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The Immersed Imagination, Part 4: Inconsolable Longing

As I sat there at the Hutchmoot listening for the first time to Andrew’s talk, I was thrilled to see how our two parts fit together. I’ve broken this into several parts for the good of the blog.

I first encountered C.S. Lewis as an eight year old when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. My life’s circumstances by this time had made me hungry for love, for worth, meaning, and security, and for a sense of power over life. Through the next few years and beyond, I read the Chronicles over and over. Like Lewis reading MacDonald, I touched real holiness, real love, in Narnia, or rather, it touched me. In Aslan’s world I saw what love for God and others looked like in practical matters. I saw how love manifested as courage in the face of fear, how Aslan, Digory, Peter, Edmund, Eustace, Caspian, Lucy, Jill, Puddleglum, Tirian, and many others did the right thing, no matter what it cost, because the lives of others were at stake.

I saw the moral failure and subsequent humility of Edmund; I saw Aslan eat death for Edmund and all Narnia, and rise from the dead to wipe out the White Witch, and forgiveness, cleansing, restoration, and renewal were given as unmerited gifts to Edmund by the great Lion.

In A Horse and His Boy, I could see the difference between Shasta and his twin brother, Corin. There was Shasta, raised in an ill-tempered home, learning to lie and sneak and steal when necessary, and Corin, raised in a royal family, never even considering it an option to lie or do wrong. In Shasta I saw how someone could come from the most humble, hard beginnings, born a king and not knowing it, not living from his kingship, instead living like the poor fisherman’s son he thought he was; I could see a good heart with bad habits, a true heart sometimes acting falsely. I saw how, even still, he had the makings of a king, and how he became one in the end – a humble, kind sovereign because of his hard background.

I was struck by Aslan’s kindness to even Digory’s Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, his twinkling humor with Trumpkin the unbelieving dwarf at the end of Prince Caspian, and his love to Emeth the Calormene soldier in The Last Battle. I saw King Tirian fighting to the death for love of Aslan and Narnia, and Prince Caspian overturn an oppressive regime into love and justice for all, and I saw throughout all the stories the depth and importance of Aslan’s “Well done” to all who stood firm to the end.

The White Witch and the Queen of Underland  displayed the deceptive and seductive power of Satan. Both witches were liars who smoothly exploited others for their own ends, making lavish promises, distorting reality; “There is no Narnia; there is no Aslan.”  I saw Prince Rilian, Eustace, and Jill come under the witch-Queen’s spell, repeating her words, “There is no sun,” as they began to believe in a false reality, a distorted conception of themselves, of Aslan, of Narnia. I saw Puddleglum gather his courage and stamp out the seducing incense of the witch to break the enchantment with the smell of burnt Marshwiggle. Puddleglum said, “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…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 play-world 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.” The spell was then broken, and the witch took her true form – a green serpent. With great trepidation I saw Prince Rilian attacked and entwined by the monster, and with greater  satisfaction to my sense of justice I watched as they hacked off its head.

I think most if not all of you can understand the inconsolable longing these books awakened in the heart of the eight year old me. I wanted to be inside Narnia. Lewis captured my imagination, immersed it in God’s goodness, and opened the doorway for more. As a child I could not have put these things into words; nevertheless they were present in me as subconscious ideals. My Bible study has often been a discovery of truths and types already placed in my mind and heart by the fiction of Lewis, and later, George MacDonald, Tolkien, and others.

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