The Importance of Aslan
Going through some kind of doorway into another world was just the beginning of the journey for the Pevensies in Narnia, as it is for the reader. Carefully chosen familiar objects, places or mechanisms for making the transition to a Dantean universe were important, as they presented the case that the world in which we live, the so-called ‘ordinary’ world, was not ordinary at all: that common objects, places or devices contained unexpected surprises. But the surprise, though wonderful in itself, could not of itself sustain the profound spiritual effect which was Lewis’s main aim. He needed something else, or Someone Else, to drive the point home fully.
In the mediaeval Dantean world, it was of course God who existed at the centre of all things. This was an established fact in Dante’s time, both theologically and in the minds of his audience; God was part of the woof and warp of the society in which the poet lived. By Lewis’s time, as he was well aware, this was no longer the case: God had effectively disappeared from the cultural scene. By the mid-Twentieth Century, literature had taken a distinctly modern turn: nihilism and spiritual emptiness were the key themes; humanity had turned in upon itself and had become far more orientated to the material world than Dante would have believed. To prise the attention away from that perception of reality and place it on a higher plane, a spiritual plane which the culture was in the process of rejecting utterly, gave Lewis his particular challenge.
Essentially, this is one reason for Aslan: Lewis needed to introduce a God-like figure within the context of the new world he had created without triggering off the cultural bias against the Christian God which had grown up around him. He needed a figure who had supreme control of events and of nature itself, someone whose importance was both to do with power and with meaning, but without using traditional imagery. In effect, Lewis had to ‘re-invent God’ for Twentieth Century children.
That is why the first couple of mentions of Aslan in the first Narnia story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are so important: having shifted his protagonists into the new world-framework through the familiar object of a wardrobe which turns out to be a gateway to Narnia, Lewis must begin to subtly point to the thing which will bring about the full transformation he is after. The Pevensie children, lost in the snowy woods, encounter a talking beaver who adopts a conspiratorial tone with them:
Then signalling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, it added in a low whisper -