There were mountainous piles of pink clouds racked high above our heads, and my siblings were shouting to each other of the myriad wonders they envisioned there. I fought with the Summer breeze, trying to find our place in C.S. Lews’ The Silver Chair, as they cried out news of a dragon on the horizon. Place found, they hushed in an instant, being all anticipation for the next chapter. My own anticipation equaled their own, though I was surprised to find it so.
As a child, my favorite of The Chronicles of Narnia had been The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with its wind swept bows and hearts set upon high adventure. Or perhaps The Last Battle, with it’s unique, eerie beauty? Or The Horse and His Boy? Or perhaps…? In any case it had not been The Silver Chair. Not even a deep admiration for it’s depiction of living jewels at the heart of the world could sway ten year old me from the opinion that it was a very dull book indeed.
Yet there I found myself, as we gathered round this tale evening after evening, eager as my young siblings for the next chapter to begin. For within those pages I had caught sight of a challenge, a bold charge singing out with a conviction bright and earnest as our sunsets. I wondered how I hadn’t seen it before, how I hadn’t caught all it meant when Aslan gave Jill signs to follow and told her she must not forget them.
For the challenge I found was just that: do not forget. When the sanity of the signs seems a questionable thing, and the goodwill of Aslan feels dubious at best, do not forget what is True. I watched as Prince Rillian struggled to put a finger on who he was. It seemed such a little thing, yet kingdoms nearly fell into darkness because of it. I watched Jill and Eustace fight to recall the Sun and nearly lose it forever in their forgetting, and knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt: I mustn’t let my perception of who I am in this story, nor of my part in it’s unfolding, be forgotten. I mustn’t let the hazy nature of life cloud my vision of what is or what should be, nor of what end that this long string of days is tethered to. I mustn’t forget the signs.
I glanced up at times to peek at my siblings faces, wondering if those serious looks and eyes set no longer on the quickly dimming clouds but away into the horizon held any flicker of perception at the charge being issued. They were young, but not so very young, and perhaps that doesn’t matter in any case. It doesn’t take too many summers to know what an easy thing it is to be distracted from what’s important, nor to perceive a light once strong begin to fade.
That is the threat, no matter the age, that leers ‘round the edges when your soul dims or the world darkens. You squint your eyes to see the grand scheme and see nothing but your own scuffed shoes. Is there really such a thing as overland, and what in the world do you mean you are on a quest? You plod for days through the Wild Wastes of the North and in the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other you begin to doze off, still walking in the same direction but half forgetting you’re in the midst of a grand tale. You witness illnesses and broken hearts and grievances irreparable. You may find that an evil witch captures you and keeps you locked away from the sun. The trappings of the trial don’t really matter so much when they’re all trying to waylay and drag you down the same path.
And yet, lapses of memory do happen, don’t they? The critical hour came and found Jill and Eustace and Puddleglum with their memories swiftly fading. They had bungled their way through the signs, lost sight of their story, and at the very climax found themselves with nothing left but vague impressions of their lives in Overland. It was there that I began to wonder if Lewis’ plea was perhaps a two-fold one: Do not forget…but when you do, remember.
Good old Lewis! He knew what he was about and gave us a dose of the prescription even as he told us of it’s existence. For what else was this story in my hands? Hadn’t it, along with countless other tales, been the hands snatching me up and pulling me out of a lapse of memory just as swiftly as burnt marsh wiggle foot ever did?
It had ever been stories which kept forgetfulness at bay, beauty and stories which had brought Truth back before my eyes even as it seemed to flee. These forms of goodness reminded me of a truer reality and a better way times innumerable, proving to be a lifeline to the other side, even when they’re not a sudden flash of illumination. I remembered this as the book I held in my hands did just that, and I remembered it as I watched the ways in which our heroes fought against the witch of Underland.
They threw out to one another the shimmering, gem toned strands of all the things they once knew to be true, refusing to simply bow their heads in acceptance to this clouding of their memory. They told one anther of stars and dawn and a lion whose presence they could not shake. They grabbed for beauty as one grabs for a sword, fighting off the fog with remembered glories. They told of marvels which betokened the existence of a story whose reality made the witch’s lies appear as shadows too faint to care for when set against the brightness of it, even in the face of their loosened grasp upon it.
And as they told one another of these things, their story told me.
Keep the tales of others held before you, be they tales of princes bound by silver chairs, red-headed girls bent upon delight and wonder in Avonlea, or a Dutch woman determined to bring beauty and light to the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, and you open yourself up to the possibility of having your own vision renewed. They’ll lend a cosmic sense of proportion to daily life, and keep a sense of narrative running keen and strong before your eyes. All art, be it direct from divine hand as it is in stars or a human one by way of a poem, can be a potent tonic of remembrance.
The Bible speaks of doing so many things without ceasing; joy, thanksgiving, the thinking on of excellent and noble things. And stories and sunrises are means of doing just that. They’ll repeat the signs over and over again, keep them humming along in your head like an infectious tune.
As I closed the last pages of our book, pages all awash with the pale pink light that yet remained before twilight fell and brought out the stars, my sister looked over at me beaming.
“That’s one of my new favorites.”
I nodded in agreement. No longer was it relegated to the realm of Dull Books for me. For it’s splendid defense of memory alone, it was a thing worth remembering.