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 5: “To Find All You Seek”: Lewis View on Our Longing for Heaven
In chapter two of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep tells about a verse that was said over him in the cradle:
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.
In the final chapter of the book, readers will learn what the first part—Where sky and water meet / Where the waves grow sweet—means. But Lewis will not say much about what the “all you seek” part refers to. Here in chapter two, even Reepicheep himself admits, “I do not know what it means. But the spell of it has been on me all my life.” Over the rest of the story Reepicheep will learn that it is not his own personal honor that he has really been seeking all his life but something far more glorious.
In the chapter titled “Hope” from Mere Christianity, we find Lewis’s often-quoted statement, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This desire for another world runs all through the Chronicles.
At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the professor replies to the children’s question about returning: “Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again someday.” In Prince Caspian, after the children are drawn from the train platform into the dense woods, Lucy’s first words are, “Oh, Peter! Do you think we can possibly have got back to Narnia?” In Edmund and Lucy’s first appearance in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis shows them gazing at the painting of the ship from Narnia and longing to return. Edmund’s very first words in that scene express this yearning: “The question is whether it doesn’t make things worse, looking at a Narnian ship when you can’t get there.”
Given all this longing for Narnia, the question arises: why would Reepicheep or anyone want to leave? Lewis never fully gives us an answer but implies there is something that Narnia in its current form lacks. In his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory,” he describes a longing for “something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside.” In The Last Battle those with this longing are able to finally pass through this door.
In chapter ten in The Problem of Pain, Lewis provides a fuller discussion of this underlying longing, although he still remains somewhat vague. There Lewis describes it as “that something which you were born desiring.” Lewis continues: “You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”
If Lewis does not say much more specific about this desire, this is as it must be. Near the end of his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis calls this journey towards the object of our deepest longing, a journey into “the region of awe.” There he describes it as something that refuses to identify itself with “any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined.”
For Lewis, this longing for a world just over the horizon began when he was very young. In the first chapter of Surprised by Joy, he writes of his boyhood at Little Lea, the family home on the outskirts of Belfast, and describes the vague feelings of desire aroused by the distant line of the hills he and his brother could see from their bedroom window. Though not very far off, to Lewis as a child they were “unattainable” and so taught him “longing.” Lewis goes on to note that it is difficult to find words strong enough to describe this sensation which he went on to feel again at various times and places throughout his life. Exactly what this was a longing for is not clear, as Lewis asks: “It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?”
Certainly it was more than a boy’s longing for the hills on the horizon. Later in life, Lewis would identify this sensation as a longing for heaven.
Though from time to time Reepicheep loses sight of it, the real object of his desire is reaching Aslan’s Country, not his own honor. One evidence of this fact is that no matter how much honor Reepicheep has, he can never have enough and must always be defending it. The smallest suggestion that his honor has been impeached sends him into a heroic frenzy. Lewis would say that this is the way it is when we make second things into first things: we can never get enough.
In “The Weight of Glory” Lewis maintains that we have “a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.” In the “Hope” chapter in Mere Christianity he expands on this point, noting that most people, if they truly looked into their hearts, would know that they want “something that cannot be had in this world.” Lewis concludes that there are all sorts of things in the world that claim to satisfy this longing, but “they never quite keep their promise.”
Lewis was keenly aware of the tendency to turn what should be a secondary desire into a primary goal. While secondary desires may be good and useful in their own way, Lewis further explains in Mere Christianity, we should never mistake them for the real desire of which they are “only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.” In words applicable to man or mouse, Lewis then concludes, “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside: I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
In the final pages of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep completes the character arc he began in the previous book. In Prince Caspian, Reepicheep told Peter, “My life is ever at your command, but my honor is my own.” The valiant mouse has now come to a point where he no longer reserves his honor as something which must be his own, something which must be kept back and not offered up in service and sacrifice. In Prince Caspian, Reepicheep held that a tail was “the honor and glory” of a mouse. Now he has a higher honor and a greater glory.
After losing his tail near the end of Prince Caspian, Reepicheep was “confounded” because of his appearance and confessed to Aslan: “I am completely out of countenance. I must crave your indulgence for appearing in this unseemly fashion.” In restoring the mouse’s tail, Aslan made it clear that he did not do this for the sake of Reepicheep’s “dignity.” Here in a final indication that along with his sword Reepicheep has flung away any last concerns about his dignity and about maintaining an honorable appearance, Reepicheep allows Lucy to do “what she had always wanted to do.” She takes him in her arms and caresses him—an action which back in chapter one readers were told would have offended him deeply.
We are not told what happens to Reepicheep on the other side of the great wave. The narrator simply reports: “The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up the wave’s side. For one split second they saw its shape and Reepicheep’s on the very top. Then it vanished, and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse. But my belief is that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day.” Jonathan Rogers has described Reepicheep’s final voyage in these words: “Forgetting himself, forgetting the world, forgetting everything that lies behind, he goes up, up, up, to be welcomed into the heart of things.”
In The Last Battle, Lewis will have Reepicheep waiting as keeper of the golden gates to welcome Lucy and the rest. In that scene and in Pauline Baynes’s delightful illustration which accompanies it, Reepicheep will have his left paw “resting on a long sword,” one which we may assume Aslan has given him to replace the one he has left behind here—making this another time where Lewis seems to suggest that if we put first things first, we get second things thrown in. Or in Reepicheep’s case, if we relinquish our quest for personal honor, we will be given a far greater kind of honor.
Readers are given two further windows on this longing for the land beyond the world’s end. In chapter fifteen of The Last Battle, Jewel will reach the borders of this region with the others and will declare: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”
For a second window we might look to Lucy’s words on the next to the last page of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After being told that she and Edmund will never return to Narnia, Lucy will sob: “It isn’t Narnia, you know. It’s you,” suggesting that at the root of the children’s longing for Narnia and, in Reepicheep’s case, for Aslan’s Country is a longing for Aslan himself.
A similar point could be made about our own longing for Heaven. To Christ, every Christian might say, “It isn’t Heaven, you know. It’s you.”
Here in final pages, Reepicheep comes to the place where sky and water meet, and the prophecy spoken over his cradle is fulfilled as he leaves behind his sword and sails over the great wave where he will find all that he was seeking.
1. To what extent could we—like Reepicheep—say the spell of heaven has been on us all our lives?
2. To what extent have we—also like Reepicheep—sometimes confused it with lesser desires?
3. Are our longing for Heaven and our longing for God two separate desires? Or is desiring to be in the home God has created for us one facet of desiring Him?
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).