I was shocked, in rereading The Silver Chair for this year’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, to realize how much I’d forgotten from this book. It’s never been one of my favorite of the series, but I’ve still read it at least a dozen times. So why had I forgotten so much?
One scene, though, that I could not at all forget, is the scene where the Lady of the Green Kirtle aka the Queen of the Underworld returns to her throne room to find Prince Rillian free from his chair and in his right mind.
She throws some powder on the fire, filling the room with a sickeningly sweet aroma. She begins thrumming a mandolin with a repetitive, mind-numbing thrum. And at last she speaks:
“Narnia?” she said. “Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.”
The Prince, Puddleglum, Eustace, and Jill all try to counter the sweet smell, the repetitive thrumming, the queen’s patronizing derision. There is a Narnia, they say. They’ve been there. But the queen’s questioning makes clear she thinks it all a childish game, a dream. Since they describe Narnia in terms of what she knows, in terms of the Underworld, she presumes that they are only looking at her world and dreaming of something bigger and better.
Eventually, between the mind-fogging effects of the music and the odor and the scorn of the woman, all the travelers begin to relent.
“No, there never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marshwiggle, and the children.
In this scene, Lewis has the witch play the role of the Enlightenment scholar, who declares no need for god now that reason is king. Once upon a time, people needed to create myths of gods to explain their world – but now that we have science to explain, we need no God.
And here Lewis makes one of his most compelling arguments for the existence of God: joy. And the seemingly joyless Marshwiggle is the one to make it.
“One word, Ma’am,” he said… “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder….So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones….And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. 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.”
You see, science might be able to explain a lot about how this world works – but it doesn’t explain the unfulfilled longing for joy that rests in each human heart. It doesn’t explain the hunger that every experience in this world serves only to deepen. A purely naturalistic world would ultimately have us all as nihilists – since we are mere pawns of impersonal natural forces.
One must say that, if religion is a story, it is a much better story than the one naturalism tells. And if there is no heaven, at least the tale of heaven goes further to quench our forever longing than does the naturalistic story of death.
If this be a game, it’s a play-world which licks your real world hollow.
As C.S. Lewis said in prose:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
So even if there is no Narnia, I shall live like a Narnian.
I choose joy.