There is a painting by Pauline Baynes that graced the front of the paperback version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” for years in Great Britain. (This cover was not available on American editions until recently. See picture.) The scene is just after Aslan is resurrected and Lucy and Susan are dancing with him.
This passage in “The Lion” (near the end of Chapter 15) is reminiscent of the New Testament account of the resurrection, as well as other events in the life of Jesus Christ. The loud cracking of the Stone Table is like the earthquake and splitting of the Veil in the Temple. After realizing Aslan is real, Lucy and Susan “flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.” In Luke 17 a woman anoints Christ’s feet and keeps kissing His feet. On Easter morning, Mary clings to Jesus when she realizes He is not just the gardener. (John 20:17 NKJV, NASB)
After Aslan tells the girls about the Deeper Magic, the “romp” begins. Chasing, leaping, scrambling – “whether it more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.” The romp only takes up one paragraph, but it would have taken up a few minutes on film, if the writers of the Walden/Disney adaptation of the book had chosen to put it into the movie. They probably felt that the film needed to move on at that point. After all, a battle is going on, and Aslan has work to do.
So the movie bypasses the Romp and goes straight to the Roar and the restoration of the Narnians at the witch’s castle. (Aslan’s Roar is used in both “The Lion” and “Prince Caspian” to indicate he is about to act and restore things to what they were.)
Aslan’s Romp in “Prince Caspian” takes up much more than one paragraph. It begins after the Roar which restores the trees. Strangely, after the trees are awakened, Aslan is joined (in the book – not the movie) by an exotic group led by a young boy with a wild face, who is followed by “wild girls” and a fat man on a donkey.
Lucy and Susan soon recognize that the boy is Bacchus, whom they had learned about from Mr. Tumnus long ago. The fat man is Silenus. (If you’ve seen the original 1940 version of the Disney movie “Fantasia,” you may recall the scene of the fat man on a donkey during Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Disney basically morphs Bacchus and Silenus into one person.) Why is Lewis introducing the Greek god of wine and his drunken teacher into the story?
At the very end of Chapter 11, Susan makes the comment that she “wouldn’t have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.” The inclusion of Bacchus was an attempt at “redeeming” the pagan myths, as Lewis often did in his fictional works.
As he explains in his autobiographical book, “Surprised by Joy,” mythology was one of the things that awakened a sense of Joy in Lewis during his early life. Lewis defines this “Joy” in Chapter 1 as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” It is a desire for something other and outer, that he later finds only to be fulfilled in a relationship with God.
“Prince Caspian” is perhaps the most personal of the Chronicles for Lewis. Devin Brown asks in the title of an article for Christianity Today Movies, “Is Caspian Really C. S. Lewis?” The parallels between Lewis and Caspian are striking. The relationship of Lewis and his nurse, who told him Irish folktales, mirrors Caspian’s nurse, who told the Prince about the Old Days of Narnia.
When we leave Lucy and Susan at the end of Chapter 11, we follow the boys and Trumpkin to Aslan’s How. “The Sorcery” must be dealt with. Lewis believed that sin is trying to fulfill legitimate desires in an illegitimate way. The desire for restoration of enchantment to Narnia was a good thing. But will the Narnians trust Aslan and wait for him, or seek power elsewhere? Lewis had a fascination for the Occult, which he had to deal with in his personal life. The Specter of the White Witch must be dealt with at Aslan’s How.
Lewis was also concerned that the ideals of chivalry had been lost in the modern world. Thus we have Peter’s challenge to Miraz to monomachy – a fight to the death to establish who will be the rightful king. Peter demonstrates the chivalrous attitude throughout the fight, but the Telmarines are intent on treachery. They did not count on the awakened trees, however, and are soundly defeated. They have to throw down their arms as they try to flee back across the river and find the Bridge of Bernuna has disappeared.
The last half of Chapter 14 tells about how Bacchus helps destroy the bridge and then goes on another Romp through the town. As people join them, the group is described by Lewis as “divine revelers.” This is not the drunken debauchery usually associated with Bacchus, but a celebration of the liberation of Narnia from an oppressive regime.
The freedom extends even to the schools in town. Students are freed from the “sort of ‘History’ that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule [which] was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.”
A girl from one of the schools joins the group, and they “helped her take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes she was wearing.” Lewis is not here promoting lasciviousness, like Bacchus of old would have. The girl is not being lewd, but is breaking free from the stuffy uniform that was worn by students in that day, including “ugly tight collars round their necks and thick tickly stockings on their legs.” In Chapter 2 of “Surprised by Joy” (Concentration Camp), Lewis describes what a school uniform was like for the boys.
Now I am choking and sweating, itching too, in thick dark stuff, throttled by an Eton collar, my feet already aching with unaccustomed boots. I am wearing knickerbockers that button at the knee. Every night… I am able to see the red, smarting imprint of those buttons in my flesh when I undress. Worst of all is the bowler hat, apparently made of iron, which grasps my head.
Part of what Lewis is trying to convey is that committed Christians can have fun without having to be drunk – or worse. You don’t have to be a “stuffed shirt” in order to follow Christ. There is a liberation that Christians know which allows us to celebrate life. Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians have not discovered that freedom in Christ. With all that Christ has done for us, the Christian life should be one of celebration.
As you gather around the Christmas tree this year, note (or, if there are no children present, remember) the joy on the children’s faces as they open their gifts. Their enthusiasm might even be seen in a little romping. What a wonderful way to celebrate Christ’s birth.
Especially at this time of year, we could all use a little redeemed Bacchus in our lives.