The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

‘And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest… Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn't find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.’

If the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe were published today the slightly incongruous appearance of Father Christmas half way through would probably strike me as a cynical attempt at squeezing the festive dollar. I know that it's super snowy in Narnia, but what is Saint Nick doing in this fantasy world of duplicitous fawns and off-hand lions? Shouldn't Narnia have its own festive figurehead? A jolly Orang Utan handing out bananas, or something.

C.S. Lewis’s friends, Tolkein and Roger Llancelyn Green thought it was a bad idea. They didn't like the fact that he was mixing his mythologies. This fascinating blog suggests that Lewis was in fact using him 'as a clue, a pointer. Father Christmas acts as a sort of “John the Baptist” to identify Aslan as the Christ figure of Narnia.'

The Christian symbolism passed me by completely as a child, as I'm sure it does most kids. It's an annoying hang-up that detracts from the true appeal of the Narnia books – their ability to transport you to this other place, and keep you there long after you’ve finished reading. And having a slightly scary Father Christmas rock up and hand out weapons to the Pevensie children in the middle of it all seemed pretty amazing at the time (and still does).

Illustrator Pauline Baynes didn't include Father Christmas in her original black and white illustrations. But she did produce the later, colour plate pictured above. As well as producing pictures for many other classics, from the Hobbit to Black Beauty she designed hundreds of cards and magazine covers, many with a Christmas theme.
Baynes is the ultimate documenter of Christmas in that other fictitious world, merrie olde England. But looking at pictures like Wassailing the Apple Trees reminded me just as much of the joyous Narnian knees ups that punctuate Lewis's epic series.


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