When I think of my love for the humanities, I think of magic. For me, the humanities offer a glimpse into other realms, worlds filled with wonder, excitement and adventure. Perhaps nothing encapsulates the pure joy that the humanities represent to me as well as my forays into Narnia as a young child. C. S. Lewis’s magical land of Narnia was the first of many worlds I explored alongside my parents and younger sister. When I was small, my family did not have a television, so after dinner reading was our most entertaining pastime. I remember my parents taking turns reading through The Chronicles of Narnia. My daddy would perform different voice for each character—accents included. It was great fun! My sister and I would sit enthralled for hours (or what seemed like it), begging for “just one more chapter.”

For us, it was not just a book—it was an entire world that we brought to life together in our middle-class kitchen in plain old Plano, Texas. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe made us long for Christmas and shiver with cold, even in the hot Texas summers. We begged for Turkish Delight; the descriptions of the delicacy tested the limits of our childish imaginations and we wanted to taste it for ourselves. One day, daddy came home from work and brought us a box filled with the delectable sweet so we could experience Edmund’s temptation alongside him. We were unimpressed. In my memory, the texture is wrong and the taste pales in comparison to the way Turkish Delight had tantalized my imagination—it was like the inside of a jelly bean: bland, fruity—a little slimy. I remember thinking it would definitely take something chocolate and gooey (not fruity and slimy) for me to betray my siblings as Edmund had done.

My sister and I fought over the relative merits of each novel. My favorite was Prince Caspian (I liked that Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy reprised their roles in the book and even at that age I was a sucker for a Prince and an under-dog rebellion), hers was The Horse and His Boy. For Christmas, the year after my parents finished reading through all seven of The Chronicles, they gave us the whole series of recorded books on tape. We listened to them so often that I think I still have the majority of Prince Caspian memorized. Indeed, for me—to a certain extent—the magic of Narnia is indelibly linked in memory to the magic of Christmas, each filled with happiness, family, and lots and lots of food. Reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader had me dreaming about spiced wine. As a child, of course, I could not experience this particular delicacy from Narnia, but I recall the first Christmas that my daddy made it for us. Even as adults, the experience took me back to Narnia. We still drink it around the holidays and reminisce about those good old days adventuring with the Pevensies, King Caspian, and Reepicheep the mouse.

I still often think of quotations from the books—they come to me, like magical mantas, perfect little bits of encouragement in my everyday life. One of my favorites is from The Silver Chair and perfectly sums up my beliefs about why we should study the humanities. A little bit of background: Puddleglum, a marshwiggle from Narnia, is (as his name would suggest) a glum old chap. On his adventure with two human children, they get caught in a witch’s underground realm. She casts a spell on them to make them forget the beauty and magic of the world above, of the stars, and the sun, and even the great Lion and King of the Woods, Aslan himself. In a truly heroic soliloquy, Puddleglum defends the idea of storytelling and the power of imagination, arguing against the witch’s claim that everything he believes is a lie: “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say” (Lewis 182).

The implied question at the end of this quotation is what keeps me coming back again and again to the power of story. Is the world as dull a place as most people believe? I cannot believe that. It is important in this scenario that the story Puddleglum has told the witch about the world above is true, just as there is a bit of truth in all of the things that we, as scholars of the humanities, study: the histories, and the paintings, and the stories. Many may tell us that what we do is not important—but the humanities matter. They speak to the essence of the human experience, to the beauty (although broken) of our wonderful world, and in The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis wrote a compelling apology for the magic of the humanities.

Lewis, C. S. The Silver Chair. New York, HarperCollins, 1953.

– Nina Cook (Ph.D. Student)