Foxes and Friendship

“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

This disclaimer appears before most traditional Disney films on the streaming platform Disney Plus. Films such as “Dumbo” and “Peter Pan” are now considered racist because of their outdated stereotypes.

Surprisingly, “The Fox and the Hound” has no such disclaimer.

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“The Fox and the Hound” is a bittersweet film about two friends who didn’t know they were supposed to be enemies. Indirectly, the film speaks to unjust prejudice, while at the same time acknowledging racism directly through the character of Big Mama. Tod the fox learns he can’t befriend Copper the pup because Copper is going to become a huntin’ dog. The wise owl, voiced by singer Pearl Bailey, warns Tod in her song “Lack of Education” about his possible elimination.

 

[Big Mama:] Now, if you’re so foxy and old Chief is so dumb
Then why does that hound get the fox on the run?
‘Cause he’s got the hunter
And the hunter’s got the gun
Ka-blam, elimination!
Lack of education!

If you pal around with that Copper hound
You’ll wind up hangin’ on the wall
Keep you nose to the wind
And you’ll keep your skin
‘Cause you won’t be home
When the hunter comes to call

[Tod:] Oh, Big Mama, I know Copper would never track me down.
Well, Copper, he’s my best friend.

[Big Mama:] Ho ho, your best friend!
Now, Copper’s gonna do what he’s been told.
Suppose he’s chasin’ an old fox in an old fox hole
And along comes the hunter with a buck shot load.

[Boomer:] Ka-ka-blam!
[Big Mama:] Elimination
[Dinky:] Lack of education!
[Big Mama:] You better believe it, Tod!

The truth of the matter is that either Tod or Copper will be shot if their friendship continues.

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Tod and Copper do not start out hating or fearing each other, but the world in which they live tells them a fox and a hound cannot be friends. Tod doesn’t want to believe that Copper will ever change, and it’s not till Copper comes back as a full fledged huntin’ dog that he has to “grow up” and accept reality.

Much can be learned about love and friendship from the tale of Tod and Copper. Racism is not natural, it is learned. Children at play do not have the same hang up as adults, unless they are taught. There can be no friendship where love is replaced with hate.

Our society is lacking true friendship because we do not know how to love one another. Ancient philosophers like Plato agree friendship requires a love for the good of the other. It requires a delight in loving the other and outdoing one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10). Problems in friendship do arise when there is not equality of virtue or vices turn up against each other. According to Cicero, friendship is an act of goodwill and must share a common value of virtue, which is a love for truth and beauty.

At the end of the “Fox and the Hound,” it is not romantic love that wins the day or obedience to masters. When Copper is attacked by a bear, Tod leaves his lady fox to save his old friend, even though he risks getting caught by the hunter. Tod could have easily chosen to return to the forest, but his love for Copper never changed, despite their differences. After falling from a log (similar to how they first met), Tod finds himself at the end of a shotgun. Thankfully, Copper steps in between Tod and the hunter just in the knick of time, returning the favor.

“Love” between friends need not be romantic. When these lines are blurred, true love, the selfless sacrificial kind, is lost. A distinction between these two loves must be defined. Lovers see beauty in each other and stand face to face,  but friends stand side by side in pursuit of a common goal — beholding beauty. Love in friendship is a different kind of love than romantic desire. Love in “The Fox in the Hound” is the type of powerful loyal love we see in Christ.

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According to John, there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend (John 15;14; 1 John 3:16). In the end, there is no happily ever after for Copper and Tod. They each return to their separate worlds, but their friendship is so strong that it becomes more than a memory and it changes the hard hearts of their masters, mending even the human relationships in the film. Tod is still a fox living in the wild and Copper remains a hound dog living with the hunter, but their childhood friendship is honored. Their love and loyalty passed the test of time. True friendship never dies.

Grace and the Grotesque

“I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside . . . Please help me to get down under things and find where You are . . . Please help all the ones I love to be free from their suffering. Please forgive me.” – Flannery O’Connor

This prayer was written by O’Connor when she was not yet twenty-one. With everything going on in the world at the moment, its sentiment speaks volumes to my soul. I’ve felt the need to put myself aside to know how to feel, think and respond to what is going on in our nation. My heart aches from the pain, anger, and evil in our world. When the world seems too big, I often turn to literature. Not just as a place of escape (not escapism, which Tolkien argues is very different), but as an ethical guide and teacher of virtue.

Recently, I’ve been reading Flannery O’Connor, who was an Irish Catholic living in Savannah Georgia during the 1950’s. Her insight and experience is different than mine, yet her fiction describes people we all know and have met before. Her writing is factual, not fantastical. As a Catholic novelist of the Protestant South, O’Connor did not try to sugar coat reality. In her letters, she explains that the church and her faith in no way hinder her creative writing or storytelling abilities, but rather enhance them. As she puts it, “The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is. What-is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them” (O’Connor’s essay “The Church and the Fiction Writer”).

O’Connor is an expert of the grotesque, grotesque in the gothic sense, and her stories are frightfully realistic, even comical at some points. In her essay “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” O’Connor explains Southern fiction is always considered “grotesque” by those who are not from the South and is only realistic if and when it is in fact grotesque. After all, fiction starts with human knowledge. The grotesque is often covered with compassion as way to excuse human weakness without judgment. But in the South the whole view of man is still for the most part theological. O’Connor explains Southern writers do a better job writing about freaks because they are still able to recognize them.

While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God . . . it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.

O’Connor’s literature does not mirror society to “lift it up” in thought. Instead of giving a mock damnation or mock innocence, O’Connor suggests writing a Dante, a balance of realism and romance. 

I hate to think that in twenty years Southern writers too may be writing about men in grey flannel suits and may have lost their ability to see that these gentlemen are even greater freaks than what we are writing about now. I hate to think of the day when the Southern writer will satisfy the tired reader.

The grotesque and ugly are supposed to shock us because they are signals as to how things actually are underneath. In her final collection of short stories, O’Connor wrote three stories with extreme religious themes: “Revelation,” “Parker’s Back,” and “Judgment Day.”

Revelation

At first glance, the ugliness in “Revelation” is found in the rude white trash Mrs. Turpin comes into contact with while waiting in a doctor’s office. Mrs. Turpin is described as a very large woman whose presence makes the waiting room seem small. She is your typical middle class white woman with the “bless your heart” sarcastic manners of Southern politeness. Immediately, Mrs. Turpin judges everyone by the quality of their shoes. She is the type of woman who, when she can’t sleep, asks herself who she would chose to be if she could not be herself. If given the option of being a n*gger or white trash, she prays God would make her African American, but not a “trashy one,” a more clean respectable kind, like “herself but black.” These are the inner thoughts of Mrs. Turpin. 

While waiting for the doctor, Mrs. Turpin talks to the “pleasant woman” in the room who is her equal while trying to ignore the “white trash woman” and the ugly fat girl, Mary Grace, next to her. The whole time the ladies are speaking, the girl glares at Mrs. Turpin with a look that could kill. The women discuss whether the blacks should be sent back to Africa and agree a good disposition is better than being pretty. Just as Mrs. Turpin thinks how grateful she is that she wasn’t made black, a white trash or ugly, the fat girl throws her book at Mrs. Turpin’s face and tries to choke her. As the girl is being sedated by the medical staff, she sneers at Mrs. Turpin, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.”

Mrs. Turpin lays in bed haunted by the girl’s remark. Mrs. Turpin tells the black help about the incident, but she is only annoyed by their flattery. She then marches to the pig parlor to argue with the hogs. She yells at them, disgusted that she would be likened to such creatures, then she has a vision of saints ascending to heaven. At the top are white trash cleaned up and blacks in white robes. At the bottom are hard-working average people like herself, yet altered so that “even their virtues were being burned away.”

Mrs. Turpin would rather cry, get angry and defensive than admit her attitude is uglier than the people she comes into contact with. She is like a pig with a ring in her snout (Proverbs 11:22). She is like us if we do not repent of our pride. 

Parker’s Back

“Parker’s Back” is a story about false devotion. O.E. Parker is a profane tatted man who marries a religious woman, Sarah Ruth, who has a talent for “sniffing up sin.” Parker never wanted to get married, her of all people, and he is gloomier than ever. To spite his wife, he decides to get anther tattoo, or as she calls them, a “heap of vanities.” She would say, “At the judgement seat of God, Jesus is going to say to you, ‘What you been doing all your life besides have pictures drawn all over you?'” Dissatisfied Parker decides to get a tattoo not even Sarah Ruth would object to — the image of Christ on his back. At first the tattoo artist refuses. “I don’t put tattoos on drunks,” he says, “You’ve fallen off some. You must have been in jail.” “Married,” is Parker’s reply. Regretfully, the artist draws “a flat stern Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes” across his whole back. No one can look at it without trembling in fear. When he shows it to Sarah Ruth, she rejects it as idolatrous and Parker is left sobbing by a tree. Parker discovers God even though his wife does not recognize him or the image on his back.

Judgment Day

The final story is a reworking of her earlier story, “Geranium.” In the story, Tanner, an aged white man from Georgia moves in with his daughter in New York, as long as she promises she will burry his body back in GA. When a young African American couple move in next door, Tanner gleefully calls them n*ggers, which is what he called his black friend Coleman back home. His daughter seriously rebukes him.

“All right now you listen to me,” she said. “You keep away from them. Don’t you go over there trying to get friendly with him. They ain’t the same around here and I don’t want any trouble with n*ggers, you hear me? If you have to live next to them, just you mind your business and they’ll mind their business. Live and let live.”

Of course, the old man does not listen. He tries to befriend the New York natives and greets the man as “Preacher” and assumes he is from South Alabama. Tanner’s motives are misinterpreted and the young man slams him against the wall, causing a concussion and stroke. The final blow is when the old man decides to leave the city and return home, but on his way out the door he has another stroke. The angered neighbor finds him at the bottom of the stairs and Tanner mistakes him for his companion Coleman. Instead of helping him up, the black man stuffs the old man’s head and arms between the spokes of the banister where his body remains until his daughter finds him dead. “Bury me here and burn in hell!” was the curse that haunted Tanner’s daughter, so his body was dug up and shipped back to Georgia. While alive, Tanner was stripped of his pride, but his body finds peace.

O’Connor loves to use symbolism in her writing. In all three of these stories, there is conflict socially and spiritually. A conflict of pride and grace. The characters receive revelations from God and by consequence become images of Christ themselves. Mrs. Turpin has a change of heart only once she has her vision. Parker, who’s real name “Obadiah Elihue” represents a biblical contradiction, experiences awakening even though his legalistic wife, who also has a biblical name, rejects him and the Christ on his back. “Judgment Day” is the most potent of all because it leaves the reader wondering if Tanner got what he deserved, since refusing to work for “n*ggers” in GA is what made him decide to move in the first place. He seems innocent but his manners are a mere appearance of friendship in the traditional black-white relationship.

O’Connor uses what is considered grotesque to reveal what is actually grotesque — the heart of sinful man. Manners and appearances only cover the ugly of “what-is.” How someone appears on the outside does not always reflect what is true on the inside. Man judges based upon outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). O’Connor understood that man is a fallen creature and was not afraid to be honest about the hypocrisy of humanity. Yet she does not leave out hope. There is hope for every sinner in Christ. Her stories are difficult to digest because they are realistic, almost more realistic than reality itself. But extreme examples can reveal truth and cut through our personal deception of what is actually grotesque. Like a Dante, she exposes our sinful hearts by putting aside appearances and opinions to show us what is actually ugly. To know what is truly good and beautiful, we must “push ourselves aside” and learn what is truly grotesque. 

 

A Hidden Life and the Coronavirus

As I reflect back on this time of quarantine in preparation for my return to the real world, or as it is now being called, the “new normal”, I remember how it first began. Quietly and unexpected, much like the film A Hidden Life.

Based on a true story, the film is about Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who faces execution for refusing to fight for the Nazis during World War II. Before watching Malick’s masterpiece, I read a review that described it as a film about religion, not war. Instead of picturing Jewish persecution of the Nazi period, the film asks ethical questions about good and evil, right and wrong, and how much one would suffer for what they believe to be right. A line that stood out to me in the film, since they are few and far between, echoes this assessment. When asked by the prison captain if he is afraid of death, Franz responds, “A man worth anything has only one thing to consider: whether he is acting rightly or wrongly.”

Many of us these days have had to ask ourselves if we feel fear in the face of possible death by coronavirus in this global pandemic. Yet the power behind fear is often fear itself. Fear of death, but also fear of pain. No one wants to suffer, but especially if it goes against what is considered the “right” thing to do. 

Power and control through fear and pain are evident in George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s novel is a political commentary of totalitarianism in Nazi Germany, but elements of Big Brother are still seen today. In the story, doublethink is the ability to hold two polarizing views at the same time. Love is hate, war is peace, slavery is freedom. We live in a dualistic society that in many ways cannot agree on how to address this crisis. There can be a sense of camaraderie by saying, “Stay safe!” to your neighbor from a distance, but there are also neighbors calling the police on each other if someone coughs or breaks quarantine. We have forgotten how to love one another because of fear. As a dystopia, 1984 may seem over the top and unrealistic, but it still communicates the danger of totalitarian thought and practice in society today. 

Besides the silent suffering of Franz in A Hidden Life, the steadfastness of his wife, Franziska, is most inspiring. When the local priest and villagers can’t persuade Franz to swear allegiance to Hitler, they pressure his wife to try and convince him to change his conviction or ignore his conscience. Unlike Job’s wife who tells her husband to curse God, Fraziska stands by her man and does not try to dissuade him. Despite the struggle and persecution she faces, Franziska never stops loving or supporting her husband, even when she knows his choices will take him away from her loving arms and leave their children fatherless. Franz’s stance for truth is heroic, but Franziska’s loyalty demonstrates how true love casts out fear. 

In 1984, Winston and Julia go against Big Brother by meeting in secret. In contrast to the previous couple, their “love” is selfish and does not pass the test of suffering. When they are captured by the Thought Police and taken to the Ministry of Love to be tortured, they betray each other and their emotions, even to the point of wishing the other would suffer instead of them. To save their own life of simple comforts, they deny that they ever loved, and in fact they never did. In the end, their love for each other is replaced by a love for Big Brother.

When faced with fear and suffering, who are we more like, Franz and Franziska or Winston and Julia? To whom do we swear and in whom do we trust? Would we choose to stay true to love or run away in fear at the first sign of danger? Do we turn away from the sick and poor, or run to them in aid? 

As Christians, we should be citizens most recognizable by our love, not our fear. Let us be an extension of Christ in a scared and suffering world. If we cannot stand for truth and love, we are no better than Judas the betrayer. But like Peter discovered after his denial, there is freedom in Christ. While in prison, Franz’s captors torture and taunt him by saying his actions do not matter, that the war will still go on without him, and that his resistance will soon be forgotten. All he has to do is sign a piece of paper and he will go free. He’s asked, don’t you want to be free, to which he replies, “I am free already.” 

Franz was not just a man of conviction, he was a man of faith. I pray my faith will outshine my fear in the coming days.


PC: IMDB

TGP, S1:EP 7: Philosophy and Literature

 


 

Recommending Reading

“The Stranger” by Albert Camus – https://amzn.to/2yT82Tk

“Aesop’s Fables” – https://amzn.to/2YJvfqc

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad – https://amzn.to/33u2soq

“Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan – https://amzn.to/2KvyQzB

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens – https://amzn.to/2GZX5np

“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding – https://amzn.to/2H4jcco

Mice, Mariners, and Mountains: C.S. Lewis and the End Times

Visions of the Eschaton in the Fictional Works of C.S. Lewis

The writings of C.S. Lewis have been treasured by Christians all around the world for more than half a century; and yet, the reason as to why this Oxford don experienced such prolific rise in popularity is not immediately clear. He was not a known as a great exegete of scripture who unfolded the obscurities and mysteries of scripture for God’s people. He wasn’t a well-known preacher who stormed across country-sides, winning innumerable souls to Christ. Nor is he remembered as great theologian, someone who extolled the richness of Christian doctrine for all to bask in. By his own estimation, in fact, Lewis said of himself, “I am a layman, indeed the most lay of layman, and least skilled in the deeper questions of sacred theology.” Albert Mohler even remarked once that the theology of C.S. Lewis “at several points, simply is not trustworthy.” In spite of these assessments however, many great expositors, preachers, and theologians claim that Lewis was one of the seminal influences on their intellectual development and theological understandings (John Piper, Douglas Wilson, Sam Storms, Randy Alcorn, Alister McGrath, J.I. Packer just to name a few). Besides the well-known names of contemporary Christianity, many conservative evangelicals have claimed that the writings of this, at times, liberal and ecumenical Anglican were instrumental in bringing them to faith in Christ—I include myself in this aggregate. What are we to make of all this? What is it about Lewis that Christians, and evangelicals in particular, seem to find so alluring? And why should fundamentalists or especially people in the reformed community—who are typically, and rightly, wary of anything that smells like liberal theology or ecumenism—grant Lewis such a pardon and count him among their ranks? The simplest answer I can give to this question is that evangelicals are willing to forgive Lewis for what he got wrong, because of the extraordinary and wondrous manner in which he expressed what he got right.

One way I think it is helpful to think of C.S. Lewis is that he is more like a painter than a theologian. When I look at Rembrandt’s mesmerizing painting The Prodigal Son, I don’t focus on the historical anachronisms, the misplaced ethnic identities, or the fact that his painting hasn’t captured the nuance of every theological truth contained in Jesus’ original parable. Instead, I see that the painter has focused in on one singular glorious truth and portrayed it in a new way so that I would be moved by it. I can almost feel the arms of the Father wrapping themselves around me, I identify with the one-shoed son who sinks in front of his Father, desperate to be restored. This is what Lewis does for me in his fictional writings especially. When Lucy Pevensie asks whether Aslan, a lion, is “quite safe?” and Mr. Beaver replies “course he isn’t safe, but he’s good!” I don’t focus on the fact that Jesus doesn’t have fur or a tail, but that his power and goodness perfectly coalesce such that I should fear, love, and trust him. When Aslan lays down his life to save Edmund from the Queen, I don’t focus on the fact that Lewis pictured a form of redemption that was closer to ransom theory than penal-substitutionary atonement, I rather think of the Powerful Jesus who didn’t have to lay down his life, the Jesus who could’ve slain all his foes, but instead, surrendered his power and went to the cross like a lamb instead of a lion, and that he did it for me. Lewis’s fictional works are filled with glorious paintings like this. Paintings that call us to wonder and gaze at the truth being communicated and not the tertiary subtleties that have not been captured perfectly. Finally, these considerations bring us to what I think may be one of C.S. Lewis’s most wonderful portraits, namely: the way his fictional works envision the eschaton. . Let’s gaze at this painting for a while and see if we aren’t moved by the brushstrokes of his pen.

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce is an allegorical story in which Lewis depicts certain truths about Heaven and Hell. It is not a story about what he thought Heaven and Hell are actually like; but rather, one in which particular glories regarding Heaven, and particular miseries regarding hell are highlighted for the reader’s consideration. The story opens with the main character, who is never identified or named, walking the streets of Greytown. As he walks through the dismal, monochromatic streets he is “always in the rain” and “always in twilight.” The shops he passes by are “dingy houses, small tobacconists…and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle. The people he encounters in this place are quarrelsome and easily disgruntled. Everyone in this place seems to be so bothered by other people and so pleased with themselves that they really have no ability, or more accurately no desire, for relationships at all. This place is meant to depict some of the horrible realities of hell. People seem to continue their lives much in the same fashion as they had on Earth, yet, they live in such a way that is totally devoid of hope, joy, love, or God. God has left everyone here to their fate; they have become gods in their own eyes, but they have no power to see what miserable deities they really make now that the true God has removed himself from their lives. Eventually, the main character stumbles into a queue to board a bus, “a wonderful vehicle, blazing with golden light, heraldically colored.” The driver of this bus is himself “full of light” and cheerful in his demeanor—a quality that the cranky residents of Greytown find annoying. As they board and depart, they have no idea that this bus ride will actually transport them new a place of vibrant color and glorious beauty—Heaven.

A Bus Ride to Heaven

The first thing our passenger from Greytown hears as the doors of the bus to Heaven open is “the singing of a lark.” When he exists and gazes upon this new place for the first time he feels “a light…coolness that drenched me…like those of summer morning.” He looks around at the landscape and observes that “I had the sense of being in a larger space…as if the skies were further off…and the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of Earth.” His experience of the immensity of this “new Earth” was such that “The Solar System seemed to be an indoor affair.” Remembering that our character is, after all, a resident of Greytown, he says that he doesn’t feel very safe in this new place. He feels exposed, this place seems dangerous, and he has a sneaking suspicion that something ill will befall him. Still, he continues to explore. He notices that he and the other passengers appear to be as translucent as “ghosts” when compared to the vivid landscape. His body is not really different than it had been on Earth, instead, it seems to be that the sheer color and vibrancy of this place makes his body appear opaque. The trees, the land, the grass “appear much solider than things in our country [so] that men were ghosts by comparison.” He bends down and tries to pluck a daisy, but finds the flower to be hard like a diamond and he hurts himself trying to wrench it free of the earth. As he walks on the grass, he notices that it is almost cutting his feet. He clearly was not made to endure this place. This grey man, this man who forgot joy or hope, who has been condemned to the miseries of his own heart cannot seem to be at home in this strange place. But alas, the glory of the countryside is nothing compared to the glory of the people who inhabit it. He sees the inhabitants from a long way off, but in spite of their distance, they were radiant. As they approach, “The Earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf.” These people are as glorious as the place they live and more glorious still. They were clearly made or prepared to be here in a way that he was not. These glorious people begin to interact with the “ghostly people” from Greytown. One of the luminous beings walk up to a grey man that he knew on Earth. The grey man becomes indignant because the luminous man was a murderer in his previous life when he last knew him. “Aren’t you ashamed?!” he cries. The luminous man smiles and replies “No, not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself.” Of course, what he means is that his sin caused him to repent and look to God in his former life, and he is still looking at God even in his glorious state. This is especially interesting since the grey man is far less beautiful than his friend now is, and yet, the grey man is only satisfied to continuously gaze upon his own ugliness. At one point, Lewis alludes to the verse in Revelation where the author says “the smoke of hell goes up forever in the sight of the saints” What he means is that the “saints” of Lewis’ Heaven feel immense pity for the residents of Greytown who cannot, will not see the beauty of this glorious place. It’s this refusal to see beyond themselves and behold the beauty of God that leads Lewis to say in another place, that “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.”

The Pursuit of God

Much more could be said about the interactions between the characters from Greytown and the residents of Heaven. However, that is not what I want to consider here. Further on into the story, the main character encounters George MacDonald, his favorite childhood author, who is there to help him understand all that he is seeing. Their conversation turns at one point to the range of mountains that loom large in the background of the landscape. The man from Greytown asks about them and MacDonald tells him that “Everyone of us (the redeemed) lives only to journey further and further into these mountains.” As real, as glorious, as colorful, and as vivid as this place that the man from Greytown is now in, the mountains only get more real, more glorious, and more intensely vivid as you travel into them. The joy of the saints is depicted as a barefooted sprint into the glorious presence of God, and with every step, that glory intensifies. This, for Lewis, is the aim of eternity. To run headlong into God’s glory, forever seeking to enjoy his presence more and more. The run never ends. The journey is never over for the saint. There is always more of God to be had, however intense the present weight of his glory is, that weight will increase all the more as the trek continues. This brings us to another story that Lewis wrote concerning this theme: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the fifth installment in The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s a maritime adventure filled with swashbuckling, sea-monsters, buried treasure, and even dragons. However, as the story comes to a close, the heroes find themselves sailing through placid, crystal-blue waters. The calamities have all passed away and the passengers of the Dawn Treader find themselves beholding a glorious horizon: Aslan’s Country. The further they sail towards “the end of the world” they begin to notice lilies floating on top of the deep water, they can see the first peaks of the mountains of Aslan’s realm, and they start to feel peculiar. They notice that their desire for food diminishes, the sailors are talking less and less, and people merely stand aboard the deck on gaze off into the distance. Lewis tells us that, “Every day the light became more brilliant and still they could bear it.” Prince Caspian declares that “I feel that I can’t stand much more of this, yet I don’t want it to stop.” The reason for all this is that the passengers are feeling the effects of the glory of “Aslan’s Country”, and the joy they experience and the glory they feel only becomes more intense as they sail onward. Eventually, the crew can go no further and four passengers, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reepicheep board a small vessel in order to continue on alone. The serenity of the voyage continues to increase until, at last, they come ashore on a white, sandy beach. The entrance to Aslan’s Country is blocked by a towering tidal wave that continuously rolls, yet never moves. Suddenly, Reepicheep—a mouse who dresses and talks after the fashion of a musketeer—leaps from the boat, plunges his rapier (sword) into the sand and declares “I shall need it no more!” He then proceeds to ascend the wave and enter the eternal home of Aslan where he will run forever, deeper and deeper into the mountains. One of the grandest allusions to Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia immediately follows this scene, and I recommend that you read the story for yourself, however it does not directly pertain to what I want to focus on here. Instead, I want to draw attention to the fact that Lewis depicts Aslan’s Country, or Heaven, in a very similar fashion as he he did in The Great Divorce. In addition, Lewis cultivates in his reader’s mind the notion that the glory of Heaven is something that the saint must be prepared for while on Earth. The journey to Aslan’s home was purposefully slow; the crew members of the Dawn Treader had to grow more and more accustomed to the wonderful things that they were experiencing. By the time the protagonists reach the “celestial shores”, they crave nothing else besides Aslan himself. Their joy of Aslan’s glory was so wonderful that it eventually and finally vanquished all other desires in the souls of the crew members by the time they make landfall. This is a wonderous comparison for the believer’s journey toward Christ. The Joy of walking with the savior makes war on all our idolatrous passions throughout the course of our lives until at last, he wins. By the time we reach the shores of Heaven, we are finally ready to mimic Reepicheep by plunging the swords of our former lives into the sand, and venture forth to chase the presence of God for all time.

A Few final Thoughts

Everyone wonders about the afterlife. We eagerly anticipate what glorious raptures await the saints in Heaven, and we shudder to think of what horrors await the unrepentant in Hell. We imagine that Heaven will be a place of reunion, of fun, of activity; while imagining that Hell is a place primarily of physical torment—and these things may very well be true. Yet, the genius of Lewis is to remove all of the “extracurriculars” from our visions of Heaven and Hell, and to help us imagine them in a different way. With Hell, Lewis seems to be aware that people consider fire and torture to be the primary reason for the misery of those who are confined there, and yet, Lewis seems to suggest that this is not the case. He tells us a story about people who are prisoners of their own device, people who cannot seem to get past themselves and see the glory of God for what it is, and most importantly, he tells us that the journey into eternity is the climax of a journey they started in life. He expresses it beautifully when he says in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people: Those who say to God ‘thy will be done’ and those to whom God says ‘thy will be done’.” Do you see? The real punishment in Hell for Lewis is not the physical pain, rather, it’s the torture of the soul who will forever attempt to be the source of their own joy only to repeatedly find that they cannot. Similarly, Heaven is the result of a journey that we start here. We fall in love with God here, we desire him here, we know him here. It serves to reason then, that the real glories of Heaven will not be barbecues with Friends and Family or pursuing our favorite weekend hobby, but loving, enjoying, and knowing God more and more on into eternity. This is not just Lewis’ vision, but I believe it’s the vision of scripture. The Bible tells us that “22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” The reward of Heaven is nothing less than experiencing the glory of God as it washes over his people and his world. Everything will be made new, everything will be restored, and everything will reflect God’s glory. It’s a world that Lewis helps me to yearn for, and I hope it’s helped you too.