Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I’ve read the series over and over and never failed to enjoy it. So although I have some criticism, please remember that I still like them; reading the chronicles still makes me feel... fuzzy.
Even though Lewis never mentions a church or a god in all of the chronicles, they are clearly a Christian allegory; Narnia’s symbols correspond to those of Christian theology. Dragons represent sins; Aslan the lion is an approximation of Jesus. Similarly, Lewis never directly approaches political issues in the series, but Narnia contains many political and economic reflections. He does not address the issues very directly, but, especially in "The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’", they exist as huge undercurrents.
Take for example the ‘Lone Islands,’ specifically the colony of Doorn. It is a rather distant colony, which prompts Prince Caspian to remark “that no one here can have heard from Narnia for a long time. It’s just possible they may not still acknowledge our over-lordship.” (32). Indeed, a slave trade has appeared in the islands as a result of Narnia’s absence. Caspian finds this despicable. So, after a few gallant adventures with the children, he promptly reasserts Narnian authority and puts everything to right.
But, before accepting this simple case of a moral wrong suffering divine retribution and being put to moral right, the economic echo and theological ideas underlying the incident need to be examined.
The case of the Duffers provides a good example of how these ideas work in Narnia. The Duffers are a race of dwarves which are so incompetent that without the guidance of the magician Coriakin, who was sent by Aslan to govern them, they might not survive. The adventure at hand in "The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader'" follows the desire of the Duffers to be saved from the “uglifying spell” (118) that Coriakin placed on them. When asked why he placed the spell in the first place, the magician replied, “Well, they wouldn’t do as they were told. Their work is to mind the garden and raise food – not for me, as they imagine, but for themselves. They wouldn’t to it at all if I didn’t make them” (139).
The Duffers are incapable of even feeding themselves without guidance, a disability caused by their refusal to accept the authority and wisdom of Coriakin and, through him, Aslan. This corresponds to the Christian concept of original sin, that people are inherently and dramatically flawed, and can only find fulfillment through the moral perfection of the higher authority figure: God. This magician acts as a guide to the ignorant Duffers just as the Church acts as a guiding force to ignorant humanity. People are saved from the follies of evil just as the Duffers are saved from the follies of “planting boiled potatoes to save cooking them when they are dug up” (140).
In Narnia, the economic echo of this concept takes the form of colonialism. The conquering of an island is justified by that island's need for being conquered. Without the guidance, authority, and wisdom that Narnia provides, the island of Doorn is given over to its inherent incompetence and immorality. Like the Duffers mistreating their potatoes, Doorn without guidance falls into the corruption of a slave trade.
The economic echo of this belief in the real world can be seen in the IMF and the forcing of capitalism on other nations. Since followers of other political ideologies are simply too stupid or misguided to see the truth, it is the responsibility of the wiser nation to guide them, or, in the case of C.S. Lewis’s magician, to use “an uglifying spell” (118).
The violence involved in keeping such a colony subverted is also justified. Consider how Caspian casts out the corrupt ruler of Doorn. He "nodded to Bern and then stood aside. Bern and Drinian took a step forward and each seized one end of the table. They lifted it, and flung it on one side of the hall where it fell over, scattering a cascade of letters, dossiers, ink pots, pens, sealing wax and documents.” (45). Additionally, when a corrupt official failed to remove his hat, Bern shouted, “Uncover before Narnia, you dog,” ... and dealt him a rap from his gauntleted hand which sent his hat flying from his head.” (43).
This kind of blatant colonialism is supported and promoted by the allegory of Narnia. It is filled with such references as “we gave those troublesome giants on the frontier such a good beating last summer that they pay us tribute now” (15). This is shown, of course, through the logic of spiritual authority. Since it is Narnia’s responsibility to colonize and “guide” these small barbaric islands to the truth, violence and economic suppression are completely justified.
I mean, hey, it's better than communism right?
Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: Macmillan, 1952.