Who is Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia?
When someone asked Augustine, “What is time?” he answered, “When you don’t ask, I know. When you ask, I don’t.”
We all know what time is, and yet it’s hard to say what it is.
To understand time, the Greeks personified chronological time as Chronos/Khronos (Χρόνος), who later was mixed with a Titan Cronus – the one who devours his own children. And this conflation is quite understandable since we are all born into this world in chronological time and, eventually, chronological time will consume us.
The Romans called Chronos Father Time. Chronos, the chronological time, gives life and takes it away. That’s why the Romans associated Chronos with Saturn, the god of the underworld.
The first time we meet Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is in The Silver Chair. He is a bearded giant asleep in the underworld. He is the largest of all giants.
“Who’s that?” asked Puddleglum…
“That is old Father Time, who once was a King in Overland,” said the Warden. “And now he has sunk down into the Deep Realm and lies dreaming of all the things that are done in the upper world. Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands. They say he will wake at the end of the world.”
Father Time is sleeping. When I first read that years ago, something stirred in me and I thought,
“Hm… we don’t yet know time for what it is. We only know the Time that sleeps. I wonder what it’s going to be like when it awakens?”
Aslan piqued my curiosity even more when he said in The Last Battle:
While he lay dreaming his name was Time. Now that he is awake he will have a new one.
Chronological time as we know it is only a sleeping, dreaming Time. It will have a different name when he awakes. In our world, time is used for estimating duration. As such it must be associated with Saturn, the god of death and the underworld. Time devours its own children because it’s under a curse. It’s not yet awake.
How did he sink down to the underworld? Why is he asleep?
The Warden in The Silver Chair says,
Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands.
It’s easy to sink down to the underworld. Father Time wasn’t an exception. He was once a King in the upper world, but something must have happened that made him fall asleep and forget his true name.
Surprisingly, we find the same motif of “sinking down” and “living in the dream world” in Owen Barfield’s The Silver Trumpet.
King Courtesy is overcome by the death of his beloved to such a degree that he forgets who he is and falls into a dream-like state. The whole land sinks into a nightmarish dream. This curse is the King’s own doing – he lost the Silver Trumpet, the only thing that keeps you awake.
And as the last note (of the Silver Trumpet) died slowly away, the light left King Courtesy’s face, and he sank back on the sofa with only a vague troubled look in his eyes.
It’s so easy to sink down, and it’s so hard to return to sunlit lands. King Courtesy awakes only after the Silver Trumpet is recovered. He wakes up and remembers who he is – at the end.
In the Last Battle, Father Time is awakened at the end of the world by the roar of Aslan himself. He rises above the horizon like a black shape and fulfills his last Saturnian duty by putting to death the old sun.
Then Aslan said, “Now make an end.”
The giant threw his horn into the sea. Then he stretched out one arm—very black it looked, and thousands of miles long—across the sky till his hand reached the Sun. He took the Sun and squeezed it in his hand as you would squeeze an orange. And instantly there was total darkness.
As Father Time fulfills his last duty as Chronos, he is reborn. He ushers in a new Narnia, where no more chronicles can be made. There’s nothing to chronicle. With the death of the old world, there’s no more chronological time.
It has a different name now. Its name is Kairos. A pregnant Time. A fullness of Time. A Time that no longer counts anything – it reveals what really counts.
Even as Mark proclaimed in his Gospel (chapter 1),
The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand.
The time has been perfected. Its curse has been lifted. It is awake.
Greeks used the word “Kairos” to indicate an opportune time, the right time, the perfected time. When Chronos has fulfilled his duty, his name is Kairos. Time no longer passes. It ushers us into the invisible Kingdom.
Time acquires a new quality. It doesn’t simply bring us horizontally from one moment to another – it makes us stop and commune with the moment as it is. Each moment is a doorway. We have all felt it. We all know what Kairos feels like. It’s a glimpse into the eternal Kingdom—a reality where Chronos is engulfed by Eternity.
Who is Father Time in The Lord of the Rings?
Here’s how J.R.R. Tolkien captures the effect of Kairos in the mysterious passages about the magic of Lothlórien.
Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien.
In Lothlórien, time was slow, even irrelevant. It was all now. Frodo felt he was, is, and will always be there. The unfading beauty of the enchanted wood made him feel like he had stepped out of the world and walked into Valinor of old.
This is more Elvish than anything. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.
Haldir, the leader of the Elves, answered,
You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadrhim.
That’s why everything in Lothlórien seemed young and ancient at the same time.
Frodo felt as if he saw Mallorn trees for the first time – as if they had just been created. And yet they were ancient as the stars of heaven.
The shapes seemed… as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever.
In our world, Father Time is still asleep. He sank into the depths of the underworld a long time ago, and we sank with it. As we walk the dark paths and corridors of the underworld, it’s so hard to believe in the existence of the Sun. The upper world seems like a dream.
Chronos takes us from one moment to the next without bringing real joy or meaning. But Chronos is not its name; it’s its curse. At the last roar of the great Lion, he will awaken and remember his true name. And he will usher us into the upper world so we can see the Sun with our own eyes.
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