Saturday, December 26, 2009

Parting Thoughts on Narnia


Traveling through Narnia the past few months has been an exciting journey. I enjoyed it so much more than I did upon first reading 25 years ago. One reason is that knowing the end of the story at the beginning allowed me to pick up on several connections between the books I hadn’t seen before. Another major reason for the enjoyment is that I have read the chronicles after reading 14 other C.S. Lewis books. Themes and insights from those books are interwoven in the narrative of the Narnian Chronicles, which has deepened my appreciation for the books as mature literature (not just children’s stories).

In addition to the Lewis books, I have read several articles on the Internet written by Lewis scholars. (My favorite scholarly web site is “Into the Wardrobe,” and can be accessed at http://cslewis.drzeus.net/.) The scholars’ interpretations and explanations have added greatly to my understanding and appreciation of all things Narnia. In addition to Lewis web sites, there are some very creative and informative blogs dedicated to Narnia.

I want to wrap up my Narnian adventure by sharing two ideas I discovered in my Internet reading. One is that each book in the chronicles correlates to one of the seven planets circling the earth, as was believed until Copernicus’s sun-centered hypothesis in the mid 1500s. The other is that each of the seven books in the chronicles corresponds to one of the seven deadly sins. There are several other analyses, including each chronicle matching one of the seven Catholic sacraments, or the three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity) and the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice), but the aforementioned two are my favorites.

I had to smile when I learned of these ideas, and thought Lewis himself might chuckle to see how man had changed so little since Medieval times in his effort to categorize and order his world. I was reminded of what Lewis wrote in The Discarded Image, a book that provides a complete and complex picture of history, science, and theology that served as the foundation for literature in the Western world from the turn of the first millennium A.D. up until around the early 1600s. Lewis describes medieval man:

“At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted ‘a place for everything, and everything in the right place.’ …There was nothing which medieval people liked better, or did better, than sorting out and tidying up. Of all our modern inventions, I suspect that they would most have admired the card index.”

When I read about the Narnian books focusing on a planet or a deadly sin, I felt there was a bit of “sorting out and tidying up” taking place in our modern world.

Narnia and the Planets

Michael Ward wrote a book entitled Planet Narnia—The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. The idea of seven heavens comes from the Medieval concept that earth was the center of the universe and seven planets circled it. A review of the book by Times Online explains how Ward matched the books and planets. (See Note #1.)

The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeJupiter – Qualities of Jupiter include kingliness, magnanimity, festal joy, tragic splendor, summertime tranquility.

Prince CaspianMars – Qualities of mars include vegetative growth, military strength and knightly discipline, courage and orderliness or cruelty and lawlessness.

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderSun – Qualities of the sun include wisdom, liberality, generosity, freedom, riches, enlightenment, opposition to greed.

The Silver ChairLuna – Qualities of the moon include envy, confusion, boundary between certainty and mutability, sponsor of hunting and wandering.

The Horse and his BoyMercury – Qualities of mercury include swiftness, heraldry, skill in speech and learning, ability to divide and recombine.

The Magician’s Nephew - Venus – Qualities of Venus include sweetness, warmth, beauty, laughter, motherliness, sexuality, fertility, vitality, creativity.

The Last BattleSaturn - Qualities of Saturn (the planet of old age) include pestilence, treachery, disaster and death, godly sorrow, penitence and contemplation. “Here, however, there is a new turn. Once deception and decay have done their depressing work, Jupiter returns with the new creation of Narnia and its loyal inhabitants. The cosmos is after all a comedy, albeit dark and deep, not a tragedy.”

If this topic is of interest to you, you might want to check out the official website for Planet Narnia: http://www.planetnarnia.com/planet-narnia. It is wonderfully informative. Ward includes musical selections from Gustav Holst’s “music of the heavens” or the Planets Suite as he describes the attributes of each planet. The paperback edition of Planet Narnia is scheduled for release in early 2010; I can’t wait to read it.

Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins

The other cataloging of the chronicles I found fascinating is matching each Narnian story with one of the seven deadly sins. My favorite explanation comes from an article written by Dr. Don W. King of the Montreat College Department of English (See Note #2.).

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Gluttony - Personified by Edmund Pevensie's desire for the White Witch's Turkish Delight, which turned him traitor to his brother and sisters, and eventually was the precipitating cause of Aslan's death. Dr. King explains that "over indulgence blinds us to the truth, turning us inward, making us slaves to our own insatiable desires.”

Prince Caspian - Lust – Personified by Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, who lusted after power, position and wealth. According to Dr. King, corruption in leadership can be expected when the lust for personal gain takes precedence over the general welfare of the people.

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderGreed – Personified by obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb who was egocentric and selfish. A main part of the story revolved around Eustace’s desire for gold which turned him into a dragon, and the painful process he went through before becoming a boy again. Dr. King explains that this adventure shows the negative effect greed has on the individual.

The Silver ChairSloth (“a disgust with the spiritual because of the physical effort involved” – Personified by Jill Pole who, through laziness, forgets the signs Aslan has asked her to follow, resulting in numerous missteps and situations for Eustace Scrubb and her. Dr. King says that Jill “portrays all who fail to persevere, who fail to keep the vision,” but that we are capable of breaking the chains of sloth and regain spiritual vision.

The Horse and His BoyPride – Personified by the talking Narnian horse Bree who is obsessed with how he looks, the escaped princess of Calormene who holds a high opinion of herself, and evil Prince Rabadash, heir of Calormene whose prideful actions and conversation with Aslan results in him being turned into an ass. Dr. King quotes Proverbs 16:18 “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.

The Magician’s NephewAnger – Personified in various actions of the quick tempered Digory Ketterley, Digory’s mad magician Uncle Andrew, and opinionated friend Polly Plummer. It was an argument between Digory and Polly that unleashed evil in Narnia in the form of Jadis (the White Witch), who herself is a picture of anger or “devilish temper.” Dr. King explains that “anger, uncontrolled rage, is another form of blindness. It turns us away from a right and whole vision of the truth, and instead leads us towards egoism, expressed by choler and revenge.”

The Last BattleEnvy – Personified by the great ape Shift, who usurps the power of Aslan by dressing a dim-witted donkey in a lion skin and manipulating all the inhabitants through the donkey. Dr. King explains that “Shift’s envy of Aslan’s power leads to breakdowns in the social fabric of Narnian society.” Dr. King goes on to explain that even more destructive is the “spiritual upheaval caused by Shift’s envious power grab.”

Dr. King summarizes: "[C.S. Lewis] has taken the seven deadly sins into Narnia, shown their destructive power, and set before us examples to avoid. Although each book highlights a particular sin and illustrates its specific effect on characters, the message in each case is the same: the grip of sin is deadly.”

Note #1: The full text of the Times Online article about Planet Narnia can be accessed at:

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article6883577.ece

Note #2: The full text of the article on Narnia and the seven deadly sins can be accessed at:

http://cslewis.drzeus.net/papers/7sins.html


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Legacies of the Apple and Walnut Trees

The order in which I read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia was neither by publication date nor historically chronological, but more thematic because of the literary study guide I am following. The guide pairs The Magician’s Nephew (the first chronologically, published in 1955), with The Last Battle (the last chronologically, published in 1950). I enjoyed reading these two books back to back because they discuss the creation of Narnia followed by its final destruction and subsequent recreation or “celestialization.”

Narnia’s creation, as told in The Magician’s Nephew, involves five humans: a mediocre magician who discovers how to transport things and people into other dimensions, the magician’s nephew Digory Kirk (who grows up to be Professor Kirke of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Digory’s friend Polly, and a hansom cab driver (Frank) and his wife (Helen) who become the first king and queen of Narnia. As the story unfolds, Digory is sent on a quest to retrieve a very special, life-giving apple in Narnia. He encounters various challenges, including the desire to steal an apple to take home to his dying mother. In the end and because of Digory’s honesty and integrity, Aslan allows him to take an apple home with him; the apple saves his mother’s life, and Digory plants the seeds in his backyard.

I found the story of Digory's apple tree that grew in England reminiscent of a walnut tree that grew in Utah.

The Apple Tree

“The tree which sprang from the Apple that Digory planted in the back garden, lived and grew into a fine tree. Growing in the soil of our world, far out of the sound of Aslan’s voice and far from the young air of Narnia, it did not bear apples that would revive a dying woman as Digory’s Mother had been revived, though it did bear apples more beautiful than any others in England, and they were extremely good for you, though not fully magical.

“But inside itself, in the very sap of it, the tree (so to speak) never forgot that other tree in Narnia to which it belonged. Sometimes it would move mysteriously when there was no wind blowing: I think that when this happened there were high winds in Narnia and the English tree quivered because, at that moment, the Narnia tree was rocking and swaying in a strong southwestern gale. However that might be, it was proved later that there was still magic in its wood. For when Digory was quite middle-aged (and he was a famous learned man, a Professor, and a great traveler by that time) and the Ketterleys’ old house belonged to him, there was a great storm all over the south of England which blew the tree down. He couldn’t bear to have it simply chopped up for firewood, so he had part of the timber made into a wardrobe, which he put in his big house in the country. And though he himself did not discover the magic properties of that wardrobe, someone else did. That was the beginning of all the comings and goings between Narnia and our world, which you can read in other books.”

The Black Walnut Tree

President Gordon B. Hinckley, past president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spent his boyhood summers on the family's fruit farm and always loved trees. "Every year at this season (spring) we planted trees," he said. "Well, some 36 years ago, I planted a black walnut. It was in a crowded area where it grew straight and tall to get the sunlight. A year ago (1999), for some reason, it died."

During the April 2000 General Conference, the first held in the new Conference Center in Salt Lake City, President Hinckley explained how that tree was used in making the conference center’s new pulpit. "If I get a little personal and even a little sentimental, I hope you will forgive me," President Hinckley said.

Because President Hinckley knew of the wood's value, after the tree died, he invited a church general authority, Elder Ben Banks of the quorums of the Seventy, to his home. Elder Banks had been in the hardwood lumber business before being called to a full-time church assignment. Elder Banks and his son, Ben Jr., who now runs the business, inspected the tree, and Ben Jr. suggested using the wood to build the Conference Center pulpit. "The idea excited me," President Hinckley said from the pulpit. "From all they could tell it was solid, good and beautiful wood.”

The tree was cut down, carefully removed from President Hinckley’s yard, rough-cut and cured. Each board was carefully marked and cataloged so the grain could be matched when the boards were joined side-by-side. But measurements of the 1-inch-thick boards came up short of the amount needed to cover the pulpit, so the boards were cut in half. These half-inch boards were then planed down to a quarter inch, and the walnut veneer was added to plywood, creating enough material to cover the large pulpit.

Unique grain structure from the section of the tree where the main trunk split into branches was fashioned into the dashboard across the top of the pulpit. This created a beautiful feather figure in the grain of the wood. Beehive figures (an historic symbol of industry) made of cherry wood were added around the outside of the pulpit to blend the walnut with the rest of the woodwork.

Description of the pulpit from a Deseret News article: “The walnut-tree pulpit is the best link to nature in this other-wordly spatial experience. The scale of everything is so large in the Conference Center, having a human-sized object as the center point of our attention makes all the difference. Because of its placement and focus, this tree still retains the vertical axis all trees do by linking the heavens and the earth. This axis is the focal point and where all our attention is drawn. How appropriate that the material used in this vast arena is from a single tree grown in the yard of a prophet – planted and nurtured for many years by him. This personal detail is one we can relate to and connect with. It is of the earth, and it is sacred. The words of the prophets spoken from the walnut tree link us to heaven, similar to a pillar of light or a sacred grove.”

Summary

It seems to be a human trait to keep and cherish items that remind us of important people and events in our lives. The apple tree planted in England that became the famous wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the black walnut tree planted in Pres. Hinckley’s backyard that became part of the new pulpit in the LDS Conference center both elicit memories of times gone by and people who are loved. Both items are held in reverence, and elicit awe in the magic or spirit that they conjure up. And the items crafted from the wood of both trees retain their vertical image of reaching heavenward like the trees themselves did. The legacies of the apple and walnut trees continue to inspire those who experience the furniture made from those famous trees.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Bridge Builders

In the closing chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy realizes that they have completed their trip and must return home. They are at the end of the world and Aslan’s country lies just ahead. However much she wants to enter that country, she knows it is not possible for her, her brother Edmund or cousin Eustace, and that all of them must return to our world:

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Lucy. “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?”

“I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. “But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder. And now come; I will open the door in the sky and send you to your own land.”


This passage hit a deeper chord when I read it this time around because of an article written by LDS President Thomas S. Monson that was published in the January 2008 Ensign entitled “The Master Bridge Builder.” Pres. Monson explained that Jesus Christ was the supreme architect and builder of bridges for you, for me, for all humankind; that Christ has built the bridges over which we must cross if we are to reach our heavenly home.

Pres. Monson quoted a poem by Will Allen Dromgoole:


The Bridge Builder
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,

To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,

Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;

The sullen stream had no fears for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day;

You never again must pass this way;

You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide—

Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followeth after me today

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”


Pres. Monson then went on to explain that Jesus Christ, the master builder, built a trilogy of personal bridges here in mortality, and showed us the way to cross them by following Him.

The first bridge is the bridge of OBEDIENCE. Jesus “ was an unfailing example of personal obedience as He kept the commandments of His Father.”





The second bridge provided by Christ for us to cross is the bridge of SERVICE. “We look to the Savior as our example of service. Although He came to earth as the Son of God, He humbly served those around him. …The bridge of service invites us to cross over it frequently.”


The third bridge the Lord provided for us is the bridge of PRAYER. He directed “Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing.” (Doctrine and Covenants19:38)





Pres. Monson concluded his article by saying: “Jesus, the Master Bridge Builder, spanned that vast chasm we call death. ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15:22) He did for us what we could not do for ourselves; hence, humankind can cross the bridges He built—into life eternal. …I pray that we may have the wisdom and determination to cross the bridges the Savior built for each of us.”

Summary

Aslan’s words to Lucy about him building bridges that she can cross over to get to his country are an echo of how Jesus Christ, the master bridge builder, built the bridges of obedience, service and prayer over which we must pass on our road to life eternal.


The full text of Pres. Monson’s article may be viewed at:

http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=335ef44804d17110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD


Friday, November 6, 2009

Drinking Light and Munching on Rubies

One thing I have loved in C.S. Lewis’ fiction is his creative imagery, especially how he mixes up the five senses, like tasting or eating what normally is only seen or touched. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis describes “drinkable light,” and in The Silver Chair he talks about “live” and “growing” gems that can be eaten:


The King took the bucket in both hands, raised it to his lips, sipped, then drank deeply and raised his head. His face was changed. Not only his eyes but everything about him seemed to be brighter.

“Yes,” he said, “it is sweet. That’s real water, that. …It—it’s like light more than anything else,” said Caspian.


“That is what it is,” said Reepicheep. “Drinkable light.”

--The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


“I have heard of those little scratches in the crust that you Topdwellers call mines. But that’s where you get dead gold, dead silver, dead gems. Down in Bism we have them alive and growing. There I’ll pick you bunches of rubies that you can eat, and squeeze you a cupful of diamond juice. You won’t care much about fingering the cold, dead treasures of your shallow mines after you have tasted the live ones in Bism.”
--The Silver Chair


Both quotes conjure up such lovely images. They make me want to taste “drinkable light” and munch on “bunches of rubies.”

I think one reason these images are so powerful is that Lewis is actually describing something deeper than the surface items. At least, I feel the images at a deeper level. When I read “drinkable light,” I think of the sacramental wine or water, of how Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and of how by partaking of the sacramental emblems of his death, I am taking His light into me. Therefore, the sacramental water is drinkable light. (See Note #1.)

And as for the precious metals and minerals that are so highly prized by man, I realize how much value we place on these “dead” elements that we can only touch and usually keep under lock and key. While they are definitely valuable, their value is temporal only; we cannot take this wealth with us when we die. It seems to me that if we were able to “eat” precious live metals and minerals, their beauty and value would become a part of our very beings, increasing the value of our bodies and most probably increasing our internal beauty as well. We would be valued for ourselves rather than our possessions. And after all, isn’t this the message of the Gospel? It is the value of souls that is great in the sight of God.

Note #1: Elder Dallin H. Oakes of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave an excellent talk about Jesus being “The Light and Life of the World.” His talk may be accessed at:
http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=dd8f79356427b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____

Monday, November 2, 2009

Divine Warnings...and Protection

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the youngest Pevensie children, Lucy and Edmund, along with their odious cousin Eustace, travel back to Narnia to help King Caspian discover the fate of the seven lost lords. They enter Narnia through a painting of a sailing ship on a wall of a guest bedroom in Eustace’s home, and find themselves aboard the purple-sailed Dawn Treader. Their quest for the lost lords takes them through the Lone Islands where they have wonderful adventures and gain insights into their own lives.

On one island, they discover a group of invisible dufflepuds, single-footed, simple-minded dwarflike creatures. A magician has caused them to be invisible, and Lucy agrees to enter the magician’s house, locate his book of spells, and discover how to make the creatures visible again. Lucy eventually finds the right room at the end of a long hallway, and discovers the book. As she flips through the pages, she has different experiences, including the following:

“But when [Lucy] looked back at the opening words of the spell, there in the middle of the writing, where she felt quite sure there had been no picture before, she found the great face of a lion, of the Lion, Aslan himself, staring into hers. It was painted such a bright gold that it seemed to be coming toward her out of the page; and indeed she never was quite sure afterward that it hadn’t really moved a little. At any rate she knew the expression on his face quite well. He was growling and you could see most of his teeth. She became horribly afraid and turned over the page at once.”

The spell on that page was not appropriate for Lucy to read, and the stern image of Aslan appeared to warn her away.

What a marvelous protector that image was. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a similar image that appeared whenever we were confronted with inappropriate material—in books and magazines, or on radio, TV, the Internet, or in the movies? These media are powerful, and their influence can have long-lasting negative effects. The lure of the illicit or immoral is strong and can become enslaving. If only there were a roaring lion to frighten us from experiencing these dangerous things…

Actually, we DO have such a protector. In Narnia, it was the image of their Christ-like figure Aslan. In our world, we have the Spirit of Christ and the influence of the Holy Ghost that can warn us away from dangerous situations. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are given the “gift” of the Holy Ghost after baptism. This gift is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, who will protect us, guide us, comfort us, and teach us—if we remain worthy of his presence.

One of my favorite descriptions of what the Holy Ghost can do for us is by Sheri Dew, who at the time was second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency: “The Holy Ghost enlarges our minds, our hearts, and our understanding; helps us subdue weaknesses and resist temptation; inspires humility and repentance; guides and protects us in miraculous ways; and gifts us with wisdom, divine encouragement, peace of mind, a desire to change, and the ability to differentiate between the philosophies of men and revealed truth. The Holy Ghost is the minister and messenger of the Father and the Son, and He testifies of both Their glorious, global reality and Their connection to us personally. Without the presence of the Spirit, it is impossible to comprehend our personal mission or to have the reassurance that our course is right. No mortal comfort can duplicate that of the Comforter.” Source: Sheri L. Dew, “We Are Not Alone,” Ensign, Nov 1998. Her complete message can be read at:

http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=4bc7605ff590c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

And if we need a visual image (like Lucy did with the magician’s spell), we need only think of Jesus Christ and his great atonement. Focusing on His image can have the same effect on us as that experienced by Lucy when she saw Aslan’s visage. Here are a couple of my favorite artists' renditions of Christ:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grow in Understanding God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

When I read this dialog in C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, it made me smile at the simplicity of explaining the principle that God and Christ are unchanging (the same yesterday, today and tomorrow), and that as we grow in spiritual knowledge and experience, we realize the depth and breadth of their love, power, and mercy. The more we know of them (the more we grow), the more majestic (or “bigger”) they seem to us.

In the Mormon musical "Saturday's Warrior," a young woman explains to her friend that he shouldn't expect to understand everything at once, that it takes time and effort to understand the gospel plan "Line Upon Line."




2 Nephi 28:30 (Book of Mormon)
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (See also, Isaiah 28:10.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Worth of Souls Is Great

C.S. Lewis had a deep love and reverence for all human beings, regardless of their station or circumstances in life. He acknowledged that all are children of God, and as such, have greatness inherent them, although sometimes it is difficult to see.

In Prince Caspian, Aslan explains to the prince that the prince has the ability and the right to rule over the land, that he is of the royal lineage of Adam and Eve, the first of God’s children on this earth:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And this is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Lewis expressed similar sentiments in other books:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or ever lasting splendors." —Weight of Glory

“If you are a poor creature [born or raised in poverty, ignorance, sin] do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all—not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last.)”
Mere Christianity

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."
Mere Christianity


“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”
Doctrine and Covenants 18:10


Friday, October 2, 2009

Lucy Pevensie and Joseph Smith Experiences with Deity Compared

In reading C.S. Lewis’ Narnian Chronicle, Prince Caspian, I found an episode involving the youngest Pevensie sibling, Lucy, that reminded me of an experience of the young Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith.

Lucy’s Situation

While standing on a British railway station, awaiting their train to school after the summer holidays, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie are magically whisked away to a beach near a ruined castle, which turns out to be their old home in Cair Paraval. Although only a year has passed in England, many long years have evidently passed in Narnia.

That night the children intervene to rescue the dwarf Trumpkin from soldiers who have brought him to the ruins to drown him. Trumpkin tells the children that since their disappearance some 1,300 years ago, a race of men called Telmarines has invaded Narnia, driving the Talking Beasts into the wilderness and pushing even their memory underground. Narnia is now ruled by King Miraz, but the rightful king is Miraz's young nephew, Prince Caspian, who has gained the support of the Old Narnians.

(Miraz had usurped the throne by killing his own brother, Caspian's father, and when Miraz’s own son was born, he sought to kill Caspian as well. Prince Caspian escaped with the aid of his tutor, who gave him in parting Queen Susan's horn.)

King Miraz and his army are pursuing Caspian so he and the Old Narnians flee to Aslan’s How. Close to defeat, Caspian decides to blow Queen Susan’s horn to summon help. It is this action that called the Pevensies back to Narnia from England.

The Pevensies and the rescued Trumpkin make their way to Prince Caspian. They try to save time by traveling up Glasswater Creek, but lose their way. Lucy sees Aslan, the Narnian Christ figure who appears as a lion. She wants to follow where he leads, but the others do not believe her and follow their original course, which becomes increasingly difficult. In the night, Aslan calls to Lucy and tells her that she must awaken the others and insist that they follow her on Aslan's path. She is sorry that their group had not followed Aslan earlier in the day and wonders if they could have prevented getting lost. The dialog between the two continues:

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too? asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

Joseph Smith’s Situation

When Joseph Smith was 14 years old, he was concerned about which church he should join. After reading James 1:5 (“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”), Joseph entered a secluded grove of trees and knelt in prayer to find an answer. To his amazement, he experienced a vision in which God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him in a pillar of light and instructed him not join any existing church.

A few days after he had this vision, he was traveling with a Methodist preacher, and they began talking about religion. Joseph took the opportunity to tell the preacher that he had received a vision. The preacher was surprised and treated Joseph with great contempt, saying the vision was of the devil and that there were no longer visions or revelations, that these had ceased with the death of Christ’s apostles. Others treated Joseph the same way. Throughout the persecution, Joseph was valiant in his account:

“I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”

The full account of the vision may be found in The Pearl of Great Price, a book of scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

http://scriptures.lds.org/en/js_h/1

Experiences Compared


There are comparisons between Joseph Smith’s experience with God and Christ, and the fictional experience of Lucy Pevensie with Aslan, Narnia’s Christ figure:
  • Both were sensitive to the Spirit at young ages. Joseph Smith had the conviction that he would receive answers to his prayers if he truly believed and sought them. In Prince Caspian, Lucy was the only one of the group to see Aslan as they were traveling. Also, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it is Lucy who called upon Aslan to save them during the threatening storm.
  • Neither was immediately believed after having seen deity. Peter and Susan did not believe Lucy had seen Aslan and, while Edmund believed Lucy because of her past experiences, the group still decided to go their own way and did not follow Susan’s recommendation. While Joseph Smith’s family believed him when he told them of his visitations, others, like the preacher, did not; the unbelievers went so far as to persecute young Joseph because of his claims.
  • Both accepted difficult tasks given them by their respective deities. Joseph Smith was not to join any existing church, but was to prepare himself to participate in the restoration of Christ's church on the earth and translate the Book of Mormon, the story of Christ’s interaction with his people on the American continents. Lucy Pevensie was directed to return to her group, wake them up in the middle of the night, and convince them that Aslan had requested they follow him to the place where Prince Caspian awaited.
  • Both bore a burden in accomplishing their assigned tasks. Lucy was afraid that no one would believe her, especially since they would not be able to see Aslan (at least at first) even though she could. It was not until the early hours of morning that the others eventually begin to see Aslan’s shadow and then Aslan himself; they all eventually obeyed Aslan’s direction to follow him. Joseph Smith was not allowed to show anyone the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. This was a heavy burden that was not relieved until he was eventually permitted to show the gold plates to a group of three witnesses and then eight witnesses. Joseph Smith's mother later recounted Joseph's great relief at no longer being the sole witness of the divine experiences of the restoration, when he told her that others "will have to testify to the truth of what I have said for now they know for themselves" that his vision and the gold plates were real and true.
  • Lastly, there is the similarity between the personal growth of both as they met their respective challenges. Aslan told Lucy that it was not important whether the others saw him at first or believed her, implying that the important thing was that Lucy saw him and was willing to follow him, even if it meant the discomfort of confronting her older brothers and sister. And Joseph Smith very eloquently expressed a similar conviction when he remarked, “For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creative Swearing—Trumpkin Style

As I read the Chronicles of Narnia, I love discovering little gems hidden throughout the books. In Prince Caspian, I was intrigued by the creative swear words of the red dwarf Trumpkin (aka – Dear Little Friend, or DLF as Lucy refers to him). The explatives are paired alliterative words that are dissimilar in nature, which, when combined, are always followed by an exclamation point—turning them by inflection or tone into swear words. Trumpkin’s expletives include:

- Beards and bedsteads!
- Horns and halibuts!
- Bulbs and bolsters!
- Whistles and whirligigs!
- Soup and celery!
- Thimbles and thunderstorms!
- Lobsters and lollipops!
- Giants and junipers!
- Tubs and tortoiseshells!
- Bottles and battledores!
- Bilge and beanstocks!
- Cobbles and kettledrums!
- Wraiths and wreckage!
- Weights and watterbottles!
- Crows and crockery!

What fun it must have been for C.S. Lewis to concoct such clever swear words. I remember when I was young, my sisters and I did the same thing. Our parents didn’t permit swearing in our conservative Mormon home (an occasional “darn” or “shoot” might slip out), but our friends were already showing their independence through colorful language. In an effort to “join the movement,” and because we couldn't use the commonly used swear words, my sisters and I decided to come up with our own words that could be used in situations where swearing seemed appropriate. My personal favorite was “Rumpelstiltskin.” However, I couldn’t say it without smiling, which unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) broke the mood of whatever caused me to want to swear in the first place.

I remember my mother explaining that using swear words was an indication of an uneducated person: if someone truly had a knowledge of the English language, he or she should be able to express their feelings without resorting to swear words. That seemed to make sense. I prided myself in having a good fourth grade vocabulary but somehow when I felt like swearing, I couldn’t come up with the right words to express what I was experiencing, hence my resorting to “Rumplestitlskin!” I must have resorted to it once too often because Mom also told me that any word could be used as a swear word if said in the right tone (which she—through the magic of motherhood—could recognize regardless of the word!) and that I wasn’t to use “that tone” in our home. My swearing life was short lived.

Unlike when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when swearing was not universally accepted, many children today actually learn swearing from their parents who often use it without even realizing the words are swear words. When I was young, swearing was a form of youthful rebellion; today swear words are part of the routine, accepted vocabulary of daily life. In addition, swear words (as well as taking the Lord’s name in vain) are often used to express happiness or surprise, not just anger or hate. Movies and books are filled with swear words, and swearing is becoming more prominent on television. Today it is hard to comprehend the furor that was created when, in the movie Gone With The Wind, Rhett Butler exclaimed, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” At the time it was scandalous. Today no one notices.

I wonder if many people reading Prince Caspian consider Trumpkin’s above-mentioned alliterative words a form of swearing, or have “hard core” swear words become such a part of society that these creative couplets are not recognized for what they are? Or maybe it’s just me reading a certain “tone” into the words like my mother explained. Either way, I appreciate Lewis’ creativity in word selection, and love visualizing the pairings. It almost makes me want to create alliterations of my own just for the fun of creating them. However, after my “Rumplestiltskin!” experiences, I definitely won’t be verbalizing them!

Note #1: Definitions

As often is the case when reading British literature, a dictionary comes in handy to define the occasional unknown word. On the list of Trumpkin’s creative alliterative couplets are the following, which may not be generally known:

Battledore: badminton racket
Bedstead: frame of a bed on which the mattress in placed
Bilge: lower part of the hull of a ship where water collects, or the rank odor of collected water
Bolster: pillows that are oblong and cylindrical in shape
Kettledrums: largest drums in an orchestra that must be played while standing up
Whirligig: Anything that whirls, such as a toy top, carousel, or a decorative object that spins in the wind
Wraiths: Scottish ghosts

Note #2: Other “Creative” Swearing

Writing this post brought to mind two other instances of creative swearing. The first is the boy wonder Robin, Batman’s trusty sidekick. I recall that in the Batman television series, which ran for two and a half seasons from 1966 to 1968, Robin was always exclaiming: "Holy (insert words such as “bill of rights,” “haberdashery,” “heart failure,” “demolition,” “costume party”), Batman!" whenever he encountered something startling.

The other instance is how swear words are handled in cartoons—a collection of miscellaneous keystrokes, known variously as “profanity ideograms,” “taboo avoidance characters,” “obscenicons,” and “spiral thingy lightening bolts.” Here are a few examples:





Note #3: Is Swearing All That Bad?

I also recall a Sunday School lesson I heard at Brigham Young University where the topic of swearing came up. A student in the class said (with a sly smile) that he didn’t think swearing was all that bad, and supported his views with a quote by J. Golden Kimball (1853-1938), a colorful, folksy leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who said: “I won’t go to Hell for swearing because I repent too damn fast!” (I bet he had a sly smile on his face, too, when he said it!) The legendary “Uncle Golden," as he was known, is to Mormons what Will Rogers or Mark Twain are to the general American public—irreverent, but beloved.

So, is swearing all that bad? Well, it must be if Uncle Golden says he repents of it so *##! fast.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Potpouri of Thoughts on The Horse and His Boy

Before moving on to the next book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there are a few random thoughts on The Horse and His Boy (TH&HB) that I want to mention. All are short so I’ve clumped them together here.

Longing for Home

The setting of TH&HB is different than all the other books in the Narnian Chronicles. The story takes place in a land adjacent to Narnia known as Calormen, whose description conjures up visions of Arabian Nights, old Persia or the Middle East. There are great desserts, exotic trees and flowers, lavish palaces, and dirty, impoverished slums. In Narnia, all the characters speak British English, but the language spoken by humans in Calormen is not English and the animals don’t speak at all. This creates a foreign environment that makes it easy for us to understand why the talking horses, Bree and Hwin, long to return to their homeland of Narnia where animals speak. The boy, Shasta, who unknown to him was born in Narnia, also has feelings of longing for the land over the hills to the north (Narnia).

Lewis often wrote of longing for home. Here are two quotes I especially like that refer to longing for our “ultimate” home:

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.” --Mere Christianity

“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” --The Problem of Pain

Self Motivation

Quote: “But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power to force yourself.”

I’ve noticed the truth of this in my life…that when I no longer HAVE to do something, it is sometimes hard to do it all. For example, the past two years I’ve kept a “Words of the Prophets” journal in which I recorded notes by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I set the goal to accomplish this and, at the end of each year, I ended up with a wonderful compilation of quotes from the Ensign, Church News, and Conference talks. I started out to do the same in 2009 but didn’t get very far. When my mother passed away in March, my routine was turned upside down and I got behind in my reading and recording. Then in May, when I was given the challenge to participate in what Elder M. Russell Ballard calls “new media,” I started this blog and abandoned the journal (both were very time consuming and I found I could only do one). I switched my discretionary time to blogging from journaling. I still read the words of the prophets from same sources, but not with the same attention to detail; and I definitely don’t spend the time thinking about their words like I did when I kept a journal. After our stake conference broadcast last weekend where Elder Russell M. Nelson encouraged us to listen to and follow the prophets, I realized how much I missed really digging into their comments. I need to evaluate how I use my time to see if I can both blog and also journal the words of the prophets.

Life’s Roads

Quote: “After all,” said Shasta, “this road is bound to get somewhere.” But that all depends on what you mean by somewhere.

This quote reminded me of the one from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland that I often used years ago when teaching Young Women:

“Cheshire Puss,” [Alice] began timidly…Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—“ Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Both quotes address the fact that just because we’re moving along a path doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to get where we want to end up. We need to have a clear goal in mind (ultimate life goal: exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom) and know the path that leads there (faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for remission of sins, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, keeping commandments and covenants and enduring to the end). Christ has marked the path and shown the way; we need to listen to his voice and follow him. If we don’t, we’ll surely get somewhere (like Shasta and Alice commented) but chances are our destination will not be the one for which we hoped and planned. This also applies to our daily lives and the choices we make with our time and resources.

Two Types of Communicating

Quote: "For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you're taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays."

I had to smile when I read this. My mind went back to my high school days when I was taking both Advanced Placement English and Journalism at the same time. I enjoyed reading classical books and leading-edge poetry, but the essays I had to write about them drove me to distraction. Having to analyze everything to death killed my enthusiasm for the works themselves. On the other hand, writing articles for the school paper was great fun and provided a wonderful creative outlet. I doubt whether anyone (including the teacher) enjoyed reading the essays, but I know lots of people (including the teacher) enjoyed reading the stories that appeared in The Spectator. I appreciate the discipline learned through writing essays, but I wish there were some way to make essay writing as entertaining as writing newspaper stories, fiction, and blogs.

I also thought about the New Testament and how Jesus taught timeless principles through parables, or stories. The stories are easy to understand and remember, while straight exposition often takes more effort to understand and apply to our daily lives. There is power in a story well told.

Taking It One Step Further

Quote: "And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could, which is not quite the same thing."

There have been times in my life when I’ve thought: “Enough is enough! I can’t take on one more thing. I’m doing everything I can do. Anything else and I will collapse.” This was particularly true during my 20 years working for an environmental consulting firm, where I advanced from typist to Vice President of Marketing. At each stage of my career, I thought I was doing all I could and couldn’t do anything more. Thankfully, I agreed to continually take on new assignments that allowed me to move up in the company to a position I absolutely loved. I realize that what I thought was “all I could do” actually wasn’t, and that with the push and encouragement of my boss I was able to progress and advance, just like the horses did when chased by Aslan. I think this is true in our spiritual lives as well: we can always do more to draw closer to God and Jesus Christ, and to serve others than we might think possible. If we truly want to follow Christ’s example of unselfish service and devotion to God, a means will be provided that we can accomplish it. Like a marathon runner, we often have to push beyond what we think is our limit in order to accomplish every needful thing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moses (Biblical Exodus) and Shasta (The Horse and His Boy)

C.S. Lewis was a dedicated Christian by the time he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia. While his academic pursuits focused on medieval and renaissance English, much of his personal writing addressed religious topics, so it is not surprising that religious themes appear in most of his books, including his science fiction and fairy tales. As mentioned in a previous post, Lewis said of his Narnian characters: “At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.” I believe Lewis’ testimony was such an integral part of who he was and how he lived his life that his beliefs easily spilled over into his writings.

I also imagine Lewis must have gotten tired of being asked about the similarities between Biblical people and events and his characters and storylines in the Chronicles of Narnia. In one letter, Lewis sounds like he would like to put an end once and for all to the questions about the Chronicles being allegorical when he wrote:

"The whole series works out like this: The Magician's Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia; The Lion etc. - the Crucifixion and Resurrection; Prince Caspian - restoration of the true religion after a corruption; The Horse and His Boy - the calling and conversion of the heathen; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep); The Silver Chair - the continuing war against the powers of darkness; The Last Battle - the coming of Antichrist (the ape), the end of the world and the last judgment."

I have always considered the Chronicles of Narnia more of an allusion to the New Testament because of the central thread of Aslan, the Great Lion, the Christ figure in the Narnian world. However, in reading The Horse and His Boy (TH&HB) this time around I found an additional allusion that added another layer of enjoyment to the book—that being the similarities between Shasta and Moses of the Old Testament. This seems to fit in with Lewis’ above-mentioned theme for the book—“the calling and conversion of the heathen.”

Shasta’s journey across the desert and into wilderness areas is similar to Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and wandering in the wilderness. Also, in both cases, precious water was provided during the trek: Aslan produced water from his footprint in the turf, while Moses drew water from a rock. In addition, there are similarities between Shasta and Moses:
  • Shasta and Moses were both sent away from their families at birth.
  • Both babies were found floating in water: Moses was found in a basket on the Nile (with his protective sister hiding nearby), and Shasta was found in a boat in the ocean (with a dead Archenlandian knight who had been his protector).
  • Both turned away from the country in which they were raised: Shasta from Calormen, Moses from Egypt.
  • Both turned out to be saviors of their true countries: Shasta of Archenland, Moses of Israel.
In one aspect, the roles of Shasta and Moses are reversed: Moses was raised in nobility and wealth and eventually became a shepherd. Shasta was raised in a poor fisherman's home, and eventually became a King (although Moses also eventually became the leader of the Israelite nation).

Conclusion

I am continually amazed at how the Chronicles of Narnia take on different or additional meanings with each successive reading, and how readers at different ages and stages in life find similar enjoyment and personal reward. This is only my second time reading the Chronicles from beginning to end. During the 25-year interim, I have experienced a lot of “Life,” and grown in many ways. I wonder what the Chronicles might hold if I reread them in my twilight years? I must add this to my “bucket list”!