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.”


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.”


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:

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:

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:

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: