In “The Silver Chair,” the fifth book in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, we find three main characters: Two children named Scrubb and Jill, and a Narnian friend called Puddleglum. These three adventurers meet up with Aslan, who gives them instructions to venture into a dark underground world in search of Rilian, the Prince of Narnia, who has been kidnapped and held captive by none other than an evil witch.
Amid their journey through the deep caves of the Underworld, they find the prince. He is in a dark and damp cavern, tied to a silver chair that has mysterious powers over him. He has been brainwashed to believe that the witch is his ally, not his captor, that darkness is light and that his bondage is freedom.
Upon discovering Prince Rilian, the kids and Puddleglum decide to take action. They untie the prince so that they can escape the confines of the cave before the witch returns. But, alas, they are too late. The witch comes back and catches them before they can flee the darkness of the Underworld and return to the warm sun-drenched lands of Narnia.
Standing before the witch in a cave, barely lit by smoldering smudge pots, Jill, Scrubb and Puddleglum confront their captor. They demand that she let them return home. They want to escape from the ugly world of the witch’s deception and return to Narnia. They want to leave the darkness and see the sun. They want to be free. They want to be with Aslan.
Now here is what is interesting. In confronting the prince and his friends, the witch doesn’t use physical force. She instead chooses to use the power of words and ideas. In short, she lies. Here is how C.S. Lewis describes it.
“What is this sun that you all speak of?” [said the witch] “Do you mean anything by the word …? Can you tell me what it’s like? …“
“Please it, your Grace,” said the prince. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room, and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”
“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the witch and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs, “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream, and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale; a children’s story.”
Does this argument sound familiar?
Today’s political debate is in many ways, as dark and fake as the witch’s Underworld. Smooth-talking pretenders join with the emerald empress in telling us our nation’s proud history of liberty is little more than a “tale.” They say our belief in truths that are “self-evident “ and rights that are “unalienable” is the stuff of “children’s stories.” They demand that facts be discarded, history be rewritten and the truth be damned. They sing their songs and tell their lies. They promise us freedom while tightening the very cords that bind us.
But there is a way out of this dark cave. Freedom from the witch’s spell is found in the path of Puddleglum.
In the midst of all the deceit and manipulation, Puddleglum decided to fight back. And this is how he did it. He got as close to what he knew to be real and right and true as he possibly could. He stepped into the fire.
“While the Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half-closed, the strength all gone from them; the [witch’s] enchantment almost complete … Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire … [and] with his bare foot he stamped on [it] … . The pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear, and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.”
The way to distinguish between what is fake and what is fact is to follow Puddleglum. We must recognize some things are real and true, and some things simply are not. To know the difference between “suns and lamps” and “lions and cats,” we must get as close to the fire as we possibly can. Stepping into it might hurt, but “there is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.”
Maybe our liberation from the darkness of the cave will only happen when we have the courage to experience the burning facts that define our constitutional republic, and not be so easily satisfied with the mesmerizing chants and soothing lies of our would-be captors.
• Everett Piper, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).