Narnia could share New Hampshire’s motto: Live Free or Die. C. S. Lewis’s land is a libertarian haven of talking animals and magical creatures. Sure, there are kings and queens, but Narnia’s royals govern more in line with Jefferson than many a democratic state this side of the wardrobe.
The story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of freedom. The White Witch’s icy tyranny is overthrown–Christmas, freedom, and spring return to the land–and all this is faithfully translated to the screen in Disney and Walden Media’s beautifully done movie adaptation. The struggle mirrors the war in the world of men, implicitly in the book and explicitly in the movie. The movie opens with the Nazi bombardment of London. Two wars in two worlds: both worth the sacrifice and fight.
I realize neither the book nor the movie is a policy manual or a political-philosophy tract gussied up with fauns, centaurs, and dwarves. And yet Narnia clearly is a land where freedom is valued and where the good state knows its limits.
Like the book, the movie ends with the daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, now grown into young adulthood, finding their way back to England. In the book, however, we also get a brief taste of how they governed from their thrones at Cair Paravel. First things first: dealing with the holdouts from the White Witch’s regime. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy know an iron fist is necessary to quash insurgents, and “in the end that foul brood was stamped out.”
Once peace has been established, High King Peter and his royal siblings begin to the administer the state: “And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.”
Amen to that. Where do I go to start the Draft Peter Pevensie for President Committee? And with three siblings, there’s good potential for a dynasty.
Their saving “good trees from being unnecessarily cut down” may raise some eyebrows outside of Green circles. Admittedly, development isn’t high on the list of priorities in Narnia. In fact, when the Calormenes invade in the final book of the series, The Last Battle, not least among their sins is chopping down trees. Lewis himself was no fan of development, but we must remember that Narnia has regular trees and spirit-filled trees. It indeed would be murder to kill the latter.
Speaking of Calormenes, they are slavers, and if there’s anything Narnians hate it is slavery. In The Horse and His Boy, an enslaved talking horse and a boy about to be sold into slavery escape north for Narnia. Before they leave Calormen, they meet up with a girl disguised as a boy. Of noble blood, she’s heading north for freedom to avoid a forced marriage.
I especially like the part of liberating young dwarfs and satyrs from school. Nor is this the only dig at the shortcomings of education in the series. When the children are hesitant to believe their sister Lucy’s reports of a world beyond the wardrobe, the Professor mutters, “I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.” There’s a delightful send-up of “progressive” education as well as of regulation and government in The Silver Chair. We are introduced to Experiment House, a co-educational school, “what used to be called a ‘mixed’ school; some said it was not nearly so mixed as the minds of the people who ran it.” An inquiry brings the strange goings on at Experiment House to light, but this isn’t the end for the school’s Head. “After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.”
She wouldn’t have much cared for Narnia, where the state is modest, making good laws, keeping the peace, stopping busybodies, protecting the land and its subjects, and allowing folks to “live and let live.”
Perhaps some will think I’m making too much of this, piling political theory upon a children’s story. But Lewis himself feared the modern state. In an essay that deserves to be better known, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” Lewis argued that the state no longer exists to “protect our rights but to do us good or make us good–anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name ‘leaders’ for those who were once ‘rulers.’ We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, ‘Mind your own business.’ Our whole lives are their business.”
At least in Narnia, the state has its business and the subjects retain theirs.
–R. Andrew Newman is a freelance writer in Nebraska.