Feast of St Joanna the Myrrhbearer
THE SADDEST words in the Chronicles of Narnia appear toward the end of the last volume as we digest one last reference to Susan Pevensie, former High Queen of Narnia, and observe the state of a group of dwarves one can only describe as “once-bitten, twice shy.” Susan, we understand, “is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations,” and the dwarves persist in perceiving hay and wilted turnips in lieu of the feast Aslan sets before them. Those of us who have been transfixed by the magic set forth in seven volumes by Mr. Lewis close the pages of The Last Battle with a brief sigh for these exposed vices. We sigh not for the White Witch trampled by Aslan in the first book, nor for the Lady of the Green Kirtle beheaded by Prince Rilian in the fourth, nor even for the creatures fleeing to Aslan’s left in the doorway at the very end, but for the fate of Susan and these dwarves—those who had been once transfixed by the magic themselves but were then undone. Susan the Gentle has abandoned her belief in the reality of mystery in favor of the powerful illusion of the present world’s goods and pleasures. Likewise, the dwarves, having been deceived by Shift and abused, as a result, by the Calormenes, have exchanged their participation in the mystery of Narnia for that which is only apprehensible to their senses and logical to their wounded intellects.
We sigh because, over time, Mr. Lewis has made us not just believers, but participants in Aslan’s Country. We grasp the beauty, the vast potentiality, of a place whose inhabitants begin in a glorious state and only rise from there to greater things. And we understand that the fleeting joys of material things, entertainments, and overall “adult life” are nothing in comparison, and we pierce to the heart of what the dwarves could be enjoying if they would simply unshackle their minds. In a stroke of Christian brilliance, Mr. Lewis refuses to show us the fate of these sad subjects. Perhaps with time, perhaps with maturity, perhaps they come to their senses.
Yet, for how many of us readers, is that sigh uttered also for ourselves? Has not Mr. Lewis set before us the mystery of Narnia but also the Mystery of the Ages? Why then do we sigh for ourselves? I can speak only for myself. My sigh comes because I know that my own head turns from Aslan’s Country—to which I have been transported before—to the accumulation of treasures and pleasures. My sigh comes because of the mental labyrinths I’ve fabricated to tame that which is untamable, to contain the uncontainable with constraints of my own making. Both actions are fully justified—surely, I must provide for myself and my family and have plenty of goods with which to endow others; surely, I must exercise my God-given mental faculties to learn all I can about their Grantor. Yet I sigh because I know that, when the train wreck comes—as it must come to us all—these material and intellectual attainments may well be nothing but bonds of emptiness clasped around my senses, and then I will remain terribly unaware that I am in my real country, where I might otherwise go further up and further in. And then those saddest words will apply to me.
Jonathan de Jong has been reading the Inklings since he was six and credits their works for inspiring his undergraduate studies in ancient history, language, and literature. He is a long-time customer of Eighth Day Books and a member of St George Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas.