On last Friday I enjoyed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, reading it for the first time since the O.J. Simpson trial. I never liked fantasy as a child; it took Redwall and Harry Potter to coax me into not holding my nose any time I came near a work with dragons and magic in it (not that Redwall has any of the latter, just a bunch of mice with crossbows and monks’ habits). I enjoyed it then tolerably well enough, just not enough to pursue the series. I’ve remained familiar with Narnia, however, because so many other people love it and through them I receive constant reminders about the book’s plot and meaning. (It helps that most of the basics are right there in the title.) The Christian allegory was a lot more obvious this time around, but what I didn’t remember is Lewis’ general charm. My favorite part of the book, in fact, was its dedication:
My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall always be
your affectionate Godfather, C.S. Lewis
I don’t think I’ve ever read a dedication I liked more. I technically read this as part of the 2015 reading challenge (a book from my childhood), something that does not require reading through the entire series. Like the Pevensie children, however, that first visit through the wardrobe was not to be my last, and I’ve spent the entire last week reading through the series. I’ve found it delightful for many reasons, not because I’m a sucker for stories about redemption. I mentioned in my comments on the books themselves the graceful way Lewis connected Christian and European themes together, using symbols from Greek mythology and creatures plucked from various bestiaries to tell an essentially Christian story. It’s most salient in the first and last books, of course, what with the sacrifice of Aslan to redeem a traitor and destroy the Witch’s hold on Narnia, and then the Apocalypse — but present in more subtle ways throughout the series. Lewis’ writing is commendable; terribly funny at times, and sweet in others. I roared when he referred to an inept headmaster being put into Parliament so she would stop getting in the way of things, and thought some of his characters utterly delightful, especially the mouse Reepicheep — his bravado was matched only by Aslan’s, and Aslan had REASON to be fearless. Speaking of which, I thought Lewis handled him better as a character than could be imagined. Other fiction featuring Jesus tends to be respectful to the point of static (Jesus just quotes himself from the New Testament), or irreverent to the point of being unrecognizable (done hilariously in Lamb). Lewis’ Aslan, despite being Jesus in another world, is neither a copycat nor a fraud; he acts in his own way in a fictional world, but he acts in ways that accord with a revered character; Aslan is revered in his own right, for his own reasons. His appearances are vanishingly brief, but regular enough that Narnians and the reader live in expectation of him; when he arrives he acts decisively. His appearance at a pivotal moment is a warning, or routs evil when his followers have done all they can do; even when he does not make a personal appearance he is revealed to have been working in the background. He is stern to the good, merciful to those who stumble, and swift to strike the obstinately malevolent. Aslan never lingers around enough to become mundane, nor absents himself so long that he becomes a mere memory. He is Aslan, always watching and waiting for the right moment to bound into the story and change lives.
For me, this week spent in Narnia was a wholly unexpected pleasure. I never intended to be hooked, and I’m glad I was! This next week I’ll continue working on the reading challenge, with two or three possible entries lined up, while in the distance looms a series I want to do on the ancient near east, with books on Sumer, Babylon, Persia, and Egypt lined up.
“For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.”
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
“We’ve got to start by finding a ruined city of giants,” said Jill. “Aslan said so.”
“Got to start by finding it, have we?” answered Puddleglum. “Not allowed to start by looking for it, I suppose?”
“I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
“This is my password,” said the King as he drew his sword. “The light is dawning, the lie broken. Now guard thee, miscreant, for I am Tirian of Narnia.”