In our lunchroom Narnia reading, we have picked up this year with The Silver Chair. Here is a passage we encountered a couple weeks ago. It documents Jill Pole’s first encounter with Aslan after she has been without water for an extended period of time:
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
I am always curious about our students’ comprehension level when we read passages like this. Most of them were tuned in to the fact that this part of the story felt like another story with which they were familiar (the woman at the well). I know because I asked them. I think by now many students understand that Aslan is a character of power, authority, and ferocity on the one hand, and kindness, compassion, and nurturing on the other. I think they understand that he is the character of all characters with none other like him.
It is very possible to over-analyze a great work of fiction, particularly in the early years of learning. I like that our lunch reading really only allows time for the reading itself. This is how Narnia should be read the first couples times. That’s not to say that I don’t try to throw out subtle indicators when Lewis is expecting them to pay closer attention, like slowing way down with ample dramatic pauses.
This portion above was read slowly with the hopes that students would listen closely. For unlike our world, there is only one place to get a drink in Aslan’s country. There is no way to lap at the stream without engaging the Lion. And we will need to trust him that his stream will quench our thirst.
I don’t know if TCS students yet realize that they are thirsty. It is our job to remind them that we all drink or we die. It’s our task to help them realize there is only one stream.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:37-38