Why a Narnian?
This blog isn’t about Narnia. Not specifically anyway. Well, in a way it is.
It’s about living like a Narnian (even if there isn‘t any Narnia). Well, not really like a Narnian. I wouldn’t recommend wearing a sword and armour and talking to mice and badgers. And there’s a dismal shortage of Centaurs, Fauns, Dryads, and Marshwiggles in our world. Nor would I expect four children to be sitting on any thrones. So it’s not really about living like a Narnian in that sense. But it is about the philosophy of living like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.
What I want this blog to be about is both the day-to-day living out of the life of faith and ‘bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ‘. I believe that encompasses everything from food to theology. What I plan to post under that heading is a hodgepodge of ‘whatever I feel like writing about’ (isn’t that what blogs are for?). That could be articles, by me or others, on a variety of subjects; book and movie reviews; brief reflections on the two topics I mentioned; or just scribblings about how great my Saviour is, how wonderful my life is , how amazing my parents are, and how adorable my siblings are.If you’re still confused about the name, read my first offering: the below article on The Silver Chair. In fact, read it even if you’re not confused.
Now let’s go further up and further in!
Living Like a Narnian (even if there isn’t any Narnia)
I have loved C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia ever since my father first read them to us when I was nine. Over the decade since, I have continued to read and reread them, finding them both richer and more enjoyable every year–finding, in fact, that Aslan grows bigger as I grow older (Prince Caspian, p.141).
My favourite Chronicle has always been the fourth (or the sixth if you prefer), The Silver Chair. The gist of the story is this: Aslan, the great Lion, sends two children from our world, Jill and Eustace, to find Narnia’s lost Prince Rilian. Their guide and companion on the quest is the ever-serious Narnian Marshwiggle Puddleglum (I think Puddleglum may be my favourite Narnian character).The climax of The Silver Chair is among the most powerful scenes in all seven books: After a long and perilous journey, Puddleglum and the children have found the lost Prince and freed him from the enchantment that bound him to the Green Witch and her dark underground realm. Before they can escape, though, the Witch herself appears, determined to regain the Prince (and her scheme to take over the land of Narnia).
She uses her evil enchantments to persuade the foursome that all the things they know, love, and believe in–sun, sky, the land of Narnia, the children’s own world, and even the great Lion Aslan–are nothing more than a dream, a game of the imagination, a children’s story, while her cold, lightless, joyless kingdom of Underland is the only real world. She mocks ‘how [they] can put nothing into [their] make-believe without copying it from the real world’ (‘you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun . . . you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion’) (The Silver Chair, p. 180).And it is at this point, with the Witch’s enchantment nearly complete, that Puddleglum the Marshwiggle steps forward to become a Narnian hero. He stamps out the fire that the Witch is using for her spell; he then turns to her and says:
‘One word, Ma’am . . . All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst of things and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more 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. . .Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just four 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. So . . . we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think, but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.’ (The Silver Chair, p. 181-182)
There’s more to the story, but I’m going to stop here, because I want to talk about Puddleglum’s words. It seems to me that the statements about reality that Lewis makes through Puddleglum express certain aspects of the great battle going on in our own world since the beginning–this great antithesis–, and the two sides in it, better than anything else I’ve read outside of Scripture. Living like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia, and being on Aslan’s side, even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it–surely that is the epitome of antithetical living and thinking.
An Antithetical Expression
As for the antithesis, the Scriptures are full of expressions of it. In Genesis 3, we have the seed of the Serpent at enmity with the Seed of the woman; John 1 describes it as light shining in the darkness. Throughout the Bible, the people of God are told that they are separate, that they belong to another world. And our Lord Himself said that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
The antithetical expression that Lewis uses here–‘a play-world, which licks the real world hollow’–might seem too frivolous, considering that we’re talking about Reality itself. It must be remembered that Puddleglum’s speech is a refutation to the Witch’s charge–notice that he says ‘if you’re right’. What the Witch is saying is that there is only one world and it is the one that can be presently seen and felt and heard; it is the one she has made–cold, dark and inhabited solely by her slaves (‘I have work for you all in the real world,’ she says at one point [The Silver Chair, p. 180]). And in her world, there is no place for light and beauty–or for the great Lion who sacrificed himself for his people. In her view, to believe in these things is to be childish, not dealing in reality.
Puddleglum’s response is that if she is the creator of the only reality, she’s not very good at it. Their play-world, their Aslan and Narnia, can ‘lick her real world hollow’. When he says that ‘the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones’, he is telling her that her world is meaningless and purposeless, compared to the play-world where Aslan rules. (Earlier in the story, the people of Underland are described as being ‘as busy as [they are] sad, though Jill never found out what they were so busy about.’ [The Silver Chair, p. 150])In the modern church, people are so ‘carried about with every wind of doctrine’ that their faith constantly needs the affirmation of new ‘evidence’ (for creation, or the Resurrection, or whatever else). It would be the better if we looked at the arguments from the ’real world’ the way Puddleglum does–if, instead of having our own faith weakened by their accusations, we were able to say, ’So, even if we are nothing but the product of a chance arrangement of molecules–if life is only a matter of “survival of the fittest”–then is that any reason why I should start living in the despair you live in?’ If all that is the only reality, then all these things that we’ve made up seem to be a lot better than real life– it ‘licks their real world hollow’. (Of course, we know all along that we did not make it all up–that it, not the ‘real world’, is the only reality, just as Aslan and Narnia were not a game that the four friends had invented).
Standing by the Play-World
I think that the reason for my identification with this passage of The Silver Chair is rooted in certain conversations that I have watched my parents having over the years, and which I now find myself having as I grow older. It seems that the more my parents, and now I, seek to apply the revealed will of God to every area of life, the more dissension they get from well-meaning relatives and friends. Phrases like ‘real life’, ‘realistic’, and ‘the real world’ seem to come up often in these types of conversation. One such area of dissension is that of education and child training: ‘How is homeschooling going to work out in real life?’ ‘How are they going to make it through life if you shelter them from what’s going on out in the real world?’ ‘It’s not realistic to expect them to go along with this once they’re teenagers’ and it goes on. It’s something different every time. It’s easy to see the applicability of Puddleglum’s ‘real world’ and play world’.
So the first time I heard this speech of Puddleglum’s I caught some part of his meaning. As I’ve grown older and learned more about the darkness and ugliness of the ‘real world’, my determination to ‘stand by the play-world’ has grown. From the outside, to those who still think that their barren and enslaved world is the only reality, the play-world seems an empty dream, a game that must end, a bubble that must be burst, even a blown-up copy of things in the ‘real world’. But they are those who, swamped in the dull purposelessness of their world, have shut their eyes and ears to the one Reality that makes the play world what it is.
The Reality of Christ is central to this play-world. He is what makes it so much better than the ‘real world’ (which is described, by the way, in Romans 1). Those who dwell in the real world, who, professing to be wise, have become fools, are those who refuse to acknowledge His sovereign rule. Yet His Kingdom can and does ‘lick their real world hollow.’
Building the Play-World
The play-world is the world we are called to build, as we separate ourselves from the false, barren, empty ‘reality’ that fallen man has built for himself. ‘What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of God. . . Come out from among them and be separate, says the LORD’ (2 Corinthians 6:17). We build the play-world as we look to the Word of God to teach us about everything–marriage, children, work, eating, education, the right view of history, literature, art, government, science, and anything else you want to ask about. The play-world is the world we build as we follow our Lord’s calling ‘further up and further in’ and see more and more of the inexhaustible loveliness of the one Reality. Let me end by quoting part of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 (and by encouraging you to read the whole chapter yourself:
‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . Where is the wise? . . . Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. . .we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called. . .Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men . . . God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise. . .(1Corinthians1:18,20-21,23-25,27NKJV)