Before the end of last year, I started reading The Chronicles of Narnia. To my shame, I had never read this seven-volume set of fantasy novels by C.S. Lewis. Yes, they’re kids books — but they’ve aged gracefully and have become a favorite of many adult readers.
I set a goal to finish the series prior to the end of January, and I did so. But as I checked this goal off my list, I realized I’d done much more than “Finish Chronicles of Narnia.”
Indeed, I’d done so much more.
I grasped the magic rings of the magician and found myself in a strange and beautiful land. Like our own land, it was whole in its inception but always ripe for ruin. Narnia is birthed by the singing of Aslan who we learn is a benevolent (but certainly not tame) Lion and the only star of this story. All other characters star in a supporting role.
I watched Aslan defeat the White Witch whose grip was tight on all of Narnia. Her cold ceased caused all to shiver within and took the hope of the inhabitants of Narnia (included the protagonist children named Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter) and froze it solid. It was, as they say, “all winter and no Christmas.” It reminded me of the coldness of our present age, on this side of the wardrobe, where warmth and substance and meaning have been turned into icicles.
We watch and wait and pray for The Thaw to come so we can rule in Aslan’s Kingdom as kings and queens alike.
While I was there I met a slave boy named Shasta and his talking horse named Bree. I rode with them from bondage in Calormen to freedom in Narnia. Between bondage and freedom were deserts and danger and risk and reward. So it goes, such a journey. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Tiresome. Treacherous. If it weren’t for Aslan, Shasta never would’ve made it. But made it he did — and what he learned about himself upon arrival was a lesson for us all. Slaves only temporarily, bondage is not our destiny.
We are children not of chains, but of royalty.
I was drawn back to Narnia when Prince Caspian blew on Susan’s royal horn, and again when I set sail on the Dawn Treader with Caspian (now a King) to find Aslan’s country at the edge of the world.
On my way, I met Eustace, a boy with whom I shared an emotionally transformative moment. Though called to Narnia just like the rest, he is an awful boy. He’s rude and selfish and just a boar to be around. He brags about himself and he condescends to others. Until he gets lost on an island, that is, by himself, and is transformed into a terrifically horrifying dragon. I can’t tell you how I felt when I read about Eustace, plucking away at his scales, trying to save himself, only to discover another layer beneath the one he’d painfully shed. In Eustace’s transformation, I read of my own — of trying to save myself again and again from my own wretched nature. Only when Aslan rids us of our wrongs are we truly made new. I didn’t simply read about Eustace being skinned of his wrongs and thrown into the lake, emerging from the waters as a boy again. I was plucked scale by scale right along with him, and Aslan tossed me in right alongside. All I know is two things:
- When I read Lewis’ baptism motif in this story of young Eustace, I shed real tears and grieved my arrogance.
- I have had to ask my Aslan to pluck me bare from all my scales and chuck me in the lake for a good wash far too often than I’d like to admit.
I also descended to depths unknown, where darkness sucked the life out of all and challenged transformed Eustace and his friend, Jill’s resolve. It was betrayal and deceit that led to so much trouble in this story, as it often does in our own stories. Far too often I’m the deceiver and not the deceived one — and a fair amount of time it is myself to whom I lie. This makes the journey longer and more painstaking, to be sure.
At last, I fought in battle, along with Jill and Eustace and Kings and soldiers. It was a battle I lost, as are most battles we fight on this side of the True Narnia. But just when things can’t get any darker, the roar of Aslan sings over us again. It is not death that awaits, nor darkness, nor despair. For while in this life there is much to lament, at the end of all the mourning there is morning.
And The Lion.
As I ticked off my to-do list “Finish Chronicles of Narnia,” I reflected on it all and understood — perhaps for the first time — that I was not reading a set of children’s books. I was being preached a sermon. It was a salvific, glorious message of hope and healing. My time in Narnia was, like the other characters in Lewis’ novels, unforgettable. It was transformative. It got under my skin like only a visit to a strange and beautiful place can.
It changes us all somehow, this place.
Or maybe it’s not the place at all, but the song being sung there. It is a melody that we all crave — a message of hope that is timeless.
I just back from Narnia and — like everyone else who’s been — I hope I get summoned back one day.