The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a story that has withstood the test of time, and I think one of the main reasons is the Pevensie children, who are memorable on so many fronts. As Christian writers, we want our fiction to have a similar lasting impact. Through the experiences of our characters, we hope that readers will grow in their faith. But, to achieve that, we need to write characters people can connect with. A closer look at the Two Sons of Adam and Two Daughters of Eve reveals how C. S. Lewis created characters who have captured readers for generations.
1. Fallible Characters Are Compelling
Edmund is likely the first person who jumps to mind as being flawed. He betrayed his family and Aslan for some snacks, after all. But the other characters have faults that affect the story too. Susan is a skeptic, Peter can be prideful and overbearing, and even little Lucy grapples with fear and later jealousy toward Susan. But, despite their shortcomings, we still love and empathize with the characters—even Edmund.
Being a Christian doesn’t make anyone perfect here on this earth. Throughout our lives, we struggle with depravity. Yet we sometimes forget that Christians can fall into incredibly serious sins. Angelic characters will turn readers away rather than convict them. No matter what genre you’re writing, the story’s moral must be plausible for it to be moving. Don’t be afraid to let your characters stumble if it helps the story. King David committed adultery and murder. Peter denied the Lord three times. But do any of those sins lessen our respect for them? No. And they don’t diminish the power of their stories either.
Without sins to overcome and mistakes to learn from, characters can’t mature. If Edmund hadn’t joined the White Witch at the beginning, the story wouldn’t have been as meaningful. Mistakes don’t deaden your message. They enhance it. Characters need to be engaged in a spiritual battle or you’ll have trouble reaching readers.
2. Guilt Can Hold Characters Back or Push Them Forward
Edmund’s reaction to his mistakes is one of the most beautiful aspects of his character arc. The consequences of his actions are stark—friends are turned to stone, Aslan sacrifices himself, friends die trying to defeat the witch. He feels his first twinge of guilt as he sheepishly asks for more Turkish delight after ratting out the beavers. Gradually, his self-reproach intensifies and leads to repentance.
Be careful that the guilt you assign to a character is proportionate to his sin. Otherwise he will seem holier than thou. If your character tells a telemarketer that his mom isn’t home, even though she is, he should be sorry about lying and aim to be truthful in the future. But he doesn’t need to moan over it for six chapters.
As a child, I loved the Sadie Rose series by Hilda Stahl, but I remember one instance where Sadie wishes she could buy pretty ribbons at the store. For a while afterward, she berates herself for being selfish instead of focusing on her family’s needs. This was probably supposed to teach readers about putting others before themselves, but Sadie’s over-the-top response made me skip pages. Her guilt didn’t match her brief moment of discontent and ended up hindering her for a large portion of the book.
Edmund didn’t wallow in his regrets. After Aslan died and all hope seemed lost, he picked up a sword, determined to fight back. His guilt propelled him to take a stand instead of crippling him. Remorse has its proper place. God pricks our hearts so we confess our wrongs and are restored to unity with Him. Your characters need to go through that too. But once they’ve repented and attempted to repair the damage, don’t keep dredging up past offenses for no reason.
3. Weakness Is Not Spirituality
The Pevensie children are anything but weaklings. Both physically and mentally, they all have unique strengths. They’re skilled swordsmen and archers. Even sweet Lucy rushes onto the battlefield to do the grisly work of doctoring the wounded.
I’m sure you’ve read a book where a character who was meant to be spiritually superior came across as a wimp. You can avoid this pitfall by maintaining balance with your characters and allowing them to display the full range of human emotions. During the Pevensie’s second trip to Narnia, Peter clashes with Caspian over who’s in charge and repeatedly tries to take matters into his own hands. When Aslan eventually gets through to Peter, he doesn’t cower. He corrects his attitude, then goes on to battle the Telmarines. Because he wrestles his anger in a realistic fashion, readers see his humility as a victory, not defeat.
The Bible commands us to love our enemies and be kind to others, but it also records the exploits of figures like King David, Samson, Rahab, and Deborah. These people were warriors, judges, and grave sinners. Yet they all believed in God. Christians are not feeble. Rather, our faith strengthens us.
In Brothers of the Outlaw Trail by DiAnn Mills, three brothers from questionable backgrounds come to salvation and fall in love. It’s a cute read, but I had one issue with it. When problems arise, each brother despairs that he has no mode of defense because, as a Christian, he can’t challenge the bad guy to a gunfight. Instead of faith empowering the brothers to confront their lawless pasts, it reduces them to wishy-washy, overly emotional characters who are shadows of their former selves.
History is rife with examples of men and women who were bold yet sensitive to God’s leading. Strength doesn’t have to be obnoxious. Men, for instance, are naturally aggressive, and that’s not a defect. It drives boys to wrestle, ride the bottle calf, and demolish objects just to reassemble them. If left unchecked, this aggression can result in bullying and destructive behavior. But in the hands of wise parents, all that energy can be channeled into productive outlets, and those little boys grow up to build cities, command armies, and lead in politics. God can guide people with gumption to accomplish His will. A stalwart general with unshakable faith in God can turn the tide of a war. Your story might need that type of character to complete it.
For Narnia and for Aslan!
Readers identify with the Pevensies because they’re human. Being the foretold Kings and Queens of Narnia doesn’t stop them from experiencing highs and lows, struggling with self-worth, exploring romance, and maturing into adults.
Characters who inspire readers and endure in their memories are the ones with flaws as well as virtues. If you write characters who stay humble through triumph, persevere through adversity, and ultimately conquer the task before them, you’ll be well on your way to crafting Christian fiction that resonates with readers.
Maddie Morrow grew up with her mom reading to her and her dad telling stories about cowboys hunting Bigfoot. The combination sparked her love of writing early, and she’s been lost in her notebooks ever since. Aside from writing, she enjoys loud music, good horses, and hardcover books. She lives on a farm in Nebraska with her husband and son. Her Gaslamp novella, Red as Blood, won the 2018 Snow White retelling contest hosted by Rooglewood Press, and it released in December 2018 with the Five Poisoned Apples collection.