Friday 7 January 2011

Stamp on the fire...

Excerpt from The Silver Chair (from the Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis, 1953:

The Witch shook her head.

"I see," she said, (...) "You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion.

"Well, 'tis a pretty makebelieve, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world.(...)"

Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan.

"And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams."

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete.

But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing.(...) With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth.

And three things happened at once.

First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less.(...) This instantly made everyone's brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.

Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, "What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I'll turn the blood to fire inside your veins."

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so.

"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 playworld 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 a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."


Just to clarify: this wonderful passage is (also) an allegory of the human condition and the choice confronting modern Man: viz. the choice between the nihilism of secular materialism and Christianity.

To break the spell of the witch (the intoxicating distractions of the modern world) requires not a great intellectual nor a warrior but a simple and stubborn character like Puddleglum.

Acting on gut-instinct; by stamping on the fire (despite the short term pain) Puddleglum weakens the glamour, clears his head of induced delusions, and saves the world of Narnia (for a while).

Argument has no effect, the Narnians cannot escape the webs of illusion, until after the fire has been quenched.

But what is the fire?

Roughly speaking: the mass media.

So long as we are engaged with the mass media, so long will the delusion continue.

We hopelessly-entranced intellectuals must hope and pray for a Puddleglum!


HenryOrientJnr said...

This is one of my favourite passages from "The Silver Chair" and Puddleglum is perhaps my favourite character in the whole Chronicles. However, I see him as the perfect secular rightist: skeptical and a bit curmudgeonly. I guess it is all depends on ones perspective of truth.

Matthew C. said...

One of the best passages in all the Narnia series.