Over the next few days we hope to publish a few posts to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the publication of C.S. Lewis’s classic The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Here, to kick us off, is Cassie Watson reflecting on the comforts of Narnia in a year of turmoil.
This has undoubtedly been a tumultuous year. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown our world into disarray, upending our usual routines and comforts. Some have compared this crisis to twentieth-century events like the Second World War for how it has shifted our priorities and brought us to an uncomfortable awareness of our mortality.
Reading fiction may seem futile in light of all this suffering. But Lewis started writing the Narnia series during the war … while the world burned.
In 1939, C. S. Lewis faced the question of whether scholarship and learning were worthy pursuits during such catastrophic times. He proposes (and then rejects) a comparison to Emperor Nero: “Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?” Reading fiction may seem futile in light of all this suffering. But Lewis started writing the Narnia series during the war—he wrote children’s stories while the world burned.
October 16th is the seventieth anniversary of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nobody would consider it the defining event of 2020. In the face of collapsing economies and a rising death toll, what use do we have for fictional tales set in a magical world?
I think they give us the kind of knowledge we really need. To cope with our feelings of powerlessness, you might be seeking to store up facts as a shield. Surely we can get through this if we calculate the risk of transmission in different situations, obsessively track case numbers, and second-guess every move we make whenever we leave our house. We’ve bought into the illusion that we can be in control.
I long more and more for Jesus to return as all the Narnians run with shouts of joy into Aslan’s country. I want to go further up and further in.
But peace won’t come from the latest breaking news headline. Jesus is the only hope that will endure even if the worst happens. What we truly need is to know and love him more. And Narnia always helps me to do that. I see Jesus, of course, when Aslan saves Edmund from death by bearing the punishment in his place. It’s his voice I hear as Aslan whispers, “Courage, dear heart,” to the terrified Lucy. I long more and more for Jesus to return as all the Narnians run with shouts of joy into Aslan’s country. I want to go further up and further in.
At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that they will not be returning to Narnia. The land has taught them all it can, because Narnia was never meant to be ultimate. Aslan says of their return to England: “There I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
That’s what the Narnia series does for me. It’s not mindless escapism, allowing me to be somewhere else for a while. Rather, it opens my eyes to see Jesus at work even after I’ve turned the last page. Like the Pevensies who return to their ordinary lives in England but always have Narnia burning in their hearts.
So, instead of checking the news for the fifth time this hour, I encourage you to pick up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on this anniversary. Four children leave their war-torn world to clamber through a wardrobe and find a land of stunning wonder and beauty. We can and should do the same in this global crisis—surely we will love Jesus more because of it.