4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

[I read this a couple of weeks ago as a part of an ongoing project on the experience of re-reading texts, but didn't get to posting about it here until today. This is an exerpt from my journal.]

What an interesting experience I had reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a second time. Some twenty-two years later I still find myself moved by events in Lewis’s Narnia. I found myself once again longing for a world where good and evil are as easily discernable as they are in that other world. I suppose one difference, though, is that during the first read of the text I didn’t know just how morally complicated people are. I still thought it was possible to choose good and be good in a complete sort of way.

Lewis’s characters are very black and white and for good reason. By its nature, Christianity must polarize good and evil to tell its story. And Lewis ain't tryin' to change things here. He is telling the Christian story: the world will be enslaved or destroyed unless God comes back to save it and somewhere in there is an ambiguous role for humans. The latter point is where Lewis allows himself to be creative.

Here's an example of what I mean: Despite the vast array of living, sentient creatures that live in Narnia, they cannot manage their world without “the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” who arrive to find it in near chaos and run by an evil witch. Of course nothing will change without Aslan, the Christ figure, but it is the human children that must come and re-establish their rule over Narnia. There they establish and maintain justice and peace. This is a typical (and faulty, in my opinion) Judeo-Christian view of man as caretaker of nature. I found it difficult to ignore as I read this time around.

But knowing the plot I found myself able to focus on other aspects of the text. What most intrigued me this time was how Lewis manages time in the two worlds (while decades elapse in Narnia, they return through the wardrobe into the very same moment after they’d entered) and the passages between them. This aspect of the plot is quite elaborate and philosophical in nature.

I still enjoy entertaining the notion of other realities existing amidst or alongside ours, which could be accessed by opening a door or stumbling into a shed. Reading LWW a second time, I found myself drawing parallels between the this text and Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf where the Steppenwolf passes a strange door with an inscription above it saying, “Madmen Only.” Through the door, which keeps making itself available to him in other manifestations, is an entirely other world of possibilities.

In fact, I found myself recognizing in Lewis’s work many myths incorporated into his tale, which is one of the reasons why it was such a profound experience for me as an adolescent. I certainly had knowledge of myth, but lacked the language. I think Lewis was one of the first to provide me with the language of myths. In fact, the very best part of the experience of re-reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was that the text, or should I say my transaction with the text, contained memories of myself during the first read. As I read, I remembered where I was while reading it the first time and how the text affected me. As I once again read of the “resurrection” of Aslan and his run through Narnia with two kids on his back, I remembered the joyful tears welling up that kept me from reading until I blinked them away. So this reading was not only a re-exploration of the text, but an exploration of my adolescent beliefs and feelings as a read. To be clear, I saw a younger me while reading the text. And I found myself assessing where I am now and how far I’ve come as a spiritual person, as a socially conscious person, as a skeptical seeker.

Overall, it was a bittersweet read but a rewarding one.


Olman Feelyus said...

You should really read His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, et al.). That is a very anti-christian response to Lewis (and a great read).

That's cool that you could recapture the same feelings you had when you first read it. That feeling fades from me more and more these days, but then I haven't grown up much either!

Martin LaBar said...

Good job. I'm working on a post on how Lewis treats biology, and will probably refer to your post.