) suggests that the medieval typology of the seven planetary powers is a strong, even controlling, influence over the seven volumes of the Chronicles. The thesis is innovative, bold, and well argued. Recognizing generally positive reviews of the book by Lewis scholars, I want to build on its implications for VDT, specifically the Duffer episode, in a number of ways that confirm Ward’s contention.

The VDT is governed, suggests Ward, by the Sun. The Solar influence is summarized by Lewis in his introductory lectures to Medieval and Renaissance literature: “Sol produces the noblest metal, gold, and is the eye and mind of the whole universe. He makes men wise and liberal 25 and his sphere is the Heaven of theologians and philosophers.” 26 VDT is shot through with Solar imagery—not the least of which is the recurring motif of gold—starting with the titular reference to the Dawn as the goal of the voyage. Ward outlines a number of ways that Solar influence shines through the Duffer episode in particular: Coriakin’s aspirations for wisdom rather than “this rough magic”; the Duffers, whose very name shows that they epitomize the opposite of wisdom; and the name of the Chief Duffer’s daughter, “Clipsie,” from the archaic English word clipsi, “under eclipse, dark.” 27 But there are more indications of Solar influence yet, and these, I believe, serve as strong affirmation of Ward’s thesis.

We return to the Duffers. We have seen how Lewis described a creature taken straight from Pliny. He had a full menu of exotic and bizarre miracula from which to choose: the dog-headed, people with eyes in their chests, feet backwards, the elephant-headed, and so on. Why the monopod? They are the sciapodae, the “shade-footed.” In two ways they represent the total inversion of every Solar quality. They are named for skia (“shadow” in Greek), with all the negative associations of that word: absence of light (thus an absence of wisdom), insubstantial and incorporeal. Second, they are known for their physical inversion, resting with their foot above, their head below. They use the most non-rational part of their bodies, the one furthest from their head, to shut out the light of the Sun. In the hierarchical medieval worldview, which is Lewis’s native air, this is the posture of foolishness. The Duffers—in name, character, even posture—are the ultimate unwise.

There is a second reflection of Solar imagery to be found (and to me, this clinches the brilliance of Ward’s thesis). In my search to understand more of the Solar qualities, I turned to that magnum opus of medieval thought, Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Paradise, cantos ten through fourteen, Beatrice takes Dante through the fourth Heaven (i.e., the Sun), where they encounter “theologians and Fathers of the Church”—the wisest of biblical and ecclesial history: Solomon, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Anselm, and so on. One of the key episodes, told by Thomas Aquinas in Canto XI, deals with the life of St. Francis. In what must surely be one of the most remarkable tales of the Crusades, Francis, in 1219, undertook a mission to the unbelievers in the Middle East. He journeyed into enemy territory in Egypt, and sought to share the gospel and make peace with the Sultan Al-Malik al-Kamil, who was indeed a wise and generous leader. 28 Francis had a genial visit, but failed to convert the sultan. Dante says the following about Francis and his mission: “he found that folk unripe to be / converted.” 29 Compare the following exchange between Coriakin and Aslan: the Magician asks,

“Do you intend to show yourself to them?”

“Nay,” said the Lion . . . “I should frighten them out of their senses. Many stars will grow old . . . before your people are ripe for that.” 30

I believe we have here an unmistakable allusion to Dante’s words about Francis, whose offer of the gospel was to a “people” (Dante’s word is gente) that were spiritually “unripe” (acerba).

The connections of Dante’s St. Francis with Solar imagery in general, and VDT in particular, are suggested by two more incidental points from Canto XI, both geographical in nature. First, his birthplace, known archaically as Ascesi, is the subject of wordplay, meaning also (in Italian) “I ascended.” Francis’s disciple Bonaventure connected his master with Rev 7:2: “I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God.” Thus Francis is connected symbolically with the East and the Dawn, to which Dante alludes when he says “Ascesi—that’s too weak a word; /who’d speak aright should say the Orient” (53–54). Second, describing the sunrise in the region of Assisi, Dante says, “earth saw such a sun’s ascent/as this one makes sometimes from Ganges’ deep” (50–51). Sayers explains, “It was supposed that the sun rose in the extreme east with a splendour such as was never seen in Europe.” 31 This is mirrored by the increasing perception of the crew of the Dawn Treader that the sun itself is growing larger and more glorious as they approach the Utter East.

To summarize, this excursion into Dante’s Paradise suggests that (1) Lewis was intentionally drawing upon the Dantean presentation of Francis in his development of motifs in VDT, and (2) Lewis’s allusion to Francis’s mission to the Muslims reinforces the image of the Duffers as pagans, a people serving a lesser power and needing (eventually) a more direct relationship with the true Lord of the land. 32


Our final point of exploration in this study is another look at the Magic Book (chapter ten) and what its magic reveals about Aslan. If what we have proposed thus far is correct, then we are invited to see the Duffers as an analogy (Lewis’s term would be a “supposal”) of Gentiles, pagans. Coriakin embodies the sort of intermediary celestial power (angel, supernatural being) which governs the pagans in anticipation of their encounter with the true Lord. And the Book is both the source of their healing and a pointer to a fuller experience of the divine. The magic it embodies is, in its relation to the pagans, a kind of praeparatio evangelica. We thus posit that magic functions in the world of Narnia as myth functions in the real world.

“Spell” has two widely separated meanings in modern colloquial English: “incantation” (as used here), and “identifying the letters of a word” (as in a “spelling bee”). Both meanings derive from a root which means “story, discourse, narrative” (OED). When Lucy discovered the spell “for the refreshment of the spirit,” she felt it was “more like a story than a spell” (169). What this suggests is that this spell is closer to the root meaning of “spell.” A story is a spell, and a spell is a story. Or, we might say, myth is magic: myth is the root of storytelling which conjures up worlds, which reveals the truth of how a world works. 33 And the close identification of this particular spell with the Passion of Christ suggests that this story is the truest and most transformative myth of all. It is, in fact, the godspel (Old English), the “good spell” or “good tidings”: the gospel. Thus Lucy herself was transformed from a mere reader to a participant: “before she had read to the bottom of the [first] page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real” (169). That is the transforming power of the godspel.

We are told that after reading this spell, the pages couldn’t be turned back (170). Schakel suggests that the Book is a “symbol of life,” and more specifically, of Lucy’s life. 34 The unidirectional nature of the Book is resonant of the experience of Time itself, of history: it can only flow forwards. By thus linking this unidirectional necessity with the refreshing imagery of the spell, Lewis is combining the mythical dimension of the godspel with the uniquely historical: myth became fact.

The Magic under discussion in the world of Narnia is described as Aslan’s “rules.” Lucy has just recited a magic spell to make hidden things visible. Enter the great Lion.

“Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”

“I have been here all the time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”

“Aslan!” said Lucy almost a little reproachfully. “Don’t make fun of me. As if anything I could do would make you visible!”

“It did,” said Aslan. “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?” (172)

What is remarkable here is Aslan’s “obedience” to the spell. The truth of the spell is a universal truth. It is not trickery, or sleight of hand—it is how Narnian Nature works, and Aslan himself is integral to that Nature. One might see overtones of incarnation here. I think the word “obedience” is even more significant. 35 The pagan approach to Nature is by means of “spell,” by the narrative discourse of myth. Yet Aslan condescends to work within that approach, and even reveals himself to his friends by means of that. He does not, however, reveal himself to the Duffers, those who are still “fully pagan,” as it were. It suggests that myth is necessary, if not “safe”—it can lead to folly, rebellion, idolatry. It is the “rough magic” which ought to be followed by “wisdom.” But it begs the question: can a society achieve “wisdom” apart from a prior “rough magic”? In an age of renewed paganism, is myth a necessary precursor to the gospel? Lewis’s treatment of the Duffers, the Magician, and the Book suggests that the mythopoeic ministry of “refreshing the spirit” is also a part of the good news of Christ.


C.S. Lewis had a remarkably “liberal”—generous and broad-minded—perspective on myth, as on the paganism from which it derives. His works of fantasy are notable for their incorporation of mythic elements and themes, all in the service of the gospel. They truly are “spells”—stories that make hidden theology visible. As has often been pointed out, there is something noteworthy and missionally effective about Lewis’s integrative, rather than confrontational or dismissive, approach to pagan mythology. I want to close with two excerpts from Lewis’s writings and an invitation.

In 1946, Lewis was asked to write a paper for what was soon to become the World Council of Churches. His paper, “Modern Man and his Categories of Thought,” is a state-of-the-union address outlining what he saw as the challenges in the church’s mission. 36 One of the key differences he discerns between the first and the twentieth centuries is that in the New Testament era, all people—whether Jews, “Judaizing Gentiles” (God-fearers), or pagans—shared some basic predispositions: they “believed in the supernatural,” “were conscious of sin and feared divine judgement,” and almost all “believed that the world had once been better than it now was.” 37 Lewis continues: “The world which we must try to convert shares none of those predispositions.” After outlining six general causes (the last of which, “scepticism about reason,” is quite prescient of postmodernism), he offers this reasoned, but startling, suggestion for the “modern evangelist”: “I sometimes wonder whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity. If they were Stoics, Orphics, Mithraists, or (better still) peasants worshipping the Earth, our task might be easier. That is why I do not regard contemporary Paganisms . . . as a wholly bad symptom.” 38

The invitation is to missiologists, front-lines practitioners, and all those who are concerned about the interface between the incarnational Gospel and culture, to open (or renew?) a dialogue on the role of myth—culturally embedded (“pagan”) imagery, thought, and practice—in the mission of the church. Where might we find the possibility of a fruitful intersection of the “missional” church and “paganism”?

The closing word goes to that most noble and “philosophical” (embodying the love of wisdom) of Aslan’s friends—Reepicheep the Mouse. 39 At the conclusion of the episode with the Duffers, Reepicheep is the one who gives us hope of the Duffers’ possible growth towards wisdom, their “conversion” (186–7). He has a “brilliant idea”—teaching the Duffers to use their deformity for pleasure: their giant foot can become a boat. Two details stand out: Reepicheep’s approach, and the community’s response. First of all, the Mouse addresses them as “worthy and intelligent Monopods.” The first adjective may be true; the second is clearly not! But Reepicheep’s generosity of spirit—and his vision of what they could be—trumps any vision of the Duffers’ present shortcomings. This models a marvelous spirit of respect that is a necessary ingredient of the church’s mission in a pagan context. And finally: Reepicheep’s approach breaks the thralldom of the Chief Duffer over his people (who warned his people of Reepicheep’s tutelage). Some Duffers begin to think for themselves and respond of their own accord, rather than be bound by the tired tautologies of the past (“they’d find the water powerful wet”!). To our eyes, it may not be a major conversion, but it smells of wisdom, not magic. And that’s good news.


  1. There are many editions of VDT available, which becomes problematic for referencing. There is even a textual issue concerning the conclusion of Chapter 12 (original British edition vs. Lewis’s revised American edition), but that does not concern this paper. The edition (and pagination) being used here is that of HarperCollins (re-released 2005).
  2. Scheduled for release on Dec 10, 2010 in Canada and the U.S.
  3. Peter J. Schakel, Reading with the Heart: The Way into Narnia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979) 49–50.
  4. Schakel, The Way into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 60.
  5. Donald Glover, C.S. Lewis: The Art of Enchantment (Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1981), 151.
  6. Colin Manlove, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Patterning of a Fantastic World (New York: Twayne, 1993), 57–64.
  7. Doris T. Myers, “Growing in Grace: The Anglican Spiritual Style in the Narnia Chronicles,” in The Pilgrim’s Guide: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, ed. David Mills (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 190.
  8. Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  9. Contra Myers, “Growing in Grace,” 193, who, surprisingly but not, to my mind, convincingly, prefers to locate the sacraments elsewhere (namely, the initial arrival in Narnia in the sea, and the Lamb’s Breakfast).
  10. Some of this vision of VDT is being presented in a series of popular articles (“Treading the Dawn,” MB Herald, Aug through Nov 2010). The overall thrust of these articles is that just as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is reminiscent of the Gospels, VDT is reminiscent of the Book of Acts, and the subsequent spiritual journey of the church.
  11. Cf. Thomas Howard, Narnia & Beyond: A Guide to the Fiction of C.S. Lewis (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2006), 34–5.
  12. For example, in a letter written to a class of American elementary students, dated May 29, 1954. See C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children (New York: Macmillan, 1985), 44–5.
  13. Marvin Hinten, The Keys to the Chronicles: Unlocking the Symbols of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005) provides the most thorough guide to literary allusion in the Chronicles, although his chief purpose is simply to identify them, not explore their significance.
  14. We use this name for this race of creatures, since “Monopod” properly only applies to the form of their recent magical “uglification” (as they term it), and “Dufflepud” is derivative of the two.
  15. Pliny, Nat. Hist. 7.23.
  16. VTL, 66. Compare Pliny, directly following the above quotation: “and again westward from these there are some people without necks, having their eyes in their shoulders,” Nat. Hist. 7.23.
  17. Cf. Hinten, 41.
  18. Here Hinten, 42, falls prey to this problem of trying to identify the referents too specifically.
  19. Michael Ward, Planet Narnia, (Oxford: University Press, 2008), 118.
  20. The word xulon also includes the senses “wood” and “club”; all three Synoptic gospels record Jesus’ words at his arrest: “Have you come out with swords and xulon clubs to arrest me?”—two of the words Lewis uses for his spell of refreshment.
  21. E.g., in “Answers to Questions on Christianity,” in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 61–2.
  22. Indeed, I might also argue that there is a secondary dimension to these four images which evokes Eden imagery: “tree” and “sword” both recall Gen 2–3; the living and thirst-quenching waters of the Garden of God are contained by the cup (cf. Rev 22:1–2, 17). The “green hill” is used several times by Lewis in the Chronicles as paradisiacal image: the northern walled garden in The Magician’s Nephew, and (closer to our study) the supernaturally green heights of the mountains in Aslan’s Country in VDT. And in the biblical usage of these two sets of images, Paradise and Passion, the latter is the way to recover the former. The Book of Revelation, the most symbolic work in the New Testament, consistently centers its climactic images of Paradise around “the Lamb,” i.e., the slain Messiah.
  23. The intertextuality between VDT chapters 9–11 and The Tempest have been noted by many, but not, I believe, sufficiently explored. For example, Hinten (40f.) notes four points of contact, without comment. Here is a more complete list:
    1. a powerful magician is exiled to an island
    2. it is a magical island where voices sound out of thin air
    3. the magician has non-human beings as servants
    4. the servant accuses his magician master of cruelty and exploitation
    5. the servant seeks to enlist others, washed up on the island, against the magician
    6. the books of the magician are central to his art
    7. the magician’s servant is at one point made invisible (I.2.301–303)
    8. the magician affirms that he treats his servants with kindness, not cruelty (as they— both Caliban and Duffers—allege)
    9. Further motifs shared by the two stories:
    10. setting: “this short-grass’d green” (IV.1.83), “before them there were level lawns in which the grass was . . . smooth and short” (141)
    11. Prospero accuses the usurper Antonio of what the Duffers accuse Coriakin: changing the nature of his subjects: “new created / the creatures that were mine, I say, or changed ‘em, / or else new form’d ‘em” (I.2.81–83).
    12. Prospero meets “enemies” who can undo the misfortune of his present situation, as also the Duffers: “By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune, / (now my dear lady) hath mine enemies / brought to this shore;” (I.2.179–80); significantly, this fate depends upon “a most auspicious star” (l. 182); Coriakin himself is the star upon whom the Duffers’ fate depends.
    13. The speech of the monster Caliban is to “gabble like / a thing most brutish” (I.2.356–57) before being taught proper human speech; the Duffers are insufferable with their incessant jabber.
    14. The alien non-human is compared (implicitly in VDT, via the allusion to Pliny) to foreigners from India (II.2.58).
    15. Conclusion: a ship is magically restored.

    It is a striking coincidence that a big screen version of The Tempest is being released in theatres the same day as VDT.

  24. See any standard commentary on Deuteronomy for the details; e.g., D. Christensen, Deuteronomy (2 vols.), WBC (1991, 2002). For a review of the textual and theological issues, see Michael Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God.” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (2001): 52–74.
  25. By “liberal,” Lewis means both generous and broad-minded (as in “the liberal arts”). Studies in Words (Cambridge: University Press, 1967), 126ff; cf. Ward, Planet Narnia, 112–13.
  26. C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: University Press, 1967) 106. Note that it is the Philosopher’s Stone that is said to have the power to turn common items into gold.
  27. Ward, 112.
  28. Omer Englebert, St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1965), 177.
  29. Paradise XI.103–104. Trans. here and following by Dorothy L. Sayers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962).
  30. VDT,175.
  31. Sayers, 154.
  32. Note again that the specific geographical reference is to the Ganges, the river of India, just as Shakespeare refers to the “men of Ind” and Pliny to “India and parts of Ethiopia.” The consistency of reference is striking: the Duffers become the quintessential “other.” And Lewis’s portrayal of them, while clearly designed for comic relief within a children’s story, has perhaps a touch of meanness to it. For the word “duffer,” along with its general meaning of “a stupid or foolish person,” has another (and earlier) nuance, which Lewis the English scholar would no doubt have known: “one who sells trashy goods as valuable, upon false pretences, e.g. pretending that they are smuggled or stolen, and offered as bargains” (Oxford English Dictionary; first attested with this sense in 1756. The general meaning, considered colloquial, is first attested in 1842.) There is no overt evidence of this meaning within VDT, to be sure, but contemporary readers should rightly cringe to hear such a stereotype assigned to characters also connected by allusion to “oriental pagans.” Post-colonialist critics can duly take Lewis to task here, as does Maria Cecire in Medievalism, Popular Culture, and Identity Formation: Nationalism in a Globalizing World [PDF]. 2009 [cited 24 June 2010], 13–14. (Available from, and also published in Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 9, no. 3 [2009]: 395–409.)
  33. For a more in-depth treatment of both themes, see articles “Magic, Magician” and “Mythology, Mythological” in Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005).
  34. Schakel, Way into Narnia, 65.
  35. I point out one more faint but suggestive echo of Shakespeare’s Tempest here: the most prominent servant, the one who obeys the Magician fully, is Ariel—“Lion of God.”
  36. C.S. Lewis, “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought,” in Present Concerns: Ethical Essays, ed. Walter Hooper (Glasgow: Collins, 1986).
  37. Ibid., 61.
  38. Ibid., 66.
  39. Ward, Planet Narnia, 112.
Randy Klassen is Instructor in Biblical Studies at Bethany College, Hepburn, Saskatchewan. A graduate of Mennonite Brethren Bible College (1984) and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (1992), he has taught at Bethany College since 2002. His ministry passion is to encourage an integrated understanding of God’s world and God’s word. He has enjoyed, and been shaped by, the mythopoeic stories of Lewis and Tolkien since childhood, and has always incorporated at least one of their works in his “Literature and Faith” class.

Previous | Next