Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What We Truly Seek

On December 6th the Wall Street Journal reviewed The Magician's Book by Laura Miller, in which the author traces her relationship with the Narnia books from enchantment to disillusionment to acceptance. I admit to a teeny bit of disappointment upon rereading the chronicles as an adult, more because of their sparseness--my own imagination seems to have filled in a fair bit--than anything else. I was upset about Susan's exclusion from the paradisical "real Narnia" as a child, but it doesn't bother me as much now that I understand her sins are apostasy and lack of faith, not lipstick and nylons. I never felt tricked or betrayed by the allegorical aspects of the stories, and in fact I find The Last Battle to be a very illuminating and comforting theological text, both in its descriptions of the nature of Heaven and in these words that Aslan speaks to the Calormene youth who worshipped Tash:

"For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him...Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

What troubles me is this quotation from Miller's book: "Myths and stories are repositories of human desires and fears, which means that they contain our sexual anxieties, our preoccupation with status, and our xenophobia as well as our heroism, our generosity, and our curiosity. If we were to purge our shelves of all the great books tainted by one vile idea or another, we'd have nothing left to read -- or at least nothing but the new and blandly virtuous." The first portion of her statement is true and helpful, but that last clause seems fraught with peril. We must not assume that our newest ideas are necessarily virtuous, and we slip and show our most Tash-like natures when we assert that virtue is bland.

1 comment:

Jemima said...

Interesting. This is just the kind of quote (the one containing the phrase "blandly virtuous") that makes me stop and think. You're right that virtue is never bland. But this begs the question, Is conflict necessary for stories? I learned it was but I've wondered. It seems logical that it would be, though; there must be something to resolve and that doesn't happen unless a character has made some kind of mistake or mischief. Perhaps this is what Miller means when she writes "blandly virtuous." The story is all one level unless you throw in that mistake or mischief, but when you do put those in it gets deep. And it allows the virtue to emerge and, hopefully, win. Just a thought.