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Donald T. Williams, PhD

P.   O.   Box    #   800807

Toccoa Falls,  Ga.  30598



Lewisian Perspectives on the Human in The Chronicles of Narnia

presented at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society


"Beasts did leap and birds did sing,

Trees did grow and plants did spring."

     -- Shakespeare, "The Passionate Pilgrim"


It is a critical commonplace that in That Hideous Strength, C. S.  Lewis gives us a fictional incarnation of the expository argument he made against reductionism and for a fully biblical concept of what is human in his brilliant little book The Abolition of Man.  What has been less fully realized is that The Chronicles of Narnia relate to Abolition in precisely the same way.  The Talking Beasts of Narnia, much like the hnau and eldila of The Filed of Arbol in The Space Trilogy, form foils which allow Lewis to set off the essential characteristics of human nature.  Both our commonalities with and our differences from other rational species bring those essential qualities of humanity into graphic relief.  This essay will attempt to show that The Abolition of Man constitutes a most useful grid for interpreting The Chronicles, that the conception of human nature incarnated there is informed by a richly biblical anthropology, and that, together with The Abolition of Man, they offer an apologia for a biblical view of human nature that still provides good traction against contemporary forms of reductionism.  (For a fuller treatment of these issues in Abolition and Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, see Williams, “Is Man a Myth?”).




Lewis begins The Abolition of Man by being concerned about language he finds in a book for teaching English to schoolchildren.  He disguises the authors as Gaius and Titius, and their volume as "The Green Book."  "Gaius and Titius comment as follows: >When that man said That is sublime, he appeared to be making the remark about the waterfall. . . .Actually. . . he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings'" (14).  In this seemingly innocent observation, Lewis sees a huge problem.  "The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speakers, and, secondly, that all such statements are unimportant" (15).  Lewis sees such teaching as reductionism’s foot in the door.  Presupposing the truth of naturalism, it reduces all statements about reality to those which are consistent with a naturalist metaphysic—without ever having established a case for the naturalist world view. 

            What happens when we switch from statements about the esthetic beauty of waterfalls to statements about moral values--or about the value of human life?  If naturalism is true, then only the physically quantifiable is real.  If only the physically quantifiable is real, then of course we can ultimately only talk about atoms in motion.  So if we are taught to treat only the physically quantifiable as real, then we have created a presumption that naturalism is true.   And that presumption digs a chasm between us and the whole history of human experience and understanding.  "Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it--believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt" (25).  They felt that way because, having not yet accepted the premise that only the physically quantifiable is real, they were free to believe in the reality of other than numerical values.  Lewis calls this traditional approach to life "the doctrine of objective value," and the hierarchy of values perceived in the universe in the light of it the Tao.

The humanity of the human species, those qualities that separate us from the merely animal, depends on the existence of this objective but not physical Tao and our ability to perceive it.  If only the physically quantifiable is real, then the evolutionary model is adequate and Man's uniqueness an illusion.  We are only apes with an extra convolution or two and opposable thumbs.  But if naturalism is false--if we are creative minds because we were created by the ultimate Mind--then values are not merely subjective and statements about them cannot be reduced to emotion.  The valuations made by the Creator Himself have the same reality as the physical objects He made and which He values, and discovering those values is the path to fulfillment for humans who want their lives to have value as well.  In other words, there is the potential for a rational, not merely an instinctual, grounding for what humans value and how they feel about it: "Because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it)" (29). 

 Lewis does not at this point specify the Christian theistic grounding of the Tao--he saves that task, in effect, for Mere Christianity and Miracles, being here content to appeal to the universal perception of the Tao in pre-Modern times that that he documents in the appendix.  He zeroes in on the fact that modern secularist reductionism, by defining the Tao out of existence and insisting that nothing but the physically quantifiable can be real or objective, also rules out precisely the central essence of human nature. The peculiarity of that nature is that, like the animals, we have a physical body influenced by instinct, but, like the angels, we have a spiritual nature capable of perceiving the Tao.  

 Education in the spirit of The Green Book--in the spirit of reductionist materialism--trains something that is less than fully human.  If we are just atoms in motion, if both reason and morals are reduced to chemical reactions, what basis is left for ideals other than the survival of the fittest?  Yet we cannot live without those values.  As Lewis describes it, "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.  We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful" (35).  It is then impossible to underestimate what is at stake in these rival conceptions of human nature. "The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it" (39).

            We cannot make human beings less than human, but by training them to think of themselves as less than human we can get them to act as less, with disastrous consequences.  Therefore, Lewis says of those who operate on the basis of materialist reductionism that, "It is not that they are bad men.  They are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void" (77).  They have tried with mixed success to give up something that is essential to full humanity.  The two rival conceptions of humanity stare at each other across a great chasm, and what is at stake is the very possibility of a civilization in which man can be whole.

            In summary, to be human is to be a spiritual animal capable of reason and living under objective spiritual values.  Though reductionists deny the existence of such creatures, they themselves cannot escape the Tao.  For they think that we ought to reject traditional values as an impediment to human progress; but if they are right, the word ought is meaningless.  In a materialist world, no manipulation of any of the ciphers properly admitted to that world could ever possibly produce such a concept.

If the Tao is indeed an inescapable reality, then the conception of human nature it calls for is upheld. "In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human" (86).  To deny this is indeed to attempt to abolish humanity itself.  How then do these ideas play out in The Chronicles of Narnia?




While his adult fiction, his literary scholarship, his poetry, and his rational Christian apologetics all have lasting value, there is a growing consensus that C. S. Lewis's most enduring legacy will be his children's stories, The Chronicles of Narnia.  They have already won a spot alongside those rare books like The Wind in the Willows that work wonderfully well as children's fiction but cannot be left behind when one becomes an adult--indeed, probably cannot be fully appreciated until then. 

One would have to say that the greatest work of mythopoeic fiction overall is without question Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  Its depth and consistency satisfy mind and heart like nothing else.  But the Narnia books are original and creative in their own way: 


There may have been a wicked witch in fairy tale (beautiful too, as in "Snow White"), but there has never been a divine lion, nor a journey by ship to the uttermost east, nor the making and the destruction of a world; and nothing in fairy tale could prepare us for a Marsh-wiggle.  (Manlove, Chronicles 27)


And they have an ability to get under one's skin that is simply unmatched.  (This ability is enhanced, by the way, when they are read in their original publication order, not the chronological ordering that has replaced it in recent editions due to a tragic misapplication of one of Lewis's offhand comments.  See Schackel, "The 'Correct' Order" for a masterful treatment of this issue.)   I have never read them without at some point being reduced to helpless tears--usually by a different and unexpected passage that hits me from out of nowhere with an intense blast of what Lewis called Joy (Surprised by Joy 7, 16-18, 72-73, etc.).

            Unlike the Field of Arbol of the Space Trilogy, which is a version of the actual solar system we inhabit, Narnia is part of a parallel universe with its own separate space and time.  It is the land of Talking Beasts, hnau that have the forms (and "personalities") of familiar terran animals augmented or magnified. So naturally the Lord of that world, the form the Creator takes when he reveals himself to it, is the King of Beasts, Aslan the wondrous golden Lion, son of the Great Emperor over the Sea. 

The Chronicles of Narnia are full of passages that wonderfully incarnate for the Imagination many of the basic ideas that were expounded for the Reason in works like The Abolition of Man, and by doing so make them clearer to the Reason as well.  Could anything, for example, put all that can be said about reductionism into a more compact and potent nutshell than this little exchange: "In our world," said Eustace," "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."  Ramandu replies, "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of" (TVDT 226). 

But perhaps the most interesting insights about who we are as human beings come from the characters themselves and the ways they interact.  Those interactions are themselves part of the message.  Manlove notes how


            Great value is placed on meeting and society: the child protagonists are almost always shown in pairs or groups. In The Lion and The Voyage the quests link up the separated parts of a country, or the isolated egos on islands.  Those who live alone . . . are either evil or at risk of becoming so--the witch, King Miraz, the Tisroc of Calormen, Prince Rilian in The Silver Chair. (Chronicles 113)


As in Perelandra, the solidarity of the race is pictured in practical terms.  Also significant are the interactions between individuals of different races.

  Aslan's Talking Beasts contrast both with the dumb beasts of Narnia and with the human children (Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve) from England who are sent to Narnia by magic, not just to have various adventures but to play a leading role in Narnian history--to be, in fact, Kings and Queens of Narnia. Apparently the principle from Perelandra that the Incarnation of the Son of God as Man in our world caused a cosmic corner to be turned affecting all worlds from then on applies to parallel universes as well as other planets.  For Narnia functions properly only when human beings rule, not just beasts in general, but (in a different way, of course) Talking Beasts as well.  It was a prophecy trusted in by the faithful during the Long Winter imposed by the White Witch (when it was always winter but never Christmas):


When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone

Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,

The evil time will be over and done. (LWW 87)


So basic is this principle that even Jadis, the Witch, must pretend to be human in order to perpetuate her tyranny. "Isn't the Witch herself human?" the children ask.  "She'd like us to believe it," said Mr. Beaver, "and it's on that that she bases her claim to be Queen.  But she's no Daughter of Eve" (87-88).  She is descended from Giant and Jinn and her claim is fraudulent.  All right order is perverted when Adam's descendants do not rule by Aslan's gift--even in this other world. "There was something in his face and air which no one could mistake.  That look is in the face of all true Kings of Narnia, who rule by the will of Aslan and sit at Cair Paravel on the throne of Peter the High King" (TSC 238).  Being fallen, their rule does not guarantee right order, as the career of Miraz the Usurper proves; to be human is not necessarily to rule by Aslan's will.  But though not a sufficient condition, it is a necessary one, emphasized in more than one book. 


"Don't you go talking about things you don't understand, Nikabrik," said Trufflehunter.  "You Dwarfs are as forgetful and changeable as the Humans themselves.  I'm a beast, I am, and a Badger what's more.  We don't change.  We hold on.  I say great good will come of it. This is the true King of Narnia we've got here: a true King, coming back to true Narnia.  And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King." (PC 71)


Thus, even though Narnia is not a land untouched by Evil, it sometimes rises in a limited way to a recapturing of the Edenic relationship between Man and Beast pictured and lamented in Perelandra.  Frank and Helen, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy are a picture of Man's benevolent rule over creation.  But they are not a simple picture.  Human beings in general are related to Talking Beasts in general as equals, as befits the relationship of hnau to hnau


"Why do you keep talking to my horse instead of to me?" asked the girl.

"Excuse me, Tarkheena," said Bree (with just the slightest backward tilt of his ears), "but that's Calormene talk.  We're free Narnians, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you're running away to Narnia, you want to be one too.  In that case Hwin isn't your horse any longer.  One might just as well say you're her human."  (TH&HB 33)


All hnau have, in modern terms, equal value as created persons, and hence equal standing and equal rights before the law.  But still it is Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve who belong on the throne, and Narnia only functions properly when the chosen ones are there. 

There is perhaps a hint here that Man's position of dominion over Narnia (and, by implication, Earth) is not based on his superiority.  That is, perhaps Man was given the superior gifts of language and reason that make his dominion over the animals possible because of his position, not given the position because he had superior gifts.   This is not a trivial distinction. The whole traditional Christian conception of leadership functions in a healthy way only when we grasp it. Trying to apply it without grasping this truth often turns male headship in the home, for example, into the very tyranny that feminism so rightly objects to.

Secular thinking assumes that leadership is a form of superiority, so that subordination necessarily entails inferiority.  Hence, Jesus observes that the kings of the Gentiles "lord it over them" and feel justified in doing so.  But for his disciples he stipulates that it should not be so, but rather the greatest should be among them as a servant (Luke 22:25-27).  In the Upper Room he makes himself an example of this principle, washing the disciples' feet and then asking them, "Do you understand what I have done?" (John 13:12).  They rightly call him master and lord, but they will not understand what that means until they learn to follow his example of servant leadership. 

This watershed of divergent assumptions causes much misunderstanding between the Church and the surrounding society, especially in the modern West.  Secular people, operating according to what we might call the "Gentile Paradigm" of Luke 22, cannot help but perceive the New Testament teaching on male headship as demeaning to women, implying for them a position of inferiority based on an actual assumption of inferiority.  This impression is compounded by the fact that the Gentile Paradigm has subtly infiltrated the Church as well, with the result that some of the defenders of the traditional view, well-meaning but misguided, try to defend it based on males' alleged better suitedness for leadership.  Even Lewis is capable of falling into this trap, in one of the least convincing sections of Mere Christianity (103).  (For a refreshing exception to the pattern see Piper & Grudem, whose Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood often combines strong biblical exegesis with a good understanding of these issues.)  All this being true, it is not surprising that the actual practice of leadership in both home and Church too often tragically confirms the erroneous conclusions of the secular observer.  But one who truly understands the biblical ethos realizes that it need not be so, indeed must not be so if we are to be faithful to the teaching and example of our Lord.  

We are all free Narnians, in other words, and those to whom the burden of leadership is given must not forget it.  They are called to be servants and must not assume an aura of superiority. "For this is what it means to be a king," says Lune:  "To be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land" (TH&HB 240).  Part of King Frank's qualifications for the job is his humility:  "I ain't no sort of chap for a job like that" (TMN 165).  His lack of "eddycation" is no disbarment.  What Aslan really wants to know is, "Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering that they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in, but Talking Beasts and free subjects?" (165). The deportment of the good Narnian kings with their subjects is a picture that may help to rebaptize our imaginations in this area.

There is no romanticism here, though, about the relations between Man and animal.  The dumb beasts are properly called "slaves."  We must bracket many of the connotations that word has for us if we are to understand Lewis’s point.  But the instinct that gives us that reaction is a sound one.  It is wrong to make slaves of human beings precisely because they are human beings.  We must not use hnau so even if we do not "mistreat" them.  But that does not mean that we can safely transfer our strong negative feelings about human slavery into a realm where they are not applicable or appropriate. 

To make slaves of human beings--or Talking Beasts--is to mistreat them, because it is to deny their God-given nature and force them to live a lie.  The great evil that this does to them is not so much the curtailment of their freedom in itself as the fact that the lie lived tends to take on reality in their lives, as Bree discovers. "One of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself" (TH&HB 146).  That is because the power of self determination is one of the characteristics that is distinctive of hnau as opposed to other animals.  (It is sometimes called "free will," a designation that can seem more controversial than it really is. All Christians agree that it is a defining characteristic of created human nature; they disagree only about how far it was forfeited in the Fall.)  But we properly have dominion over the beasts, who find a part of the fulfillment of their God-given natures in serving us.  This distinction is basic, and is understood by Talking Beasts as well as humans, if not by dwarfs like Nikabrik.


"He has hunted beasts for sport.  Haven't you, now?" he added, rounding suddenly on Caspian.

"Well, to tell you the truth, I have," said Caspian.  "But they weren't Talking Beasts."

"It's all the same thing," said Nikabrik.

"No, no, no," said Trufflehunter.  "You know it isn't." (PC 73)


            Indeed, the Talking Beasts have a relation to the Dumb ones that is similar to ours:


"Creatures, I give you yourselves," said the strong, happy voice of Aslan.  "I give to you forever this land of Narnia.  I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers.  I give you the stars and I give you myself.  The Dumb Beasts whom I have not chosen are yours also.  Treat them gently and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts. For out of them you were taken and into them you can return.  Do not so."  (TMN 140)


The Talking Beasts receive this relationship by the manner of their creation, in a passage that cries out to be quoted in full:


And now, for the first time, the Lion was quite silent.  He was going to and fro among the animals.  And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his.  He would touch two beavers among all the beavers, two leopards among all the leopards, one stag and one deer among all the deer, and leave the rest. Some sorts of animal he passed over altogether.  But the pairs which he had touched instantly left their own kinds and followed him.  At last he stood still and all the creatures whom he had touched came and stood in a wide circle around him.  The others whom he had not touched began to wander away.  Their noises faded gradually into the distance.  The chosen beasts who remained were now utterly silent, all with their eyes fixed intently upon the Lion.  The cat-like ones gave an occasional twitch of the tail but otherwise all were still.  For the first time that day there was complete silence, except for the noise of running water.  Digory's heart beat wildly; he knew something very solemn was going to be done.  He had not forgotten about his Mother; but he knew jolly well that, even for her, he couldn't interrupt a thing like this. The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare.  And gradually a change came over them.  The smaller ones--the rabbits, moles, and such-like--grew a good deal larger.  The very big ones--you noticed it most with the elephants--grew a little smaller.  Many animals sat up on their hind legs.  Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand.  The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees.  Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music.  Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children's bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:

"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake.  Love.  Think.  Speak.  Be walking trees.  Be talking beasts.  Be divine waters."  (TMN 136-138)


            The Talking Beasts are taken from the ranks of the Dumb ones, much as Adam and Eve were taken from the dust of the earth.  This is an important point. It reminds us that there is a real level of solidarity we share with the dumb beasts, exclusive concentration on which makes reductionism possible.  In scientific terms, we might (with Lewis and Chesterton) conceive of evolution as contributing to the form of our bodies; we cannot believe that it accounts for our minds.  In biblical terms, we, like the Beasts, were formed from the dust of the ground.  It also pictures the fact that what differentiates us from the Dumb Beasts is not to be found in physiology.  The changes in size that they undergo are not changes in form (in the Aristotelian sense), and are there, I think, for the purpose primarily of facilitating their intelligent and articulate interactions with humans, who occupy the middle point in size between Mole and Elephant. 

The difference is the Breath of Aslan.  "And the Lord God . . . breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7).  It is not having one more convolution in our brains nor possessing opposable thumbs that makes us human; it is a "donum superaditum," an additional gift, which is ultimately spiritual.   Its result is that we, like the Spirit whose Breath both conveys and is the Gift, can love, think, and speak.  The higher does not stand without the lower:  the animals exchange affection (Storge), perform rudimentary problem solving, and use noises and other signals for communication by instinct.  But Talking Beasts and Humans do it with understanding (for when the Flash came, the heads tilted to one side were rewarded), and hence may rise to Philadelphia or even Agape (cf. Lewis, The Four Loves), to the lives examined by Reason that constitute the wisdom of Philosophy, and to the form of linguistic self-awareness that is Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, and even Poetry.  And so the Talking Beasts, by the Gift of Aslan, are enabled to respond: "Hail, Aslan.  We hear and obey.  We are awake.  We love.  We think.  We speak.  We know" (TMN 139).

The Talking Beasts emerge from the ranks of the Dumb by the Gift and Grace of Aslan--but they are warned that to those ranks they may return, and they are commanded not to do so.  Here we have the Narnian way of dealing with the concern Lewis raised in his expository title, The Abolition of Man.  Lucy asks, "Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you'd never know which were which?" (PC 128).  To fall into evil--to separate oneself from the only Source of our ability to love, think, and speak, and try to live outside His authority--is to compromise one's very humanity.  It is not to destroy it, not finally at least until that irrevocable destruction which is the Hell pictured in Weston's decayed mind in Perelandra, but it is most definitely to corrupt it and to put it at risk.  Secular reductionist philosophies such as those critiqued in Abolition serve to hasten and encourage this loss, to insulate us from the arrestings of it built into the world by common grace, and to push it toward the irrevocable.  So in Narnia, dehumanization becomes an image of the results of sin, while redemption is viewed as the restoration of full humanity.  That is why the Beaver warns, "But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be human and isn't yet, or used to be human once and isn't now, or ought to be human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet" (LWW 88).  And this is pictured in both Men and Talking Beasts. 

            Ginger the Cat from The Last Battle is perhaps the most frightening example of a Talking Beast who loses Talking Beasthood as the inevitable outcome of his persistence in his rebellion against Aslan.  But the most memorable picture of fall and redemption in these terms is surely Eustace, who undergoes a rather humbling transformation: "He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep.  Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself" (TVDT 97). 

            The basis for Eustace's transformation is found in Lewis's poem "Eden's Courtesy."  Each of the animals--even terran Dumb Beasts--eloquently expresses a certain potential personality trait found in human beings. Certain ones are so obvious that they have become traditional, a kind of symbolic or iconographic shorthand.  "For till I tame sly fox and timorous hare / And lording lion in myself, no peace / can be."  It is our business, not to eradicate these characteristics, but to tame them, to subordinate them to Reason by Grace.  To the extent that we fail to do so, we slip back toward the merely bestial. This is so "Because the brutes within, I do not doubt, / Are archetypal of the brutes without" (98; cf. “Man is a Lumpe” 68).  Therefore, to the extent that we take reductionist philosophies seriously and live as if only the material exists, we dehumanize ourselves.  So Carlyle was perhaps using more than just an arbitrary metaphor when he called hedonism a pig's philosophy (Nash 351).  Spenser understood this well when he had Guyon lament, "See the mind of beastly man / That hath so soone forgot the excellence / Of his creation."  The Palmer (Right Reason) replies, "Let Grill be Grill and have his hoggish mind" (FQ II.xii.87).

            What is in our world an archetype in Narnia can become a physical reality.  So Eustace, selfish, greedy, arrogant, and cruel, becomes the actual embodiment of these qualities: he becomes a dragon.  But unlike Grill, Eustace experiences his beasthood not as an act of final judgment but as an opportunity for self understanding leading to the acceptance of mercy.  He realizes that he does not like himself as a dragon--which is to say he reckons with the reality of what he was already becoming before the change--and responds in repentance.  But the leopard cannot change his spots, nor Eustace his scales.  His own efforts to molt get him nowhere.  Only by yielding himself unreservedly to Aslan can he be stripped of his dragon shape and restored to human form. And thus he becomes a moving picture not only of the necessity of Grace but of the nature of redemption as restoration to full humanity. 

            Not everyone is so fortunate.  Rabadash, who insists on making an ass of himself, becomes a donkey.  And though his human form is restored, on condition that he never go more than ten miles from the temple of Tash, we surmise that this restoration is only temporary.  For he never humbles himself, so even though he lives out his life as a man, he is remembered even by Calormene history as Rabadash the Ridiculous--a particularly insulting way for a Calormen to refer to a Tisroc (may he live forever).  So he is an ass to the end. But Aslan gives him all the mercy he will receive, as has been his wont ever since the days of Uncle Andrew: "Oh Adam's sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!  But I will give him the only gift he is still able to receive" (TMN 203). 

So even Rabadash's mulish refusal of redemption becomes an occasion to remind us that redemption is possible for anyone and must therefore be offered even to Rabadash. Reminded of the Calormene's treachery, "'It is very true,' said Edmund.  'But even a traitor may mend.  I have known one that did.'  And he looked very thoughtful" (TH&HB 230).  For one who remembers his dalliance with the White Witch and his treatment of Lucy in their first adventure, Edmund's words are among the most poignant to be found in this book or any other.

  That open-endedness to our future is also, by God's grace, a part of the human condition, both because we are not reducible to mere physics and even more because God has not forgotten us. "'Why, I might be anyone!' [Shasta] thought.  'I might be the son of a Tarkaan myself--or the son of the Tisroc (may he live forever)--or of a god!'" (TH&HB 8).  And so he might.  And so may we all be if we respond like Eustace to Aslan's offer to strip us of our pride and pretension.  To be human is to live with the offer of that sonship or daughterhood as the destiny for which we were created and to which we can by Grace be restored.  And to be fully human is to be one who has accepted it.

But that awaits the future.  For now, the human condition involves a pilgrimage through the shadowlands on a quest for Aslan's country, whether we realize that this is what we are looking for or not.  It is not the human characters who give us the most profound expressions of this theme.  But we have already seen that for Lewis animals can serve as natural symbols of particular human characteristics, so that we not only usefully but properly describe human beings with phrases like wise as an owl, sly as a fox, proud as a peacock.  Thus Reepicheep, the head of the Talking Mice, represents the courage and devotion to honor that are really potential human virtues.  In like manner, Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle is a portrait of a dour but dear faithfulness so loyal that it does not require an optimistic outlook to sustain itself.  These are human virtues, but portraying them in nonhuman characters allows Lewis to present them in a distilled or concentrated form that is rarely found in human beings and probably could not be portrayed there so believably.  (Compare Reepicheep, for example, with the human character who may be most like him, David Eddings' Sir Mandorallen--a most entertaining fellow, but less believable than the Talking Mouse.)

It falls to these characters to give the most poignant expressions of this theme of life as pilgrimage or quest.  It is the final use to which Reepicheep puts his indomitable courage.  Aslan is the Son of the Great Emperor over the Sea; it is always across the sea from the East that he comes to Narnia.  That is ultimately why the Mouse ships on the Dawn Treader, for its goal is to explore farther to the East than any ship in Narnian history. 


While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader.  When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws.  And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.  (TVDT 231)


Knowing where the Pearl of Great Price is found, Reep will sell all he has--and is--to buy that field. 

            Puddleglum's attitude is more down to earth.  His quest is not for Aslan's country directly, but for Narnia itself, for Overworld, which serves as an image of Aslan's country and the possibility of finding it.  He has been trapped with the children in the caverns of Underworld and subjected to the reductionist propaganda of the Green Witch until he cannot even directly remember what the world of the sun is like.  The sun, she tells him, is just a lamp, Aslan just a cat that he with his imagination has turned into something greater.  But Puddleglum, like Lewis, sees reason to believe that imagination can be a key to reality.  And besides, he will be faithful to the quest whether it is or not.


"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We're just babies making up a game, if you're right.  But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.  That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world.  I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it.  I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.  So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland.  Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say." (TSC 190-191)


            To be human in this age of the world is to have set out in the dark to spend one's life looking for Overland, spurred on by the "signposts" of joy that our Lord has scattered along the way (Surprised by Joy; cf. Barfield 56).  To be satisfied with less, to accept wealth or fame or power as the fulfillment of one's nature, either under the influence of reductionist philosophy or just out of shallowness or discouragement, is to settle for a life that is less than fully human.  It is also to turn aside from the quest that leads us to the place where our human nature is fulfilled.

            Lewis's characters who do not give up the quest are destined to come to precisely that place.  In The Last Battle Narnia falls for the deception of its Anti-Christ, faces its Armageddon, and is destroyed.  But in that very destruction the faithful find the true purpose for which Narnia was created:  to make them hungry for Aslan's country and bring them there. 


It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling.  He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:

"I have come home at last!  This is my real country!  I belong here.  This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.  The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.  Bree-hee-hee!  Come further up, come further in!" (TLB 213)


All the old characters (but one) are brought together and reunited.  But most glorious of all, they are with Aslan himself, never to be separated again.  The human children, for once, do not have to be sent back to England--not now, or ever again.


"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly.  "Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadowlands--dead.  The term is over: the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (TLB 228)


            One feels disinclined to dilute the eucatastrophe and the joy of such a passage by commenting on it. But we may let Tirian do so, for his words uttered in desperation were prophetic of its true meaning: "This is my password," said the King as he drew his sword.  "The light is dawning, the lie broken." (TLB 87).  And we may let Aslan himself do so, for in contrasting Narnia with England he gives us the purpose for the creation not only of Narnia but of our own world and any that may exist, and gives us at the same time our own reason for existing as well:  "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there" (TVDT 270).

            Aslan also gives us the best summary we will ever find of the human condition as we now experience it:  created in God's image but fallen, transcending the nature of our animal fellow creatures but capable of reducing ourselves back to it, redeemable from that supreme folly and therefore on a journey that can take us even to Aslan's country itself.  "Do you mark this well?" asks Aslan:


"I do indeed, Sir," said Caspian. "I was wishing that I came of a more honorable lineage."

"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan.  "And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.  Be content."  (PC 232-33)


And if we believe, then content we shall be indeed and at last.



Lewis, C. S.  The Abolition of Man.  Ontario: The MacMillan Company, 1947.

----------.  "Eden's Courtesy."  Poems. ed. Walter Hooper.  N.Y.:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964: 98.

----------.  The Four Loves.  N.Y.:  Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960.

----------.  The Horse and His Boy.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

----------.  The Last Battle.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

----------.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

----------.  The Magician=s Nephew.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

----------.  "Man is a Lumpe Where All Beasts Kneaded Be."  Oxford Magazine 52 (10 May 1934): 665;  rpt. Poems, op. cit.: 68.

----------.  Mere Christianity.  N.Y.:  MacMillan, 1943.

----------.  Miracles: A Preliminary Study.  N.Y.:  MacMillan, 1947.

----------.  Perelandra.  NY: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996.

----------.  Prince Caspian.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

----------.  The Silver Chair.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

----------.  Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life.  N.Y.:  Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1955.

----------.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  NY: HarperCollins, 1978.

Manlove, Colin N. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Patterning of a Fantastic World.  N.Y.:  Twayne Publishers, 1993.

Nash, Ronald H.  Life's Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1999.

Piper, John and Wayne Grudem, eds.  Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.  Wheaton:  Crossway, 1991.

Schackel, Peter J.  "The 'Correct' Order for Reading the Chronicles of Narnia."   Mythlore 23:2 (Spring 2001): 4-14.

Spenser, Edmund.  The Faerie Queene.  1590.  2 vols.  ed. J. C. Smith.  Oxford:  Oxford Univ. Pr., 1909.

Williams, Donald T.  "'Is Man a Myth?':  Mere Christian Perspectives on the Human." Mythlore 23:1 (Summer/fall 2000): 4-19.

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Updated: 12/13/2004