My mum gave me The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia, by Rowan Williams, for Christmas. As some of my friends will tell you, I’m a big Rowan Williams fan. There was the time we followed him round Canterbury, when he was taking part in the St Nicholas’ Day parade:
I also had the pleasure and privilege of attending one of his Holy Week lectures on the aspects of the Chronicles of Narnia last year. The Lion’s World is partly an expansion of these talks.
Probably unsurprisingly, given that I’m an admirer of both the Narnia books and Dr Williams, I enjoyed the book. I’ve read quite a lot about C.S. Lewis and the Narnia stories in recent years, but The Lion’s World made me think about aspects of the stories, and about Lewis himself, that I hadn’t properly considered before, as well as valuable points I’d just missed entirely. The book has a lot to say about Lewis and Narnia, of course, not all of which is entirely complimentary – thankfully, Williams is not beyond seeing Lewis’s flaws as a human being or as a writer, despite the obvious affection and admiration he has for him. However, what I found most valuable about The Lion’s World was not the factual information or opinion, interesting though these are, but the fresh (to me) interpretation of parts of the stories.
For example, I was particularly struck by the lessons Williams draws from the scenes in chapter 10 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy finds the book of spells. In this chapter, Lucy resists the temptation to cast a spell that will make her beautiful (she wants to be more beautiful than her sister, Susan – in the film version of the story she gives in to temptation, casts the spell and actually becomes Susan) – she wants something other than what actually is, but Aslan helps her to resist the temptation. However, she then goes on to cast a different spell to help her hear what her friends say about her when she’s not there. She hears things she would rather not have heard, and although Aslan steps in to help her, the damage to the friendship has already been done. Williams interprets the scene in this way:
…Lucy [...] recognizes just in time the spiritually suicidal nature of wanting to replace one’s own given reality with another identity, but still seeks to replace the given challenges and uncertainties of human intimacy – including the constantly threatening doubt as to whether I really know or am known by the other – with some kind of guarantee, some kind of magical access to the truth [...It is] the refusal to let ordinary human exchange count as reality…
As Williams says in his previous paragraph, the only answers to the kinds of ‘questions’ Lucy is asking are “to be found in the exercise of love (or in Lucy’s case, friendship)”.
I’m not a child (at least not in age, it’s my 35th birthday tomorrow – just thought I’d throw that in ), but, like Lucy, I still worry about what people think of me and whether they really like me (or love me) and I still wish I was prettier or more like [insert name here] or more cheerful or cleverer and I still want to know that I’m known and not feel like an alien and I still, occasionally, want to ”really know” people, to have those ”intimacies” that Lewis considers, I now think rightly, unnecessary for true friendship (Williams talks about this elsewhere in the book). [Update: Someone said they didn't really understand this last bit about "intimacies". I was already a bit worried I wasn't being very clear, so, to try to clarify; basically what I mean is that I used to think that you had to know all about a person in order to be friends with them, but I don't think this anymore.] Insecurity is a great conduit for sin (or selfishness, if you want to use a less theologically loaded word).
There’s quite a lot more I could say about The Lion’s World, but I think it’s probably better for anyone who’s interested just to read the book itself. As I’ve said, it’s fairly short, as these things go, and it even has pictures – it’s also, I found, quite a nice size for reading on public transport!