Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Story We Live By in The Silver Chair
We are beginning to learn that we live by what we love rather than by what we can figure out, prove, or reason our way toward. Reason, rather, works to provide grounds for our living by what we love. We were meant to live by and for the love of our Creator. Our reason would have unfolded all knowledge and insight congruent with that love. We call that truth. Unfortunately, humanity rejected the love of God and chose its own love, each to their own. Our reason went to work generating all manner of claims for the truth of our loves. John Calvin describes our minds engaged in this work as a “factory for idols.” Our loves “enchant” us. We are bound by their spell to mobilize all our resources to support and “prove” them true.
In The Silver Chair Eustace Clarence Scrubb and Jill Pole are called into Narnia by Aslan to search out and rescue Prince Rilian, so of King Caspian X (Prince Caspian). The prince had disappeared and no one knew why or where. It turns out he had been captured, or rather enchanted by a Witch who lived in an underground kingdom, and made to live with her there as her “prince.”
This underground kingdom is a complete world in every respect. The witch claims the overland is a mere copy of her underworld. The enchanted prince believes this eleven hours a day. He has one hour of sanity each day for which he must be bound lest he try and escape.
Eustace, Jill, and a delightfully dour Marshwiggle, Puddleglum, find the prince and plan on releasing him and escaping to the overland (Narnia) during his hour of sanity. The Witch catches them, however, and begins to toss a powder on the fire that has an enchanting effect on our three companions. All the while the Witch catechizes them into the “truth” of her underworld kingdom.
Finally, Puddleglum gathers the last shreds of his sanity and bravely sticks his foot in the fire. He is burned, of course, and the pain clears his mind of the witch’s enchantment. He launches on the following remarkable statement:
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. 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, in that case, 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. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
Here, when it comes down to declaring one’s allegiance, one’s love, and acting on it, Puddleglum is an example for all of us.
-First, he gives up trying to reason or prove Narnia’s existence and reality to the Witch. It can’t be done. She reasons from her love, her underground kingdom, and is impervious to the children’s and Marshwiggle’s arguments against it.
-Second, he witnesses to and from his love, Narnia and Aslan, in counterpoint to the Witch’s enchantment.
-Third, his witness grows out of the story which has shaped his identity and character, following Aslan and living like a Narnian. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre says it well:“I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” Puddleglum does that here and it sets him free from the Witch’s enchantment for faithful living.
How do we get our loves that drive our reason and direct our lives? They are given to us in creation. We are made to love our Creator and all he has made. In breaking away from him we are tethered to some other love and other stories about who we are and what we are to do. This is pre-rational. We are created to love and we will love something. Ultimately, I think, we love ourselves and everything else derives from that. One could say we are I-dols. And because I-dolaters, we sIn. The imperial I takes precedence over everything else. This is the agony of being a (fallen) human being.
Lewis once said: “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.” He wrote The Chronicles of Narnia out of such a conviction. And nothing breaks our enchantment to the power of reason more than Puddleglum’s witness to the Witch in SC.
People in my experience usually change for one or a combination of three reasons. First, the pain of living the way they are living grows unbearable. Second, they are forced to change by some external power or force. Or third, a more compelling vision or story of life captivates them. Puddleglum’s witness draws on this third reason for change – a compelling vision for life.
This is what the church has to offer the world – a compelling testimony to the beauty, truth, and rightness of God’s call and claim on our lives. And our trust and loyalty to the author of this story and his vision of life for us in his world.