Winter, Never Christmas:
the Climate for Conversion
commentary by Emilie Griffin
will remember that the White Witch cast her spell on Narnia, decreeing
that it must be always winter and never Christmas. So when the children
in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first arrive in
this amazing place, the fields are covered with snow.
simple enough device for a good fairy tale, don’t you agree?
But Aslan, the true king, who is a royal lion, has returned to save
the Narnia kingdom from the White Witch.
the spell of the White Witch is broken, the melting begins.
Lewis reveals this change in a scene with the children and those
jolly Narnians, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Father Christmas arrives with
sleigh bells jingling. At once the children and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver
suspect that the White Witch is losing her powers.
was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries)
with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that
fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.…
Now that the children actually stood looking at him… he
was so big, so glad, and so real, that they all became quite
still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has
kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan
is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get
if you are being solemn and still.
Father Christmas has brought presents for everyone. He intends to
deliver to Mrs. Beaver a new and better sewing machine, and says
he will drop it off at her house. When Mrs. Beaver mentions that
her house is locked up, Father Christmas says, “Locks and
bolts make no difference to me.”
Beaver’s Christmas gift also will be found when he gets home.
“You will find your dam finished and mended and all the leaks
stopped and a new sluice gate fitted.”
children receive presents as well—"tools, not toys,"
Father Christmas explains, saying “Bear them well"—the
time to use them may be near at hand.
Peter: a shield and a sword. “The shield was the color of
silver and on it was a red lion, as bright as a ripe strawberry
when you pick it ...also…a sword belt and a sheath...it was
just the right size and weight for Peter to use."
For Eve's daughter Susan: a quiver full of arrows and a little ivory
horn. “When you put this horn to your lips and blow it, wherever
you are, some kind of help will come to you,” he tells her.
For Lucy, Eve’s daughter: a little glass bottle of healing
cordial and a small dagger. “In this bottle is a cordial...,"
Father Christmas explains. "If any of your friends are hurt,
a few drops of this will restore you. And the dagger is to defend
Then from his bag Father Christmas brings out a large tray with
five cups and saucers, and cream, and sugar, and a teapot sizzling
and piping hot!
Not at all what one of our American Santas might do at the mall.
When departing, Father Christmas
calls out, “A Merry Christmas!
Long live the true King!” He cracks his whip and the reindeer
and sledge are soon out of sight.
Not long ago, while leading a discussion of The Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe at a nearby Episcopal church, I realized the
source of the winter spell in Narnia, and its ending. This figure
of snow melting is one way that Lewis describes the last stage of
his own experience of religious conversion. He describes his own
conversion, with all its fits and starts, in Surprised by Joy:
the Shape of My Early Life.
Lewis, conversion was a long, slow process—first an acceptance
of Theism and later, belief in and surrender to Jesus Christ.
was one special moment “before God closed in on me,”
Lewis writes. At a given time in a bus at the top of Headington
Hill it seemed to Lewis he was offered a moment of “wholly
became aware that he was holding something at bay or shutting something
out. He felt as though he was tightly dressed up in stiff clothing
like a lobster. There was a door he could open or keep shut. But
there were no bribes, no rewards or punishments either way.
made the choice for God. He
insists his conversion was not dramatic, but quiet.
accepting God there was, however, “repercussion on the imaginative
suggests it all happened without words and images, but he uses vivid
words and images to describe his inner change of heart.
felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt.
The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently
trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.”
few pages later, he insists that his conversion was almost without
consolation. “There was no strain of music from within, no
smell of eternal orchards at the threshold, when I was dragged through
the doorway. No kind of desire was present at all.”
figure of snow melting is a good one, I think, to suggest how a
person’s long coldness of heart may be changed, bit by bit,
into a warmer, living heart for God.
wonder that Lewis later used this figure of snow, enlarging it to
a whole snowy kingdom under the White Witch’s spell. When
the snow of Narnia melts, Lewis is suggesting how winter in our
hearts gives way to a springtime of faith.
Another passage in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
heightens the drama of snow melting. It is when Edmund (who has
been captured by the White Witch) realizes that her powers are declining.
they were steadily racing on again. And soon Edmund noticed
that the snow which splashed against them as they rushed through
it was much wetter than it had been last night....
a few moments Edmund realizes that the White Witch’s spell
has been broken.
around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering,
bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And
his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when
he realised that the frost was over.
of green grass and green tree-branches were beginning to appear
throughout the forest. Aslan had broken the White Witch’s
And much nearer there was a drip-drip-drip from the branches of
all the trees. (It’s a clear parallel to the language
in Surprised by Joy.)
the Witch fights it every step, Edmund can see more clearly than
she. Her slave the Dwarf holds Edmund hostage and keeps yanking
on the rope that binds him. But Lewis writes:
This didn’t prevent Edmund from seeing. Only five
minutes later he noticed a dozen crocuses growing around the
foot of an old tree—gold and purple and white.
a simple but powerful metaphor: winter cold suggesting the deathblow
of evil in human lives; and springtime to suggest personal transformation
and the redemption of the whole human race.
Because his cold
heart had been warmed by the love of God, C.S. Lewis extended
the metaphor to Narnia, and thus we see the melting snow when
Aslan is on the move.
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