The Childlike in George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis
Dr. Don W. King
Department of English
© 1986 Don W. King
A version of this essay first appeared
in Mythlore 12 (Summer 1986): 17-22, 26.
Reprinted with permission of the author
It is a curious fact that two writers who are frequently identified with
children's literature, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis, go out of their ways to
claim that they did not write their stories primarily for children. Lewis,
reviewing some of the books he read in his childhood, says that "I never met The
Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I
do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost
inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only
by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last" (Of Other
Worlds, p. 24). He also notes that "it certainly is my opinion that a book
worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then" (38). MacDonald,
commenting on those who try to find specific meanings in fairy-tales, claims
that "children are not likely to trouble you about meaning. They find what they
are capable of finding, and more would be too much. For my part, I do not write
for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five"
(The Gifts of the Child Christ, p. 25). In effect, both Lewis and
MacDonald argue that it is the childlike attitude, not age, that marks his
readers; at the same time, however, neither ever clearly states what childlike
means. The focus of this study, then, is two-fold. First, I want to describe
what I believe are the childlike attitudes of their readers. Second, I will
attempt to explore the relationship between childlike readers and the fictional
characters, especially the children, within each writer's stories.
In order to discover the attributes of the childlike audience, we must begin
by answering the following: "What does each writer mean by childlike?" For
MacDonald, the answer to this question was a life-long quest. That is, although
he intuitively understood what childlike meant to him, he never successfully
described this condition. Even in his most direct assaults on this question, he
remains imprecise. For example, he often deals with the idea of the childlike in
his sermons; yet even there his explanations are less than definitive. A case in
point is his commentary on Mark 9:33-37 and Matthew 18:1-5, passages that
recount an argument Jesus' disciples have over who will be the greatest in the
kingdom of God. Christ resolves their argument by calling a child to Himself and
saying: "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of
all" (Mark 9:35), and "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become
like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles
himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew
18:3-4). The Lord's paradoxical answer is not lost on MacDonald: "[Jesus told
his disciples] they could not enter into thekingdom save by becoming little
children--by humbling themselves. For the idea of ruling was excluded where
childlikeness was the one essential quality" (Creation in Christ, p. 30).
However, beyond this clear linking of humility with childlikeness,
MacDonald's other attempts to define the childlike are puzzling. He claims that
"the childlike is the divine" (30), and that "to receive a child in the name of
Jesus is to receive Jesus; to receive Jesus is to receive God; therefore, to
receive the child is to receive God Himself" (32). Later MacDonald attempts to
explain the relationship between childlikeness and God: "To receive a child in
the name of God is to receive God Himself. How to receive Him? As alone He can
be received--by knowing Him as He is. To know Him is to have Him in us" (32). To
understand what the childlike means, he tells us to look within. Thoughtful
readers find it difficult to accept such circular reasoning. Even though we may
intuitively understand what he means when he says that "to exist . . . is to be
a child of God; and to know it, to feel it, is to rejoice evermore" (The
Gifts of the Child Christ, p. 19), we want to know more precisely what
Thus far we have established that humility is an attribute MacDonald
associates with the childlike. If we explore what he means by this, we will see
that he ties humility directly to selflessness: "To be rid of self is to have
the heart bare to God and to the neighbour--to have all life ours, and possess
all things. I see, in my mind's eye, the little children clambering up to sit on
the throne with Jesus" (19). The humility of a childlike personality is also
characterized by unpretentiousness: "He who will be a man, and will not be a
child, must--he cannot help himself--become a little man, that is, a dwarf. He
will, however, need no consolation, for he is sure to think himself a very large
creature indeed" (28). As one critic has noted: "The self of the ego MacDonald
sees as the source of evil; 'the one principle,' he declares, 'is--"I am my
own"'"(Manlove, p. 60).
How does MacDonald's emphasis on the childlike characteristic of humility
relate to his appeal to the childlike reader? Does he expect us to approach his
stories with submissiveness and reverence? I hardly think so; he was not a man
so vain as to think himself very special. Perhaps if we substitute the word
"innocence" for "humility" we can draw nearer to grasping the appeal his stories
make upon the childlike reader. That is, his tales speak to us on a level that
does not immediately raise our "adult" objections to the improbable. His stories
ask us to leave open for the moment that this or that thing could happen,
regardless of how loudly our adult voices, nurtured by realism and the
scientific method, speak against such an idea. However, the kind of innocence
MacDonald assumes of his audience is not to be confused with gullibility; he is
not addressing readers who lack discernment. Instead, his targets are those who
are willing, dare I say eager, to "exercise a willing suspension of disbelief."
Although I could at this point posit what I believe are the other elements of
the childlike in MacDonald, I think a better approach will be to turn to Lewis's
comments on the childlike. Since Lewis was by trade a literary critic, we can
expect to find more discussion about the childlike in Lewis' writings than in
MacDonald's. Additionally, because MacDonald's influence upon Lewis was
overwhelming, we should not be surprised that he appeals to the same kind of
audience as his "master": "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him
[MacDonald] as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I
did not quote from him" (MacDonald, An Anthology, p. 20).
In a number of different essays Lewis discusses his ideas about writing for
children. In one he declares: "I put in [my children's stories] what I would
have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I
am in my fifties" (Of Other Worlds, p. 22). Elsewhere he says he writes
"'for children' only in the sense that I excluded what I thought they would not
like or understand; not in the sense of writing what I intended to be below
adult attention" (38). In still another essay he says that the best children's
writers "work from the common, universally human, ground they share with the
children, and indeed with countless adults" (41). Perhaps the most interesting
point he makes is that children do not need to be patronized: "The child as
reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man"
(33). This kind of no nonsense approach to communicating with children does not
spare his childlike readers scenes of "death, violence, wounds, adventure,
heroism and cowardice, good and evil" (31). To do less than this, Lewis claims,
is "to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism" (31).
What comes through clearly in these comments is Lewis' insistence that he
"speaks to the adult, the child, and the child within the adult. He speaks to
everyone, except to those ossified grown-ups who have stifled the child within"
(Walsh, p. 157). More importantly, Lewis indirectly suggests in these essays
other characteristics of the childlike reader besides innocence. The first of
these is a sense of awe. In the essay "On Stories," Lewis reflects on how
stories like Oedipus Rex, The Man Who Would Be King, and The Hobbit produce such
an effect upon him: "Such stories produce . . . a feeling of awe, coupled with a
certain sort of bewilderment such as one often feels in looking at a complex
pattern of lines that pass over and under one another" (Of Other Worlds,
p. 15). Another way of saying this is that the child within, our childlike self,
inables us to see, even if momentarily, that there is more to life than the
physical reality about us. Such knowledge is both terrifying and refreshing;
terrifying in the sense that we are left to ponder the possibility of
unperceived dimensions of life, and yet refreshing because we are exposed to the
unexpected flash of hope that the banality of our own world is not all there is.
As a part of the childlike reader's sense of awe, Lewis includes the
enthusiastic delight in surprise. In the essay mentioned above, he notes that no
story can be fully enjoyed on an initial reading. Instead, we have to get past
our curiosities about plot, theme, and character until "we are at leisure to
savour the real beauties." Children, he goes on, "understand this well when they
ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to
have again the 'surprise' of discovering that what seemed Little-Red-Riding
Hood's grandmother is really the wolf" (18). The pleasure of the unexpected
draws the childlike reader back time and again to a well-worn story because in
such a story not everything is predictable and mundane. Could we really enter
another world through the back of a wardrobe, fly on the back of a giant eagle,
or converse with a talking raven? As we encounter such unlooked for experiences,
our surprise and awe intensify even more.
In another essay, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," Lewis suggests
another aspect of the childlike reader's awe: limitless imagination. In
defending his own love of fantasy, Lewis takes issue with how "the modern
critical world uses 'adult' as a term of approval. It is hostile to what it
calls 'nostalgia' and contemptuous of what it calls 'Peter Pantheism.' Hence a
man who admits that dwarfs and giants and talking beasts and witches are still
dear to him in his fifty-third year is now less likely to be praised for his
perennial youth than scorned and pitied for arrested development" (25). The
childlike reader is not offended by the seeming impossible; indeed, as I have
already suggested, the childlike reader is delighted instead. Even Tolkien's
description of the fairy-tale makes this point: "The magic of Faerie is not an
end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction
of certain primordial human desires. One of these desires is to survey the
depths of space and time. Another is . . . to hold communion with other living
things" (Tolkein, p. 13). The childlike reader's imagination can soar as far as
the story can take it, and in some cases even beyond or back into the physical
world somehow redeemed.
The sense of awe is also intimately linked to the third characteristic of the
childlike reader: a romantic yearning for something more. Corbin Scott Carnell,
in his book Bright Shadow of Reality: C. S. Lewis and the Feeling
Intellect, concentrates exclusively on this notion as it runs through Lewis'
work. Carnell uses the German word Sehnsucht to denote "an underlying sense of
displacement or alienation from what is desired" (15). Clearly the childlike
reader is attracted to MacDonald and Lewis because of his own longing for a
deeper, more meaningful experience than is available in the daily march of time.
Yet this longing is not to be viewed as morbid. Lewis makes this clear when he
writes that a schoolboy who reads about enchanted woods does not then become
depressed about his own world: "He does not despise real woods because he has
read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.
This is a special kind of longing . . . The boy reading the fairy-tale desires
and is happy in the very fact of desiring" (Of Other Worlds, pp. 29-30).
He argues elsewhere that a sense of longing is the central strength of
MacDonald's myth-making: "[MacDonald's myths arouse] in us sensations we have
never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our
normal mode of consciousness and 'possessed joys not promised to our birth.' It
gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our
passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are re-opened, and in
general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives" (An
Anthology, pp. 16-17).
Innocence, awe, and longing--all are basic elements of the childlike reader
that are tapped by Lewis and MacDonald. These three attributes of the childlike
reader are not all inclusive--good arguments can be made for justice, honesty,
faith, earnestness, loyalty, discretion and so on--but I believe these three
comprise the core of reader appeal. What also should be clear is the overlap and
intrinsic relationship that each attribute has with the others; none exists in
isolation, but combines with others and heightens our pleasure as readers. The
next focus of our study, therefore, concerns the relationship between the
childlike reader and the youthful characters who appear in the stories of Lewis
and MacDonald. At the risk of appearing simplistic, it seems to me that the
childlike reader generally encounters two basic kinds of youthful characters in
the stories of Lewis and MacDonald. The first is the childish one who is
characterized primarily by egocentricity. The childish character is overly
concerned with himself and only relates to his surroundings in terms of
self-aggrandizement. Others are important only because of what the childish
character can get from them. Edmund Pevensie and Eustace Clarence Scrubb from
Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn
Treader are memorable examples of childish characters. Both view the world
as revolving about themselves, as Edmund's lust for power and traitorous
behavior and Eustace's whining megalomania and greed illustrate. In
Lilith MacDonald adds an ironic twist to the notion of the childish
character, for at one point we encounter young, relatively uncorrupted children
who become more childish as they grow older. As one character says: "If a Little
One doesn't care, he grows greedy, and then lazy, and then big, and then stupid
and then bad" (Phantastes and Lilith, p. 244).
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
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.
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).
Lucy's inability to recapture her intuitive relationship with nature
foreshadows a failure of obedience the next day. When the children eventually
find themselves lost, Lucy sees Aslan off in the distance. Unfortunately no one
else can see Aslan. In fact, when Susan asks Lucy "where do you think you saw
him," Lucy says: "Don't talk like a grown-up . . . I didn't think I saw him. I
saw him" (121). The others, however, (except, ironically, Edmund) refuse to
believe her, and Lucy, instead of following Aslan on her own and what she knows
to be the truth, goes along with the others, sad and depressed. Not surprisingly
the group bumbles along that day and even endures an ambush before collapsing
with fatigue in the evening. Once again Lucy wanders off into the forest, this
time successfully communing with the tree spirits; more importantly, she sees
and talks with Aslan who firmly but gently points out her failure and
commissions her to go convince them that he will lead them. Lucy does this in
spite of the other's scorn and disbelief. That Aslan appears only to Lucy is
significant because it underscores her humility and great capacity for faith. At
the same time, her initial failure to obey Aslan reminds us of our own capacity
for failure. However, Lucy's subsequent affirmation of Aslan and determination
to do as he asks, brings us encouragement.
Her childlike nature peeks in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Several
times in the story her childlikeness is emphasized. The first time we see this
is when Eustace returns to his shipmates after his metamorphosis into a dragon.
While the others hold back in fear, Lucy runs up to Eustace and discovers who he
is; she even consoles him and "screwed up her courage to kiss the scaly face"
(VDT, p. 82). A second illustration occurs later. After Eustace's dream
encounter with Aslan and re-transformation back into his human form, Edmund
explains who Aslan is to Eustace and indicates Lucy's close relationship to
Aslan: "He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor over the Sea, who saved me
and saved Narnia. We've all seen him. Lucy sees him most often" (92). Lucy's
childlikeness and close tie to Aslan is re-emphasized still later when he
appears to her while she is reading a magic book and discovering spells that can
give her great power. For instance, she reads of spells that can give her money,
knowledge, power, and advantage. She is tempted most by a spell that will "make
beautiful her that uttereth beyond the lot of mortals" (129). As she begins to
say the spell, Aslan appears in the text itself, and "he was growling and you
could see most of his teeth. She became horribly afraid and turned over the page
at once" (131).
When we last see her in this tale, her childlikeness is again highlighted as
she speaks with Aslan for the final time. She asks him: "Oh, Aslan . . . . Will
you tell us how to get into your country from our world?" (215). When she learns
that she can never return, she says: "It isn't Narnia, you know . . . . It's
you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?" (215).
Lucy has to be content with Aslan's promise that she will meet him in her own
world under another name. The centrality of Lucy's childlike character in the
first three Narnia books is significant. Indeed, even though Lewis employs an
omniscient narrator, much of what we learn about Narnia comes to us as if
through Lucy's eyes. Furthermore, she is the first one to enter Narnia; she is
the one who sees Aslan most often; she is the one who longs most fiercely to
remain in Narnia. Lucy's longing for and sensitivity to Aslan's guidance, her
humility, her willingness to submit her own desires to a force higher than
herself, mark her as an attractive childlike character.
In MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, we encounter another
little girl, Irene, the childlike character I believe Lewis patterned Lucy
after. I say this based both upon Lewis' afore mentioned salute to MacDonald and
upon the obvious similarities between Lucy and Irene. Irene is also a childlike
character who exercises innocence, awe, and longing. For instance, her first
adventure occurs because she is bored by her toys on a rainy day and longs for
something more. When left alone for a moment by her nurse, Irene opens a door to
a stairway she has never seen before, and makes her way, after a long climb, to
an unfamiliar room inhabited by a mysterious old woman who identifies herself as
Irene's great-great-grandmother. During this meeting the old woman promises to
be Irene's caretaker and does throughout the story, serving as a kind of
fairy-godmather. When Irene returns to her own room, she, like Lucy, has a hard
time convincing others of the reality of her experience.
In later visits to her grandmother, Irene's childlike character is further
explored. When she next sees her grandmother, she tells Irene that she must
endure a test: "But I must put you to one trial--not a very hard one, I hope.
This night week you must come back to me. If you don't, I do not know when you
may find me again, and you will soon want me very much" (The Princess and the
Goblin, p. 86). Of course the real test is to discover whether or not Irene
believes in the old lady: "The only question is whether you will believe I am
anywhere--whether you will believe I am anything but a dream" (86). This test of
Irene's imagination and allegiance is very similar to Lucy's test of obedience
regarding Aslan in Prince Caspian.
During the week that follows, Irene tries to maintain her belief although at
times "she could not feel quite sure that she had not been dreaming" (95).
Nonetheless, she determines to seek her out, and, when the week is up, Irene
does make her way back to the old lady's room. Once there, the grandmother
commends Irene and shows her various mysterious objects, including pigeons,
burning roses, a bright mobile globe, a spinning wheel, and a fire-opal ring.
Irene's childlike innocence is underlined here as she reaches out to touch the
thread: "Oh! I do feel it! . . . But I can't see it" (107). The old lady
explains the value of this invisible thread: "If ever you find yourself in any
danger . . . you must take off your ring and put it under the pillow of you bed.
Then you must lay your forefinger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread,
and follow the thread wherever it leads you" (107-108). Then she adds: "But,
remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not
doubt the thread" (108).
Irene's faithfulness to her grandmother and her childlike sense of awe and
wonder regarding the old lady form the basis for much of the action in the
story, especially when Irene meets Curdie, another childlike character. Curdie,
a young miner, discovers a plot by underworld goblins against Irene and her
father. Unfortunately, Curdie is captured and would have remained so had not
Irene's grandmother intervened by means of the invisible thread. Irene is led by
the thread directly to where Curdie is imprisoned; their encounter brings into
focus the difference between her childlikeness and Curdie's. Curious as to how
she found him, Curdie asks for an explanation; to her comments about following a
thread, Curdie says: "What nonsense the child talks! . . . I must follow her,
though, and see that she comes to no harm" (144). Curdie's inability to "see" or
"feel" the thread parallels closely the problem Lucy's brothers and sister have
in Prince Caspian. Like them, Curdie is overly influenced by adult perceptions
rather than by childlike instincts.
The contrast between Irene's and Curdie's childlike natures peaks when Irene
takes him to see her grandmother. When Irene expresses frustration at Curdie's
lack of belief, her grandmother says: "People must believe what they can, and
those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less" (153). If
Irene "sees" easily, Curdie does not. When she asks him what he sees, he says:
"I see a big, bare, garret-room . . . . I see a tub, and a heap of musty straw,
and a withered apple." Then he adds: I think you had better drop it, princess,
and go down to the nursery, like a good girl" (154-155). Curdie's pomposity here
has an uncomfortable yet familiar adult ring to it, and prefigures a scene in
Lewis' The Last Battle where a group of dwarves have the same problem;
that is, instead of seeing and enjoying a feast provided by Aslan in a stable,
the dwarves "thought they were eating and drinking only the sorts of things you
might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he
had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he found a raw cabbage leaf"
(LB, p. 147). Like them, Curdie only sees with his adult eyes, not with
childlike innocence and awe.
He remains unconvinced until his mother shares a mysterious incident from her
early married life as a way of showing him that all is not always what it seems.
Prefacing her story with "perhaps some people can see things other people can't
see" (162), Curdie's mother relates how she was once saved from the goblins by
what sounds like the grandmother's mobile globe and one of her pigeons. To the
goblins, however, the grandmother's objects, especially the pigeon, appeared
much different: "It looked to me just like a white pigeon. But whatever it was,
when the cobs [goblins] caught sight of it coming straight down upon them, they
took to their heels and scampered away across the mountain" (164). When Curdie
reacts by saying that her story sounds strange, his mother responds with: "Yes,
it was strange; but I can't help believing it, whether you do or not" (164).
Curdie's mother, like Irene, has the childlike ability to see, and her story
does influence Curdie although it is only later, after Curdie has been wounded
by the goblins, that he also regains his childlike eyes. As he lies in a bed
unable to move so as to alert everyone of the goblin's forthcoming attack, he
sees "a lady with white hair, carrying a silver box in her hand, enter the room.
She came to his bed, he thought, stroked his head and face with cool, soft
hands, took the dressing from his leg, rubbed it with something that smelt like
roses, and then waved her hands over him three times" (182). Still later, when
he is trying to decide how to find Irene in order to protect her from the
goblins, "something touched his hand. It was the slightest touch, and when he
looked he could see nothing. Feeling and peering about in the grey of the dawn,
his fingers came upon a tight thread" (188). He follows the thread that he
cannot see and that he had earlier doubted, and is led to Irene's hiding place.
In Curdie MacDonald pictures the character who loses his childlike innocence
and awe but who regains them. Earlier the grandmother assures Irene that Curdie
will one day see the truth, although it will take some time: "You must give him
time . . . and you must be content not to be believed for a while" (155).
Indeed, she further reveals that Curdie cannot see her because she "did not mean
to show myself. Curdie is not yet able to believe some things. Seeing is not
believing--it is only seeing" (156). Here MacDonald underscores the idea that
childlikeness is a quality of the soul or spirit, characterized by attributes
unmeasurable by empirical methods. It is only when Curdie learns that truth may
involve more than what can be seen and tested that he gains the insight truly to
see and to understand. His is a pilgrimage that many of us are on.
Within the stories of Lewis and MacDonald we can find many childlike
characters. From the Chronicles of Narnia such characters abound:
Reepicheep, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Jewel, Tirian, Dr. Cornelius, Caspian, Emeth,
Hwin, Strawberry-Fledge, King Frank and Queen Helen and many others. In
MacDonald's tales we find Phosy from "The Gifts of the Child Christ," Diamond
from At the Back of the North Wind, Mossy and Tangle from "The Golden
Key," Mr. and Mrs. Raven, Lona, and the Little Ones from Lilith, and
scores of others. Regardless the name, childlike characters evidence innocence,
awe, and longing--all attributes linking them to childlike readers.
In conclusion, Lewis and MacDonald write for the child within the adult.
Often they contrast childish characters and childlike characters, perhaps in
order to remind us that "there are only two kinds of people in the end: those
who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy
will be done'" (The Great Divorce, p. 72). In the childish characters we
see our own capacities for conceit, cruelty, deceit, vanity, and egocentricity;
on the other hand, in the childlike characters we see a more constructive side
of ourselves--the abilities to sacrifice self, to wonder at life's mysteries,
and to yearn for a world somehow cleaner, somehow more compelling than our own.
Because of our vicarious experiences with the childlike characters we meet in
Lewis and MacDonald, we may be able to ask with Lucy: "Will you tell us how to
get into your country from our world?"
Carnell, Corbin Scott. Bright Shadow of Reality: C. S. Lewis and the
Feeling Intellect, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce, New York: MacMillan, 1946.
-----------. The Last Battle, New York: Collier, 1956.
-----------. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, New York: Collier,
-----------. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, ed. Walter Hooper.
York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1966.
-----------. Prince Caspian, New York: Collier, 1951.
-----------. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, New York: Collier, 1952.
MacDonald, George. An Anthology, ed. C. S. Lewis. London: Geoffrey
-----------------. Creation in Christ, ed. Rolland Hein. Wheaton,
Harold Shaw, 1976, p. 30.
-----------------. The Gifts of the Child Christ: Fairytales and
for the Childlike, ed. Glenn Edward Sadler. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
-----------------. Phantastes and Lilith, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
-----------------. The Princess and the Goblin, London: Puffin, 1976.
Manlove, C. M. Modern Fantasy: Five Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge
Tolkien, J. R. R. "On Fairy-Stories" from Tree and Leaf, reprinted in
Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine, 1972.
Walsh, Chad. The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis, New York: Harcourt,
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