Nicholas Callaghan on Narnia for Salt & Iron: Seasoned Writing

Outgrowing Narnia: part two

Read part one.

In these times of broadcasting human misery around the globe, when those we trusted most have betrayed us, when war and death advance on us, hope still exists. If someone like Lewis, who lived through the horrors of World War I, could see it then so can we. If it is possible for him to look into the void and see the light beyond it, then it is possible for us as well. 

Reading Lewis becomes a gateway for this new vision. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia points the way for we who are still stuck in the trenches.

That’s the beauty of this series: every work of art contains in some way the artist in it. Just as all creation holds the beauty of the Creator in it, so the Chronicles of Narnia holds a piece of Lewis in it. There is no escapism in Narnia; rather there is the reality and splendor of Truth. It shines so simply because for us things once were very simple. By bringing his books to children, Lewis paints something for us all to see clearly, without the grime and confusion of modern life.

Narnia Torn Apart

Throughout Lewis’s final book in the series, The Last Battle, we see our Narnia torn apart before our eyes by an evil ape. It is still painful to read after all the reader has been through with the characters. Susan no longer cares about Narnia because she’s “grown up”, and those who try to rescue Narnia are locked inside a barn. Then Aslan ushers in the end times, and Narnia collapses in anticipation of the greater kingdom to come. 

Lewis brings us with him into the horrors of World War I, into the desolation of the Wasteland in this book. All we have ever loved begins to fade away. Gone are the days when we witnessed Aslan sing Narnia into existence; gone are the cold days of tea with Mr. Tumnus. Instead, we see our heroes defeated and imprisoned in a stable.

Therein lies the hope. Only through the darkness of the stable can the characters see something more beyond; only through the darkness of the stable does hope await. Though we struggle to understand why we are brought into the darkness, unable to see why all we love is collapsing around us, yet we still hope. We still yearn. Beyond the barn lies the light of Aslan’s Lands and the Emperor beyond the Sea. So we rejoice.

Lewis builds this anticipation, preparing us for the stable where we might enter into the dark of night and emerge into the light of a star, which dazzles us with its brilliance. Dazzled, we see that what we had thought was heaven was only a foretaste. What we thought was happiness was only a glimpse to prepare us for something even greater, Love Himself. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis, like Tolkien but more explicitly, beckons us to taste the longing for our final home.

Becoming Young Again

Wondering as an adult requires that we keep our gaze fixed on that final home. For Christians, that is Heaven. Plato famously thought it would be the Forms. In fact, this was what made the philosopher such a good ruler: he wasn’t interested in ruling. We become better the more our gaze is fixed on the lands beyond the seas. Then we are better able to live our daily life a little more joyfully, a little more wonder-filled.

Of course, this doesn’t negate the fact that nasty things happen, that we live in a terribly broken world filled with much pain and grief. Nor is this to adopt a kind of Pollyanish sugarcoating of human suffering. Still we bring life into this world, hopeful for the better to come. We engage in the polis because even if things are dark, people are vicious, and things seem all topsy-turvy, yet we still hope that things can change. Just like Lucy, we hope that our sibling can be rescued from the clutches of the white witch, even if we, like Edmund, have caused havoc. The hope of redemption still awaits.

It might be worthwhile to pick up Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia again. Becoming old requires becoming young again; to become great we must become small. Mayhap we need a holiday to remember what being a child was like, to take a moment, pause, and recall why we prepare. To wonder, we must lift our gaze from the earth to the heavens beyond. Take a quiet moment before a sunrise, a look at the colors of fall now spreading around us, something that lifts our soul upwards. Even as we grow up, we can try not to become a stuffy “grown-up” like Susan. We are the joyful Bride of the Lamb, won at great cost—why the long faces?

Author: Nicholas Callaghan

A graduate of Benedictine College, Nicholas currently resides in Michigan while pursuing his PhD in Politics. He enjoys reading, cooking, brewing beer, and generally living life well. He writes so that he and others can learn how to fall more passionately in love with this world, to be contemplative souls in a world that has forgotten how to do so.

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