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:

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.”

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