It is interesting that both of the most prominent Christian fantasy authors (not as in "Christian Fantasy" but Christians who wrote fantasy) put paradise across the sea. I realize that Tolkien's Númenor (the place across the sea in Middle Earth where Elves go, etc.) was not actually an analog of heaven (despite my title's bait wording :), and probably traces more of its mental origins to Celtic myth and legends of Atlantis. And I imagine that C. S. Lewis may have derived his idea of Aslan's country from discussions of Númenor with Tolkien as part of their Inkling's group.

But I'm wondering if there is anything in earlier Christian writings or thought (especially the Bible of course) that might have influenced this creative choice?

I also find it interesting that "across the sea" seems to have been picked up by some Christian musicians (Jeremy Enigk's "The Prophet" and I think there was one by Havalina Railroad Co which I can't find, there may be others).

So, lest this be considered off topic, I repeat: what is the Christian significance of the idea of a paradise across the sea (if any)?

  • 9
    The obvious answer (which might not be the correct one) is that a long ocean voyage is a good symbolic analogue for a one-way journey to a place you're not going to return from.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Jun 3, 2012 at 20:24
  • I didn't take either as an analogy for Heaven, but okay, now that you mention it. I don't see anything beyond the writer's making it a far away place that's difficult to reach. Would the story have been different if it had been "on the other side of the impassable mountain range", or if in a science fiction story it was "on a distant planet"? If someone can see some deeper significance, I'm happy to hear it.
    – Jay
    Jun 4, 2012 at 5:51
  • @MasonWheeler You actually have a point with that one (with Tolkien at least) Jun 4, 2012 at 15:26
  • It would make sense given the imagery of Israel passing through the sea on their way to the Promised Land.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jun 25, 2013 at 18:52
  • Side note: Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle" and Lewis' The Great Divorce both use mountains as separating a lower level of heaven from the ultimate heaven.
    – user3331
    Jul 12, 2013 at 21:05

6 Answers 6


Before Elijah was taken away into heaven, he “crossed the Jordan,” and ever since, “crossing the Jordan” has been a metaphor for dying, or crossing over into heaven. By the time of Pilgrim’s Progress (1670s or so) this was an established metaphor for gaining entry into paradise.

Now, having seen the Jordan River firsthand, I can tell you that it isn’t much larger than a creek in many parts, but in the Western European imagination it grows wider every day. As such, it being compared to a sea (long a metaphor for the underworld of death) is not a stretch.

It should also be noted that baptism — immersion in water, even if not practised that way — is explicitly tied with death and paradise in both in the Baptist and Episcopal traditions. In Baptist understanding, when one is dunked under the water they are said to be “buried with Christ and raised again.” In the Episcopal baptism ceremony, explicit reference is made to the parting of the Red Sea as we pass from death into life, all during the thanksgiving prayer over the waters.

C.S. Lewis also places heaven over the sea in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and across space (or at least a Garden of Eden on Venus) in Perelandra, by the way.

In short, the water itself is a metaphor both for the death of sin and the passing into new life. Whether it is a river or the Red Sea is just a matter of breadth.

  • i like this answer answer +1 i think it gives biblical basis
    – user4060
    Jun 26, 2013 at 3:12
  • And let's not leave out the faith groups which believe that baptism is the point at which salvation takes place.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 7, 2020 at 15:50
  • I also remember that Ransom's arrival on Perelandra involved him getting dunked into the world-ocean there.
    – EvilSnack
    Dec 4, 2020 at 18:55

Aslan's Country is not Heaven - it is Paradise, it is important to read carefully The Last Battle if you want to make a comment on this part in particular. Aslan's country is not unconnected with heaven, as Eden of old and Paradise in concept are a type of Heaven. But if you pay attention to The Last Battle, Aslan's Country is itself only a figure -- Heaven is 'inward and upward' - far beyond Aslan's Country.

As for why the image is chosen - across the sea - it is because it is traditional and mythological. It is a tangible symbol of the passage of death, especially to the landbound ancients, and even those that sailed. And we have the connection of baptism with death and resurrection, unsurprising as baptism as a word comes etymologically from the term used when ships were sunk.

For Tolkien, I'm certain he's borrowing from old myths and not making an analogy at all. He himself stated this, so that if there is a reason why this is an image of paradise or heaven it is only because people throughout the ages thought it so, not because Tolkien decided to foist that image upon his reader.

  • You're assuming that the Chronicles of Narnia form a harmonious whole. In fact, there are many contradictions. The sequels were grafted onto a tree which was not prepared to hold them.
    – TRiG
    Jun 5, 2012 at 23:02
  • TRiG - I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia to my daughters over the past year, and they seem very consistent to me. As well as extremely beautiful. God should have had CS Lewis write the Bible.
    – zipquincy
    Jun 6, 2012 at 13:40
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    No, the Chronicles are not inconsistent - there is no ret-conning, only further fleshing out of the image. As one who is a bit of a tale teller, there are two ways about it - one is Tolkien's, but his is not the only way. Most story tellers rely on intuition to keep the stories in check - and Lewis' intuition and imagination - though not always his rational faculty - were a finely tuned machine.
    – user304
    Jun 6, 2012 at 23:38

OK. Couple of things.

  • As you said, Númenor is closer to Atlantis.
  • But Númenor is not supposed to be heaven, the Grey Havens are, their name in Elvish: Valinor. They are also reachable by boat, BUT ONLY BY THE ELVES (and special others such as the wizards and the ring-bearers). Man dies and has a fate which is not known to any save the highest of the Valar and Ilúvatar himself.
  • Valinor was once a part of earth, but it was effectively removed during the second age.

Now, as to the rest of your question.

The image of water = death is actually cross cultural (the river Styx anyone?). The obvious, "baptized into his death" is the clearest, most obvious Christian analysis (cf. Rom. 6). But that is not the only point which is made about water.

As an immediate example in Narnia (there are actually several such, but it would take a good deal of work to make them more obvious): in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, they know they are close to the country of Aslan when they get to the place where the water is sweet. This means that the water is fresh and drinkable, as opposed to the salt water which can be found off of the coast of Narnia. In Revelation, the demons and powers of evil are all associated with saltwater. A "river of life", however, is associated with Christ and goodness.

Perhaps another example might be that Lewis had the witch in Silver Chair holding back a great underground flood. This actually seems to be a second variant on the same point made above.

As far as the rivers of Lewis are concerned, most of them strike me as references to the rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates — the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.

The problem comes in when you try to analyze Tolkien this way. Far better, I think, in the case of Tolkien to say that "across the sea" is more a reference to something very far away (that is how it is treated in the LotR). Yes, Valar is across the water, but it has not always been so. I suppose you could say that this is like how man walked with God in the garden, but once man was cast out he no longer had access, but I think that the metaphor grows very weak.

Most of the bodies of water dealt with in Middle Earth are rivers. There is some reference to the sea in the LotR, but it really isn't terribly important. You do find several rivers and streams, however: There is a stream in the forest of Tom Bombadil. There is a river guarding Rivendell. There is a lake which Gollum lives by. Long lake is a port of commerce (Lakeport) built in the shadow of Dale. The river is used to send products down to the Elves. None of these seem terribly important.

There is a river in the Shire (Brandywine in the shire, but Baraduin elsewhere). It represents the border between the familiar and the strange. One can find a little bit more importance in the steam that runs through Mirkwood. If you fall in, you will sleep and not wake up (for some time). The Anduin guards Minas Tirith and Gondor from attack from the East.

I actually have to say that I like @MasonWheeler's comment so much that I think I needed to add that with Tolkien, it really does seem more like it

is that a long ocean voyage is a good symbolic analogue for a one-way journey to a place you're not going to return from.

  • The Grey Havens (Elvish name: Mithlond) is a port city on the western shore of Middle-Earth, and is the departure point for Elves (and 3 hobbits, one Maia, and perhaps a dwarf) journeying to the Undying Lands. The Undying Lands are what is called Valinor in Elvish.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 7, 2020 at 15:49

But I'm wondering if there is anything in earlier Christian writings or thought (especially the Bible of course) that might have influenced this creative choice?

When describing the paradise after judgment day in Revelation 21, the Revelator begins (ESV quoted):

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

If you think of seas as separating worlds--as the "Old World" of Europe is separated from the "New World" of America--then you can see this as saying that the sea that is done away with here is an image of the sea of everything that separates us from God's country.


Of note is that the sea symbolizes several things for the Jewish people in antiquity, most notably disaster or ruin. For the most part, the ancient Jews were not seafaring people. Deuteronomy 28:68 gives them a stern warning against disobedience, clearly stating that disobedience would ultimately lead to a re-enslavement with the notable inclusion of being sent back in ships ("And the LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”)

The waters/sea are also present in the Deluge, the Exodus, Jonah's adventure, etc. The Psalmist also speaks of it with a fearful reverence in Psalm 107:23-32.

Other notable verses state:

"The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest" (Isaiah 57:20).

"There is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet" (Jeremiah 49:23).

Most appropriately to the topic at hand, though, is that the sea is also a symbol of complete and total separation, something which is notably present in the writings of John the Apostle in the book of Revelation, Ch. 21. In 21:1, you read "...the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea." Now that's an interesting phrase. No longer any sea, John? Why would you make note of that?

John's peculiar circumstance led to the development of a particular disdain towards the sea, which the text clearly demonstrates. He was in exile on the Island of Patmos; twas a barren, empty island. Finding himself amid a proverbially damning sea, and cut off by its waves from all that which he loved best. How often do you think he would turn his gaze and helplessly look towards his own beloved land of Palestine? What wonder, then, that he would have constant thoughts and visions of making it home (that is, heaven), and in doing so, is it any wonder that he should say, "And there was no more sea"? For the sea, the dreaded sea, represented separation. And in crossing that chasm, John would finally find himself in heaven.

Thus, we see a clear source from which these writings and others may draw from when they present heaven, a place of joy and repose, found across that pesky, troublesome sea.


There are etchings theologically speaking of Heaven being across the sea - specifically the Crystal Sea. For example, Revelation 4:6 and 15:2 speak of the saints standing on the sea that is as smooth as crystal (e.g., Crystal Sea). Based on the context, the two different groups of saints are standing before the Almighty's glorious throne on the Crystal Sea. This occurs in the Outer Court of Heaven (note Ezek 10:5), prior to them being glorified and entering Heaven's wondrous Inner Court that contains the New Jerusalem. Much more could be said about our passage across the sea. Please check out Our First 22 Days in Heaven.

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