Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adults and Narnia

(I found I kind of needed this reminder for myself. I originally posted this in December 2008)

I've been reading Companion to Narnia: A Complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia this week as I'm reading through the Narnia series. It has been quite helpful in causing me to dig deeper into the symbolism that Lewis used. However, interestingly enough, even as this book picks apart Narnia and explains nit picky details and intricacies of plot of dialogue, Ford also urges people not to destroy the magic of Narnia by over analyzing it. Sometimes I don't think this book quite strikes the balance it is hoping to achieve. You really have to hold on to the magic while you pick it to pieces. It's a fine and difficult line to walk.

I gave a (very brief) review of this book explaining that it is an encyclopedia of sorts to the world of Narnia, defining characters, moments and places. One of the first two entries under "A" I found intriguing, especially as they are read back-to-back.

Ford addresses the issue of adults in Narnia and the way that Lewis almost always seemed to use the word "grown-up" as a synonym for "wrong thinking." (He cites Lucy identifying "grown-up" as the skepticism she sees in Susan's question, "Where do you think you saw Aslan?" (emphasis mine) A chief complaint in this book seems to be that adults have lost their imagination. I'm thinking of the Pevensie four being afraid to tell the Professor of their adventures in the wardrobe for fear of his disbelief. Grown-ups in Lewis' Chronicles are not always to be trusted to believe. And belief is what Narnia is all about.

Ford comments that there are few good grown-ups in the world of Narnia: Professor Kirke, King Caspian, Puddleglum, the High King Peter, Ramandu, the Hermit of Southern March, King Lune, Mabel Kirke, Letitia Ketterley, Mr & Mrs. Pevensie and Erlian. Ford also notes that of this list, three are really child characters. (Page 1 of the fourth edition copy of Companion.)

It is hard, as an adult reader, to swallow the fact that Lewis seemingly disrespects adults in his books. What do we, as adult readers who long to instill respect in our offspring do with this? Here we are, all lofty and "old" reading magical fairy tales to our kids. Do we read believing? Or with disbelief? I can say for myself that I did not read these books growing up (I only recently read them for the first time a few years back) but did read Anne of Green Gables and reveled in her imaginative world. Believing in the unseen and unrealistic is easy for me. (Just ask my husband. I'm a natural!) I believe in Narnia because I believe it's a picture of something more -- something that is very real. I'd like to think I fall into the "good adult" category in Lewis' mind.

Interestingly enough, the entry in Companion immediately following "Adult" is "Adventure" in which Ford says the following:

"In the Chronicles, adventure is a metaphor for life in its highest realization. There is no turning away from the adventure, for it is only in leaving the known for the unknown that honor may truly be found."

As an adult it is easy to be weighed down by the practicalities and responsibilities that life chalk full of. There's less time to read, less time to dream, less time to just be. Adventure is almost a threat to life! Life is full of diapers and studies, 9 to 5 jobs, promises and obligations. It is easy to get lost in the whirlwind of the "known" and lose anytime we might have to spend exploring the unknown. I think that is what Lewis is mourning, in a sense. Life that chokes out the ability to close your eyes and soar in the unknown. Time to relax. Time to get away. Time to walk in the open air and breathe and live.

It is easy as an adult to say there is no time for imagination or exploration. But I don't think it's something that we can afford to leave behind in our childhood. Imagination and belief in the wild and fantastic is what makes life. It is adventure that sparks hope and challenges you to laugh when your world would want to crumble. Escaping to Narnia - is it worth the time? I would have to say yes. If escaping to Narnia draws me closer to what Narnia and Aslan represents then it is worth the time, the energy, and the effort to get there. It's an easy and cheap vacation if you want to look at it that way.

I think Lewis is right in his belief that adults who have lost the time and ability to imagine and dream are dangerous people. Again, if we lose sight of Aslan and Narnia (i.e., what they represent) than we lose everything. As adults we have to work harder to feel like life is magical. But imagine having a Lucy heart your whole life - willing to believe in the unexpected and unexplainable?

That sounds so lighthearted it almost feels irresponsible, doesn't it?


Bluerose said...

This is the book I had my eye on, but I ended up ordering Jonathan Roger's book instead(for now). I know they are very different, but I thought Jonathan's was closer to what I was looking for at the moment.

I'd been reading the books trying to attempt to figure out what "things" meant, and not being too successful, for the most part. I had to remind myself this will be the only "first" time I'll get to read them, and to just enjoy the ride. :)

I love that you said going to Narnia was an easy and cheap vacation. I'd never thought of books that way before, so that is a really cool way to put it!

Barbara H. said...

I didn't see the references to grown-ups as disrespectful -- more as just a sad acknowledgement that they're too tied up in real life and the real world, too practical to be imaginative. Maybe it's an indirect reference to Christ's saying that we need to have the heart of a child to believe.

Anonymous said...

"But imagine having a Lucy heart your whole life---willing to believe in the unexpected and unexplainable."

Love this thought!

Marie Cloutier said...

Lots of kids' books treat their adult characters with disdain; that's why a lot of them get challenged. I love those books though! :-)

Narnia_girl said...

I have honestly never really thought of the adults being represented that way in the books. Caspian's dear nurse was good until she was sent away but she was replaced with another good adult, his professor. And does the implication end with adult humans I wonder? Certainly Tumnus, the Beavers, Father Christmas and Trumpkin are good adults. (well, maybe it's true Tumnus was not to be trusted, at first!)
Thanks for giving me something else to think about regarding Narnia! :)

Taia said...

When I read a review by a Christian who disliked Harry Potter "because children in those stories do things that should be left to adults", I thought of this aspect of the Narnia books. Much of children's literature requires the absence of realistic adults. I decided I was OK with that or I'd have to try to limit Hardy Boys, A Little Princess The Great Brain books and many others.

Top  blogs