Earlier in the year, two of my trusted confidantes had talked passionately about the work of C.S. Lewis after hearing about my latest story project idea. They spoke effusively of his wisdom, his imagination and his unrivalled ability to allegorise.
In summary – he’s a legend. We Christians know that. But I felt prompted to know more. So I decided to blow the dust off my childhood set of Narnia books and read all seven over the summer. They’ve been to skateparks, swimming pools and cafes. They’ve got covered in sand, piles of washing and even the occasional dollop of ketchup. My three children have watched me snatch a page or two when I could have been tidying or typing or scrolling. And what have I learnt? Well, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
1) Imagination is precious and its purposeful
Mr Lewis had an imagination as brilliant as any child I’ve ever known which, as he would have agreed, is really quite a complement.
God has given us the ability to visualise and dream in the most spectacularly vivid way and throughout our childhood, we explore the world through this lens. Then as we grow older (and we’d like to think wiser) we begin to ignore it, distrust it, dismiss it. As I explained to my 7-year-old (who was telling me about the pixies who shin up the traffic lights to change their colours), if you neglect to use your imagination entirely, it shrivels up like an old raisin and gets snaffled by a squirrel. What I really mean is that if God has created our imagination to be a special and unique part of who we are, then surely his plan is to use it to delight in and glorify Him? I’m not suggesting we live outside of reality, I mean, pixies are far too shy to help out on the high street. But C.S. Lewis has reminded me to keep on delving deeper into the riches of the creative mind in order to fuse connections between sight, soul and spirit. And to help others do so too.
2) Aslan roars and he purrs
Every time I read the name of Aslan in The Chronicles, I got excited.
He would turn up sparsely but significantly… in a battle or at a sunset, in a dream or at a moment of grim reality. Lucy saw the most of him because of her child-like faith and willingness to follow. You never knew quite what he was going to say but there was a sense of weight and reverence with every word. Often it was just his very presence on the page that brought a character to their senses or repentance. Just feeling his breath would be enough. This excerpt from book five, ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ beautifully puts the roar on the one hand and the purr on the other: “For what stood in the doorway was Aslan himself, The Lion, the highest of all High Kings. And he was solid and real and warm and he let her kiss him and bury herself in his shining mane. And from the low, earthquake-like sound that came from inside him, Lucy even dared to think that he was purring.” A little more light has dawned on the multi-facets of Jesus – thank you Mr Lewis.
3) Battles are real and they rage
Every book was full of adventure, yes, but there was a real battle with two sides as well.
I was surprised at the brutality of the warfare that C.S. Lewis described and not only the sticky end that was met by foes but also friends. The antithesis of good and evil was evident. Overall, of course, good won out but there were some casualties along the way like Roonwit the Centaur and most notably one of the siblings who became disinterested in Narnia in favour of their own self. On reflection, it’s obvious that if C.S. Lewis was ever going to do biblical allegory justice, he couldn’t just depict the beauty of creation, the faithfulness of Jesus and the perfection of heaven. Because in the ‘there and then’ as in the ‘here and now’, good and evil are pitted against one another and will be until the end.
4) At the end of the story is grace and mercy
In the final 20 pages of about 1300, instead of focussing on the main characters, Mr Lewis introduces someone else.
Emeth was once an out and out enemy of Aslan’s, he sided with Tash. But he tells us that “In a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion…He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world… Then I fell at his feet and thought surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him…But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome.” Which, just like Peter 3:9 in The Message, describes God’s inclination towards me. Towards you. He is restraining himself on our account. Holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
And so, after my summer with C.S., what’s changed for me? Well, I’ll try, humbly, to follow in his footsteps with my writing for sure. But on day one of the new term, I turned right back to the first page of the first book and started reading them all over again. This time to my children over breakfast. I’m praying for outrageous imaginations, interactions with Aslan, conquering adventures and for grace and mercy to be part of their story too.