Imagination as the Key to Transformation: What Aslan Means to Cambridge

By: Nikki Rhodes, Teacher, 5th Grade Unit, Literature Grades 3-5

A girl and her lion

I can remember the first time I read Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Back then, it was a sort of rite of passage into the Christian fold. You prayed the prayer, and almost immediately your friend was handing you a copy as if this book could somehow explain what it is to be a believer. Except the weird thing is, it does.

I can remember sitting up all night, pouring over my own tattered copy, weeping with Lucy as her beloved Aslan is beaten, shaved, and crucified on the Stone Table. Lewis’s words made real for me the horror and the glory of the Cross. When the Table breaks in half and Aslan returns even more terrible and beautiful than before, I wished that I could chase him through that morning meadow, too.

Following Christ, for me, is often like feeling my way around in the dark. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I feel clumsy and awkward, and I do my fair share of toe-stubbing. When I return to Narnia, as I now do several times a year through my work at Cambridge, the darkness is illuminated. I’m given permission to wonder, to weep, and to chase Jesus through the wet grass.

Not a tame lion

Narnia and Cambridge have become somewhat synonymous. When you think of the Cambridge curriculum and the founding principles of the school, you immediately think of that world beyond the wardrobe. Why does this series of books have such a remarkable influence on a school community? I would venture to say that it’s the same thing that kept me up all night when I first became a Christian. These books allow children (and adults) to set Jesus free from the church-shaped, bite-sized, easy-breezy box that we place him in. Lewis’s depiction of Jesus is wild. There’s no taming him. He’s unpredictable, terrifying, radical...and you just can’t get enough of him. You would never put Aslan in a cage until Sunday. He’s the one you want to follow through the forest even though he kind of scares you a little bit.

Aslan’s dear ones

After reading one of the three books that I use in my role as 3rd-5th grade language arts teacher, I often ask myself and my students these questions:

“What would it look like if we followed Jesus the way that Lucy follows Aslan?”

“Do I believe in, trust in, put my entire soul in Christ the way that those kids do with Aslan?”

“What has God done lately that has amazed, astonished, or even scared me?”

These questions, I think, get at the very heart of why we read The Chronicles of Narnia at Cambridge. These books give readers a glimpse of what it would look like if we were to believe in the power and the transformative love of a radical, wild, terrible, beautiful God.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Lucy is told that she will not be returning to Narnia again, she and Aslan exchange these words:

“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.

"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

That’s the very reason why we bring our students along with us to Narnia year after year. It’s so that by knowing Aslan there for a little, they may know him better here.


Lisa Bond