I’ve been reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with Charlotte lately.
It seems a pretty apt New Year’s book. Wintry, magical, and full of fantasy. Just what you want during an attempted coup. I’m not making light. But I wanted to share a story. That’s what we do, right? Twenty years from now, Charlotte might tell her own daughter that she read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on the eve of one of America’s worst historical events, and what the book meant to her in this time. Here’s what it’s meant to me.
As it happens, the copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that I own is my childhood copy, from the 1980s, a small paperback collection that included individual editions of each book in the series. When I opened the copy recently, out fell a faded slip of paper: a spectre, as has happened to me throughout my life of owning and saving and carting around stacks of dead trees as if they’re children, or gold, or something in between. Things find a way of clinging, leafing into the folds, be they game tallies or bookstore receipts or ticket stubs.
On it was the phone number of my childhood crush, back when we had to do things like write down phone numbers, and back before I lived in a city where we could write down phone numbers without writing down an area code. It was written in the cursive writing I know very well to be that of my mother’s, a few scribbles in pencil, the reverse side with tallies from a game of dominoes. In the upper-right hand corner, my own handwriting. Purple felt-tip pen, awkward cursive of my preteen years, not as practised as my mother’s. Bleeding through the page, even still, like a living, breathing ghost: L.W.W., pg 41.
Did I end up with my crush? No. Am I still finding meaning in a children’s book, thirty years later? Yes.
I turned to page 41, hearing the voice of Professor Snape booming in my head as I did so, and could not for the life of me remember why I had marked or made mention of such a page. But it is the start of the chapter in which Lucy has found her way into the wardrobe and told the truth, Edmund has found his way into the wardrobe and lied, and the two eldest Pevensies, Peter and Susan, are trying to determine what to do about this Narnia problem that they now have. While searching for answers, Peter and Susan are admonished by the old Professor of the house that the logical solution to their problem of Lucy’s belief in the place is to believe her, as she never lies, while her brother Edmund, Narnia-denier, is less trustworthy.
In times like these, I wonder, who do we believe? More importantly, what does it say about us when we choose who to believe?
The thing that I’ve found in times like these is not to shut oneself in a wardrobe — as C.S. Lewis points out, time and again, it is a very bad idea to do so. But when my world leaders have failed me, when my communities have failed my friends, when watching the news fails my sanity, when everything about reality seems like a failed experiment, it seems fitting, then, that perhaps there is no better time in which to find a reason to believe that a place like Narnia must exist. An ideal to which we aspire as people, a place where we can defeat evil, in whatever form it may take, even that of a Turkish Delight-peddling White Witch, such a world must exist and be attainable. Our belief that evil can be vanquished must be enough to melt even the longest, darkest winters.
Do we believe Lucy? Do we believe Edmund? Do we have the faith in ourselves to make such a choice?
I know which side I’m on. I’m on the side of long walks, good reads with my kid, and thoughtful playlists.
Reading for Winter
For the adults in the room, I’ve been indulging in a few darker reads lately.
The Only Good Indians by workhorse-writer Stephen Graham Jones is the first book in many moons that is wholly un-put-downable
Songs of a Dead Dreamer is a collection of short stories by Thomas Ligotti that often times may feel like you’re in the middle of an early Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, and others tears your guts out and shows them to you afterwards
Short stories by award-winning fantasy writer Usam Malik, whose first collection, Midnight Doorways, is imminent
Listening for Warmth
This month’s playlist is the equivalent of carving a corner out of a Tauntaun and then climbing inside to keep yourself from freezing to death. It’s been Dark Times™, to say the least. But music often provides just the right veil between reality and insanity.
I made this playlist back in December, as I headed out for a rainy walk. I don’t always make playlists on the fly, but I’ve been attempting to curb my tendencies to over-plan and under-produce. And so this playlist came into being.
This playlist is heavy on the pop, because honestly. I have plenty of excuses to have a good cry these days, okay, Katie Crutchfield? You still managed to make the list again, anyway. But even I can’t listen to female-fronted alt-country all the time.
For Sure — Future Islands
Never Tear Us Apart — The National
Fire — Waxahatchee
Ferris Wheel — Sylvan Esso
Moonlight — Future Islands
When Am I Going To Lose You — Local Natives
Money — Widowspeak
Peach — Slothrust
Temple — Thao & The Get-Down, Stay-Down
Neon-Lights — Dancing Years
I leave you this week with the words of Langston Hughes. There’s never a bad time to read Mr. Hughes, of course, but this seems a better time than any to do so. From his sermon-poem, Let America Be America Again:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Be good to each other.
Be good to yourself.
Until next time,