Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lion calling

“I love an Untamed Lion, He’s calling me to come

My cold heart, how it hesitates, I want to turn and run

His power is dangerous, His power is endless love”

~Michelle Tumes~

(Image from wallpaper on NarniaStory.com)

It is often surprising to look back through your life and see what kinds of things really affected you. Sometimes it is big events, but often it is a collection of small moments that can have the most impact on what we think and do.
In my life, I have been changed by a series of books called The Chronicles of Narnia, or more specifically, by a character in them, a lion named Aslan.

I was probably about eight years old when I got my first taste of Narnia, playing at my friend Sarah’s house. Remember the carefree days when you could just go play at a friend’s house for half a day, with nothing planned and nothing bigger to worry about than annoying brothers who came too? Anyway, Sarah and I had wandered inside from the swings, munching on huge pieces of homemade mint-chocolate candy (oh, that was soooo good!) and we decided to watch one of their library movies. Now none of us ever really watched TV, and movies were a big deal, so of course when Sarah’s brother and sister and my three brothers got wind of our plan, they all had to come and help us decide what to watch. I think the choice was between a girl movie like Anne of Green Gables, probably what Sarah and I would have chosen if left to ourselves, and a movie I had never heard of before called The Silver Chair. Sarah’s older brother, Aaron, tried to describe it. “It’s really neat! Two kids go to another world, and there are giants and dragons and they go underground and there are all these weird earthmen, and it’s great!” Sarah, on the other hand, kept reminding him of how scary it was and assuring us that we wouldn’t like it. But they let us decide because we were the guests. Needless to say, my brothers have never been daunted by the word “scary.” “Girly,” yes, but “scary” never! I was also curious to see something new, so when the vote came out in favor of The Silver Chair, Sarah and I stuck around to watch it, even though our movie had been taken over.

On one hand I was hooked. Any story about two children who get into another world just in time to escape school bullies is interesting, but that was just the beginning. It was a whole new and exciting world, but with many elements of the fairy tales that I loved. There were castles and giants, talking animals and dwarves, and an evil witch who stole away a prince and kept him under her spell. Pretty basic fairy-tale ingredients so far. Nevertheless, it was somehow more serious, more real, you might say, than any fairy tale I knew of. Perhaps most captivating was Aslan, the great talking lion who brought the children into Narnia, the other world, and gave them the task of finding the lost prince.

As I was saying, on one hand I thought it was quite interesting. On the other hand, I must say I did not fall in love with Narnia when I saw the movie. For one thing, it was made by BBC, whose movies tend to be low budget. It seems to me that, for some kinds of movies, the special effects or lack thereof don’t matter that much, but when it’s obvious that talking animals are people in suits and that a flying owl (person in a suit) is not really flying, it’s a bit disappointing. (That’s why I’m so excited that now they are planning to make the whole series into movies. I think the recent Lord of the Rings movies are wonderful examples of successfully taking a fantasy story from a book and making it believable on screen with the help of technology and computer graphics.) Still, when I was about eight that sort of thing didn’t bother me that much. Perhaps what made me not love it right off was the fact that, not only was the Silver Chair in the middle of the series and therefore confusing, but it was also the most dreary and depressing story, even though it has a good ending.

To get back to the story, we finished the movie and, despite what I have just said, we thought it was interesting. The Grubens told us it was part of a series of books that we should read, the first one having the funny name of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Later we went home, and that night I had an experience that implanted itself in my memory like few other things ever have.

Before I go on, let me explain a crucial scene of the Silver Chair. The two children and their Narnian friend, a creature named Puddleglum, travele for weeks over bad terrain, through miserable weather, and across dangerous lands on their search for the lost prince. The Lion, Aslan, had given Jill signs to memorize that would tell them the way to go, but gradually she ceases to repeat them. Finally she almost forgets them completely, because she’s so anxious to get somewhere warm with good food and a hot bath. Against Puddleglum’s better judgement they eventually seek lodging in the castle of some seemingly friendly giants. Everything seems fine until that night.

And then came the deadest hour of the night and nothing stirred but mice in the house of the giants. At that hour there came to Jill a dream. It seemed to her that she awoke in the same room and saw the fire, sunk low and red, and in the firelight the great wooden horse [a toy horse to giants, but huge to Jill]. And the horse came of its own will, rolling on its wheels across the carpet, and stood at her head. And now it was no longer a horse, but a lion as big as the horse. And then it was not a toy lion, but a real lion. The Real Lion, just as she had seen him on the mountain beyond the world’s end. And a smell of all sweet-smelling things there are, filled the room. But there was some trouble in Jill’s mind, though she could not think what it was, and the tears streamed down her face and wet the pillow. The Lion told her to repeat the Signs, and she found that she had forgotten them all. At that, a great horror came over her. (C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair)

Then the Lion shows her the next thing they should have been looking for and in the morning they get back to their quest. But the point I want to make is that this scene stood out to me, and we’ll see why.

At home that night, I couldn’t really get to sleep for a long time. I drifted in and out of wakefulness; it was one of those times when dreams feel just as real when you are awake as when you are asleep. I had my own room, and I was alone. Or, maybe not so alone. The Lion was there, and He would not leave. I would open my eyes and look at the light in the hallway, and He didn’t go away. Then I would scrunch my eyes shut and burrow my face in my pillow. That was worse. I saw Him then even clearer, with that huge mane and those deep golden eyes that looked and knew me. It was terrible. I would call it a nightmare, because I was so miserable, but still I knew that He wasn’t bad. So what was the problem? I don’t know that I can explain it, but He wanted something from me. I felt a bit like Jill. I was afraid, and I may have cried, but I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong. What was it He said to me? It’s funny how we remember emotions and feelings longer and easier than we remember words. But now that I think about it, I do remember, at least a little. He was probing, seeking, calling me: “What about you, Rael?” It was frightening, because then I knew that he was more that a character in a story. He was real and he would not be ignored, but I didn’t know whom in this world He was yet. Somehow I eventually got to sleep.

That was definitely not the end, though time passed and Narnia slipped to the back of our minds. Then one Christmas we found The Chronicles of Narnia in our stockings, and soon they became our favorite books. We still have that set, but it is falling apart. When I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I finally realized who this mysterious Lion was. He gives his life sacrificially to save a traitor, and then shows His power over death by coming back to life. Sound familiar? I was so excited when I found out that I already knew Aslan, only by a different name. At the end of one of the books, when he tells two children they will never come back to Narnia, they express what is so special about being in Narnia, whether there in the flesh or only in imagination.

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are ---are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

And that is the very reason I have been so deeply impacted by a children’s fantasy series. By learning to love and know Aslan more in Narnia, I love and know Him in this world by another name so much more than I did before. One thing that I’ve learned about him is that He calls and teaches His children. Now I believe He was showing me that night that He would not be ignored or forgotten. When I am doing something I shouldn’t or forgetting to do something I should, He will let me suffer the consequences, because He loves me and wants me to grow, even if it hurts at first. As Mr. Beaver says about Him to the children, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” I am learning that He is the one who I can fear and love at the same time.

I could go on about all the many other things I have learned from Aslan, but I will not. First, it would take a long time, and second, it would leave less for you to find out on your own. This is only my story, after all. If you want to attempt to read The Chronicles of Narnia and remain unchanged, go ahead and try. I’m about ready to read them again!

Addendum: I wrote this in my first semester of college, about four years ago. Now, in my next to last semester, I actually am reading the Chronicles again, this time for a C.S. Lewis class! It’s been a pleasure, and if I have time I’d love to post insights and quotes gained this time around. My teacher, Dr Tony Ash, is wonderful. Like Lewis, he’s rather balding, though usually he wears oddly-patterned sweaters instead of shabby suits. I was anxious at first, because having a horrid professor teach one of my favorite authors would have been misery. I needn’t have feared, for he is quite the authentic Lewis enthusiast. Wise, patient, twinkle-eyed, he reads us quotes till my delighted heart laughs for joy and sighs in longing. Again, I am being drawn near the Lion. And as I have grown, I find Him still bigger.

“I love an Untame Lion, His music fills my dreams

I’m filled with longing for a place, a place I’ve never seen

He’s calling, I want Him so, He’s calling, I can’t let go”

~Michelle Tumes~

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