Confessions of a Narnia laggard
By Tom Day, age 23, 01 Mar 2021
My relationship with reading has often been a love-hate relationship. I have great memories of sitting in my parent’s bed reading under the warm glow of the bedside lamp whilst my younger brothers were put to bed next door. Those evenings carry joyful memories of being swept up into great adventures across ancient dessert sands or jumping into great escapes from spy villains. But, the more reading was demanded at school, the more I found the process of reading tiresome and laborious. Since then I have found it hard to motivate myself to read for pleasure, and when I have, I often gravitated towards non-fiction and biographical books, much to my detriment. I have often longed to read more fiction and re-discover those experiences of being caught up in great stories and far-off worlds. Reading has often been a struggle, but recently that joy of reading and immersing myself in a story has been rekindled.
That is where I come to Narnia and my experience of picking up these books years later than one might have expected. So why now?
Well, since the pandemic took a grip on our everyday lives, our physical interactions with others have been painfully limited. Much of our otherwise ‘normal’ socialising has gone online, and the same has been true for me and my girlfriend. There are only so many conversations you can have about what you ate for dinner that day, and so as I looked for ways to keep our online conversations going, I turned to the idea of reading some books together.
Since arriving at Church by the Bay one series of books has appeared time and time again in conversation: C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, even on my first day here Gerry quoted The Horse and His Boy to me! My girlfriend had already read them as a child and was excited at the opportunity to revisit them and so we started reading the series together over zoom. One of us would read a chapter while the other listened and followed along, and then we would swap over. Reading together online, gave us some sense of shared experience whilst we are limited from having those more ‘normally’ in person.
Although the books were written for children the beautiful way they have been written, along with the deep themes and interesting characters makes for wonderful reading for adults. In fact, I would argue that they can be better appreciated as adults. Lewis manages to put his finger on and draw out some really significant human experiences which naturally come to the surface in the narrative. Some of the themes running through the books beautifully connect with the themes of the gospel: life; death; right and wrong; victory and defeat; sacrifice and salvation. These themes appear in the developing pictures and movements of the narrative. As each page has drawn me ever further into the story and the Narnia world, my delight for reading has been reignited,
To whet your appetite, in the hope that you will experience the joy of discovery and exploration in these great stories, if you haven’t already, here are three moments we found particularly special.
First, in the opening and most famous book of the series, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The whole book is a vivid display of love and sacrifice that draw our eyes and hearts towards the gospel. Hidden away in the book is a well-known and striking moment. The lion, Aslan is the focus. One of the characters fears for their safety in the presence of a lion, and the answer comes: ”"Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”” Through Lewis’ story we are led to reflect on the reality of God’s character: a God who is powerful and to be feared, who is not 'safe', but is good.
Second, is how a book that seemed to me to be quite long and drag on with a lot of strange seemingly unconnected events – I’m talking about The Horse and His Boy - is, in the last few chapters, suddenly drawn together and everything becomes clear. Lewis builds to this moment and creates it with such effect that there may even have been a small tear shed, although I cannot possibly confirm such a rumour! The whole story is suddenly infused with meaning and joy as you reinterpret all that’s happened.
Third, one of the most stunning descriptions in the series was of the very creation of the land of Narnia in the sixth book in the series: The Magician's Nephew. Aslan sings this new world into being, and it springs into bloom with colour and vivid imagery to the tune and words of his voice. The immersive pictures that Lewis paints are some of the most beautiful I have experienced in reading. The way Aslan sings Narnia into being with purpose, beauty and joy, poetically points to the awe-inspiring way that the Lord spoke creation into existence at the start of Genesis. We are moved to ponder and marvel at God’s work of creation, to bring all that we see, smell, touch, taste and know into being from nothing, through only his words.
These are wonderfully rich and beautiful stories that C.S. Lewis creates in the world of Narnia. I hope that they entice you enough to go and read them for yourself, even if like me it is much later than you should have done! You will not regret it.
But the joy and delight of reading these books does not end with the turning of the last page. As your eyes are opened to locate yourself in the world and history of Narnia, your eyes are simultaneously opened to locate yourself in a much greater unfolding story, one which is even bigger and more marvellous than the world of Narnia. That is the unfolding story of God’s plan for the redemption of the world. The pictures and movements of the books help us view and interpret our own world differently through the lens of the gospel themes that develop in the stories. I think that is perhaps the most wonderful and powerful thing about reading these stories. They gloriously display so many gospel truths in the narrative and by doing so actually help us see and enjoy the reality of those truths at work in the world we live in now. A world where God is each day unfolding his plan for its redemption.
It is true that we can overemphasise the importance and significance of reading fiction. We don’t need to read stories like Narnia to understand the gospel, but, they really can help us enjoy and delight in the its truths. To have those realities wonderfully put-on display for us to tangibly immerse ourselves in.
I wholeheartedly commend these books to you, and I pray that as you read them, the joys of locating yourself in the much bigger story and reality of God’s plan in the world may help you rejoice and enjoy them more.
 C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, (Harper Collins, London, 2015), 75.