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This paper was written by Dr. Don W. King.

Included with the gracious permission of "Dr. Zeus", creator of "Into the Wardrobe", a popular website devoted to C.S. Lewis. The original online copy of this paper can be found here.

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Articles > The C.S. Lewis Archive > The Childlike in George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis

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In addition to egocentricity, other attributes of childishness are dishonesty, spite, pettiness, cruelty, and pseudo-sophistication. MacDonald comments in particular upon this last point: "For it must be confessed that there are children who are not childlike. One of the saddest and not least common sights in the world is the face of a child whose mind is so brimful of worldly wisdom that the human childishness has vanished from it" ("Creation in Christ", pp. 29-30). Yet, interestingly, both Lewis and MacDonald take pains to move the childish character toward the childlike. Indeed the childish character plays a pivotal role in the great recurring theme of their stories--the search for redemption. Both writers frequently present "unwhole," childish characters who gradually mature into "whole," childlike characters.

In Lewis this pattern is seen in a number of children: Shasta and Aravis from The Horse and His Boy, Jill from The Silver Chair, and Digory and Polly from The Magician's Nephew. Again, however, Edmund and Eustace provide us with the best examples; both begin as thoroughly obnoxious, childish little creatures, mature into spiritually damnable children, and, after profound personal experiences with Aslan that lead to self-realization, emerge as redeemed, "whole" creatures. Although each is blind to his unwhole nature at the beginning, each eventually sees the truth about himself and turns out to be a fruitful, productive, whole person. In MacDonald, more often than not, it is an adult who is childish, and, thus, in need of being made childlike. Mr. Vane in Lilith is a striking example. Throughout most of the story he is vain, short-sighted, ego-centric, conceited, stubborn, and over-confident. It is only through his relationship with Mr. Raven (Adam) and after a series of misadventures that almost lead to a catastrophe for the innocent who inhabit Lilith's world that Vane finally comes to see his short-comings; and, in the end, after he gains a childlike attitude toward life, he experiences a kind of inner healing.

However, the second kind of character the childlike reader meets is the child (less often the adult) who is much like the childlike reader; that is, this character may evidence innocence, awe, and longing within the story itself. Such characters, of course, are of crucial importance because by identifying with them, we vicariously enter the stories. If we cannot see ourselves in the characters of any tale, whether it be by Lewis, MacDonald, Conrad, Dostoyevsky, or Faulkner, our attention is not likely to be held nor will we be drawn into the fictional world. We must see ourselves in these worlds or we will care little for the stories. Our ability to identify with childlike characters is dependent to a great degree upon how these characters are portrayed. Significantly, childlike characters are not perfect; though they avoid the extremes of the childish character, they are fallible. They err, they make mistakes, they fall short. Two characters who best illustrate childlikeness are Lucy from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Irene from MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. Both are attractive yet not without fault; in them the childlike reader finds a reflection of himself.

Lucy is one of Lewis' most endearing childlike characters. We follow her from her initial entry into Narnia and share her wonder and excitement as she encounters the Narnian world. Later, when she meets abuse from Edmund and skepticism from Peter and Susan, we sympathize with her. When all the children eventually make their way into Narnia, Peter and Susan apologize to Lucy and ask her to lead the way. Paradoxically, it is in this role as leader that we see Lucy exercising the childlike attributes of innocence, awe, and longing as she encourages the children to follow a robin who appears to want to help them. Throughout the tale Lucy maintains a childlike attitude, perhaps peaking during Aslan's passion when she and Susan accompany the great Lion towards his humiliating death. And when Aslan re-appears after his death, it is Lucy, not Susan, who cries: "Oh, you're real, you're real! Oh, Aslan!" (LWW, p. 159).

In Prince Caspian Lucy's childlikeness is again emphasized, although in this tale her suceptibility to failure is underscored. In this story the children have been literally called back into Narnia by Prince Caspian, but they are disoriented and unsure of the best way to reach Caspian. Unable to sleep one night, Lucy wanders away from the camp hoping to regain her earlier experiences of pleasure in Narnian nature: "Oh, Trees, Trees, Trees. . . . Oh Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don't you remember it? Don't you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come out to me" (PC, p. 112). Yet just as she feels about to make contact with them, the moment passes. Lucy "had the feeling . . . that she had just missed something: as if she had spoken to the trees a split second too soon or a split second too late, or used all the right words except one; or put in one word that was just wrong" (113).

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