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Plato in Narnia
'Of what is past, or passing, or to come.'
I had intended to post a YouTube video tonight, but due to a technical issue I am unable to. I had planned to talk about Platonism in the Narnia books, especially The Last Battle. I wanted to show you this particular edition …
… as one of the pivotal moments of my life was when I saw the cover of this 1978 vintage for the first time. I was about nine or ten and I was standing outside the window of a newsagent/bookshop called Percival’s in Didsbury Village, the Manchester suburb where I lived. All the Narnia books were on display in that window. Now I had never heard of C.S. Lewis or Narnia or Aslan or anything to do with it prior to this. Yet those covers spoke to me in a way that nothing had done before and not much else, to be honest, has done since. They were talking to me, calling to me, awakening levels of being and consciousness of which I had previously been totally unaware. I felt that I was coming home - home to myself, home to God, and home to the deep underlying truth of things.
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Never judge a book by its cover, they say, yet when I came to read the stories I found them even more rich and potent. What was going on here? I was being drawn into Narnia, as the children are in the books, pulled into that world, but why and by whom? Clearly, when I saw the books that day, there was a powerful moment of connection - of recognition and remembrance - what the Platonists call anamnesis. Perhaps they reminded me of something I knew before I was born? Maybe it’s the far future - the Eschaton, the Eighth Day - beckoning me on? Or both at the same time? But these are mysteries to be explored, not questions to be answered.
It’s worth adding that it was the frontispiece for The Last Battle that most compelled me. From a publisher’s point of view, I suppose, this image is more in tune with the title as we see in it ‘the last battle’ taking place in real time. The First Edition picture (top of page) is much more tranquil and contemplative and about as far removed from war as you can get. And yet it is actually more in keeping with the book’s essential Platonic core. The Narnia that Lucy and Mr. Tumnus knew and loved has gone, yet here, after the ‘end of the world’, they explore a series of new Narnias, each one more real and solid and true - more purely Narnian - than the one that preceded it. But this, as Martha C. Sammons shows us, is what happens when you go ‘further up and further in’:
As Lucy climbs up the green slopes and mountains of forests, through the sweet orchards and past flashing waterfalls, she begins to see more and more clearly. Now, peering over the wall of the garden, she distinctly sees ‘Narnia’ spread out below:
“I see,’ Lucy says thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.” “Of course, Daughter of Eve,” explains Mr. Tumnus. “The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”
Lucy sees then, that the garden is - contains - a whole world. “I see,” she says. “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door. I see … world within world, Narnia within Narnia … “Yes,” says Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”
She sees not only the layout of Narnia - the desert, Tashbaan, Cair Paravel, island after island to the End of the World - but even England looking like a cloud cut off from them by a gap. This too, is the “England within England, the real England just as this is the real Narnia.” All real countries, in fact, are like spurs jutting out from the great mountains of Aslan which ring the entire world.
That’s a fine point to leave things at. I’ll be back in this space in the coming days with the penultimate (and Last Battle-related) essay in this Secret Fire sequence.
Martha C. Sammons, A Guide Through Narnia, (Hodder and Stoughton, 1979), pp.63-64.