I’m off to Narnia

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.

10 Comments

      1. We missed you. 70 ‘systems’ joined our Benefice Easter service on Zoom this morning. At our first couple of lock-down services we tried with everyone singing but it turned out to be real babble as the systems were all out of sync, so we switched to audio and video hymn clips but we could see many people singing along in their own houses and generally participating . Only one household carried on with breakfast! Let me know if you want log in details for next Sunday. Happy Easter,
        Brian

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  1. How very strange. About an hour before you posted this, the movie was on the telly by chance as I was flicking through. I haven’t seen it, though I’ve read the Chronicles twice, and I just wanted to down tools and watch the whole thing.

    That yearning for a good place, a place of beauty where it’s easy to choose good, is something I’ve had my whole life. I would often dream of it up the Faraway Tree.

    I think it’s a beautiful aspect of humanity, this yearning so many of us have still, in the world we are living in. It feels like such a fragile thing but there must be steel at its centre, methinks.

    Happy traversing 🙂

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    1. Oh! Enid Blyton, The Faraway Tree – hadn’t heard of that one. Its a pity when so many of us dream of such a place that we can not create it. Mind you I am fairly impressed at the efforts of world governments to protect people at the moment although of course I would prefer that everybody was always generously protected and provided for. Like in Narnia!

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  2. I also was enchanted by the Narnia books when I first read them as a child. My sister and I had a boxed set of paperbacks and there were lots of fights about whose bookshelves they should sit on. I also read the Hobbit a few years later and was equally enchanted. I had borrowed it from the library, did not remember the author and only years later as a teenager did I discover Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth became my Narnia, I think because of the much greater depth and coherence of the sub-created world, along with languages and a complete history and legendarium. All the more powerful because most of it was only hinted at and seen in glimpses behind the main story. Also, as I got older I did find the allegorical and fairly obvious religious themes somewhat off-putting, and in comparison, the religion in LoTR while it is there if you look, was much less overt. But I have to say that the Narnia series awoke in me the joy of “Northernness”. Years later I read C.S.Lewis’ autobiography, where he described this:

    “…Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss….”

    I have found that same joy in Lewis. Tolkien, and other authors, as well as in exploring Norse, Celtic and Germanic myths and legends. Perhaps you are also experiencing that sense of return from exile “to my country” in Narnia.

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    1. What wonderful comments and thank you. I had not seen that quote from CS Lewis – how lovely, I share his passion for Northernness (other than the weather). I intend to go trekking in Iceland at some stage – I want to witness that feeling of ancientness and rawness. I never worried too much about the “preachiness” of Narnia – I’m not a practicing Christian and have no belief at all in the dogma. But the wonders of a loving protector must attract me in some way, even if I have a certainty that none such exists. Like you I graduated also to the works of Tolkien and retain my passion. I first read LOTR aged 11 tucked up in prep school down in Broadstairs. Bilbo’s Birthday Party was used a a set text in Common Entrance one year.

      Yes indeed a return from exile. If only. I have my copy of LOTR down here in my cottage in Kent – the only problem with my ancient, battered copy (the same one I read aged 11) is that I have difficulty now with the print size. I keep meaning to buy a Kindle version.

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  3. What a wonderful recounting of a classic tale, placed by you in a more modern and less “preachy” context. There still is hope, Anthony, that such a world is possible to create, with the particulars being different naturally with regard to talking animals and such, but the details will belong to this world and will be created in the same spirit as the chronicles, and the reason I feel strongly that it is possible is due to the character of the many good people who populate these pages of yours, and the evidence of the existence of many more all over the world. We simply must persist in our hope for it to come about and our intention to create it.

    Thank you so much for sharing such an uplifting and charming entry at a time when we all need it so much…John H.

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    1. Good of you to comment John. As usual you are right about the good people. I often think of that phrase “physician heal thyself”…I still have a lot of work to do to produce in myself a person that I could admire. But then I suppose that battling our less generous impulses is all part of the game of life. While I am no believer in re-incarnation (although, who knows?) I can see the attraction and logic of the dogma. Sadly, I have a few more rounds to go on the wheel of samsara…but most people could probably lament the same way. What an odd condition – to be human.

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