Restless, a little girl stares at the lone candle lighting her bedroom. Behind her in the bed we can see her older sister fast asleep.
She sits up, and slides her bare feet into a large pair of black boots. She leaves the room, taking the candle with her, a robe wrapped over her nightgown and held closed at her throat. As quietly as she can she sneaks through the dark corridors of the manor, an eager gleam in her eyes.
(Behind her, unseen, her older brother comes out of the w.c., and seeing her sneaking about, decides to follow.)
The girl comes to the Spare Room and approaches the wardrobe, almost hesitantly. Her expression changes to uncertainty. Will it be there again? Or was it all a dream before? She opens the wardrobe door and… Pfffhut. A wind comes from out of the wardrobe, extinguishing her candle. The soundtrack changes to a cold soprano choir. And an incredible smile blossoms on the little girl’s face.
That has to be, in my opinion, the quintissential moment of the recent film version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In that minute-long sequence the filmmakers captured visually what I feel (for me) to be the heart of the Narnia mythos.
Pure, childlike awe. Longing. Delight. Anticipation. Wonder.
Lucy enters the wardrobe and finds a winter wonderland, nearly gets kidnapped by a castoff from Greek mythology, finds out that the whole place is under the control of a tyrranical snow queen, and still wants to return. Other people (the movie’s portrayal of Susan, for example) would have instead left and never come back, safer in the ’40s British countryside. Stay where there’s no danger. But Lucy goes back. She’s eager to go back.
A similar sentiment is expressed in The Horse and His Boy, another book in the Narnian series, by both Bree the horse and by the slave-boy Shasta. Bree was captured as a foal, “domesticated,” and has been living as a tame horse (read: slave) all his life. But he has never forgotten the cool green land of Narnia, his homeland. Shasta, on the other hand, knows nothing about his parentage. Yet he’s always wondered about what lies away to the North, and he’s never felt right about where he lives. Something is missing, something doesn’t feel right. He doesn’t belong. Enter Bree’s stories of Narnia, this mysterious land far away, and an incredible longing sets in.
Prince Caspian, too, has a longing. He lives in Narnia, you see, but a modernized Narnia, in which animals don’t talk and strange creatures are never seen. He has heard the old tales, however. “I wish–I wish–I wish I could have lived in the Old Days…”
It could be that this longing that runs through so much of Lewis’ series is echoed in a real-life longing of his own. He wrote about those who have never “listened for the horns of elfland,” a reference to a Tennyson poem, but meaning those who have no longing for the other, the mysterious, the hint of another world, the delight, the wonder.
It seems often a very childlike thing to seek for wonder and delight in life, and a very grown-up thing to ignore wonder in favor of the daily drudgery… Maybe, however, this is why someone once told me that I have to come to him like a little child…
And maybe, just maybe, this longing for the horns of elfland, for the green lands of Narnia, really does have a source. Maybe I, like Shasta, don’t really belong here. Maybe I was born to live in a different sort of land, and when I don’t fit in with this place it’s because this is not my home. Maybe I sit up nights pining for a homeland I’ve never seen but must exist, surely exists.
NON SUM DE MUNDO.
I think I should mention, in passing, that I have come to realize that I am in love with Lucy–and have been since the first time I read those books. Not the actress Georgie Henly (which would be a little creepy), nor even her rather stunning older counterpart (played, apparently, by Georgie’s older sister Rachael). No I mean the character.
Some see her as a goody-goody, or overly innocent, but I read her as practically personifying that sense of wonder. Her absolute adoration of Aslan, her readiness to follow him even when it looks like he’s going over a cliff, her… well, I’m in danger of repeating myself. Her delight in all that is delightful. “It was the first time [Lucy] had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in more deeply than the others. She had been too happy to speak. He wanted to hear her speak again…” (From The Last Battle)
It occurs to me that the woman I marry will have to remind me of Lucy in at least some way.