When it comes to parallel universes, it does not get much better than Narnia. Where better to escape the troubles of a world which at times feel overwhelming.
The desire to transcend to a realm of peace, goodness and beauty has been paramount in our minds since we first acquired the double-edged sword of consciousness. Who does not seek an escape from pain, uncertainty and eventual death?
For me, Narnia always has been and always will be a place where I feel at home, a place I feel wholly and completely at peace. Those enchanting tales fill me with joy and as with all the best stories, when I read them, I almost feel I am there.
There is no travel agency for those who want to make the trip and besides, you need an invitation. For those lucky enough to be summoned, the journey is strange, and the means of travel varied and magical.
The first visitors witnessed the very creation of that world, genesis itself. And this first journey to Narnia was one of the most memorable.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, we learn that time and space are malleable, infinite, unfixed. All is possible, everything exists somewhere in a multiverse, a place of infinite possibility. These first visitors were children form Edwardian London and their portal was a wood between the worlds. A lush, sleepy sylvan setting, where each of the woodland pools led to a different world, a different universe. That wood itself was very special and somewhere you feel you wouldn’t mind resting awhile.
The children (Polly and Digory) had the misfortune to awaken evil in one of the worlds they visited and introduced it into Narnia at the very dawn of time. They brought Queen Jadis form the land of Charn, where she had used the Deplorable Word to destroy her own universe and now looked for another realm to spread her wickedness.
Narnia is created by the Word of Aslan. The logos. That world is sung into existence and as the music continues, black waters are calmed, and dawn arrives. The song conjures all into being as trees and rivers, hills and mountains and the talking creatures themselves are fashioned by the beauty of that voice, called into existence. From nothing came everything. From empty blackness the Word called matter and energy to birth yet another world into the infinity of the multiverse.
It was all there in this new land. Evil, temptation, joy and sadness. Good and bad. But it was a special place, one where you somehow knew the bad was a mere test and that good things would surely arrive, if only you had the right intentions and avoided temptation.
It was a land in which there was guidance, a clear code of behaviour. A land where somehow one has the feeling that the right path is obvious, and not so very difficult to follow. Where it is simple to make the right choices and one is glad to do so.
For some lucky children in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the portal is a magical wardrobe built from a tree whose seed was brought from that fabled land by an earlier generation. Staying with a kindly old professor deep in rural England, the children brush past fur coats and emerge in a land of snow and ice where the spirits of trees and rivers roam the land. And where talking animals greatly outnumber humans.
I can still feel the sense of wonder when my primary school teacher read the book to us in class back in the early 1960s. I was hooked at the first sitting and am still entranced by Lucy and Mr Tumnus, by Aslan and the Beavers. I still shudder at the White Witch, who condemned the beautiful land of Narnia to eternal winter.
A couple of later visitors jumped through a picture of a Narnian sailing ship, hanging on a bedroom wall, and found themselves swimming in a foreign sea nearby to the Dawn Treader, the royal Yacht of King Caspian of Narnia. Those lucky children joined on a quest to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia. It is here that you will meet Reepicheep, the valiant talking mouse who is in search of Aslan’s land.
In one adventure, the search for the Silver Chair, two children escaped their miserable school through a gateway in the wall and found themselves on a high clifftop in the land of Narnia’s creator. From whence they were gently blown towards Narnia itself, far out over the seas. Their adventure with Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, in search of lost Prince Rillian, is perhaps the most captivating of all the Narnian Chronicles. The giants of Harfang want to eat the children as part of their Autumns Feast, while the Lady of the Green Kirtle wants to enslave them in her claustrophobic underground kingdom, where she holds the Narnian Prince under an evil enchantment.
Death itself might call you to this land of milk and honey, as it did to the children who were transported from the scene of a train crash. These children joined others in the Last Battle, the Narnian day of judgement, where the chosen ran on and ever on joyfully into ever higher heavens, and the undeserving met their end in the destruction of Narnia at the end of its days.
Is Narnia a land where all is good, and evil has ceased to exist? Not quite, for Narnia is a testing ground for those who seek an even better place.
But what evil there is in this far away world is not of the visceral, threatening sort we find in our own universe. Somehow, even the wickedest of White Witches is manageable. Somehow, we know that the serpents and giants, the tyrants and the bad dreams are manageable here and can be conquered by a little faith and some determination to do the right thing.
In Narnia we can see the whole span of a universe’s history from creation to eventual destruction, but with the comforting knowledge that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Narnia is a place where only good can triumph and where evil may last a while but is never too terrifying. It is a country with a protector, an omniscient and omnipotent creator who will make sure that all will go well in the end. And when the time comes for that world to end, he will open the doors to better and greater paradises.
It is true that you must make the grade in Narnia. At the end of days, the great Lion stands by a gateway and those who have lead lives of evil are sent off to a realm of darkness and destruction. Only those who have behaved well are ushered through to light and Eden.
But it is difficult to be a monster in Narnia. It is a land which seems to make the choice to act well so obvious and easy. A realm where the division between good and evil is so clear and the right path so easy to tread.
It is a world where doing right and making noble decisions seem to be the default option; where evil and taking the wrong path seem so obvious and so easy to avoid.
There is so much beauty and goodness in this charmed land that a brief (even if imaginary) visit has changed the lives of many who have been lucky enough to be called there.
Narnia is a country I have visited so very often in my mind and a place I suspect I will visit again and again as the years roll by.
I can imagine a wide range of opinions on hearing my words. Some will be uncomfortable with the religious themes of which I remained blissfully unaware in childhood. Some will be irritated by the magical thinking, the apparent belief that such places can or do exist.
But the imagination is a surprising tool. Consciousness is a great and powerful creator. In a very real sense, we are what we think, and we think our world into being. Our brains are indeed governed by the physical laws of the universe in which we happen to live, but our imaginations are not. We have emerged from mere matter but our whole is so much more than our parts.
Could we but see it, Narnia is not an inaccessible and imaginary world open by invitation only. We may not have Dryads and Nyads walking the earth, we may not be able to converse with talking Fauns and Beavers but we are in possession nonetheless of a miraculous universe.
We are learning each day how to re-arrange matter in previously unthought of combinations to make better materials for our use. Medicine and food production continue to improve. Disease could one day be a thing of the past. Mental and physical disability will be overcome. Death itself may be vanquished.
All we need to do is to make our world one where, like in Narnia, the right path is so easy to follow. And where evil is as easily vanquished.