In which the unseen is made visible through story.
This chapter, the narrator is a bit more talkative than normal; perhaps it’s merely because Lucy is the only character present for the majority of the chapter, but at any rate, it reminded me of the time (or possibly times, depending on the translation) that John speaks directly to his audience in his Gospel. He’s kind enough to explain the purpose of the book in 20:30-31 (“so that you may believe”), but this is notably placed neither at the very end of the book nor at the very beginning. Instead, it’s placed directly after Jesus appears to Thomas following the Resurrection, saying “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Lewis has played with the correlation between belief and seeing before, of course (most notably in Prince Caspian), and this certainly isn’t the last time, either, but this one is quite possibly his most subtle rendition in all his works (including his adult fiction). And this is a children’s story.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Now she had come to the top of the stairs. Lucy looked and saw a long, wide passage with a large window at the far end. Apparently the passage ran the whole length of the house. It was carved and paneled and carpeted and very many doors opened off it on each side. She stood still and couldn’t hear the squeak of a mouse, or the buzzing of a fly, or the swaying of a curtain, or anything – except the beating of her own heart.
“The last doorway on the left,” she said to herself. It did seem a bit hard that it should be the last. To reach it she would have to walk past room after room. And in any room there might be the magician – asleep, or awake, or invisible, or even dead. But it wouldn’t do to think of that. She set out on her journey. The carpet was so thick that her feet made no noise.
I love how tense Lewis makes a simple walk down a corridor. Already there’s an idea that there must be some very real things that cannot be seen or heard. But she ultimately reaches the Book without incident.
The description of the pictures in the Book (specifically their “realness”) is very similar to the description of the painting of the Dawn Treader in chapter 1 (which may cause one to wonder about the origin of said painting, but that is neither here nor there). Although Lewis never directly says it, it slowly becomes evident that the “spells” are all stories: Things that alter reality in their reading, and more specifically, things that alter a person in their reading. Stories convey truth. That’s why John chose to write his gospel in the form of a story (which may or may not be entirely factual): That others might believe without seeing.
Anyhow, on her journey through the book, Lucy encounters a spell which she’s sorely tempted to try: An infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. Any girl might be tempted to try it, of course, but Lucy actually has a specific reason – namely, Susan. As was mentioned in chapter 1, Susan is praised as “the pretty one” and seems to be favored by adults (if not necessarily by their parents), and Lucy is clearly jealous of her, no matter what she claims. Even after she’s shown images of the world literally going to war because of her impossible beauty, upon seeing herself back in England, suddenly usurping Susan’s place on the family pedestal, she very nearly goes through with it.
“I will say the spell,” said Lucy. “I don’t care. I will.” She said I don’t care because she had a strong feeling that she mustn’t.
An image of Aslan promptly snaps her out of it, but this combined with the spell she actually does try (which allows her to hear “what her friends think of her”, although it’s really just what her friends happen to be saying about her) paints a picture of Lucy as she is in “real life” – that is, a little insecure. She lacks the boldness which she’s famous for in Narnia.
And then she gets to a spell “for the refreshment of the spirit”.
The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful. And what Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell. It went on for three pages and before she had gotten to the bottom of the page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real.
And she never could remember [the story]; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is one that reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.
Then, she finally reaches the visibility spell.
Then her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn’t know it), she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture, and she ran forward with a little cry of delight and with her arms stretched out. […]
“Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”
“I have been here all the time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”
“Aslan!” said Lucy almost a little reproachfully. “Don’t make fun of me. As if anything I could do would make you visible!”
“It did,” said Aslan.
Until next time…