Monday, 23 July 2012

The Silver Chair: Chapter 12

Good Old Puddleglum

A lot could be, and has in the past been, said of the witch’s attempt at making our heroes forget Narnia and Aslan, and of Puddleglum’s heroic refusal to be beguiled.

I wrote a while back on the thread: Conquering Lies - Lessons from Narnia

Ajnos wrote:
Another well-known passage where the antagonist tries to trick the heroes with lies it LotGK's speech in which she tries to convince them that Narnia is a figment of our imagination.

"I see...that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion. Well, 'tis pretty make-believe, would suit you all better if you were younger. And look at how you put nothing into you make believe world without copying it from the real world of mine, which is the only world...Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks...There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan..."

This lie, together with her enchanting music and powder almost takes them all in. In a place so far away from the Narnia they remember, they begin to think, that perhaps they did just imagine it. Our enemies try to make us doubt our own beliefs in a similar way. They try to reduce our experiences of God - experiences which we knew were real at the time - to figments of our imagination. They make us wonder whether what we thought was a word from God, was not just wishful thinking, or something we imagined. And when that moment has passed, sometimes we do start to doubt, whether it was real. Human memory is a strange thing, and becomes increasingly unreliable as time passes from when the even occurred. When we find people (or even ourselves) questioning the reality of our experiences, we need to respond like Puddleglum:

"One word, Ma'am... All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put but the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you've said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things...Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones... We're just babies making up 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 as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."

Good Old Puddleglum!

In my Day Two post on Puddleglum and Paxford, I quoted Douglas Gresham as saying of Fred Paxford, on whom Puddleglum was modelled, “Fred was the ever cheerful eternal pessimist.”

When we first meet Puddleglum, that doesn’t seem like a fully accurate description. Pessimist, yes. Comical, perhaps. But ever-cheerful? Hardly. When he tells us that the other Marshwiggles think he’s quite bouncy and upbeat, we are inclined to disbelieve him. Could they possibly be worse than him?

But as the story goes on, we see what he means. Although Puddleglum always sees the worst side of things and always expects the worst, he is still cheerful despite this. He thinks things will be bad, but then imagines something worse and concludes that actually the bad things aren’t quite as bad as they could be.

Right at the beginning he tells them not to worry about the weather, because they’ll be so distracted by enemies, mountains, rivers, losing their way, almost nothing to eat and sore feet.

Later, when they are trying to find their way across the river gorge (before they spot the bridge) he says, “The bright side of this is, if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we’re safe from being drowned in the river.”

It is Puddleglum who points out that if they had been paying attention to the signs, Aslan would have shown them away underground. “Aslan’s instructions always work: there are no exceptions”.

This is the first hint we get of his faith. He’s not only a cheerful pessimist. Behind (and despite) his eternal pessimism, he has an unrelenting faith in the supremacy of Aslan. Perhaps part of the reason he can be so gloomy, is that he knows Aslan is in control. He doesn’t even seem to fear death, and occasionally sees it as a better alternative (at least if we break our necks, we needn’t suffer drowning, and later, maybe we should go back to give the giants a feast rather than being lost in the depths of the earth and suffer threat of dragons and other dangers). He knows death isn’t the end.

When they are faced with the dreadful decision of whether to release Rilian or not, his cheerful pessimism comes to play again. He doesn’t sugar coat things by suggesting everything will turn out alright if they obey the sign, but says:

“Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

Because of his pessimism, he is able to bear the fact that they might die if they release the prince. But he recognises that Aslan’s orders come from a higher place. Doing right is more important than being safe. Even more important than living. Puddleglum has the heart of a matyr. And in part it is his pessimism that gives him that.

Finally, when it comes to the crunch, his pessimism saves that day. He is aware of the enchantment working on them and sees a way out (extinguishing the fire, the source of the enchantment). He knows it will hurt, but he’s okay with that. Things could and would be worse if he wasn’t willing to face that pain - so he embraces it.

And then in his speech, he expresses the true faith behind his pessimism. His pessimism lets him grant that perhaps the overworld, the sun, and Aslan are all imaginary. Perhaps none of what they seem to remember is true. But there is a worse alternative. That the world underground is all there is. And he will not accept that. He would rather embrace an untrue dream, than suffer the fate of one who has no hope. His hope at this point is fragile - he is full of doubt in what he believes. But he knows he would rather embrace that, and be proved wrong, than live in a world of such dreariness.

Puddleglum’s pessimism lets him see what is bad, and then imagine something worse. By doing this, the bad suddenly becomes bearable. It is this which saves him and his friends.

I’m not saying we should all be Puddleglums. His pessimism is draining, and leads to arguments and the children not always trusting his better judgement. But there is something in his mindset we can imitate. Not full pessimism, but a trust in God that means if we do God’s will, if we trust in him, even bad things will look bright and be bearable in the light of what could be so much worse - a life without him.

The apostle Paul comes close to saying what Puddleglum tells the witch. He acknowledges that she may be right, and they might have imagined Narnia and the sun and Aslan. But he’d rather chance that they be wrong than live without hope. Paul imagines for a second what would be the case if what we believe and what he preached was not true; if Jesus did not die and rise from the dead:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 1 Cor 15: 13-19

As Puddleglum and his friends soon learn - they were right. Their faith is rewarded because it turns out to be real. They find Narnia and see the sun and Aslan again. Their hope was not in vain. Paul, who had seen the risen saviour, knows the same is true of what we believe.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Cor 15: 12-19

I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia!

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