Tonight I cannot sleep, and so I am re-reading Fred Clark's excellent post on some of the ways in which Aslan fails as a Christ-allegory. And I am unduly annoyed that the first page of comments on this excellent post are largely intent on missing the point of the post entirely by instead focusing with laser-like precision on the fact that Fred (as well as others who discuss Narnia as a work of literature, including myself) refers to Aslan as an allegory for Jesus whereas C.S. Lewis, the author who created Aslan, strenuously denied that Aslan was an allegory for Jesus.
Instead, according to C.S. Lewis, Aslan is Jesus. Except that, you know, Aslan is a fictional creation that doesn't exist. But in the fictional framework in which he exists, he is totally Jesus, and therefore not an allegory according to C.S. Lewis. And quite a few fans out there seem to think that C.S. Lewis should have the final word on the matter and that anyone who persistently continues to use the word "allegory" with regards to Aslan is either ignorant or stupid. And I find that irksome.
I would like to take a moment to direct everyone to the Wikipedia definition of allegory, which is as good a definition as any in my view: Allegory is a device in which characters or events represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. [...] As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor. (I'm also amused to note that the article lists Narnia as an example twice. And not without good reason, in my opinion.)
Here are some of the reasons why I use the word "allegory" when referring to Aslan, even though I knowingly do so over C.S. Lewis' stated objections.
1. Aslan is a fictional character who represents the concept of the Christian Jesus (by which I mean a whole barrel of theological concepts that go above and beyond a mere historical Jesus) within the fictional Narnia series, and is therefore an allegory by definition.
2. The word "allegory" conveys that I recognize Aslan to be fictional (i.e., non-existent) and therefore not actually the "real" Christian Jesus (i.e., potentially existent).
3. The word "allegory" conveys that I recognize Aslan to be a representation of Jesus as depicted by a single author who does not own exclusive rights to defining and representing Jesus.
4. The word "allegory" conveys that I reserve the right to believe that Aslan is a failed, incorrect, and/or unconvincing representation of Jesus.
Words mean things. They frequently convey a great deal more information than their strict definitions would imply. By explicitly referring to the fictional character of Aslan as an allegory, rather than rilly-rilly Jesus H. Christ, I am deliberately building a framework for discussion rather than (as some people might reflexively argue) demonstrating an ignorance of C.S. Lewis' thoughts on this matter.
As a deconstructionist, I actively choose to use words which establish framing. By using the word "allegory" with regards to Aslan, I wish to establish the framing that Aslan is just one man's interpretation of Jesus, and is possibly neither a flawless nor a definitive representation of Jesus. Were I to frame Aslan as really Real Life Christian Jesus (except, you know, fictional, but otherwise 100% fresh-squeezed Jesus), I feel that such a framing might accidentally convey a sort of real-life canonical status to Aslan. And once that was established, I feel the impression might be made that all competing/conflicting ideas about Jesus (of which there are many) are automatically, for purposes of the deconstruction, given a second-class and suspect status.
Granting fictional characters real-life canonical status makes sense when crafting fandoms and fan-works since in those cases, a general rule of thumb is that more immersion equals more enjoyment. But deconstructions are a whole other ball of wax, and when examining fictional works for literary trends, it is often useful to underline with carefully chosen words the point that the author's say on the work under discussion is not the only valid view for consideration. And strenuously underlining the point that Aslan is a representation of Jesus (and therefore potentially wrong) rather than the actual Jesus, is something I very much wish to continue doing within the confines of a serious literary deconstruction.
And all this holds regardless of how Aslan's author may have felt in the matter. Which brings me to my final point on the matter:
5. I do not deconstruct literary works the way the authors of those works demand that they be deconstructed.
I make this decision, because otherwise my deconstructions would be constrained entirely by those who are most vested (and least unbiased) in seeing the work portrayed in the best possible light. So at the end of the day, C.S. Lewis could have tattooed on his forehead "Aslan is not an allegory, dammit" and that would still not make one iota of difference in my decision to call Aslan an allegory. The authorial interpretation of his own work is interesting, but I am not willing to let it limit how I approach the work.
(And that's even assuming that Lewis' insistence that Aslan was not an allegory was even meant to be applied to literary criticism of the type we're doing, rather than merely explaining his thought process as a writer. That's the other funny thing about words: they mean different things in different contexts.)
One final thought on the matter before I tuck this little issue to bed and we all get back to writing Alberta fanfic. I know it's really tempting when someone says the words Aslan and allegory to leap in with Relevant! Author! Quotes! but there's a couple of things that I wish the internet at large would keep in mind.
One is that just because a deconstructionist doesn't defer to the author's framing doesn't mean that the deconstructionist is ignorant of the author's published thoughts on the matter. A deconstructionist can be aware of an authorial point of view without embracing it, because deconstruction is not like being one of those fans who choose to believe that Word of God trumps all. (Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of fandom.)
This is -- as a side note -- why I chose to deconstruct the Narnia series in the order it was written-and-published rather than in canonical order, because I care more about exploring the evolution of literary themes in the series than I do about the internal consistency of the series as a world-building exercise. If you want to see if a series became more cynical as time passed, you deconstruct in the order the books were written; if you just want to experience the world as a fan reading from start to finish, then canonical order may be more pleasant. Different approaches for different goals.
And two is that writers can be just as contradictory and un-self-aware as anyone else. C.S. Lewis wrote non-fiction decrying colonialism as a Very Bad Thing, while writing a fictional series that is a long and florid love letter to colonialism. The existence of the non-fiction doesn't mean that a deconstructionist is necessarily interpreting the fiction incorrectly; it could just mean that the author in question was complicated (as most people are) and wrote things in which deeply ingrained cultural beliefs are evident (as many people do).
See also Twilight where Edward is romantic, but his "romantic" behavior is deeply influenced by our surrounding rape culture to the point where he is actually abusive to the subject of his affection. I'm sure Stephenie Meyer was not setting out to write a book with an abusive romantic protagonist, but that doesn't mean that our culture didn't shape the final product. And if S. Meyer was to publish a book decrying the evils of abusive relationships, that wouldn't mean that people who point out the problems in Twilight are automatically wrong and/or misunderstanding the fictional work in light of the non-fictional one. People -- and the literature they write -- are more complicated than that.
So that's my final word on the issue of Narnia and allegories. Not that anyone here asked, but what is the internet for if not for writing lengthy blog posts in response to random comments on completely different sites?