Book Review: The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams

Why did C.S. Lewis write The Chronicles of Narnia?

Some praise Lewis’s “Christian allegory”, while others rage against the heavy handed allegory – Polly Toynbee of the Guardian writes that “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion” and quotes Philip Pullman saying that Narnia is “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read.” (Her critical column can be found here).

But C.S. Lewis made it clear that Narnia was not intended allegorically – although he did have a purpose in writing Narnia, a purpose Toynbee quotes as to “make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life”.

In The Lion’s World, Rowan Williams expands upon Lewis’s stated purpose, suggesting that “Lewis is trying to recreate for the reader what it is like to encounter and believe in God.” It’s a fascinating suggestion, and one that Williams backs up rather credibly with various arguments.

But The Lion’s World is not a book of arguments. Instead, it is more like sitting down for book club with one of the smartest and most widely read persons of your acquaintance and listening with fascinated interest as he gives his thoughts. And lest you think smartest and most widely read equals most pompous, let me quickly dissuade you of that idea. Williams is humble and approachable as well.

I didn’t take notes as I read, didn’t flag paragraphs, didn’t file things away for comment in my review. I just read, delighting as Williams danced from theme to theme, bringing up things I’d felt but not put together as I read the Chronicles.

Williams does not accept Lewis’s theology unquestioningly, he occasionally notes a tricky theological or cultural comment or a clunky bit of prose. But The Lion’s World doesn’t exist either as an apologetic or as a critic of the Chronicles or of Lewis – it is written as a conversation from one Chronicles enthusiast to another.

It was a pleasure to read. And, at just 144 gift-book-sized pages, it was an easy read too.

Rating: 4 stars
Category: Commentary on the Chronicles of Narnia
Synopsis: Rowan Williams discusses a number of themes he sees throughout the Chronicles of Narnia.
Recommendation: Fans of the Chronicles will likely find this book enjoyable.

There is no land called Narnia

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.

Down from the mountain

When I was in high school, our youth group talked about “mountaintop experiences”.

Mountaintop experiences were when we had some sort of emotional experience with God or His word, usually at a camp or other special event. We would get all hyped up about one thing or another – evangelism, personal holiness, being in the word, whatever.

I don’t remember if we had any direct teaching on the Biblical basis for the term, but it hearkened to Moses on the mountaintop receiving revelation from the Lord or to Peter and James and John seeing Christ transfigured on the mountain. Away from people on the mountaintop, each of these had very special encounters with God.

And each of these ran into difficulties when they returned from the mountaintop to face everday life. Moses found the camp worshipping a golden calf. The disciples came down to discover their compatriots unable to cast out a demon.

We were given warnings about life off the mountaintop. We were warned that we’d come home from camp only to be tempted to get into a fight with our parents. And, amazingly enough, the warnings were usually right. It was a lot harder to be obedient, to be in the Word, to tell others about Christ once we were back in everyday life, once we had to clean our rooms and do our homework and get along with our siblings.

I was struck, as I re-read The Silver Chair last month for the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, that Lewis describes a mountaintop experience as well – and describes the difficulty of coming down from the mountain.

Jill meets Aslan on a vast plateau that sits high, high, high above the land of Narnia. She receives a task from Aslan: to find the lost prince of Narnia. And she receives four signs by which to complete the task.

Before Aslan blows Jill off the mountaintop to meet Eustace, he gives her a last warning – a warning about life off the mountaintop.

“Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. And now, daughter of Eve, farewell — “

Aslan gives two instructions on leaving the mountaintop, but they are really one.

“Remember, remember, remember,” Aslan said. Lewis has Aslan almost quote the words following the Hebrew shema in Deuteronomy 6:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

~Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (ESV)

Aslan was telling Jill that she needed to remember what he had spoken. She needed to repeat his words to herself multiple times a day. She needed to return to his word again and again and again.

“Let nothing turn your mind”, Aslan said. He was telling Jill that she needed to purpose to be obedient to Aslan’s word. What’s more, she needed to keep on purposing to do Aslan’s word, whatever the inducements otherwise.

“Take great care that it does not confuse your mind,” Aslan said. He was telling Jill that she needed to guard against distraction. I am reminded first of Titus 3:9 (I’m in Titus now, so that’s on my mind quite a bit), where Paul warns the Cretans: “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” When Jill told bits of their quest to the lady of the green kirtle, she laughed them off with what seemed like enlightened words, dismissing Aslan’s words as myths. Eventually, under the power of the lady’s smoke, she would make Jill and her companions doubt that life above the ground even exists. Confusion was everywhere – but Jill needed to guard against distractions from her purpose – and from what Aslan had said.

“Pay no attention to appearances,” Aslan said. He was telling Jill that she needed to value Aslan’s word above her interpretation. How easy would it have been for Jill to have paraphrased the third sign “You shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you” as “Follow the directions on the stone sign”? Very easy, I think. And when she saw the words “Under me” inscribed on the stone? She would have been looking for a stone sign, not writing carved on the stone underfoot. She could have missed (and nearly did miss) what Aslan had directed if she’d allowed herself to fixate on her interpretation of the sign rather than the sign itself. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day did exactly that, fixating on what they thought the Messiah was supposed to be and missing the Messiah when He came. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 ESV)

Lewis’s advice, given by the mouth of Aslan, is good advice, I think, for those of us who live on this side of divine revelation. We have the signs, they are written in the Scriptures. But as we live our busy lives, if we are to live out the purposes for which God has called us, we must:

  • Remember what God has spoken
  • Purpose to be obedient to what God has spoken
  • Guard against distractions
  • Value God’s word above our interpretations

If we do these four things, I think we will avoid many of the traps that lie in store for us in this world down from the mountain.

A Different Sort of Journey

As I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I am struck with how different (for the earthlings) this trip to Narnia is than the others.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensies travel to Narnia by their accident but by Aslan’s grand design to fulfill the long ago prophecy of sons of Adam and sons of Eve sitting on the thrones in Cair Paravel.

In Prince Caspian, the Pevensies travel to Narnia when called by Susan’s horn to set the rightful heir to Narnia’s throne on his place.

In The Silver Chair, Eustace and Jill travel to Narnia to find and free a captured heir.

In The Last Battle, Eustace and Jill travel to Narnia to help the final king of Narnia fight his last great battle.

In each of those four titles, the earthly children travel to Narnia for a specific purpose that changes the course of Narnian history. In The Magician’s Nephew, one could argue that Digory and Polly do not travel to Narnia for the purpose of depositing evil there – but that is what they do nonetheless, forever altering the Narnian landscape (Of course, a sovereigntist such as myself might argue that this is indeed the purpose for which Digory and Polly made their way into Narnia – but I think it would be dishonest to presume that C.S. Lewis, a less eager sovereigntist, would feel the same way.)

So, in each of the other Narnian chronicles, earthly children find themselves taken to a new world, to Narnia, in order to change Narnian history. But not in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (I am aware that the Narnia fan will accuse me of skipping The Horse and His Boy – and they would be right. I have skipped that book because it does not anywhere within it include an earthly child being transported to Narnia – and it is that scenario that I am looking at in this post.)

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one can indeed argue that Caspian’s great sea voyage would have turned out very differently if Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace had not been dumped into the sea beside his ship. One might even say that Caspian may well have died on his voyage were the Pevensies and Eustace not there. That certainly could have changed the course of Narnian history. But one could just as easily say that Caspian would have had an eventful but ultimately successful voyage whether or not Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace were there.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not about the transformation of Narnia.

Instead, it explores a more subtle transformation – the transformation of people – especially of Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading ChallengeI am in Narnia again this month, reading along in conjunction with Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. Don’t forget to drop over by Reading to Know to see what kind of goodies Carrie has there for Narnia lovers!

Truth and Consequence in Prince Caspian

Chronicles of Narnia Reading ChallengeThe time has come to close this year’s Chronicles of Narnia reading challenge–and I, as usual, have not managed to quite accomplish what I set out to do.

My plan, per my introduction post, was to explore how the different characters in Prince Caspian responded to the truth. I also intended to read Roar: A Christian Family Guide to the Chronicles of Narnia–and I checked out one of the old (think, stuffed lion) videos of Prince Caspian out of the library.

I ended up doing only the former–and not as completely as I had intended.

First, I looked at how the four Pevensies came to the conclusion that they were back in Narnia.

Next, I looked at Caspian’s childlike faith and discussed the role of fairy tales in revealing truth.

Third, I discussed how the Telemarine’s suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, inventing ghosts to fear rather than fearing and worshiping Aslan.

Finally, I talked about Trumpkin’s skepticism and his personal road to belief.

I had intended to go one step further and discuss Lucy.

Lucy’s role in Prince Caspian is reminiscent of her role in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. While all four children enter Narnia together this time, Lucy still ends up being something of a guide–with more knowledge than the rest.

Her more knowledge, of course, is a direct result of being the first of the children (and Trumpkin) to see Aslan when He returns from over the sea.

Just like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the rest of the children don’t believe Lucy’s story. They don’t think she’s lying, like they did then; but they still believe her to be mistaken about having seen Aslan. How can Aslan be there if they can’t see Him?

Because the others don’t believe Lucy, they are unwilling to take the route she suggests. So Lucy finds herself miserably traveling an opposing route–a route that turns out to be ruinous.

When Lucy at last finds herself face to face with Aslan, He comments that much time has been lost that day.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so–”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “you don’t mean it was? How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that…oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

~From Prince Caspian

Lucy knew the truth. She had seen Aslan, had seen him directing where they should go. But when the others refused to listen to her testimony, she turned aside and followed them along a foolish path.

She knew the truth but did not walk in the truth.

In this case, Aslan offers mercy and gives Lucy another chance to follow him. This time, the rest of the group reluctantly give in to follow and all turns out well.

Lucy didn’t know that, couldn’t have known that. She needed to be willing to walk where Aslan led whether or not anyone else came with her.

Of all the things that we can do with the truth, this is the one that I most closely identify with. I know the truth. I believe the truth intellectually. But when it comes to walking in the truth, acting on what I affirm, I often take the path of least resistance.

Oh, that God would work in my heart that I might will and do His good pleasure.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
~3 John 4 ESV

This has been my wrap-up post for this year’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. Follow the link to read what other people have been doing and thinking during this year’s challenge. (If your interested in my past participation in the challenge, you can check out my Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge tag.

Trumpkin: The Modern Skeptic

“Do you believe all those old stories?” asked Trumpkin.

“I tell you, we don’t change, we beasts,” said Trufflehunter. “We don’t forget. I believe in the High King Peter and the rest that reigned at Cair Paravel, as firmly as I believe in Aslan himself.”

“As firmly as that, I dare say,” said Trumpkin. “But who believes in Aslan nowadays?”

~From C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian

Trumpkin is the best sort of modern man, except that he’s not a man at all but a dwarf. He’s loyal, practical, and not willing to put up with any nonsense.

Unfortunately, he considers Aslan and the kings and queens of old and Cair Paravel and the sacred How among the “nonsense”.

When the Dark Dwarf suggests introducing Caspian to an ogre and a hag, Trufflehunter argues that they would not have Aslan as a friend if they were to add such to their ranks. Trumpkin cries out bravely “Oh, Aslan! What matters much more is that you wouldn’t have me.”

Trumpkin doesn’t believe that blowing Susan’s horn will do any good–in fact, he is rather disgusted that it may lose them two fighters–but he is loyal to his king and will go in search of the help he is sure will not be coming. “I might as well die on a wild goose chase as die here. You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You’ve had my advice, and now it’s time for orders.”

Once he finds himself (rather circuitously) dropped in the laps of the Promised Four, he is willing to let them be the children from the stories–but is less willing to believe that they’d be any help. It takes being beaten twice, once by Edmund at a sword fight and a second time by Susan at archery, for him to believe that they are indeed the Expected Help.

Even still, Trumpkin holds out. Yes, he is forced to admit that magic must exist (inasmuch as it has brought the Pevensies to Narnia), but that is all he will admit.

Like the modern scientist forced by the reality of this universe’s beginning to acknowledge the need for a greater cause, Trumpkin grudgingly admits to magic. But his god, like Stephen Hawking’s, is a deistic, impersonal first cause; not the Aslan of Narnian legend or the God of Scripture.

Lucy’s testimony, likewise, is unable to convince the hardened skeptic. “Her Majesty may well have seen a lion. There are lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear…He’d be a pretty elderly lion by now if he’s one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what’s to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?”

At last, Trumpkin comes to believe, but only because he has been in the lion’s mouth.

“The Dwarf, hunched up in a little, miserable ball, hung from Aslan’s mouth. The Lion gave him one shake and all his armour rattled like a tinker’s pack and then–hey-presto–the Dwarf flew up in the air. He was as safe as if he had been in bed, though he did not feel so.”

Trumpkin is no longer skeptical. He has come flesh-to-flesh with the reality of Aslan. Aslan the Dangerous, who could have killed him with a single crunch of His jaws. Aslan the Merciful, who put him on his feet and offered him friendship.

Trumpkin no longer has a choice. He can no longer deny. He can only agree with Aslan.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

This post is another part of my investigation of how different characters in Prince Caspian relate to the truth. I am reading Prince Caspian as part of Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. Follow the link to see who else is participating in the challenge–and to read some of their posts.

Suppressing truth, inventing ghosts

“…We believe it was far from here, down at the mouth of the Great River, on the very shore of the sea.”

“Ugh!” said Caspian with a shudder. “Do you mean in the Black Woods? Where all the– the–you know, the ghosts live?”

“Your Highness speaks as you have been taught,” said the Doctor. “But it is all lies. There are no ghosts there. That is a story invented by the Telmarines. Your Kings are in deadly fear of the sea because they can never quite forget that in all the stories Aslan comes from over the sea. They don’t want to go near it and they don’t want anyone else to go near it…And the Kings and great men, hating both the sea and the wood, partly believe these stories, and partly encourage them. They feel safer if no one in Narnia dares to go down to the coast and look out to sea–towards Aslan’s land and the morning and the eastern end of the world.”

~From C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian heard the truth about Old Narnia and believed it with simple childlike faith, dreaming of the days when all was right, when animals spoke, and Aslan ruled.

Others learned or knew the truth and were terrified.

The Kings of Telmar had plenty of reason to fear the talking animals of Narnia, the dryads and the naiads. They had plenty of reason to fear Aslan.

They were cruel and heartless kings, kings who ruled with injustice and demanded what was not theirs. Old Narnia would have no reason to be kind to them should Old Narnia awake.

Frightened of the implications Aslan’s return might have for their future and power, these kings blocked off every route to Aslan. Using nature and superstition and tradition, they turned the people’s eyes away from the Eastern sea.

They suppressed the truth, claiming that stories of Old Narnia were mere fairy tales, spun by old wives without sense.

They traded their fear of Aslan for a new fear–fear of the ghosts they’d invented, the ghosts they claimed inhabited the woods beside the sea.

The funny thing is that even those who knew perfectly well that the woods surrounding the Sea weren’t haunted, even those who invented the stories of the woods being haunted, found themselves enslaved in the lie of their own making.

They started to half believe it, this tale that they’ve created. They transferred their terror of Aslan into terror of the woods.

By trading fear of something truly powerful with fear of something that didn’t really exist, they thought that they could somehow become secure in their wickedness. So long as they avoided the woods, they could do whatever they wanted, right?

But the kings underestimated their own power.

Aslan exists, whether anyone believes in him or not.

Their actions are deplorable and will be judged, whether they acknowledge the judge or not.

For now, Aslan has given them over to their lies, to the tales they have created to justify their lives, to obscure the truth.

But the lies will not remain forever, the truth will triumph at last–and their foolish dark hearts will be destroyed in the lies they have embraced.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

~Romans 1:18-25

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

This post is another part of my investigation of how different characters in Prince Caspian relate to the truth. I am reading Prince Caspian as part of Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. Follow the link to see who else is participating in the challenge–and to read some of their posts.

Fairy Tales: Truth Veiled

The young Caspian is the epitome of child-like faith.

Enthralled with the stories his nurse has told him, longing for days long since past, his faith finds voice when his uncle asks him what he might wish for that would be better than being King of Narnia.

“I wish–I wish–I wish I could have lived in the Old Days.”

The power-hungry Miraz, always alert to threats to his authority, is suddenly watchful, now slyly seeking information from his unsuspecting nephew.

Caspian, too young and too naive to recognize his uncle’s tone, blathers on about the wonders of the Narnia of yesteryear.

Finally, the usurper’s edict comes down. Those were mere fairy tales and Caspian was not to talk–nor even think about such things again.

Fairy tales.

Curious things these.

Lewis recognized their power, their ability to go beyond morals to convey truth.

While scheming parents (or modern ones, as we see in Caspian‘s sequel) quell the fairy tales in favor of cold, hard fact; Lewis gives fairy tales prime time.

To Lewis, fairy tales aren’t wishful thinking–they’re whispers of lost reality. They’re echoes in the heart that hearken to a word once spoken but now lost.

The young Lewis felt a thrill as he read Norse fairy tales. He felt the power of those stories, even when he did not understand it.

The adult Lewis came to believe that those stories were true. Not factually accurate, but true portrayals of reality. True tales of spiritual realms, of hearts’ longings, of epic bravery.

Is it surprising that the tales Miraz derides as “nonsense”, a “pack of lies”, and “silly stories” turn out to be true in fact?

Of course not.

For Lewis, fairy tales were the truth, veiled.

The childish wonder at a fairy tale is only one step away from fully mature faith.

Even if Caspian no longer believed those fairy tales to be true, he dreamt that they were. He longed for a reality beyond himself.

It was this longing that made Caspian into the man he became. It was this longing, rooted in his childhood faith, that made him the King he became.

Longing for the fairy tales, once he discovered that they were true, made him into a man worthy of tales.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

This post is one part of my investigation of how different characters in Prince Caspian relate to the truth. I am reading Prince Caspian as part of Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. Follow the link to see who else is participating in the challenge–and to read some of their posts.

Prince Caspian: Returning to Narnia

It always stuns me a bit, how dense the Pevensie four can be.

Magically whisked out of their own world and placed along a coast of quite another, they haven’t a clue where they are.

Actually, that’s not quite right.

Lucy questions hopefully, “Do you think we can possibly have got back to Narnia?”

Yet she and the others seem entirely satisfied to drop the idea when Peter responds: “It might be anywhere.”


Why don’t they get that they’ve returned? Why can’t they understand that, of course, they’re back in Narnia?

I want to shake them, so accustomed I am to the multitudes of routes by which one might enter Narnia.

But I have to remind myself to step into their shoes, to see through their eyes.

While I have already read three books of Narnia, they have only lived two. And their two are really just one story, mostly just one visit through a single portal.

They have only entered Narnia through a wardrobe, have only known a certain way for magic to operate.

They recognize the magic but not the destination. This is not the way they are used to getting to Narnia.

Like a passenger approaching a familiar place from the opposite direction, they were confused by what they saw.

Lucy’s response is hope, hope without any apparent basis, hope easily squashed by Peter’s simple words. “It could be anywhere.” When “anywhere” turns out to be somewhat reminiscent of Narnia, with a great hall and a dais, she suggests that they “pretend we were in Cair Paravel now.”

Susan responds with a wistful nostalgia, missing Narnia but acting as though she has no hope in returning. She dreamily singsongs about “our castle of Cair Paravel at the mouth of the great river of Narnia.” She chokes up when she sees the golden chessman, speaking of the lovely times she remembers.

Edmund plays the pragmatist, seemingly unconcerned with where they are so long as they survive. He suggests that they search for fresh water, that they eat their sandwiches before they go bad, that they should somehow figure out how to survive within the woods.

And Peter–Peter is forever logical. “It could be anywhere,” he declares when they have just arrived. He does not know enough to say and so he won’t.

When they find a castle and begin to speculate, Peter is the one who correctly identifies the place they’re standing as a hall with a dais on one end.

And when Susan finds the golden chessman, it is Peter who connects the dots and concludes that they are in Narnia, articulating his logic in four points.

Now Edmund is the skeptic, questioning Peter’s conclusions, bringing up holes in his theory.

Lucy devises an hypothesis to test whether Peter’s conclusion is true.

Susan would rather not explore, would rather not know, would rather leave it all alone.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading ChallengeHere, as the four return to Narnia for the first time since they ruled as kings and queens, I am fascinated by how they approached the truth I can so plainly see. I am transfixed by their range of attitudes, emotions, and thoughts as they question where they are.

All throughout Prince Caspian, I see a theme. How will each character respond to truth? Will they seek it or run from it? Once they have found it, will they embrace it or fight against it? Will they dismiss it as a story, twist it in fear, or welcome it as a friend?

I’m eager to further explore this theme as we header further up and further in!

This post is (as most of you can guess) part of my participation in Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. Follow the link to see who else is participating in the challenge–and to read some of their posts.

Escaping through the Wardrobe

My little sister practically forced me into reading the Harry Potter books starting last weekend–and it’s been fun. But I was delighted when June rolled into July, marking a hiatus from venturing into unknown worlds and inviting me to return to my first-fantasy-love: Narnia.

That’s right, it’s time for Reading to Know’s annual “Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge”–and I’m here with bells on.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

I’m reading Prince Caspian this year, continuing my slow march through the books, attempting to dig deeply and savor whatever symbolism and meaning my mind can find.

To be honest, I’m a bit scared this year, worried that I won’t find anything meaningful, that my brain won’t be working, and that my analysis will be shallow.

Even as I listened to an audiobook version of Caspian on my way to work on Monday, my mind was racing for the perfect symbol, the perfect theme to settle upon for my blog posts this month.

But time traveled on and my mind slowly grew accustomed to Narnian air and ready for whatever meaning is to be found in this volume.

“I don’t think Edmund would have had a chance if he had fought Trumpkin twenty-four hours earlier. But the air of Narnia had been working upon him ever since they arrived on the island, and all his old battles came back to him, and his arms and fingers remembered their old skill. He was King Edmund once more.”
~from C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian

Just as it took the Pevensies time to acclimate themselves back to Narnia–even just to recognize that they were in Narnia, it has taken me awhile to shed my grown-up analysis and to return with the eyes of a child. But I’m back. I’ve escaped. Whether called by Susan’s horn or in through a picture or hidden in a wardrobe, I have made my way in and I’m not leaving until I’ve experienced it fully.

Are you coming?

Check out some of my previous years’ explorations in Narnia: