I admit it. I’m a scaredy-cat. Such a scaredy-cat that I don’t even like reading something like Tintin. (I know, I know.)
And it’s hard being a scaredy-cat in a world that provides a wealth of things to freak out about. Terrorists. Cancer. Restrictive governments. Health scares. Economic woes. Brutal murders.
Frankly, there are times when I can hardly bear the thought of all the things that could go wrong in my life, and in the lives of those I love.
I’ve been re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia since last spring. Earlier this week, I reached the end of The Last Battle. Now there’s a terrifying world. Dryads dying as their trees are slashed down. Talking Horses being made to work for the Calmorenes. Dwarfs being marched to the mines. And—worst of all—the Narnians are being told that it’s all under Aslan’s orders. How then can they oppose it? They must simply accept the brutal “truth” that Aslan is not as good as they thought he was. That Aslan and the Calormene god Tash are, in fact, one and the same.
King Tirian and his small band, who refuse to believe such lies, watch with horror as Narnia crumbles under this double tragedy. And yet despite the horror, Tirian and his friends don’t let fear get the upper hand. Roonwit the Centaur strikes the right note as he lies dying. He sends Tirian a message exhorting him “to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy”.
And so they throw all their energy into a losing battle.
“You would not have known from Tirian’s face that he had now given up all hope. ‘Listen,’ he whispered in a matter-of-fact voice, “we must attack now, before yonder miscreants are strengthened by their friends.’”
And they cling to the hope of what is beyond that battle:
“’I feel in my bones,’ said Poggin, ‘that we shall all, one by one, pass through that dark door before morning. I can think of a hundred deaths I would rather have died.’
‘It is indeed a grim door,’ said Tirian. ‘It is more like a mouth.’
‘Oh, can’t we do anything to stop it?’ said Jill in a shaken voice.
‘Nay, fair friend,’ said Jewel, nosing her gently. ‘It may be for us the door to Aslan’s country and we shall sup at his table tonight.’”
And Jewel is right. The happiest of happy endings awaits, in a country where one can’t be afraid even if one tries, and where it can truly be said, “The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
We need stories like that. Stories that call us to courage, and to hope. Stories that don’t make light of our fears, but that instead steel us to face them. That remind us that we can endure, even if—from our perspective—it’s a losing battle. And that reassure us that what’s on the other side of the stable door makes all the sadness now worth it. I find it so hard to believe such truths, but reading books like The Last Battle makes it a little easier to believe. Tirian would surely whisper to this scaredy-cat, as he whispered to Jill, “But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.”