The Inside is Bigger than the Outside: A Christmas Thought from Narnia for Our World Too

Tumnus & Lucy with Christmas packages“Always winter and never Christmas.” This is the condition where we first discover Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe. It is not so much blanketed in white as smothered in it, frozen by it. Anyone in my part of the world will immediately know that this is a curse: all those dreary winter nights, locked indoors to escape from the bone-chilling cold, the sun squeezing through a frozen sky only a few hours a day. In winter I yearn for light. To never experience Christmas, where all of eternity tilts towards the sun and light grows once again–to me that would be a great curse.

The turning of the solstice and the coming for Christmas, for me, is really the birth of spring. Christmas is the first day of the Easter season. Most of the winter lays ahead, yet I somehow have the resources to face it. The curse is broken, I think. Likewise, the strange, almost incongruous coming of Father Christmas into the Narnian Woods signals the breaking of Narnia’s long winter, the beginning of the end of the curse. And the coming of that Narnian Christmas, too is also the beginning of Narnian Easter.

White Witch Edmund TildaSwintonBut do not think there is a one-to-one relationship between our world and the world of Narnia. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles are not allegories like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Aslan is not Christ, precisely; neither is Edmund the biblical Adam or Judas, nor the White Witch the historical Satan. Narnia is a different world altogether. Unlike our great great grand-humans, Adam and Eve, the first Narnians did not flee from Eden. Christ is not Aslan, per se, because what is broken in our universe is not the same thing that is broken in the Narnian universe. The Deep Magic is different in each cosmos. It would be more accurate to say that Aslan is what God would be like wrapped in Narnian flesh. And Edmund is much more like me than Adam or Eve–if one might substitute chocolate peanut butter balls for Turkish Delight as the shadow temptation of a deeper concern.

But as the appearance of Father Christmas in the first Narnian chronicle seems to blur the lines between the worlds (there is no Aslan birth narrative, after all), so there is a place in the last chronicle where the worlds seem to meet.

The Last Battle by CS LewisAfter the last great battle for Narnia, with the kings and queens and faithful servants of Narnia pressed to the wall against foreign invaders and Narnian traitors, those loyal to the last king of Narnia, Tirian, are forced into a small stable at the top of a hill. At the beginning of the story the stable housed an unwitting Aslanic imposter, and now houses the terrifying god Tash, summoned by unwitting invaders paying lip service to their own god. As they are forced into the stable, they do not meet the grotesque Tash in the darkness of the barn. Instead, they find that it is another world. Unlike most of the other of Narnia’s royalty, King Tirian has never traveled between words. So he peaks back through the stable door to see the fading fire beside the stable, Narnia on its last evening.

Tirian looked round again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was the blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all round him laughing.
“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” It was the first time she had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice, Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in even more deeply than the others. She had been too happy to speak (102-103).

Tirian discovers that the stable is a place where “its inside is bigger than its outside.” Then less. In doing so, C.S. Lewis makes a rare break of the overt Christian story into Narnia. My son, who has sat with me as we’ve read all but the last chapter of the Lucy, in a spell of wonder, notes that this pattern has been seen once before–and in a stable, no Chronicles, said, “He is putting Christianity in here.” And when he reads them again he will see that Lewis has put “Christianity in” all throughout the Chronicles.

Lucy’s point about Christmas, though, is a profound one. Have you considered what was contained in that little stable these many centuries ago? Many puzzle about the miracle of parthenogenesis that is Christ’s virgin birth. But granted there is a God who hold all the molecules of the universe together, that little moment is hardly so stunning. Indeed all the universe with its infinite leagues of mass tumbling away from long ago was brought into being by a word. A virgin birth is a mere thing.

But think about the physics of containment in that little stable, for a moment. This God, who is certainly bigger than all creation, was wrapped in human flesh and began converting H2O into CO2 in the musty dank of a distant barn. And that child’s first breath prefigured his last, when all the moments of eternity would once again collapse on a single place and time. It is why Christmas is the beginning of Easter: they are the breaking of Adam’s curse by the Deep Magic of our universe.

How did the walls of that stable not burst oh so many years ago? It is the last turn of the season, so that we will one day find our way back to Eden, where it is always Christmas and never winter.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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32 Responses to The Inside is Bigger than the Outside: A Christmas Thought from Narnia for Our World Too

  1. Kent says:

    i.e. turning O2 into CO2. (The oxygen breathed in [O2] gets converted into carbon dioxide [CO2] and water [H2O]. The carbon dioxide is removed mainly by being exhaled in the breath, and the water is mainly excreted in the urine. Thanks for the post! Sorry for the nitpicking comment. : )

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    • What a great comment! Many thanks. Since you posted this comment, I have both breathed out CO2 and excreted urine many time–sorry for the delay! I was on media blackout for my own sanity. To keep up the scientific metaphor, I needed time to breathe.

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  2. May this day bring peace and joy, to you and yours… and indeed all the world.
    May it ever be thus.

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  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I need to reread LWW carefully, but I suppose knowing it can be ‘Christmas’ implies knowing it has been Christmas in the past – that the White Witch’s rule is a usurpation which suppresses. Winterizing facilitates suppression and control. If some kinds of conviviality – and gift-giving – are tolerated, they are also presumably made superficial and individual. Beyond that, as in various Protestant (and also in anti-Christian ‘revolutionary’) regimes historically, the date comes round, but there are punitive sanctions against celebrating it as ‘Christmas’ (or so I suppose).

    If we add MN to the picture, did King Frank and Queen Helen celebrate Christmas in a very human, earthly way, and leave a tradition of doing so – until suppressed, even as all humans seem to have been, until books can be written about their possibly merely ‘mythological’ character? Yet some sense of ‘Christmas’ survives obvious human population. (This also leaves an interesting question about what sort of being Father Christmas – as distinct from St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia – is.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hannah says:

    “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
    Thanks for your post. Yesterday, I was exactly thinking of this quote and the wonder of it, together with the third Antiphons “O Radix Jesse / O Root of Jesse” and that poem by Malcolm Guide with the lines “sprung from a deep-hidden seed, rose from a root invisible to all” (Isaiah 11:1.). Might Tolkien’s White Tree of Gondor have similar symbolism, even though he was so opposed to “putting in Christianity” the way Lewis did?
    As to the deep magic being different in each cosmos I was thinking of the book “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis” by Michael Ward with references to the Medieval worldview in Lewis’s “the Discarded Image”.

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    • I am so sorry your very nice note was lost in my technology Sabbath—I needed a breather.
      David did post, so your comments may be everywhere at once! He is a good supporter of the blog. Do you know him in real life? (i.e, not digital life?)
      Allow me to let the white tree soak into my thinking. I saw it as death and resurrection—did you see it as something beyond? The way you link it all makes me think that the 3rd Antiphon links the stable and the tree, Lewis using one image, Tolkien another.
      I think Ward’s books are excellent in helping us read Narnia, but I’m not convinced yet that he is “right” in the deepest sense that Lewis planned the series and orchestrated it the way he lays it out. But I’m open to be convinced of it. What are your thoughts? I am rereading Discarded Image for the 2nd time right now actually. It is a brilliant book (though I’m not big on ch. 2).

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      • Hannah says:

        Thanks for your reply! We already thought that you were wholly immersed in Christmas celebrations! Yes, David is also a good friend in real life.
        Commenting on blogs is very new to me and it seems I put too much into one sentence. My link between it all was really the wonder of God working in such a hidden way – which is so different from our time/culture with emphasize on outward appearance, fame & success – and so the wonder of the inside of the stable being so much bigger than the outside.
        That hiddenness is also in the 3rd Antiphon with God calling forth a shoot from “a deep-hidden seed, a root invisible to all”, which led me to the question if the White Tree of Gondor would have links with Isaiah 11:1, as it was found and planted with the coming of the King and as Aragorn came forth from a lost lineage of kings, having lived in hiddenness until then as strider?.
        In the creative process of writing a lot of spontaneous intuitiveness seems to be going on, like CS Lewis commenting somewhere that Aslan had suddenly jumped into the LWW and rather grumbled that he therefore had to do a lot of rewriting.
        So, I am also not convinced about Lewis planning the whole series that way, but it is well possible that a lot of ideas from the “Discarded Image” have found their way into the Narnia Tales during the process of writing them as he loved the Medieval worldview?
        And that the White Tree of Gondor in the same way might also have some links with Isaiah 11:1 even if Tolkien was so opposed to “putting in Christianity?

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        • I can speak better to Lewis than Tolkien, but I suspect that Discarded Image underlies most of Lewis’ fiction (go to Allegory of Love for Till We Have Faces).
          I think the link behind Aslan and Aragorn is Jewish messianism, fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. But I mean this in the prophetic, not incarnational senses, and I suspect it is literary rather than religious. The sense of prophetic longing, evil foreboding, death and resurrection of hope–these are the ideas that fuel the two stories. In the sense I think they are not so much “Christianity seeping in” or being put in, but in the building of their stories, the great literary stones include the greatest of all stories. Lewis goes further than this, of course, but I’m not sure that Tolkien does.

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          • Hannah says:

            Maybe best to let Lewis speak for himself on his creative process? I don’t know if I can quote here from this paper “Sub-Creation or Smuggled Theology: Tolkien contra Lewis on Christian Fantasy” (http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/node/1207) because of IP-rights, but this expresses much better what I was trying to say: “…… Lewis illustrates the process by explaining that his own fairy stories, The Chronicles of Narnia, originated as a series of mental images that began connecting themselves into story-lines. But then, as the narratives began to take shape, Lewis saw that they could be used to imaginatively express the central truths of Christianity in a fresh way”. So creative inspiration & planning, and indeed building with literary stones, wonderful images.
            The article (by David C. Downing and R. W. Schlosser) seems to explain their different views well and it makes me wanting to reread the books by Lewis and Tolkien “On (Fairy) Stories”. And thanks again for your blog!

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  5. Hannah says:

    Thanks for your post. I was thinking of this quote yesterday: “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” and the wonder of, alongside with the 3rd Antiphons “O Radix Jesse / O Root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1) and this quote from the poem by Malcolm Guite, “sprung from one deep-hidden seed, rose from a root invisible to all”. Would Tolkien’s White Tree of Gondor have similar symbolic meaning, even if he so much opposed the way Lewis “put in Christianity” in the Narnia tales?
    “The Deep Magic being different in each cosmos” reminded me of Michael Ward’s “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens ..”. with its references to the Medieval world view in Lewis’s “The Discarded Image”.

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  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A striking feature of Narnian chronology is that its length of thousands of years seems nonetheless always parallel with Earthly chronology, from its beginning corresponding to some late Victorian or Edwardian time to its end corresponding to some time after the Second World War – later visits from Earth are always to later Narnian dates (however dramatically later).

    If we cross-reference ‘Ransom’ chronology, we find Narnia coming to be long after the coming of hnau races to Malacandra, but before the apparent promotion of Lady and King to hnau life on Perelandra. Yet the ordering of Narnia does not keep to the post-Incarnational human form of any new hnau adumbrated by the Lady for our solar system (and wider cosmos?) in Perelandra. The Narnian world seems at once distinct in this, and yet in many ways Earth-dependent.

    Michael Ward’s impressive case in Planet Narnia for what might be called distinct intensities of solar-system planetary influence at distinct periods of Narnian history invites consideration as to how that might relate to planetary Intelligence activity in the ‘Ransom’ chronicles. Does Aslan mediate solar planetary influence into Narnia? (Are all the varied appearances of Aslan in Narnia – e.g., Alabatross and Lamb in VDT as well as Lion – distinctly post-Resurrection and – Ascension appearances of Christ (cf. to St. Paul in Acts and St. John in Revelation)? Are they also more like the presence of St. Raphael in Tobit or Mithrandir in LotR than like the Incarnation on Earth?)

    Comparing the details of temptation through Weston in Perelandra with the character of Jadis in MN, makes me wonder both about the Fall in Charn, and how its chronology might relate to Earth’s. I wonder, too, where the slightly futuristic THS might fit among the dates of departures to Narnia in LWW, PC, VDT, SC, and LB.

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    • Hooper’s little “Past Watchful Dragons” lays out the parallel timelines pretty well. I’m not sure they ever go out of chronology. They might get as far as 1950, but not past rationing. From an earth perspective, it is like Narnia zooms by in a breath.
      I had never laid Ransom next to Narnia. Cool.
      Great Aslanic questions.Am I naive in not pushing the questions too far just yet? They are all ones I have–though not so well put. I have this feeling that an idea of what Lewis means in Aslan will emerge for me.
      One I had not asked was whether Aslan could be a Merlin character, or a mediator. My struggle is this: when we say, “Aslan is X,” I feel we reduce it–as we do with Christ and ideas about what his prophetic and cross work was all about. While Christ, though, can take up many many images, we are more limited with Aslan. So we can err together in one direction with Aslan and Christ, but in another direction we perhaps are more likely to err in Aslanology rather than Christology.

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  7. dschram says:

    In the early 1960s Verity Newman, a young BBC TV producer, described the then new show “Doctor Who” as “CS Lewis, meets HG Wells, meets Father Christmas”. Do you think CS Lewis’ Narnia is where they got the “bigger on the inside” for the Tardis?

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    • We were just having this discussion on Twitter–less me and more others around me I guess. I don’t know the answer to that question. In my opinion, it is one of Lewis’ most brilliant ideas.
      Terry Pratchett also uses it for Unseen University. It is so rich an image that I hardly can stop thinking about the possibilities–and I’m not even a super fan of Narnia as a whole.

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        If I’m not mistaken, some of us heard from Brian Sibley at one point about the friendship between Lewis and P.L. Travers – I haven’t followed this up, or ever yet caught up properly with her Mary Poppins books (I’d have to try to check which I have, and which of those I’ve read) – all of which is a prelude to wondering whether her – what was it, a Gladstone bag? – in the movie, is also prominent in the books and if that contributes to the Lewisian ‘bigger on the inside’ thinking. (I suppose it also contributes to Hermione in Harry Potter.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I wonder, too, if there are related folklore motifs or traditional topoi? Eg., does it relate to things like ‘cauldrons of plenty’ or 1 Kings 17:16?

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  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    My friend, Hannah (an infrequent commenter) has, for whatever reason, seen a comment she submitted before my second one, disappear without yet reappearing! So, with your kind indulgence, I herewith ‘host’ a version of it:

    Thanks for your post. I was thinking of exactly this quote yesterday “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” and the wonder of, alongside with the 3rd Antiphons “O Radix Jesse / O Root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1) and this quote from the poem by Malcolm Guite, “sprung from one deep-hidden seed, rose from a root invisible to all”. Would Tolkien’s White Tree of Gondor have similar symbolic meaning, even if he so much opposed the way Lewis “put in Christianity” in the Narnia tales?

    “The Deep Magic being different in each cosmos” reminded me of Michael Ward’s “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens ..”. with its references to the Medieval world view in Lewis’s “The Discarded Image”.

    Like

  9. bryanajoy says:

    This was so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  10. Rosaria Marie says:

    Greetings, Brenton,

    Thank you for this wonderfully written Narnian Christmas piece. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and really appreciate your Christian perspective on a wide variety of topics and issues.

    As editor of The Fellowship of The King Magazine (www.thefellowshipoftheking.wordpress.com), I was wondering if you might be interested in having this article republished there, including your biography and a link back to your blog. It would be most appreciated if you would be willing!

    Here is my email: campionsbrag@aol.com

    Blessings,
    Rosaria Marie, TFOTK Editor

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  11. Steve says:

    And that is why we sing the hymn:

    He made thy body into a throne,
    and thy womb more spacious than the heavens.

    And the same applies to Perntecost too — see here Pentecost and mission | Khanya

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    • Thank you for the hymn reference. I did not grow up in Christian tradition, so I don’t know that deep, rich resource for poetic theology.
      I like your reorientation of cosmos: “here is the mission of the Church — reaching out by reaching in.”

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        There is a wealth of (Early) Church attention to Incarnational ‘paradoxes’ or whatever in word and image, which I keep delightedly encountering but about which I know too little. For instance, there are icons of the Baby Jesus asleep which are working with the Psalm verse (LXX/Vulgate 120:4, Masoretic 121:4) about the Watcher over Israel slumbering not nor sleeping.

        That Inklings-enjoyer, Fr. Aidan Kimel, posted a selection from St Ephrem the Syrian on Christmas Day at Eclectic Orthodoxy with striking examples I had never met with before.

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        • I don’t always read Fr. Kimel’s blog simply because every time I go I am locked to the screen with something new and unusual. I admire his work.
          I just read Reflections on the Psalms for the first time cover to cover (I’ve been in and out before), and I do work in biblical studies. I am continually struck by how the Psalms are taken up theologically in the Jesus story.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Yes, I often find myself hoping and intending to return to something there sometime that I do not have the concentration or time for on first encountering it!

            Yes, the Psalms! Understandably recited, sung, and prayed variously throughout Church history! I’ve enjoyed reading in, but have not yet read every word of, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s Christ in the Psalms.

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