Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Narnia and the inner worlds

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The most important thing to realise is that the worlds will find ways of making contact with each other. By this two things are implied - firstly - Narnia is one of many worlds, we know this because in the actual earliest Chronicle of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew, the children gain access to a place called ‘the wood between the worlds’, from where they choose one of many portals to enter Narnia. Secondly, if the worlds of Narnia and this world have found a way of making contact with each other, it is because there is a need for it, and it is the right time. This involves ideas of fate, but also of what is called Kairos, or sacred time. We will explore these ideas in greater depth later. We should note now the great need for the children to discover Narnia in TLTWTW was that it was locked into a state of eternal winter. So Narnia needed the children, but the children also needed Narnia - Edmund’s journey provided the great trial he needed in order for redemption of himself as a sinner.

Sometimes it is not very easy for contact to be made between the worlds - witness the older children’s difficulty in getting into Narnia - but the way is open through guided imagination to those who still exercise this faculty by virtue of their childhood. The state of childhood is here, as with the Romantics, one in which the imagination permeates all activities, it is therefore capable of turning the mundane (the wardrobe) into the magical.

The books are thus initiatory for the children who read them. In using their imaginations they can inhabit Narnia along with the children. In TLTWTW it is at first not a case of using imagination, but simply an ‘accidental’ stumbling into Narnia by Lucy. In later books paintings and other things will be a kind of springboard for imagination to open the portal into the other world.

The particular method that is used to get to Narnia in this book is obviously through the wardrobe, but it is only Lucy who goes through first - youngest and thus closest to the pre-birth paradise - we come into the world ‘trailing clouds of glory’ in Wordsworth’s phrase. There is a Platonic and Romantic metaphysical structure to the chronicles of Narnia, which is often overlooked in a particular modern reading of the books as flat Christian allegories (and therefore in some atheist’s eyes pernicious brain-washing propaganda for God-botherers). Never mind that some of the greatest literature has been allegorical and Christian - Dante’s Divine Comedy or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress for example - people such as Polly Toynbee here see only a repugnant morality tale inflicting guilt and shame.

I will not be seeking to answer such a ‘critique’ in this book as it is based on profound ignorance of Lewis’s own method and it is foolish to reply to fools. I will let Lewis do the job:
“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images...” In other words Lewis followed the promptings of his inner imagination by following the images that arose spontaneously in his mind.

In The Magical World of the Inklings Gareth Knight shows that the works of Lewis and Tolkein both sprang from this willingness to follow these images where they led. In both cases strange creatures appeared and led the authors into Narnia and Middle-Earth. In Lewis’s case he had carried the image of ‘a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood’ in his head since he was a teenager, and in Tolkein’s case the image of the hobbit popped into his mind while he was marking papers and led him on quite a journey! We will look later at the role of ‘spirit-animals’ or totems that serve as psychopomps in Narnia.

My aim here is to show that the Chronicles of Narnia are guidebooks to the inner worlds, gramaryes of the method of practical sacred magic, part of the Christian Hermetic tradition and thus texts which aim at a solution to the ills of modernity. They are therefore about morality because they are about the spiritual world - the spiritual world is essentially moral - but they are not mere fables.

Lucy finds herself in a world of mystery, back in the forest, meeting creatures half-human, half-animal. The only mark of civilisation is the lamp-post. We seem to be here in the twilight realm of paganism, with the satyrs and fauns, friendly enough at first, but not particularly in accord with the world of humans. Indeed, by the literary device of Mr Tumnus saying of humans exactly what we might expect Lucy to say of fauns ("I've heard of them, but never seen a real one myself"), we are made to realise in a basic sense the reality of the inner worlds - that 'creatures of the imagination' may have independent existence apart from us.

It may be worth talking about some of the keys to the imagination provided for us by the Romantics. Keats' 'negative capability' and Coleridge's guided imagination. I will start the next post by exploring Romantic theories of the imagination.

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