Feast of the 45 Holy Martyrs of Nikopolis
AT THE MOMENT of writing, there are less than 100 pages of Narnia left—of the book, and of the series. This week we’ll finish. It’s been an amazing journey. Oh, and my kids like it, too!
I never read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. In fact, I was already out of college when I saw the Hollywood production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in theaters. It was a good movie; but I was unaware of the depths of Narnia until reading the books to my children.
To be clear: not all my children are ready for Narnia. My oldest two have sat through every page of every book, always begging for just one more chapter. They’re six and seven. And they might not catch all the symbolism, or every allusion—I’m not sure I do either! The parts that I know they’ve missed I’ll explain along the way. But then there are parts so rich no explanation is necessary. Sometimes it just takes putting the book down for a moment and letting it sink in. For instance, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, after the mice had nibbled away at the cords binding Aslan on the Stone Table, Lucy and Susan hear a loud noise and turn to see Aslan gone. Susan says,
“What does it mean? Is it magic?” “Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself. “Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad. (147*)
At this point my two older daughters said their tummies tingled. Their faces were marked with the widest grins, sitting on their tiptoes—it was as if they cried with Lucy and Susan. It truly was amazing to see their joy listening to the story—for they knew what it meant.
But my kids have experienced more than joy in Narnia; they’ve also experienced fear. They hate the Witch. They hate the Ape. And, most recently, they hate the way Aslan is rejected. Now, my daughters don’t have a clue about the Enlightenment, or Neo-Atheism, or the triumph of reason. They do, however, detest the unbelief of those rejecting Aslan who ought to know better. One of my daughters was honestly sick to her stomach tonight over the plotting of Ginger, the Narnian cat, and Rishda, a noble Calormene, when they said,
“I just wanted to know exactly what we both meant today about Aslan meaning no more than Tash.” “Doubtless, most sagacious of cats,” says the other, “you have perceived my meaning.” “You mean,” says Ginger, “that there’s no such person as either.” “All who are enlightened know that,” said the Tarkaan. “Then we can understand one another,” purrs the Cat. (The Last Battle, 77)
The evil in the story is palpable—even to the point of upsetting a seven-year-old’s conscience.
We began reading this series for the kids. We wanted them to hear a good story. We wanted to form their imaginations with good triumphing over evil, with adventure, with risk, with moral examples, and all along with an echo of Scripture. Narnia has been just that for our kids. And it’s been just that for us, the parents, who often sneak a preview of the upcoming chapter once the kids are in bed! For me the moment I realized I was hooked was at the voice of creation. Pardon the lengthy excerpt, but I believe it’s worth it:
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. The horse seemed to like it too; he gave the sort of whinney a horse would give if, after years of being a cab-horse, it found itself back in the old field where it had played as a foal, and saw someone whom it remembered and loved coming across the field to bring it a lump of sugar.
“Gawd!” said the Cabby. “Ain’t it lovely?”
Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
“Glory be!” said the Cabby. “I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this.”
The Voice on the earth was now louder and more triumphant…
But the Witch looked as if, in a way, she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stronger. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or all worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop the singing. (The Magician’s Nephew, 93-95)
With this Voice there is both fear and awe. Aslan will later be described as “not a tame lion”—so also his voice. He sings creation into being; and once created, she joins the song:
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together. (Psalm 98:7-8)
The most beautiful song ever sung; yet at the same time, to the wicked, to the demonic, to the Witch, a song she’d destroy all worlds to stop.
This is a taste of Narnia. If you’ve not yet traveled with the Dawn Treader, or battled with Prince Caspian, or rescued King Rilian, or learned to ride a talking horse, then pick up this series by C. S. Lewis. And, if not for yourself, do it for the kids. There’s little better time spent than reading a story with your children on your lap. Please, just one more chapter?
Fr. Geoffrey R. Boyle is Pastor of Grace and Trinity Lutheran Churches in Wichita, KS. He's the father of five and currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto, studying Old Testament Biblical Theology.
*All citations taken from the series published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2010.