“Narnia, Narnia: Awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

A Friend:

Could you expound on what Aslan is saying in this quote from the Magician’s Nephew? I am wondering if the words “…Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” have a double meaning.

My Response:

Dear Friend,
I think that Lewis operates under the assumption that if a tree is to be, it should be a walking tree.

To be frank, I’m not sure I can say with certainty why Lewis does what he does, but I can give some thoughts toward an explanation. First, Lewis loves fairy stories. The stories that stirred Lewis’s imagination as a child were those that imagined that what we see is only the surface of what is, that there is a supernatural world that we are insensible to. Second, Lewis is really afraid of a worldview that reduces everything to its naturalistic explanation. So for Lewis, it would be better for you to suspect that the tree in your backyard could awake and speak to you than for you to think it was simply a collection of cells arranged by natural selection. It is better in a moral sense. He’s very afraid of the types of people naturalism produces.

So he writes “fairy stories” (or something closely related) for children highlighting not only Christian themes but generally supernatural (not sure what word to insert) ones.
-m

I would be very interested at any push-back on my explanation. What thoughts do you have, all ye Lewis scholars.

Update: 8:35 AM, 11/28
Read Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories”

“The definition of a fairy-story—what it is, or what it should be—does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible. It has many ingredients, but analysis will not necessarily discover the secret of the whole. Yet I hope that what I have later to say about the other questions will give some glimpses of my own imperfect vision of it. For the moment I will say only this: a “fairy-story” is one which touches on or uses Faerie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso : if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away. Of this seriousness the medieval Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an admirable example.”

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One thought on ““Narnia, Narnia: Awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

  1. Another thought : I think Lewis is also operating as if humans should be good stewards of the natural realm. But he is assuming you can’t be a good steward without an empathy for what you steward and a good imagination. I think that encompasses the first two statements. I’m not sure what the reference to divine waters is – except that it may be a reference to being good priests of what we interact with. We should ‘make holy’ what we interact with in the natural realm.

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