Fast forward in Narnia:
C.S. Lewis’ fantasy-world, Narnia, was an eventful place. Much happened between its creation in The Magician’s Nephew, and the events we’re about to look at in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There were many comings and goings between children from our world and Narnia. Aslan, the great Christ-figure saved Narnia from many of its enemies with the help of those children. And on one important occasion, Aslan died and returned to life, in the place of a traitor-child.
(Note: If you missed part one of this series, you can read it here).
A boy called Eustace (who almost deserved it)
But in book five we get to meet a new child, and not a very pleasant one. His name is Eustace and he is sulky, self-involved and obnoxious. Instead of enjoying the adventure and the kindness of those he meets, he manages to make all those around him miserable. But then something happens that changes Eustace forever.
Eustace wanders off from the group on an unknown island. He finds a great treasure trove belonging to a dragon and goes to sleep on it with greedy thoughts in his heart. And when he wakes up he is a dragon. Though he has a hard time making his companions understand what has happened, they accept him back and accommodate him as best as they can. Eustace begins to understand something about the character of these kind people, as well as his own character. He has been nothing but trouble to them. Eustace feels remorse.
Return to the garden
And here’s where we find ourselves in a familiar place with a familiar lion. Aslan appears to Eustace while the others are sleeping and bids him follow:
“And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Narnia Chronicles)
In the Narnia Chronicles, Lewis brings readers back again and again to the same landmarks. But though only a few years may have passed in our world, many centuries have passed in Narnia. This means that sometimes the same places don’t look exactly the same anymore. What was a castle on a peninsula when the children leave in book three is a ruin on an island when they return in book four. By the time we get to the fifth book, a few years have passed in our world, but for Narnia it has been centuries.
Now, you will remember that the garden that Digory visited in Magician was on a hill and surrounded by a wall. It was very quiet, filled with delicious smells, at least one fruit tree, and a fountain. Eustace’s garden is on a mountain, but it sounds like it may be the very same place. And importantly for Eustace, this paradise garden is still a place that connects heaven and earth, a place of sacred encounter.
A place of transformation
There in the garden, Aslan peels back Eustace’s dragon skin with his claws and makes Eustace bathe in the well. This is not a painless process for Eustace, but it is a good one, a necessary one, and one that turns him back into a boy. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us: we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be” (Letters). This understanding that “the best” may be painful comes through in all of Lewis’ writing, and we see it here, with Eustace:
“Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”
Did it really happen?
And so it was that Eustace had this divine encounter in a sacred garden, a place of baptism and rebirth, of repentance and transformation. After returning to the camp, Eustace wasn’t sure the encounter had really happened. It was so other-worldly that it might have been a dream. But his cousin Edmund (who’d had some experience with these things) tells him otherwise:
“No. It wasn’t a dream… There are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been – well, un-dragoned, for another.”
Such encounters in such places still have the power to “un-dragon” us, even in the real world: Thanks be to God.
(Note: You can read the next part in this series here).