We have a blanket in our home made of Minky which my mother sewed last year. She wanted to experiment with sewing a new type of fabric, and it's been a popular blanket in the home ever since. It's soft, brown on one side, with scattered woodland creatures on the other. I can't remember what they are. I only remember the foxes.
Minky enshrouds you in a cascade of warmth and softness. It's the great Procrastinator. The Work-Destroyer. The Peace-Inviter and Shield-of-Forgetfulness against the demands of a fast-paced and productive world. A couple of weeks ago, sis brought me Minky and The Silver Chair on a Friday night. I don't know what prompted this act of love, but I spent the next few hours cocooned in comfort, escaping with Jill and Eustace to Narnia. While the rest of the family studied or rested from sheer exhaustion after a long week, I wandered through the land of talking owls and Marsh Wiggles.
Prince Caspian was my favorite Narnia book growing up, and more recently, I've claimed him as my favorite still. After reading it again this year, I could see even more reasons to love it besides the superficial ones I had as a child: the triumphant victory and rejoicing in the presence of Aslan, the great bonfire feast of victory at the end. It's a tale that points to the victory of God, and the deep, satisfying joy of fellowship with his people. Who can forget David Suchet on the Focus on the Family drama, with his rich voice describing how Aslan and the moon stared at each other with joyful and unblinking eyes?
So I wasn't expecting to go into The Silver Chair and have it beat Prince Caspian out for first place. In fact, I was putting it off a little bit because I expected to be bored. I have no idea why. Maybe because I knew the story so well that it was all going to be review; another obligatory stop in the series.
Oh, Schuyler. Your mistakes are amusing sometimes.
So many joyful, wonderful, deep and stirring things stood out to me as I journeyed through. The end of Dawn Treader hurts when Caspian meets Ramandu's daughter. The glory and joy of falling in love with the daughter of a star--who can help feeling the ache of beauty, along with the terrible stab of knowing that their time together will be so short? There is nothing to heal that tragedy. If I could undo anything in the series, it would be the death of Ramandu's daughter. But at the same time, I cannot say it was ill done when the emotion it describes is so deep.
Then we have Puddleglum--dear Puddleglum, with his infuriatingly pessimistic predictions and stalwart loyalty. Puddleglum is always seeing the worst, and like Eustace and Jill, it's easy for me to be annoyed and dismissive of pessimism. Things generally work out, and when you travel a long journey with someone who looks at the glass half-empty, over time you start to shut their viewpoint out. But the danger of that is that sometimes, when you're in the neighborhood of giants, the gloomy predictions actually strike the right note, and you're too blind to see it anymore.
The Silver Chair dramatizes the hard struggle of spiritual growth. Jill starts off as the bullied student of an Enlightened school and doesn't know much worth knowing. Her spiritual muscles are weak, and Aslan assigns memorization and obedience to strengthen them. In The Silver Chair we continue to catch glimpses of the Lion's severity. He's not a Santa Claus, fixing wrongs and dispensing pats on the head with benign smiles. He has a heart of necessary sternness towards his children, and a strong, corrective expectation of what they need to do (or think) better. Like Hebrews 11, he disciplines the children he loves. And it is not an easy journey. But throughout his discipline is tempered mercy and guidance. Even when his children are frail and faulty, he helps them accomplish the purpose he gave them, both for the land of Narnia and for their own souls. God is able to keep us from falling, and more kindly patient with our errors than we often give him credit for. I was blown away by the sweet moment I had utterly forgotten towards the end of the book, one gave me a glimpse of God himself:
And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill forgot about the dead King of Narnia and remembered only how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrelings. And she wanted to say "I'm sorry" but she could not speak. Then the Lion drew them toward him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said:
"Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia." -The Silver Chair, CS Lewis, pg. 236.
The Silver Chair doesn't only dramatize discipline so wonderfully. It also expresses celebration. C.S. Lewis is so good at giving his readers lavish joy after the hardship. From the Great Snow Dance to a firelit cave and frothy mugs of hot cocoa (including a dig at fake sausages), I love his descriptions. I also love his chapter title: "The Healing of Harms." The simple gifts of food and togetherness, of the generosity of God after he has called us to struggle: so generous that he could even grant Caspian's wish to catch a glimpse of the human world. It's a bonus. An unnecessary. Icing on the cake is necessary, so we will compare it to piped chocolate garnishes: the extra beauty that most people wouldn't care to put on, which a generous God so graciously gives to his beloved children.
I don't rejoice as much in God's generosity as I should. Caught up in the fear of my own frailty, it is much easier to obsessively contemplate myself than to give thanks. C.S. Lewis reminds me of this.
Friday nights with Minky are restorative to the soul. The Silver Chair is so beautiful I'm not sure how to end this article, except with thanks. So thank God for C.S. Lewis and Eustace and Jill, for frothy hot cocoa and gentle lions. And thank God, too, for a hole left in a Narnian hillside that contains an underground sea world, where evil has been silenced and the good can "sail to and fro, singing."