Have you ever been to Narnia? I hear you can race on talking horses through wild forests, sail on the Dawn Treader until the ocean water becomes sweet, and perhaps even meet Aslan—who is definitely not a tame lion.
You haven’t been there? Don’t feel bad, I haven’t either. If you ever find a teleporting wardrobe or green/yellow rings, let me know. In the meantime, though, the books will have to suffice—no matter how much I’d like to high-five some of the characters or tell them what an amazing allegory for our real world they are.
In particular, something this week randomly reminded me of a Marshwiggle called Puddleglum. Something of amphibious humanoids who live in gloomy swamps, Marshwiggles are basically the Narnian version of a Debbie Downer species. Puddleglum’s character is a huge wet blanket throughout most of his part in The Silver Chair as he constantly reminds his companions of how every idea they have could go wrong. There are several moments when I, as a reader, wondered why the crikey the other characters kept dragging his grumpy pants through their adventure, yet he has one of the most thought-provoking moments the entire book. It’s a moment that, again, reminds me what a literary and theological mastermind author C. S. Lewis really was. Puddleglum, the cranky, pessimistic sour puss of a Marshwiggle stands up to the persistent villain of the Chronicles of Narnia and speaks a monologue of truths that transcend his fictional world into our own.
The backdrop for this speech is four characters trying to fight off the enchantment of a witch—the Queen of the Underland—whose dark, gloomy underground kingdom is full of her slaves and minions along with the constant threat of volcanic doom. Our four heroes—two children, a prince, and Puddleglum—seem to be slowly succumbing to a spell meant to make them forget their “Overland” home above them. The witch asks them to describe what they remember of their world, but she minimizes their memories until they nearly believe that they have only imagined the wonderful Narnia, bright sunlight, and even the great lion Aslan. Just as the heroes’ minds seem to be completely addled by magic and confusion, Puddleglum the grumpy Marshwiggle comes to his senses long enough to give this fantastic soliloquy:
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live like a Narnian even if there isn’t any Narnia.
If you’ve never read The Silver Chair (oh do please read it, it’s wonderful!), the full effect of this monologue might not reach you, though you can feel the intensity in the speaker’s voice. He was nearly convinced that everything about his true home was nothing more than a make-believe dream, yet he pulled through the attempted enchantment for just long enough to realize that even if the witch was correct, her world was a complete disaster that he wanted no part in. When he has his moment, I sink to full Jersey Shore mode and fist-pump into the air, wanting to cheer him on after every syllable.
I think what strikes me is that his words are so applicable to not just my own real life but many of our experiences. His trial so closely mirrors the real arguments and doubts we face as Christians on a regular basis, we could mix up the nouns and his speech could be delivered today. Just as the witch tried to tell the four heroes that their own world was a sham, who among us has not been told that faith is a mere fantasy, an illusion, or a crutch? How many of us have felt doubt creeping into the corners of our minds when we’re in the midst of dark moments and painful trials in life? When a gentle whisper reminds us that God loves us and is waiting to walk us through the storm, how many other voices (especially in social media) try to offer us the notion we’re all just deluding ourselves? Isn’t that easier? I can feel this pain and I can see what’s causing it…isn’t it easier to believe I’m just blindly following this cozy comfortable notion of a loving God? It explains the pain better.
The truth is that the idea of mass delusion is far too over-simplified to work, and it’s too depressing to live by. Another great quote of C. S. Lewis says “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.” Faith isn’t comfortable. It’s hard. It would be so much easier to throw my hands in the air and go it my own way, the rest of the planet be darned. But when I look at the world around me, I see what Puddleglum saw in the Underworld. I don’t see hope and light; I see fear and hurting. From haunting images of refugees to the homeless on my own city streets. I see righteous anger when justice was most definitely not served, and I see retaliation and ridicule and hate. And in the midst of the awful, I understand when voices of “reason” try to suggest that the actions of failed people (i.e….all of us) point to our being alone in this incredible universe. I understand that.
Here’s the point of it, though, that Puddleglum made. From where he stood in front of the witch, he had no proof, no evidence, no concrete demonstration of Narnia and Aslan’s existence. He was surrounded by broken creatures in literal underground darkness, and he had only his belief in the matter that something better existed. But he was determined to work towards that something. In the same line of reasoning, there is absolutely no scientific way I can prove to anyone that God exists. I have my own story, my own knowledge, my own heartbreaks, and my own joys. That’s it. I can see where the name of faith has been abused most horrendously for selfish reasons, but I know, in the end, that we were all offered eternity from the One who gave all for our sakes. Like Puddleglum, I need to live like a metaphorical Narnian. I can live to love others because I was loved first—even if you say He doesn’t exist. I need to share the hope that there is more to this life than surviving one trial and then the next. I need to share the joy of this beautiful planet. I may wonder why on Earth God gave humans the free will to be disgusting, but I can use that free will to love my neighbors and enemies alike.
So in the end, go Puddleglum, you goofy Marshwiggle! And I will close with the words of my pastor: “When someone tells me that my faith is just a crutch, I tell them amen to that and I’m a cripple without it!”
3 thoughts on “Of Men and Marshwiggles”
I really like Puddleglum, I do – he supports my theory that we all need a diverse range of friends in our lives to help keep our perspectives balanced. Were he a cheery, energetic fellow – he might not have had the same perspective. but I worry that so many Christians are “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good”. I wish Lewis had expanded upon how Puddleglum & Co. lived “as Narnians” even in Witch-controlled Underland. Because that could serve us in a way that helps us learn to serve others.
I agree…every time I re-read The Silver Chair, I feel like I understand the character more and more, and I appreciate his role much better!
I am currently in Narnia, now called Tonga in the South Pacific. The royal family still exists presumably descended from the line of Caspian. There is a lion on one of the royal tombs. Cair Paravel is now a small vacant hill beside the current palace. They do have significant conservation issues. But there is a beach where you imagine a subway station could well be nearby. I arrived in a small wardrobe with about 100 other people. The poorest live in Mangrove marshes, tropical puddleglums. I am now an old man (with two nerdy daughters), and read Silver chair many years ago now, but the world of the imagination still racks me something fierce.