Saint John Chrysostom asks parents to tell their children stories relating to the Scriptures, "for thou art raising a philosopher and athlete and citizen of Heaven". (On Vainglory & The Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, #39)
The story of The Magician's Nephew tells the story about the creation of Narnia and is probably my personal favorite of the Narnia series. C.S. Lewis does a beautiful job of mirroring the story of Creation in Genesis with the creation of the beloved world of Narnia.
After reading the story, we can continue on our Narnia journey with some further contemplation about the story. These connections can be done with any age group - going into less detail with elementary age children and more detail with high school children.
Lesson Outline for The Magician's Nephew:
Worship: (attending and participation in services)
- When do we read Genesis during the ecclesiastical year? (Found in the footnotes of the Orthodox Study Bible in Genesis)
- Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible..." (Discuss meaning)
Formal Learning: (expanding our knowledge about Christ)
- Read/listen to the story
- Correlation between the story and Creation and the Garden of Eden. Where are they found in the Bible? (Creation: Genesis 1 - 2:7, Garden of Eden: Genesis 2:8 - 3:24)
- Who wrote Genesis? (Moses)
- C.S. Lewis illustrates the Holy Trinity creating Narnia. Who does Aslan represent? (Christ) How is the Trinity represented in the book? (Father - Creator of all things, Christ - the Word, Logos is the speaking Lion, Holy Spirit - breathing on the animals)
Praxis: (living our faith in our daily lives)
- Living in God's Creation - What does this mean to us in our daily living?
- Why are we more than just a steward of the earth? (Steward: a person who manages another's property.) Read "Living in God's Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology" by Elizabeth Theokritoff
Bible: Creation (Genesis 1 - 2:7)
C.S. Lewis closely ties the creation of Narnia with Creation in Genesis. In Chapter 8, The Fight at the Lamp-post, Digory, Polly, Uncle Andrew, the Witch (Queen Jadis), the Cabby, and Strawberry have just entered Narnia for the first time but it's completely dark and they are trying to figure out where they are at.
"But why's it so dark? I say, do you think we got into the wrong pool?"
"Perhaps this is Charn," said Digory. "Only we've got back in the middle of the night."
"This is not Charn," came the Witch's voice. "This is an empty world. This is Nothing."
This correlates to 2 Macc 7:28: "I beseech you, my child, to look at heaven and earth and see everything in them, and know that God made them out of nothing; so also He made the race of man in this way."
and to Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God made heaven and earth. The earth was invisible and unfinished; and darkness was over the deep."
In chapter 9, The Founding of Narnia, we read,
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer...Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were, 'Trees!' he exclaimed.
Lewis correlates this passage of the book to Genesis 1: 11-12: "Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth the herb of grass, bearing seed according to its kind on earth.' Let the fruit tree bear fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind on earth."
Later, in this chapter, we read:
Can you imagine a stretch of grassy land bubbling like water in a pot? For that is really the best description of what was happening. In all directions it was swelling into humps. They were of very different sizes, some no bigger than mole-hills, some as big as wheelbarrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps moved and swelled till they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal.
In Genesis 1: 24-25, we read, "Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures..."
A little further into chapter 9 of The Magician's Nephew, we read:
And now, for the first time, the Lion was quite silent. He was going to and fro among the animals. And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his. He would touch two beavers among all the beavers, two leopards among all the leopards, one stage and one deer among all the deer, and leave the rest. Some sorts of animal he passed over altogether. But the pairs which he had touched instantly left their own kinds and followed him. The others whom he had not touched began to wander away...The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees.
In the footnotes of The Orthodox Study in Genesis 2:7, it says, "God formed Adam's body out of dust from the ground. The breath of life is the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life (the Creed). God breathed the breath of life into man's body, and he became a living soul..."
Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children's bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: "Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters."
C.S. Lewis makes a distinction between the talking animals and the non-talking animals. The animals that had rational thought and the ones that did not.
Elizabeth Theokritoff elaborates on this in Living in God's Creation, "Our rationality, then, does not serve to separate us from the rest of creation; it is given to us for the sake of all creation, to enable us to make the connection between it and its Creator."
Bible: Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8 - 3:24)
In chapter 11, we see the correlation between Lewis' story and the Garden of Eden in Genesis. We read:
"Please - Mr. Lion - Aslan - Sir," said Digory, "could you - may I - please, will you give me some magic fruit of this country to make Mother well?"
In chapter 12, we read:
The Witch whom you have brought into this world will come back to Narnia again but it need not be yet. It is my wish to plant in Narnia a tree that she will not dare to approach, and that tree will protect Narnia from her for many years...You must get me the seed from which that tree is to grow....On the top of that hill there is a garden. In the center of that garden is a tree. Pluck an apple from that tree and bring it back to me.
When Digory arrives at the garden by way of Aslan's instructions, he comes to a gate which tells him to only come into the garden via the golden gate and to only take an apple for someone else, but not for himself. Here, Lewis, is illustrating the Garden of Eden as we read:
He knew which was the right tree at once, partly because it stood in the very center and partly because the great silver apples with which it was loaded shone so and cast a light of their own down on the shadowy places where the sunlight did not reach. He walked straight across to it, picked an apple, and put it in the breast pocket of his Norfolk jacket.
Digory contemplates taking a bite of the apple after smelling it, just before putting it in his pocket. He ultimately does not take a bite of it but shortly after this, he sees that Queen Jadis has obviously climbed over the wall of the garden instead of entering through the gates and has eaten one of the apples in the garden. The story goes on to talk about the impact this has on the Witch.
Digory returns to Aslan with an apple from this special garden and it is planted in Narnia for protection from the Witch. Later, it is through the fruit of this tree that Digory is gifted an apple that heals his mom and the seeds of this apple grow into a beautiful apple tree that later becomes the wardrobe by which the children enter Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Elizabeth Theokritoff writes in Living in God's Creation:
As we have seen already, man is created as a king, and paradise is planted to be his paradise; but at the same time, he is given certain commandments. The effect of this is that his rule is immediately defined as what we have called a constitutional monarchy, with the Creator writing the constitution. The commands about what to eat and what not to eat remind man that he too has a Lord, as Irenaeus makes clear. Chrysostom interprets "watching over" or "keeping" the garden in a similar sense. In each case, the commandment reminds man that his relationship with the created world always involves a third party - God who is the Creator of both. It would be a mistake to see the commandments primarily as a restriction on man's use of the world, or even as a charter for "stewardship" rather than "ownership." The prime function of the original commandments was to teach man what his use of creation is meant to be: a constant remembrance of God.
Man's Relationship with Animals
There are numerous accounts of saints who are able to interact with wild animals as if they were tamed pets. For me personally, Elizabeth Theokritoff offers an illuminating explanation for this:
Some of the Fathers describe Adam's ignominious departure from paradise in terms that can only recall the political realities of the Byzantine empire. It has been said that the people of the empire had a "constitutional right of revolution": if an emperor became a tyrant, he forfeited his legitimacy and could expect his subjects to revolt. So it was when Adam disobeyed the King above: the whole creation rose up against him, "no longer wishing to be obedient to the transgressor." The wild beasts turned hostile, the earth was unwilling to feed him and the sky was barely persuaded not to fall and crush him. At God's command, a degree of order is soon restored, sufficient for humans to survive. But the new order makes life sufficiently difficult that humans notice what they have lost. This image makes it very clear that non-human creation has never deviated from serving God. The "curse" very clearly refers to the character of the earth in relation to man; in the first instance, it is a curse on the soil as man tills it. The earth does not cease to serve God faithfully; but its "obedience" now is not to make life pleasant for man, but to make it difficult. The only suggestion that other creatures somehow participate in man's disobedience has to do with predators: we sometimes meet the idea that they have joined man in transgression, taking advantage of the concession allowed to man when he was given flesh to eat after the Flood.
She is explaining that the wild animals - whether the stories about the saints are referring to lions, bears, or other animals - the animals see the saint's transformation. They recognize that the saint is radiating the light of God.
Theokritoff goes on to say later in the book: (emphasis below is mine)
In the visual language of the icon, light plays a key role in conveying this grounding of creation in its Creator. The saint and the things around him do not cast any shadow. There is nothing to suggest an external light source; everything is illumined from within by the divine light.