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Treading the Dawn: Part 3

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The three enemies of the soul

Among the many memorable phrases in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, we find the following petition: “from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us.” These three form a deadly trinity of deception often called the “enemies of the soul.”

The Bible doesn’t use this specific wording, but the idea seems rooted in Jesus’ teaching. Consider the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1–20): the unproductive soils describe the attacks of the devil, those who “have no root” (whose “flesh” is weak), and the “worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth.” C.S. Lewis has this same trio of enemies at work in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The devil

We meet the first in the fearsome Sea Serpent. In the Old Testament, sea monsters often represent chaos and God’s enemies (see Leviathan in Psalm 74:13–14; Job 41), and eventually become a classic image for the devil. The symbolism carries through to Revelation, where we find demonic serpents of both sea and land.

Lewis connects the story’s Sea Serpent attack with biblical imagery in a couple of ways. First, the Serpent is to be resisted, not counter-attacked. Eustace tried (for his first time ever) to be brave, and attacked the Serpent – only to break King Caspian’s sword. Reepicheep’s command, “Don’t fight! Push!” caught the crew off guard, for it was “so unusual for the Mouse to advise anyone not to fight.” But he knew only resistance would save the ship. Likewise, Scripture says “resist the devil” (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9), and warns against the spiritual dangers of a frontal attack (Jude 9).

If the Narnian Sea Serpent is somehow presented as a devil-figure, we might be surprised by its apparent stupidity, showing “a look of idiotic satisfaction” after damaging (but not sinking) the Dawn Treader. Doesn’t this contradict the biblical portrayal of the devil as “scheming” (Ephesians 6:11), or of Eden’s serpent as “shrewd” (Genesis 3)? But Lewis knows the strong medieval tradition of portraying the devil as a fool: the ultimate one who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Paul also alludes to the short-sightedness of the spiritual rulers who crucified Christ (1 Corinthians 2:8). Despite the size and strength of this dragonish enemy of the soul, the wisdom of the noble mouse prevailed: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Deceits of the world

Directly after this attack comes a second, less obvious threat. On the island that will soon be named Deathwater, our friends discover a Midas-like pool. Caspian and Edmund develop a rather dragonish greed, and almost come to blows over the promise of limitless, effortless wealth. The conflict reflects the warnings of James 4:1–4 against “friendship with the world” – we might call it the temptation to worldly power.

Lucy chastises the two young men for their avarice. However, in the story’s next episode, we find her falling into a similar snare. For Lucy, temptation takes the form of vanity rather than greed. Leafing through the pages of a magic book, she comes across “an infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals.” As she sees herself in the magic pages, she obstinately wants to say the spell. At the critical moment (as in the conflict between Edmund and Caspian), she is confronted by an appearance of Aslan. In neither situation does Aslan (the Christ figure) actually say anything – his mere presence is enough of a rebuke to bring the tempted to their senses. Both scenes evoke a temptation to some sort of power, a “friendship with the world” that undermines the Gospel path.

The flesh

The final of the three deadly enemies is the “flesh,” or fallen human nature. We meet a portrayal of this in the story’s next episode: the Dark Island. This ominous place points to the darkness within the human soul: “this is the island where dreams come true.” Not daydreams, but real dreams, including the uncontrolled nightmares that slither and claw their way up from our inner depths. That this darkness is a particularly human problem is shown by the mouse Reepicheep’s fearlessness here.

The crew of the Dawn Treader rescue a haunted victim of the darkness. But they themselves are now lost in the dark, and Lucy (whose name means “light”) prays to Aslan for rescue. Help appears in the form of a shining white albatross (shaped “like a cross”), a whispered word (“courage, dear heart”; see John 14:1) and a “delicious smell breathed in her face.” With symbols pointing to both Christ and Spirit, Lucy’s cry in the dark is answered.

The Dark Island is a murky, terrifying locale. Lewis, however, is careful not to assign it an objective reality – nothing solid is ever encountered. In a similar way, our sinful “flesh” – our inner life – is a subjective muddle of stimuli that can’t ever be fully probed or proven. But its impact on our outer lives, like the Island’s impact on those who enter the darkness, is all too obvious. We need rescue: something to take us out of ourselves. When the light of Christ shines into the darkness, when the whispered voice of his Spirit speaks into our lostness, then we find a way out, a way forward.

Randy Klassen teaches at Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask. He grew up in B.C., but has only once seen a real sea serpent.

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