Before leaving for study abroad sophomore year, I was chatting with a professor of mine about his own experiences in Ireland. He had grown up on the West Coast of the country, in County Kerry, and when I told him I finally – after five years’ absence – had the chance to go back to “the old country,” he congratulated me, but with a doleful look in his eyes. He told me that after his father, a native of Ireland, had passed away, he’d had a strange dream. He considered it to be some kind of sign, almost a prophecy – he used a Gaelic word I’ve since forgotten. I found it odd that such a practical man would believe in such superstitious nonsense, but I pressed him for details. He had dreamt of being back “home,” and he’d been told by someone – perhaps his father or some supernatural dream-being – that he would never return. Naturally, since I have no tact, I suggested he simply buy a plane ticket, but he shook his head. He had accepted it, he understood it on some level I was unable to grasp. I left baffled but the conversation has stayed with me since.
At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan delivers a similarly devastating message to the Pevensies. When Lucy begs of him to tell them when they will return, he tells he kindly but firmly, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.” (Lewis, 209) Beyond the fact that it seems odd to eliminate two main characters halfway through a series, this is a fairly devastating realization for the two children. Narnia is their escape from their sometimes-harsh reality, the one place where they can feel autonomous and have true agency. It seems, at first, that this statement is condemning them to a life of dull and painful reality without even the hope of escape. Aslan comforts them kindly and effectively, however, with the promise that no matter where they are – their world or Narnia – he will be with them. Aslan embodies the essence of what Narnia is – he does not have a strong physical presence throughout this book, but he is a central character in the series. The children are calmed greatly by the promise of his presence, seen or unseen, and return to their world, content.
I haven’t quite figured out the acceptance they, or my teacher, display, but I think I may be getting closer. The context in which I can understand it most fully– and surely it is the one Lewis aimed for his readers to make – is a spiritual one, though not in a strictly religious sense. There is a certain something that a journey (and any new home you may find on your travels) leaves with you besides ticket stubs and jetlag. I don’t think it is something which is able to defined in words, at least I cannot do so, but what Aslan represents – a feeling of comfort and safety, a spiritual guide, etc. is what you take with you and hold solace in, even if (to borrow from another writer) you can’t go home again.