“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.’” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Magic. An elusive word often thrown around ambiguously. What is it? Doesn’t the Bible only speak ill of it? If so, why does C.S. Lewis put “magic” in the mouth of Aslan—a Narnian Jesus?
Christians are not only divided on this, we’re also confused. Theologically grounded parents puzzle over their children’s books wondering if they’re making the wrong choice by allowing them to read fantasy.
Aslan and the Pevensie children provide a helpful guide. When Lewis writes of Aslan’s magic, he is using it as a literary device—revealing something about reality through unreality. In The Chronicles of Narnia, both good and evil are represented with magic. This is a broad umbrella term for both evil magic and the signs and wonders performed by Christ and his disciples. The Bible doesn’t use the word that way, but it has been defined differently in literature. In fairy tales, anything supernatural—including miracles—is considered magic. That may cause you to cringe, but Lewis is simply using the word in the same way it’s used in such stories.
So if the good miracles performed in Scripture fall into a magical category according to literary standards, how do we ferret through modern fantasy novels without being drawn toward the occult? There is, after all, fictional magic (used as unreality to shed light on reality), God’s “magic” known to us as miracles, and real evil magic used to deceive and wrongly empower. How can we tell the difference between the these when they are given the same name?
It is not so much the magic system that will give the answer, but a heart system.
Take a closer look at a few mentions of evil magic in the Bible. There is a common thread in the heart motivation of those involved.
Acts 8:9 reads, “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.”
1 Samuel 28 tells the story of Saul seeking the help of a medium (a witch or necromancer) to speak to Samuel’s spirit. When Samuel questioned why he was disturbed, Saul said “God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” (1 Samuel 28:15)
In Exodus, Pharaoh's magicians (under Pharaoh’s authority) copied Moses and Aaron (under God’s authority) as they brought the plagues into Egypt. During the third plague, the magicians weren’t able to imitate them. “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 8:19).
The common thread in these stories is pride. Like Pharaoh's magicians, using this kind of magic is merely copying God. They wanted to be like God on their own strength and merit. In Acts 8, Simon practised magic saying that he was “somebody great.” In 1 Samuel, Saul pridefully took matters into his own hands when calling up Samuels spirit. He was not satisfied with God’s answer, or lack of answer, to his petition. In Exodus, the magicians assumed they were as skilled as God at the supernatural. Their eventual confession that the miracles were the finger of God after they were not able to duplicate the gnats is how God humbled them.
It’s the same sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden. The serpent said, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
Pride is the heart motive for these magicians and humility is the cure. It’s knowing who you are and who God is. Knowing that everything good you produce comes is from God. It is also for God. In Exodus 9:16 God says to Pharaoh, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
How are disciples of Christ able to perform miracles? John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” They, the branches, draw all strength and nourishment from the vine. Without the vine, they can do nothing. Their health, even their very existence is dependent on the vine.
So too should fictional “magic” show a dependency on the power of God. When Lucy Pevensie uses her magic cordial (given to her by Father Christmas—an agent of Aslan) to heal someone, she doesn’t say she’s so wonderfully powerful. She uses it with humility—under the authority of Aslan and for the good of others in the same way Moses used his staff in Egypt. It was as if Lucy was saying, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
When approaching a fantasy novel, critical thinking should always precede censorship. Analyze the magic system to determine where the source of power lies. Do the magicians seek to elevate themselves, or do they wield their power in sacrifice and service to others? More importantly—does it cause you, the reader, to desire to elevate yourself over others or even over God, the source of all real power?
There is no such thing as a perfect magic system. The beauty of common grace is that despite cultural trends, mankind will continue to tell stories of humble, sacrificial love—of people laying down their lives for the good of others. And it’s that kind of humility, the kind that considers others as greater than oneself, that makes the very best kind of magic.