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Book Review: Finding Purpose in Narnia – A Journey with Prince Caspian by Gina Burkart

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If good literature communicates truth about the human condition, The Chronicles of Narnia qualifies. In his seven-book collection of children's stories, the late C. S. Lewis found the right tone mixing mythology with Christian themes and symbols to create an engaging fantasy that children (and Hollywood) are enjoying over 50 years later.

A former atheist-turned-Christian, Lewis imbued his tales with biblical allusions that only the most hardened skeptic would miss. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the series, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie go through a magical wardrobe and discover a kingdom ruled by the evil White Witch. Along with Aslan the lion (a Christ figure), they defeat the witch and become kings and queens of Narnia.

Prince Caspian - Walt DisneyPrince Caspian, the second book in the series, also features a classic battle of good and evil. King Miraz usurped Caspian's throne, and the young prince calls on Narnia's former kings and queens to help him recover it. Along the way, characters learn to find hope in the face of doubt. 

Lewis fans and scholars have written dozens of guides on Christian themes and symbolism in the Narnia books, and Finding Purpose in Narnia: A Journey with Prince Caspian is one of them. Written by Gina Burkart, a Christian, an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and author of A Parent's Guide to Harry Potter, the book is a resource for families, churches, and schools that explores spiritual lessons in Prince Caspian.

Burkart divided the book into three sections ("Finding Faith," "Holding on to Hope," and "Learning to Love"), discusses major scenes and ideas, and breaks down the lessons under five subsections: "Reflections on Lewis with Caspian," "Personal Ponderings," "Finding  Purpose," "Finding Scripture," and "Suggested Scripture Reading and Reflections."

Referring to the scene in which Lucy sees Aslan for the first time, for example, Burkart shares an anecdote about Lewis's journey from waiting and watching for joy to experiencing joy in a region not "clothed in the senses." Lewis's own walk through spiritual darkness is reflected in the scene where Lucy wonders why she can see Aslan and her siblings can't. She writes:

In Lucy's struggles to convince her siblings that she had seen Aslan, we find parallels to Mary Magdalene's attempts to convince the disciples that Jesus had risen. Remember how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and at first she did not know him? In relying only on her eyes, she did not recognize him. However, when he spoke her name, calling out "Mary," she turned and recognized him (John 20-17). Jesus then asked her to tell his apostles that she had seen him, like Aslan asked Lucy to tell her siblings she had seen him.

Lucy's siblings eventually see Aslan. What prevents us from seeing God's presence? As Burkart notes, this kind of perception requires more than physical sight.

Although some Christian readers consider the Narnia stories allegorical, Lewis didn't intend them to be. In an interview with Radio Iowa, Burkart said Lewis "did come right out and say that these books [are] not an allegory but a supposal, meaning, what if Christ were to come into this world like a lion as Aslan, what would transpire?"

Whether allegorical or "supposal," the Narnia books provide spiritual lessons simple enough for a child to understand yet engaging enough for adults living a life through Christ in a fallen world. Finding Purpose in Narnia: A Journey with Prince Caspian will help parents, church leaders, and educators explain why C. S. Lewis's books are edifying to Christians of any age.

(Watch the trailer for "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," which premieres Friday, May 16.)

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