If you rummage about in our living room, you probably won’t notice our Great Tower. It’s shabby and brown, and it has a hole rubbed through the leather in the center cushion, courtesy of either the dog or our sons. We found it on Craigslist at a price so cheap we’d’ve been fools not to buy it.
The couch isn’t much to look at, but I love it. This is where the really important stuff of life happens, the earnest work of a parent: telling and retelling the stories that shape our children’s imaginations..
We’ve been working through the Chronicles of Narnia lately, and I suppose that’s what put me in mind of the Great Tower. You’ll know the tower — it’s the one in Prince Caspian, where Doctor Cornelius brings the young, titular prince for his astronomy lesson and instead tells him the tales of Narnia.
Here, in our very own Great Tower, I tell my children stories that, like the Doctor’s, are filled with “battles and adventures… wonderful adventures”; stories of “Walking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts.” These are the stories that set my children’s hearts and imaginations afire.
Doctor Cornelius gave Prince Caspian at least three things that I try to give to my children.
An Expansive View
From the top, Caspian has a wide view of the land all around:
“Away on his right he could see, rather indistinctly, the Western Mountains. On his left was the gleam of the Great River, and everything was so quiet that he could hear the sound of the waterfall at Beaversdam, a mile away.”
The views from our Great Tower aren’t quite so sweeping as all that. Mostly they include a built-in china cabinet-turned-bookshelf, a piano that needs to be tuned, and, if the blinds were left open, the Hutchinsons’ house across the street.
But most nights, if you close your eyes and listen close, the view expands. Over there is the gentle bend of the Brandywine River on the edges of Buckland, and beyond it, just out of sight, you can almost catch a glimpse of the bottom pasture of Longleaf Manor, where the bog owls bark. Only last week, we could hear the Stone Table crack down the middle with the sound of a gunshot. Before long, we’ll have fresh views of Rattlesnake Junction as we follow Eugene Appleton and Tumbleweed Thompson through their misadventured summer.
An Illuminating Truth
Sometimes I lean in close and echo Doctor Cornelius, telling my kids that the stories are true:
“Listen,” said the Doctor. “All you have heard about Old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan.”
Here, in our own Great Tower, I tell my children stories of their true King. This land is not the land of Men — the land of cold, material causes; of supremely important political machinations; of death and decay and despair — no, this is the country of the one true King. The stories are true.
Some of the stories we share are new stories that embody the old truths; others are old fables and folktales that have been passed down for generations. But I also tell them the Greatest Story, the Truest Story to which all other true stories point.
Yet it isn’t always enough to simply tell them the true stories — often you’ll need to confront the other stories, those tall tales told by imposters, head on: “Your Highness speaks as you have been taught,” said the Doctor. “But it is all lies.”
There are lies out there, incessantly shouted from a world that does not love what is good and true and beautiful. Do not be afraid to point out these lies and call them by name: “It is a story invented by Telmarines.” You must teach your children to instead love the true things, the Old Things.
A Clear Purpose
After agreeing that he does, in fact, love the Old Things, the prince asks a simple question: “But how can I help?” Your own children ask the same question, though they may not know it. “How can I help?” “What can I do?” “How should we then live?”
Doctor Cornelius gives Caspian his marching orders:
“You can be kind to the poor remnants of the Dwarf people. You can gather learned magicians and try to find a way of awakening the trees once more. You can search through all the nooks and wild places of the land to see if any Fauns or Talking Beasts or Dwarfs are perhaps still alive in hiding.”
You can give your own children their marching orders, too. There are implications to the truths your children learn at the top of the Great Tower. Because we live in the land of the King, and because the Old Things are true, then certain things follow:
Repent, and believe the good news. Love your enemies. Put your sin to death. Seek the good of the city. Read the book before you watch the movie. Always use your power for good. It will not be so in the Mended Wood.
These things have always been true, and they always will be.
The Doctor tells Caspian the old, fantastical stories because, in his words, “my old heart has carried these secret memories so long that it aches with them and would burst if I did not whisper them to you.”
Do you feel that ache in your old heart? There’s a Great Tower in your living room (or around the kitchen table, or in the bottom bunk). Climb it with your children. Whisper the stories, and tell your children that they’re true.