Reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughter recently has reminded me why the covers are nearly worn off the copies I received at age seven. I read them again in my twenties–twice; they are even better this time around.
My five-year-old is just as taken with the fantasy as I was. For days she wanted to play Aslan and Lucy, Lucy and Reepicheep, Aslan and the White Witch. And like me, she wanted to believe it. One day she said, “If Aslan is Jesus, and Narnia is a world like ours, then Narnia is true!”
If Lewis’s intent was to write fantasy that encourages Christians in their faith, he succeeded.
“Well,” a skeptic might argue, “that’s not so difficult.” Wouldn’t we all like to believe that our favorite fantasies are true? What is the difference, after all, between believing in Jesus and living in a world of make-believe?
I do not intend to delve into theology or apologetics here. Interested readers can begin with Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ or The Case for Faith, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, or G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Suffice to say that–while it is by no means the basis for my faith–I am encouraged by the knowledge that great thinkers like Lewis and Chesterton can find faith in the Bible not only rational but compelling. And while Lewis was a capable apologist, fiction is sometimes more compelling than rhetoric when it comes to intangibles. Thus the power and allure of Narnia.
In The Last Battle, Lewis describes a group of dwarfs who have stalwartly refused to believe in the lion Aslan. In the end, having entered into Paradise through an ordinary stable door, the dwarfs huddle together in the belief that they are inside a stable. Nothing will convince them otherwise—not a bouquet of flowers thrust into their faces or a feast set before them by Aslan himself. In the end, Aslan says, “They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out” (p. 148).
Belief in the supernatural has been declining in popularity over the past 150 years or so. Some can only believe in what science can prove. Others are carried along by popular opinion. But what if we choose to believe and turn out to be mistaken? Will it really matter in the end? If it turns out that death is followed by oblivion, who will be there to say, “I told you so”? If the Earth is reduced to ashes and rubble and its population decimated and Jesus still has not returned, the last person left standing is welcome to say with satisfaction, “There—I knew it all along!” On the other hand, I am certain the world at large would not profit by my refusal to believe—quite the contrary! I am a far better person following Jesus, fictional or not, than I would be otherwise.
Is the world, taken in its entirety, so beguiling that we are willing to settle for the material universe? In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle and two children, Eustace and Polly, are on a quest to find the lost prince of Narnia. They finally find him deep in the underworld, enslaved by a witch. The witch makes one last attempt to keep her captive by placing them all under a spell and convincing them that the overworld is a dream and the only reality is her world, deep beneath the Earth’s surface. The children and the prince are about to succumb, when Puddleglum summons the last vestiges of his strength to declare, “All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. … But … suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. … 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. … I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia. … 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 small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say” (p. 159).
These would be find sentiments, even if Narnia and Aslan were only (in Lewis’s fictional world) a dream. But of course they are not, and Puddleglum has a sound basis for his convictions–a wealth of Narnian lore, in addition to his own experiences.
Likewise, while nothing can be proven beyond any trace of doubt, there are sound historical and rational arguments to back up the Bible. But even if the “evidence” proves to be misleading in the end, I’m with the Marshwiggle. I only ask for grace to match his determination to “spend our lives looking for Overland.” Thank you, Puddleglum, for putting it so well. And thank you, C.S. Lewis.