Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hospitality and Narnia

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of my most beloved books. I loved it as a child, and as a 22 year old my love for this story has only increased and I suspect it will increase more when I one day read it to my own children as my mother did to my brother and I.

About a month ago, I felt a drawing to read in my bible the story of Abraham giving hospitality to two angels and the preincarnate Christ, who appear as foriegn travellers to Abe (Genesis 18:1-15).
Hospitality is treated as big deal in the bible and is therefore a big deal to learn and act similarly to this standard as Christian's. Even in secular cultures, a lack of hospitality shows hostility. And a lack of appreciation or acknowledgement of given hospitality is incrediable rudeness and often seen as deserving of death (at least in the bible and other ancient stories).

As many Christians know, CS Lewis is a renowned author known for his essays defending and explaining christianity. Steven and I own a fair amount of these collections, but Lewis's writing style is so academic and British (I mean that in a nice way) that it often takes as much concentration reading and mentally sifting through his ideas as reading a statistics textbook. Although Id much more prefer the former. But, putting aside his brillaint essays, the Narnia stories are the most easiest to read and interpret because he aimed for the books to be written for children.

There have been so much written on biblical allegories of the Narnia stories that I darent try anything major here in my blog except to focus on one small portion of LWW (The Lion the witch and the wardrobe). The example being shown in the picture on the right of the dinner shared by Mr & Mrs Beaver and the four Pevensie children. I won't explain the plot here, because if you haven't read the story, shame on you! Go read it now!


I absolutely adore this picture, and whoever did the illustrations for the series did a wonderful job. True to the book it shows the wonderful simplicity of the hospitality given by the Beavers. There are quite a few examples of food used in LWW ie Lucy's meal with Tumnus, The reuniting meal of the four children after Edmund is saved, the post battle supper and of course the coronation feast at Cair Paravel. All stories illustration the fantastic use of food in bonding, fellowship and celebration.

Here's an excerpt about the Beaver's hospitality:

"'Here we are, Mrs Beaver,' said Mr Beaver, 'Ive found them. Here are the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve' - and they all went in.
The first thing Lucy noticed as she went in was a burring noise, and the the first thing she saw was a kind looking old she-beaver sitting in the corner with a thread in her mouth working busily at her sewing machine, and it was from it that the sound came. She stopped her work and got up as soon as the children came in.
'So you've come at last!', she said, holding out both her wrinkled old paws. 'At last! To think that I should ever live to see this day! The potatoes are boiling and the kettle's singing and I daresay, Mr Beaver, you'll get us some fish.'

'That I will ,' said Mr Beaver, and he went out of the house (Peter went with him)... Meanwhile the girls were helping Mrs Beaver to fill the kettle and lay the table and cut the bread and put the plates in the oven to heat and draw a huge jug of beer for Mr Beaver which stood in one corner of the house, and to put on the frying pan and get the dripping hot... There were no books or pictures, and instead of beds there were bunks, like on board a ship, built into the wall. And there were hams and strings of onions hanging from the roof, and against the walls were gumboots and oilskins and hatchets and pairs of shears and spades and trowels and things for carrying mortar in and fishhing rods and fishing nets and sacks. And the cloth on the table, though very clean, was very rough...
Susan drained the potatoes then put them all ack into the empty pot to dry on the side of the range while Lucy was helping Mrs Beaver dish up the trout, so that in a few minutes everyone was drawing up their stools (it was all three legged stools in the Beaver's house except for Mrs Beaver's own special rocking chair beside the fire) and preparing to enjoy themselves. There was a jug of creamy milk for the cildren (Mr Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes... When they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver unexpectantly bought out of the oven a great and glorious sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle onto the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out. And when each person had got his (or her) cup of tea, each person shoved back his (or her) stool so as to lean back against the wall, and gave a long sigh of contentment.
'And now,' said Mr Beaver, pushing away his empty beer mug and pulling his cup of tea towards him, 'if you'll just wait til Ive got my pipe lit up and going nicely - why now we can get to business...'"

Theres some points I want to make about this passage re biblical hospitality (or lack thereof).
  1. Although I didn't add the passage in from the previous chapter, by the opening statement of Mr Beaver, its clear that Mr Beaver had been looking for the children. Neither do we know when Mr Tumnus' arrest occured (which is the reason Mr Beaver is looking for them being a close friend of Tumnus). Mr Beaver would have gained all his knowledge of the children from the faun, and we can guess that he knew the children were foreigners and needed provision. The fact is, is that Mr Beaver persued the children with passionate concern of the level of a loving close relative or parent. Secondary to Mr Beaver's actions were the reinforcement from Mrs Beaver. In the movie version, the Beaver's relationship with one another show something like an old couple who are still young at heart to tease each other but wise enough to trust, cherish and help each other. Mrs Beaver epitomises the biblical allegory of God naming Eve as Adam's helper. She maintains the home while Mr Beaver searches for the children. That role I believe is not anti feminist nor chauvinistic. Instead the roles appear as very complimentary. The description of pairs of tools around the house and of Mr Beaver assisting with the dinner (catching trout) show that they work together as a team. So whats the lesson here?
  • Firstly, although I believe God places persons in our lives (sometimes right in front of us) so that we can help them, and other times we have to persue them. I don't think this is because we have a lack of trust/faith in God, but a way of following our faith in action. In the bible Abraham's example of faith was described by the apostles not as a thought but as an action of hearing the Call and persuing something he could not see but which was promised to him as a reward. The same is true for Mr Beaver.
  • Secondly, as I said before Mrs Beaver is illustrated as the biblical female helper. The first statement re Mrs Beaver shows her busy at work at a constructive activity (sewing). This is later to be explained as a cherished activity that is particularly hers by the fact that she later gets a brand new sewing machine from Father Christmas. When the children arrive they find she (in the practical sense) is ready to meet their physical needs and she immediately stops what she is doing and extends a lovely sincerely warm welcome to the children. It doesn't show her pacing up and down the house worrying (maybe perhaps in her head) nor rocking backward and forward in her rocking chair doing nothing. She is prepared. And in the story she strikes me as the kind of she beaver who regardless of Mr Beaver unsuccessfuly searching for the children for days, she would still make sure that there was at least simple food and hot water ready for tea at all times.
  1. CS Lewis goes into great detail of explaining how humble and simple both the Beavers and their home are. It comes to mind a parable in the bible about stewardship - "Whoever can be trusted with a little can be trusted with much..." (Luke 16:10). The thing that grabs me as genuis is the fact that in the animal kingdom, the beavers are known to be practical, hardworking and domestic. They're not grand, lazy nor do they eat other animals that come near their territory. Despite the weirdness of animals/creatures wearing clothes, eating toast and discussing politics, to the reader the idea of the beavers doing the same thing seem rather normal and comforting given their inherent nature. Us humans need to be more like them. I hear a lot of people saying that when they win the lottery, THEN they will be able to be more charitable. Bollocks I say. Its starts with being content with what you have and sharing what you have. As a christian I believe that the more propensity we are to learning this the more then God then trusts us with more in order for us to give more.
  2. In the entire passage it decribes in detail how each of the children (minus Edmund) help with preparing dinner. Technically speaking Peter didnt help either but went along willing to learn and be Mr Beaver's assistant. As hostess Mrs Beaver accepted help from the girls. I wonder what Edmund was doing during this time and what the beavers and his siblings thought of his rudeness. We will never know. My guess is that he sat at the table and mulled over his situation (bitterness/anger at siblings for being found out to be a liar and longing for things his siblings supposedly wouldnt have access to - turkish delight, hot chocolate and a crown). Edmund's actions (or lack of) is how NOT to be a good guest. In todays world, we are taught to think that entertaining is cool, fun and easy. Just so you know - its not. I have an entire family made up of Edmund's. Womens magazines advocate cooking entire 3 course meals from scratch in just one hour, with no mention of help. The magazines also go on using words like envy, impressing, flavour explosions, elaborate etc etc. In a New Zealand House and Garden magazine never have I seen a home photographed that was simple, rustic and old. I quite often long to see homes that just look like a typical flat that looks lived in and homy and not fake, just to give myself some hope and contentment. Christian/Beaver hospitality as compared to 21st century entertaining is quite radical. Eating at the table, with no outside distractions is cherished. Focus is on one another not a piece of media. The beavers and three of the children understand the concept servanthood yet are not treated as servants (as compared to Edmunds ideas). The children have their milk, Mrs Beaver her rocking chair and Mr Beaver his beer and pipe. Reaping the rewards of their hard work particularly for the Beavers is wonderfully shown. Some legalist christians might be freaked out by the drinking of alcohol and spoking of a pipe in front of children, but I go back to my typical argument: though I think smoking and excessive drinking is unhealthy, I believe that when demonstrated by mature sensible parents (as shown by the Beavers, responsible drinking is beneficial and neither is smoking tobacco a sin so long as you're not breaking the law. Bearing in mind the context when this story was written and the author. CS Lewis himself was a great pipe smoker during a period when boys were getting blown up by bombs, and was viewed as a rare luxury, so too did he spend an enjoyable Friday night with Tolkien discussing their books over a beer or two.
  3. Lastly the Beavers prioritised and provided for the basic needs before the secondary need of learning. They allowed the children and themselves to unwind, relax, eat their fill and get to know one another before moving on to serious important matters with a caffenated drink so as to focus. Genius.

In a nutshell
Persue hospitality & persons
Be a team player
Don't stress - Accept help
Work with what you've got
Its not about impressing
Be a good guest, pay attention and give thanks
Be content and enjoy your rewards
Provide an atmosphere of relief and relaxation before anything else.


Anonymous said...

Very good!

Anonymous said...

Very good!