C.S. Lewis

Healing and Pointing Forward: The Purpose of Food in the Chronicles of Narnia (Part 2)

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By Jonathan Darville

In a recent post we looked at how Narnians, and those fortunate enough to make their way to Narnia, depend on the sustenance provided by Aslan’s wooded world: the trees, the streams and rivers, the dumb creatures, the grass. Specifically, we looked at a meal’s ability to strengthen, delight and bring people together.

In this post, we will explore two more purposes of food and drink: healing and pointing forward.

Meals point forward to the eternal life that awaits those who have partaken of the true water and true bread that gives true life and true healing—Jesus Christ.

Medicinal Meals

It is no secret that food heals.[1] Food and drink have the ability to restore our bodies and comfort our souls. Why is that? Because God, in His infinite wisdom and kindness (knowing the fall would occur), constructed the world in such a way that it had healing potentialities built into its natural resources. Now, through cultivation, exploration and experimentation, we have the blessing of natural remedies.[2]

In The Chronicles of Narnia, we first see foods’ healing or medicinal powers in The Magician’s Nephew. If you recall, Aslan gives Digory permission to take a magic “silver apple,” which is used to heal Digory’s ailing mother. Food and drink revitalizing the weary and wounded is a recurrent theme throughout The Chronicles. We observe this when the Cabby recalls bringing “hot mesh” to his horse, Strawberry, when Strawberry was “out of sorts,” in Book 1; when the Hermit nurses Aravis back to health with “goats’ milk,” and Duffle and his brothers restore Shasta’s strength with a good breakfast of “porridge” and a “jug of cream,” followed by “bacon and eggs and mushrooms,” as well as “coffee” and “toast” in Book 3; and when the reformed Eustace offers Jill “a peppermint” to console her after she had been crying in Book 6, to name a few examples.

But The Chronicles also show us the potential food has to make us sick—in body and soul. Eating or growing food “at the wrong time and in the wrong way,” as Aslan says, causes “misery” and “despair” instead of joy and delight. For instance, the Witch’s face appears “deadly white” in Book 1 (emphasis added) after she unlawfully takes and eats a magic apple (cf. Genesis 3). And Edmond learns all too well in Book 2 that food and drink, no matter how delightful, if produced in hate and consumed in greed, can have a sickening influence on one’s stomach as well as a corrupting influence on one’s integrity and rationality (e.g. the effects of “enchanted Turkish delight”[3]).

However, as Lewis also makes clear, the implications for how we cultivate and consume food are not just personal—they are global: impacting the health of nature as well as other people (i.e. plants and animals get sick too). Lewis shows that if we pursue power at the expense of nature (like the Telmarines in B4 who “were at war with all wild things”), or pleasure at the expense of other rational beings (like the giants in B6 who ate “talking stag,” which is strictly forbidden) there will be negative consequences: e.g. the 100 year Winter in B2.

In our world, two infamous examples of the negative consequences that can result from damaging creation would be the thousands of humans and animals that got sick or died in Minamata, Japan or Hinkley, California in the 1950s and 60s because two organizations contaminated local waters with toxic substances (mercury and hexavalent chromium; cf. Deuteronomy 22:8).

Part of our calling as humans is to care for the physical needs of one another and the natural world—especially when either is sick (Genesis 1:28-30; Luke 10:27). So, like good Narnians, we should be on the lookout for opportunities to provide, or support those who provide, medicinal meals and remedies for our neighbors in need (as well as for the waters and animals from which we derive our food supply[4]): “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16; cf. 1 Samuel 25; Luke 16:19-31).

In sum, through the art of story C.S. Lewis has taught us an important lesson: How we cultivate the land over which we are stewards and consume the plants and animals we have been given for food, impacts not only the quality of our health, but the quality of our character and the condition of God’s world.

Eschatological Sign

Finally, food and drink are a sign of life, flourishing and abundance. In this way, meals point forward to the eternal life that awaits those who have partaken of the true water and true bread that gives true life and true healing—Jesus Christ (John 6:35). And as we know, there is one particular meal, The Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29), which serves as an eschatological sign as well as an eschatological foretaste of The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9).[5]

While in some sense, the sign function of food is present at every meal in Narnia, we see this sign function most clearly at a few specific meals. Presumably, these meals serve the foretaste function as well—as they are symbolic of either The Lord’s Supper and/or Regeneration and Eternal Life. For example:

  • In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (B5) when the party eats at “Aslan’s Table,” where there is, “set out such a banquet as [has] never been seen…”;
  • In Book 5 when Reepicheep and then the others, drink “real water,” the water of the “Last Sea,” that’s like “drinkable light,” and fills you with “joy and excitement,” and makes you “almost too well and strong to bear it”;
  • In Book 5 when “the Lamb” who “was Aslan himself” invites Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace to “Come and have breakfast,” and they ate “the most delicious food they had ever tasted”;
  • In Book 6 when Jill is “dying of thirst” and although afraid, responds to the Lion’s invitation to “drink” from the only stream and discovers it is the “most refreshing water she had ever tasted”;
  • Or, again, in Book 1 when Digory’s mother eats the magic apple that makes her well.

These captivatingly imaginative meals seem to be Lewis’ way of evoking and helping explain everything from The Lord’s Supper, to Christ’s post-resurrection breakfast with Peter (John 21:1-14), to Christ’s encounter with the Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42), to “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal” and the “tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit…for the healing of the nations” in Revelation 22.

Principally, however, it seems the collective impact Lewis intended to have on us in portraying these various meals is to enhance our desire for, and anticipatory delight in, The Marriage Supper of the Lamb: That great banquet at which, like the banquet at the end of Book 4, there will be “no breaking up or going away” after the meal, just never ending communion with the ones we love.[6]

Close

I suspect Lewis’ encouragement to us would be this: Therefore, “when [we] give a feast, [let us] invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, [and] the blind (Luke 14:13), as a witness to the reconciling, life-giving and soul satisfying power and promise of the gospel: including those feasts at the Lord’s Table in our churches and the feasts at the dining room tables in our homes and communities.

[1] In this first instance, I am using the word “food” in its broadest sense to include fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs and spices, which all have their own unique medicinal profiles (e.g. vitamins and minerals, immune support, antibacterial properties, inflammation and pain suppressant, digestive support, etc.).

[2] In addition to the blessings of modern medicines such as Advil or Antibiotics, but that is not really something Lewis has in view.

[3] “Anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it until they killed themselves.”

[4] I would be remiss in a post on Narnia, if I did not also acknowledge that certain animals, like dogs and cats, provide us with companionship.

[5] By foretaste, I mean that The Lord’s Supper is one of the ordinary means of grace God has ordained to feed our souls and strengthen our faith: along with the Word, Baptism, and Prayer. Of course, The Lord’s Supper also commemorates and looks back to Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. We just happen to be highlighting the forward-looking aspect of the meal in this post.

[6] We see the experienced reality to which these signs point in Book 7, when everyone arrives in the “new,” “real Narnia,” where the real orchard “with the branches of trees whose leaves looked like silver and their fruit like gold,” is freely available to all. Lewis explains eating fruit from the eternal Narnia this way: “All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest, grapefruit you’ve ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry…and the sweetest strawberry was sour.”

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  • C.S. Lewis
Jonathan Darville

Jonathan Darville is a former Global Master Trainer with The Center for Leadership Studies and Co-Leader of the New York branch of Models for Christ (an international non-profit bringing the gospel to the fashion industry). Due to a decade-plus long battle with chronic illness, Jonathan has recently stepped away from work to focus on his health. During this time, he is freelance writing to stay connected with the ministry of the Church. Jonathan and his wife, Jillian, live in North Carolina.

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