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A Celebration of Joy: Christian Romanticism in the Chronicles of Narnia, by Mike Bellah
Abstract and Table of Contents
Introduction
Definitions
Myth and Imagination
Children's Stories
The Ideal Reader
Fantasy and Realism
Friendships: Love in Narnia
Quest and Adventure
The Eucatastrophe
Romanticism in the Chronicles
The Failure of Romanticism
The Triumph of Chrisitian Romanticism
The Baptized Imagination
Works Cited
 

CHAPTER X: ROMANTICISM IN THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA

According to C. S. Lewis's personal secretary, Lewis did not tell the stories of Narnia to try to get a message across (Hooper 111). Walter Hooper goes on to explain that the tales are not Christian allegories (129), and he warns against trying to find one-to-one correspondence between events in Narnia and Christ's incarnation, passion, crucifixion, or ascension (100). Hooper believes it counterproductive to try to explain the theology of the Chronicles as a preface to giving them to others, especially to others of a nonreligious persuasion:

An explanation on our part is, I am convinced, very unwise, as it would very likely frustrate Lewis's purpose and blunt the effectiveness of the books. It is often precisely because many readers do not know who Aslan is that the Narnian stories have been so successful in getting into the bloodstream of the secular world. (99)

Yet one does realize in reading that much of C. S. Lewis's own world view does permeate his fairy tales, not as allegory, but as what Hooper refers to as symbols (130). Obviously a writer's own thoughts do get into his secondary world. His characters and plot, as Lewis states,

come to life in his hands. The life to which it comes will be impregnated with all the wisdom, knowledge and experience the author has; and even more by something which I can only vaguely describe as the flavour or `feel' that actual life has for him. (Anatomy of Criticism 82)

So Lewis's flavor or feel for life comes out in the Chronicles, and, as one would expect, his romanticism dominates. The waters which fill the pitcher of romance are, like the waters of the Last Sea in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", "sweet," "fresh," "real," and "strong" (198-99). They are the waters of joy itself, the romantic longing Lewis defined as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction" (Surprised by Joy 18). Lewis simply called the longing joy, and so Walter Hooper writes, "Narnia would never have come into existence had Lewis not come to understand the meaning and purpose of Joy" (2).

What are the causes for joy in the Narnian tales? What are the specifics of Lewis's romantic vision? To begin with, they are legion. Lewis once wrote that, although God withholds settled happiness and security in this world, still He has "scattered broadcast" plenty of "joy, pleasure, and merriment" (The Problem of Pain 115). Certainly such is the case in the world of Narnia, as copious examples will show.

Nature

As a small child Lewis's brother's toy garden along with the Green Hills above Belfast first taught him romantic longing (Surprised by Joy 7). In his adolescent years, he wrote, "nature . . . became herself the medium of . . . real joy" (77). Still later, he says, "Nature gave the word glory a meaning for me" (The Four Loves 20). Thus like his romantic predecessors, C. S. Lewis had a high view of nature, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the Chronicles of Narnia.

In Narnia Aslan's first command to the first king is a command to protect nature: "You shall rule and name all these creatures, and do justice among them, and protect them from their enemies when enemies arise" (The Magician's Nephew 138). Nature in Narnia is personal. There are talking trees and talking beasts with the same rights accorded them as their human rulers.

The good rulers of Narnia were known for their kindness toward nature. The High King Peter in the Golden Age "made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down . . ." (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (180). Of course, some trees could be prudently harvested, and some animals could become meat for men, but never talking trees and never talking beasts. To cut the former would be murder; to eat the latter would be cannibalism.

On the other hand, wicked people in Narnia behaved wickedly toward nature. The evil magician Uncle Andrew "had never liked animals at the best of times, being usually rather afraid of them; and of course years of doing cruel experiments on animals had made him hate and fear them far more" (The Magician's Nephew 128). In Prince Caspian the Telmarines "cut down trees wherever they could and were at war with all wild things . . ." (60). In the beginning days of Narnia, a special tree planted in the middle of the land protected it from evil and brought "joy and life and health" (The Magician's Nephew 173) to Narnians. As long as it flourished, evil was held at bay. By contrast, in the last days of Narnia, talking trees were felled and talking animals were treated as mere beasts of labor. The effect on all nature was immediate: "All round them the wood was very quiet. Indeed it was far too quiet . . . gloom and fear reigned over Narnia" (The Last Battle 59).

Nature in Narnia is glorious (the landscapes and colors are far richer than anything the children have seen on earth), but she is not eternal. Jewel the unicorn states it succinctly: "all worlds draw to an end; except Aslan's own country" (89). So when Narnia ends, Narnia's nature ends. But the good news is (indeed the joy is) when Narnia is redeemed and resurrected in Aslan's country, Narnia's nature is included: hills, flora, fauna, talking beasts--all that was beautiful and good in the old Narnia. In fact, Aslan's country boasts a scenery even "more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below" (180). Using the analogy of a landscape one views in a mirror, Lewis writes,

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean. (170-71)

 

The senses

In order to experience the joy of nature one must use his senses, which are themselves a source of joy in Narnia. According to Scott Carnell, "Lewis's writings abound in the pleasures of the five senses" (130). In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, spring comes to Narnia accompanied by sound, sight, touch, and smell (taste will be examined separately when dealing with Narnian food). The children hear "all around them . . . streams chattering, murmuring, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring" (114). The auditory experience is accompanied by a visual one:

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. Then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down onto the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree-tops. (116)

And as the party moves through the thaw, hearing and sight are joined by touch and smell when a "light breeze sprang up which scattered drops of moisture from the swaying branches and carried cool, delicious scents against the faces of the travellers" (118).

In Narnia one could put on clothes "that not only felt nice, but looked nice and smelled nice and made nice sounds when you moved as well . . ." (The Silver Chair 37). Only in Narnia could one experience "a dim, purple kind of smell" (The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" 164) and "a fresh, wild, lonely smell [which] seemed to get into your brain and make you feel that you could go up mountains at a run or wrestle with an elephant" (207). And if one is going to call to mind a purple smell or picture wrestling with elephants, he will need imagination, the next source of joy in Narnia.

 

Imagination and feelings

Like romantics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, C. S. Lewis exalted the human imagination. To Lewis, imagination reflects heavenly truth (Surprised by Joy 167), is necessary for meaning and therefore for reason (Selected Literary Essays 265), and is indispensable to Christian belief (God in the Dock 67).

In Narnia few adults have imagination (Professor Kirk is a rare exception). This lack of imagination is caused by reading the wrong books, those that have "a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but . . . [are] weak on dragons" (The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" 71). Those who lack imagination are too concerned with the practical, like Shasta's father who did not care what kind of country lay to the north (The Horse and His Boy 3). And imagination is often lost by growing up (in the bad sense), like Queen Susan who in the end does not reach Aslan's country because "she is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations" (The Last Battle 135).

Lack of imagination can cause doubt and actually blunt logic. When the other Pevensie children doubt Lucy's story of her first visit to Narnia, they do so because they cannot imagine a fairy-land that is actually true. Professor Kirk then shows how their unimaginative presupposition has led to a flaw in logic:

"Logic!" said the Professor half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth." (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 45)

In The Silver Chair the evil enchantress tries to confuse the children and suggests that what they think is real is, in truth, only imagined. They have seen a lamp so they imagine there exists a sun. They have seen cats, and now want a bigger and better cat, so they make up the lion Aslan. Only the marshwiggle Puddleglum keeps his mind and imagination free from the sorceress's spell. In the words of Puddleglum, Lewis shows that the imagination may very well be faith's last and best line of defense when assaulted by doubt's most insidious temptations:

"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all these 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." (159)

For the 19th century romantics, imagination often went hand-in-hand with feelings and thus became the antithesis to logic or reason. But Lewis is, in the words of Michael Christensen, a "rational Romantic" (100). Both imagination and reason are important; the first for meaning; the second for truth. And feelings are not the cause of knowledge, but the result. One feels because he knows; he does not know because he feels.

Feelings are important not because they produce knowledge but because they reflect it. And if knowledge is adequate, proper feelings follow. Emotions are not discouraged in Narnia but respected. When Susan and Peter fight their first battle, Lewis comments, they "felt pretty shaky" and "I won't say there wasn't kissing and crying on both sides. But in Narnia no one thinks any the worse of you for that" (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 128). The greatest vindication of emotions, however, is their presence in the Great Lion himself. When Digory, fighting back tears, asks for Aslan to heal his dying mother, he notices the Lion's own face:

What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother that he was himself. (The Magician's Nephew 142)

 

Man

Imagination and feelings are both human traits. One has no evidence that they exist in animals. And it is man, not animals or nature, that is the highest order of creation in Narnia. Like the romantic Rousseau, Lewis had an exalted view of man, but unlike Rousseau, Lewis saw man as capable of both good and evil. And because Lewis sees man as immortal, the implications are staggering:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. (The Weight of Glory 18-19)

For Lewis there are no "ordinary people" (19). Man should be taken seriously for "next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses" (19). Lewis's high view of man is stated most eloquently in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." Here Aslan tells King Caspian: "You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve . . . And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth" (212).

Man has a great heritage and a glorious destination in Narnia, but only if he can overcome his infamous heritage (human fallenness) and bleak destination (missing Aslan's Land). And so transformation is a major theme in the Chronicles. All of the children must change that part in them that would lead to corruption and develop that in them which leads to godlikeness. The metamorphosis does not occur without help:

None of the children simply "develops" into a better person. They are strongest when they are most dependent on Aslan, and it is all those Lion's kisses (imparting divine grace) that make the otherwise impossible possible. (Hooper 87)

 

Good and evil

What is that which corrupts in Narnia? What is evil? Before listing these distinct evils, one can note that there are three characteristics of evil in general: it is often beautiful; it is addictive; and it hurts mankind.

Evil first entered Narnia through Queen Jadis who is fierce and proud but, at the same time, the most beautiful woman Digory had ever known. Similarly, the White Witch has a beautiful face, but is otherwise "proud and cold and stern" (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 27). The most striking beauty in Narnia belongs to the evil enchantress in The Silver Chair who stood "tall and great, shining, and wrapped in a thin garment as green as poison" (51). She is so enticing that Prince Rilian, immediately before he is captured by her, exclaims, "I have seen . . . the most beautiful thing that was ever made" (50).

Side by side with evil's beauty in Narnia is its potential for addiction, best pictured by Turkish Delight, a candy offered Eustace by the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This treat prompts Eustace to betray his friends for "the more he ate the more he wanted to eat" and "anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves" (33).

One finds evil easy to do in Narnia. First, one finds it hard to detect and resist that which presents itself as beautiful. And second, once attempted, evil becomes as addictive as it is destructive. And, there can be no mistake, evil in Narnia is destructive; it hurts nature (beast and tree), but mostly it hurts mankind.

The list of evils in the land shows its harmful human effects: disloyalty (Edmund), totalitarianism (the Tisroc), slavery (Pug of the Lone Islands), bullying (the older kids at Experiment House), deceit (the Lady of the Green Kirtle), and manipulation (Uncle Andrew). All of these evils are crimes against man. And even the other wrongs that do not affect man directly--pride, greed, self-centeredness, cowardice, lack of imagination, equivocation, and rationalization--do so indirectly.

Uncle Andrew's cowardice allows him to use Polly for a dangerous experiment. Eustace's lack of imagination makes him a whiny brat and a pain to everyone on board the "Dawn Treader." The dwarfs' self-centeredness prompts them to betray true Narnians in The Last Battle. Shift the ape's equivocation in the same book blurs the distinction between true and false and results in the worship of a false god. And Queen Jadis's pride and rationalization cause her to destroy the people of Charn:

"You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny." (The Magician's Nephew 62)

Certainly the evil in Narnia is no cause for joy. Rather it is the triumph over it, both individually (through transformation) and collectively (through battles and quests) that gives the reader delight. One leaves Narnia with a settled sense of good, remembering the hospitality of good beavers more than the callousness of the Calormenes, the defeated White Witch at the stone table rather than the ruler in her own castle, and the transformed Edmund King of Narnia, rather than the self-indulgent traitor who sold his brothers and sisters for a box of candy. Edmund's case highlights the secret to personal transformation in Narnia, the reason the stories end in eucastastrophe, the reason personal good can triumph over personal evil, one of the greatest causes of joy in the tales; it is called grace.

 

Grace

The Christian concept of grace is summed up by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not the result of works lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9 NASB). Grace is the means for eucatastrophe in both the Bible and Narnia. Man has great potential, but he is also deeply fallen, so much so that he cannot save himself. Left alone, he will self-destruct, unchanged and unforgiven.

In grace, the superior and righteous ruler of the world (Christ or Aslan) provides a way, at his own expense, for man to do what he cannot on his own. As established, parallels between Christ and Aslan are not allegorical but symbolic; they do not have a one-to-one correspondence, but they do have similarities. Aslan does die for the traitor Edmund on the stone table. He is resurrected. He does offer all of the children forgiveness and transformation by his grace.

In Narnia, as in the Bible, grace is linked to faith. One cannot merit his own forgiveness. His own sin is too great and the divine sovereign is too righteous for self-justification. One cannot effect his own transformation either. Human fallenness is too great to be overcome by mere self-help programs. There are some things only Aslan can do, and the only proper human response to these is not works but faith. As the Beavers in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tell Peter, it is no good trying to save Mr. Tumnus from the White Witch themselves: "It's no good, Son of Adam . . . no good your trying . . . . But now that Aslan is on the move . . . . He'll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus" (73-74).

The clearest example of grace and faith in Narnia comes in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" where Eustace, who had become a dragon because of his own dragonish thoughts, is changed back into a boy. Three times Eustace tries to peel off the dragon skin on his own, only to find that beneath each layer is another of the same. As Eustace tells the story,

"Then the lion [Aslan] said . . . You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat on my back to let him do it." (90)

Faith for Eustace meant ceasing his own efforts and letting Aslan do what he could not. The process was painful. Says Eustace, "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt" (90). Eustace's experience teaches that in Narnia grace is not by works but faith, and faith often is accompanied by pain.

The joy in grace comes in pain's aftermath, the exhilaration of being free from the dragon skin, the peace of past sins forgiven, the delight of a fresh start. Grace means a new identity, a chance to no longer see oneself as a dragon but a boy again, and not just a regular boy but a king in Narnia with a bright and glorious future. For while transformation in Narnia is never complete, it is sure. Lewis comments,

It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that "from that time forth Eustace was a different boy." To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun. (93)

Not everyone in Narnia responds in faith to the grace that is offered them. When Aslan provides the dwarfs in The Last Battle with "a glorious feast" of pies and meats and wines, they believe they are eating and drinking only the things one finds in a stable: straw, rotten vegetables, and dirty water. Their unbelief is a result of their self-centeredness and cynicism. Aslan explains,

"They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out." (148)

The dwarfs contrast strikingly with the young Calormene soldier whose faith, though imperfect, is genuine. Even though during his lifetime this Narnian enemy had called on the false god Tash, at his resurrection in the new Narnia Aslan accepts him as a son:

"Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me . . . . Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the service which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him . . . unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek." (164-65)

Grace is extended only to the believing in Narnia, but all who want to believe can do so. All who seek find. And those who do not seek, indeed who do not want to believe, are not forced to. Instead, they are allowed to get exactly what they want, even if it is stable scraps instead of a feast. As Aslan says in The Magician's Nephew, "All get what they want: they do not always like it" (174).

The most poignant words of grace in Lewis's tales are put in the mouth of Edmund, the first recipient of grace in Narnia. When Eustace apologizes for "beastly" behavior, Edmund comments, "That's all right . . . . Between ourselves, you haven't been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor" (91). Edmund's words reflect Aslan's own attitude toward past sin. After Edmund's own treachery (and after his transformation) Aslan presents him to the other children: "Here is your brother . . . and there is no need to talk to him about what is past" (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 136). For those who know what it feels like to struggle with past guilt, grace may well be the greatest of joys in Narnia. And for romantics who long to exalt man but keep stumbling over his many failures in the process, grace may well be the only means for an honest romanticism.

 

 

Music and dance

"Dance and game are frivolous," writes Lewis,

unimportant down here; for "down here" is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country in the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven. (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer 92-93)

Narnia is not Heaven, but it is a "better country," and in that land music and dance are not unimportant but central. On the very first night after the White Witch was slain in Narnia's first tale "there was a great feast in Cair Paravel, and revelry and dancing, and gold flashed and wine flowed," and outside the gates "came the music of the sea people" (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 179).

But even this feast was not the first to bring music to Narnia. Aslan created Narnia by music. As the boy Digory looked on, Aslan sang the sun and stars, mountains and sea, and the plants and animals into existence: "There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard" (The Magician's Nephew 99). It was the kind of music that arouses passion: "It made you want to run and jump and climb. It made you want to shout. It made you want to rush at other people and either hug them or fight them" (113).

And so music and dance become mainstays in Narnian life. Caspian dances to the "wild and yet dreamy" music produced by reedy pipes of the fauns in Prince Caspian (77-78). Jill witnesses the Great Snow Dance performed by the dwarfs in The Silver Chair, a dance where snowballs were thrown "through the dance in such perfect time with the music and with such perfect aim that if all the dancers were in exactly the right places at exactly the right moments, no one would be hit" (193). And Bacchus himself shows up to perform a "far wilder" dance with his Maenads at the Fords of Beruna (Prince Caspian 207). His is a magic dance which produces a feast including Bacchus's own specialty, wine: "dark thick ones like syrups of mulberry juice, and clear red ones like red jellies liquefied, and yellow wines and green wines and yellowy-green and greenish-yellow" (205).

Music and dance serve as metaphors for life itself in Narnia, a life where play is important business and pleasure is found in the routine.

 

Pleasure in the routine

In his satirical work The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has the demon Screwtape warn his nephew Wormwood: the enemy (God) is no ascetic:

He's a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are "pleasures for evermore" . . . . He has filled his world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least--sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. (106)

Life in Narnia abundantly illustrates Lewis's view. There are pleasures for evermore, and many of these are found in routine things. Like his mentor George MacDonald, "all common things are transformed" by Lewis in the Chronicles (Surprised by Joy 181). And what could be more common than food?

Walter Hooper points out that modern realistic literature has almost forgotten "food is one of the most steadfast pleasures in nearly everyone's life" (75). Lewis, he believes, seeks to correct the omission: "some of the finest imbedded pleasures of the Narnian stories are his descriptions of Narnian foods" (75).

One had better not read the Chronicles on an empty stomach! The descriptions of food are far too appetizing. Lucy's first tea in Narnia is a good case in point. Served by Tumnus the Faun, "there was a nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake" (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 13).

Later Lucy joins her sister and brothers for a full meal prepared by Mrs. Beaver:

There was a jug of creamy milk for the children (Mr. Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes and all the children thought--and I agree with them--that there's nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago. And when they had finished the fish Mrs. Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and glorious sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot . . . . (70-71)

Yet all of the children do not enjoy Mrs. Beaver's meal. Edmund, who is still thinking of Turkish Delight and planning to betray his own siblings, eats but finds no real pleasure: "There's nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food" (84).

Literally dozens of appealing descriptions of food in the Chronicles rival Mrs. Beaver's meal. Yet food is only one of the routine things that offers joy. In The Magician's Nephew Digory swims in a mountain stream: "Have you ever bathed in a mountain river that is rushing in shallow cataracts over red and blue and yellow stones with the sun on it? It is as good as the sea in some ways almost better" (155). Clothes, too, are a routine pleasure for

in Narnia your good clothes were never your uncomfortable ones. They knew how to make things that felt beautiful as well as looking beautiful in Narnia: and there was no such thing as starch or flannel or elastic to be found from one end of the country to the other. (The Last Battle 133-34)

With food, baths, and clothes one could make a lengthy list of pleasures found in the routine of Narnia. Every day Narnians enjoyed conversations among friends including story-telling and poetry readings, long leisurely walks, refreshing naps, pipe-smoking (especially the dwarfs), thirst-quenching drinks including beer, wine, and the best water one can imagine, and all the many contacts with nature--seeing it, smelling it, hearing it, touching it.

 

Tradition

Hand in hand with a love for the routine in Narnia is a love of tradition and a corresponding suspicion of "progress." Lewis himself shunned both the newspaper and the automobile: the former because of "vulgarity and sensationalism" and the latter because it "deflowers the very idea of distance" and "annihilates space" (Surprised by Joy 159, 157). Lewis says that a modern boy can travel a hundred miles in an automobile and receive less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten: "Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there" (157).

Edmund, under the influence of Turkish Delight, dreams of the decent roads, railways, private cinema, and other "improvements" he will bring to Narnia when the White Witch makes him king. Similarly, Uncle Andrew greedily fantasizes:

"The commercial possibilities of this country are unbounded. Bring a few old bits of strab iron here, bury 'em, and up they come as brand new railway engines, battleships, anything you please. They'll cost nothing, and I can sell 'em at full prices in England. I shall be a millionaire." (The Magician's Nephew 111)

The most clear statement denouncing progress occurs in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." Here King Caspian forbids the Governor of the Lone Islands to continue slave trading:

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the Governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

"I have seen them both in an egg," said Caspian. "We call it Going bad in Narnia. This trade must stop." (47-48)

Thus Lewis joins other romantics like Wordsworth who find pleasure in the routine and traditional and who eschew progress and development.

 

The numinous

Also common to many 19th century romantics is a sense of the numinous. Typical romantics describe that in the world which is otherworldly, mysterious, and awesome (taking the word of course in its traditional sense--not magnificent but fear-producing, that which causes intense terror). The numinous is not a wild beast but a mysterious ghost, an unidentifiable and powerful presence, a holy and omnipotent God.

In Narnia the sense of the ominous is produced by only one being, the Lion-King Aslan. From the very beginning, the children realize that Aslan is not a regular lion. Their conversation with the Beavers is instructive:

"Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 76)

When the children first meet Aslan, the response is typical. By definition there is only one response to the numinous--fear:

As for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn't know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan's face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him and went all trembly. (123 emphasis added)

Yet fear and joy are not antithetical. Those who meet Aslan, if they desire to love and follow him, find both emotions present. In fact, the experience of the numinous itself may be part of the joy, for when one has met the ultimate terror and found it good, one may well gain Ultimate Joy, as with Hwin, a talking horse in The Horse and His Boy:

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion.

"Please," she said, "you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else."

"Dearest daughter," said Aslan, planting a lion's kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, "I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours." (193)

 

 

Ultimate joy

Lewis's own personal search for joy, his sehnsucht, had a surprise ending. He discovered that joy itself could never be the object of his quest but only the result:

Only when your whole attention and desire are fixed on something else--whether a distant mountain, or the past, or the gods of Asgard--does the "thrill" arise. It is a by-product. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer. (Surprised by Joy 168)

So Lewis came to view joy as "valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer" (238). And the things that prompted joy (nature, music, good books, routine pleasures) also were mere pointers. If one focuses on them too much, certainly if one worships them, they disappear as quickly as a mirage on a waterless desert.

The Chronicles of Narnia parallel Lewis's own experience, for in them one finds joy ultimately and finally in the numinous and the good. For Lewis found ultimate joy only in Christ, and the Narnians, only in Aslan.

The first Narnian tale foreshadows the last. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the first mention of Aslan's name,

each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious terror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer. (65)

These feelings of the children are obviously the first intimation of sehnsucht. They are a foreshadowing of all other joys in Narnia and, most importantly, the fountainhead of such joys. Lewis had made the point in an earlier essay. Earthly pleasures are only a foretaste of what is to come in Christ: "What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us. The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy" (The Weight of Glory 17-18). Certainly what Lewis predicts for those who follow Christ is the reality of those who follow Aslan in the final chronicle. In The Last Battle all his own finally reach Aslan's country, and what is felt as mere sehnsucht in Narnia is pure and ultimate joy here. As Aslan says, "You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be" (183). Joy at the fountainhead means that one "cannot want wrong things anymore" (214) and "all things are allowed" (137). In Lewis's terms, joy has now become serious business. Perhaps Jewel the unicorn puts it best:

"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this." (171)

In Aslan's country Lewis's romanticism meets his Christianity, and the result is unmitigated joy, joy on top of joy.

To chapter 11

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