I was probably three or four years old when my dad first read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to me as a bedtime story. I remember crying when he finished because I thought that was the end of Narnia. Oh what joy and delight when he told me there were six more books…!
I was eight when Andrew Adamson’s film adaptation of the story came out in theaters… the same age Lucy was supposed to be in the movie. The magic of seeing my favorite story on the big screen held me captive for weeks.
In between, and ever since then, I’ve read the Narnia books and listened to the radio dramas multiple times. I know the soundtrack of the movie backwards and forwards. Narnia is my dream world… where I go in my imagination more than anywhere else. I used to talk to myself in a British accent and pretend I’d found a way back into Narnia. I could never decide, though, whether I was Lucy or Susan. I wanted to be a Lucy, but I always felt like I was really a Susan.
~ * ~
Tonight, at age 20 ½, I watched the movie again with my siblings. I found myself seeing the story through the eyes of Peter and Susan. Here they are, just ordinary kids from nowhere of much importance, evacuated to the countryside for safety during the war. They play hide and seek. They watch their little brother hit a ball through a stained glass window. They quarrel and tease like any normal siblings.
But then, all of a sudden, they find themselves in a world that ten minutes ago they thought was just Lucy’s imagination, a very real world where the Queen (aka White Witch) and her Secret Police, whoever they are, hate humans and want to kill them. In no time flat the four children are hiding in a dam talking with two friendly beavers (imagine that!) who inform them that the people of this land have been eagerly waiting for four humans to arrive and put the world to rights. Oh, and to do that, they need the help of an actual lion named Aslan who is, at this moment, gathering an army for them to lead.
Them, the four British refugee kids.
That’s when Peter looks Mr. Beaver in the eye and says, “I think you’ve made a mistake. We’re not heroes! We’re from Finchley.”
Several scenes later, after their brother Edmund joins the Witch and they have an encounter with Father Christmas (in the flesh!), the children find themselves literally on thin ice with the Witch’s wolves closing in on them and a frozen waterfall about to break loose.
Susan screams at Peter, “Just because some man in a red suit hands you a sword, it doesn’t make you a hero!”
And much later, after Edmund is rescued from the Witch and Aslan surrenders himself to execution in the boy’s place, Peter wrestles with whether he should take his siblings back to England to keep them “safe” or stay to lead Aslan’s army. An army, in case you were wondering, made up entirely of talking animals and mythical creatures he’s probably never even heard of or read about in a book.
Edmund looks his big brother squarely in the eye and says, “Aslan believed you could. And so do I.”
That’s how Peter ends up astride a white unicorn, dressed in chain mail and plate armor, in command of hundreds of flesh and blood creatures he would have thought make-believe only a week before, facing a vast hoard of even weirder creatures headed by a stunningly beautiful woman who wields a wand that turns living things to stone.
Peter, who only a week before was bickering with his little brother and playing hide and seek to keep his little sister happy and trying to prove to Susan that he could actually take care of them all. That same Peter now realizing that he and all his siblings might actually die in this bizarre world that they stumbled into accidentally through the back of a wardrobe.
And the thought struck me. This is what God does. He takes ordinary, inadequate people and gives them crazy, insane jobs to do. We end up in situations we never could have imagined facing a challenge that is way out of our depth, only to find that the only person for the job is… me.
In that moment, we have a choice. Accept the challenge with all its impossibilities and bizarre quirks and unthinkable circumstances and do the job set before us, or get caught up in the difficulty and weirdness of it all and run back to “safety,” wherever that is.
Lucy does the first. When she first walks into Narnia, she never really questions it. She just accepts it for what it is and goes about the business of making a new friend. And then trying to help that friend. And then trying to help her brother. And then learning to serve and follow and love Aslan. No questions about how or why or how long. She accepts and lives in the right now.
Susan does the second. She spends almost the whole story trying to hold onto what, to her, is the “real world”: England and the professor’s house and the war and her mum. She keeps questioning the world of Narnia, trying to keep Peter from stepping into the higher role to which he has been called and just generally resisting the whole idea that, somehow, there is an actual world magically connected to ours where there is an actual prophecy which she and her siblings were actually meant to fulfill.
Peter struggles between the two and ends up accepting Aslan’s assignment. And, of course, he succeeds. But certainly not in his own strength or abilities. Just when the battle seems to be lost, Aslan sweeps in with reinforcements and puts an end to the Witch. And let’s not forget Edmund’s part in destroying the Witch’s wand so that she could no longer turn her enemies into stone.
~ * ~
After the war, Aslan crowns the four children kings and queens over Narnia. They enjoy a prosperous reign of many years, during which they forget all about England and grow to the full maturity of adulthood before accidentally stumbling back through the wardrobe into the Professor’s house. They are kids again.
God does this, too. After the adventure, after he’s equipped us to complete the ridiculously impossible and awesome task he put before us, he sends us back to ordinary, mundane life where we’re nobody special anymore. And it’s here that the real test begins. Having experienced all of that glory, can we live humbly and faithfully in the every day?
Peter struggled with this. At the beginning of the Prince Caspian movie, we find him in a fistfight because he couldn’t handle people treating him like a kid. Edmund observes, “We are kids.” Peter shoots back, “Well I wasn’t always.”
Susan, on the other hand, clung to the everyday and mundane world. When she did get the chance to go back to Narnia, she resisted it even more than she did the first time around. She was all too aware that her time in Narnia was temporary, and she would rather have adjusted completely to life back in England and just stayed there.
That’s the challenge. To accept the adventures courageously when they arise and then slip humbly back into normal life without losing our readiness for the next adventure.
~ * ~
At the end of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” film, Lucy tries to get back into Narnia through the wardrobe.
The Professor tells her, “I don’t think you’ll get back in that way. You see, I’ve already tried.”
Lucy looks up at him. “Will we ever go back?”
“Oh, I expect so,” he answers. “It’ll probably happen when you’re least looking for it. All the same, best to keep your eyes open.”
Of course they do go back, all four of them once and Lucy and Edmund twice. Each of those times, the entrance into Narnia happened in wildly different ways, the adventure was unique, and Aslan showed up in amazing ways to teach them and save the day. But each time, they had to go back to the normal, everyday England world. Why?
When Aslan sends Lucy and Edmund back for the last time, he tells them, “In your world I have another Name. You must learn to know Me by that Name.”
Of course, we know His name. His name is Jesus.