Thursday, December 08, 2011

On Having Faith

The thing that makes the fiction writings of C.S. Lewis so brilliant is that he is never merely telling a story. He is sharing an allegory, that if carefully read, will give any reader a deeper sense of wonder and faith. Scripture "stories" are great at this too. It is what makes C.S. Lewis (can your really say just "Lewis?" and who names their baby Clive?) classic and highly readable year in and year out.

I love the movies too. The screenwriters have taken Lewis' rather simple stories and pulled out the parts that will translate best to film and extrapolated them into broad action sequences. They have addressed questions of children torn from parents during the Second World War in a way even C.S. Lewis didn't. After all, when the books were first published, the war was over just a few years and maybe people weren't yet asking about the effect of children being sent away yet. It was such a fact of British life that it maybe didn't seem noteworthy in characterizing the Pevensie children. So although it is a wonderful and well-portrayed device in the movies, it wasn't at all the author's intent to tell a war story.

No, he was much more interested in the fate of the soul than the fate of nations. Narnia, as lovely and wonderful a place as it is, was only created as a means to teach Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter about the plan of salvation. To teach all of us about it.

The books are all extraordinary, and as I get older I realize more and more just how much scripture is loaded into them. In this post, however, I'd like to turn my thoughts specifically to the volume, Prince Caspian. A few weeks ago on Facebook page, Mike posted this article. The author talks about how crucial decisions made in this novel demonstrate how life's choices can sometimes be cruel . . . that some things are really meant to test our faith and be difficult. Her essay is well-done and her logic is interesting; it would make for a great discussion. But as I pondered it, I found myself thinking about what else C.S. Lewis was trying to do as an author during the part Ms. Welch referenced.

Some quick background on the novel in case it has been some time since you've read it. The four Pevensie children are taken mysteriously back to Narnia only to discover that hundreds and hundreds of years have passed. Their adventures, and even Aslan himself, have passed away into legends and ancient writing. They meet up with a Dwarf who is able to explain--Narnia is in its darkest hour. The rightful king (Caspian) is attempting to lead one final uprising of old Narnians against the usurpers to keep Narnia from losing all its faith and magic forever. He is out numbered and out-strategized. Finding Queen Susan's old horn, they have summoned help from beyond Narnia.

The Dwarf is doubtful that four children will do a lick of good, but he agrees to take them to Prince Caspian and the others. They must go a different way to avoid the enemies, and Peter, who roamed those parts often once-upon-a-time is confident that he can lead them. Only nothing is the same. And time is running out. And nobody thinks the adventure is amounting to much. Then Lucy sees Aslan. She knows that He is beckoning them to follow. The problem is that nobody else sees Him. There is a vote to follow Lucy or to continue following Peter's instincts which make more logical sense than the direction Lucy is proposing. The vote is 3-2. The Dwarf, Peter and Susan agree to Peter's plan. Edmund, who learned his lesson very well, thank you, believes Lucy, though he himself cannot see yet.

Peter's way is a dead-end, and they lose a lot of time. They end going Lucy's direction by default, which, once the initial barrier is overcome, is clearly the way to go. Eventually Edmund, Peter, Susan and even the Dwarf (in that order) see Aslan.

I think that Brother Lewis is trying to teach us about faith, but not necessarily in the way Welch reports in her essay. I think the allegory here is told in each of our five characters:

Lucy. She represents one with deep and abiding faith. Not perfect, however. Aslan reprimands her for not having followed regardless of the others. She insists that she didn't dare split up and then realizes that Aslan is trying to tell her that it would have worked out. When she begs to know if things would have been better or different if she had just followed the first time he chides, "We can never know what might have been, only what could be." Lucy's gift of the spirit is belief.

Edmund. Edmund represents the one whose experiences, not all good, have taught him faith; but, perhaps more importantly have taught him that believing on testimonies of those who believe is also a very important gift. Edmund is fully aware that he doesn't see Aslan, but he'd follow Lucy, the girl-prophet, anywhere. Edmund, though unable to see Aslan right at first, is rewarded with sight for his faith and meets Aslan with a clear conscience.

Peter. This strong oldest brother represents our worker. He wants to get to the battle, to fight for Aslan and Narnia, so he steadfastly plows away into the wilderness, pridefully listening to his own instincts when he doesn't immediately see the hand of God in his enterprise. He put the whole follow-Lucy-thing to a vote because he is fair and honest and loves his sister, but without some kind of proof he wasn't seriously going to follow her. He repents of his pride when he gets over the ridge and sees that oh, yes, Lucy's way really was the best. His apologetic attitude then leads him to his own vision of Aslan, in front of whom he feels deeply humbled.

Susan. Dear Susan. Blessed with skepticism. Susan represents one who lived in the world too much. I think of all the Pevensie children she would be the quickest to chalk up their first Narnian experience to a dream, or a shared make-believe world the children shared. While Narnia was as real to Lucy as England; I think it became less and less real to Susan each passing day. Susan sees Aslan only when the balance of proof tells her that he must be there, only when she allows Narnia to get inside of her again. But, if you read all seven books, you see that it may not be enough. At the end of the Last Battle, Susan's three siblings are taken home to Aslan who transforms before their eyes into an entirely different form, and Susan is left behind.

Trumpkin. While the four children represent differing levels of faith, Trumpkin, our dwarf, represents no faith at all. Though it is safe to say he is more agnostic (indifference to the lack of evidence for things beyond the physical world) than atheistic, he will do very well for this last category.  Even in the face of miracles--the return of the children, the finding of their way through the ancient jungle--he refuses to believe in Aslan until he is physically lifted up and shaken and dropped. His reaction is one of abject fear when he first sees the God of his world. Every knee shall bow indeed.

Don't get me wrong, I sincerely appreciate Sister Welch's thoughts. But this is what I'm trying to say about Clive Staples Lewis. His lovely stories carry in them such a wealth of depth and truth than any earnest Christian would be misguided to overlook them. As I've pondered on these thoughts over the last two weeks, I see a little of myself in each character. Except perhaps Lucy. I am like Edmund in that I sometimes have to follow others in faith until I can see for myself, thought lately I've been reminding myself that this is also scripturally given as a gift. I have Peter's sense of duty and work that sometimes gets in the way of what needs to be done. I trudge along, doggedly and earnestly looking for a path without remembering to look up on the ridge and ask God which direction He would have me go. I carry Susan's skepticism for many things in spades. The world blocks my own view of the Lord far too often. I've even had my Trumpkin moments. Though as I get older, I find that cynicism leaching more and more out of me as I try to make room for things that are good and light.

It is a long post, but I finished my semester today and it felt enormously cathartic to write about something not related to the state of American education and its somewhat indifferent pupils. Maybe I'll even get around to reviewing my books next week.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

The implications of this portion of the story go far beyond faith to the questions of trust and the unchanging nature of God. This can most easily be seen by comparing the situation with the one in the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There, Lucy's siblings have been faced with the choice of believing/trusting Lucy, who is the first to find Narnia. They choose not to trust her; Edmund's downfall is a direct result, for if they had trusted her, they would have believed her when she said that Edmund had also found his way into Narnia, and their curious questions would have found out about his interaction with the White Witch, and the ill effects of that interaction would have been minimized.

Subsequently, the episode with Lucy being the first one to see Aslan in Prince Caspian and their failure once again to trust her teaches her and her siblings something essential. Edmund recognizes the parallel with the previous occurrence, and says this time he'll trust Lucy. The failure of the dwarf, Peter, and Susan has the purpose of protecting them from subsequent failures. They need to be reminded that no matter how much Narnia seems to have changed, Aslan is the same. The episode with Lucy needing to be the guide through the changed Narnia, as she follows Aslan, should teach the siblings that in spite of surface changes, the underlying ground rules are the same. Aslan still rules, and is still to be depended on. They ignore previous lessons and experiences at their own peril and to their own frustration.

Incidentally, C. S. Lewis went by the name "Jack" during his lifetime. It was a self-bestowed nickname--he was quite young when he told his family, "I'm Jacksie." Rather a neat way to discard the name Clive.