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Zeteo 3:16 with Alf and Alesia Cengia




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On the Road with Lewis and Tolkien
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Friday, June 30, 2017
Alf Cengia

Each week I sit down and try to think about what to write. There's a lot happening, and very quickly. Most of it isn't good. I had a long list of troublesome items I wanted to highlight in a column. For a few days, the infamous line by Macbeth's Second Witch spun inside my head:

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.

Yet by the weekend my mind was somehow changed: Why not write how Lewis and Tolkien helped me as a teen? Let's give the bad news a break for a few days. I certainly need it.

Providentially, after Sunday sermon I wandered into the church bookshop. There on the counter was Lewis' Narnian Chronicles, with a beautiful illustration of the Dawn Treader ship on the cover. So this week I want to tip my hat to these two men.

I first encountered Lewis in my school library. My school was a pretty rough place, and I was a scared little teen. While I tried to read some of books in our library, I found no joy in them. Later I discovered why - most were written by secular humanists. The books reflected the school's culture, which was survival of the fittest.

My love of escapist fantasy drew me to "The Magician's Nephew." There I met Aslan and recognized that he was the Christ-figure who created Narnia. There were many hints; for example, references to Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve, and Digory's temptation by the Witch in the enclosed garden.

As I progressed through the series, I found further comforting parallels to Christ.  Mr. Beaver tells the children that Aslan isn't safe, but He's good. And He's the king! There was Aslan's death as a sacrifice for Edmund, and his resurrection.

One favorite character was Eustace Scrubb - the spiteful boy who became a dragon in the "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Much as he tried, Eustace couldn't un-dragon himself. Only Aslan could save Eustace. Only Christ can save us. The old Eustace was me in many ways.

At the end of "Dawn Treader" I empathized with Lucy when told she must go home, and couldn't return to Narnia. Lucy tells Aslan that it isn't Narnia she'll miss: "We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?" Aslan tells her that He's there too, but known by a different name. And she must get to know Him by That Name.

Like Lucy, we long for the Lord's presence. We hate to be separated from Him.

Who can forget the lines from the "The Silver Chair"? Jill thinks that she and Eustace entered Narnia of their own volition (to get away from adversity). Yet Aslan informs her that, "You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you." Moreover, Aslan has tasks for them to accomplish (which is why they're there).

There's the teaching moment where a thirsty Jill needs to drink or she'll die - but doesn't trust the Lion. She asks Him if there's another stream, and is told that there is no other. This is what John MacArthur tells us HERE.

My mother loved the books so much that she taught herself English in order to read them for herself. I recall that she gave Narnian box sets as gifts to several children.

Lewis also wrote much on apologetics. Many even disagree with some of his theology. But it's significant to me that good Reformed Scholars often draw from Lewis' Narnian examples. I don't feel quite so childish when an Alistair Begg or Sinclair Ferguson writes or talks about Aslan with enthusiasm.

Some time after reading the chronicles I met the Hobbit. There was nothing overtly Christian in Tolkien's fiction. In fact he deliberately kept it out. Yet there was something grand about his writing which was missing in other books in the school library. There was alack of cynicism. The main characters often acted nobly and selflessly. They gave themselves up to great causes.

I wanted to meet people like Aragorn, Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel. I later discovered that what made them so special was Tolkien's Christianity. Christian virtues and ethics seep into his works. It wasn't a surprise to me when I discovered that Tolkien and Lewis were friends.

A bitter-sweet moment from The Hobbit came at the end when a dying Thorin Oakenshield was reconciled with Bilbo Baggins. Thorin tells Bilbo that he would take back his harsh words and deeds and that, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

One central theme of the main characters in the Lewis-Tolkien novels is how they respond to the call of duty. They travel a Road of courage and selflessness, often at peril of their lives. You might even say - The Road grows them into something better than what they were at the beginning of their journeys.

In a poignant moment, Sam Gamgee watched Gandalf, Frodo and Bilbo leave Middle-earth for Aman-Valinor.  I could imagine the lonely trek back to the Shire. Perhaps Tolkien didn't intend this to be a metaphor for death and heaven. But when Christian loved ones die, I imagine feeling Sam's pain - even knowing I'll see them again.

Louis Markos brings these themes out and compares them to the Christian's journey in On the Shoulders of Hobbits - the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis. Paul Henebury reviews the book at Telos Ministries. Dr. Henebury cites Markos:

“Like the Bible, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has a Happy Ending, but it is one that is suffered and fought for.” (130).

As in Middle-earth this world has its Sauron and friends of Mordor.  So, too, we all have our parts to play until the end. Something evil this way comes, yet something far, far better follows. And it's too wonderful to describe.

Lewis took a stab at it in The Last Battle:

“And as He [Aslan] spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 1Co 2:9

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." Rev 21:3-4

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

About Alf Cengia

Last week: They Will Mourn for Him

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