Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Always Worth Retelling
I first read C.S. Lewis just after I arrived in the United States as a nine-year-old girl. Born in Iraq, I was still learning English when I first read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and it captured my attention and my imagination.Amen and Amen! It should be read and reread:
Life moved on, I settled into this country, I became an adult, and I later read other non-fiction and philosophical books by Lewis. But what breaks me — even to this day — are a few pages in his fiction book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
"I won't tell you how I became a-a dragon till I can tell the others and get it all over," said Eustace. "By the way, I didn't even know it was a dragon till I heard you all using the word when I turned up here the other morning. I want to tell you how I stopped being one.Eustace dragons remember
"Fire ahead," said Edmund.
"Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything"
"Is that all right now?"
Eustace laughed-a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before-and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. "There it is," he said, "and anyone who likes can have it as far as I'm concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then-but, mind you, it may have been all a dream. I don't know."
"Go on, said Edmund, with considerable patience.
"Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of if-if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."
"You mean it spoke?"
"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden-trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.
"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells-like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not. "I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
"But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under-skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
"Then the lion said-but I don't know if it spoke, "You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know-if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it was such fun to see it coming away.
"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off-just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt-and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me, I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on-and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.
"After a bit the lion took me out and dressed...
"Dressed you. With his paws?"
"Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes-the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."
"No. It wasn't a dream," said Edmund.
"Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been-well, un-dragoned, for another."
"What do you think it was, then?" asked Eustace.
"I think you've seen Aslan," said Edmund.
'Aslan!" said Eustace. "I've heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt-I don't know what-I hated it. But I was hating everything then. And by the way, I'd like to apologize. I'm afraid I've been pretty beastly."
"That's all right," said Edmund. "Between ourselves, you haven't been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor."
"Well, don't tell me about it, then," said Eustace. "But who is Aslan? Do you know him?"
"Well-he knows me," said Edmund.