Those who know of the work of C.S. Lewis only through the Narnia film series will only just now have gotten to know a rather unlikable character, Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Of course loyal fans of Lewis’s original seven book series would be well aware of this young man.
For those who have not yet seen the latest film, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”, or read the book, I don’t mean to give things away, so be forewarned. But young Eustace is a cousin of the Pevensies, the four siblings who are the heroes of the series. He is a spoiled brat and a most disagreeable character.
And the very opening line of The DawnTreader – one of the better ones in literature – so very nicely captures this: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it”. He was a detestable character, and he detested his four cousins. But he found himself sharing a voyage with two of them on the ship, the Dawn Treader.
In addition to being a quite disagreeable chap, he was also a great example of your typical sceptic, rationalist, materialist, and non-believer. Quite like a Dawkins or a Hitchens in fact. Indeed, because of his “progressive education” he lacked an essential feature of childhood: an imagination. Thus his was an incredibly narrow and limited little world, as is the case with all mere materialists.
They all live in a reductionist world, where the only reality is what they can feel or see or weigh in a test tube. There is little mystery, or wonder, or deeper meaning, since all of life is merely the physical, the natural. There is no metaphysical, no supernatural.
That is part of the reason Eustace is such a pain in the neck. He hates those who claim that there is more to life than just the material realm. Reductionists always end up embittered and angry. They resent – and perhaps secretly envy – those who know that life is far more than what can be empirically tested.
They are very much like a completely colour blind person who lashes out at those with normal sight, accusing them of being nutters and fruitcakes. “Life is only black, white and grey, so don’t try to push all this foolishness of colour onto me. I know what is real.”
But of course their reality is a terribly truncated and reduced version of reality. There is so much more to life than 99 shades of grey, but they refuse to admit it, and they lash out at those who claim to enjoy wonderful splashes of orange, purple and puce.
There have always been such sceptics, such materialists, such narrow-minded rationalists, who think they have all the answers. The new atheists are simply a more up-to-date version of the Eustaces of the world. They are militant, angry, and evangelistic. They are out to spoil every theist’s party.
Redemption (Spoiler warning!)
But the good news is, Eustace eventually sees the error of his ways. His conversion account is one of the more memorable episodes in the fictional world of Lewis. The story goes like this: The selfish, cruel and hardened Eustace finds himself transformed into a fire-breathing dragon.
That seems to be a terrifying fate, but it does much good, slowly transforming him into a more likeable person. But he still longs to get out of this strange body. And he cannot do it himself. No matter how hard he tries, like a leopard seeking to change its spots, he cannot un-dragon himself.
But there is hope and help. Aslan the Lion (the Christ figure) is willing to free him, but it will not be a pleasant experience. The process is described this way by Eustace a bit later (C.S. Lewis purists please take note: the film has taken some liberties with the book, so here is the book’s version of events):
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.” “I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”
The good news of the gospel is that while we are totally unable to change ourselves, there is a solution. Indeed, it is only when we come to the end of ourselves, and our proud philosophies, be it materialism, or self-improvement, or whatever, and acknowledge that there is far more to reality than just ourselves, that grace can break through.
And when we have reached rock bottom, the wonderful thing is God is there, waiting for us, ready to begin the transformation process. It has nothing to do with pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but everything to do with acknowledging our absolutely hopeless and helpless condition, and allowing him to thoroughly change us.
Those who humble themselves and acknowledge their very needy condition will find an ever ready Saviour waiting with outstretched arms. But sadly we often have to go way down before we can start to head back up. The pride and arrogance of the materialists and the atheists is simply one sin of many. Any and all sin will keep us from the love relationship we are intended to have with our creator.
Like Eustace, some will finally come to their senses and let God be God. Sadly, not all will. But God gives us that freedom. It is up to us what we do with it. We must use this freedom wisely. The consequences of our choices will abide with us for all eternity.
These are just some of the many clear biblical themes that pervade the Narnia series, and this particular book and film. So please go have a look at the film. If you have not yet read the books, the film should produce a thirst to go back to the original. It will be well worth while.