Nightmares of Narnia – A Suffering Epistle

Content notice: description of torture and murder of anthropomorphized animals

I tend to dream vividly, often in rich detail. Sometimes, my dreams are delightful, affirming, empowering. Most of the time, they’re strange and disjointed. And occasionally, they are truly horrific. Last night’s dream fell into the third category. For context, I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory fantasy series. Narnia was a land populated most notably by talking animals and fantasy creatures, a reflection of sorts on our world. 

Lewis’ Christ figure, a lion named Aslan, was crucial in shaping my concept of God. Through Aslan, I learned that God was strong but gentle, nurturing, and self-sacrificial (for example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan allows himself to be killed by the evil White Witch to save a human child who had betrayed him). 

In some ways, it was easier for me to connect with Aslan than with Jesus or ‘God,’ who seemed so abstract. As a child, I used to dream that I could visit with Aslan in a corridor between the world of Narnia and my own world. I tried to hold onto my time there with the bittersweet understanding that I would someday become too old to visit him there–in the books, the main human characters eventually ‘age out’ of being able to visit Narnia, instead charged with taking what they have learned into their own world. Oftentimes, I feel like one of those children who have aged out. I don’t connect so easily with the wonder of Narnia anymore, but I try to carry its lessons with me. 

Last night, I dreamed of Narnia for the first time in years. I dreamed that I was watching Aslan die again. As in the book, I watched the White Witch have him bound, tortured, and shamed, his mane shorn off. This time, however, he also had to watch, powerless, while the Witch had several smaller animals executed. A weasel was beheaded. A badger was drowned. Their corpses were thrown away. And Aslan wasn’t stoically silent this time; he wailed and cried, protesting the murder of these innocent creatures even as dogs tore at his own flesh. I woke up, heart pounding, right after the Witch had finally done her part and stabbed him to death. 

In the book, Aslan rises from the dead the morning after his death, vindicated by his sacrifice and prepared to defeat the Witch and her armies. I didn’t get to see that in my dream last night. Instead, I saw the depth of his despair, his powerlessness, the raw terror that I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle seeing as a young child. 

I wonder why my mind shuffled through my experiences and brought back Narnia last night. Perhaps it’s secondhand horror from the deaths of so many innocent people at the hands of a white supremacist gunman in El Paso last week (how interesting that Aslan’s killer, who orchestrates so many deaths, is called the White Witch). Perhaps I needed my heart to catch up with my intellectual belief that God understands our suffering. Knowing that Aslan could do nothing but cry in that moment as he watched his loved ones die made the torture so much more severe. I was frozen too. Perhaps I fear that loss of power. Perhaps I’m not sure whether “God is in control” is anything more than a platitude. Perhaps I’m being called to intervene somehow, or even just to let myself feel. I don’t know. I hope I’ll dream of resurrection tonight. For now, I’m just sharing my dream with you.