Our Enchanted World
The fourth installment of Narnia is the first one without a Pevensie. Eustace, the Pevensie’s cousin from Voyage, takes their mantle. But he is not the main character; rather it is Jill Pole who takes center stage.
Let me quickly trace the narrative, which forms a wonderful chiasm. From England, to Aslan’s Mountain, down into Narnia (and the north), further down to Underland, back up to Narnia, up to Aslan’s Mountain, and then a return to England. Now, for a bit more detail. Jill and Eustace attend a school for bureaucratic bullies, run by bureaucratic bullies. Eustace had told Jill about his previous Narnian adventure, and then they pleaded for Aslan to let them go to Narnia. As soon as they make this “petition” some bullies begin chasing them, and as they’re fleeing they go through a gate and find themselves in Aslan’s country. Aslan has heard their pleas.
Aslan gives Jill an errand. And, due to her folly in knocking Eustace off a cliff when they first arrive, she has a greater duty. She is to remember 4 signs which will lead them to the lost Prince Rilian (Caspian’s son). Once Aslan sends her down into Narnia (by his breath), she’s reunited with Eustace and they set out on their assignment. A gloomy marshwiggle, Puggleglum, agrees to guide them to the north and assist them as he’s able. But due to various follies they miss the first three signs. However, in the end, they obey Aslan’s last sign, despite it seeming like madness to obey the sign. They free the lost prince from his enchantment in the silver chair, and then overthrow the enchantress, and make their way back to Narnia.
They arrive in time to reunite Rilian with his father Caspian, before he dies of old age. Aslan brings Jill & Eustace back to his mountain, Caspian is resurrected by Aslan’s blood, and then he allows Caspian to enjoy his greatest wish…to spend a few moments in our world. He and the two children go and frighten off the bullies. In other words, this is the clearest example in “The Chronicles of Narnia” of the role of fairy stories. They equip us not to escape our troubles, but to face them with renewed courage which we receive from the fairy story.
Follow the Signs
The backbone of this story is Jill’s task to follow the signs which Aslan gave. But the first sign is missed because Jill begins bickering with Eustace and should have explained to him the assignment Aslan gave her.
As they endeavor to follow the second sign, which was to find the city of the ancient giants, they’re met by a Green Lady (on a white horse), and an armored knight (on a black horse); the Green Lady’s promise of warmth and reprieve in the home of the “Gentle” Giants leads the children in particular to neglect looking for the second sign, and they bungle right past the city they were tasked with looking for. The narrator tells us that Jill had given up repeating the signs to herself. She had, we might say, failed to hide these signs in her heart. And so, she was led astray.
Once they are welcomed as guests for the Autumn Feast at Harfang, the Gentle Giants’ home, they eventually come to realize they are on the menu. Aslan appears to Jill in a vision, and while looking out of the window, they see the broken lettering of some ancient memorial of the giant city they were supposed to search. It read: “Under Me.” They escape, barely, and find themselves in underworld.
Having badly obeyed the first three signs, they are brought to the Queen of Underworld’s castle. There they meet a psycho prince, who is entirely enamored with the Queen. He tells them he is under an enchantment that causes him to go mad one hour every day, and he must be bound to a silver chair. They linger to watch him during his manic episode, and are shocked to find that he is more sane during his supposed madness. He pleads with them, in the name of Aslan, to set him free. This was the fourth sign. They are shocked, and fearful to obey what is clearly the sign. But Puddleglum wisely reminds them that Aslan never told them what would happen if they obeyed the signs, he only told them to obey the signs.
Here then is a vital lesson for Christian adventurers. Always follow the signs. We do not obey because it is easy or convenient, or so we might gain the esteem of those around us. Obeying the signs might seem like going on a fool’s errand to most, but that doesn’t let you off from obeying the clear commands of God’s Word. It might also be observed that even though they apparently bungled them, providence was actually at work despite them, not because of them. Aslan’s instructions always work, no exceptions.
Another important lesson in this story is a very Solomonic one. The enchantress is also a seductress. She captivates Rilian by appearing in the form of a beautiful lady. Instead of avenging his mother’s death, he is led into the darkness of the strange woman’s pit, the very woman who (in serpentine form) slayed his mother.
Rilian set out with vigor to slay the serpent, but when he beheld the enchantress, his vigor cooled. Lust will unman you. It will hollow you of virtue. Chop off the head of lust before it grasps you in its coils. But it is never too late. Once he is delivered, he slays the enchantress, thus avenging his mother. A good word is here to young men in particular, your mama wants you to kill any desire for the seductress.
The Real World
Lewis brings in some of the finest apologetics in any of his writings in the exchange between the children, Puddleglum, and Rilian with the Enchantress. She tries to persuade them that they are just making up Narnia (Overworld). Her world is all there is, she croons to them. She coaxes them with her song and her incense to believe that her world is the real world. How she describes the world is how it really is.
She almost has them under her spell, when good ol’ Puddleglum rouses himself in a fine act of defiant courage. He burns his foot putting out her fire, thus replacing the odor of enchantment with the less than enchanting smell of burnt marshwiggle. He argues that even if they were making up the glories of Overworld, that their imaginary world was superior to her alleged “real world”. He insisted that far better to follow Aslan, even if there really was no Aslan, than to dwell in her dull, cold world. There is a time for logical argumentation, but the martyr’s blood often proves far more persuasive. Self-sacrifice is how we overthrow the follies which surround us.
In the modern haze in which we live, it is this sort of clear thinking that will free enchanted souls. You think boys can become girls? That thinking renders boy-ness & girl-ness meaningless, what even is the point. We shall live as male & female regardless of your myriad gender identities.
You think the world is the result of a Big Bang & time and chance? What a colorless view of the world & cosmos. We shall live as if God made the heavens & earth in six days, no matter how loudly we are scoffed. For that is a far more beautiful myth, and it happens to be the true myth. The tyrants might call us crazy kooks, but we don’t pay them any heed. For we the smell of reality is on our side.
We live in a digital age of screens. Our peers around us are dulled through endless entertainment, porn, meta-verse madness, weed, psychotropic drugs, mindless social media scrolling, transhumanist pipe-dreams, and uncovenanted hook-ups. Living in Christian community, marked by self-control, abstaining from fleshly lusts, and celebrating the Incarnation & Bodily Resurrection of the Lord Jesus each Lord’s Day is the way forward.
Hold fast to the signs. Turn them over and over. When you rise and when you lie down, when you go out and come in. Do not let the thick air of even the strongest potion cloud your mind. Be sober, be vigilant. And so be used of the Lord to deliver the captives, overthrow serpents, and guard your beloved land from wickedness. And never forget that sometimes the best way to flee temptation is to get a whiff of burnt marshwiggle foot.