We’ve all had our share of hard winters, and with the latest polar vortex causing record lows as far south as Hawaii, we may be in for another doozy this year. And even when the weather isn’t cold, shorter days and overcast skies can still take their toll on a person’s spirits, even with holiday cheer to provide light in the darkness. Imagine, though, a winter so severe that it lasts a full century—and a government so evil as to forbid holidays altogether, on pain of a fate worse than death. That’s the nightmarish situation in the land of Narnia when Lucy Pevensie stumbles into it from war-ravaged England through a magic wardrobe in C. S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Jadis, the White Witch, has usurped the Narnian throne and plunged the country into a magical ice age, in which it’s “always winter, but never Christmas.” And preventing Father Christmas himself from entering the country isn’t enough. While Lewis doesn’t reveal much about the laws Jadis has passed (wisely, considering that it’s a children’s book), she does maintain a vast network of spies that includes even trees, and her reaction to stumbling upon a celebration is telling:
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the Witch Queen. Nobody answered.
“Speak, vermin!” she said again. “Or do you want my dwarf to find you a tongue with his whip? What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence? Where did you get all these things?”
“Please, your Majesty,” said the Fox, “we were given them. And if I might make so bold as to drink your Majesty’s very good health—”
“Who gave them to you?” said the Witch.
“F-F-F-Father Christmas,” stammered the Fox.
After a squirrel corroborates the story, the Witch turns the entire party into stone.
But the return of Father Christmas has already proven the prophesied arrival of Lucy and her siblings to be enough to begin destroying the Witch’s power. And it also heralds the arrival of another visitor long absent from Narnia: the great Lion, Aslan, Son of the Emperor-over-Sea and King of all Narnia’s creatures. The Hundred Years of Winter ends with a dramatic shift toward spring as three of the four Pevensie children make their way to the Stone Table to meet Aslan and take their rightful place as the joint human rulers of Narnia.
Still, the end of winter doesn’t mean the end of the Witch. And she already has a hostage: Lucy’s brother Edmund, who now regrets having betrayed his siblings to the Witch. Repentance alone isn’t enough to save him, though, because the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time, which underlies the very fabric of Narnia, requires that every traitor be slain. If Edmund goes free, the Deep Magic, like a self-destruct mechanism, will trigger a cataclysm that will completely destroy Narnia. Yet if Edmund dies, the prophecies regarding the Witch’s death can’t be fulfilled—and the threat of eternal winter and renewed oppression becomes very real.
Now, if The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has any emphasis aside from the Pevensies’ adventures and growth as characters, it’s on the spiritual elements. Lewis’ supposal about Aslan’s identity, on which the book and the whole Chronicles of Narnia series hinge, has been both loved and reviled since the book’s publication in 1950. (Aslan’s not a Christ figure, as would be the case in allegory; he answers the question of what incarnate form Christ would take in a world full of mythical creatures and talking beasts.) But given the state in which we currently find our society, with hysteria over global warming and efforts to eject Christianity from the public sphere, it’s not hard to imagine certain groups on the Left taking “always winter, never Christmas” as their creed. Maybe this Christmas is a good time for us to step through the wardrobe ourselves… and take heart at the idea that even when we can’t see spring’s approach, Aslan’s still on the move.