As a writer and a reader, I find that my imagination is often stirred as much by what is left unsaid or unexplored in a story as it is by what the author chooses to tell. This is part of the reason I love to reread books, even with the incredible wealth of wonderful books that exist that I have not yet had the opportunity to read. The more I visit a beloved tale, the more my attention is freed to wander the fringes of the story and imagine what is happening behind and above and to the sides of scenes that unfold in such intricate detail.
Today, my imagination takes flight over the beloved land of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, and it is the cold and frostbitten Narnia of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, still trapped in endless winter and bereft of the joys of Christmas. My imagination lands in the snowy courtyard of the dreary and imposing palace of the one styling herself “queen,” and it is cluttered with the figures of dwarfs and unicorns, dryads and giants, centaurs and a certain kind-hearted faun, all turned to stone.
I imagine how it must have felt to stand in that place, surrounded by statues like trophies on display, a spectacle of horror to discourage rebellion against the White Witch’s cruel and icy reign.
I imagine how it must have felt to stand among them, a pawn in her campaign. What did they see last, those poor souls, when they were dragged trembling before her? Did they see her eyes flash in anger, her wand flicking toward them like a fencer’s foil aiming for the heart? Did they see the cruel smile carved bloodred across her frozen skin?
Did they think that surely this was the end?
I close my eyes and imagine a wave of cold crashing over them, dread freezing like a block of ice in their chests, followed first by a tingling that blossoms into numbness slowly creeping up their legs, claiming their bodies inch by inch. Limbs stiffening. Chests stilling. And the throbbing pulse inside slowing, slowing, slowing … stopped.
And then …
Did they dream in that stony state? Were they aware of the passage of time?
Did they rail against their immobilization, or did they simply sink into the grayness and retreat within the numbness it brought, relieved of the burden to fight against despair, to wait for Aslan, to cling onto hope. Because hoping, waiting, and fighting hurts, but stone does not feel. Stone does not live. It cannot move. It need not act. Stone simply is, buried beneath accumulating snow, locked within an icy courtyard, or hidden inside the palatial maze of dark and drafty passages that fills the witch’s house.
Until one night, the dark is liquid and deeper than ever before, the cold pierces both heart and bone, and the earth itself groans. If stone could weep, it would shed innumerable tears as the Deep Magic is enacted, a knife plunges down, and an innocent victim bleeds out all alone.
The witch’s howling, triumphant cry rides a frozen wind, and stone is glad that it is stone then.
But then …
The first gleam of dawn parts the snow-laden clouds, and with a crack that is felt through the foundations of Narnia, the Stone Table splits in two. Breath rushes into the Lion’s lungs and rushes forth again in a ROAR, and at this glorious evidence of furious, teeming, abundant life, every statue shudders.
Over the walls of the witch’s castle, the Lion soars and lands in that frozen cemetery of a courtyard, dotted with statues instead of gravestones, and my imagination again takes flight.
He breathes out life and statues awaken.
And I marvel as hearts of stone become hearts of flesh and begin to beat again.
Did it hurt, I wonder, that first gust of warmth? Ice receding, thawing beginning, feeling returning with pinpricks of pain? What about that first slow, throbbing pulse carrying blood coursing again through stone-clogged arteries and veins? Was there a stabbing ache as lungs unlocked and remembered how to breathe, or did tears spring forth as vision was restored to eyes that had forgotten how to see?
And could it be that all that ingrained hurt and lingering, bone-deep, muscle-piercing chill is forgotten in an instant as those now-seeing eyes see him: Aslan, the Lion … Aslan, the Lifesinger, brought down by stone as they had been, now restored to life and restoring them to life again?
Stone has gone. Something new has come. It is springtime in the flesh.
Feeling emerges, and it is abundant joy. Waiting, it is over, because Aslan has come. Fighting is finished, the victor’s crown has been won. And hope, deep hope, is kindled, without any shadow or pain.
Watered by the snowmelt of a long, long winter, Narnia is ripe for flourishing, and the hills ring with celebration, the stars sing with joy, and the mountains echo back their voices.
Still my imagination lingers over the castle of Cair Paravel where two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve now sit enthroned, and as the festivities end and the revelers trickle back to their beds and their burrows and their cozy homes, I cannot help but wonder …
In the years that followed, did those freed from the witch’s palace ever tremble at the memory of their time as stone? For though restored to life, still they linger on this shadowed side of Aslan’s country, not yet summoned further up and further in. Did they ever shiver in broad sunlight at an imagined gust of winter’s wind? Or surface from a deep slumber only to remain paralyzed by fear? Did they ever hold their breaths and listen to their own hearts beating so as to simply know that it was real? Or did they ever shrink from the overwhelming, and wish—even if only for a moment—to be stone again, so as not to have to feel?
In their place, I would. In my own way, I have.
And in this time we find ourselves in, I am tempted to do so now. To shrink from feeling, to spurn the call for patient waiting, to give up on clinging to hope. In the tension of the “now and not yet” of salvation, in this ever-present awareness of suffering and grief, in my own easy forgetfulness of the unseen eternal reality, it can all begin to feel like too much.
I yearn to wall myself off within stone, immobilized and freed from the need to act or react. Let the snow accumulate. Let the darkness gather. Let me hide myself from these anxious and uncertain times.
But as my imagination sinks deeper still, no matter where it takes me—from Cair Paravel to the beaver’s house, northward across the Ettinsmoor or back to my own front door—one thing remains the same. Into every dark and frozen courtyard, every stony and barren wasteland, every dreary desolation of heart and soul, body and mind, flows the lifegiving breath of the Lion as he whispers these words, “Courage, dear heart. Courage.”
And as I watch, he shakes his mane, and it is spring again.
Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV)
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”
The featured image titled “Aslan in the Common Room” is (c) Lancia E. Smith. It was made in the Common Room at The Kilns, the beloved home of C.S. Lewis in Headington, Oxford and is used with glad permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Gillian Bronte Adams is a writer, wanderer, and wordsmith who is rarely found without a coffee in hand and rumored to pack books before clothes when she hits the road. Working in full-time youth ministry left her with a passion for journeying alongside teens as they follow after Christ. Combined with her lifelong love of story, that passion drew her to pursue the art of writing young adult fantasy novels, like The Songkeeper Chronicles, that ring with the echoes of eternity. Her favorite stories feature outcast characters traveling down broken roads, through epic battles, and onward toward adventure. At the end of a long day of typing, she can be found saddling her wild thing and riding off into the sunset, provided she has not already settled down a mug of coffee and a very long book.