11 March 2006

of narnia and new life

of narnia and new life

I grant that Laurel and I are probably a bit odd. When Claire asks, "Why is it nighttime?" we tend to reply with answers such as, "Because God wants us to share the sun with the other side of the world" or "So we can have a different morning every day, since God likes to give us different experiences to help us grow" or "To remind us that everything comes to an end before it can start over all new."

Of course, we've also talked about the earth turning in relation to the sun, complete with diagrams, but instead leaving that as a cold reductionism, we want Claire to understand the world as overflowing with a surplus of meaning, pointing to the God who is himself, as Trinity, an overflow of love in the eternal generation of the Word in the Spirit. And a child's imagination is fertile ground for planting the seeds of such a vision.

Reading stories with Claire is a large part of cultivating her imagination and we try to share a wide variety of literature with her: fairy tales, historical narratives, science and nature books, counting and alphabet books, classics, and so on. Late last year I attempted to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with her, partly for my own review of the book prior to seeing the film. We read a chapter each night, but it is a somewhat difficult text for a three year old and required a lot of review each night and asking questions to make sure Claire was following.

Having read the longer version already, I've taken to reading her an abridged version with lavish color illustrations. I don't enjoy the story quite as much since it loses some of Lewis's charm, but Claire is more able to grasp the overall arc of the narrative. We read it again last night and Claire, as always, was full of questions: "Will the Witch turn Aslan into stone?" "Is the wolf going to hurt Susan?" "Is Father Christmas the same as Saint Nicholas?" and so on.

Toward the end of the book, we read of Edmund's injury and Lucy reviving him with the cordial she had received from Father Christmas. Claire turned to me.

"How did Edmund get hurt?" she asked.

"He was trying to fight the White Witch and Alsan hadn't arrived yet," I answered.

"Oh...did she try to turn Edmund into stone?"

"Probably. She turned other people of Narnia into stone. But Edmund was injured when he knocked the Witch's wand from her hand with the sword." I looked to see if this satisfied her.

"And Lucy made Edmund better with her cordial," Claire stated matter-of-factly.

"Yes, that's right."

"Hmm." I could see a slight tensing in her brow as Claire was evidently trying to construct a thought. I waited.


"Yes, sweetheart?"

"I think...I think the Aslan book is all about dying and coming back to life," she finally stated.

"Oh?" I said, "I think you might be right. Why do you say that?"

"Well...Aslan died and came back to life," she replied, evidently grasping the center of the narrative. But then she added, "and..."

"Yes?" I said, wondering what might come next.

"And Aslan breathed on the statues and they came back to life." I nodded.

"Were you also thinking about Edmund being made better with the cordial?" I asked, since that was the context in which she'd raised the topic to begin with.

"Yes," she said and then thought a moment longer. "And Narnia came back to life after the long winter the Witch had made," she concluded.

"You're absolutely right," I said a bit surprised and mentally kicking myself for not having really noticed this motif before. I'd probably always been too hung up on the allegorical dimensions to see the narrative on its own terms, missing the forest for the trees, as the saying goes.

Fortunately, in some respects, Claire hasn't picked up on the parallel with Jesus quite yet, allowing her to experience the narrative world of the story in its own categories while reserving a surplus of meaning still to be unveiled. Too often, I think, we are so caught up in the details and mechanics of living our own lives, that we seldom step back to see how, as baptized people, our own stories have been woven into that great Story, the full meaning of which is not yet revealed, but which we also already know to be divine love.