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Jan 9, 2019

Aslan, Bacchus, and New Orleans’ Carnival Season

Colin MacIver

I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my children at bedtime. They like it, but I enjoy it way more than they do. (They are usually out for a good twenty minutes before I stop reading.) A while ago we finished The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and moved onto Prince Caspian. Yes, I saw the movie version and thought it was OK, but the book  hooked and surprised me with some things that the film left out all together, most especially the alliance between Aslan and Bacchus.

Bacchus? The god of wine, ritual madness, fertility, and crazy parties? Bacchus, the namesake of one of the grandest Super-krewes of Mardi Gras in New Orleans? Yup, that guy. What is Bacchus doing in Narnia? Does he work for the witch? Shouldn’t he be passed out on Bourbon Street somewhere?

Lewis has a way of rehabilitating and reimagining mythological figures. Till We Have Faces is arguably his greatest work and casts Eros as a type of Christ. (Eros a.k.a. Cupid, the Valentine’s Day mascot. He is too often cast as a chubby-winded baby with a bow and arrow. Lewis’ Eros is way better.)

Lewis’ own coming to faith hinged on the insight that the beauty, mystery, truth, and power of myth pointed to the true myth: Christ, the Word Made Flesh. Rather than reducing mythological imagination to pre-scientific silliness or wishful thinking or gilded lies, Lewis knew that the poets and myth-makers were onto something—they may have been looking through a glass darkly tinted, but they were onto something.

Bacchus though? Can we really hang out with Bacchus?

Aslan says, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!) So hop on, grab a hand full of his mane, and hang on tight.

Spoiler Alert:Along with a cast of other mythological figures, Bacchus processes, parades, disrupts, shocks, amazes, and transforms—mostly in Chapter 14, “How All Were Very Busy”, of Prince Caspian—and I love it! Is this blasphemy? Nope. It is actually the reordering of all things in service to Christ. Passion, the wild, fertile, fierce, and truly uncaged kind is not Luciferian at all. Passion at the service of itself is a piddly and weak thing. It is insecure and guarded and grabby and grasping and frustrated. But in procession with Aslan the real party begins. The celebration is a restoration, recreation, awakening of nature and super-nature.

Hence, it is important that Susan, upon seeing Bacchus, notes:

“I wouldn’t have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.”

(Chapter 11, “The Lion’s Roar”)

 The parade at the end of Prince Caspian is a good way to reimagine the gospel and the wild parade of the kingdom of God, which Jesus begins with a lot of really, really, really good wine (see John 2:1-12).  Wherever Jesus goes he brings freedom, liberty, and a great reason to party.

The Bacchus Super-krewes at New Orleans’ Mardis Gras

I’m glad I actually read Prince Caspian and I’m especially glad to have read it at the start of Carnival Season in my home of southern Louisiana. I hope I catch Aslan at the head of the parades.

You May Also Like:

Carnival Celebration

C. S. Lewis on How to Persevere in Chastity

C. S. Lewis on Humility

C. S. Lewis on the Difference Between Faith and Emotion

About Colin MacIver

Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition and co-authors of the Power and GraceGuidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides.

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