Thursday, June 25, 2009

Of C.S. Lewis and wallpaper removal

This week I'm removing the wallpaper in our master bathroom.

It's needed to be done for years. The paper isn't awful, really — it's white with a diamond pattern I like to call "Grandpa's Pajamas" — but it's dated and poorly applied. And wallpaper isn't my thing, so down it comes.

Our home's previous owners put the paper up to cover another wallpaper pattern that was too dark for their taste. This means to get to bare walls, I'm essentially removing two rooms' worth of wallpaper instead of one — double the fun!

Beneath the Grandpa's Pajamas pattern is a deep blue seashell pattern which the previous owners painted with primer so that Grandpa's Pajamas would stick.

(Beneath that are the subcontractors' instructions to one another, e.g. "no backsplash" on the wall behind a sinkless counter. This is the last room in the house to be de-papered and painted. I think I'll miss discovering their little sub-to-sub notes.)

Often, I'll work on home projects without music or anything going on in the background. The quiet combined with the repetitive task allows me to think, or pray, or sing old Elton John songs in my head. Or sometimes all three.

Peeling off the layers of wallpaper yesterday afternoon put me in mind of the part in C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace has been transformed into a dragon, and he tries to remove the dragon-skin himself.

[Sidenote: if we're going to be friends, you may as well know that I believe The Chronicles of Narnia should be read in the order in which the books were originally published, rather than the chronological order imposed on the series in the 1990s. The new order places The Magician's Nephew first, where the original order places The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first. The movies are being released in the books' originally published order, a testament to the fact that the reordering was misguided and wrongheaded. If you've only read them in the new (wrong) order, we can still be friends - if you'll repent and re-read them in the original order.]

So back to Eustace. His greed and selfishness have led him to dragonhood (or his dragonish heart has been manifested in his outward appearance), and all his efforts to change back into a human boy have proven futile.

One night, Eustace-as-a-dragon meets Aslan, who tells Eustace to follow him. He obeys, and the lion leads him to a pool-like well. Dragon-Eustace has a sore foreleg from a stolen armband he put on before he was transformed, and he thinks a bath in the well will soothe his swollen limb. But Aslan tells him he must undress before he can bathe. Later, Eustace tells the story to his cousin Edmund:

I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

The the lion said — but I don't know if it spoke — "You will have to let me undress you." I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.

Eustace emerges from his dragon-state a new creature — not perfect, but completely changed from the boy he had been.

What a beautiful picture of sin, repentance, submission, faith, and God's work through all of it.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has always been my favorite book of the series, even when I first read it as an unchurched, atheistic twelve-year-old. The imagery is powerful and memorable... so much so that here I am, decades later, recalling it as I strip layers of wallpaper from my bathroom walls.

And wishing I had Aslan's claws to help with the job.



  1. Pam, thanks so much for sharing this. I saw the link that said "a new creature" and right away this big smile burst across my face because I knew you were going to take me to that passage in 2 Corinthians.

    What a beautiful metaphor Lewis gives us of new life in Christ. Before the new self can come we have to come to the "end" of our old selves.

    Oh, and don't worry. I read the Magician's Nephew first. :)

  2. Thanks, Rachel. I appreciate your words of encouragement on my blog.

    Sorry for the confusion... "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is Book 1 in the originally-published order. Sad... and I was so looking forward to being your friend, too.

  3. Hey now... see my Facebook comment. I did read L, W & W first. I just got momentarily confused. Led away by my excitement. Abandoned the ship of my senses and took a tenuous plunge into error, if you will.

  4. Happy day! We can be friends then! :)

  5. Yay! Thanks for letting us tag along with you for lunch today, Pam. That was fun. :)

  6. It WAS fun! Thanks for coming along!

    And now you see the blog only contains a small sample of my weirdness.

  7. Hmm. I don't feel as if you are all that weird. Or maybe it's just that I am equally weird myself so I don't notice...

  8. Can we be friends if I read LWW first but believe that The Magician's Nephew should be the first in the series?

    The whole problems comes with Lewis writing TMN as sixth in the series but intending it to be a prequel to LWW. How can we decide since publication date and story chronology are at odds?

  9. Hi Don, and welcome to the blog!

    Well. This is unexpected, to meet a stranger over such a burning controversy as the correct order of TCON. :)

    Of course we can be friends -- that was hyperbole. I have many friends who hold opinions that differ from my own in various ways.

    I might like to tackle your point in a future post -- would that be OK with you?


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