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Volume 13, Issue 5: Childer

Lessons from Narnia

Douglas Wilson

I have spent a good deal of time in Narnia. I have been there as a boy with my family, as my father read aloud to us. I have been there alone, as I crept off in the thrall of story grip, needing to finish the book that we had started that night on my own. When my own children were growing up, we spent many hours working our way through these stories, again and again. And I am looking forward to many more years of this with my grandchildren.

There are numerous lessons I learned there—some in Archenland, some in Narnia, some at sea, some in between the worlds—but all of the lessons learned there were lessons learned here. With some of them I learned things I had already been taught, but finally came to understand them. With other lessons, I just simply learned them somewhere but anchored them in Narnian terms. Regardless, these stories carry truths the way Christian stories should carry truths. They do not compete with Scripture, but they do show us scriptural truths in a new light. And the reason we have not seen such things in Scripture is because we are more than a little bit like Uncle Andrew, who only hears what he wants to hear.
The first great lesson was the atonement. I first realized what substitutionary atonement meant when Aslan substituted himself for the wretched and mis-erable Edmund. One died instead of another. One was released because another had taken his place. The concrete kindness in this was overwhelming. Aslan did not die for an abstraction—he died for a very unlikeable little boy, with Turkish delight all over his face. And after the death came the resurrection—the Stone Table broken and evil truly conquered.
Related to this was the meaning of conversion, and the uselessness of "good works" in trying to convert oneself. Eustace had become a dragon through his own stupid folly, and he was trapped in that folly. He did not like it at all, and so he scraped away at his own skin, trying to remove his own dragonishness from himself. But however he scraped, all his efforts at self-improvement just resulted in another dragon emerging from the old skin. If he was to be converted and changed, someone else would have to do it. Aslan tore him open in a way that he simply would not do himself.
I learned in Narnia that God cannot be contained by our categories. Aslan was not a tame lion—he was good, certainly, but goodness and niceness are not necessarily the same thing. In response to Jill's question, "Do you eat little girls?" he responded simply that he ate much more than just little girls. Here was one who swallowed up kings and empires, and yet this same one was inviting a poor thirsty girl to come by him to obtain water. Come and drink. But no conditions.
I learned dogged and faithful loyalty from Puddleglum. Whatever their situation was, he put the worst face possible on it, but it did not alter any of his allegiance in the slightest. Loyalty had nothing to do with external conditions. Looking on the gloomy side was not in order to complain, but rather to prepare for duty. The melancholy was not commended by Lewis; the bone-deep loyalty was. The melancholy, however, was greatly enjoyed by everyone—including both Lewis and Puddleglum.
And Trumpkin—I am not sure that I will ever be able to repay this loveable fictional dwarf. He did not believe in Aslan at all, but he had thrown in his lot with Prince Caspian. He opposed the use of the magic horn to summon help, believing it to be just so much superstition. He then mutters that they will lose two good fighters who must go off to wait for the help that won't arrive. But when the decision goes against him, and they decide to blow the horn, Trumpkin volunteers to be one of those to go. Caspian wonders at this because Trumpkin does not believe in the horn. "No more I do, your Majesty. But what's that got to do with it?. . . I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You've had my advice, and now it's the time for orders."
I learned the loveliness of courtesy and manners, whether in war or peace. Peter was more than willing to let King Miraz rise up after he had fallen in their combat. And Narnian nice clothes were not scratchy and stiff like our nice clothes used to be. But neither did Narnian kings and queens slouch around in sweats.
Another great lesson is the blessing of good food—food that perhaps would not commend itself to modern American food Nazis. There "came to Shasta a simply delightful smell. It was one he had never smelled in his life before, but I hope you have. It was, in fact, the smell of bacon and eggs and mushrooms all frying in a pan." Lewis knew what breakfast was, and some day we might too.
It is hard to rank these books, but I probably have to say that The Silver Chair is my favorite. The glory of real celebration is represented in a truly wonderful fashion in the Great Snow Dance at the end of the book. This is juxtaposed against the picture of refugees tumbling out of the dank kingdom of the evil Witch, and the goodness is so clear you can taste it.
When Lucy met Aslan again, she saw that he was bigger. He said, no—she was bigger. In a similar way, some day, when we have grown up, we will come to see just how great these books are. And until then, an occasional wise man will look at us and say, "Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools?"

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