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 3: The Undragoning of Eustace: Lewis’s View of Divine Grace—PART I
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” So begins The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace almost deserves his name because he behaves in a manner his priggish, snobby name suggests.
The resemblances in the tone and the initials of the name Eustace Clarence Scrubb and those of Clive Staples Lewis hint that there may be further similarities between the character and his creator. Lewis, who disliked his given name so much that he went by “Jack” all his life, shared Eustace’s sharp intellect as well as his lack of physical prowess. The Eustace we meet in chapter one is truly the “record stinker” that Edmund will call him, and so was Lewis himself for a time during his youth.
Lewis documents this phase of his life in chapter four of his autobiography Surprised by Joy, confessing that at one point, his prime motivation was a craving for “glitter, swagger, and distinction, and the desire to be in the know.” Lewis goes on to describe his descent into a world of self-centeredness and confesses, “I began to labor very hard to make myself into a fop, a cad, and a snob.” In the first chapter of The Silver Chair, Eustace will look back at his former self and exclaim, “Gosh! What a little tick I was,” a statement Lewis could very well have made about the corresponding period in his own youth.
After his pretentious sounding name, the very next thing we learn about Eustace Clarence Scrubb is that when it came to friends, “he had none.” Eustace’s condition of being friendless, self-centered, and dominated by the desire to dominate is a state in which Aslan will not abandon him. Like Edmund’s earlier condition in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Eustace’s sorry status cries out for mercy and redemption. Lewis, as he did previously with Edmund, again wants to remind his readers that some of the greatest saints were once the worst sinners—or in Eustace’s case, the worst stinkers.
Like the White Witch and Miraz before him, Eustace is unable to see any flaws in himself. In fact, all of Lewis’s villains share this same lack of capacity for self-criticism. Eustace needs to receive the self-knowledge that only Aslan can give to be able to see how dragonish his attitudes truly are.
In a letter dated July 5, 1956 from Letters to an American Lady, Lewis turns to this topic of spiritual blindness and asks, “How many people in the whole world believe themselves to be snobs, prigs, bores, bullies, or tale-bearers?” He concludes, “How difficult it is not to have a special standard for oneself!” In letter three of The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has Screwtape offers these instructions to his nephew Wormwood for use with the man he has been assigned to tempt: “You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.”
In chapter four of The Problem of Pain, Lewis points out that when the Gospel was first preached, “It brought news of possible healing to men that knew they were mortally ill.” But now, Lewis notes, all this has changed. Today before the good news of Christ’s healing power can be accepted, people must first be convinced of the bad news of their spiritual state. In the film Amazing Grace, though his mind is fading with age John Newton declares he knows two things very clearly: “I’m a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.” Modern man—and Eustace is very modern—must be made aware of the first truth before he can know the second.
Within just a few days on ship, Eustace locates the smallest creature around him, and thinking he can torment him, comes up with a plan. We are told that Eustace thought it would be “delightful” to catch hold of Reepicheep’s long tail, to swing him around once or twice, and then to run away and laugh. Readers may be reminded here of Peter’s comment to Edmund near the start of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “You’ve always liked being beastly to anyone smaller than yourself.”
This is the first action Eustace takes since arriving in Narnia, and it typifies the story of his whole life. Here we see his central reason for living, the formula for the only version of happiness Eustace knows: to dominate, torment, and intimidate others. This is what he was up to in Lucy’s bedroom before he was interrupted by the actions of the sailing ship in the picture. Now he gets back to the business of his life.
In the chapter titled “The New Men” from Mere Christianity, Lewis observes: “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been.” He could, perhaps, more accurately have written: How monotonously alike all tyrants and conquerors—great and small—have been. In the first three Chronicles, Lewis has given us a major tyrant in the White Witch, a minor tyrant in Miraz, and now in Eustace a miniature tyrant. Despite their differing magnitudes, they share many similarities.
During the hundred years of winter she imposed over Narnia, what did the White Witch do all day? Here is an attempt at the Witch’s daily To Do list: 1) check statues, 2) sit on Ice Throne, 3) yell at wolves, 4) sharpen Stone Knife, 5) make sure it is still winter, but never Christmas, and 6) make sure no one is happy, having fun, or enjoying themselves in any way—if they are, torment or tyrannize them until they are not.
What does Eustace like to do with his time? On the first page readers are told that he likes to kill beetles and pin them on a card. He likes tormenting people, as well as insects, but only if he believes they can not or will not strike back. In addition, we learn that Eustace, although quite bright in school, does not care much about any subject for its own sake, but only about the marks he can earn in that subject so he can ridicule anyone with a lower score. The tyrants’ only version of happiness—whether the Witch, Miraz, or Eustace—requires that they take happiness away from others.
In chapter two readers are told, “Eustace of course would be pleased with nothing.” Because of the way his parents have raised him, because of the school he has gone to, and most of all because of the patterns he has chosen to think and act in until he can no longer break free of them, it has become impossible for anyone to help Eustace or for any good thing to please him. No one can free him from his overly critical way of looking at everyone and everything around him. Because Eustace has no compassion of his own, any show of kindness towards him is viewed with distrust. In this sense, Eustace has become nearly like the dwarfs found in chapter thirteen of The Last Battle. “Their prison is only in their own minds,” Aslan will observe about the dwarfs. “Yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
The Eustace we get to know in the first half of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is nearly like the dwarfs in The Last Battle. He is on the path towards putting himself beyond Aslan’s aid. If left to his own, Lewis suggests, Eustace would arrive at the same endpoint they reach—but he is not there yet. As we will see, Eustace is not left to his own. Aslan has been calling him though he does not know it.
If the Eustace we get to know in the first half of the story almost deserves his name, in the second half he will be given something he does not deserve—grace. Through grace, Eustace will finally be made painfully aware of the dragonish life he has been leading, and through grace he will be offered a chance to be free from it—grace which he has done nothing to earn and does not deserve.
1. Why is it that certain people, and Eustace is among them, are completely unable to see their egregious flaws?
2. After years of being blind to these flaws, how are some people finally able to see themselves as they really are?
3. What role might pain and suffering play in this change from spiritual blindness to being able to see, and might it be fair then to label this pain and suffering as a gift, as grace?
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).