In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift.
—C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
So begins the end of all things in Narnia. What culminates in the dramatic sounding of time’s giant horn begins much earlier with the slow unraveling of what was given at the dawn of creation—both in our world and in that one. With an allusion to the story of Eden, Lewis begins The Last Battle by presenting us with the cleverest of creatures in the fork of a tree (cf. Gen 3). Narnia does not mean to be a simple parallel to this world of ours; there is no neat correspondence between one side of the wardrobe and the other. Even so, Lewis shows here in the Western Wilds of Narnia that very same rot that took hold in Eden. And I think that he couldn’t truthfully do otherwise.
Shift, to be certain, is a peculiar kind of miscreant, but his sin is the foundational sin of all intellectual creatures, of any “Talking Beast”—namely, an abuse of words. Such a thing may not sound uniquely horrible—couldn’t we name a host of more horrendous crimes?—but it is the distortion of language, and so of truth itself, that lays at the root of all destruction. And it is this abuse that Lewis has in mind to name as the cause of the world’s end. He tells us as much with the names of his main characters, names that together suggest distortion of meaning and confusion: Shift and Puzzle.
Lewis’ account of creation in The Magician’s Nephew anticipates this end. As Digory, Polly, and the others look on, Aslan wakes the higher creatures of his new world. “Narnia. Narnia. Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.” To the Talking Beasts the Lion entrusts the whole of what is made. “Creatures,” says Aslan, “I give you yourselves. . . . I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars and I give you myself.” Last of all, as both gift and responsibility, he hands on to them the care of the “Dumb Beasts.” “Treat them gently,” he warns, “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.” Speech is the mark of exalted status, and it is the right use of speech in the work of tending and keeping the others that promises to preserve all that Aslan has given. The abuse of language, on the other hand, promises its undoing. Why?
For Saint Thomas Aquinas, judgment about reality—itself a kind of interior “word”—gives rise to an outer, spoken word which expresses that judgment. This externalization is more than just a by-product of thought, more than just a rippling out of something more essential already complete in the mind. Rather, language is the means by which we bring our freedom to bear on the world. When I say “I love you” to my wife or children, I do more than communicate a judgment of mine in an information-giving sort of way. (If it were just that, there would be no need to say it each day.) In speaking these words to them, I bring that judgment to bear in such a way that we are changed. Seen in this way, speech is the quintessential act of a free creature.
Speech is also, fittingly, mankind’s first act in the pages of Scripture. We are the image of a God who speaks a world into being and who asks us to speak so that we might draw that world into right relation and into rest. No matter that Adam, in that first moment of speaking, doesn’t find a helpmate among all the livestock, the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals (Gen 2:20). By naming them, he sets all things in right relation; he “orders all things well” (Wis 8:1) and so exercises that dominion which is nothing other than an extension of the divine work of naming things into existence. We are talking beasts, and our speech is not just a making audible of our intellect, not just a transmission in some medium or other. Speech is what renders truth in the service of love, is what allows us to exercise our unique role of tending and keeping (cf. Gen 1:26, 28; 2:8). The communion of this world, like the Trinitarian communion it images, is begotten and pre-served in speech, in the Word. And the failure of speech is the paradigmatic failure of humanity, and, for that matter, of all Talking Beasts.
The philosopher Joseph Pieper explains this nicely:
[Plato’s] objection [to the Sophists] could be summed up in these brief terms: corruption of the word—you are corrupting the language! . . . Word and language form the medium that sustains the common existence of the human spirit as such. The reality of the word in eminent ways makes existential interaction happen. And so if the word becomes corrupted, human existence itself will not remain unaffected and untainted. . . . Human words and language accomplish a twofold purpose. . . . Since the accomplishment is twofold, we may already here suspect that the word’s degeneration and corruption can also be twofold. First, words convey reality. We speak in order to name and identify something that is real, to identify it for someone, of course—and this points to the second aspect in question, the interpersonal character of human speech.
Said again, the communion of this world, like the Trinitarian communion it images, is begotten and preserved in the Word. And again, the failure of speech is the paradigmatic failure of humanity and, for that matter, of all Talking Beasts. Isn’t it the case that the breakdown of communion, both in Eden and in the Western Wilds of Narnia, begins with that cleverest of creatures in the fork of the tree and his question “Did God really say . . . ?” (cf. Gen 3:1). In the first, the breakdown begins by introducing suspicion about the truthfulness of the Lord’s words and so also the Lord’s own goodness and love. In Narnia, it begins with a similar twisting—or shifting. We are made to wonder about the content of Aslan’s “speech” and about who it is that might convey that content truthfully:
“Well then, that’s settled,” said the Ape. “You will pretend to be Aslan, and I’ll tell you what to say.”
“No, no, no,” said Puzzle. “Don’t say such dreadful things. It would be wrong, Shift. I may be not very clever but I know that much. What would become of us if the real Aslan turned up?”
“I expect he’d be very pleased,” said Shift.
Just then thunder boomed above their heads, making the earth shake beneath them and knocking both animals to the ground. As soon as Puzzle recovered his breath, he turned to Shift and said, “There! . . . It’s a sign, a warning. I knew we were doing something dreadfully wicked. Take this wretched skin off me at once.” But Shift, whose mind, Lewis tells us, worked very quickly, immediately responded: “No, no. . . . It’s a sign the other way. I was just going to say that if the real Aslan, as you call him, meant us to go on with this, he would send us a thunderclap and an earth-tremor. . . . You’ve got to do it now, Puzzle. . . You know you don’t understand these things. What could a donkey know about signs?”
“It’s a sign the other way,” Shift says, and with that, things begin to go dreadfully “the other way.” Here, with Shift, Lewis doesn’t mean to give us an account of the moment of original sin. (We are told of that in The Magician’s Nephew both when Digory rings the bell on Charn and when Jadis steals into the hidden garden at the dawn of Narnia.) What Lewis does mean, I think, is to unfold the end to which that sin leads, to the last battle it brings about and to indicate what, in the last instance, is the only antidote to that sin. The Last Battle is a dramatization of the breakdown of communion and, with it, the increasing difficulty of knowing the truth. It is, in other words, a book about the high cost of deceit and of the virtue of faith.
Knowledge and Love
In his discussion of Plato and the Sophists, Josef Pieper points to something puzzling about our use of human reason:
[Hegel] called the sophists of Socrates’ time “extremely refined and learned people”; but such praise, in Hegel’s manner of speaking, sounds somewhat ambiguous. It is precisely such learned refinement, says Hegel, such absolute and unmoored questioning that plucks apart any object and dialectically discredits everything; it is such “refined reasoning” (gebildetes Raisonnement)—an expression repeatedly used by Hegel—that poses the true danger. It almost inevitably leads us, says Hegel, to the conviction that everything can be justified if we look hard enough for reasons. To quote Hegel: “You need not have advanced very far in your learning in order to find good reasons even for the most evil of things. All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and Eve have been justified with good reasons.” Hegel, therefore, sees here a danger clearly intrinsic to the human mind being part of its nature, a danger that can perhaps be overcome but never entirely avoided.
Shift is a fine and learned ape. In a way analogous to God in the opening pages of Scripture, his speech generates a world. His speech does not call anything into being—not really—but it does shape how it is that Puzzle and the others are able to see reality. He is full of many “good reasons” about what has come to pass and what should. In a way that is coherent and persuasive, he renders an account of “the real” that is all but invincible. When, for instance, Tirian waits in the shadows on Stable Hill ready to show Puzzle to the crowds, Shift uses the fake Aslan’s absence to his advantage.
Now listen, all of you. A terrible thing has happened. . . . And Aslan . . . is very angry about it. . . . At this very moment, when the Terrible One himself is among us—there in the stable just behind me—one wicked Beast has chosen to do what you’d think no one would dare to do even if He were a thousand miles away. It has dressed itself up in a lionskin and is wandering about in these very woods pretending to be Aslan. . . . It’s a Donkey! A common, miserable Ass!
Poggin is right to lament Shift’s “cursed, cursed cleverness!” By mixing “a little truth” he makes his “lie far stronger.” Even so, Shift’s lies are vulnerable. The Talking Beasts of Narnia love Aslan, and that very love shapes their understanding of what is fitting to do. Indeed, as Saint Gregory the Great teaches, “love itself is a kind of knowledge,” and by this they already know what becomes the Lion. What resistance the animals possess they possess not in virtue of being cleverer than Shift, but in virtue of having a greater love.
Puzzle’s reaction to the discovery of the lion skin at Caldron Pool is a perfect (and touching) example of this virtue of love:
“I wonder who killed the poor lion,” said Puzzle presently. “It ought to be buried. We must have a funeral.”
“Oh, it wasn’t a Talking Lion,” said Shift. . . . “This skin must have belonged to a dumb, wild lion.” . . .
“All the same, Shift,” said Puzzle, “even if the skin only belonged to a dumb, wild lion, oughtn’t we to give it a decent burial? I mean, aren’t all lions rather—well, rather solemn? Because of you know Who. Don’t you see? . . . I don’t think it would be respectful to the Great Lion, to Aslan himself, if an ass like me went about dressed up in a lion-skin,” said Puzzle.
The same is true of the Lamb, whose piety makes him more perceptive than Shift might wish. As one who knows the shepherd (cf. Jn 10:14), the Lamb objects to the ape’s claim that Tash and Aslan are the same:
“Please,” said the Lamb, “I can’t understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”
All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed toward the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.
We are not told what becomes of the Lamb, but a good many of the animals do remain with Shift. Having the right intuitions about Aslan is one thing. Knowing well what he will do is another. In Prince Caspian, Lucy meets Aslan and is distraught that he will not now so easily show himself to the others as once he did. “Oh dear, oh dear,” says Lucy, “And I was so pleased at finding you again. . . . And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away—like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.” “It is hard for you, little one,” says Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice.” As we are told so often in the chronicles, Aslan is not a tame lion. And so while the Lamb is right to question Shift’s claims about Aslan and Tash—“How could Aslan be friends with him?”—knowing just what the Lion will do is not something we can see in advance. “He is,” says Jewel in reply to Roonwit’s reading of the heavens, “not a slave of the stars but their maker.”
The King and the Lord
The central question, then, of The Last Battle is this: Where is the voice of Aslan? Where is the sacrament of his presence whereby the good beasts of Narnia might know what to do?
Shift cleverly claims the mantle of prophecy for himself. Especially in moments when his story begins to wear thin, he makes appeal to his own authority. “I’m a man,” he says. “If I look like an Ape, that’s because I’m so very old. . . . And it’s because I’m so old that I’m so wise. And it’s because I’m so wise that I’m the only one Aslan is ever going to speak to. . . . He’ll tell me what you’ve got to do, and I’ll tell the rest of you.”
Unlike the sin in Eden, where Eve is made to distrust the Lord, the animals do not slack in their love for Aslan. As Puzzle before them, they go along with Shift’s plan because they are made to believe, however haltingly, that Aslan has allowed Shift to speak in his name. “Why we—we wanted him to come back to Narnia,” says one of the mice. And it is their love of the Lion that moves them to obedience, even if “he seems to have come back very angry this time.”
Things begin to turn, however, with the arrival of Tirian. While they resign themselves to the fact of “Aslan” speaking though Shift, the animals are not yet overcome. In their love of the king, they alight, unknowingly at first, upon the genuine site of Aslan’s presence. Obedience to the king, whose office and very person recapitulate the whole history of Aslan’s providence in Narnia, becomes the means by which the animals begin to understand Shift’s lies for what they are. We see this most clearly in their visit to Tirian after he is captured by the Calormenes and bound to a tree.
When it was almost dark Tirian heard a light pitter-patter of feet and saw some small creatures coming toward him . . . .
“Lord King! dear Lord King,” said their shrill voices, “we are so sorry for you. We daren’t untie you because Aslan might be angry with us. But we’ve brought you your supper.”
. . .
“Little friends,” said Tirian, “how can I thank you for all this?”
“You needn’t, you needn’t,” said the little voices. “What else could we do? We don’t want any other King. We’re your people. If it was only the Ape and the Calormenes who were against you we would have fought till we were cut into pieces before we’d have let them tie you up. We would, we would indeed. But we can’t go against Aslan.”
“Do you think it really is Aslan,” said the King.
“There’s no doubt about it. Everyone says it is Aslan’s orders. And we’ve seen him.” . . .
“I suppose what we’re doing now may be wrong,” said the Rabbit.
“I don’t care if it is,” said one of the Moles. “I’d do it again.”
On the one hand, the animals believe they should be faithful to “Aslan’s” commands. They don’t wish to upset him. Though he has been terrible to them, they try even to judge charitably all that he does. “We must all have done something dreadfully wrong without knowing it,” says the mouse. All the same, they will not slack in their devotion to Tirian, whom they address, rightly, as “Lord King! dear Lord King!”
What I think Lewis wishes us to see here is that the devotion to Aslan and the devotion to Tirian are one and the same. The Lion and the one who reigns under the standard of the Red Lion of Narnia can’t be set in opposition. The rabbits and the moles and the mice know this, and though they can’t work out how, in the present, the one is to square with the other, they do not fail in their faithfulness to Tirian. There is, after all, only one King, and “we don’t want any other king.” Just as there is only one England and one Narnia—though there be, as we see at the book’s end, England and the England within, and Narnia and the Narnia within. One is the image of the other. Or to frame it more positively, one is the sacrament of the other. So too there is only one King, and to honor “Lord King! dear Lord King [Tirian]!” is to honor the Great King, the Lion (and so too the Emperor-over-the-Sea). What the beasts instinctively understand is that Tirian is the sacrament of the Lion’s presence. Aslan is not so absent as Shift would have them believe in saying to Puzzle that “he never does turn up, you know. Not nowadays.”
What does it mean to say that Tirian is the presence of Aslan? As we’ll come to see, Tirian himself struggles to understand just who Aslan is and how he will act. Here the question of sacramentality merges with what was said above about the role and function of language. The communion of this world, like the Trinitarian communion it images, is begotten and preserved in speech, in the Word. Those who speak truthfully are themselves sacraments of the Word, who is himself the font and origin of every word, as Saint Thomas says. Truthful speech creates. It preserves and strengthens that communion—that “very good” (Gen 1:26)—which God created in the beginning and which he restored in the Incarnation by the full speaking of his Word into the human condition. If Tirian, as I’ve just suggested, is the sacrament of Aslan’s presence, he is so because in his words and his very flesh he is the living repository of the Word. Tirian embodies all that God reveals and is himself the “place” where Aslan might be met. In this way, Tirian is an image of the Church—the “Body of Christ” (see 1 Cor 1:12–27)—whose life (including her acts of repentance) preserves in all of its integrity what God has revealed in his coming among us. She is “the sacrament of salvation.” So also Tirian, in whom the good beasts of Narnia encounter the Great Lion.
With this in mind, we should notice how Lewis presents Tirian’s suffering as an image of Christ’s Passion. He is beat by the guards and then, with the crowds in a frenzy, Shift shouts, “Take him away! Take him away . . . and tie him to a tree.” It’s not long before he is given wine to drink from “a little wooden cup . . . being held to his lips.” And then there is the anguished cry of his prayer “Aslan, Aslan, come and help us now. . . . Let me be killed. I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.” We might say, with the author of Hebrews, that “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:7–8).
Tirian is a Christ figure—someone who lays down his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13). And as such, Lewis wishes us to see Tirian as the antithesis of Shift, as the one whose disinterested truthfulness is the antidote to Shift’s deception. Tirian really is the site of communion and is thus an image of the Church. What is so remarkable, and so oddly comforting, is that Tirian’s camp, and Tirian himself, is full of uncertainty. To speak of Tirian as some kind of bastion of truthfulness doesn’t, in the first instance, mean that he has everything worked out in full. (Nor does it mean that he himself is upright in all his actions. Like the Church, his holiness is perhaps best seen in his repentance.) It means, rather, that Tirian—even when he has nothing to gain, even when there is no external force compelling him to do so, even when it concerns his own failings, even when it involves the risk of death—seeks to know Aslan and all things in light of Aslan. This is wonderfully clear in the conversation between him and Jewel after they’ve ambushed and killed two Calormenes whom they found whipping a Narnian horse. Tirian is overcome with the ignobility of their deed, and Jewel is likewise filled with shame. The horse’s claim that his own beating was by Aslan’s orders mixes in confusion with Tirian and Jewel’s sorrow. Jewel cannot comprehend how Aslan could command such dreadful things, to which Tirian responds: “How should we know what he would do? We, who are murderers. Jewel, I will go back. I will give up my sword and put myself in the hands of these Calormenes and ask that they bring me before Aslan. Let him do justice on me.” Jewel knows this will mean that the Calormenes will kill Tirian as they claim the authority of Aslan, but Tirian is undeterred:
“Do you think I care if Aslan dooms me to death?” said the King. “That would be nothing, nothing at all. Would it not be better to be dead than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in and longed for? It is as if the sun rose one day and were a black sun.
“I know,” said Jewel. “Or as if you drank water and it were dry water. You are in the right, Sire. This is the end of all things. Let us go and give ourselves up.”
In the course of the narrative, it is this decision—this resolute desire to seek Aslan’s face—that brings Tirian (and Jewel) to Stable Hill at the very moment when Shift’s lie is at its worst, when he gets around to saying: “Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”
Tirian, like the little lamb who speaks before him, knows at least that this is a lie and confronts Shift: “Ape,” he cries with a great voice, “you lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.” And it is this that sets Tirian’s Passion in motion and begins the whole process of sifting that comes to a head in the last battle.
Emeth and the Dwarfs
Tirian’s actions bring about a final victory, or at least a portion of one. The possibility of real loss remains and will in fact be, in Lewis’ telling, a feature of the end. At the close of Narnia, not everyone passes through the doorway into Aslan’s country. Some of the Talking Beasts, at the sight of Aslan, are filled with “fear and hatred,” though only for a moment. Like Ginger the cat, they cease to be Talking Beasts. They are uncreated and then they disappear “into his huge black shadow, which . . . streamed away to the left of the doorway.”
As we have seen, Aslan’s presence is a mediated presence. Membership in a real flesh-and-blood communion—the kingdom of Narnia under the leadership of Tirian—is both the means and the site of one’s communion with Aslan. To lose faith in the very possibility of human communion, to view all things with suspicion, severs one from fellowship with God and plunges him into a permanent isolation. The real horror of Shift’s deception is not the felling of Lantern Waste or the impending takeover of Narnia by the Calormenes, but its giving rise to a suspicion that all communion is orchestrated by self-interest and all speech by a will to power.
So it is with the Dwarfs. When we first meet them in The Last Battle, the Dwarfs are under the charge of two Calormenes. “Has the Tisroc fought a great battle, Dwarfs, and conquered your land,” Tirian asks, “that thus you go patiently to die in the salt-pits of Pugrahan?” “Aslan’s orders, Aslan’s orders,” they reply, “He’s sold us. What can we do against him?” These good creatures believe in Aslan. They are rightly sore at what they believe he’s done to them, but they believe in him. Tirian draws Puzzle into view and proves that “it has all been a lie. Aslan has not come to Narnia at all. You have been cheated by the Ape.” They join in the fight and kill the Calormenes, but then, when “there was no enemy left,” the Dwarfs do not respond with a renewed love for the real Aslan but with unbelief:
“Now, Dwarfs, you are free. Tomorrow I will lead you to free all Narnia. Three cheers for Aslan!”
. . .
“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a plant, all a blooming plant.”
. . .
“Do you mean you don’t believe in the real Aslan?” said Jill. “But I’ve seen him. And he has sent us two here out of a different world.”
“Ah,” said Griffle with a broad smile. “So you say . . . .”
“Churl,” cried Tirian, “will you give a lady the lie to her very face?”
“You keep a civil tongue in your head, Mister,” replied the Dwarf. “I don’t think we want any more Kings—if you are Tirian, which you don’t look like him—no more than we want any Aslans . . . .”
“That’s right,” said the other Dwarfs. “We’re on our own now. No more Aslan, no more Kings, no more silly stories about other worlds. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
The Dwarfs have come to suspect everything. They are hardened for having been fooled. Not unreasonably, they close themselves to any encounter with the real Lion. And so, when in the end they pass through the doorway into Aslan’s country, they are incapable of knowing just where it is they are. They are like Uncle Andrew at the dawn of Narnia, about whom Aslan says, “He has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!” So too the Dwarfs: “You see,” says Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
There is the possibility of real loss. The Dwarfs are in large measure victims of the crowd long since carried off by Tash, but there is no easy way, or perhaps any way, of healing what they’ve become. “Dearest,” says Aslan to Lucy about Dwarfs, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.”
In contrast with the Dwarfs, whose fate is itself corporate and is in large measure set by the wider human (dis)communion, the righteous Calormene Emeth stands in isolation. He worships what is unmistakably a demon, and if we take the Lamb at his word, Emeth is likely to have been part of the human blood offered on the altar of Tash. And yet he is welcome in Aslan’s country. Why? Although, in one respect, he believes wrongly, Emeth is, like Tirian, one who is truthful. In the passage below, notice how time and again he gives Aslan, whom he now knows as the Lord, every reason why he, Emeth, should not be accepted. His words, like those of Tirian after the murder, are not self-interested in the least. Emeth—the one whose name in Hebrew means “truth”—desires the truth and speaks truly. In this way, he has all the while been longing for Aslan, and so receives him as a reward. Though he knew nothing of that flesh-and-blood communion centered in Narnia, his longing for the truth allows him to find “him whom [his] soul loves” (Song 3:4). “For,” as Aslan says, “all find what they truly seek.” Emeth tells of his encounter with Aslan in this way:
The Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me . . . . If any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.
And in truth, it may well be that Emeth was not really much farther off than Tirian and all of Narnia. For every similarity between what was known below and what is known above, there is an ever greater dissimilarity. All are newcomers to Aslan’s country. The Narnia within—however much it be the same place as the Narnia we have known—is nevertheless more unlike it than not. As Jewel says when looking at the real Narnia in Aslan’s country: “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!”
“We speak,” Pieper said, “in order to name and identify something that is real, to identify it for someone, of course.” The gift of speech—the grace of being a Talking Beast—is that we might render the truth in the service of love. There is, in Lewis’ vision, only an analogy between this world and the real world of Aslan’s country, but if we would know that country at all, it requires that we speak truthfully even here and, in the likeness of Tirian or Emeth, that we become vulnerable to the word of another, the word of one who is “not a tame Lion” and who speaks freely in and through those who bear his standard. It means, in other words, entering into the human communion “here below,” for the story that takes place “further up and further in” is not a new story, but a drawing in of all that is already begun here below.
For all of its emphasis on the hereafter and the incommensurable delight and beauty of Aslan’s country, we should be keen to notice that the greatest joy in that land is one which already took root and was enjoyed in this one, in the real flesh-and-blood communion of this time and this place, among all those who, like Roonwit, “drink first to Aslan and truth, Sire, and secondly to your Majesty.”
EDITORIAL NOTE: This essay is an excerpt from Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C. S. Lewis. Used by permission of Ignatius Press, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.