Sir Thomas Browne, Screwtape, and the "Amphibians" of Narnia.
Lewis sees humanity as holding a distinctive place in Creation, and to describe this position he borrows a metaphor from Sir Thomas Browne, an author who was part of the fabric of Lewis' own scholarship. Writing in the mid-1600's, Browne is known for his work in early science, what was then called "natural philosophy;' and for his early work Religio Medici, or "the religion of a doctor," in which he describes his beliefs about God and the world. Lewis, as a literary scholar, knew Browne's writing well, as demonstrated by Lewis' works of literary criticism. References to Browne appear, for instance, in The Discarded Image and English Literature of the Sixteenth Century. (1) However, Lewis' interest was more than scholarly. In Surprised By Joy, Lewis explains how, even before his conversion, he was most attracted to religious writers, whose works contained a depth "on whom I could really feed" (213), and the then-atheist Lewis finds that he is, paradoxically, "deeply and lastingly satisfied by Thomas Browne" (214). The two writers also share some interesting parallels. Like Lewis, Browne participated in a profession assumed to be conducive to atheism and wrote not as a theologian to theologians, but as a professional man to other lay people, provoking both acclaim and controversy. (2)
Like Lewis, Browne's writing positions him as a defender of older values in a time of turbulent change. Writing about personal faith was political in the 1630s and 1640s, when disputes between high-church Laudians and low-church Puritans fed into the conflict between Parliament and the Monarchy, culminating in the English Civil War and the establishment of the Commonwealth. Although Browne writes in favor of religious moderation and toleration, his positions are nevertheless partisan, close to those of high-church Bishop Laud, though more flexible (Post 48), and based on what Ingo Berensmeyer calls "liberal conservative Anglicanism" as distinguished from "Puritan radicalism" (116). As Achsah Guibbory notes, such a position was comfortably in line with those in power in the 1630s, when Browne, as a young man in his twenties, probably wrote the work. However, by the time he published an authorized edition in 1643, after the dissolution of the monarchy and the ascendancy of Puritanism in the English church, such positions had "acquired a far more dangerous edge" (120). James Wise emphasizes that Religio Medici "is implicitly-rather than explicitly--a piece of contemporary argumentation." In fact, the text's unifying persona, with its self-effacing, tolerant, skeptical, charitable voice and tone, directly conflicts with the eras climate and becomes itself a rhetorical device as Browne positions himself in the controversies of his time (1-2).
Yet until recently, critics have viewed Browne less as a participant in high-stakes church debate and more as an exuberant stylist. (3) Jonathan Post notes that Browne "suffuses his religion with a verbal playfulness" (81), as can be seen in Browne's description of humanity's place on the Great Chain of Being, where he employs a striking metaphor equating humanity with frogs. Browne says, "thus is man that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live not onely like other creatures in divers elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds" (42). Just as amphibians live both on land and in water, human beings function in both the physical and spiritual realms, having both "a corporall and spirituall essence." Browne asserts that possessing these two natures makes calling humanity a "little world" not merely a "pleasant trope" as he had once thought, but a metaphor with "a reall truth therein" in that human development echoes the entirety of creation. People first exist as "a rude mass" with "a dull kinde of being, not yet privileged with life" (41), then live the life of plants, the life of animals, the life of men, and finally, the life of spirits, an existence "which comprehend[s] the creatures, not onely of the world, but of the universe" (41-42). For Browne, the possession of bodily and spiritual natures not only makes humanity an illustrative microcosm of creation and accounts for the life cycle's progression, but the possession of two natures also has a definite ontological function, as it makes humanity the link between an otherwise sharply divided spiritual and physical creation (41).
Certainly the idea that humanity is singular in possessing both a spiritual and physical nature is not unique to Browne, as he reiterates an idea commonly accepted among Christian thinkers since at least the fifth century and Augustine of Hippo. Leonard Nathanson identifies in this passage a debt to Marsilio Ficino's Theologica Platonica (1559 Paris edition), a book Browne owned, and in which Ficino presented the positions of Plato, Plotinus, and other Platonists on a number of philosophic issues (50). Browne's discussion, Nathanson says, "attempt[s] to consolidate a number of hierarchical schemes and to achieve the kind of synthesis of truth dear to the heart of Renaissance Platonists" (51). The microcosm-macrocosm parallel, for instance, is based on a commonly expressed idea drawn from the Timaeus and Aristotle as expressed in Ficino's Theologica Platonica (51), and it appears in the work of other English thinkers and writers. For example, in Book 9 of Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan, in a burst of grief, extols the beauties of Earth in which "all ... known virtue appears / Productive in herb, plant, and nobler birth / Of creatures animate with gradual life / Of growth, sense, reason, all summed up in man" (11. 110-113). Though opposed in their religious and political positions, Anglican Browne and Puritan Milton each express the commonly-held view that the little world of humanity reflects the entirety of creation. (4)
However, although in this passage Browne expresses a common synthesis of ideas, his language is unique: no one else calls human beings "amphibians" in such a context. The word "amphibian" itself was relatively new, its first recorded English use, according to the OED, being in 1637, with Browne himself listed as an early user of the adjective "amphibious." (5) This zoological term is one of the many borrowings from Greek by way of Latin in the early modern period, (6) and it also illustrates Browne's participation in Francis Bacon's project to advance knowledge, early science. (7) Browne's blending here and elsewhere of the religious and the scientific would not seem to him or to his readers as paradoxical; religion and science were not seen as irreconcilable opposites in the seventeenth century, but as Post notes, "mutually enhancing activities" as demonstrated by Protestant encouragement of inquiry into the natural world (25) and by earlier medieval emphasis on nature as a book that, like scripture, could be read to reveal God, a metaphor still thriving in the early modern period? Browne himself uses the "book of nature" metaphor when he claims to collect his theology from two books, scripture and nature, with nature being "that universal and publik Manuscript that lies expans'd unto the eyes of all; those that never saw him [God] in the one, have discovered him in the other" (21). Like many thinkers of his time, Browne saw science intertwined with religion, and his use of "amphibium" in a religious context illustrates that commitment.
We see Browne's appealing, idiosyncratic description of human beings echoed in Lewis' The Screwtape Letters to describe humanity's special place in creation, a place that offends and intrigues the demon Screwtape. As he explains to his trainee Wormwood:
Humans are amphibians--half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy's [God's] determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father [Satan] to withdraw his support for Him). As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. (44)
Through Screwtape, Lewis borrows not only Browne's metaphor, but also a number of its implications. Most obviously, Lewis' amphibians, like Browne's, possess both a physical and spiritual nature that uniquely unite them to both animals and angels, allowing them to belong to both worlds, thus encapsulating the entirety of creation in a way other creatures (plants, animals, angels, etc.) do not.
For Lewis, too, humanity's amphibious nature accounts for vacillations in human development through time. As Screwtape further explains, this "amphibianism" means that "their spirit can be directed to an eternal object," but "their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change" (44). Acknowledgement of such change appears in Narnia when Lucy comments that Aslan is bigger, and he replies that he is no bigger, but she is older: "Every year you grow, you will find me bigger" (Caspian 141). In other words, the constant Aslan does not change, but timebound Lucy does. Awareness of the children as creatures of time and change is perhaps also reflected by the idea that they grow too old to return to Narnia, and must, as Aslan says, "begin to come close to ... [their] own world" and learn him and his name there (Voyage of the Dawn Treader 247). As with Browne's description, the development of Lewis' animal-spirit hybrid has a particular goal, or telos, toward which its change is directed. ]he children's final entrance "further up and further in" (198) into the Real Narnia of The Last Battle reflects both their possession of dual natures and their culmination of them.
This direct reference to Browne's metaphor in The Screwtape Letters is not merely literary trivia but a clue exposing Lewis' view of human identity in both its positive and negative aspects. For Lewis, although it allows for spiritual as well as physical growth, the half-physical, half-spiritual nature of human beings is also a potential weakness, and Screwtape and the Narnian witches certainly attempt to exploit it. Whereas Browne expresses such temporal development in terms of linear progression--from an unformed mass to a sensory life to more mature human reasoning to a spiritual existence--Lewis' ideas of human progression emphasize the cyclical nature of time and the change, linear and otherwise, inherent in it.
Observing that the telos may not always be approached in as direct a route as Browne's description suggests, Lewis emphasizes that it may also be perverted. Screwtape notes that having an animal body in continual change means that "their nearest approach to constancy ... is undulation--the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks" (Screwtape 44), and he recommends Wormwood exploit the troughs of dullness that inevitably follow the heights of emotional richness, suggesting sexual temptation, refined gluttony, and intellectual vanity, among other things. In particular, faith can be attacked by tempting people to assume that spiritual insight is merely a "religious phase" one that is "adolescent" and will "die away" like other phases (51-52). By The Last Battle, such a temptation draws Susan off-track. Her siblings report that she will not talk about Narnia, saying, "Fancy your still thinking about those funny games we used to play when we were children'" (154). In her desire to be seen as "grown-up" she has come to view her Narnia adventures as a childish phase, while mistaking what Polly calls "the silliest time of one's life" as permanent and real (154). Screwtape would be proud, or at least salivating.
In Narnia, catering to physical comfort likewise distracts and endangers. The White Witch offers a shivering Edmund a place on her sledge, the corner of a warm cloak, a hot drink, and Turkish delight; his acceptance of and continuing desire for them are the first steps on his path to betraying his siblings. In Prince Caspian, discouragement and exhaustion persuade the Pevensie children to take the seemingly easy way down the gorge, which leads to an ambush rather than safe passage. In The Silver Chair, the witch promotes the giants' city as a place of hospitality, and imagining hot food and baths tempts Eustace and Jill to forget their quest. They stop talking about the lost prince and Aslan, they become grumpy and snappy with each other, and in their eagerness to visit the giants, they walk right past the major clue to the prince's location. Their desire for comfort also proves mortally dangerous, as the giants plan to cook and eat them. Attempting to satisfy a body's craving for comfort in the giants' house ultimately leads, as it does with Screwtape and his fellow demons, to deceived guests who become food themselves.
Yet physical comfort is not evil in Lewis' world. The cozy tea at Mr. Tumnus' house, the meal with the beavers, Shasta's breakfast with the Narnians, the comfortable finery of the Narnian court, and the relaxation of lying in heather all suggest a world in which the physical is celebrated. Such celebration takes on cosmic resonances at the World's End, with the renewing feast at Ramandu's Table and the Lamb's offer to come and have breakfast, an echo of Christ at the end of John's Gospel? Even Tirian's entrance into the Real Narnia starts with a satisfaction of physical appetite as he and the others eat their fill of the incomparably beautiful and sweet-tasting fruit.
However, emphasizing the physical at the expense of the spiritual leads human beings into stagnation at best and danger at worst. While Screwtape and Narnian witches and giants exploit this potential peril, no supernatural agency is needed. Human beings can lead themselves down this road easily enough. Of Caspian's crew, one man is not selected for the journey to the World's End due to his last-minute request motivated by fears of being left alone. Though he stays at Ramandu's Table, he soon finds the magnificent feast little comfort for boredom and cowardice. He jumps ship before its return to Narnia and lies about his exploits at World's End for the rest of his life.
Yet in spite of potential weakness, Lewis, like Thomas Browne, sees humanity's "amphibianism" as a divine mechanism for uniting otherwise incompatible differences. Browne says, "we are onely that amphibious piece betweene a corporall and spirituall essence, that middle forme that linkes those two together, and makes good the method of God and nature, that jumps not from extreames, but unites the incompatible distances by some middle and participating natures" (41). In other words, humanity is the median point between the physical and spiritual realms, a position that shows the beneficial nature of God's handiwork in uniting all to Him. There is no gap between the physical and spiritual, as human beings are the bridge that unites the two realms. Thus, the importance of humanity's "amphibianism" transcends an individual's progression toward an inherent telos to become both illustrative of and integral in the union of all creation to God.
An illustration of an amphibious figure in such a median position is Puddleglum, a character from The Silver Chair, who is clearly described in amphibian terms. (10) Besides his "muddy" complexion and "greeny-gray" hair with locks "like tiny reeds" (68), he has an amphibian's body type and parts:
he had very long legs and arms, so that although his body was not much bigger than a dwarf's, he was taller than most men when he stood up. The fingers of his hands were webbed like a frog's, and so were his bare feet which dangled in the muddy water. (69)
Given what we know about Browne's and Lewis' use of "amphibian" to describe the middle point in creation, Puddleglum's frog-like hands and feet may strike us as more significant than otherwise. Puddleglum lives in a marsh, not only a perfect home for an amphibian, but the meeting spot between land and water. This particular marsh is itself the meeting point between Narnia and the Wild North. Furthermore, this Marsh-Wiggle is a type not encountered in Narnia previously, and he is insistent that he is neither a Talking Animal nor a Man. When the giants at first mistake him for a frog, then decide anything able to drink so much liquor must be a man, Puddleglum drunkenly replies, "Not a man ... Marsh-wiggle [...]. Not frog, either: Marsh-wiggle" (107). Puddleglum is amphibian, not just because of his frog-like hands, but because in several ways he occupies the median point between otherwise separate worlds, able to inhabit both but belonging solely to neither.
His participation in various natures makes Puddleglum the perfect guide for Jill and Eustace. Unlike the Pevensie children, Jill and Eustace do not know Narnia. Jill has never visited it before, and Eustace was, as he admits to Jill, never actually in Narnia, having travelled in the Eastern Seas. Puddleglum, then, becomes for them a transitional figure between the world of People and the world of Talking Animals, much as Lucy has a hybrid figure, Tumnus the Faun, to begin her experiences in Narnia. Also, Jill and Eustace will not be traveling in Narnia, as their quest takes them to the Wild North, an area Puddleglum the border-dweller knows better than any Talking Animal.
Puddleglum also has an amphibianish quality of particular use to the argumentative and easily discouraged children. Unlike Talking Animals, he navigates spiritual and emotional low periods. As noted earlier, Screwtape claims that because human amphibians live in time, their closest approach to constancy is continual change, a series of peaks and valleys, which can make them vulnerable. The beasts in Narnia, such as the beavers and the badgers, tend to live in optimism and constancy: "I tell you, we don't change, we beasts," says Trufflehunter the badger (Caspian 70). Those Talking Animals who do change revert to dumb creatures, like the bear that attacks Lucy on her return to Narnia. For the animals, there seems little middle ground: they are reasonable, rational, and faithful, or they are not. As Aslan warns in The Magician's Nephew, if they go back to wild ways, they cease to be Talking Beasts. Yet a wide swath of middle ground exists for humanity, and the children are subject to moods, hungers, uncertainties, and highs and lows, and given their negligent upbringing, have not learned effectively to balance them. However, although other Marsh-Wiggles apparently find him inappropriately cheerful, Puddleglum lives in the valleys, the troughs of depression, and knows how to negotiate them. His gloomy predictions are his hallmark. At the beginning of the quest, he denies he will be much help, as they are not likely to get far at that time of year. "But,' he says, "You mustn't let that make you downhearted. Very likely, what with enemies, and mountain, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we'll hardly notice the weather" (Silver 71-72). In addition, he expects never to see King Caspian back in Narnia, notes that Trumpkin the Regent is failing fast, predicts a bad harvest, and feels enemies will likely attack. As for their own mission, they will likely fall to quarreling and fail.
Puddleglum can negotiate such valleys without giving up, a choice that determines the quality of his selfhood. Despite his dire, sincere predictions of failure, he goes on the quest anyway. When he and the children are imprisoned in a very literal and dangerous valley, the Underworld, and being charmed by the witch in good Screwtape-ish fashion to believe that the trough is permanent, that there is no sun, no sky, no Aslan, it is Puddleglum, with his amphibian-ish feet, who stamps out the drugged fire and expresses faith in the midst of probable failure:
Still you won't make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld, too. ... We'll never see it again, I shouldn't wonder.... But I know I was there once. I've seen the sky full of stars. I've seen the sun coming up.... Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.... I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. (Silver 176-77, 182)
In an assertion of free will, Puddleglum chooses to live by tenets he values despite the apparent logic of the dark world around him. Had he made a different choice, one that at the time seems more reasonable, he would still exist as himself, in that he presumably would not become a Dumb Marsh-wiggle or a pollywog. Yet had he succumbed to the Witch's temptation, he would have been enslaved to her by his own volition. By refusing to succumb, he chooses the kind of selfhood in which he exists, a quality that this amphibious creature, like humanity, seems to possess in greater latitude than Talking Animals.
By mastering the danger of the trenches, Puddleglum achieves the goal inherent in humanity's half-spiritual, half-physical creation, in which even the dry spells have a purpose. In explaining such spiritual troughs, Screwtape remarks that God never allows any high point to last long; He withdraws to allow "the creature to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish" (Screwtape 47). It is, Screwtape says, a crucial step in The Enemy's plan to produce, instead of "cattle who can finally become food ... servants who can finally become sons" (46). Puddleglum exemplifies an ideal resistance to a spiritual attack grounded in the Witch's attempt to profit from an amphibian's sense of apparent isolation.
By resisting through an effort of will, Puddleglum not only grows spiritually and consequently finds a means of personal resistance and freedom but he also inspires Rilian, Jill, and Eustace. Such a model has far-reaching effects, when in The Last Battle Eustace and Jill themselves act in such a manner by refusing to flee to safety and staying to fight for a true cause, even though they know they fight a losing battle against superior forces. They also know their decision to stay may well mean their death in both worlds, but even so Jill, like Puddleglum before her, chooses unpalatable reality for the sake of her convictions rather than an easy escape to a lesser world. As Jill says,
I was going to say I wish we had never come. But I don't, I don't, I don't. Even if we are killed. I'd rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and perhaps go about in a bath-chair and then die in the end just the same. (108)
Here, Jill and Eustace too choose Narnia over what has been presented to them as the "real" world and act from will alone in a time when all support seems withdrawn. In doing so, they too define their characters and choose one particular kind of selthood and existence over another.
While Puddleglum is the most obvious amphibian in Narnia--Lewis shows us no Talking Frogs--the children from our world are the primary and most important Narnian amphibians. As human beings they have the dual nature both Browne and Lewis describe. Their participation in both the physical and spiritual makes them, in Browne's words, "disposed to live ... in divided and distinguished worlds" (42), and this nature is emphasized by the fact that they literally inhabit two worlds, the human world and Narnia. Unlike Reepicheep the mouse, whose request Aslan denies to go into our world where "they would do dreadful things" to him and "show [him] at fairs" (Caspian 220), the human Telmarines have promise of a good future in their new world, and the children thrive in Narnia, where the air makes them braver and stronger. (11) Such benefit remains when they are reintegrated into their previous world, as evidenced by Eustace's change after his Narnian adventures and by Asian's assertion that the Pevensie children must "begin to come close to ... [their] own world" (Voyage 247). Both worlds are equally their home.
Lewis, like Browne, sees humanity's amphibianism as a divine mechanism for uniting otherwise incompatible differences. Just as people in Browne's text link the spiritual and physical worlds and Puddleglum bridges the gap between Jill and Eustace and Narnia, human beings have a vital role in Narnian creation. They link Talking Animals and the otherwise unreachable Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, and they link two seemingly disparate worlds that are in fact connected to each other and to Aslan's other worlds.
Nikabrik and Trumpkin might here question why human beings should provide this link. Despite the texts' suggestions that humanity has a wider scope for undulation and for successful existence in different worlds, Talking Animals (along with dwarfs, fauns, etc.) clearly have amphibious qualities, too. They are rational, make moral choices, develop personally and spiritually, and have the capacity for a life after death. One example of the many physical Talking Animals who clearly display a spiritual side is Bree the Horse in A Horse and His Boy. On his journey to freedom, he frequently reminds the human Shasta that he is a free Narnian, not a slave, and insists on equality with human beings. He considers moral questions (like whether they should steal to finance their escape ) and metaphysical questions (such as his conviction that Asian is a lion only metaphorically ). He exhibits a capacity for spiritual development when, after Aslan's invitation to touch his whiskers and tail, he admits his previous foolishness (201). Asian interacts with and responds to him no differently than he does with the human characters, and Bree exists in the after-life of the Real Narnia in The Last Battle (205). In our world humanity may be, as Browne claims, the only creature that lives in "divided and distinguished worlds" (42), but in Narnia, part-physical, part-spiritual creatures not only exist but abound. Clearly humanity's position in Narnia is not based on its uniqueness.
Nor does humanity hold its special position because of merit. The human beings in the Narnia books are not inherently smarter, braver, more learned, more faithful, or more spiritually aware than the Talking Animals they meet. Often they show poorly by comparison. When confronted with Reepicheep's readiness to sail to the World's End then swim until his paws fail him if he has not reached Asian's country, one of Caspian's sailors signs on, stating, "I'm not going to be outdone by a mouse" (Voyage 213). In addition, human beings are often at the root of Narnian problems. Calormen, Narnia's enemy, is a land of human beings, and the Telmarines who suppressed the Old Narnians are descendants of pirates from the human world. Most importantly, Narnia's first peril stemmed from human pride and errors, as the human Digory brought the White Witch into Narnia. No Talking Beast parallel to Adam and Eve brought about Narnia's fall, which was instead the result of bumbling human efforts to correct an earlier mistake.
The children's amphibious role in Narnia, then, comes not out of any inherent or earned merit, but from Aslan's grace. In the face of Digory's failure, Aslan allows him to be part of the solution. Aslan tells the Talking Animals that Digory has already brought evil to the new Narnia, but "as Adam's race has done the harm, Adam's race shall help to heal it" (Nephew 148). Digory travels to find the fruit from which a protective tree shall grow, and later the four Penvensies fulfill the prophesy and participate in the battle that ends the White Witch's reign, though clearly Asian could have defeated her without their aid. Because humanity created the problem, Aslan allows them to be part of Narnia's redemption in a way that contributes not only to their personal redemption but also to the redemption of the entire Narnian world. Lewis' plot choices thus resonate biblically, recalling verses such as 1 Cor. 15:21: "For since byman came death, byman came also the resurrection of the dead" (KIV). This underlying Christological point does not detract from the moral character of the Narnian beasts, but instead emphasizes the existence and goodness of Aslan's grace in Narnia. Humanity plays a key role in Narnian redemption not due to its own virtue but due to Asian's. (12)
The idea that humanity's participation in redemption reflects its Creator's plan is articulated more explicitly in Perelandra, the second book of Lewis' science-fiction trilogy. The older races seen in Out of the Silent Planet had various nonhuman forms, but the new creation of Perelandra is presided over by beings who, except for green skin, appear otherwise human. When Ransom wonders why the woman he encounters there is human-shaped, the Lady explains that newer rational creatures are now all humanoid because "in your world Maleldil [the trilogy's name for God] first took Himself this form, the form of your race and mine.... Since our Beloved became a man, how should Reason in any world take on another form?" (62) The form is not privileged because of its own greatness but because of God's. Obviously in the Narnia books, where Lewis is working in a different fictional scheme, more lately-created rational creatures do not all have human forms, but there too the privilege of the human is less about honoring humanity and more about pointing toward Christ.
Nevertheless, that honor confers significant opportunities in Lewis' fictional worlds, especially Narnia. The children's participation in redemption is demonstrated throughout the stories as they help Aslan free Narnia from threats both natural, like Miraz and Calormen, and supernatural, like the White Witch. Sometimes, their battles parallel and support Asian's direct intervention. In others, as in The Silver Chair, they are Asian's emissaries. Other times, as in voyaging the eastern seas, halting the invasion of Archenland, and fighting the final battle at the stable, human beings initiate action and operate independently, or seemingly so, to support the order of Aslan's world. In some cases, their action allows them to take responsibility for and respond to dangers they created, as when Digory sows the tree that protects Narnia and Edmund disarms the White Witch. Sometimes, as in Prince Caspian and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, they defend others and are catalysts for change among Narnia's Talking Animals. Conversely, as in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, their adventures also often spur their own growth of character, with Narnia becoming the means of their change. In calmer times, human monarchs provide stability and protection, a visible sign of Narnia's connection to the rest of Aslan's creation and of his bounty in allowing them a role in its preservation and salvation.
The role of human amphibians in Narnia invites comparison to Aslan, a figure who more completely inhabits various worlds and reconciles otherwise incompatible differences. Aslan, too, moves between the world of humanity and Narnia, as seen when he appears to the bullying children of the Experiment House at the end of The Silver Chair and his assertion to Edmund in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that he is in their world, too, where he has a different name (247). In fact, the many pools in the Wood Between the Worlds suggest Aslan's habitation in all worlds, where (if we extrapolate from our world and Narnia) his presence in these worlds makes him the link between their inhabitants and their otherwise unseen ruler. While the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea is never seen, his son Aslan is, making Aslan his physical representative to the Narnians.
We may even see what appears to be ultimate amphibianism in Aslan and his other incarnation, Jesus. As Lewis discusses in Mere Christianity, Christ is God, begotten, not created, since when a being begets, it begets like itself." "What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man" (157). Yet Christ is also human: "The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man;' resulting in "one man who really was what all men were intended to be" (179). Aslan, too, insists on his physicality and his animality. As he tells Bree, Asian is a "true Beast" with paws, a tail, and whiskers (Horse 201). As the animal son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, Aslan saves Narnia. As God and Man, Christ connects, reconciles, and encompasses the divine and the human, showing the proper end for the human amphibian.
However, although Asian (and Christ) become the model, the telos, for the human amphibians, differences exist that resist his categorization in this way. Just as the children are continually reminded that Asian is "not a tame Lion," neither is he a tame amphibian or a hyper-Marsh-wiggle, a difference marked not merely because his Narnian incarnation is mammalian. Aslan, we are reminded in The Magician's Nephew, is despite his animality, not a creature of Narnia, but its maker, who sung it into existence. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, asserts that although human beings can become "Sons of God" through Christ, they are not Sons of God already (156). God begets God; God creates humanity. Though humanity may be like God in certain ways, they are not the same kind (157-58). The human amphibian connects, reflects, and encapsulates the physical and spiritual creation but is itself a creation. Aslan is not: he is not created but Creator.
Nor is Aslan a hybrid, Screwtape's designation for people. Humanity may be part physical and part spiritual, but Aslan is not part animal, part creator, but wholly Lion and wholly Creator, just as Christ is not part man, part God, but wholly human and wholly divine. As such, Aslan is not subject to the demands and changes of time; he does not grow bigger, though Lucy does. Nor is he subject to the undulation of peaks and valleys experienced by the children and by Screwtape and Wormwood's patients. While he experiences real pain and death when the White Witch kills him and feels real emotions, such as rage, sorrow, happiness, and joy, those sensations, experiences, and emotions do not ever threaten to blunt, pervert, or misdirect his purposes. He does not, like Jill, Eustace, and the Pevensie children, become snappish or discouraged or moody due to tiredness or hunger. Time-bound amphibians must learn to negotiate the valleys in a way that Aslan, complete in himself, does not. Even in his physical form, Aslan undergoes no education about enduring spiritual valleys; instead, through his death at the Stone Table, he has already conquered them. The human amphibians have a telos, a model, and a guide in Aslan, but he is not a higher, more advanced form of the children or the Talking Animals. Though he reveals the end toward which they strive, he is himself a different kind of being. To become like him, the human amphibians need not merely advancement but transformation.
However, this transformation is not only possible but promised. Lucy, Edmund, Jill, and Eustace are all sent back to their own world with the promise that one day they will come to Aslan's World to stay, a promise fulfilled by their entrance into the real Narnia in The Last Battle. Such a transformation is also seen in Caspian. After his death and reawakening by Aslan, he asks Asian if his desire to see Eustace's world is wrong. Asian responds that Caspian cannot now want wrong things (Silver 240), a definite change from the earlier Caspian who has previously wanted wrong things, including his desire to abandon crew and kingdom for the adventure of seeing the World's End where he reveals a temper reminiscent of his uncle Miraz. Yet here in Asian's world, he is free from the amphibious undulation that affects moods and desires, and his wishes effortlessly conform to the right.
Likewise, such transformation of human vision and intention occurs in Wormwood's patient as, in Screwtape's words, "the Earth-bound vermin entered the new life" (Screwtape 157). There, physical needs or discomforts will no longer threaten to distract him from the ultimate goal as he will embrace any further pains necessary to his growth just as a man turns from a harlot at the sound of his beloved's voice. Though Screwtape almost despairs because he cannot figure out "what He [God] is really up to!" (160), Christians clearly recognize the promised transformation.
Such a transformation, indeed, is the desired end of a human amphibian's struggles. Screwtape notes that God wants "servants who can finally become sons" (46) and move from a fluctuating temporal existence into a constant timeless one. It is a transformation amphibians can appropriate if they wish, though it is not forced on them. For instance, the dwarfs in the stable want "no Humbug" (Battle 169) and so refuse to see the beauty of the real Narnia. However, for those who choose, transformation is possible, and the way for the human amphibian has been prepared by the One who is the model. As Lewis says, "the business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless 'spiritual' life, has been done for us" (Mere 181). Humanity, already both physical and spiritual, has the potential to be also both temporal and timeless, both created and begotten. Asian has prepared a place for his people, and throughout the Chronicles of Narnia those who choose prepare themselves to enter it, and in the final book, the promise is fulfilled, though the journey continues "further up and further in"
All this brings us back to Trufflehunter's assertion that Narnia is a land properly ruled by humans. Such a claim reflects Lewis' sense of an amphibian's importance as a creature that unites otherwise incompatible differences, and in doing so, reveals the greatness and beauty of God's methods. Lewis' explicit adoption in The Screwtape Letters of Browne's metaphor reveals a view of humanity we also see, in a more veiled form, permeating Narnia. For Lewis, as for Browne, humanity's participation in two natures and its ultimate fulfillment defines human selfhood. Through serving as a point of union for seemingly disparate and fragmented realities, human beings are part of creation's perfection. Although their dual nature makes humanity susceptible to Fall, it also grants a unique ability to participate in creation's redemption and be themselves redeemed, both in Narnia and in the world on this side of the wardrobe.
Macon State College
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(1) In The Discarded Image, see pages 72, 140, 152, and 156, and in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, see pages 278, 411, and 536. Other references to Browne in Lewis' critical work include A Preface to Paradise Lost (85), The Allegory of Love (45), and Studies in Words, as well as in "'De Descriptione Temporum" (5) and "Addison" (164), both found in Selected Literary Essays.
(2) For a discussion of contemporary reaction to Browne, see James N. Wise's Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Two Seventeenth-Century Critics. This work includes an outline of seventeenth-century reactions to Browne's work (50-56), as well as chapters on the responses of two of his critics, Sir Kenelm Digby and Alexander Ross.
(3) See for example, Morris W. Croll's "The Baroque Style in Prose," Joan Webber's chapter "Sir Thomas Browne: Art as Recreation" in her The Eloquent "I": Style and Self in Seventeenth Century Prose (149-183); Austin Warrens "The Styles of Sir Thomas Browne"; and Stanley Fish's "The Bad Physician: The Case of Sir Thomas Browne" in his Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (353-82).
(4) Lewis also articulates this idea in Mere Christianity, when he discusses the vegetable and animal world as likenesses of God, with humanity, "the highest of the animals" possessing "the completest resemblance to God which we know of.... Man not only lives, but loves and reasons: biological life reaches its highest known level in him" (158-59).
(5) Although the Oxford English Dictionary lists a 1637 usage as the earliest example of the word "amphibian," the entry for "amphibious" cites a 1609 example of "amphibian" (Ben Jonson's "O then he is an animal amphibium" from Epicene 1.4), and the entry for "amphibia" cites a 1609 usage of "amphibium" to illustrate its singular form. The OED cites Browne as the earliest example of "amphibious," definition 2, "Of, pertaining to, suited for, or connected to both land and water" This usage is noted in Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica (also called Vulgar Errors). The passage in discussion here from Religio Medici ("We are onely that amphibious piece between a corporaU and spirituall essence") is itself cited as the OED's earliest example of "amphibious," definition 3: "Having two lives; occupying two position; connected with or combining two classes, ranks, offices, qualities, etc."
(6) For a brief overview of the flood of Latin loanwords into English during this period, see Charles Barber's The English Language: A Historical Introduction (177-179, 181).
(7) Claire Preston notes of Religio Medici that, though his most personal and accessible work, it is least typical of Browne's scientific writings, "a junior endeavor" (43).
(8) For examples of this idea in the medieval period, see Bonaventure's Breviloquium (II.11) and Hugh of St. Victor's De Tribus Diebus. Besides Browne, other early modern writers who used the "book of nature" motif include Galileo (237-38), Francis Bacon (42), and Robert Boyle (19).
(9) Malcolm Guite discussed the moral aspects of natural beauty, especially the physical beauty of creation, in an address "Love and Renewal: The Moral Response to Beauty in the Works of C.S. Lewis."
(10) Colin Duriez notes two other sources for Puddleglum: Fred Paxford, Lewis' groundsman at his home, The Kilns, and a phrase from John Studley's sixteenth-century translation of Eurpides' Hippolytus, "Stygian puddle glum" (203). In English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis uses "Stygian puddle glum" as an example of Studley's "diction that cannot now be read without a smile" (256).
(11) See, for example, Prince Caspian (105) and The Last Battle (67).
(12) That mainly children (with the exceptions of Digory's uncle and its first king and queen) come to Narnia underscores the idea that their role comes from Aslan rather than themselves. The Pevensies, Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly do nothing to deserve to come to Narnia, and Edmund, Eustace, and Digory come despite lack of merit. Nor do they come when they wish, as illustrated by the fact that Eustace and Jill's made-up ritual is not responsible for their appearance in Narnia. As Aslan tells Jill, "You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you" (Silver 24-25). Nor do the Magic Rings allow Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Digory, and Polly to return to help Rilian. They instead appear in the Real Narnia after their death in their world in a train accident (157-58).
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|Author:||Muth, Benita Huffman|
|Publication:||Christianity and Literature|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2010|
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