Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lent and Narnia (6)


Anger is the deadly sin that takes center stage is the sixth Narnia story, The Magician's Nephew. In a sense, anger is the original sin in this tale of Narnia’s creation. Polly Plummer, Digory Ketterley, and Digory's Uncle Andrew, a bizarre black magician are key characters. Digory thinks his uncle “mad” ( to good effect throughout the story). He is “mad” in his pursuits in the dark arts and “mad” at any who resist him or get in his way.

“After Uncle Andrew has tricked Polly into trying on one of the rings and she has disappeared, Digory confronts him with cheeks that ‘were flaming with anger.’ Not to be frightened, his uncle, ‘bringing his hand down on the table’ said: ‘I will not be talked to like that by a little dirty schoolboy. You don't understand. I am the great scholar, the magician, the adept, who is doing the experiment’ (22-23). Digory replies by shouting at him, telling him to ‘shut up,’ speaking fiercely at him, and wishing he was ‘big enough to punch [his uncle's] head!’ Later, when Digory and Polly are attempting to enter another world, they argue: ‘And Polly gave him a pretty sharp answer and he said something even nastier in reply. The quarrel lasted for several minutes.”

Sent to another world by Uncle Andrew’s magic rings, they discover a hall of statues of mighty kings and Queens of that world. Under a fixture with a bell they read an inscription to "strike a bell and bide the danger" or wonder "till it drives you mad." Digory, of course, wants to obey the inscription. Polly admonishes him not to, but anger surfaces again in the form of hurling insults at one another and Digory angrily striking the bell before she could stop him. This action, motivated primarily by anger at Polly, unintentionally sets in motion the process whereby evil, in the person of Queen Jadis, first comes into Narnia.

When Jadis comes into the story, she becomes the focal point for Lewis’ treatment of anger. Though she gets into London for just a short time, she is so angered by Digory's Aunt Letty's lack of respect that she "caught Aunt Letty round the neck and the knees, raised her high above her head as if she had been no heavier than a doll, and threw her across the room." Later, barreling down the street in a hansom, "her teeth were bared, her eyes shone like fire, and her long hair streamed out behind her like a comet's tail. She was flogging the horse without mercy." Digory barely manages to get her out of London and our world without further damage. The magic rings whisk Jadis, the children, and a few others into a brand new world, newly created, Narnia. They all hear the great Lion Aslan sing this new world into being. It is a song of great beauty. Jadis, however, hates it: "She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or all worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop singing" (101). Indeed, in anger she tries to injure the Lion himself with an iron bar she hurls at him. Ironically, the bar just bounces off him with no damage done. Instead, because of the properties of the land of Narnia, it begins to grow into a "perfect little model of a lamp-post." Jadis retreats in a funk planning on how to get back at Aslan.
And in a twist in the story (which you’ll have to read yourself) she does get her way, and that creates a situation in which Narnia is always in winter but never reaching Christmas. The silent, frozen landscapes and the streams that never flow are powerful symbols of what anger can do to us and our world. It can freeze relationships, block our lives at their roots, and raise havoc with everything that goes on around us.
Don King summarizes the effect of anger in this story:

“The pettiness of wrath, the demand that all others must agree and consent to ‘my way,’ is at the same time both comic and tragic; comic in that those on the outside can so easily see the ludicrous position of the angry person, and tragic in that those same people can do very little to assuage the violent passion that this sin evokes. That the focusing sin in The Magician's Nephew is wrath is finally underscored in the last lines of the tale where we read Uncle Andrew's evaluation of Jadis: 'A devilish temper she had,' he would say. 'But she was a dem fine woman, sir, a dem fine woman' (186). In these words Lewis hints at the key problem of wrath: it is of the devil. Jadis' ‘devilish temper’ is emphasized time and time again in the story, as she at one point even mimics Milton's Satan in the temptation scene of Paradise Lost. Lewis would have us see that anger, uncontrolled rage, is another form of blindness. It turns us away from a right and whole vision of the truth, and instead leads us towards egoism, expressed by choler and revenge.”

Sounds like a worthy agenda for Lenten reflection to me!

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