Further Up and Further In: Understanding Narnia
© 2018 Joseph Pearce
”The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets.” – The Last Battle
Christendom and Narnia are never far removed from one another, and in Further Up and Further In, Joseph Pearce takes us through the thin veil between them. He pores over the literary and theological references that deepen the world of Narnia, relying on his previous research into the life of Lewis, as well as his work on Lewis’ influences, Tolkien and Chesterton. Both are companions not just of Lewis, but of the reader here, as the three dwelt in the same moral and literary universe.
Most anyone who has visited Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe realizes its Christian connection. Aslan’s deliberate self-sacrifice to destroy the power of Death and revive not only Narnia, but redeem the withered soul of young Edmund, makes that obvious — as does the Garden of Eden story seen in The Magician’s Nephew where the same white witch leads to the corruption of Narnia seven hours into its creation. And if anyone was missing the point, then in Voyage of the Dawn Treader Aslan explicitly tells the children that he is known by another name in their world, and that they were brought to Narnia so that they would know him better there.
Although Pearce expands on the multitude of links to Christian culture — Aslan’s repeated use of “I am”, a la God’s reply to Moses in the desert, his treble use of the same phrase and other sets of three to bring to mind the Trinity, and so on — Pearce also understands Lewis as a man deep in history, and particularly in medieval history. He points out Lewis’ allusions to other figures, like El Cid and Charlemagne, based not on dry history but on legends about these men, like “The Song of Roland”. Commentary stretches to the modern age, too, as Pearce points out how Eustace Scrubbs’ parents are caricatures of George Bernard Shaw, who loved “humanity” but disliked most people, and believed in progress for its own sake, rather than people for theirs.
More than anything else, Pearce shines a light on the moral universe that was Lewis’ made ‘physical’ in the land of Narnia. There delivered were his convictions about heroism and temptation, of the self-defeating nature of evil, of the dignity of creatures both great and small, both simple and clever. In The Magician’s Nephew we see condemned the will to dominate; in Voyage of the Dawn Treader we experience again Tolkien’s “dragon sickness”, the madness brought on by fixating on materials — gold, in Eustace’s case, and secret knowledge in Susan’s. Each book has its lessons, and those who have experienced Narnia’s story and loved it will almost surely appreciate his look deeper into the wardrobe.