Puddleglum as a Skeptical Believer

Bruce NielsonMormon 10 Comments

My wife says I have a naturally skeptical personality, sometimes to the point of pessimism. I have probably passed up being a millionaire many times by refusing to take serious any network marketing scheme. And come to think of it, I’ve probably let many a conspiracy run amok due to my refusal to believe in conspiracies unless there is, ahem, some sort of evidence worth mentioning.

So maybe this is why I can relate to C.S. Lewis’ character, Puddleglum. Puddleglum is a wet blanket who is skeptical of just about everything. He’s as much a joy to read as he is joyless.

One day, while reading C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair I came across a passage that caused me to have one of those religious moments; you know, one of those rare moments where a truth that you are pretty sure you already knew suddenly gains clarity it never had before. I wish to share that moment with everyone:

As the story goes, Jill and Scrubb, two children from our world, have traveled to the magic world of Narnia. Jill meets Aslan the lion – the archetypal Christ for Narnia – and is given a mission to save Prince Rilian from the clutches of an evil witch. Jill and Scrubb later meet Puddleglum and all three found their way to the Underworld, an underground kingdom ruled by the witch.

But before the prince can be rescued, the witch uses a magic fire and magic mandolin to cause the foursome to forget about Narnia all together. But nagging memories of their “pre-existence” in Narnia keep bubbling to the surface. The witch uses logic to explain away their memories of Narnia.

At last, Jill has a final thought bubble to the surface…

From The Silver Chair, p.156 (1970 edition):

For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:

“There’s Aslan.”

“Aslan?” said the Witch, quickening ever so slightly the pace of her thrumming. “What a pretty name! What does it mean?”

“He is the great Lion who called us out of our own world,” said Scrubb, “and sent us into this to find Prince Rilian.”

“What is a lion?” asked the Witch.

“Oh hang it all!” said Scrubb. “Don’t you know? How can we describe it to her? Have you ever seen a cat?”

“Surely,” said the Queen. “I love cats.”

“Well a lion is a little bit – only a little bit, mind you – like a huge cat – with a mane. At least, it’s not like a horse’s mane, you know, it’s more like a judge’s wig. And it’s yellow. And terrifically strong.”

The Witch shook her head. “I see,” she said, “that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to so called a lion. Well, ‘tis a pretty make-believe though, to say a truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. The he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn’t hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck’s. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. …

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there one thing more to be said, even so. 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 seem 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, if 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 their isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Comments 10

  1. This reminds me a little bit of what the Mormon kid Gary says to Stan in the South Park episode, “All About Mormons”:

    Gary: Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

    Cartman: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?

  2. I can’t top Matt’s comment, but this also reminds me of something I once read Brigham Young said, that went something like this:

    “People say we Mormons are all going to hell, and if that’s where we all end up in the next life, we’ll kick the devil out and turn it into a paradise!”

    I loved how Brigham thought we could collectively bring something into existence through our sheer willpower and determination.

    BTW, I’ve been looking for that quote for years, so if someone can point me to the source, I’d be much obliged.

  3. Post

    “And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.”

    – Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316.

  4. I just finished reading this one with my daughter. Puddleglum shines at the end. I wonder at times how autobiographical he was for the Lewis. What a great moment, taking the leap of faith in what is good and right when it is the least comfortable to do so. I like it. Bet that foot never did heal right, I shouldn’t wonder.

  5. Bruce,

    Thanks for the fun post. My wife and I are both Lewis fans and she is a Narnia addict, so I’m sharing this with her.

    Could you imagine, or has anyone ever heard, someone bear their Mormon testimony in a Puddleglum fashion?

  6. Pingback: True Religion: Why There Can Be At Most One at Mormon Matters

  7. Hey, my sister and I just wrote a new book called “C. S. Lewis: Latter-Day Truths in Narnia.” I was so impressed by this same point and believe it was significant that the only one injured on their quest was Puddleglum for his valiance. When faith wanes, bright hope can sometimes carry us through. The book is currently available at cedarfort.com, if your interested.

  8. Mormon testimony ala Puddleglum (heard at sacrament). “I don’t know if it’s true – I don’t care – it’s a great way to live, I’ve got nothing to lose.”

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