In an earlier post on Lewis and World War I, I noted that Lewis had the remarkable ability to segregate his mind from his surroundings and retreat into an inner world of the imagination that kept him insulated from the horrors of around him. As a result, while Lewis was not left completely unscathed by the war, he emerged from it intact and was able to pick his life up again after his discharge. In his essay “Learning in Wartime,” Lewis remarked on the idea that military service must necessarily dominate a person’s experience, noting that “Neither conversion nor enlistment in the army is going to obliterate our human life. Christians and soldiers are still men; the infidel’s idea of a religious life and the civilian’s idea of active service are fantastic” (The Weight of Glory 51-52). We see a similar pattern in the characters he created in the Chronicles of Narnia.
War in Narnia never seems to wholly consume those who take part in it. They emerge on the other side still essentially themselves. Probably the two best examples of this are Peter and Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The war against Jadis is easily one of the largest and most costly discussed in the Chronicles, second in size perhaps only to Caspian’s fight against the Telmarines. Even though Aslan and Lucy save many wounded, the implication is that there are a significant number of casualties. Peter watched his soldiers die in front of him as he fought a desperate battle against Jadis. Edmund had been brutally wounded to the point of death. Even Lucy’s cordial would be unlikely to heal such emotional scars (142-186).
The transformation that the boys undergo is notable, but not complete. They are not the same, but neither are they so changed as to no longer be recognizably themselves. When Lucy arrives on the field with Aslan, she finds it odd “to see Peter looking as he looked now—his face was so pale and stern and he seemed so much older” (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe 175). Rather than leave him scarred and dysfunctional, Peter became “a tall and deep chested man and a great warrior, and he was called King Peter the Magnificent” (181). Edmund’s case is less obvious, since he also benefitted from Lucy’s ministrations and it is impossible to distinguish what cause resulted in which effect. Still, after the battle Edmund becomes “his real old self again and could look you in the face.” He later “was a quieter and graver man than Peter and great in council and judgment. He was called King Edmund the Just (181). The older Edmund presented in The Horse and His Boyonly deepens and illustrates this.
When Lewis came out of the hospital in 1918, he had earned no magnificent surname and was not likely any deeper-chested than before, he was still essentially C. S. Lewis. Older, graver perhaps, but not so radically changed that he did not know himself. The essential point is clear. Lewis, Peter, and Edmund all carried a certain character into the war, and all three emerged with that same basic character intact. War marked both Lewis and the Pevensies indelibly, leaving them changed in sometimes critical ways, but the experience did not ruin them as individuals and could in fact have helped them mature. They faced it out of necessity and afterward they did not dwell on its horrors unnecessarily. War became one more stream of experience in the much longer tale of life; part of them, but not the whole.
Next week: The first experience of combat.
The content of this series of posts was first presented to the world in the excellent little Lewis journal, The Lamp-Post 31:4 (Winter, 2010): 3-23, and was given in a talk at the 41st meeting of the Mythopoeic Society in Dallas, TX, in July 2010. A greatly expanded version is under consideration with the journal Mythlore.
Lewis, C. S. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. San Diego: Harvest, 1994.
________. The Horse and His Boy. New York: Collier, 1970.
________. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Scholastic, 1987.
________. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: HarperOne, 2001.
Previous Posts in the War in Narnia Series:
- C. S. Lewis the Soldier
- World War I’s Effect on C. S. Lewis
- Some Literary Limitations on Lewis’s Experience
- Dark Realism and Plain Practicality