Medieval themes and archetypes in the chronicles of Narnia

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Humankind has employed the use of artistic expression from prehistoric times to medieval eras with different trends. One trend though that has remained in all artistic expressions in the content is symbolism. Symbolism comprises of the artistic style used in the arts. During art history, it was a single creative movement as well. The incorporation of specific symbols, shapes, colors, or identifiable images that communicate to the viewer an intended message or statement (MacBean 2013). Religious symbolism formed the necessary foundation and most common form of signifying art in history. Salvation and Damnation is another theme, which transited during medieval period between 5th

to 15th centuries. During this period, there was significant conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant church. Most forms of art such as music, dance, and painting had an orientation of addressing religious subjects and sought to draw people’s attention to their relationship with God or gods as perceived in the Middle East countries. The medieval art during this period had had significant movements, which also transformed the artists. Artists had to become innovative, learn to capture people’s attention through remaining relevant and produce challenging works to attract sponsors and affluent buyers.

Chronicles of Narnia

 Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis is a seven book Novel series of children literature which carries significant themes and archetypes for the whole medieval period. The classical piece of writing uses magic and imagination to draw the attention of its child audience and readers across all ages. The captivating series follows the birth of Narnia, an imaginary land, and four siblings of the Pevensie family.  Lewis takes the ready through the journey of Narnia’s birth to the moment of its evil destruction in the Last Battle. The four siblings come from a real world and magically transported to Narnia, the fictional world ruled by Aslan the mighty Lion. Aslan asks the siblings to help save Narnia from destruction by evil forces in the land, granting it its rebirth. It also follows around a white witch whose aim is to enslave trespassers from another world. The book series written during World War II explores various themes, which were rampant during the medieval period. Morality, religion, temptation, faith, courage, and cowardice make up the central themes in the novel series.

Themes and archetypes during the medieval period

Throughout the series of books, it is easier to point out the subject of good versus evil. Lewis brings out the theme through his characters. Commenting on the book, Jonathan (2003) explains that in tradition fantasies such as emulated in the medieval period capitalized on the theme of good versus evil (Jonathan 1). Through the actors’ actions, it is easier for a reader to distinguish between good and evil characters.  The author uses various characters’ personality choices to paint out his theme. For instance, in the novel, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the white witch is portrayed as the evil and greedy ruler of Narnia who had the world trapped in the snow while suppressing everyone living there. The witch kills any inhabitant who is against her. On the other side, Aslan is the honorable and generous king of Narnia. Mr. Beaver explains to the Edmund and his siblings that Aslan’s return to Narnia meant the end of sorrow and freedom for Mr. Tumnus.

In the series the magicians’ Nephew, Queen Jadis brings out as an evil character. She curses her sister for failing to yield her the throne. She utters words of curses to her sister. Uncle Andrew, another character in the novel is portrayed as evil, having uttered the same words Queen Jadis uttered to her sister. The idea of evil has a wide coverage of scholars reflecting this period including having got from the Hindu culture described as crushing ignorance as presented by the image as evil under his who look up voluntarily at the god (Srinivasan 437).  At the time Jadis deserts the world to Digory’s world, a picture is given of her looking back at the city in which she caused trouble before running away from it. In chapter ten of the same title, Aslan the great Lion comes out as the savior of the people of Narnia. He gives the inhabitants of the world everything they wanted. The lion assures them happiness, laughter, trees, fruits, rivers, and beasts and asks them to take good care of them. In the Last Battle title, the children elucidate a good character. They rescue king Rilian from the Witch bringing him home. The author brings out the Calormenes and the Ape in a negative way giving them an evil personality of liars.  At the end of Lewis’s series, good overcomes evil. The good characters dethrone evil ones, granting the creatures their freedom.

Another theme explored by Lewis is a temptation. The temptation happens to various characters and how they choose to overcome them, marks them as Lewis’s heroes in his chronicles. Edmund falls into the White Witch’s temptation to betray his siblings. Oblivious to the witch’s evil acts, the witch convinces Edmund that he will inherit the throne of Narnia, only if he goes back to his world and comes along with his siblings. The queen lures him to believe that he will offer him goodies if he does not come clear to his siblings about his encounter with the queen. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children, is tempted to recite a spell that changes her to be beautiful. However, she falls into the temptation of a spell that gives her power to eavesdrop on others. Another instance of temptation is in the Magicians’ nephew series.

Digory faces the temptation of ringing the bell to awaken the witch. However, his friend Polly talks him out of it. Digory moves on with the desire to know what would have happened had he struck the bell. The results emanate as a surprised joy, a situation supported by ancient schola Herrick Jennings who argues that Lewis capitalized with the stories of ‘Elfland’ or surprised by pleasure (Jennings 6). In chapter thirteen of the same series, Digory faces the temptation of appetite while plucking the apples. He longed to taste the fruit and even take one to her sickling mother. However, the conscience of eating the fruit gave him satisfaction but tagged despair along overwhelmed him. He chose to obey the rule of not eating the fruit. Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb face the temptation of stepping into the city of Harfang for the autumn feast. The desire for hot baths, soft beds and warm meals lure them into the willingness to step into Harfang.  Little did they know that She of the Green Kirtle sent them to be eaten as a main course.

Lewis’ main theme is a religion all through the first to the last novel in the series. He explores the issue of creation, resurrection, restoration of true religion, issues tackled with modern day Christianity. In the Magician's Nephew, the author gives an account of how evil entered into the world of Narnia through Queen Jadis. He states that evil entered in the world of Narnia barely five hours after its creation. The author also explores the creation of Narnia and how Aslan, restored its peace and freedom. Aslan is termed as the Lion throughout the novel who comes to save Narnia from the evil white witch. Aslan is the literary figure of Christ, who Christians refer to as the lion of Judah who saves the world. Aslan is central to the salvation of Narnia the same way Christ is the center of Christina faith. In the Last Battle, the Ape pretends to be a lion by putting on Lion’s skin a symbol of the antichrist who pretends to be Christ. In his book The Horse and His Boy, Lewis chronicles the issue of conversion by the encounter of Shasta and Aslan the Lion who protects and comforts him. Shasta realizes Lion’s radiance and revers him. He finally gets converted and becomes Aslan’s faithful servant.

In medieval literature, the primary archetypes used are heroes, the innocent and the villain. The hero is often the main character and protagonist in a novel. In Chronicles of Narnia, the hero is Aslan, whose goal is to free Narnia and its creation from the evil brought about by Queen Jadis. For instance, Sir Gawain is a hero known for his bravery and integrity. In the Harry Potter Series, Rowling's paints Harry Porter, the main character as a hero who wants to save everybody from evil. The author believed in universal and innate moral with much of what he reflects in his writings highlighting on feminine spiritual heroism (Mark Kane, 21). The aspect of heroism came out of the struggles with different religions as they moved to please their followers and gods.  For example, in the Christianity religion, the church contained teachings of a high cycle that involved the life of the Virgin Mary and the ministry of Jesus Christ since his infancy period.


In conclusion, there are central themes and archetypes which transpired during medieval period as recorded by Lewis in his seven novels chronology. When writing to children, the author uses magic and imagination to draw the attention of its child audience and readers across all ages. During this period, both literature and art moved to please the wealthy people and had to carry themes relevant to the period. Cultures shaped the artistic designs during the Medieval period as the case for Christian and Hinduism culture which dictated the form of artwork to have in their professed religion. The incorporation of specific symbols, shapes, colors, or identifiable images that communicated to the viewer an intended message or statement. Religion issues emanated as the significant concern hence themes such as spiritual heroism and the struggle between good and evil.

Works cited

Barron, W. R. J. (Ed.). (1998). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Manchester University Press.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Chronicles of Narnia (adult). Harper Collins, 2001.

Jennings, Heather Herrick. "Visions/Versions of the Medieval in CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia."(2009).

MacBean, A. C. (2013). Art and Symbolism: The Technique of Applying Hidden Meaning and Communicating Specific Ideas Through Art.

Markkanen, Raita. "Feminism and spiritual heroism in The Chronicles of Narnia."(2016).

Pike, Jonathan. "Magic Swords, Mythic Creatures, and Mighty Warriors: Archetypal Patterns in Fantasy Literature."

Srinivasan, Sharada. "Shiva as' cosmic dancer': On Pallava origins for the Nataraja bronze."World

December 12, 2023



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