Monday, August 26, 2013

A 'play-world' which licks your 'real world' hollow...

I don't know yet for sure, and I'll have to ask God when I see Him if I'm right, but I can't help thinking that my feeling of being in perpetual exile, of always being on the outside observing (and taking notes), and never having a real home, has been one of those backhanded graces we sometimes hear the saints writing about.

I've spent my whole life looking for the door to Narnia, trying to get home. Because, brother, this just can't be it.

A few days ago, I was talking to one of the LifeSite staffers, and he said that he had never paid much attention to Narnia. He read one or two of them as a kid, but never gave them much thought. They're just kid's books right?

I was shocked. How could a Christian not know?

I said that nearly all my Christian formation came from those books as a child, and that they still form the framework for how I understand the Faith. I know the Chronicles of Narnia the way some Protestants know the Bible. (Yes, I know that's bad, but it's the truth.)

And I know I'm not crazy or dumb, because this man also takes them really seriously. And he's really smart and knows lots of stuff.

As a friend, and fellow Narnian, Gregory di Pippo pointed out to me the other day, the average lifespan of ordinary children's books is, from hard-cover first edition to paperbacks in the remainders bin, maybe, at most, 3-5 years. The Chronicles of Narnia have never gone out of print since their publication in the early 1950s. They have sold +100 million copies and been translated into 47 languages.

I said to my colleague that Puddleglum's famous Profession of Faith was probably the most important expression of the answer to Modernia's obsession with secularism that I'd ever seen. I told him I'd post it.

~ * ~
The Green Witch, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Queen of Underland, has captured Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, and Prince Rillian, whom she has held for ten years, and all of whom she wishes to use as tools in her plans of conquest.

She has spun an enchantment, a sweet web of lies about not just Aslan, but about the very nature of reality. The world, she says, is only what she says it is; there is no real world but her world...It would be so easy to give in, and is such a struggle to fight...

But Puddleglum, the wet blanket, the one who has never let himself be distracted from the quest, has broken her spell, and stamped on her sweet, cloying, enchanted fire with his cold foot.

"The sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone's brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.

Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, "What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I'll turn the blood to fire inside your veins."

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those 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. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.

And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."

That has been my private manifesto since the first time I read it when I was nine years old.

I've spent my whole life feeling like an exile, longing, yearning to go home, and looking for the door that will take me there.



Anonymous said...

I said that nearly all my Christian formation came from those books as a child, and that they still form the framework for how I understand the Faith. I know the Chronicles of Narnia the way some Protestants know the Bible. (Yes, I know that's bad, but it's the truth.)

I didn't read the Narnia stories until I was 22. I loved them. They are probably my favourite spiritual reading.

That passage is marvellous!

Louise L

Teresa B. said...

I never, ever heard of C.S. Lewis until my husband asked me when I read the Narnia series and I had no idea what he was talking about.
When the kids were 7 and 9 he read each one to us as our after dinner reading. We've all read them ourselves now. I did pick up the audio CD's of it and we have listened and listened to the stories. Though my kids exit stage right when mom starts to cry at certain parts of each story.

Felix said...

And there's Lewis' adult fiction.

I like The Great Divorce (first read it when I was about 14 but eventually understood it). That Hideous Strenght (which a lot of people don't like b/c it is more theological).

And there's The Pilgrim's Regress. (I loved when I was younger but re-read it recently and found it a bit too angry.)

BTW, a good indication of a priest's general orthodoxy is if he refers to C S Lewis in his sermons.