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Review: The Lion, The Mouse, and the Dawn Treader

 

Carl McColman, is a popular author whose writings address topics such as Celtic spirituality, spiritual disciplines, and Christian mysticism.  In his latest book, “The Lion, The Mouse, and The Dawn TreaderMcColman examines “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (one of the books from the C.S. Lewis Narnia series) in order to uncover the wealth of spiritual lessons Lewis included within his novel.

Though a voracious reader, I am relatively a new fan of C.S. Lewis’s works.  Beyond “The Screwtape Letters” I had never read any of Lewis’s works until after seeing first movie adaptation of his Narnia series.  Since then I have collected a substantial collection of Lewis’ writings, as well as the books, essays, and articles written by Lewis’s interpreters.

Of the entire Narnia series, my favorite book is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the most recent in the series to be adapted to the big screen.  Perhaps the reason is that this book, as McColeman puts it “is not directly related to any stories in the Bible.”  Instead, the intention of Lewis (according to McColeman) was to illustrate and “directly map(s) out the contours of the Christian spiritual life.”

McColman makes use of Lewis’ novel to illustrate what it means for us to come to faith and engage in a spiritual journey with God.  He points out that Lewis’ understood that throughout history (and in that I would include biblical history), the motif of a “journey” has been used to illustrate our connection to and relationship with the Divine.  McColeman writes:

Since the earliest centuries of the Christian era, mystics and saints have described the spirituality of Christian living in the language of journey. Christians are, according to the greatest exemplars of the spiritual life, walking along the way of the pilgrim: we are ascending Mount Carmel, climbing the stairway of perfection, or scaling the ladder of divine ascent. In a more abstract way, mystics have described the life in Christ by talking about successive stages—such as purgation, letting go of everything that holds us back from God, to illumination, moving more deeply into God’s radiant presence, and finally, union, arriving at that most mysterious of places, where we truly realize that ?in him we live and move and have our being? (Acts 17:28).

In chapter one, for example, McColeman introduces us of the story of Eustace, the central character in Lewis’s story.  Along with his cousins, Edmond and Lucy, Eustace has been drawn into the journey to Narnia.   That, McColman states, is how it is when we set out on a journey with God.  We do not initiate the journey, God does.  God draws us to God’s self in any number of different ways, but the bottom line is that God takes the first step in calling us.   McColeman writes,

… whether or not we want a spiritual adventure ultimately makes no difference. Incidentally, I’m using words like spirituality and mysticism more or less interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. Spirituality refers to the dimension of living intentionally in relationship with God, whereas mysticism implies a can’t-miss-it experience of God’s presence in our lives, even to the point of feeling at one with God.

Eustace is not too happy to be on this journey.  A serious minded young man, schooled in logic and reason, Eustace has been raised to believe that it is his responsibility to manage and control his life.  He’s got no time for a fanciful journey that serves to distract what he’s been conditioned to believe is really important.  From his propensity to argue science and fact, to his family’s “vegan” lifestyle, everything about Eustace, as Lewis presents him, is to say that God is not needed.  Eustace seems himself as the captain of his own ship and navigator of his future destiny. 

“Not so!” Lewis might say.  It may appear that we are in charge, but our freedom is akin to that of moving deck furniture on a cruise ship.  We may move the furniture, but that in no way controls the course of the ship.  McColeman points out that this theme that “God’s in charge and you’re not” is prevalent throughout Lewis’s book.  

Another theme that is evident throughout the book involves human bondage to sin.  In chapter three, McColman points out that Lewis had three metaphors for sin.  These are “being sold into slavery, being turned into a dragon, using magic to gain power over others.”

Sin, for Lewis, is not simply a matter of bad behavior.  It was about being in captivity to a power greater than self.  As such, it is not just Eustace who deals with this captivity.  All of the characters face the power of sin (Lucy, Edmund, and even the noble Prince Caspian).  Along the journey, sin’s bondage is addressed.  The solution to its dilemma, however, is not found in self, but in the presence of Aslan (the Christ figure in the story).  This is illustrated, as McColman notes, near the conclusion of the story.  Eustace, who has fallen prey to the sinful behavior of avarice, has been turned into a dragon.  He tries desperately to remove his skin and restore himself to his prior condition, without success.  It is only in the presence of Aslan that the dragon scales can fall.  It is not possible for human being to free themselves from captivity to sin.  That requires a power from beyond self.  It comes in the power expressed in the gracious love of God, revealed in Christ Jesus.

I am grateful for McColeman for this great resource interpreting and making accessible the spiritual “lessons” to be gleaned in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”  It not only help me understand the book and its characters better, it also served to illustrate some of my own experiences on the journey God has invited me to enjoined.  If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, then I would strongly recommend McColeman’s  “The Lion, The Mouse, and The Dawn Treader.

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