Returning to Narnia
Reading the very copy of this I had as a child whilst on a high-speed train across France to the Alps brings with it a comforting familiarity. In fact, it wasn’t just the copy from my childhood; it also used to belong to my mum before I was born. An out-dated grand total cost of 40p proudly printed on the back cover a tell tale sign it is older than I am.
Pulling into stations that I can’t even pronounce and unable to quite decipher tannoy announcements (French was always my worst subject at school), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels all the more like a friendly companion given the circumstances. This story feels like home. An entire world from my childhood that I know so well I don’t ever have to worry that things won’t come right in the end. And yet, reading as an adult, it is a story which I find tricks me into some deep self-reflection, one in which I easily identify with many of the characters in ways I never thought to as a child.
I have always felt impatient with Edmund (who didn’t?). I thought (from being in the unfair position of having read the book many times and knowing how it would end) that it was pretty obvious that he was making the wrong decision. It frustrated me no end that he should know better.
But during the last few times of reading this as an adult I have become increasingly sympathetic to Edmund. I now recognise how easy it is in the day to day to forget the bigger picture. To make decisions based on a momentary desire or whim, thinking only about the short term. Getting bogged down with the details of today and forgetting to step back and realise that there is an overarching story to our lives. A story that doesn’t depend on how we are feeling in a fleeting moment, or on temporary irritations or frustrations.
How often have I made a decision based on the fact that it will immediately soothe my frustration or anger, rather than knowing that I am doing what is best for me in the long run? Suddenly, I don’t feel so smug in the face of Edmund’s decisions. For these days, deep down inside, there is that worry that if it was me in the story I might be the one betraying my family for another bite of Turkish Delight too. The one who knows deep down that something is not good or right, but who makes excuses that kid myself that I’m right, or – more to the point – to justify myself, just because I feel like it.
Curled up reading about Lucy discovering Narnia for the first time, while out of the window the snow is falling deeper and deeper means I don’t need to use much imagination to feel as if I am part of the story too.
I can imagine that conversation between Edmund and Aslan that we don’t get invited into; firm but forgiving, honest but kind. A conversation that leaves Edmund drastically changed. I can easily imagine what it feels like to be brought back, to be reconciled, because I’ve had to do it myself so many times. Because that’s me. Every time that I choose to take my own path and my Saviour has to have that same conversation with me. The one that brings me to a place where I can say a genuine ‘sorry’, but which leaves me feeling complete and whole. A conversation which can connect all my disconnections from people, which teaches me (little by little) about truth, and which ends with Jesus saying to me – as Aslan says to the children about Edmund – ‘there is no need to talk to him about what is past’.
What I find most poetic about this story though is that it is Edmund, the one who wandered the furthest, the one who had the longest journey back and the most to be forgiven who, at the end of the book when he is crowned King of Narnia becomes known as ‘Edmund the Just’. He knows what it is to be redeemed (by no achievement of his own) and now he is the one who is qualified to give out mercy and justice. His experiences give him the understanding he needs to deal with people in fairness and justice.
“Your Majesty would have a perfect right to strike off his head”, said Peridan. “Such an assault as he made puts him on a level with assassins.”
“It is very true,” said Edmund. “But even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did.” And he looked very thoughtful.
– The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
The most comforting thing about this ending for Edmund is that it can be true for us too. I believe C.S. Lewis writes this from real experience in life. What we experience is never wasted. Painful lessons can have a definitive role in making us people of depth and experience, changing us in ways that we only see the beauty of much later.