It is often the folly of present generations to read into ancient texts a meaning and a narrative that was not intended by the original author. Likewise, it is sometimes an easy exercise to find “proof texts” for a favorite theory or academic lens by cutting, pasting, and manhandling a text into a neat pigeonhole in order to make a certain person or their work coincide with something quite contrary to the original meaning. And it seems, the more famous a text or an author is, the more their work is re-appropriated in new and twisted ways. In this way I often feel sorry for C. S. Lewis, particularly concerning his series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Very often, these children’s stories are mined ad nauseam for theological insights and are often overplayed in many ways that may make Lewis scratch his head in wonder.

However, at the risk of mutilating these beloved stories in fresh ways, it may be interesting to point out some shades of theology that seem to appear in the series, particularly in the last book, The Last Battle. I doubt that Lewis was interested in weaving the theory of Chaoskampf into his children’s stories about a fantasy world, however I have found interesting parallels that are worth mentioning, even if they are devoid of an argument. And so, without further ado, let us begin with the end of Narnia, as described in The Last Battle.

For those familiar with the beloved The Chronicles of Narnia series, the final book, The Last Battle, is fraught with apocalyptic imagery that seems to weave St. John’s Revelation into a world where the fascinating already occurs on a daily basis. The other six books in the series are fairly straightforward, and the theological thrusts of the storyline are often overtly simple, almost as if the stories were written for children. However, The Last Battle takes a distinctly weird (and slightly darker) turn in which the very soul of Narnia is up for grabs, evil takes on the shape of foreign gods come to life, shades move in the darkness, and often, our heroes glimpse things as through a mirror darkly, hiding just outside the flickering light of dying campfires. Even the presence of Aslan is mysterious and brooding, nothing like his presence in the last six books.

And then, when it seems that all of Narnia is lost and that the god Tash reigns supreme, the stable door opens into further darkness, our heroes are plunged inside, and the end of Narnia occurs in portraits of confusion and doom. Aslan greets them in the dark stable turned bright new Narnia, and all the heroes of all the ages past (read, all the previous books) stand together looking out on a Narnia who has lost her soul. With a roar Aslan signals the end, and Father Time calls the stars home. They fall and rush to their creator, and darkness envelops Narnia, but for the blazing light of all the stars of the heavens shining through the stable door. Aslan then proceeds to call every creature to the stable door, and the great winnowing of Narnia and the surrounding countries begins. This event is the goats and sheep parable lived out as the “good” animals rush through the stable door, while the “bad” creatures lose their souls and wander back into the darkness. Lewis makes the interesting comment here that, “The children never saw [those animals] again. I don’t know what became of them”.[1]

Then great dragons, lizards, and all manner of grotesque beasts are loosed upon Narnia, and they consume everything (one wonders if they consumed the “fallen” animals as well, but alas, Lewis is silent on this point). Before long (although the children admit that time is relative at this point) Narnia is left barren and wasted. Even the beasts themselves lay down, die, and decay, until nothing is left of them but twisted skeletons. At this point Narnia exists only as the barren ground it started out as, back in The Magician’s Nephew.[2] And then, far off, a great wave, bigger than anything the children have encountered before, rushes across the land, swallowing everything. Narnia and all lands are consumed by an ocean no longer restrained to its domain. And as a final act, the sun and moon merge together and are extinguished. Immediately as their combined light goes out, the unrestrained ocean becomes frigid, freezing over, and the door is closed to the old Narnia, forever swallowed up in the frozen chaos of the end. (One also must wonder what happened to Father Time, left in the frozen waste as the door closed, but his tale ends there, never to be resolved.)

There are, in this telling of the end of Narnia, interesting connections to the theory of Chaoskampf. The most obvious connection is in the great wave that rushes in on Narnia, signaling the very end of the old country. The wave is described as a “foaming wall of water” which broke upon Narnia with a mighty roar.[3] This water consumes everything and is made up of all the restrained waterways in Narnia, the rivers and the lakes, and it consumes all of Narnia. However, it foams right up to the doorway, indeed to the very feet of Aslan, before finding another line it cannot cross. This recalls the words of God asking Job, “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it bursts out from the womb…[saying] ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’” (Job 38:8, 11). This passage has long been pointed out as a glimpse of the raging chaos coming up against Yahweh, and being subdued for the time being. Yahweh has, in this instance, overcome chaos, and restrained it to pre-ordained boundaries.

Yet as Narnia reaches its end, it seems that chaos is again rising up, perhaps against, Aslan, and it surpasses its boundaries with fresh violence. Lewis does not tell us whether the sea is acting according to Aslan’s will, or is acting of its own accord. Admittedly, it seems that either way it is all working towards the ultimate plans of Aslan. However, it is interesting to note that the sea breaks loose, and as it does so it destroys everything. Chaos comes and swallows up the creation of the Creator. Again, this is reminiscent of the flood narratives from Genesis, where the oceans and waterways are given permission to slip past their boundaries. And when they do, they rush into the world with a violence that destroys everything. In Genesis’ flood narratives, however, the chaos is given one boundary it cannot cross, that of the boat full of life. Here the chaotic sea must pause, for Yahweh has protected it.

It is the same in Narnia. For all its power and fury, the sea finds a boundary it cannot cross. The threshold of the stable is an impassable marker; indeed, the very feet of Aslan serve to stop the mass of chaos from encroaching on the new creation. (It could be argued that this image recalls, rather overtly, the flood narratives, for all inside the stable are saved from the loosed, watery chaos.) In fact, not only is the stable door an impenetrable boundary for chaos, it is ultimately, and finally, cut off from Aslan’s new creation with the closing of the door. The sea will never encroach upon Aslan’s domain again; chaos will never threaten God’s new creation. Proverbs 8:29 speaks of God assigning the sea its limit so that the waters will not transgress the commands of the Almighty. The speaker rejoices that she is able to stand next to God as God delights in binding the chaos. St. John’s Revelation describes a new creation, where the sea is not just bound, but banished all together (Revelation 21:1).

If Narnia, ultimately, is consumed by chaos, it only serves to mirror how the creation was brought into existence. The creation of Narnia is interesting enough to warrant its own reflection, but here it should be briefly mentioned for the chaos that streams through it. In The Magician’s Nephew, the reader is following two accidentally mischievous children, Polly and Digory, who get wrapped up with some faulty magic rings and end up witnessing the destruction of a world. Whether the children are ultimately responsible for the ending of Charn, the great city of the “deplorable world”, or whether they were in the right place at the wrong time is anyone’s guess. But what is not up for debate, is that as chaos consumes and destroys that world, the children unleash a great beast from her sleep, the Queen of Charn. She is the very incarnation of chaos, reveling in the destruction and death of life, and watching with magical instability as her world is overwhelmed by her evil.

The children, again, accidentally drag Queen Jadis out of her world of chaos, where chaos has clearly won and reigns supreme, through our world, a world where chaos and Yahweh still struggle together, and into a brand new world, one completely devoid of chaos, Narnia. Again the children find themselves in the right place at the wrong time, and realize their mistake almost immediately. Even as Aslan walks around giving life to this barren land (a complete reversal from the end of Narnia), the Queen’s chaos seeps into the ground and she flees to the mountains, where we learn in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she has misused her magic to create legions of deformed creations to overwhelm Aslan’s army. Aslan finishes his creation and is immediately dismayed to know that before it is even fully formed, chaos has manifested itself, interestingly enough, through Polly and Digory. What makes this noteworthy is that the chaos introduced by children will ultimately lead to the showdown between Aslan and Queen Jadis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and will be the death of both Aslan and Jadis, only for Aslan to be resurrected. In Lewis’ retelling of the chaos myth, the Chaoskampf is not an eternal struggle, but a very temporal one, with a definite beginning and ending.

Finally, it is worth noting that chaos frequently surfaces in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the heroes find themselves on a quest to the literal end of the world, by way of a sea voyage. Various adventures take place along the way, but a very real character throughout the books is the sea itself. It is a topic of much conversation (and understandably so) and it often is seen working against our heroes and their quest. Storms rage about the Dawn Treader, monsters creep over, under, and around the ship, and a continued sense of foreboding seeps through the book because of the sea. Lewis seems to take for granted the primitive human fear of the sea as an agent of chaos, and echoes that throughout the book. The children, it seems, are traveling through the very abode of chaos, and it prepares to give them the ultimate test.

Ultimately, chaos rears its head as the sea presents what could be considered the hardest challenge for the crew of the Dawn Treader, the Dark Island. This name is given to a location in the sea not marked by an actual island, but rather marked by the complete absence of light. In this sea, chaos does not present itself in the typical storm of destruction, but by seeping into the minds of the crew and driving them insane.[4] Presented to each person is their greatest dream, and for several minutes it seems that the crew will be lost to insanity and consumed by chaos itself. Indeed, it is a “storm” that the Dawn Treader cannot weather, and all hope is lost. Only through the prayers of Lucy, to Aslan, is the chaos overturned and light restored to the ship.

Of course, to be completely fair to C. S. Lewis and his theological project masqueraded as children’s stories, this whole theory of Chaoskampf must be tempered by a delightful antidote found in the conclusions of Prince Caspian. In an unusual twist of literary convergences, C. S. Lewis introduces several new characters to The Chronicles of Narnia, seemingly lifted right off the pages of Roman mythology, namely Bacchus, god of the grape harvest and the “good times” which follow the fermentation of said grapes, and the great river god. In a series of short vignettes, which smack of the elusive bene ha-elohim stories from the Hebrew Bible, two demi-gods are introduced into the story to propel the action to its final conclusions. While there is not time to discuss the introduction of Bacchus, an interesting choice for a children’s story, or even to discuss what the ramifications are of introducing demi-gods, or even Roman mythology into the narratives, it is good to highlight the inclusion of the great river god.

This god of the river Beruna reveals himself as a giant, aged man, to Aslan as he races through Narnia, undoing the technological achievements of man, which have worked against Aslan’s creation.[5] The river god begs to be loosed of his chains, by which the children (and Bacchus) assume to be the great bridge that spans the river. At the permission of Aslan Bacchus destroys the bridge in revelry, a party is begun, and the whole mess of Narnians, children, and mythological beings begin wading through the “freed” waters. It is a quick vignette, and we never hear from or see the river god again. However, it is worth noting that the manifestation of the waters that would later consume and destroy Narnia, are in fact subservient to Aslan. Furthermore, the river could not free itself from the bridge, but required permission and help from other gods before doing so. And so, without meaning to, Lewis breaks from the mold again, and lashes out against Chaoskampf, placing all creation firmly under the feet of Aslan. Even demi-gods and chaos must ask permission before anything can become accomplished.

These are several examples from The Chronicles of Narnia, where the story and chaos theory seem to align fairly well. It is most likely not the intent of C. S. Lewis to reflect on, and make a theological statement about chaos theory through these stories. It is worth noting, however, the different shades of meaning that could be implied at various points, as Lewis’ children’s stories continue to entertain, enlighten, and challenge new generations of believers.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers), 751.

[2] Ibid, 62.

[3] Ibid, 752.

[4] Ibid, 510.

[5] Ibid, 407.