Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Favourite Novelists: CS Lewis And What He Taught Me

I was four, and fitted sideways on one couch cushion, when Mum first read The Chronicles of Narnia aloud to my brother and me. I could get deep into a discussion of Lewis's themes and creative choices here, but that would matter very little compared to the practical things I learned which have always stood me in good stead since. Such as:
Don't trust vegetarians, non-smokers, teetotallers, and progressives in general.
Books about dragons will be far more useful in the long run than books about grain elevators and foreign schools.
If you fall into water in your clothes, you should kick your shoes off.
If you've had nothing worse than a wetting, it is quite unbecoming to cry.
Be thoughtful of others. For example, do not offend a Talking Mouse by trying to cuddle it.

Do not be the kind of person who gets more bad-tempered the more his friends try to be nice to him.
Do not be the kind of person who keeps a record of academic results for the purpose of showing them to others.
Do not be the kind of person who thinks that giving up the best cabin to a girl is 'lowering' them.
Do not be the kind of person who keeps a journal all about how horrible other people are.
Schools are nasty. Schools where there is no corporal punishment, and where the children are supposed to do whatever they like, are worse.
One cannot draw circles on the ground with strange symbols and recite spells in order to get what one wants from God. “It would look as if we thought we could make him do things.”
There is only one way to the Water of Life, and it leads through Christ. There is no other stream.
You would not have called to God unless he had first been calling to you.
And these are only from the first few chapters of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair! Those who don't appreciate Lewis may not be convinced by this litany, or by any other I could come up with through combing through each of the Chronicles in turn. But many of the things I learned about the Christian life came to me first in these books. Later, as I studied theology or began thinking in more depth about what I'd read in the Bible, I recognised lesson after lesson from The Chronicles of Narnia. In many cases I didn't immediately match up the Biblical truth with the Narnian parable illustrating it. I still remember being amazed when my mother told me that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was an allegory of Christ's death and resurrection. Sometimes I wish she'd not told me, so that I would have a memory of realising it all on my own. But I do remember seeing a wonderful truth in the opening chapters of The Silver Chair: the fact that nobody comes to God until He has drawn them in the nets of His grace. I also remember realising that the reason I hated the end of Narnia in The Last Battle was because it failed to embody the truth (as I verily believe it to be): that the Kingdom of God will be triumphant in time and space, growing like a mustard tree and not erupting after the end of all things. The Last Battle embodied a premillenial eschatology which, even as a five-year-old, I felt was more defeat than triumph.
Lewis was my constant companion in the first ten years of my life. I know the Narnia books inside out and have enjoyed many of his other works. Naturally at age six I didn't have enough theology to check out everything he said. But as I grow older, I find myself again and again trying to express some great Biblical truth, and having an illustration from the Narnia books flit to my mind. It has become a kind of theological shorthand to me, and I couldn't be more grateful.

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