I’ve been reading a lot of children’s literature recently, due to my role as an Elementary Lit teacher here at CenterForLit. We just finished reading C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and I was struck by the youngest brother, Edmund’s, character development. Not a baby any longer to be coddled by his mother or sister, but not yet mature enough to claim a leader’s role like Peter, Edmund is half-baked, sullen, and in-process. When he first comes to Narnia, he falls in with a dangerous crowd. Immature and lustful for recognition and power, he pledges his loyalty to the White Witch and betrays his family to secure his ambition, all within the first few chapters of the story. Not a stellar beginning, you might say. Sheepishly, I will admit that he’s the character with whom I identify the most.
No, I don’t harbor secret longings to stuff my face with Turkish Delight or to betray my siblings to an evil ice queen. I’m rather fond of my brothers and sister, while I loathe the spongey English candies that Edmund craves…but the root of our ambitions is the same. I want my place, complete with honor and public praise, and I want it yesterday.
It seems to me that conniving young Edmund is driven by two things, each fundamentally human at its core: greed for power and glory, and a fear of being overlooked. Consumed by his desire for place, Edmund trusts neither the love of his family nor the Narnian prophecy which promises him a crown. He squanders the gifts offered him in the present, grasping instead at the Witch’s empty promise for the future. This impulse is one I understand. I too am hungry for assurance that I belong, that I matter, that I’m important. I too squander the present and its many gifts, too busy reaching for the next thing to notice the things of today. Thus, when Edmund finds himself imprisoned in the treacherous queen’s dungeons and considers the horrible fate to which he has doomed his own dear siblings, I feel his shame keenly. After all his machinations and schemes for control of his own life, Edmund faces the failure of all his efforts. Attempting to make his future certain, he has only orchestrated his ruin. He drowns in need for a savior, and that need itself is galling. After all, it’s a humbling thing to admit his insufficiency, his inability to save himself. Asking for help involves quite a bending of his pride.
Yet Edmund soon fears that even salvation is impossible. The White Witch cites his dark deeds and claims him as her personal property. Eyes glittering with malicious triumph, she dares even Aslan (the rightful king of Narnia, whose throne she has usurped) to attempt to rescue Edmund from his lawful fate. With the queen’s taunting challenge ringing in his ears and his siblings’ frightened eyes upon him, Edmund realizes that he is lost. Unable to meet their gaze, he waits in silent misery for the just sentence to condemn him.
Spoiler alert: for those of you who haven’t yet read Lewis’s classic, the story doesn’t end there. Also, what are you waiting for? Go now and read. There, at the mercy of the evil queen, having failed in his best efforts to achieve power and position for himself, Edmund waits for condemnation. Yet he is saved. Fulfilling a prophecy that has been in place for centuries, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund and frees the boy, no questions asked. When the plot unfolds and Aslan has miraculously risen from the grave and slain the White Witch, he crowns all four children and sets them up to rule over the land of Narnia in power and honor for a lifetime. And Edmund has an equal place, an equal throne, an equal share of the majesty and honor in the end. “If only he had waited!” You might be thinking, as I did on my first reading of the story. “The nincompoop was always going to have everything he needed. If only he had waited patiently for Aslan to fulfill the prophecy!”
The more times I read this story, however, the more I relate to Edmund’s fretfulness. I too have a Savior who has planned to ransom me from “before the dawn of time.” I too have a position of honor and belonging that is safe with Him. But I’m not crowned yet. I’m not yet seated on that throne in Cair Paravel and surrounded by proofs that this king who bought my life at such a price had good things planned all along for me. I’m in the in-between and I’ve got to take it all on faith.
So here in the in-between, I look for reminders of a plan beyond my weak and finite scheming. I wait with Edmund for the rightful king to reassure me that my place is safe with Him.