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Deep and Deeper Magic: Natural Law and Revelation in Narnia

Deep and Deeper Magic: Natural Law and Revelation in Narnia

I wrote my senior thesis back in college, in large part, on natural law/natural right theory as displayed in the writings of C.S. Lewis. While I covered multiple books and essays—notably, The Abolition of Man, Miracles, and "The Poison of Subjectivism"—I neglected Lewis' works of fiction. Well, today I rectify that oversight.

What Is Natural Law?

A quick primer for those who don't already know: natural law theory, in its various forms, holds that there exists an objective moral order which is rationally discernible. That is to say, there is a real right and wrong, and people can understand the difference through contemplation, experience, etc.

There are vastly different approaches to natural law theory. For example, when I'm being pedantic (which is most of the time), I'll differentiate myself as in line with natural right rather than natural law, because I hold that morality consists in a hierarchy of principles which must be applied by the wise man in concrete situations. Most commonly, natural lawyers (no relation to those with JDs) believe that something like a moral code of laws exists, objectively through time and without changing for cultures. This latter version often coexists in some relationship with divine law, as in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

That relationship is not always an easy one. Does natural law add something that is missing in divine law? Is man capable of moral knowledge apart from revelation? Does God make natural law, or is he answerable to it—or is there a third answer to split the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma?

Deep Magic and Deeper Magic

Anyway, back to Lewis. I watched the new, non-BBC movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the summer after I wrote my thesis. Halfway through, I was practically hopping up and down because I realized Lewis was talking about natural law and these complex ideas in a children's book!

Let's look at the relevant passages and then I'll give my commentary. First up is the scene where the Witch requests an audience with Aslan after Edmund is rescued and reconciled with his siblings:

"Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?" asked the Witch.
"Let us say I have forgotten it," answered Aslan gravely. "Tell us of this Deep Magic."
"Tell you?" said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. "Tell you what is written on the very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill..."

"Fool," said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, "do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says, all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water."
"It is very true," said Aslan. "I do not deny it."
"Oh, Aslan!" whispered Susan in the Lion's ear. "Can't we—I mean, you won't, will you? Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn't there something you can work against it?"
"Work against the Emperor's Magic?" said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia, pp.175–176.

The second passage comes after Lucy and Susan meet the resurrected Aslan:

"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

Ibid., 185.

In the first passage, the White Witch makes clear that there is a just, binding law which is written into the very nature of Narnia—the "deep magic." The relevant aspect of this law is that treachery is condemned, and she has been given the right to kill the traitor as recompense. Aslan, the Christ-figure of the story, does not argue with the Witch's facts or appeal to a separate divine law to override them. When Susan suggests he do just that, he shuts it down; Narnia's natural law is just as much from the Emperor as is Aslan's goodness or power. Furthermore, to violate this law would be to go against the very nature of the Emperor's created world. Narnia would literally cease to exist if the natural law was denied or abrogated.

But then—glory of glories—the Lion triumphs over the Witch because he knows that divine mercy provides a resource to satisfy the requirements of the law and take away the sting of its punishment. The creator of Narnia dies in place of a traitor, fulfilling the law, destroying the Witch's claim, and saving Edmund. The "deeper magic from before the dawn of time," the Narnian proto-evangelion, does not invalidate the deep magic, the natural law, but fulfills it.

Lewis argues, through his construction of Narnia, that the natural law does in fact exist, that right is real and we have each chosen wrong instead. Natural law is accessible to reason; it is written into Narnia itself, legible on the Table and other landmarks. Divine revelation, of which the devilish Witch has no part or knowledge, contains God's plan to reconcile us because of our transgression of the moral law, which is His law whether or not we need revelation to understand it. Revelation and objective morality discovered by reason are not enemies; they are twin streams flowing from the same fountain. Right and justice and duty are of God, just as are mercy, sacrifice, and grace.

And, of course, the genius of all of it is that Lewis wrote this in terms a 10-year-old can understand. Not only is objective morality apprehensible, your kids can understand it in relation to Christian truth!