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A Couple of Questions about the Narnia books


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I don't really read much fiction but over the last few years, I've re-read the entire series, and particularly covering VotDT, SC, LWW, MN in the last nine or so months. But whilst I've enjoyed them I'm left with a couple of questions.

The first relates to the climatic scene in Silver Chair where Puddleglum makes his speech about our imagined world beats your real one hollow. On the one hand I kind of like it, but on the other it doesn't really help me with my struggles with faith (in particular the question of if God actually exists). I guess Puddleglum's speech is rousing for those who've experienced a little of being in the dark, but sooner or later it fails to hold up. After all it matters doesn't it if the sun and Aslan are real. And yes, if they are then it's a helpful way to get you. Throng the problem, but if they're not then what are we supposed to do with Lewis' approach? Just pretend to yourself that something you suspect isn't real, is, just on the off chance?

Does anyone else know what I mean

The second question relates to LWW & MN. LWW was written first, and it we encounter a professor whose unusual replies to Peter and Susan's enquiries about their sister seem to be there as much for apologetic reasons as for those of the plot (after all Peter and Susan don't seem to change their minds about Lucy's story until they discover it for themselves). That said leaving aside that it's a bit propaganda-y, I like the way Prof Kirke gets the children to think about things in a different way and to consider if their rationalist materialist viewpoint fits the evidence.

But the. Lewis goes back and writes the origins of Narnia book, in which it turns out that the wise professor with his interesting approach to truth and facts is inspired not so much by detached views on logic and presumption, but by the fact that the seemingly impossible has happened to him. I'm not so sure what I make of this. On the one hand it spoils a good logical construct, but on the other it emphasises the element of revelation and the importance of personal experience. I think I prefer the original approach, but wonder what others think?

Matt

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I'm sure others will hop on with more eloquent philosophical & theological commentaries, but here's mine, for whatever it's worth. I've read and re-read these books numerous times since I was a child. I won't say I'm an expert, but I do know them well.

The first relates to the climatic scene in Silver Chair where Puddleglum makes his speech about our imagined world beats your real one hollow. On the one hand I kind of like it, but on the other it doesn't really help me with my struggles with faith (in particular the question of if God actually exists). I guess Puddleglum's speech is rousing for those who've experienced a little of being in the dark, but sooner or later it fails to hold up. After all it matters doesn't it if the sun and Aslan are real. And yes, if they are then it's a helpful way to get you. Throng the problem, but if they're not then what are we supposed to do with Lewis' approach? Just pretend to yourself that something you suspect isn't real, is, just on the off chance?

Does anyone else know what I mean

Maybe I have some ideas. It occurs to me that "Just pretend to yourself that something you suspect isn't real, is, just on the off chance" sounds like a description of "Pascal's Wager," which Peter Kreeft explains very well. At one point, Kreeft notes, "If you believe in God only as a bet, that is certainly not a deep, mature, or adequate faith. But it is something, it is a start, it is enough to dam the tide of atheism. The Wager appeals not to a high ideal, like faith, hope, love, or proof, but to a low one: the instinct for self-preservation..." That is pretty much the situation in this scene of SC. There's nothing to lose, and (in keeping with Puddleglum's dour outlook on life) probably not much to gain, but he's going to bet on the sun. This is really the last ditch argument, and it's not much of an argument. It's sort of like the man asking Jesus to heal his son, saying, "I believe--help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

According to Michael Ward (Planet Narnia) a lot of the themes in SC have to do with variations on faith/loyalty/integrity & unfaithfulness/deception/unreliability. Puddleglum's loyalty to Aslan even while he expresses doubt is one admirable kind of faithfulness. But only one.

The second question relates to LWW & MN. LWW was written first, and it we encounter a professor whose unusual replies to Peter and Susan's enquiries about their sister seem to be there as much for apologetic reasons as for those of the plot (after all Peter and Susan don't seem to change their minds about Lucy's story until they discover it for themselves). That said leaving aside that it's a bit propaganda-y, I like the way Prof Kirke gets the children to think about things in a different way and to consider if their rationalist materialist viewpoint fits the evidence.

But the. Lewis goes back and writes the origins of Narnia book, in which it turns out that the wise professor with his interesting approach to truth and facts is inspired not so much by detached views on logic and presumption, but by the fact that the seemingly impossible has happened to him. I'm not so sure what I make of this. On the one hand it spoils a good logical construct, but on the other it emphasises the element of revelation and the importance of personal experience. I think I prefer the original approach, but wonder what others think?

Matt

Regarding the professor, I don't see why the discovery that he has experienced "the seemingly impossible" "spoils a good logical construct." If the professor had responded to Peter and Susan by telling them his own experience, wouldn't they have just concluded that he was crazy, too? Instead, he wisely makes them think seriously about Lucy's story, and entertain the idea that "nothing is more probable" than the simultaneous existence of other worlds in other dimensions. Much more effective for them to discover it themselves, and they do stop tormenting Lucy, so maybe they're at least thinking it over.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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It's been years since I read any of the books, but it seems to me that the thread in Lewis' writing that most obviously parallels Puddleglum's speech is the discusion in The Abolition of Man about "men without chests" and the tendency of [some strands of] modernity to strip the world of all that is good and beautiful and reduce it to mechanics. The Green Lady's denial of Aslan is, iirc, a by-road designed to accustom them to the idea of serving in the underground kingdom. So Puddleglum's actions aren't just a matter of choosing a nice belief; they're an act of protest (painful physical protest) against the Green Lady's attempt to rob them, not just of Aslan, but of hope that there's a way to live that doesn't involve toiling in her mines and serving her desires (if we're talking themes here, the Green Lady is an eater of humans just as the giants are eaters of humans--in each case, they enslave others and lie to them in order to feed their own desires--for food, for power, etc).

I suspect I'm reading Lewis "against the grain" a little here, primarily because I don't find Puddleglum's speech very compelling as a rationale for believing in God; as an assertion of the enslaved against the powerful (saying, in essence, "we reject your 'reality' because it is oppressive and we choose instead a world of freedom,") it's far more interesting, I think. Anyway, that's how I've understood the scene for a while now.

When I was younger, I got the feeling that the Professor had been to Narnia long before I read The Magician's Nephew, so I can't say I was very let down when I got to that book and found I was correct.

Edited by NBooth
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Um... ahem?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Thanks for the responses so far.

Peter, I had seen that thread, but as I was just loooking at two specific questions, rather than the series as a whole, and as that thread has gone a year and a half withou an entry I thought I'd start a new thread. I should have posted the link though. Sorry

Beth

: Regarding the professor, I don't see why the discovery that he has experienced "the seemingly impossible" "spoils a good logical construct." If the professor had responded to Peter and Susan by telling them his own experience, wouldn't they have just concluded that he was crazy, too? Instead, he wisely makes them think seriously about Lucy's story, and entertain the idea that "nothing is more probable" than the simultaneous existence of other worlds in other dimensions. Much more effective for them to discover it themselves, and they do stop tormenting Lucy, so maybe they're at least thinking it over.

I wonder what Lewis thought originally about whether Kirke had experienced Narnia. I guess in terms of faith, rational arguments have a different appeal. Experience of God might just be delusion/misinterpreting experience. Logic can be faulty too, but I guess it kind of appeals more at times.

NBooth

I like your reading of SC and i guess I can relate to that a bit.

Any other takers?

Matt

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