This morning I woke up for some reason thinking about the book "A Severe Mercy." I honestly can't remember what thread of thought led me there. But it led me to look up stuff about the author, Sheldon Vanauken (who, by the way, converted to Catholicism in 1981), which led me to think about C.S. Lewis (with whom he had a remarkable written correspondence). Then, Mac came in right about the time I was going to grab my laptop and read blogs.
What was I supposed to do then? I could have played Bedazzled, but I quickly (and smartly) rejected that. Then I noticed the stack of books on the bench in my room that I have all but forgotten about over the last few weeks. What was there on the bottom?
It was Lewis's The Last Battle, the last of the Narnia books. I had pulled the book off my shelf a few weeks ago after being reminded of some brilliant passages from the end. For some reason I started reading in the middle. I don't know why.
(From this point on I will be speaking in depth about the book. If you want to be surprised, stop now, go read it and come back.)
And I couldn't stop. I had already made my coffee, the weather was perfect, so I moved onto the porch wrapped in a cardigan. And read and read and read.
I read the last 140 pages of the book. And I cried and cried.
Why do I love this book? I feel, while reading it and after reading it, that I know something of Lewis, the man. And I wish I could meet him. It's like, he'd be someone you'd want to know. I'm sure he'd have his moments, his flaws. Don't we all? But, somehow maybe he'd recognize them and point them out himself.
I feel I might even recognize him as a little boy. Someone who loved stories of heroes and war and adventure and dragons, and hated elastic and wool and scratchy church clothes. Who was a little mad at the adults around him who were stuffy and boring just for the sake of being stuffy and boring, and left behind childhood and wanted to drag every one around them out of childhood as well. You can almost see the mean teachers at his boarding school with no love and no warmth and no chuckle for the pranks of children, only frowns.
And his longing for a place like this world, but better...so much better in fact that you can't even write about it. Perhaps I can see him as this little boy, because I have one just like him in my house.
"If one could run without getting tired, I don't think one would often want to do anything else." (p. 198)
Such a childlike way to think! And I love it. Because even as we leave childhood behind, we long for those moments of carefreeness. And, hopefully, we look up at the sky sometimes and think "That blue, right there, there's no blue prettier than that." But, in Aslan's country, the color's are deeper, richer, more like their TRUE self. And Lewis, the author, keeps saying things like,
"I can't describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean." (p.196)
You can't find out what it is like unless you can get to that country and taste it for yourself." (p.157)
And don't you want to go? Don't you want to go there and see for yourself?
But, perhaps for good reason, I love this part.
"...before he had had much time to think of this he felt two strong arms thrown about him and felt a bearded kiss on his cheeks and heard a well remembered voice saying: "What lad? Art thicker and taller since I last touched thee!
It was his own father...but not as Tirian had last seen him...when he was a gray-headed warrior. This was his father, young and merry, as he could just remember him from very early days when he himself had been a little boy..." (p.204)
There are reviewers who hate this book. They hate it because it's "too religious." Not enough fantasy. Too much Christian allegory.
What is more central to HUMAN EXISTENCE than LONGING? Longing for something better. Longing to see our loved ones again. Longing for a place where all tears will be wiped from our eyes, where every childhood dream you had of running flat out across an open field, or flying, or swimming up a waterfall, of meeting the heroes of old who you have only read about, or of being utterly and completely yourself and being accepted for it, has come true? Is this just a Christian idea, just a Christian dream? If so, then those of you who are not Christian are far more stodgy and stuffy than the worst of pompous Christians. You deny the possibility that our imaginations are, in fact, pointing us to a bigger and more glorious reality than we could ever hope to meet here. That there is a book "which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before."(p. 211)
Aslan is what the true God should be. Fierce and proud, not tame, but loving and gentle. Sacrificing, not compromising. Imaginative. Creative. Terrifying. Lewis has put so much into this character that Aslan is hard to pin down, just like the God of the Bible.
(Huge spoiler alert)
And Susan. Let's talk about why four paragraphs in the book turn people off to the whole story.
Susan isn't with Peter, Edmund and Lucy. Is she in hell? No. She wasn't with them when the crash happened that killed the others. And so, one would imagine that she is now living her life without her family. But she isn't in hell, she just hasn't come with them. Some have put down Lewis because "How dare Susan explore her sexuality!" (sarcasm implied). Lady Polly says it best, and this is in many ways the theme of the whole series, of Narnia itself.
"I wish she WOULD grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can." (p.154)
Childhood is a gift. Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven." (Matt. 18:3). There are ways in which we much grow up, but we must always have faith like children. We adults lose more than just belief in Santa Claus when we grow up. Our hardening happens in many ways. One hopes that Susan, as I hope that all of us, would be returned to her child like faith.