Myth Become Fact: Prince Caspian
By Jonathan Rogers
CBN.com What constitutes grounds for belief? It’s a central question in Prince Caspian. For Caspian, his first glimpse of Old Narnians is proof positive that everything he had ever hoped about Aslan is true after all. The same Humans who laugh at stories of Aslan laugh at stories of Talking Beasts and Dwarfs too. So when Caspian sees Dwarfs and Talking Beasts, any doubts he has had about Aslan melt away. It’s not sound reasoning, of course, but Caspian’s conviction has more to do with satisfied longing than satisfied reasoning. Genuine evidence will come soon enough.
That being the case, perhaps it should not be surprising that the Pevensies experience their own struggles with belief. They are the heroes of the story, Narnia’s salvation; they have seen Aslan face to face; they have come to Narnia by Aslan’s intervention. To the Narnians, it would appear that the ancient kings and queens should have no cause to doubt. But they do. They have been drawn into Narnia through no will of their own, but now that they are here, it will take an exercise of the will—an act of belief—to finish out their task. The paths through the woods are deceptive, and enemies are all around; they cannot find their way, cannot do their work without Aslan’s guidance.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues that the real enemy of faith isn’t reason, but emotion and imagination. Even if our beliefs are based on sound evidence, that doesn’t mean we will always believe them—or always act as if we believe them. When we stop believing, it’s usually because of changing moods, not a re-assessment of the evidence. A child leaning to swim knows the water will hold him up. It is irrational fear that makes him lose faith in his own buoyancy and sink. Faith is “the art of holding on to those things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Susan has let her changing moods overrule her belief in Aslan and her trust in the sister who has proven herself to be the group’s true spiritual leader. Aslan corrects her gently: “You have listened to your fears, child.” The breath of Aslan emboldens her, heals her doubt. She is ready now to take part in Narnia’s renewal.
If Susan’s deepest need was to have her fears comforted, Trumpkin’s, it seems, is to have his fears aroused. Alsan comes to the dwarf as a conqueror first—though a benign conqueror—overwhelming Trumpkin’s will.
‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace my fears relieved.
He may be shaking from head to toe, but Narnia’s most reluctant convert is finally in the fold.
Nikabrik has left all scruples behind. His logic is characteristically specious, full of false “either/or” contrasts that always leave out the true option. Either the ancient kings and queens didn’t hear the horn, or they can’t come, or they are enemies. Or, Trufflehunter adds, they are on their way. Either Aslan is dead, or he is not on the Old Narnians’ side, or he is being held back by some stronger force. Or, Trufflehunter might have suggested, Aslan has sent help already. Help “may be even now at the door,” the ever faithful Trufflehunter insists. He may think he’s speaking figuratively, but he’s speaking the literal truth. If only Nikabrik could believe it.
The others are shocked at Nikabrik’s suggestion that they call up the White Witch. But to Nikabrik she represents power, and he has narrowed to the point that he cannot care about anything else. “A hundred years of winter,” he marvels. “There’s power if you like. There’s something practical.” Nikabrik’s lust for power and practicality has blinded him to the obvious fact that there is hardly anything less practical than a hundred years’ winter.
And all the while, Kings Peter and Edmund are just outside the door. They have come to be Nikabrik’s salvation. Instead, they are the death of him.
The defeat of the Telmarines is a matter of myth become fact—the Old Stories come to life. The Trees and the Waters awaken. And while that may be the Old Narnians’ fondest hope, it is a terror to the Telmarines. “What the wicked fears will come upon him, and the desire of the wicked shall be granted” (Proverbs 10:24). Sometimes, as here at the Battle of Beruna, what the wicked fear and what the righteous hope turn out to be the same thing. The Telmarines have made enemies of the trees and rivers, have invented stories to justify their enmity. Now that enmity comes home to them. They have pretended the forests were alive with ghosts; it’s worse than they imagined: the trees of the forests are alive with a power of their own, and that power is not friendly to the Telmarines.
Some Christian readers may be troubled by the wild paganism to be found in the last few chapters of Prince Caspian—the river gods and forest goddesses, Silenus and Bacchus and his maenads. As Susan says, “I shouldn’t have felt safe with Bacchus and his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.” She’s quite right: Bacchus and his train would be a dangerous lot indeed if they were left to their own devices. Those who don’t believe it can visit Panama City some Spring Break and see for themselves. But Aslan is here, and all that wildness and freedom is an expression of the enlivening, joy-giving, creative energies of Aslan himself. What Lewis says of the God of the Bible is true of Aslan:
It is He who sends the rain into the furrows till the valleys stand so thick with corn that they laugh and sing. The trees of the wood rejoice before Him and His voice causes the wild deer to bring forth their young. His is the God of wheat and wine and oil In that respect He is constantly doing all the things that Nature-Gods do: His is Bacchus, Venus, Ceres all rolled into one.
This is not polytheism that is breaking out in Narnia. The little nature gods of Narnia do not set themselves up as rivals to Aslan. They are his servants, just as Trufflehunter and the Pevensies, and now Trumpkin are his servants.
All Narnia is renewed, just as Aslan had said it would be. The natural world is “set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). It was the faithlessness of Sons of Adam that had enslaved Narnia in the first place. The faith of Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Susan, and Caspian has set things right again. The glory of Aslan’s children is the freedom of the rivers and the trees.
Those who choose to do things their own way eventually get what they ask for: a world emptied of divinity, a life devoid of wonder. But as we believe and turn again to the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the world offers up such abundance as it has to give—not ultimate Joy, of course, but gladdening echoes of it. The believer no longer looks at the world and asks, “Is this all there it?” He looks at the world and marvels, “All this, and heaven too?”
The story of Christ, according to C.S. Lewis, “demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical, but also an imaginative response. It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us, as well as to the conscience and the intellect.” Belief is wholeness. It bridges the imaginative and feeling self to the rational self. Caspian crosses the bridge from the imaginative side to the rational, first feeling the truth of the old stories and believing them as fact only later. Trumpkin has to cross from the other direction. Only after he is convinced of the facts can he begin to feel the awe that radiates from the old stories.
When a myth becomes fact—when it leaves the world of imagination and plays itself out in the world where people actually live—it makes all-encompassing claims on those who believe it. It is one thing to imagine dwarfs. As Caspian found out, it’s quite another to be alone with a dwarf who might want to call you to account. It’s one thing to imagine a Dying God. It’s quite another thing to come to terms with the fact that if God really did die, he requires you to take up your cross and follow him. When myth becomes fact, you are no longer the audience of the story, but an actor in it. It is one of the great mysteries: the story somehow depends on those who depend on the story.
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Jonathan Rogers holds a Ph.D. in 17th Century English literature, one of Lewis’s own areas of expertise. He resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
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