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Eustace Clarence Scrubb, Reductionism, and Redemption

Dec 7, 2010

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.

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14 Responses to Eustace Clarence Scrubb, Reductionism, and Redemption

  • “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
    “But I see another law in my body, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
    “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
    – Ro 7:22-24

    “…our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin”
    – Ro 6:6

    “…put off the old man with his practices
    and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.”
    – Col 3:9-10

    Grant Vandervalk

  • From memory there is no battle scene as in the other two. What is it rated and do you agree? (Thinking about a certain 6 yr old.)
    Kylie Anderson

  • Thanks Kylie

    There are some battle scenes in the film. It is rated PG. Depends on what the 6-year-old has already seen.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The Biblical themes in ‘Dawn Treader’ are a bit muted in the film, but they are nonetheless there if one has the eyes to see them. In our current age it is nothing short of amazing that at least some of the Narnia books are being filmed at all.

    C.S. Lewis filled these books with such a depth of Christian teaching that to attempt to remove them to suit current tastes would be to make the films of the books impossible to make.

    Both ‘Dawn Treader’ and ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ (I’m not so sure about ‘Prince Caspian’) are both great films to watch but also great tools to begin to talk to people (of all ages) about the truths of the Gospel.

    David Vivian

  • Yes Lewis conceived Eustace as the horrid outcome of a progressive education, but the question is, is there any truth to Lewis’ caricature? Is there a plethora of first-hand accounts that attests to Lewis’ belief that the progressive education of the 1940s robbed it’s children of an imagination?

    I resent your charge that a rationalist and/or materialist upbringing or world-view leads to “incredibly narrow and limited little world” or that one sees “little mystery, or wonder, or deeper meaning” because of it. As Dawkins says, “I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupations, in which everything has an explanation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a more beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious ad hoc magic”, and “After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.”

    Dawkins can still see the beauty of the world. He can see the mysteries and wants to understand.Is that so wrong? He can still see a point in life and get enjoyment out of it. Science will not discover the answers to everything in our lifetime, so there is still much to wonder at. I’m an atheist, I believe in evolution, and I know that things like the stars and sunsets, can be scientifically explained/have scientific principles behind them, it doesn’t mean that I don’t see the breathtaking beauty in those things and the world in general. A lack of belief in the supernatural does not take any of the wonder of the life and the natural world away for me.

    Reductionists always end up embittered and angry? That’s a ridiciously sweeping statement. It is simply a belief that a system, no matter how complex, is nothing more than the sum of it’s parts. Why does that inevitably lead to embitterment and anger? How can you assess the characters of all reductionists, when you don’t even know all of them? Like people of other philosophies, the religious, or theologians, most reductionists lead happy, stable, fulfilling lives. Your beliefs don’t define everything about you.

    How can you know that all Reductionists (or any reductionists) “secretly” resent or envy others who think differently? Do you have access to their thoughts?

    I don’t really understand how you can say that a non-believer sees a reduced version of reality. We see what is there and nothing more (and what I see is awesome and wonderful!). I don’t need the supernatural for the universe to be special and mysterious. With God, I just feel you are adding something superfluous to an already “full” reality. Something that you can’t prove. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t refuse to admit it anything. This is all I see, and I think it’s unfair that you should say people refuse to admit things, when you don’t even know them and can’t know their thoughts.

    Sceptics, materialists and rationalists are not “narrow-minded”, they just believe in what can be empirically proven. I think that’s just simply logical and responsible. We don’t think we have all the answers, either. Dawkins has spoken about how he doesn’t have authority to speak on matters pertaining to the other sciences (chemistry and physics) where he doesn’t have the expertise, and that he is only an atheist in the same way he doesn’t believe in faries, because there’s no evidence. He knows that the existence of gods or fairies cannot be disproven. Give empirical, verifiable evidence for God, and the sceptic will believe.

    I can only speak for the film version of Eustace as I haven’t read the novel, but the main reason I found him so detesable was because he dreamed of squashing his cousins like bugs, stole both food and gold, and was a coward. I don’t see the new atheists as up-to-date versions of him. They do not share is distate for imagination and fantasy. It is also important to note that not all athiests and agnostics are fans of Dawkins, Hitchens and their ilk. Even if some atheists are militant, angry, and evangelistic — so are some religious people. You wouldn’t think that that fact makes all religious opinion invalid, or all religious people angry and embittered.

    Although, I agree with you on one thing– Eustance’s redemption story was certainly memorable and beautiful, easily the strongest part of the film.

    Madeleine Reeves

  • Thanks Madeleine

    Ah yes, here we have the same Madeleine who recently came to this site insisting that “Nowhere does the Bible condemn female homosexuals”! We will just forget about Romans 1:26, shall we? Now she is telling us Dawkins says he doesn’t have the authority to speak outside of his areas of expertise. So we will just forget all about his 400-page The God Delusion, shall we? Sorry, but with such howlers, it can be a bit hard to take seriously much of what you have to say.

    But let me suggest this: I do not doubt for a moment that you and your atheist buddies have a sense of wonder, awe, appreciation of beauty, and so on. That makes 100 per cent sense in the theist’s worldview. Of course you have all this: you are made in God’s image and live in God’s moral universe, so we fully expect people to have these characteristics. But they make no sense whatsoever in the cold, closed, narrow and rather drab world of atheistic materialism. So every time you protest, you simply further make my case while undermining your own.

    And let me ask you a closing question. Why in the world would you find the Eustace conversion story “beautiful”? Try actually reading the book. It was without question meant to picture a spiritual conversion story. He was being saved from something, to something. He was being saved from his selfish and self-centred life to a life working in agreement with God and his purposes. He was also being saved from his reductionistic materialism and rationalism, and saved to a much larger world. On your worldview this is all just so much poppycock. Lewis never intended for this scenario to be seen as some mushy sentimental thing devoid of any biblical reality. He had no time for such foolishness. He was seeking to convey deep spiritual and biblical truths – something which your current narrow reductionism simply does not allow for.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Good stuff, I must see it and read it.
    By the way, there are some very similar thoughts about imagination and reductionism in James K.A. Smith’s new book Thinking in Tongues, about a pentecostal approach to philosophy.
    Jon Newton

  • Bill, you were spot on when you stated that a non believer has a reduced view of reality, you were simply stating a fact in that the reason why their view of reality is reduced is because their reality is incomplete without God! I would not take people like Madeleine too seriously as she is just going around in circles, however what I have been praying to God recently about is that I will see everyone as someone who Jesus loved and died for so I will definitely pray for Madeleine.
    Steve Davis

  • Steve,

    Why shouldn’t one take my opinion seriously (as least as seriously as one should take any opinion, such as Bill’s)? How am I going around in ciricles? How is it a fact that the non believer has a reduced view of reality when you can’t prove that God exists? Please, don’t waste your time praying for me.

    Madeleine Reeves

  • Thanks Madeleine

    While I am aware of some militant atheists who would love to silence all theists, hopefully none so far are calling for prayer to be made illegal. And even if they did, Christians would continue to draw upon the wonderful power of prayer to change lives. So we will keep praying for reductionists like yourself, that one day you too will drop your pride and admit that there is more to life than what your bland gray condition allows. We pray that one day you too will see and enjoy all the colours of the rainbow. Plenty of other stubborn atheists, such as C.S. Lewis, have been prayed out of their narrow little world into a wonderful personal relationship with the God of the universe. So be afraid, be very afraid! We are praying for you!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I will be taking my children to see the latest Narnia movie over the holiday. I just hope it’s as good as the last one, and a little less religious.
    Sarah Mctaggart

  • Thanks Sarah

    If you mean by that ‘less Christian’, I recommend you stay away from the films. C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian, and the Narnia series was a vehicle for him to express his Christian faith in literary form. I am afraid you really cannot enjoy his fiction without also enjoying his faith.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks guys

    Further to my replies to Madeleine and Sarah above, it must be said that if people really hate the gospel message, then they may want to stay away from the Narnia films (and books). Consider this:

    “C.S. Lewis’ stepson says his fundamental goal for the film series is the same as Lewis’ was for the books: evangelization. Douglas Gresham, the film’s executive producer and Lewis’ adoptive son, who describes himself as a ‘card-carrying Narnian Christian,’ told Relevant Magazine that the purpose is for readers and viewers to come to know Christ through the character of Aslan.”

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/lewis-stepson-on-new-narnia-film-its-about-evangelization?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=fbe67aaf14-LifeSiteNews_com_Intl_Headlines12_10_2010&utm_medium=email

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, you might probably be the only one who may still read this post, I just wish I had found it earlier.
    I am a great fan of the earlier BBC versions of the same 4 books that are now being produced. They are much closer to the narrative of the book, though they may be nothing much to write home about visually.
    I wonder how much C.S. Lewis’s adopted son had to do with those productions.
    Bill, as to your treatment of the atheist lady earlier in the post, I would want to ask you, was not the gospel repulsive to part of our being before we were converted? It is the nature of our sinfulness to thus treat the good news that puts someone other than ourselves into the drivers seat of our lives. But, as C.S. Lewis has stated in Mere Christianity “man is a rebel who has to lay down his arms”. I know from experience that this is a process that involves not a little determination through the pain of the struggle, just like Eustace had to consciously submit himself to the process that involved much pain. I see much hope that this lady, while she is unable to see the centre and cause of all that beauty she can see, her heart does not appear altogether cold and not yet utterly dead, so I join, even belated now the sentiment of Steve who offered to pray for her and offer my prayers for her as well.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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