Blasphemous Aslan


I was amused to find in the old forums of Into the Wardrobe a thread which discusses Pauline Baynes Narnia illustrations. I know many people find the illustrations charming, for sure I prefer her style of sketching over horrid cartoonish images. But Lewis apparently had some issue with them, and wrote to his friend Dorthy Sayers that he agreed with her assessment that sometimes Baynes’s illustrations are blasphemous. Lewis particularly disliked and found blasphemous the frontpiece of LWW:

This illustration is, objectively, pretty bad. I think Aslan is supposed to be dancing, but it looks like he is a deranged escapee from a Hawaiian zoo who has his paw up to take a swipe at Lucy, who is running away in terror, and Susan has her arms up trying to head him off.

Lewis’s problem with this picture was not, however, that it makes dancing look like a massacre about to happen, nor that it makes Aslan/Jesus look ridiculous (since, remember, he had no use for a simple allegory that Aslan=Jesus). Lewis’s problem with the picture, and what makes it blasphemous, is that Aslan is drawn badly. Lewis had issue with Baynes’s inability to draw animals, and her general ignorance of animal anatomy. To be fair, it is altogether difficult to draw a lion dancing, but in that picture Aslan’s right hind leg is completely wrong. Is it actually blasphemous, though? As Lewis says to Sayers, if medicore art was actually blasphemy Hell wouldn’t be large enough to hold the artists who committed it. But for Lewis, who held that there was truth in the philosophic concepts of Ideals and Form, to misrepresent the natural was a crime against Nature. And, given his opposition to both animal testing and vivisection, Lewis would understandably be rankled by art which mishandled basic animal physiology.

All I can say is that it’s a very good thing Lewis never saw this:


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