Now that the children’s respective characters have been established and the White Witch and what she stands for is fairly plain (that is, the destructive allure of wealth and power), it’s time for us to learn more about the other side as the plot kicks into motion.
This is yet another chapter where there are too many great pieces of dialogue to quote them all. Seriously, Lewis is a master of dialogue – not just witty banter (there’s plenty of wit, but it’s rarely banter), but discussions that are important on multiple levels. The infodumping in this chapter feels merited (and welcome) after all the hints not only in the last chapter, but in all of the encounters in Narnia over the past seven chapters. Now, the Beavers are merely explaining what’s going on in Narnia in general and with Tumnus in particular. On another level, as the children learn about Aslan, the Biblical parallels begin to take shape (because for better or worse, this is the most blatant Biblical allegory of all seven books).
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This is a theme that’s touched upon in The Lord of the Rings, too: The idea that “good” is not the same thing as “safe” (and vice versa). Lewis’s choice to make Aslan a lion (as opposed to another Biblical animal, like a lamb) tips you off that Aslan represents the raw power that God is capable of, and reminds us that power is, by definition, not safe.
As I mentioned last time, rescuing Tumnus is the only real reason the children have stayed in Narnia as long as they have, and so it’s with this in mind that they initially agree to go see Aslan – it’s clear that he’s the only one who can possibly rescue Tumnus from the Witch’s House.
The Beavers also let them know that they’ll have their own part to play, and this is when we discover what the big deal is about four humans in Narnia – because of a prophecy regarding four thrones at Cair Paravel.
When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done.
Of course, this leads Peter to ask whether the Witch herself is human, and it turns out she isn’t. She’s a Daughter of Lilith, so to speak (“Adam’s first wife”, apparently – I’m sure it has some sort of roots in some mythology or other, because Narnia is essentially a mythological melting pot, but I honestly have no clue on this one).
This conversation might have been very helpful for Edmund to hear, but it seems that he’d already tuned out (at the very least) by this point and started to sneak away to go see the White Witch. Edmund tends to be compared to Judas (he goes off to betray them after supper, for crying out loud), and while that’s undeniably an intentional parallel (this is meant to set up the Aslan/Christ allegory for the rest of the series, after all), it’s only fair to say that, well, he’s only a kid. Every kid makes mistakes while they’re growing up, sometimes even huge mistakes with awful consequences that they never expected or intended to happen. It’s particularly interesting because I get the feeling that Lewis put more of himself into Edmund than Peter.
Anyhow, this chapter makes it obvious that not only is Aslan the true King of Narnia, but the four children are destined to help overthrow the false queen and eventually rule Narnia themselves. Then Edmund just has to go and throw a wrench into everything, but at least the Beavers managed to deduce his plan. So Peter, Susan, Lucy, and the Beavers hurry away from the dam and toward their rendezvous with Aslan, now far more concerned about getting Edmund back than anything else.