The Difficulty of Change (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
This is the second set of notes from my friend Bob Prud’homme, who taught a class on Tough Questions using the Narnia Tales. This one comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and has to do with change. It’s an excellent stimulus for discussion.
Is real change possible? How can I change as a person? What is the role of God in change?
We all have things we would like to change. That might be something from my past that haunts me and interferes with my relationships. It may be a part my personality. However, change is difficult. The ubiquity of the “diet and weight loss” industry makes this clear.
Why am I the person I am? Is it heredity or environment? What is real change about? What is the role of God in change for a Christian? Can non-Christians not change in the way a Christian can? Why don’t I see much difference between change in Christians and non-Christians? These are tough questions.
As the jumping off point we are going to look at Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (VDT) and the change in Eustace Clarence Scrubb.
Plot summary: (from Wikipedia)
The two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy and Edmund, are staying with their odious cousin Eustace Scrubb. Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace are drawn into the Narnian world through a picture of a ship at sea. The three children land in the ocean near the pictured vessel, the Dawn Treader, and are taken aboard.
The Dawn Treader is the ship of Caspian X, King of Narnia, who was the key character in the previous book (Prince Caspian). Edmund and Lucy (along with Peter and Susan) helped him gain the throne from his evil uncle Miraz.
Three years have passed since then, peace has been established in Narnia, and Caspian has undertaken his oath to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia. Lucy and Edmund are delighted to be back in Narnia, but Eustace is less enthusiastic, as he has never been there before and had taunted his cousins with his belief that the country never existed.
At the second island they visit, Eustace leaves the group to avoid participating in the work needed to render the ship seaworthy after a storm has damaged it, and hides in a dead dragon’s cave to escape a sudden downpour. The dragon’s treasure arouses his greed: he fills his pockets with gold and jewels and puts on a large golden bracelet; but as he sleeps, he is transformed into a dragon. As a dragon, he becomes aware of how bad his previous behaviour was. Aslan turns Eustace back into a boy, now a much nicer person.
The book begins with a wonderful description of the main character in our discussion:
THERE WAS A BOY CALLED EUSTACE Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and masters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none. He didn’t call his Father and Mother “Father” and “Mother,” but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on beds and the windows were always open.
Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools. ((p.1)
Eustace is turned into a dragon:
He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself. (p.75)
How does our society say that people change?
The book VDT has been made into a movie. The movie does a very good job of following the book in most respects. But it makes a major alteration in presenting how Eustace became “undragoned.” In the movie the dragon scratches his chest, in a pointless gesture, and then Aslan roars, the dragon is catapulted into the air, fire sort of surrounds him and he falls to the ground a boy again. What is communicated by that sequence is that God does something dramatic and presto-chango we are changed. Our society likes the presto-chango process of change. Think of the before and after weight loss photos. Think about liposuction. Think about the infomercial that promises “abs of steel in only 5 minutes a day”.
Here is how the book describes his being “undragoned.” Eustace appears to Edmund and they have this talk:
“I won’t tell you how I became a—a dragon till I can tell the others and get it all over,” said Eustace. “By the way, I didn’t even know it was a dragon till I heard you all using the word when I turned up here the other morning. I want to tell you how I stopped being one.”
“Fire ahead,” said Edmund.
“Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything—”
“Is that all right now?”
Eustace laughed—a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before—and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm.
“There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then—but, mind you, it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”
“Go on,” said Edmund, with considerable patience.
“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it—if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”
“You mean it spoke?”
“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.
“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.
“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And wondering what on earth would become of me. And then—but, mind you, it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”
“Go on,” said Edmund, with considerable patience.
“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under-skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, however many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—’You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me—”
“Dressed you. With his paws?”
“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes—the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.
“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been—well, un-dragoned, for another.”
“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.
“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.
One of the key elements of change for Eustace is the image of taking clothing off and putting clothing on. This is a theme through Scripture (Is 61:10, Gal 3:23, Eph 4:24)
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. …As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Col 3:9-12
What is God’s role in the clothing process? What is our role?
What are the “new clothes” that are put on?
Why was the change process painful for Eustace? What does that mean for us?
I would argue that the most successful “change organization” of our generation is Alcoholics Anonymous.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made a direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The AA process of change is exactly the process that Lewis lays out. There is recognition of our inability to do it on our own, a submission to God, God removes our defects, and we are re-dressed in changed behavior.
Can someone change who isn’t willing to take this “God centric” view of the process? That is, can only Christians truly change?
The Bible talks about our life in Christ being a new creation.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Cor 5:17
What does it mean that “old things have passed away; behold new things have come?” Are all my old temptations and failings “passed away?” Is this verse, then, not true? What changes, my nature or my “nurture?”
(See Col 1:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Philippians 2:12-15).