Intertextuality – The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Intertextuality is the interrelationship between texts, especially works of literature, the way that similar or related texts can influence, reflect, or differ from each other. This essay will focus on ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S Lewis, and how the intertextuality of the text reflects on sources of culture, and mirror aspects of Christianity, Greek Mythology and the War. This essay will refer to the 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” by the French literary theorist Roland Barthes. Barthes’ essay “argues against traditional literary criticism’s practice of incorporating the intentions and context of an author in an interpretation of their text, but instead argues that the writing and creator are unrelated” (Wimsatt, 1954).  He argues against “the method of reading and the criticism that is relied on the authors identity” (Mikhail, 1981). This essay will look upon how intertextuality is still existing in our everyday lives, and grows to represent culture to incorporate many different cultural texts to transfer over to another text.

Firstly, as Barthes argues that ‘the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture’, many could suggest that this is true. In recent years, the language of intertextuality has surfaced and many have approached to biblical interpretation. However, as intertextuality has been explored into a broader depth, the interpretative limits of “historical, literary and ideological approaches are brought into focus” (McKay, 2013). This case study is an excellent text example that corresponds to this statement.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are four siblings who are sent to live in the country with the peculiar Professor Kirke during World War II, which automatically creates a plot around War. Lucy, the youngest, steps inside a wardrobe to hide, and finds herself, in a strange snowy wood that leads to the enchanted and magical world: Narnia. This novel is going to be the focus of the essay, because it is a Christian worldview through a mythic tale, a world of magic showing more features of intertextuality. Intertextuality can occur here, as it is “when a book refers to a social “text” such as media, social or cultural story” (Lemaster, 2012).

This novel is described as obligatory intertextuality. This is when the “writer deliberately invokes a comparison or association between two or more texts. Without this pre-understanding or success to ‘grasp the link’, the reader’s understanding of the text is regarded as inadequate” (cited by Fitzsimmons, 2013 in Anon, no date). Obligatory intertextuality has been used for this text, as it relies on well-crafted “children’s fantasies that incorporate Biblical themes in a way that young readers can appreciate” (Brennan, 1994). It uses another text to transfer over and to create his own text with meaning and purpose, especially the Bible and ‘Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes’ by Edith Hamilton. Poet, William Blake “uses his knowledge of the Christian Bible and alludes to themes from this text using language such as ‘thee’, ‘thou’, and ‘thy’ (Kliese, 2013, cited in Anon, no date). This shows how the author has flipped the Bible around to use his own ideology, as these words are not used within the novel, to make it more contemporary – meaning he has used intertextuality to generate related understanding, but in separate works.

In the world of Narnia, it is populated mainly by talking animals. But it also includes many “mythological creatures and figures, such as fauns, nymphs, dryads, Bacchus, and Silenus from the Greek and Roman traditions, and dwarfs and giants from Norse mythology”. (Lovgren, 2005). For example, the fictional character, Mr Tumnus. As one of the most beloved characters, he is a Faun – a creature that is human from the waist up, but a goat from the waist down. He is a Roman woodland spirit associated with the God Faunus. “He was in turn associated with the Greek god Pan, with all the phallic imagery that implies” (Harrison, 2010). He even plays a flute-like instrument just like Greek God Pan, who is often described as a faun also.  Mythical gods such as Silenus and Bacchus are mentioned by him when he describes Narnia, to Lucy. Classical mythology, some of whose appearance in a children’s book may seem surprising, has been incorporated, as it creates a magical and supernatural twist to the creation. It relates to culture and history from Mythology and it suggests fiction in a magical world, which will interest the audience more as it is a children’s literature.

Edmund, the third oldest sibling of the four, has been created to represent a betrayal to the saviour, Aslan, a lion who is the King of Narnia. Edmund is resulted in letting Aslan suffer as a consequence of this, as his life is quickly forfeited to the evil White Witch. This is like a sinner’s life, who is forfeited to Satan after death without the invention of God. The White Witch can be established within the cultural object of War, as she is the villain and is represented as the ‘Devil’, who the passive audience will gain a disliking and hatred to immediately. However, she plays on Edmund’s greed and selfishness, as she promises him that she will make him a prince and give him the power and authority that he desires. Foolishly, Edmund eats and drinks the food that she gives him, and “the combination of Edmund’s own flaws and the Witch’s power makes him a traitor to his brothers and sisters” (Schmoop, 2008). Edmund’s character can also be linked to the cultural theme of War in this aspect, as he can be presented as being part of the army, as he must follow every demand from someone of a higher authority than himself to gain recognition and power.

Edmund’s gluttony for the Turkish Delight portrays the root of his sin that he has committed. This is similar to Adam and Eve’s disobedience as they desire to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Bible, as they failed to listen to demands and gave in, this is the same as Edmund’s betrayal.  C.S Lewis’ “use of the Biblical theme of temptation in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe uses New Testament readings as its primary source, drawing from the stories of temptation of both Jesus and Judas” (Brennan, 1994). In this fantasy story, it is linking specifically to the Bible, as Judas is the trusted member of the inner circle, who turns out to be a traitor. This intertextual link of combining a Biblical character to a fictional character expounds and illustrates a Christian world view within characters, emphasising the plot. By having a Christian subculture, it is introducing a Christian genre to teach the audience the representation and attitudes of faith clearly.

Within this idea, the lion, Aslan, is represented as Edmund’s ‘savior’ and Christ, representing Christianity dramatically. This is as he gave his life to save Edmund and let him live on. Aslan’s death and coming back to life is a portrayal of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. This is a representation of Aslan portraying Christ, who has willingly humiliated himself and died for the sons of Adam (who is specifically Edmund in this context). However, Aslan rises again which represents resurrection. Aslan’s resurrection destroys the power of the magic or mankind, which speaks out about nailing our sins to the cross, which again represents Jesus’ crucifixion. This relates to Christianity because in the Bible they believe that Jesus’ crucifixion substitutes for the sacrifices which is due from sinners, freeing them from punishment. This relates to how Aslan did not fight the White Witch, but instead gave his life. These teachings are incorporated into the novel because it brings the religious culture to life for the benefit of the readers benefit and own interpretation.

However, within the novel, it continuously speaks about culture and faith, as it states that “the politically correct/humanistic/liberal community is simply not used to thinking of evil as something to be fought, and that such fighting is not only right, it is valorous” (McKay, 2013) This is similar to Aslan not killing the White Witch himself, as this is wrong. This also relates to the Bible as “Jesus Himself testified of Satan’s existence” (All About God, 2002), suggesting that the opposed Aslan, who is represented as Jesus, and the White Witch being Satan and helping to “understand the ongoing, spiritual war between God and Satan, good and evil” (Isaiah 14:12-15Luke 10:17-20). This suggests that it is representing a real Bible teaching of winning the battle, and is showing how Aslan is the real hero, represented the same as Jesus.  This easily teaches the audience Christianity and benefits their understanding of faith. Reflecting upon real citations from the original factual source also makes a dramatic structuralism to create an iconic and believable story.

Therefore, Aslan is visualised as the hero and the commander when relating it to the War interpretation, because he led his team into victory after killing the White Witch, the battle was over. As a result, the intertextual link corresponds to ‘White Power’ as the victory over the White Witch can be related to a political ideology that maintains this domination. The intertextual link of War as a cultural object can be acknowledged to convey how history has shaped culture today, but also setting a plot, as intertextuality is a no-time bound. But War is unlikely to occur in our culture today, like in past events.

Furthermore, there are highlighted aspects of the notion of intertextuality theory coined by Julia Kristeva, in the late 60’s. Combining ideas from Bakhtin’s language social construct merged with Saussure’s systematic language features, there is a vertical link between two texts. The notion of intertextuality ideology is made up of two axes, they are of a vertical and horizontal axis. This concept relates to how every text’s meaning can be inspired by a previous pre-existing text. In this case, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and how it derived from The Bible. The vertical axis displays its link to other texts in the form of ‘Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes’ by Edith Hamilton, and the War as a cultural object the beginning and throughout the novel. Whilst the horizontal axis links the audience to the creator of the text. This ideology helps gives us a visual understanding into how Christianity (mainly), and aspects of War and Greek Mythology can be represented within novels, and how it has been shaped by previous texts, and how this has been influenced by culture and history. The post structural vertical link is established as they contain similar aspects and themes to finalise a creative, cultural and educational text.

Furthermore, it can also be interpreted that authors like C.S Lewis’ main meaning behind their texts is not transferred directly, from writer to reader but instead through “codes’ imparted to the writer and reader by other texts.  This can be suggested as Kristeva in ‘Word, Dialogue and Model’ (1969) stated that ‘Any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations: any text is the absorption and transformation of another’. Similar to Barthes’ theory in ‘The Death of the Author, it suggests that all texts have an original source that they use in order to create their own text, because it enhances meaning towards it. “Culture, especially, within a text is still accessible to continue to idealise their importance, as this example of Narnia, will reconstruct of facts and the life of Jesus” (Carter, 2017). Texts like this need to be “precise and construct a nest of related meanings around intertextuality” (Fiske, 1987), but the meaning is not always so obvious throughout the novel. This is because children, who are a passive audience, merely observe a text rather than actively respond to it.

Fiske states that “the theory of intertextuality proposes that any one text is necessarily read in relationship to others and that a range of textual knowledge is brought to make it easier to read”. As stated before in respect to the vertical axis, this has created a semiotic theme that can be taught and interpreted in various manners. By shaping culture today, it is a unique and original story that was populated by many. T.S Elliot states that “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past”. This can suggest that looking back upon the past, will help with the present learning and teaching of the religious and ethnic background, relating semiotic and cultural themes like Christ, Greek Mythology and the War to do so. This is because C.S Lewis’ main aim is to introduce evil actions, how it envisions a loss of innocence, humankind’s redemption and gives the audience a different perspective on faith, but to also create mythical creatures and a fantasy world because it makes it more entertaining and ‘magical’, more relatable to a younger, more imaginable audience as it is children’s literature, who won’t have the previous understanding, as an older audience might have.

However, Fiske also argues that “the theory of intertextuality proposes that any one text is necessarily read in relationship to others and that a range of textual knowledge is brought to make it easier to read” (1987). This suggests that the authors do it for the own advantage, and that these relationships do not take the form of specific allusions from one text to another. Instead, it can also be criticised that the meaning isn’t clear enough for people to immediately understand the background, the real meaning and teachings behind the historical content. It can be criticised that the theme of War and how they relate to the fictional characters is Optional Intertextuality, as this “has a less vital impact on the significance of the hypertext. It is a possible, but not essential, intertextual relationship that if recognized, the connection will slightly shift the understanding of the text” (Fitzsimmons, 2013, cited in Anon, no date). This means it is possible to find this cultural theme, but the reading of the hypo text is not necessary to the understanding of the hypertext. The audience will still understand the text if they do not notice the War intertextual link, as it is related more to a Christian genre.

In conclusion, it can be said that Barthes argument of the writing and the creator being unrelated is very extreme, resulting in thousands of sources of culture cannot be objectively confirmed nor denied. Even though authors like C.S Lewis may use and interpret different (especially historical and cultural texts) and use it within their work, they still interpret it themselves to create their own meaning and a story behind it for their specific audiences. This is for them to enjoy, cause an emotion and teachings around it. With Narnia, it constitutes from an old source, which has more value in its desire to be more precise and to be able to construct a nest of related meanings around the intertextuality of the text. Novak (2017) stated that “alternatively, you may use a text source and explore it further” arguing that it isn’t copying the original text, it is potentially a fruitful way of understanding intertextuality, as it means that the story is more interesting and adapted. This is what is so powerful and admirable about intertextuality, there are so many things that can be altered to create the story as you wish. This is because intertextuality is not a time bound feature, and will always be used in ours and future generations, enhancing culture with more topics and historical events to occur, resulting in more literature to be written.

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