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.
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.
My Narniathon Posts:
- Through the Wardrobe Door (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
- The Return to Narnia (Prince Caspian)
- Into the Utter East (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
- The Boring One (The Horse and His Boy)
- Reading the Signs (The Silver Chair)
- The Unforbidden Fruit (The Magician’s Nephew)
- The Last King of Narnia (The Last Battle)