Happy birthday, C.S. Lewis!
Lewis is the author of one of the most iconic series in literature, the Chronicles of Narnia, with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as the first book in the series. It tells the story of four siblings that discover the magical world of Narnia. They meet friendly fawns and other creatures on their journey, but also encounter dangerous beings such as the White Witch. With the help of the ancient and wise Aslan, the children learn to face their fears and do what’s right. They are soon named Peter the Magnificent, Susan the Gentle, Edmund the Just, and Lucy the Valiant.
To celebrate C.S Lewis’ most recognized characters, we’re exploring their important roles in literature. The Narnia series heavily relies on character tropes that are prominent in literature throughout time. They serve to keep the plot rolling and add some extra twists into the novel. We took some of our favorite characters from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and identified which trope(s) they embody—and the important role they serve in literature.
The archetype of the hero is typically the main character who experiences growth through the story, i.e. the Hero’s Journey. The Hero often exhibits admirable characteristics that the audience can identify with and is the one to defeat the Shadow. In this case, Narnia has four major heroes: the Pevensie siblings. Each sibling goes through their own hero’s journey which develops their character. They show honorable and loving characteristics as they try to free Narnia from the White Witch. In the end, it’s Peter who slays the Shadow and frees Narnia (thanks to the assistance of his siblings).
The figure of the mentor is often as old as the archetype itself. Mentors are often wise men and women who lend advice to the heroes on their journey. They act as a guide to lead our heroes to reach their full potential. In this case, Aslan is the mentor. He is the wise lion who guides the siblings through their journey and helps them grow into their new roles as Kings and Queens. Like many great mentors, once his teaching is through, Aslan leaves the siblings. He trusts that his lessons will guide them into accomplishing their goals and completing the hero’s journey.
Just as the name entails, the Herald is the character who brings about a great change in the story. That great change usually is the instigator for the hero’s journey. A character which fits this archetype perfectly is Lucy. It’s Lucy that crawls through the wardrobe first and discovers Narnia. She wants nothing more than for her siblings to believe her, so she does everything in her power to get them through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Her persistence is the instigator for great change, because after her siblings enter Narnia, they are swept up in a new magical journey.
The most iconic archetype of them all is the Shadow. They are the ones that bring about chaos and challenge the heroes to a fight. There are numerous legendary Shadows from literature, including the White Witch herself. From her fierce fur cloak to her sleigh pulled by polar bears, she instills fear into the hearts of everyone in Narnia. Her mission is to be the sole ruler of Narnia—and she’s willing to kill anyone that gets in her way.
This character is just as tricky as its name—but is an archetype that is used repeatedly. The Shapeshifter is a character that confuses even the hero. Their loyalties are often in question, even to the audience. Are they good? Are they bad? Sometimes they can be misleading, seemingly good when in fact they are actually working for the Shadow. Edmund is a great example of a Shapeshifter. He’s tricked by the White Witch to betray his siblings and can be seen as the bad guy. That is until he betrays the White Witch, turning out to be a good guy all along—it was all because of the Turkish delight.
On their journey, Heroes often encounter many people who become their allies. They assist the heroes on their journey acting as friends, providing helpful support, and even getting the hero out of danger on occasion. Throughout their journey in Narnia, the Pevensie siblings make many friends on their way. At the final epic battle with the White Witch, it’s the allies that come and fight with them. Some of the most notable allies from the book is Mr. Tumnus who saves Lucy—even though that means risking his life—and Mr. Beaver who gives them shelter.
Who are some of your favorite Narnia characters?
Vogler, C. (2008). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese.