This is a little follow-up to yesterday’s book review. You don’t need to have read that one for this. But I’d sure appreciate it! I’m not desperate, why do you ask?
Conflict is the most important aspect in making a story interesting. It pushes your characters and gives the audience something to grab their interest. If you’re story is without conflict, then do you really have a story at all?
Resolving that conflict in a satisfying way can be super challenging. How do you pay it all off without disappointing your audience? If executed well, it can make a story incredibly memorable and satisfying.
Then there’s the Narnia series and that damn lion.
Aslan is the most problematic character I’ve ever come across in fiction. He’s basically a hammer and the story a plate. Strike too hard and split.
Initially, in The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan is actually used really well. He brings Narnia to life and sends our heroes on their quest. That’s it. He’s basically an NPC in an MMO.
But as the series progresses, he starts to take a more important role than just a mysterious god-thing. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he saves everyone under the witch’s curse. In Prince Caspian, he appears right at the climax to reclaim the land. So on and so forth.
And then there’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This is where Aslan stops being mystical and becomes a story killer.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a very different story from those that came before it. Rather then being one focused story, it’s a series of smaller stories taking place over the course of… well, a voyage. Each chapter is on a unique island with a totally disconnected conflict from what came before.
Some of these stories are really fun! One island is populated by invisible people, cursed by a wizard! On another, one of the characters ends up transforming into a dragon! One is a blanket of darkness in which all dreams, including nightmares, become reality!
This is a fantastic premise for a fantasy story. How do our heroes deal with all these unpredictable challenges? How do you handle an invisible wizard? What kind of dreams and nightmares would come to life in that darkness? How do they get through such difficulties?
The answer is: Aslan shows up and solves the problem for them.
It was in this book that it became unbearable. Literally every time the story picks up and gets interesting, the characters struggling with the conflict, Aslan shows up and just waves the problem away.
This is the quickest way to suck the life out of a story. It takes all the agency away from the characters, making them feel like passengers on a rollercoaster rather than the drivers of the cart. All of the tension evaporates in every scene; why bother even leaning in your seat when you know the magic lion is just going to fix everything like a helicopter parent? What is the point of a story where the characters themselves aren’t doing things?
Worse yet: you can’t just remove the problem. Aslan is baked into series. Trying to remove him would be like removing flower from a cake. You just can’t do it!
This is the Aslan problem. It’s an issue that only gets worse and worse as the series progresses. It is the single worst issue dragging down all of these books down. The sole reason for me not having finished this series yet.
Jesus, I’ve still got, like, five of the damn things. Jesus. That’s a lot of lion.