Of Dwarves and Courage: A Reflection on The Chronicles of Narnia
We all like to think that we have courage, that we are the hero, that we are right, that we see everything; but sometimes (most of the time in my case) we don’t, we aren’t, and we can’t. Sometimes it takes a closer look at a children’s story to uncover truths about ourselves.
I would like to start this blog entry with admitting my own fallibility. I am not a scholar or a theologian. I am just a senior nursing student who, by the grace of God, strives for Christ through His blessed mother Mary.
With that said, I have been actively trying to improve my faith this summer. One of my favorite ways to do this outside of the sacraments is by reading works by people much smarter than me (praise be to God!). One of my all time favorite writers is former atheist- turned devout Christian, CS Lewis. One might know him from his works such as Mere Christianity, the Screwtape Letters, or The Four Loves. However, if as a child you were an adventure-loving nerd such as myself, you know him best from his series The Chronicles of Narnia. I bring this up because Lewis was not merely creating a children’s story. Within the pages, there are complex theological ideas that, if brought into discerned prayer, can help readers grow in faith and wisdom. One such idea can be found in the final book of his series, the Last Battle. (Spoiler Alert!)
To make a short children’s story shorter, Narnia is approaching the end of times. Narnians are rapidly losing their faith in Aslan, the Christ figure of the story, while false idols are taking over the land. As time goes on, there is a great war between those who remain faithful to Aslan and those who worship a merciless demon called Tashlan. The believers are outnumbered, and it is then in which they have to make a choice. The king and his followers know that if they continue to fight for what they know to be true, they will die. Among them are the last of their kind, royalty, peasants, and mere children. They take courage, and charge into battle. They are overtaken and forced to enter a magical door in which none who enter ever return. One by one they enter. To the heroes’ delight, the door transports them to a sort of heaven. There, they experience new colors, run without growing tired, and live a life free of fear with the friends they had watched die gruesome deaths. Not only them, but the heroes of the past are there as well to welcome them to the kingdom. They see the true Aslan in his might, and are overwhelmed by joy and laughter. However, they are not the only ones in the land.
The dwarves of Narnia, who lost their faith, are there too. During the last battle, they decided to betray their king and marched around yelling “the dwarves are for the dwarves alone!” They turned their weapons upon their friends and foes alike, and killed all who wasn’t a dwarf. When they enter the new land, their senses fail them, and though they are in the same paradise as our heroes, they only see darkness and suffering. Even though they had betrayed their king, our heroes try with all their might to bring them to reality. They try to convince them of the blue-green grass, the fresh breeze blowing in their faces, and their gentle arm of forgiveness. The dwarves refuse, and rile and shout in their own anguish. Aslan himself tries to feed them rich food and fine wine, but they taste only filth and start brutally fighting among themselves. Aslan pleads with them to come to their senses, but they only believe him to be tricking them for his own benefit. In short, the dwarves are in heaven, but all they see, smell, taste, and hear is an isolated hell.
Now, there are certainly limits to what we can understand about judgement, heaven, and hell. I have no doubt that this description only scratches the surface of what life after death is actually like. But there are a few things I discovered after reading that I felt compelled to share with you.
– First of all, I want to speak about courage. I think that the image of the heroes in the story continuing to fight in the face of certain death is the epitome of courage. Many people may tell you that our society lacks this virtue, but I can’t believe that. I see it every day. I see it in parents who work sixty hours a week to feed their children. I’ve seen it in nursing homes while men and women lose the strength to take their next breath. The truth is, where there is evil, there is pain. Where there is pain, there is a choice – the choice to retreat within ourselves and wallow in our anguish, or to take courage. We can make ourselves a sacrifice for the sake of something bigger than ourselves. We can unite our sufferings to Christ Himself for the redemption of the world. That is why we don’t have to be afraid, because our King fights for us.
-Second of all, I realized that in so many ways I am nothing more than a treacherous dwarf. My God who died for me is constantly pleading for my attention. He is tearfully begging for me to see all the gifts he has given to me. I fail to trust in His love for me. And, if I might be so bold, I don’t think I am the only one. One must simply turn on the news to see how violence and hatred has stained our country and our world. In the face of struggles, we are tempted to turn inward and only care for ourselves. We are tempted to rebel against our King. I beg everyone to turn their eyes to Jesus, because if we spend too much of our energy on selfish hatred, we are lost inside ourselves. We lock ourselves in a casket of our own pride. As CS Lewis once wrote:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” –CS Lewis, The Four Loves
Luckily for us, our God can love and redeem even a dwarf.