#Narniathon21: Farewell to Narnia

Reading through the Chronicles of Narnia has been a delightful experience, especially with all the stimulating and thoughtful commentary from our host Chris of Calmgrove and other participants. I will miss my monthly journey to this magical land; each one has brought back memories of childhood along with much to consider from an adult perspective.

As a final farewell, I joined in the suggested read of Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom To War Drobe, in which the author goes through the series with her own dual child/adult perspective. I enjoyed this as a way to revisit the series as a whole, although I thought that there was too much plot summary. The commentary was interesting, and I could have done with more of it, while I did not need a blow-by-blow recap of the books since I had just read them. But perhaps that is meant for readers whose memory is more distant.

I especially appreciated Langrish’s approach to the Christian symbolism of the story, which when viewed too dogmatically sucks all the life and magic out of the books. Of Eustace’s undragoning in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, she says, “This isn’t a story ‘about’ repentance and baptism: this is the experience of which repentance and baptism are the symbols.” A neat way to put it, and points up the importance of seeing the stories as something in their own right and not just allegories. The books were powerful for me in childhood not because they conveyed intellectual content, but because they immersed me in experiences. That is what spiritual development is all about: thoughts become experiences.

Further to that, Langrish quotes what Lewis once wrote about Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, “We ought not to be thinking ‘this green valley where the shepherd boy is singing, represents humility,’; we ought to be discovering, as we read, that humility is like that green valley.” This is why the Narnia books succeed, when they do: they give us an experience of discovery, an entryway into imaginative realities. When they try too hard to hit us over the head with Messages, they don’t work.

“What I drew from the Narnia books has stayed with me for life: the colour, richness and beauty, the breadth, depth, and glory of the world,” Langrish says, echoing my own sentiments. As I thought over my adventures in Narnia during the last seven months, I realized that the attraction for me was not any particular incident or character, not even Aslan, the symbol of Lewis’s own experience of Christ. Aslan is too inscrutable, arbitrary, and punitive, a suitable god for a soldier and academic like Lewis, perhaps, but not for me.

My own experience of what I call “Christ” has long been more like a place than a person. A place like Narnia, where people can potentially become more fully themselves, where both hidden weaknesses and hidden nobility come to the fore. In Narnia, a selfish boy becomes a dragon, while children and common Londoners become kings and queens. Actions have consequences, both good and bad, that reveal themselves in dramatic pictures. Forget your task, and you might be eaten by a giant; follow your higher impulses, and you can undo spells of invisibility or release a world from the grip of winter. The land itself is a teacher that instructs one in how to live, by its beauties and its dangers.

The land of Narnia, illustration by Pauline Baynes

This was the land that for many years I wanted to get to. I thought I had to escape from our commonplace, everyday world to get there, to be whisked away through a wardrobe or a magic picture or by the call of an enchanted horn. But now, after my own trials of hidden things coming to light, I have learned that this land is accessible here and now. We can always go “further up and further in,” not by physically dying, but by entering into the experiences of which this physical world is only the symbol, while having trust in the wisdom that created it all.

And although recently I have begun to connect more to Christ as a person, the experience of his activity as a place is still strong. The aliveness of Narnia, the speaking of its creatures, the waking of its trees and streams, always resonated with me, and still does. Everything is a person, if you look at it the right way. And the coming into a rightfully governed kingdom, where all people can live in free and joyful community rather than hierarchical tyranny and exploitation, is a worthy goal to strive for.

And so, onward! Further up and further in, into the real Narnia, which is the Narnia in our hearts, the one that can never be destroyed. Nor can it be limited to words or books or ideas. What Lewis tapped into through his creative imagination has a life of its own, to which each of us must find our own doorway. I wish you all well in that great adventure.

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13 thoughts on “#Narniathon21: Farewell to Narnia

  1. What a great post, Lory! I’m glad that the stories have retained their magic for you.

    I’m a little surprised at Langrish. Did she really refer to the stories as allegories? Lewis himself clearly stated that they were not allegories but suppositions and oddly used The Pilgrim’s Progress as an example to explain the difference between an allegory (The Pilgrim’s Progress) and supposition. Someone else mentioned something else she said about Lewis (I can’t remember exactly what at the moment) and it makes me wonder how much research she actually did before she wrote her book. However, I haven’t read it so perhaps I shouldn’t be adding my two cents. :-Z

    I absolutely LOVE the illustration you added. How beautiful!

    Do you have any other interesting reading plans coming up now that you’re done with this read-along?

    1. Langrish didn’t refer to the stories as allegories, but that’s how they are treated a lot of the time, so she was responding to that. Her point is to put the experience that one gets from reading first, which for children especially is a thing-in-itself regardless of any outer references or resonances. I think she is in line with Lewis’s intentions in this way.

      Reading plans have gone by the wayside for the moment but I’ll be mulling them over. 🙂 I was so happy to join in with this one.

  2. I agree with Cleo, what a beautiful post.

    This:

    But now, after my own trials of hidden things coming to light, I have learned that this land is accessible here and now. We can always go “further up and further in,” not by physically dying, but by entering into the experiences of which this physical world is only the symbol, while having trust in the wisdom that created it all.

    It’s a great reason to celebrate the immense gift that Lewis has left us with all his books. So glad they inspire us readers so much.

    1. I’ve been especially struck that they inspire avowed atheists as well as people on a Christian path or following other religious streams. To me what is valuable in them points towards something that is beyond our surface religious ideas and practices, and that’s what’s been so interesting to explore.

    1. Yes, we have to struggle against that tendency. The literal level is only a gateway to deeper levels, but often it becomes like a wall that prevents us from going further.

  3. I am the queen of literality…er, you know what I mean 🙂 and I am taking this idea of experience to heart when it comes to these books, because that makes a lot of sense to me. If I think about it adventure stories ARE about experiences and what is learned and how the character is changed, or not.

    My increased maladies kept me from thoroughly digging into the series during the Narniathon and I didn’t get to reread The Dawn Treader, but I plann to do that. I would like to read Langrish’s book at some point as I am not ready to let Narnia go. I also bought a copy of Planet Narnia and look forward to his take on the subject.

    I hope you enjoyed your time away and are feeling better physically <3

    1. Thanks Laurie, it goes up and down but overall I’m coping well enough. Hope you have some potential of feeling better too. You can have Dawn Treader to look forward to anyway, it’s still probably my favorite. So many experiences…

  4. What an intriguing review and reading adventure. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have never read the Chronicles of Narnia — not a one of them. (Does seeing a theatrical production of The Lion…Wardrobe count? No, I didn’t think so.) But I loved reading your thoughts about it. I think you nailed it when you said your view of Christ was less of a person than a place like Narnia, as you described it. I need to muddle on that a bit but I liked that very much. Thanks so much for stopping by Marmelade Gypsy.

    1. I’d say seeing the theatrical production counts somewhat. At least you know the basic premise and plot, even if you don’t have the special reader experience. The books are always there in case you decide to jump in!

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