Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections on The Chronicles of Narnia: Dragon Skin

In case any of you out there never realized this before, I am a HUGE fan of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. And when I say “huge” fan, I mean squeal over getting the lion crest on a silver pendant, have lion stuffed animals all over your room, read the entire series at least twice a year and usually out of order, (not to mention listen to the audio books ten times in the same year), squeal over the theater release of every movie, and constantly dream of Aslan and Narnia whether by day or by night, HUGE.

Yes, that’s me. Ever since I first read the books at the age of ten, I was absolutely hooked. (I admit I may have exaggerated about the amount of times I’ve read the entire series to a year, but I’ve still read it so many times that I’ve lost count, and I’ve listened to the audio books even more often than that.)

There is something quite compelling about these books. I think part of what draws me to them is the fact that every time I read them I am brought to a new revelation – usually one that pertains to the spiritual aspect of things.

Now recently I’ve been listening to the audio books over and over again as I’m at work… I slip in a CD, and work to the rhythm of the story being told. (And I’m allowed to do that at work, since I work for an old woman who likes to listen to things of that sort as well. :D) Lately as I’ve been listening, I’ve had a whole slew of new revelations hit me upside the head, as if they were as plain as day and always had been, and the reason I was only just realizing that was because they were shouting at me in high-pitched voices and waving their hands in the air to make it as obvious as possible.

One such revelation came to me as I was listening to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The story had come to the part where Eustace, after being turned into a Dragon, is found by Aslan and told that he must “undress” before he can step into the enchanted pool and ease the ache in his arm from the Lord Octesian’s arm ring.

At that point in time, I thought, “What an interesting notion… a dragon that needs to undress.” Even Eustace thought it curious at the time, but had remembered that dragons are sort of like snakes, and snakes can shed their skin.

Oh, and how he did try to get his ugly dragon skin off by himself! Two skins, and three, and I believe even a fourth skin were shed before he realized that there was no way he could peal the whole thing off without some form of help.

And it was then that Aslan stepped in.

I don’t think anyone could blame Eustace for feeling afraid at that point in time. Who wouldn’t feel scared if a lion stepped up and offered to peal your skin off of you? Especially a lion so big and powerful and imposing as Aslan.

But then, when Aslan sunk his claws into Eustace’s dragon flesh and ripped it open, though it hurt like crazy, Eustace later told Edmund how wonderful it actually felt as the whole knobby thing peeled off, leaving him smooth and tender underneath.

Now, think on that for a moment… consider that whole scene. How does that scene – that particular scene – pertain to us as Christians? How can it?

I never made the connection before the other day, but when it hit me, it hit me hard.

How many of us are like Eustace?

In the books it states that while laying on a pile of dragon’s gold, and with dragonish thoughts in his head, Eustace had become a dragon himself. And how many of us Christians have also turned into dragons? Trapped by our greed, our ambitions, our imperious thoughts, so many supposed followers of Christ in today’s society have become like dragons… not in appearance, but in our hearts. And to make matters worse, we get stuck like that. Swathed in layer upon layer of dragon skin – layers we have created thick and deep in order to protect our tender hearts from a world we consider cruel – we get to a point where we realize that our barriers, our protective coverings, our haughty gazes and upturned noses, have turned us into something monstrous; something foul and hideous, and knobby. We suddenly understand that our own supposed protections, our own justifications, have transformed us into a creature not only ugly, but fierce… something that breathes fire at anyone and anything it thinks will attack it – including friends and family – and that’s long, sharp claws can tear down others much quicker than it can rebuild.

Once this is realized, I think a lot of Christians start by trying to peel off the layers of their dragon’s skin one at a time all by themselves. We don’t know how else to do it. After all, the layers were built up one at a time – one haughty thought at a time, one ambition, one moment of greed, one hidden sin… But for us it becomes too much. If we try to do it ourselves, we’ll never get the full Dragon skin off. There will always be another dragon skin underneath each layer to replace it, just as knobbly and dirty and ugly as the first. And because it takes time for us to try and peel off each ugly layer of skin one at a time, we shall always have that same ample amount of time to grow a new skin right back. After all, it is far easier to fall back into habit and to grow a dragon skin (with all that that entails) than it is to feel the pain and peel the skin away. It would seem that growing a dragon skin is only part of Human Nature.

However, there is One who can get the whole skin off all at once.

In the chronicles of Narnia, that One is Aslan the Lion… the only son of the Emperor Over the Sea. In the books, that Lion took his great, strong claws and ripped the giant ugly dragon skin clean off of Eustace’s body, leaving it lying in a heap beside the enchanted cleansing pool. And afterward, Eustace looked back on the shed skin and saw how thick and horrible it actually was, and knew that there was no way he could have taken it off all by himself.

In real life, that Lion is actually Jesus Christ, and his claws are actually three iron nails, and the enchanted pool is actually his blood pooled at the foot of an ancient wooden cross. And our Dragon skin… well, it’s much the same as Eustace’s. Sure, we can’t actually see it – physically see it – like the crew of the Dawn Treader could see Eustace’s dragon skin in the books. But that doesn’t mean our Dragon skins are any smaller or less awful or less shameful than Eustace’s. And only the Lion himself – only Christ – can actually “undress” us of our awful ugly skin and toss us into the enchanted pool… the deep, cleansing pool of his blood.

Sometimes, however, it’s hard to admit that we can’t take the skin off by ourselves. And yet admitting our weaknesses is the first step to freedom because it is a step towards realizing and having others realize that we are not perfect… never were and never will be.

Until Eustace actually turned into a dragon, he always thought that he was right, while everyone else was terribly and inexcusably wrong. Once he became a dragon – once he realized how awful he really was in comparison to what he had originally thought the others to be – he started to understand. He started to see the ugliness for what it truly was; not just the scales, and claws, and teeth of a dragon, but the ugliness that had settled in his heart and in his soul. He started to want to be fixed… want to be made beautiful inside, even though he knew he didn’t deserve it.

And what Eustace never realized, just as we often don’t, is that once he could see and understand the wrong for what it was, only then could Aslan heal him. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If the horse doesn’t admit and realize that it’s thirsty, even if it’s going to die without water, there is nothing you can do to save that horse… it will not drink and you cannot force it to.

And just think about how much MORE stubborn a dragon would be.

And now think about how stubborn humans can be when compared to a common beast such as the horse.

But there is hope for us, just like there was for Eustace, because God is a jealous God, a loving God. He wants to make us beautiful inside and out, even though we don’t deserve it. It may not be pleasant though – sometimes it takes a lion’s claws to tear through all of the layers of Dragon Ugliness and Evilness that we’ve built up around us. But no matter what, we can rest safe in knowing that the pain is only temporary, and once the whole process is over, no matter how much hurt it may cost us at the time, we will be made new – smooth and pure, just like how we were always meant to be.

Once God cleanses us of our Dragon skins.


Jake said...

Great post! Love the themes going on there. I really wish I had brought some Narnia with me to west Africa. xP I need to reread them - it's been years.

And, having absolutely nothing to do with this post - you've been tagged on my blog. :)

Galadriel said...

I heartily agree. And Narnia forever.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

That scene has always been my favorite in the whole series, as such I was disappointed with the movie's version but still got choked up haha