Last week I realized it had been quite a while since I had ventured into the enchantment known as Narnia. The discovery and subsequent exploration of Tolkien’s Middle-earth has taken precedence over the known world of Lewis’ Narnia for three years now, and though I am constantly finding new books to delight my soul, I know I also need to draw comfort from the familiar at times. And certainly Narnia is familiar – and beloved.
Unlike my introduction to Middle-earth, I do not remember when I first encountered Narnia. I do remember hearing several of the Chronicles read aloud by my dad during my childhood bedtimes – his favorite was The Horse and His Boy, and the most memorable was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (thank you, Eustace Clarence Scrubb – “who almost deserved it”). I know that “Aslan!” was a part of my vocabulary from a young age. The idea of beautiful clothes that are also comfortable is a Narnian concept that I unconsciously attempt to put into practice in my daily life, and the image of Aslan (or Christ) as not safe and yet good has informed my thoughts on theology since well before I could label them as such.
At various stages of my healing journey, I have repeatedly turned to one particular metaphor from the Chronicles. It is the one I find most hopeful when I grapple with pain and change and the ugliness I face in the dark places of my heart. It has to do, of course, with Eustace. Early in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace is a spoiled prig who wants nothing to do with magic, Narnia, or sailing – or his cousins (King) Edmund and (Queen) Lucy, for that matter. His presence aboard the Dawn Treader is most unwelcome simply because he does everything he can to make a nuisance of himself. Yet his actions ultimately bear fruit that causes even Eustace to rethink everything: he becomes a dragon. Naturally, it is not a comfortable thing to become a dragon (who cannot speak) when one’s whole company is either human or of the Talking Beast variety.
In the lonesomeness of dragon-ness, Eustace begins to change for the better. But his own efforts are insufficient, and the dissolution of the dragon-spell must come from one far mightier than Eustace himself. In the dark of night, Eustace-the-dragon finds himself led to a mountaintop bathing-well by Aslan. The desire to be clean – and rid of his dragon-ness – launches a process much like peeling an onion. Laboriously, Eustace attempts to shed his dragon skin by peeling one layer at a time. He soon recognizes that his efforts are getting him nowhere, and the only way to be truly free is to allow the Lion to rip the scales off. Though the pain is excruciating, Eustace willingly submits to the ordeal because he yearns for both mental and physical relief. Once he steps into the pool stripped of the external dragon, he becomes human again.
I am the same way. Obviously, I have not assumed the physical form of a dragon, but there have been times when my behavior or mental state is best described as dragon-ish. Only when I come to the end of myself do I have any hope of finding relief. Only One who is mightier than I can peel away layers of dirt, fear, pain, and brokenness to reveal His creation of humanity beneath. So each time I despair of moving forward, of making progress, of healing, I remember Eustace and the dragon. And my hope is renewed.