IMAGINATION, ANIMATION, LIBERATION
Looking at the nymph statue above, I am reminded of The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. There, the nymph would be one of Narnia’s magical beings, frozen in place as a statue. A malign ruler (for Lewis the witch) is at war with the free abundance of being with which Narnia has been blessed. Liberation, and reanimation, comes only at the end of a hard struggle.
I re-read The Chronicles of Narnia recently, and appreciate the series well enough to look beyond Lewis’ gratingly conservative and patriarchal theology. I like his use of imagination as a force that can bring us spiritually alive. In the sixth chronicle, The Silver Chair, a group of beings is held in a deep underworld realm with no access to the Narnian surface. Here, there is not even a limited or distorted opening to the light. The abundance of Narnia is not simply rejected and fought against. Instead, we find total denial of its existence. Here, there is a seemingly complete lack of access to enabling experiences and understandings. Moreover, this state of affairs is backed up by an active entrancement and policing of the subject population.
There is resistance all the same. Some of the denizens of this realm have been in Narnia, though they have been induced to forget it. Puddleglum, once a lugubrious marsh dweller in the upper world, finds courage and a voice even in this wretchedly dystopian place, infusing it with the promise of life even as he speaks: “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seems a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, it you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live like as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. …. We’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think,; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say” (1).
In such unpromising conditions, a quest is born.
(1) C. S Lewis The Silver Chair: Geoffrey Bles, 1953 (Chronicles of Narnia, Vol 6)