Why I Love that C.S. Lewis Used Bacchus in Prince Caspian

Bacchus in Prince Caspian reminds me of things you find at a garage sale.

People have different attitudes towards garage sales. Some try to escape as soon as possible. Others scan and go while others carefully study each item with great thought on how it may be used or refurbished.

I belong to the scan and go group. The people who study each item thoroughly used to irritate me. But then I realized an important truth.

Where I see garbage, that person sees potential. 

Much like junk at a garage sale, I used to wish C.S. Lewis hadn’t written Bacchus into Prince Caspian. I prefer to dart off to another book to find more great value than to stop and consider how Bacchus may have potential.

I’ve never stopped long enough to consider how Bacchus could teach us.

But C.S. Lewis was very intentional in his use of Bacchus, even mentioning him in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before the whole Narnia series was plotted out completely.

“the Faun… began to talk of… Bacchus himself, and then the streams would run with wine instead of water and the whole forest would give itself up to jollification for weeks on end.” The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

While some accuse C.S. Lewis of trying to brainwash children into witchcraft, I believe that C.S. Lewis used Bacchus to show us more about redemption and God’s joy.

I’ve lived my whole life in the church, and I still don’t think I understand redemption.

I can parrot the definition.

“the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil”

I’ve experienced it within my own walk with Jesus, and I’ve heard other people’s stories of redemption.

“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Isaiah 44:22

But I still don’t understand it fully.

Perhaps this is why I ignored Bacchus in Prince Caspian for years.

Bacchus appears at the end of Prince Caspian when the victory celebration begins. Of course, Aslan is still with them. The trees have begun to dance, and all the creatures are literally digging in to start the party.

Then a figure comes to join them, appearing as a youth. He’s dressed in fawn-skin with vine leaves in a wreath on top of his curly hair. His face was fair but wild. Edmund said a few days later,

“There’s a chap who might do anything – absolutely anything.”

Meet Bacchus.

He’s also called Dionysus in the Greek. He’s the pagan god of wine, fertility, and parties. He was accompanied by a group of women called the Maenads, who are also seen in Prince Caspian. Of course, the myths about him are extremely dark and wicked as well as the worship the Greeks attributed to him.

But if we discount Bacchus out of Prince Caspian like junk at a garage sale, we miss the redemption C.S. Lewis is trying to show us.

In fact, in these short passages that mention Bacchus, we can find great truths about God that we often miss, much like the treasures hidden at a garage sale.

C.S. Lewis uses Bacchus in Prince Caspian to show us that there is Godly truth within the myths.

Before becoming a Christian, C.S. Lewis loved the Greek myths. After his conversion, he saw God within them.

His book Till We Have Faces is a retelling of Cupid and Psyche, told by Orual. As she examines herself, she hates what she sees. Only after she sees herself in truth is she given a new one — a beautiful, shining face.

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer… How can they meet us face to face till we have faces? p. 294

From the myths, we have the lesson that God takes the ugly of our life to make us beautiful.

The Apostle Paul himself spoke of this in Acts 17:16-34. In Athens, Paul was saddened to see so many idols within the city. Philosophers began to debate with him and accused him of preaching about foreign gods.

Paul used an altar within their city with an inscription that said, “To an Unknown God.” He continued to use this as a way to show them that God is not foreign and used an aspect of their culture to teach them about God.

Paul used a false god to proclaim God’s truth.

C.S. Lewis uses the myth of Bacchus to show us a deeper look at joy.

I love what the angel says the message in Luke 2:10:

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

God gives great joy.

Jesus’ first miracle was to turn 120 gallons of water into wine to keep the party going. And if you want to understand this more, listen to Tim Keller speak on this text.

In a world of rules and regulations, where forgiveness wasn’t an option, where the leading religious leaders of the time only condemned, Jesus offered joy.

“there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” Psalm 16:11

C.S. Lewis knew that great joy was found in Jesus, and it seems that he knew that often we do not find or show this great joy.

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The Weight of Glory

Joy does not come with parties and drinking. Great joy comes from God, and God is eager to give us great joy.

C.S. Lewis redeemed Bacchus himself.

Wouldn’t Prince Caspian be better without Bacchus? Maybe we should throw him in the free box at a garage sale and hope we don’t have to deal with him again. Or maybe we could take a permanent marker and black out any mention of him.

And yet God takes the sinner, refuses to rewrite the book, and redeems.

Aren’t you glad God didn’t just black out you because of sin?

Remember what Bacchus was known for? Drunkenness, sexual sins, pagan worship, and much more.

Notice that in Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis never associates those things with Bacchus. As you study the passage, you see dancing. Yes, Lucy becomes very confused, and strange things happen. But there is nothing sinful in these passages.

In fact, C.S. Lewis gives us another clue of Bacchus through Susan.

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

In our world, we have Bacchus without God. We have that wickedness and sinfulness that a life without God brings.

Once again, Susan is absolutely right. Without God, we are not safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls. But, with God, even the most sinful redeemed, are cleansed from wickedness, and filled with joy.

God studied the junk that was Bacchus, saw the potential, redeemed him, and created him into treasure.

Just like God did for me and for you.

Now I’m glad Bacchus is in Prince Caspian because where I see junk, God sees treasure.

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