Monday, July 14, 2008

Medieval Animal Imagery in Lewis' LWW

From the first chapter of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:

"What's that noise?" said Lucy suddenly. It was a far larger house than she had ever been in before and the thought of all those long passages and doors leading into empty rooms was beginning to make her feel a little creepy.

"It's only a bird, silly," said Edmund.

"It's an owl," said Peter. "This is going to be a wonderful place for birds. ... I say, let's go and explore tomorrow. You might find anything in a place like this. Did you see those mountains as we came along? And the woods? There might be eagles. There might be stags. There'll be hawks."

"Badgers!" said Lucy.

"Foxes!" said Edmund.

"Rabbits!" said Susan.

But when next morning came there was a steady rain falling, so thick that when you looked out of the window you could see neither the mountains nor the woods nor even the stream in the garden.

This passage immediately precedes the part where the children begin exploring the house and Lucy finds the Narnian wardrobe for the first time. I think that Lewis uses this short passage to set up his characterization of the four Pevensie children from the very start.

Now that I'm a little more knowledgeable about the use of medieval symbolism (thanks mostly to J.K. Rowling, of all people, by way of John Granger), when I read this passage, something clicks. It may seem insignificant to you, but the animals that the children name give great insight into their characters and personalities as they are revealed throughout the series.

Lewis was a Classical scholar, and I think he has each child mention those particular animals purposefully. For example, Peter, who later becomes the High King of Narnia, mentions creatures that are often seen as noble and wise, and many that are also associated with Christ, like the stag, which is a symbol of the resurrection and the "Tree of Life." And this may be surprising to many, but the badger was considered a typical English symbol of bravery, courage and fierceness in defense, which I think we clearly see in Lucy as she ventures into the unknown with a stout heart and fiercely defends her Narnian experience despite others' doubts.

I won't go into more than that so as not to bore any of our non-literary readers, but I get very excited when I research the animals' symbolism and their respective association with different temperments. Perhaps one day I will actually have the time to write and research this, but for now, it will have to be something on my back burner. I can envision an entire paper just from this passage alone, but I also see possibilities in other Narnian books. I'm not sure if anyone in the academic world has picked up on Lewis' symbolism in this earlier passage, but for now, that research will have to wait. I hope at least someone out there finds this even the most tiny bit as interesting as I do! Thanks for indulging me. :)


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