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Notes on the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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Chapter 10: The Magician’s Book

A very rich chapter, with the Magician’s book itself and the appearance of Aslan to Lucy. Lucy faces her toughest temptation and ultimately carries out her mission to make the ‘Thumpers’ or ‘Duffers’ visible.

“She’s not too keen on insects; especially big ones.” Again Lewis puts something of himself into Lucy – he too suffered from an irrational childhood terror of giant insects (and this formed part of his argument in favour of fairy stories, which he believed could actually help to combat such terrors). Note also Edmund’s thoughtfulness towards his sister whose fears he knows – demonstrating a closeness of relationship which has grown over the last two books.

‘The meal would have been pleasanter if… the conversation had not consisted entirely of agreements’. The Dufflepuds are so (literally) agreeable as to be infuriating (at least to Lewis’s mind!), and they are masters of stating the obvious.

‘The others liked the mead but Eustace was sorry afterwards that he had drunk any.’ The others were presumably used to it from their experience as Kings and Queens of Narnia; Eustace’s family were teetotal. Although Lewis himself was clearly not teetotal, he understood that not everything was equally good for everyone; perhaps an echo of Paul in 1 Corinthians 8, not stumbling the brother whose conscience is weaker by what you eat or drink.

‘began going up them without once looking back’ Looking back might be fatal to her resolve. There are a couple of biblical references here – Lot’s wife, and not turning back once you’ve put your hand to the plough (Luke 9:62). In legend, there’s also the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (which I’ve already referred to as having resonances with Lucy’s entering the Magician’s house).

‘It wouldn’t do to think about that.’ Lucy is wise enough to know that she must keep her imagination in check and not think about the things she fears, or she will lose her resolve and abandon her mission.

‘I don’t know what the Bearded Glass was for because I am not a magician.’ Lewis is spelling out for us that he is not involved in or knowledgeable about the practice of magic.

‘books bigger than any church Bible you have ever seen’ One of the only references to church and the Bible in the Narnia stories. Lewis may perhaps be obliquely suggesting that the Bible too is, in a sense, a ‘magical’ book and full of ancient and supernatural wisdom.

the Book, the Magic Book’ Again, Lewis is perhaps subtly linking it with the Bible in the repeated capital B from Bible three lines above, and reference to ‘the Book’ which is how some refer to the Bible.

‘open doorway at your back’ signifies danger and vulnerability to surprise attack.

‘feel as if I’d been here hours already’ The magic and silence of the place stretches both time and (in the corridor) distance; it’s a place where space and time don’t abide by the normal rules (in a way like heaven, but at the moment seemingly rather sinister).

‘her fingers tingled when she laid hands on it as if it were full of electricity’ The book is full of power – or magic, which is symbolic of power.

“how to give a man an ass’s head (as they had to poor Bottom).” The reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggests that the Magician’s Book is a book of faerie magic (as opposed to real-world sorcery).

‘An infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals What ensues, with the pictures almost coming to life, is a cross between a fantasy/daydream and a temptation – a bit like Satan’s temptation of Jesus, showing him all the splendour that could be his if only Jesus would bow down and worship him.

This is probably the hardest, greatest temptation Lucy ever faces. It comes just before she achieves her current purpose, as temptations often do, and if succumbed to would completely derail not only this mission but also her whole future in Aslan’s service, as well as wreaking great destruction in Narnia.

'Beyond the lot of mortals' is an interesting phrase, as it implies that it this  is something not right for humans to have - something meant only for heavenly beings. It is something that Lucy may one day attain in the right way and at the right time, but should not seek now.

‘rather terrible expression on her face, chanting or reciting something’. Lucy knows she mustn’t say the spell, so the expression of the book-Lucy doing it is one of doing something terrible, forbidden and ruinously life-changing. It’s reminiscent of the expression on Jadis’s face in The Magician’s Nephew when she has eaten the stolen apple and knows her beauty will never fade – but also that she is eternally lost.

‘Susan (who had always been the beauty of the family) come home… looked exactly like the real Susan only plainer and with a nasty expression. And Susan was jealous. No one cared anything about Susan now. Susan’s physical beauty is perhaps part of her own ultimate downfall: why she does not appear in the new Narnia at the end of The Last Battle. Had Lucy said the spell, she almost certainly would have suffered the same fate.

‘I will say the spell… I don’t care, I will.’ Lucy’s conscience is strongly telling her not to, and she’s hardly ever disobeyed her conscience before (never that we know of). This is a key, crisis moment for her. (Most of us can probably identify with Lucy’s feelings and words here.)

Why is Lucy so particularly tempted by this spell? Probably because she was long used to being overlooked because of Susan’s superior beauty, and wishes that she could be the attractive, noticed one. But of course in Aslan’s kingdom, Lucy will ultimately be the truly beautiful one: her inner nature is beautiful and will shine through.

‘But when she looked at the opening words of the spell… she found the great face of… Aslan himself… she knew the expression on his face quite well. He was growling.’ Aslan intervenes directly to rescue Lucy: ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it’ (1 Cor 10:13). The sight of Aslan looking very real and very angry is enough to stop Lucy in her tracks – she can ignore her conscience, but not Aslan. If she’d loved Aslan less, and been less familiar with his expressions and their meaning, this might not have been the case.

‘She felt that to make up for not having said it, she really would say this one.’ Lewis is very perceptive – so often, when we’ve battled with and successfully resisted a major sin, we stumble at a smaller one, justifying it by thinking that we deserve a small indulgence after our big victory.

‘“I was getting pretty tired of her before the end of term”
“Well, you jolly well won’t have the chance any other term!” shouted Lucy.’

Wanting to know what people are saying about us is a very normal desire – but as here, it’s often something that we’re better off not knowing. People often say things they don’t mean under social pressure.

‘There are lots of other pictures. No, I can’t look at any more – I won’t, I won’t’
This negatively echoes her previous ‘I will, I don’t care’; this time she’s winning against her temptation, but only after the painful shock of what she’s just heard.

On the next page she came to a spell “for the refreshment of the spirit”’ 
This is a magical book (Aslan’s book even) and Aslan has put in a ‘spell’ for soul-refreshing just when she needs it. (He’s ‘leading her by still waters’, Psalm 23.) Although he will gently chide her later for eavesdropping on her friend, Aslan knows her immediate need is for comfort and refreshing.

‘What Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell’ Not all will agree, but personally I’m convinced that this is meant to be (symbolically at least) a Christ story, a Gospel story, and there are several indications that it’s a symbolised version of the story of Good Friday and Easter. And Lewis is once again underlining the importance and power of story, this time to heal the spirit and even lead to salvation. (Note that the origin of the word ‘Gospel’ in English is ‘God-spell’ or ‘Good-spell’ which nicely links the Christian message to ‘magic’.)

She was living in the story as if it were real’ As you do in very vivid dreams (and to an extent when ‘lost in a good book’). And like with some dreams, when she ‘wakes up’ and tries to remember, it’s all faded, leaving only the certainty that you had a wonderful dream that you wish you could remember.

‘…as if it were real’ In a sense, it is real (if it is in fact the Good Friday story), and Lewis wants to suggest this (as he has already suggested that the book is like the Bible).

“It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill” These are all elements of the story of Christ’s passion (the cup of wine representing Jesus’ blood at the Last Supper, or else the ‘cup of suffering’ he will have to drink; Peter’s sword or the swords of the soldiers; the ‘tree’ of the cross and the ‘green hill’ of Calvary). This is another strong hint that this book, though not itself the Bible, is closely linked to it; it’s Aslan’s book as the Bible is God’s book, even though some parts of this book seem odd and some of the spells (like some of the fruit in the Garden of Eden) are forbidden and/or dangerous to humans.

It’s easy to feel disappointed or dissatisfied at the thought that the beautiful story ‘for the refreshment of the spirit’ might be something as concrete, as familiar (and as ugly) as the Biblical story of Good Friday. In a similar kind of way, it can be easy to feel unhappy that the heart of the wonderful Christian message of life is the horrible, jarring, bloody and barbaric crucifixion. I think God likes to shock us like this. Faith requires a kind of double vision where we see both the harsh reality and, beyond or behind it, a spiritual beauty and meaning which redeems the visible reality.

However, the story of the cup, sword, tree and hill is not likely to be the literal crucifixion account – it’s hard to see how it would seem so sweet to Lucy if it were. It is rather a symbolic tale carrying the same deeper meaning or message as the Good Friday story, which is of course ultimately a story of refreshment to the soul – our new life from Christ’s death and hope from despair. In this way, Lewis may be suggesting, story or ‘myth’ can work more powerfully than mere fact or history. The Good Friday tale (like the incarnation) is both story and history, both myth and fact.

‘Ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is [one] which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book’. Akin to Lewis’s central idea of ‘joy’, the pangs of supernatural longing which alert you to something that it is your heart’s desire to find – the idea of longings that can only be satisfied by God, which was such a crucial part of Lewis’s own journey to faith. God has ‘set eternity in the hearts of men’ (Ecc 3:11).

‘She turned on and found… A Spell to make hidden things visible.’ The order of spells is instructive – first Lucy is faced with strong temptation by the spell to make her beautiful; then comes the lesser temptation of the eavesdropping spell to which she succumbs and which leaves her spirit troubled; then on the next page she is providentially given the refreshing spell. This whole process complete, she is finally ready for the spell for which she came, that to make the ‘Thumpers’ visible.

Lucy now performs a spell, which may be one of the most controversial moments in the Narnia series for those who believe it promotes occult magic. See Magic, myth and faith in Narnia for my defence against this.

“I suppose I’ve made everything visible… there might be lots of other invisible things handing about in a place like this. I’m not sure that I want to see them all.” Christians too believe in an unseen world of ‘invisible’ beings, many of which we would not wish to see!

‘It is always better to turn round than to have anything creeping up behind your back.’ More wise advice from Lewis! Face your fears, don’t hide from them and so risk being taken unawares. This echoes what Edmund said to Lucy about the dragon at the end of chapter 6 (“if there’s a wasp in the room I like to be able to see it”).

‘Then her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn’t know it), she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture.’ There’s an incredible amount going on in this sentence. Lucy has seen Aslan, whom she loves above all others. To see him is rapture – which transforms her face to truly radiant beauty (as we all know a smile will light up and transform any face). There a hint here of 2 Cor 3:18: ‘we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory’. As we gaze on the face of Christ we both reflect his glory (perhaps shown in our joyous response like Lucy’s) and are transformed by his glory.

Note though that Lucy doesn’t realise how beautiful she has momentarily become. Usually we get tempted to do or take something by illegitimate means that we will one day have legitimately in Christ if only we wait – e.g. illicit sex, or some other shortcut to pleasure, wealth, status, beauty etc. The Tempter can only offer things that God ultimately wants us to have and is going to give us – but it has to be in His way and His time, or it will spoil and ruin us; and we have to persist in costly trust that God will give it to us at the right time. (Like Jadis’s apple in The Magician’s Nephew and her temptation of Digory to steal the apple instead of trusting and waiting for Aslan to give it to him).

And of course had she uttered the spell, Lucy would have known all about her beauty and it would have been a matter of selfish pride – whereas now only we and Aslan know about it and it is to her greater glory – and to Aslan’s.

Lucy’s momentary beauty as she sees Aslan is a glimpse of the eternal beauty that will be hers in heaven (Aslan’s kingdom); and in part it’s also the beauty of her true inner nature shining through. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’; and Lucy is always the first to see Aslan.

‘She ran forward with a little cry of delight and with her arms stretched out’ – like a little child seeing her mum or dad and running into their arms. (Also echoed later in chapter 16 with Lucy and the Sea Girl – if they ever meet again they’ll run to each other with hands held out.)

‘Aslan himself, the Lion, the highest of all High Kings.’ Aslan’s first direct (speaking) appearance to Lucy in the book (and so since the end of Prince Caspian) – this time Eustace’s need to meet Aslan was greater than hers. Aslan’s appearance now could be seen as a reward for Lucy’s courage in facing the Magician’s house (and perhaps also her resistance of temptation), though Aslan himself has a different explanation.

Highest of all High Kings’ of course deliberately echoes Christ’s title in Rev 19:16 ‘King of kings and Lord of Lords’.

‘He was solid and real and warm and he let her kiss him and bury herself in his shining mane… Lucy even dared to think he was purring.’ Aslan’s very physical, tangible, touchable nature – his bodily incarnate-ness – is perhaps one of the greatly appealing things about Lewis’s portrayal of Aslan in the Narnia stories. He is not only a God who speaks and can be spoken to personally, but one who can touch and be touched, who can embrace and be embraced (and can express pleasure) – like Jesus in his incarnation, or as he will be when he returns. (Contrast Puzzle, the false Aslan in The Last Battle who cannot be touched or approached and can’t speak.) The animal physicality of Aslan’s purring to show pleasure drives the point home in an almost shocking way.

“It was kind of you to come”
“I have been here all the time….but you have made me visible”
Aslan’s rather surprising explanation of why he has only now appeared. Aslan, like God, is always present but usually invisible and unnoticed.

‘almost a little reproachfully’ Lucy can’t quite reproach Aslan the Highest King, but she is talking to him as a friend, or as a child to her parent – intimately, even daringly, not fearfully.

“As if anything I could do would make you visible!”
“It did… Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?”

This is a very interesting exchange, perhaps more than can be directly unpacked or analysed. Aslan is saying that Lucy’s action can influence or affect him because he has set up the rules of the universe to work that way. Aslan has created a world in which he is personally involved and implicated – by his very incarnation he can be touched and therefore hurt (an extension of the point about his physicality above). Another implication is that Aslan is not above his rules or laws – he cannot just arbitrarily change things, make things or undo things regardless because the world would cease to function as he means it to. This means that our actions have real consequences which will often have to be borne. A whole major aspect of the Christian understanding of suffering (theodicy) lies here. (NB Lewis believed in the absolute sovereignty of a God who knows the whole future – see his appendix at the end of Miracles.)

Also by implication, the magic in the Magician’s Book is ‘Aslan’s rules’, even Aslan’s magic – it works because this magic is part of the fabric of the world Aslan has created and deeply interconnected with all his other rules. It is not arbitrary or random, nor is it occult magic.

‘After a little pause he spoke again…’ Aslan now gently chides Lucy for eavesdropping on her friend. (Note how he addresses her as ‘child’.)

“I never thought that was eavesdropping…”
“Spying on people by magic is the same as spying on them in any other way.”
‘Magic’ (here standing for any power, technology or even spiritual gifts like tongues or prophecy) can be used for good or ill. It can be used rightly or abused. The fact that it is magic and doesn’t feel like regular eavesdropping doesn’t make any actual difference either to the outcome or to the nature of the act.

A parallel can be drawn here with the use of technology and the internet to do things ‘virtually’, vicariously – at one remove or at a distance – which therefore feels less bad than the ‘real’ thing. Looking at pornographic images on a computer seems very different to ‘real’ live sexual immorality with a physically present person; robbing someone you don’t know via an online scam doubtless feels very different to committing physical burglary, and similarly perhaps downloading films or music you haven’t paid for feels very different to stealing them from a shop.

“You have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she does not mean.” The magic could only reveal what friends were saying – not what they were thinking or their real motives. This is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Palantirs (seeing stones) which reveal the truth of what is happening at a distance but, in the enemy’s hands, what is seen is only a partial, cleverly managed version to suit the enemy’s schemes. The magic in the book may all follow Aslan’s rules but that doesn’t mean it is all necessarily good – some of it is partial (perhaps even twisted) and it can all be misused. Similarly Satan has to live within the constraints of God’s rules to an extent, existing within God’s universe with its many fixed laws, yet he can subvert and twist the good rules to his own evil ends.

“I don’t think I’d ever be able to forget what I heard her say.”
“No, you won’t”
“Oh dear… Have I spoiled everything? Do you mean we could have gone on being friends – all our lives perhaps – and now we never shall”
Again, Lucy’s actions have real and, in this case at least, unchangeable or inescapable consequences. (Aslan’s “No, you won’t” suggests either that he knows the future, or knows Lucy’s character perfectly.)

“Child… did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?” It’s actually merciful that we can’t know what would have happened. There’s no use or hope living in what-might-have-beens or if-onlys (especially if there’s no chance that they can now be); that way lies only regret and despair. Instead we live in ‘what now?’ – what is and what can be; in the good of repentance and hope, as God can still make a bright future even out of our past failure.

“I’m sorry” Lucy now says ‘sorry’ to Aslan and genuinely means it – the beginning of repentance.

“dear heart” Aslan loves Lucy and speaks tenderly to her with a term of deep endearment – as Christ does to the penitent.

“Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do, do, do.”
“Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years. But now, come.”
Lucy wants Aslan to tell the story to her right now - the story she read in the Magician's Book which was so wonderful but which she cannot remember. But Aslan’s way of telling her the story (i.e. the gospel message, the story of eternal refreshment to her soul) will be through the whole course of her life. Aslan says yes and though it isn’t quite the yes she was expecting or wanting, it’s ultimately a better yes, which of course is often true with God’s answers to our own prayers.

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