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(Building on a bit of discussion from here: Are the "wood between worlds" and Aslan's Country related in some way? )

In the Chronicles of Narnia, it is well established that Aslan's Country (meaning heaven) is located across the sea from Narnia proper. However, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Aslan tells Lucy that there is a different way of getting to his country from our own world:

... I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.

Since I was a child, I have wondered what the heck he was talking about. There is no association that I know of between our world's version of Aslan (i.e. Jesus) and river crossings or bridge-building. (If the way had been via a ladder, it would have been an obvious reference to Genesis 28.) Yet I cannot imagine that Lewis was not alluding to some specific theological concept when he wrote this. So what was the theological reference he intended here?

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    "bridge-builder" is the English equivalent for "Pontifex" which is a traditional Roman title for a priest (i.e., bridging the gap between the human and the divine), and the Roman High Priest, "Pontifex Maximus" had his title transferred to the Pope. No idea what Lewis is trying to get across here, though (hence the comment and not a full answer). – Giuseppe Oct 3 '17 at 17:42
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    ^- now i want to play that game again – Stephan Bijzitter Oct 5 '17 at 7:54
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    Although Aslan’s country may be reached from Narnia across the sea I suspect it is not actually in any particular world. – PJTraill Oct 10 '17 at 20:55
  • It was this line that triggered my recognition of Aslan as Jesus when I read it as a child, after which I had to go back and re-read the entire series. Each of the stories builds on themes he addresses in his "Mere Christianity" essays, which I believe was deliberate. For information, I am a christian of evangelical persuasion. Whether or not the Bridge Builder is a biblical analogy, it is certainly a recognizable cultural analogy to people who move in christian circles. – pojo-guy Nov 24 '17 at 8:23
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To add on to what NKCampbell said, consider this from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity (emphasis mine)

An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God-that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying-the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on-the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kind of life-what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.

One of the central tenets of Christian faith is the belief that Christ bridged the gap between God and man with his death (see also the story of Creation, where man sins and is separated from God). The belief that Lewis held was that God reached back out to fallen man to draw them back to himself. That is what Aslan (an allegorical Christ) is saying in the quote.

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In context, I believe the river is death.

As you correctly note, Aslan is Jesus, not an allegory for Jesus or another member of the Godhead, he's just Jesus. And unfortunately for humanity, there is no ocean that can be crossed to enter heaven; we have to die. In our universe, Jesus's forgiveness is the bridge that allows us to cross that barrier successfully.

We see later in the books that that's exactly what happens. Lucy and co. end up in Aslan's Country, but only after being killed in a tragic train accident. Aslan wouldn't say "how long or short the way will be," because of course he doesn't want to tell Lucy she wouldn't live to adulthood,

As to why Lewis uses the river imagery, I suggest it might be inspired by the River Styx. He drew extensively from Roman and Greek mythology, including fauns, centaurs, satyrs, nymphs, minotaurs, dryads, flying horses, and even the wine god Bacchus himself. Voyage of the Dawn Treader in particular is strongly influenced by the Odyssey.

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    I had the same thought, beat me to that answer – Ram Oct 3 '17 at 19:45
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    Even moreso than the Jordan (which, after all, is a real watercourse), the Styx is crossed by boat, not bridge. – Buzz Oct 3 '17 at 19:45
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    See Pilgrim's Progress for a more direct reference. – Joshua Oct 3 '17 at 20:09
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Without seeking to get into a theological debate (which may be impossible) - I do think it fair to consider Lewis' background as a Protestant Christian.

There is a historical association with the Old Testament crossing of the River Jordan into the "Promised Land" by the Hebrew People and Protestant tradition of viewing the journey as a New Testament metaphor for Christianity: the Jordan River representing death and the "Promised Land" as heaven or a paradise afterlife. (a pop culture example being the Johnny Cash gospel song "Far Side Banks of Jordan")

When considering the orthodox Christian theology of Christ as the 'one way' to said afterlife, the bridge metaphor is apt and common - often depicted in this manner - the cross of Christ being a metaphorical bridge over death and hell from life to afterlife:

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    Interesting... but in the motif of crossing the River Jordan, it's always a crossing by boat. – Buzz Oct 3 '17 at 18:00
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    Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.... – Buzz Oct 3 '17 at 18:06
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    Just FYI, as long as we're discussing Lewis' beliefs, and not our own, it should be on-topic – Machavity Oct 3 '17 at 18:31
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    @NKCampbell "Who would cross the bridge of death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side ye see..." – Matt Gutting Oct 3 '17 at 19:16
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    @Buzz The original crossing of the River Jordan was on foot. More details in the book of Joshua. – DJClayworth Oct 3 '17 at 22:52

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