Devin Brown is a Professor of English at Asbury University where he teaches a class on C. S. Lewis. He is the author of Inside Narnia (2005), Inside Prince Caspian (2008), and Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).
“Further Up and Further In”
Narnia as an Introduction to Lewis’s Thought and Theology
In The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis presents in story form many ideas that he further develops in his non-fiction writings. The following five lessons each explore a major concept from Lewis’s thought and theology found in the Narnia stories and connect it with what Lewis had to say about this topic in his other works.
NOTE: Since there are a number of different editions of most of Lewis’s books, each with different page numbers, chapter numbers or names will be given to help anyone who wants to look up specific passages.
LESSON 2: “Strange Help”: Lewis’s View of Divine Providence
In chapter five of Prince Caspian, the young prince must flee for his life and seek refuge among the Old Narnians, the talking animals and mythological characters Miraz has driven into hiding. Just before Caspian leaves, his tutor—a half-dwarf named Doctor Cornelius—gives him a strange and ancient object, the magic horn of Queen Susan herself, with these words: “It is said that whoever blows it shall have strange help—no one can say how strange.”
In chapter ten of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas gave the horn to Susan with these instructions: “When you put this horn to your lips and blow it, then wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you.” Two chapters later, when the great wolf attacked, Susan’s horn brought not a powerful unicorn or one of the mighty centaurs in Aslan’s camp, but only her brother Peter, someone who had never even used a sword before.
Strange help indeed and certainly nothing like what Susan was expecting. However, with Peter’s coming, not only were Susan and Lucy saved, but the inexperienced high king had his first exposure to battle, something he would need the next day when he would lead his forces against those of the White Witch.
Caspian’s outnumbered troops suffer defeat after defeat, and finally in chapter seven the desperate Prince decides he can wait no longer to use the magic horn. While he and the Old Narnians are hoping it will bring Peter and his “mighty consorts” or possibly Aslan himself, Doctor Cornelius cautions them, “We do not know what form the help will take.”
In fact, the horn does bring Peter and his siblings, and Aslan as well, but not in the manner expected. The four Pevensies appear, but as children only a year older than when they arrived on their first visit. A disappointed Trumpkin explains how everyone had been hoping for “great warriors” and concludes, “I suppose I’d better go back to King Caspian and tell him no help has come.”
When Aslan arrives, he is bigger than before, but does not take part in the fighting. Even Lucy protests, “I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away—like last time.”
The responses that Trumpkin and Lucy make are understandable. Here in the second Narnia adventure, the horn has once again brought help as promised. But once again it is strange help, help so different from what was anticipated that it is hard at first to even see it as help. In fact, much of the aid in Prince Caspian, when viewed in retrospect, is this same kind of strange assistance. The exile of Caspian’s nurse opened the door to the arrival of Doctor Cornelius. The storm that caused Caspian’s riding accident led directly to his rescue by Trumpkin and Trufflehunter.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of strange help found in the Chronicles will be Eustace’s transformation into a dragon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a painful ordeal but the only way Eustace will be able to see himself as he really is and undergo the change he needs to make. In all these instances, Lewis seems to be reminding us that God’s help often comes in an unanticipated form, in a manner so unforeseen that it may be recognized as help only later when we look back on it.
In chapter five of Letters to Malcolm, Lewis comments on this truth as he examines the various parts of the Lord’s Prayer. In the section discussing “Thy will be done,” he makes the following observation: “I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings…. It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good.”
This same lesson, about accepting the good that God sends to us, however strange or unexpected it may be, plays a central role in Perelandra, the second volume of Lewis’s Space Trilogy. In chapter five, the Queen explains the concept to Ransom:
“One goes in the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given…. If you wished… you could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”
In the section titled “Let’s Pretend” in Mere Christianity, Lewis discusses God’s care for us and makes the point that Divine help comes “in all sorts of ways.” Sometimes we may recognize this help right away; sometimes we may recognize it only long afterwards. Sometimes the thing we thought was the worst thing that could have happened, in retrospect is seen as the best thing that could have happened.
In an essay titled “Answers to Questions on Christianity” found in God in the Dock, Lewis was asked to define what it means to be a practicing Christian. According to Lewis, a central component of the believer’s walk “means looking at everything as something that comes from him.” Lewis’s story of strange help found in Prince Caspian was intended to help readers to be more open to God’s “blessings in disguise” the next time one comes their way, and thus more likely to welcome it with gratitude and adoration.
1. Have there been times in your life when you have received this kind of “strange help”—help that did not look much like help until much later?
2. What might Lewis be saying about our expectations about Divine Providence?
3. As we grow and mature, how do our perceptions of Divine Providence grow and mature?
Devin Brown is an English Professor at Asbury University and the author of Inside Narnia (2005), Inside Prince Caspian (2008), and Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).