Continued from the previous post in this series…
Along with the sense of the numinous, is the sense of opposing forces which we cannot see. Beneath the earth in The Princess and the Goblin are the goblins and their king and queen. I never lost sight, for indeed it was sight, of the Princess and Curdie in the bowels of the earth as prisoners of the goblins; their escape remained with me. When I read the story to Vickie a few years ago I revisited my experience when my mother read the story to me, and I kept thinking, “Oh yes, I remember that. Oh, that is the way it was, the mists of cloudy memory have disappeared. Why did I wait so long to read this myself? Why did I wait so long to share it?”
One of the marks of great storytelling is the ability of the narrator to portray the antagonist. An antagonist ought to be etched as deeply in our minds as the hero, for the hero’s heroism is framed within the evil which he or she encounters and overcomes. When evil and opposition are portrayed vividly we will not forget what we have seen and experienced. We may not dwell on it (hopefully we won’t), we will shut it in the abyss and throw away the key; but we will never forget what we have seen and the courage and faith it took to defeat it. MacDonald portrays evil in many forms in his writings, sometimes it is overt, at others time it is seductive – only a fool thinks that evil has a limited wardrobe.
Lewis does much the same in the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy; evil can be beautiful to the eye and pleasing to the senses, it can be logical and scientific, or it can be hideous.
MacDonald also portrays the good and courageous in various forms, as does Lewis. Is Irene’s grandmother old or young? Is she beautiful or ugly? What does the natural eye see versus what is really there? Is not this the way it was and is with Jesus? Isaiah says that He had no beauty or form that we should desire Him. What can we learn from this?
The Bible teaches us that we do not “see” all there is to see, it teaches that there is an unseen realm(s) of which we have limited awareness…and yet, it need not be so, at least to the degree that most of us experience. However, the Bible does not turn this into a religious or supernatural amusement park ride, it doesn’t entice us to “experience” the supernatural, for these are not playthings – better not to see these things than to see them and play with them…they can destroy you; or they can make you think you know more than you do. For the Christian, life must always be about Jesus Christ, loving Him and loving others and not thinking a great deal of ourselves or what we think we know. Better to be in love with Jesus than think we are something we are not.
Yet, the Scriptures pull back the curtain; in Daniel, in Revelation, in Zechariah, to name but three. Yet, Paul writes that we are to look at the unseen and not the seen – but he does this in the context of knowing Jesus and suffering for Him, he does this in the context of looking for our home, anticipating the day when we will put off this temporal dwelling and be clothed with heaven’s dwelling (2 Corinthians Chapters 4 & 4). Moses (Hebrews 11) sees “Him who is invisible”. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers in the unseen that manifest themselves in the seen (Daniel and Ephesians 6).
Children, as adults, need to know there is evil and MacDonald portrays just enough malice in the goblins to leave a lasting impression, an impression that’s been with me for 60 years or more. There is good and there is evil in the story; there is the guiding hand of Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother, there is the capture and the escape, there is the defeat of the goblins in the king’s house – where are we in the story?
Where are we in the story of the Bible? In the story of life? Do we live as if what we see is all there is? If so, what is the point? If what we see is not all there is, then who will have the courage to live as if life matters? Will I have the courage? Will you?