How to Discover Your Story the Way They Do in Narnia
How many essays have we written for school, only to keep them in our drawers? My friend Jack Davis reminded me of this indirectly when I told him that I had finally finished an essay I was working on for class. “What did you learn?” he said. “What did I learn? Well…” And then I fumbled through what I thought I had learned through writing the essay. I wasn’t prepared for what he was going to ask next: “So how are you going to change in light of what you learned?”
Jack made me accountable for my learning. He showed me that my school essays shouldn’t be things that I don’t tell anybody about–that I keep in manila folders so they won’t bug me to change something about my life. There is a danger in education of distancing yourself from your work, and thereafter living as though the purpose of these assignments is to get them finished. The purpose of these assignments is to change and mold your mind, which changes your very life to become more like the person of our Great Master, Jesus. Our Master does not want us to keep our learning at a distance from our souls, for our souls are the place where change occurs. If we do not let his teaching, or our school’s teaching, change us, we can hardly be called disciples, hardly be classified as students. For then, what are we? Disciples of what? Students of what? We have to be disciples and students to something other than ourselves for the purpose of becoming more like that thing. Therefore, if we never become more like something else, we have ultimately failed. We have done what the teacher has asked, but not what he has desired. He desires change, not completion of assignments. He desires our souls to be molded. When we divorce ourselves from our work, we remain stagnant, immature, and selfish. Without letting my work reach the deepest part of me, I remain the old me. I have successfully signed myself up for being stuck. I have said to the world, “I! I am fine with how I am, who I am, and where I am.”
But I am not fine. I want to stretch these weary muscles and get them to move like they were designed to move. I want to be born again everyday and marvel at the bread rising in the oven, the intricacy of a sapling, the purity of snow. Give me the world, and I will turn it around in my hand to look at it from different angles. Anything. I’ll give anything to not stay the same. Bring me to life. Share with me your learning. Share with the world what you’ve been through.
Have you ever wondered how to know what you should do with your life? Where you should start? How to know for sure? I wrote an essay about it after seeing how the children in Narnia discovered their story. I have kept it as I wrote over a year ago, although I am unhappy with a lot of the diction. I would write it differently today, but I share because I no longer see the value in writing essays only for myself. If one other person benefits from this, I will be happy. If none, I will have tried. I encourage you also to share your learning with the world. You will be inspired to write better, think better, and live better. Write essays that you are proud of. Stop filling pages with crap and fluff that you don’t even believe in. Friend–start to write truth. Write it in blood. Write it so that people know your very soul went into this paper. Here’s my flesh and blood:
HOW TO DISCOVER YOUR STORY THE WAY THEY DO IN NARNIA
“To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.
But anyone can find out what will happen.”
-Aslan, from Prince Caspian
Travellers to Narnia—humans like us—are primarily interested in what will happen to them during the course of their lives. They are intrigued by the prospect of knowing the future. In almost every one of the seven stories that take place in Narnia, the question of “what if” is asked, to which Aslan replies that they can only know what will happen to them. The only way the characters know the answer to this is through taking action which leads to knowledge and eventually to discovering their identity and destiny. When we think about our own stories in this way, we can start to live out our lives through action to discover who we are and what we were made to do in this life.
First Step: Action
The question that many of the children in Narnia ask is rooted in knowing the outcome of a situation that has not yet happened. The kids are stuck in their wonderment of possibilities and are eager to know, “What if?” Aslan often brings the children from thinking about “What if?” to “What will?” Essentially, he takes them from thinking about possibilities of their lives to acting on the possibilities. He brings them out of idleness and into movement. Here are two of the many examples where this happens. In Prince Caspian while the Pevensies are traveling through the forest, Lucy thinks she sees Aslan, but is discouraged from following him because of the disbelief of her siblings. Later, when Lucy encounters Aslan and talks to him she wonders what would have happened if she had parted from her siblings to follow Aslan like she felt she should do. Aslan replies, “‘To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that. But anyone can find out what will happen’” (137). Aslan then gives her a task to complete: go back and tell the others that she has seen Him and that they must get up and follow him. “‘There is only one way of finding out’” (137), Aslan says. Lucy then realizes that Aslan wants her to act—only then will she know what will happen with her life.
Similarly, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan and Lucy have a conversation that mirrors the one in Prince Caspian. When Lucy eavesdrops on her friends using the Magician’s Book, she hears one of them say terrible things about Lucy. After Aslan shows up, Lucy sees that she has done something wrong, and pleas with Aslan: “‘Have I spoiled everything? Do you mean we would have gone on being friends if it hadn’t been for this—and been really great friends—all our lives perhaps—and now we never shall’” (136). “‘Child,’” Aslan says, “‘did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?’” (136). Aslan tells Lucy the same thing in a different context: the only way to know what will happen is to move in action—only then will you see. If action is the first step to discovering our story, we must know what kinds of action will help us accomplish the goal of discovery. There are three types of action in the Narnia series: acting from curiosity, acting from the advice of others, and acting in obedience to Aslan.
Acting Out of Curiosity
The first step to knowing the story of your life is to act on what you are interested in. Even before the children enter Narnia, they act on their curiosity. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Lucy walks into the wardrobe that she wonders about. She acts on her inclinations. In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta “was very interested in everything that lay to the north because no-one ever went that way and he was never allowed to go there himself”(2). His interest in the north causes him to set out on an adventure with the horse Bree. He wants to know what lies beyond the hill, and acts accordingly. In The Magician’s Nephew, both Digory and Polly have a desire to explore what will be found by exploring the tunnel between the houses. Through acting on their curiosity about who resides in the empty house next door, they end up in Narnia through their Uncle Andrew’s magic yellow rings. In The Silver Chair, Eustace is in the schoolyard with Jill, and wonders if he can get back into Narnia. As their schoolmates look for them, Eustace notices a door that is usually locked, and wishes that it would open. He acts by trying to turn the handle, and to his surprise, it opens and he is led into Narnia.
The children in the Narnia series act on what interests them. They explore until they find something. This habit is somewhat lost as we grow up and lose our sense of wonder and curiosity. Some curiosity may still remain in us as adults, but if it does, it is much harder to act on than it is as a child. We have more reservations, more precautions, more fear of failure, and less belief that something magical will happen when we act on what truly sparks our curiosity. If we adopt the habit of acting on our curiosity, we will retain some of our childlike nature, and in turn, will be on our way to discovering our own story in this life. This is the searching stage of the process—the part where you discover what it is you need to do. You do not necessarily know where it is that you are going or what it is that you are supposed to be doing, but you know that you must look for it because you are curious.
Acting in Response to Others
The second part of action is acting in response to direction from others. In The Silver Chair, it is Eustace that convinces Jill to go to Narnia. If Jill didn’t receive his advice, maybe Prince Rilian would have never been rescued. But Jill decides she believes Eustace enough to go with him. Jill’s action in response to Eustace is what brings her to Narnia and is what eventually rescues Prince Rilian from captivity.
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it is Lucy that convinces the others that there is a land called Narnia on the other side of the wardrobe. If it wasn’t for Lucy’s direction to her siblings, it might still be winter in Narnia, and the Pevensies would have never been kings and queens of Narnia.
In The Horse and His Boy, it is Bree that convinces Shasta to run away to Narnia with him. When Shasta realizes that he should run away from his caretaker, Arsheesh, before he is sold into slavery, Bree says, “‘Why not run away with me?’” (10). At his suggestion, Shasta realizes that, since they both have the same goal of adventuring to the North, they should go together and form a stronger team. It’s the only way the can both get to Narnia. If Shasta didn’t take Bree’s advice, Narnia would have been overtaken by Prince Rabadash.
In our own lives, we get into the habit of thinking that our story is comprised of only God and us. Narnia shows us otherwise. Lucy has her siblings. Eustace has Jill. Shasta has Bree. Digory has Polly. These stories are lived in community. Narnia is true to our world in that God created us to be with each other in community and to receive wise counsel from others. To act in response to that direction is to accept the story that he has given us to live.
Acting in Obedience to Aslan
The third way of action is the most important: acting in obedience to Aslan. Aslan gives his followers one or more of three things: tasks, signs, and his presence. Aslan has a habit of giving tasks that his followers do not know how to accomplish, but he assures them that they can do it. He can certainly do the tasks himself, but instead, he often gives the tasks to the most unlikely people.
In The Silver Chair, Aslan calls Jill to the task of saving Prince Rilian from captivity. She thinks, “‘It’s mistaking me for someone else’” (19). Jill doesn’t think highly of herself—at least not enough to be worthy for a great task. Her thought is the equivalent of a question we often have regarding our calling: it is the question of “Why me?” When God calls us do something extraordinary, we often feel like He has picked the wrong person. We feel like Jill does—that He has mistaken us for someone else, but the story in Silver Chair tells us otherwise. He calls us because he believes that we are the right person.
Jill’s next question is how: how will I do this task? How could I, a little girl who doesn’t know anything about Narnia accomplish such a dangerous task? Aslan replies, saying that he will help her accomplish it by providing four signs along the way. This is a situation seen many times with Aslan and his followers: he calls them to do tasks that are too big for them to accomplish themselves, and the ones who are called often feel inadequate for the task. We might benefit from believing that God will help us accomplish the task he has given to us. We are not alone in this life, but we often feel like it. We feel lonely and inexperienced. We can resonate with Shasta when he feels inadequate to save Narnia, and with Digory when he feels untrained to retrieve the apple from the Tree.
Aslan insists that they do it and always places an emphasis on the urgency of the matter. Before sending Jill to complete her task, Aslan says, “‘You will have no time to spare’” (21). All too often, however, we live in such a way that says the opposite. We act like we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things that God has called us to do. But the reality is that our time is short, and we must start now. We must not waste another second doing other things. Nothing is more important than doing what God has set apart for us.
However, even though Aslan tells us our task, it remains unknown to us what will come of it. As Puddleglum later observes while on the journey, “‘Aslan didn’t tell Pole [Jill] what would happen. He only told her what to do’” (146). This is how Aslan works: he doesn’t reveal what will happen if the children complete the tasks he has given them—he only tells them what the tasks are. It is up to them whether they trust him or not.
One of the best examples of Aslan’s presence is at the end of The Horse and His Boy, where Aslan reveals to Shasta that he has been with him throughout the journey. Aslan tells him that he was the lion that forced him to join with Aravis, the cat who comforted him, the lion who drove the jackals from him, the lion who chased after their horses so that Shasta could reach King Lune in time to give him the news of attack. Even after all this, Aslan reveals that he was the lion who pushed the boat in which he laid, so that a man on the shore could save him. Aslan had been with Shasta for his whole life. The gift of his presence is what saved him from death many times, and also helped him to live his story. I wonder what kinds of things we could accomplish with the knowledge that God has been with us the whole time. Indeed, I cannot think of anything more comforting as I think back over the events of my life. Christ was there, and there, and even there. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.
Of course, our journey is never perfect. Examples of this are found, for example, in The Horse and His Boy, when Shasta falls off the horse repeatedly as he learns how to ride. This is the story he was meant to live, but that does not mean he will be free from mistakes the whole way through. Mistakes are an integral part of the learning process and an important part in each of our stories. From them, we grow stronger and realize what we need to improve. Mistakes humble us so that we can better align ourselves with the story God has for us instead of make a new trail out of pride.
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Edmund betrays his siblings by revealing their plan to the White Witch. This was his big mistake, but Aslan redeems him in conversation (135) and uses his mistake as a part of his story that would help others in the future: in The Horse and His Boy when Peridian calls Rabadash an assassin, King Edmund vouches for him, saying, “Even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did” (205-206). Through thinking of his own mistakes, Edmund saves Rabadash’s life.
If it is true that mistakes are a part of our story, the thing we must learn is how to deal with them. It seems that the healthy way in which to handle our mistakes is one that involves learning and growth. They teach us where we have gone wrong—where we have stepped off the path of our own story. We must accept teaching from our mistakes, growing from them, and eventually succeeding when we try again.
From Action to Knowledge
As C.S. Lewis points out in The Horse and His Boy, “if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one” (140). All the actions that one takes in his story—the ones that come from curiosity, from friends, and from Aslan—these actions all lead to more difficulty in life. And as there is more difficulty, there is more pain. But along with the pain comes knowledge of your story and your life, knowledge that is an integral part of living and a vital part in knowing where to go and what to do.
Knowledge of Your Story
In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, right before Peter’s first battle, Aslan decides to take Peter aside. He says, “‘Come, Son of Adam, and I will show you a far-off sight of the castle where you are to be King’” (125). Up to this point, Peter has been acting step by step, taking tasks as they come to him. And with tasks come knowledge of his story. When Aslan and Peter look out toward the edge of the sea, Aslan says, “‘That, O Man is Cair Paravel of the four thrones, in one of which you must sit as King. I show it to you because you are the first-born and you will be High King over all the rest’” (126). Throughout this book, as the children perform each task, another part of their story is revealed to them. After Peter’s first battle, Aslan says, “‘Rise up, Sir Peter Fenris-Bane’” (129). This is Peter’s time—he has done the tasks that prove him worthy of the knowledge that he is to be raised up as a leader. With completed tasks come fuller knowledge.
We are fascinated today with the prospect of knowing what our future holds. But what if it is not as complicated as we make it? What if you can know your future by acting out of what interests you, what your friends suggest, and what God says? To reach knowledge of what our future holds, all we need to do is take a couple of actions and see where they lead. It is a simple formula, but one that people often miss. We sit and dwell over the what-if’s and what-could-happen’s. Instead, what we need to do is stop ruminating so much and start taking action to see what happens. It is the only way to move forward.
We have to keep in mind, however, that action often brings pain, as I already mentioned. With each task we complete, God gives us another one that is harder and probably will lead to pain of some sort. But just like when we think back now with grateful hearts for the pain that once plagued us, I think we will look back at the end of our lives and realize, like the end of Silver Chair notes, that “[our] quest had been worth all the pains it cost” (199).
“I Tell No One Any Story But His Own”
In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta encounters Aslan when he is close to Narnia. After Aslan reveals that he was the lion that Shasta had seen many times before, Shasta is shocked that Aslan was the one who wounded his friend Aravis. “‘What for?’” (159) Shasta wonders. He presses Aslan for this information because it has to do with his close friend. From time to time, we become curious of other people’s stories. What is happening between that couple? How is their marriage going? Why did he decide to switch jobs? Why was he fired? We have within us desires to know details about others that are sometimes not for us to know. Aslan responds to Shasta like this: “‘Child, …I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own’” (159). This is hard for Shasta to accept, just like it is hard for us to be denied knowledge of something we are burning to know. God has a different story for each one of his people, and we are not to confuse them. We are not to try and be someone else, live someone else’s life, or pry into details about them that we should not know. We must strive to know our own story through action—only then will we know, in a healthy way, how the stories of others relate to our own.
From Knowledge to Identity and Destiny
Closely following the knowledge of your own story is the knowledge of who you are and what you were made to do. Once you act, you have knowledge of what works and what does not work. You start to know what you like doing and what you dislike doing. Moreover, you get a better, more defined picture of who you are as a person and what you were made for. The process is a gradual unfolding of a map, the gradual revealing of a picture. The more details you know of your story, the more you can see of the larger picture, and the more you can see of the larger picture, the more clear your identity and destiny become.
Becoming Who You Are & Doing What You Were Made To Do
The Horse and His Boy is essentially a story about a boy named Shasta on a journey to discover his identity. Shasta acts on his curiosity about the North, takes Bree’s advice and escapes with him, comes to know more details about himself and his story as he rides to Narnia, and eventually finds out that his real father is King Lune, his name is Cor, and his relationship makes him the next rightful King of Narnia. This story is about coming to know yourself and what you were made to do.
However, as I explained, it’s important to remember all of the necessary steps before you can know yourself and your place in life. You have to first act, then come to gradual knowledge: only then will you start to discover who you are and what you were made for. Shasta discovers his identity in the end as someone who has a father—he is of royal blood and goes on to accept the calling to become the next King. This shows that identity and destiny go hand in hand. Who you are should tell you a lot about what you should do. How you were made is not merely random: it is meant to help you in doing what you were called to do in this life.
The same sort of thing happens with the Pevensies in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. After exploring Narnia and faithfully performing the tasks that are given to them, they come to know what they are in Narnia for—they come to know more of their purpose as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve and eventually accept their identities: “King Peter the Magnificent…Queen Susan the Gentle…Edmund the Just…Lucy the Valiant” (181). How could they have come to receive those names unless they first performed the tasks that exemplified those traits? How can we come to accept our identity and become who we are unless we first start performing the tasks that we are called to? It cannot work the other way around. We cannot become who we are and then act accordingly. We must act first, then gradually come to knowledge of our story, becoming who we are in the process. Action must be continued throughout the story, even after we become who we are.
“The Term Is Over: The Holidays Have Begun”
All stories must eventually come to an end. After the curiosities have been acted upon, the advice from friends has been taken, the duties from Aslan been completed, the knowledge of the story obtained, and the identity and destiny discovered, the story must come to an end. It is the way Aslan has organized Narnia and it is the way God has organized the world. There is a resolution: our job is to live the story well.
The final picture that I want to leave with is found in The Last Battle. After all the characters have taken the adventure that came to them, they are all involved in the last battle. Jill deems her story worth dying for when she says, “‘I’d rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home…and then die in the end just the same’” (96). We need to live a story that is worth dying for—we need to steer away from the story that ends in retirement and relaxation because our lives are too precious to be wasted. They are meant to be used for something far more glorious.
Our mission in life must be to live our stories the best we can. That is the only thing we have. And after we have completed all the actions, performed all the tasks, each one harder and more rewarding than the last; after we have come to know our story day by day, hour by hour; and after we have come to know ourselves and what we were made to do, the only thing left to do is to end well. The resolution of our lives must be the strongest moment. And after that, we go “‘Further up and further in’” (167), deeper into Aslan’s country, home at last in the place where we belong—a place we’ve been searching for our whole lives. And once we leave the Shadowlands and come face to face with Him, we will realize once and for all time, that we have arrived and His words are finally true: “‘The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning’” (183).
Lewis, C. S. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Silver Chair. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Horse and His Boy. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle. New York: Collier, 1970. Print.