Friday, July 08, 2005

Imagination ÷ Creativity = 1

This month I am just thrilled to present an exclusive interview that I was able to score with the characters of C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Recently, I spent a delightful afternoon discussing this wonderful sea tale with Kings Caspian and Edmund, Queen Lucy, Eustace Scrubb and Reepicheep the brave and chivalrous mouse. Speaking with them personally opened up new vistas of understanding regarding this terrific children’s fantasy—and the fertile imagination of Mr. Lewis, which created the plot and this ensemble of characters...

First of all, welcome! I am so excited to spend time with you and am truly blessed to have such an amazing opportunity. I hope that your journey here was easy and eventless. You don’t look any worse for the wear...

Lucy Pevensie: Thank you, Kathy. This is quite an occasion. I daresay that Caspian and Reep may be a bit shaken since they have not had a lot of experience traveling between worlds, but speaking for myself, time travel is becoming rather a commonplace occurrence.

Edmund Pevensie: Yes, and tele-transportation is infinitely to be desired over being dumped into a frigid sea. Walking through a wardrobe, while strange, is a much drier proposition!

King Caspian: [Staring around as though completely befuddled] This is amazing. I’ve known Edmund, Lucy, Susan, and Peter... well, and Eustace... to come and go without warning, but I’ve always written it off as their being a bit daft (though in a good sort of way) and never really worried myself about it. Wait until Drinian and Rhince hear about this!

Eustace Scrubb: Is that a computer?! I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to see one so small. There aren’t any wires. How does it work?

It’s called a “laptop.” I’d be glad to show it to you after the interview...

Reepicheep the Mouse: Far be it from me to sound rude, but I was called from a place that I really had no desire to leave and would like to return as soon as I possibly can. Could we please proceed with our purpose?

LP: Dear, dear Reep, always calling us back to focus. What would we do without him?

Yes, but point well taken, Reepicheep. Let us proceed with the task at hand. I know that you all have pressing matters to return to in your own realities.

One of the initial things that I noticed in this story that is quite different from the others (except to a certain extent in The Horse and His Boy) is that Lewis spends much more time describing his characters. For instance, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we received one-liners here and there about the characters that, yes, did reveal traits, but we mostly learned who the characters were by their actions and often had to discover their true identities by how they interacted with other characters. We learn more about Eustace Scrubb in the first few pages of chapter one of Voyage than we did about many of you in the reading of entire books prior to this one.

ES: [Wryly] And dash it all... he insisted on including my middle name! Eustace is bad enough, but Eustace Clarence is only what my parents called me. I was quite the rotter, wasn’t I? But when one thinks about it, Lewis had to really be careful and develop his characters fully or the entire story would have gone nowhere. During the course of this tale, I undergo a complete turnabout of who I am. If the reader did not know me well, the impact of the change would have been completely buried and lost or seem really contrived. I think Lewis was so exacting and detailed because the lessons of this book were somehow more important than ever to him and he didn’t want obscurity to cloud the message.

RM: Quite, quite, but I believe that there is something more profound going on with Mr. Lewis in this book. I believe that he was maturing as a writer of children’s fantasy fiction. After all, Mr. Lewis had the examples of great imaginations like George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll and John Bunyan to guide him. He respected their contributions and considered Mr. MacDonald to be a mentor and guide for his own development as a children’s author. Moreover, both Mr. Lewis and Mr. MacDonald passionately believed that a children’s book could not be great unless it was equally enjoyed by any person (or mouse) of any age. An adult will see right through a poorly-developed story with one-dimensional characters and never pick it up again. Prince Caspian is a close call! (No offense, I hope, sire.)

EP: Yes. Yes... and I recently read an interesting article by Trevor Hart in Christian History & Biography where he explained that George MacDonald believed that since we are made in God’s image, imagination must be a part of that image and that our imaginations are “nothing other than a direct reflection of God’s own creativity.”

KC: Hear, hear, Edmund! Well read, indeed! [Evokes laughter from the group and Edmund blushes.]

LP: Careful, Caspian... you’re sounding like a Dufflepud! [More laughter]

Okay, okay, we are beginning to drift. Reepicheep, I’d like to go back to something you were saying about the writer’s maturity. Your character also becomes more “fleshed out” in this book. How do you account for that?

RM: Again, learned miss [Kathy now blushes], I believe it was due to maturity. Prince Caspian (the book) was a great disappointment for me. I was like a caricature—the very type of rodent [said with complete disdain] found in your modern day cartoons rather than the symbol of courage and chivalry that I truly am. Aslan recognized those traits and to some extent so did the children, but it was like Mr. Lewis just didn’t take me seriously even though my fellow mice had been given a very important role at Aslan’s sacrifice. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I am finally a fully-exposed character. And, instead of “popping” in and out of the action, I am made the carrier of the greatest quest and allowed to sacrifice myself for that purpose. I am also the compass that keeps the quest alive and reminds the other characters to stay focused.

KC: [Nudging Edmund] Bet that was hard to do when Eustace had you swinging around by your tail, Reep!

RM: I will not dignify that remark with a response. If I had not tossed my rapier into the sea of lilies, you would taste the flat of it now for sure! Mr. Lewis did have his fun with all of us in this book and, upon his arrival in Aslan’s country, I was able to speak to him about that. He is most contrite!

ES: Will everyone just forget that happened? I was different then!

RM: While I forgive you, sir, I will never be able to forget such an indignity...

LP: Gentlemen, gentlemen. You’ve had your fun, but even you, Reep, are losing focus. I think that maturity of the writer is a valid point, but there is also something more profound happening in this book. Mr. Lewis falls in love with his characters.

EP: Lucy, have you gone bonkers?

KC: Leave it to a girl to go off on a romanticizing expedition!

RM: Lady Fair has a right to her opinion and though skeptical, I will hear it.

Yes, I’m intrigued. Please Lucy, elucidate. [Get it? E-luci-date?]

LP: What I mean by falling in love is that Lewis seems to have real affection for his characters. It is as if he has made friends with every one of us. We are more real and believable characters. Our interaction with each other is true-to-life and typical of people familiar with each other. The reader gets a sense that Lewis really liked this book. He is more playful with his dialogue, pays more attention to detail, clarifies points throughout the story, and paints wonderful word pictures that stir the reader’s imagination. Long before Lewis wrote the Narnia books, he penned a very good book entitled The Four Loves...

Oh, yes, I’ve read that and I think I know where you are going with this. Please continue.

LP: In The Four Loves, Lewis speaks of storge [two syllables, “hard” g], or affectionate love, as a paradox of need and gift-love.

EP: How’s that?

LP: Affection needs to give but it also needs to be needed and so seeks the gift of being loved. Lewis gives us meaningful life and in the process experiences deep affection for each of us that is demonstrated in all the points I have just made. Just look at the diversity among the characters of this book. How could a human carbuncle like Eustace Scrubb...

ES: I am rather jewel-like, aren’t I?

EP: I think she means the other carbuncle, Scrubbsie!

ES: Hey!

LP: Sorry, Eustace, you just make such a good object! How could a Eustace Scrubb become a member of such a band of close friends? How could Reepicheep or even Caspian accept him into their circle? Why would Edmund and I not just isolate him and forget about him and go on with the task at hand? Why does Lewis even have to bring Eustace into the story? Because of what Lewis calls the “glory of Affection,” which “can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other.” Lewis is the “fate” who brings about the miracle of affection amongst this ensemble and, I believe, in the process finds himself loving not only the work of writing the story but is surprised by the joy (sorry, couldn’t resist) of truly enjoying his characters. So he, too, receives a gift—satisfaction and peace.

EP: I agree, and one really telling proof of this is that Lewis, for the first time in the Chronicles, makes great use of the first person. He interjects himself constantly into the book and really becomes an additional character. The reader learns a great deal about Lewis, especially his sense of humor, and is made to feel like a participant in the journey. This book makes a great read-aloud because it just literally shouts to be shared. You find yourself wanting to say, “Just listen to this,” or “This is so good, can I read you this part?” It’s fun being a part of that.

I agree with what you are all saying, but let me throw a wrench into the works here.

KC: I say, what’s a wrench?

LP: I believe it’s just an Americanism, but I’m not sure. These Yanks do have a strange way of speaking sometimes.

ES: She means “spanner.”

EP: They have totally destroyed the language, Lewis would say.

Sorry... what I meant was, allow me to bring up something that seems to contradict this character development that we’ve been praising. Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian almost seem like they aren’t needed at all or are just along for the ride. What do you think Lewis was doing with your characters?

KC: That’s pretty easy as far as I’m concerned. I am a bridge character, as are Lucy and Edmund. We share a common history—our adventures in Prince Caspian. Lewis would have had to have spent a lot of time explaining how Eustace came to be in Narnia (as he did with Shasta and Aravis in The Horse and His Boy) if he didn’t provide a bridge.

EP: Quite. If the reader has been paying attention to (and has read) prior books in the series, he understands that no one who has come from “our” world stays in Narnia forever. Susan and Peter have already been sent back “to come close to their own world and know Aslan better there.” You just know that Edmund and Lucy are not going to be spared the same “growing up.” Lu and I become the bridge that brings Eustace from one land to the other. The focus is mainly upon him because Aslan has chosen this story and this time for him to begin “knowing him for a little.” That is why Lewis is so careful to describe who Eustace is. Otherwise, his eventual change would be meaningless.

LP: Also, remember that the four of us—Susan, Peter, Edmund and I—were pretty insignificant characters in The Horse and His Boy, too, but were necessary to keep the book believable as one of the Chronicles. It was a departure by Lewis not to include any mention of or action out of “our” world, but it was still a rollicking good tale (I believe a Ms. Wright covered that topic elsewhere) that made the world of Narnia believable with its own history and culture.

Excellent! I see that more clearly now. Very interesting... Let’s change directions and talk about the complexity of this book. I would like to know what each of you perceives as the central theme of this story. Reepicheep, would you like to begin?

RM: Most graciously, fair lady. [Kathy blushes again but is completely taken in by the mouse’s manners.] This story is about my quest to fulfill the prophecy spoken over me by a Dryad when I was in my cradle. I am allowed to go on a crusade to find Aslan’s country or the end of the world. I am the bravest because I sail fearlessly and doggedly (mousedly?) into the unknown. I am the picture of God’s weakest thing making strong things foolish...

EP: Careful there, Reep, your pride is beginning to bulge again.

KC: I beg to differ, Reep. This is the story of my quest. Aslan allowed me to swear an oath on my coronation day. I promised that if I was able to establish peace again in Narnia that I would sail away in pursuit of my father’s friends and either find them or avenge them. I provided the transportation for Reepicheep and the rest of you just crashed my party!

ES: You’re all wrong! This story is about how I went from being a perfect blighter to being a decent, kind, and loving human being, worthy of Aslan’s desire to use me further in Narnia.

LP: And, what about me? I learned some very interesting things about myself during this trip and was the instrument Aslan used to free the Dufflepuds from invisibility. Just as they couldn’t see themselves, I couldn’t see things about myself that needed to be corrected before I could “know Aslan better” in our world.

[Everyone begins talking at once in defense of his or her individual stand and I am forced to restore order.]

Everyone, everyone, can we not agree that you are all correct? I believe you have discovered yet another of Lewis’ devices in this book—the story within a story within a story. [All nod in agreement.] As Aslan has said in previous books, each person’s story is his or her own and so of most importance to that individual. Lewis has written an amazing book that integrates each of your individual stories, uniting them into a complete and balanced scheme that thoroughly delights and instructs.

Alas, our time is drawing to a close, but I must ask this final question of Lucy and Edmund. Voyage is where we say good-by to you both until The Last Battle. It will next be Eustace Scrubb’s and Jill Pole’s turn to visit Narnia. What was it like to hear Aslan say that you wouldn’t be coming back to Narnia?

LP: I, as you read, was completely bereft. I wasn’t so upset that I would be leaving a fantasy world, but that I would never see Aslan again.

EP: That was my concern, too. How were we to continue on without Aslan in a world such as this?

LP: Of course, Aslan provided the answer as He usually does, courtesy of Mr. Lewis. We have learned to know Him here as one “by another name” who loved us, guided us, and prepared us for the time when we finally came to be reunited. And that’s not just something artificially tacked on to the story. It’s integral.

EP: Still, Lucy, you could not resist asking if Eustace was coming back!

LP: I know... [looking around they all catch each other’s eye and say in unison] “not my story!”

[The entire group dissolves into happy laughter and eventually grows quiet.]

Thank you all so much for your time, your candor, your obvious love for the work you have been a part of, and for your dedication to C.S. Lewis’ vision of Narnia. I loved you all when I discovered these books and read them to my son. I have fallen in love with you again as I have read and reread these stories as an adult. Edmund, Lucy... Voyage is a great book to “go out” on; farewell.

LP: Thank you for having us back.

EP: The pleasure has been mine.

Reepicheep, Caspian... with pleasure I send you back to Aslan’s country.

RM: [Bows] I am forever at your service, good lady.

KC: [Not to be usurped by a mouse…] And, I, too, am at your service.

Eustace... I look forward to seeing more of you soon, and so this is not good-by, but ta-ta for now!

ES: Righto! Now, could I take a look at that computer before I go?


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