It can be wonderfully refreshing to step into a fictitious world that is set quite apart from our own. Some artists and authors not only succeed in creating a fully realised world, but also unfold and uncover depths of the work of God in doing so. CS Lewis, of course, is the master of such fiction, his Chronicles of Narnia continuing to inspire young and old alike.
So we would like to issue a Christmas and New Year invitation to you to revisit some of the characters whom Lewis created and Aslan loved and nurtured, whether it be Lucy, with her ready openness to the Lion-King, the indescribably self-centred Eustace Scrubb, whose soul gets a scrubbing, or that arch-pessimist, Puddleglum, a Marsh Wiggle of faith and obedience whom one cannot help but love and be grateful for. Here is ‘spiced mulled wine’ for you to enjoy and be warmed by in this cold season with the help of a series Tim Chesterton compiled as a Lent course for his parishioners.
When I sent the link to this series a friend, she commented on how much she had appreciated this Lantern course(!) If you are familiar with the stories of Narnia, you will understand why I loved that typo! As many of you will know, the original illustrations of the lampstand look remarkably like the Victorian street lights that continue to light up Malvern to this day.
Lewis regularly walked the Malvern Hills together with JR Tolkein and another literary friend, and the view from the peaks may well have played its part in shaping Lewis’s vision of Narnia, just as they did for Tolkien in creating the ‘The White Mountains of Gondor’ in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien went on to record excerpts from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in Malvern a few years after the Second World War.
Another Chesterton, G. K. this time, wrote that mythology in every age ‘sought God through imagination; and sought truth by means of beauty.’ Lewis and Tolkien are amongst the finest proponents of those who have shared true things about life and even God Himself in fictional form. I hope you will really enjoy this series: there are some great pearls and treasures here.
As Tim puts it, ‘Over and over again, Christian people have discovered that only the power of Jesus can help them become different. We come to the point where we cry out desperately: “I’ve tried, I really have, but I just can’t change myself.” So we call out for His help. Often that help is painful to receive; Eustace said it hurt more than anything he’d ever felt in his life. Things happen to us, or we find ourselves asked to do things, that we shrink from because they seem too painful. But, as the Twelve Steps of A.A. say, ‘Half measures availed us nothing’. If we’re going to be changed, it will have to be with the help of Christ.’
If these sermonettes whet your appetite to explore in more depth more of the themes that Lewis has embedded within the Narnian Chronicles, you might well appreciate taking a happy hour or two out exploring these further, by downloading Tim Skinner’s PhD thesis, The Way of the Lion.
Lewis is brilliant at showing us that no-one, whatever their idiosyncrasies of character, is without a place in God’s design. Nor are things always as the appear at first sight. In his portrayal of the Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, Lewis paints the most wonderful picture of an eccentric and dour pessimist, who never fails to look on the gloomy side of things.
Look deeper, however, and we soon discover that his Eeyore-like glumness and expectation of the worst possible outcome for every circumstance, conceals a deeply caring servant heart, and an inner determination to trust and obey Aslan regardless of the inconvenience or outcome.
When a seemingly lovely lady gives Puddleglum and his companions what appear to be encouraging directions to find relief from the weather in Harfang Castle, the children are swept off their feet by the prospect of being in a safe and warm environment to the pooint where they forget what Aslan had actually sent them to do.
Puddleglum does his best to warn them, but they are in no mood to listen, and they come to within an inch of ending up in as the chief ingredient in a Man Pie, which the hitherto seemingly gentle giants regard as the greatest culinary delicacy.
Some people project a joyful optimism, while others look and sound defensively pessimistic, but may actually have a real desire for gaining a heart of wisdom. Better that than falling prey to the lure of the blandishments and false promises that are bound up in every deception!
May the Lord help us to identify the accents of true perspectives where and wherever we come across them, and we continue to ‘trust and obey,’ even as Puddleglum encouraged the others to do.
Living God, grant that we may be faithful to remember what You actually have called us to be and to do, and keep us faithfully marching on, trusting and obeying, even as we need to turn our backs on all that would draw us away from our true path and calling.