Puddleglum is one of the most intriguing characters C.S. Lewis brought to life in his The Chronicles of Narnia books. He’s a pessimist who sees things as they are and greets new details with skepticism. But he also perseveres and ends up being the hero of The Silver Chair. Despite his pessimism, he is a Marsh-Wiggle of great loyalty. It is this that allows him to be a brave and trusted guide on the treacherous journey undertaken by Jill and Eustace.
If you are interested in the question of the existence of God, experiencing God can help. Paul F. Ford investigates this in Companion to Narnia. He writes that C.S. Lewis said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” He saw story as the bridge between the two ways of knowing reality: thinking and experiencing it. Further, he said thinking is always abstract whereas experiencing it is always concrete.
In an introductory video on YouTube by Eric Dodson about Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, Dodson does a great job of explaining Kierkegaard’s view about the difficulty we have in trying to talk about all things religious. To come to an understanding about religion you can’t approach it by amassing facts and statistics, he says. You must experience it much like jazz or falling in love or your own mortality.
Lewis takes Kierkegaard’s theory one step further with this idea about the importance of story giving concrete experience of a universal truth. Ford tells us Lewis felt story, as a work of the imagination, helps us both to contemplate and to enjoy either an aspect of reality we already know or something we don’t know and the author of the story thinks would be good for us to know.
Writer Madeleine L’Engle, in her forward to Companion to Narnia, mentions Dr. Carolyn Gordon who taught there are four levels in all fantasy writing. The first is the literal level, the story itself. The second is the moral level, what the story has to say. The third is the allegorical level, this is like this. The fourth level, the anagogical, is metaphor, this is this, “a sheer gift of grace,” L’Engle claims. That’s where the magic happens.
Believing in a guiding hand behind the universe can be a big leap. Kierkegaard calls it a teleological leap. Behind our fear about trusting God can be that God might require us to act like an idiot or do something that looks completely irrational, like Jerry McGuire when he comes up with his mission statement and loses everything he worked to accomplish. What will people think? Maybe we will have to give up the things we love. We want life to remain the same even as we explore what it might mean to follow God.
Whether there is a God behind everything in the universe may be the question worth wrestling with and investigating.
When you’re engrossed in a novel, unable to tear yourself from the page, you are seeing what a character sees, touching what a character touches, learning what a character learns. You may think you’re sitting on the sofa in your living room, but the important parts of you—your thoughts, your senses, your spirit—are somewhere else entirely… No one comes back from such a journey quite the same.
Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin in The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies
Off the Beaten Path:
Puddleglum’s heroic speech: https://youtu.be/1Wuiq7j4nCA
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
Paul F. Ford’s Companion to Narnia
Eric Dodson’s Kierkegaard in 19 Minutes: https://youtu.be/RtlwWMJILBA
A 1997 interview by Mary Scott with Madeleine L’Engle: https://youtu.be/FGLi6l-Pns0
Mary Hines interviews Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin about their book The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies on the radio show Tapestry starting at Minute 31: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/the-muslims-are-coming-and-the-novel-cure-1.2902483