The Quiet Wood)
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are a beloved fantasy series where children from our world find their way to a land populated by talking animals, satyrs, and witches. The series is steeped in myth and allegory, and its countries feel busy and alive, but there is a point in the series where things are much more quiet and sparse.
This occurs in the novel that comes first chronologically, which was actually the sixth one published: The Magician’s Nephew. This story follows Digory and Polly, two children who are tricked into activating magical rings that take them from Earth to an overworld. It is described as thus:
The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others — a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach.
Each of those pools, it turns out, is a portal to another world. One of them can be used to take the children back to Earth, but all the others can take them to places no mortal has ever seen.
But before we get to that, I want to consider that sleepy, quiet forest C. S. Lewis described. It isn’t a place of excitement, nor does any character development take place there. There is no narrative reason to linger, but a part of me still wants to stay in that place for a while longer. I honestly wish that Lewis had gone on talking about it for a few pages more. In fact, I believe I was channeling elements of this deep, sleepy wood when I wrote my short piece Deep Forest, as a way to give myself more time in such a place.
Which honestly catches me by surprise. Normally I would say that the point of words in a story is to tell a narrative, and therefore words that do not directly progress the narrative are most likely a waste of time.
But clearly that isn’t always the case. Sometimes a story brings me to a place that I want to stay, regardless of whether there is arc progression or character development. Sometimes I read a story just to have an experience.
This description of The Magician’s Nephew speaks to a specific part of my soul, one that longs for deep, meditative places. Reading those passages is like being invited into a secret, peaceful corner of my own heart, a cozy closet where only the warmest and quietest of things are welcome. I would like nothing more to pull up the green, grassy carpet of that forest, lay it over me for a blanket, and drift into long, gentle sleep.
But, alas, the scene is over much too quickly, and we’re quickly back into the action of the larger story. That action continues on for quite a while, but then, at the end, The Magician’s Nephew does pull out one moment of stillness and wonder.
The New Beginning)
That moment occurs when Digory and Polly try to escape a dangerous witch-queen through another of the pools, arriving in a place that is completely black and empty.
And really it was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars. It was so dark that they couldn't see one another at all and it made no difference whether you kept your eyes shut or open. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth.... The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.
What they do not realize is that this is a world yet unborn, and they have arrived just in time to witness the creation of it.
Digory had never seen such a sun.... And as its beams shot across the land the travellers could see for the first time what sort of place they were in. It was a valley through which a broad, swift river wound its way, flowing eastward towards the sun. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock and water; there was not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen. The earth was of many colours: they were fresh, hot and vivid.
Soon they witness grass and trees being formed, and then animals burst out of mounds in the earth. But as for them, they remain the only people in existence. They have found their own secret world, apart from anyone else.
And that is the coziest, closest idea of them all. It is a place I look forward to visiting anew every time I read this story.
My Own Creations)
Did C. S. Lewis have this sort of cozy enjoyment in mind when he wrote this sequence? I like to think so, but I don’t really know. I’m not sure that everyone is as charmed by these pieces as I am. To some they might seem too empty and lonely.
But I know that I like them, and as someone who writes I have the ability to conjure up more places like them to visit. That is the great pleasure of writing, you get to craft exactly the sort of place that your own heart yearns for.
And it’s just such a place that I have been forging in my own latest story. A man patiently walks a never-ending road, enjoying the quiet company of his own self, calmly progressing without fear of how long a journey it will be. There’s something very cozy to me in all of that as well, and I can’t wait to head back to it on Wednesday!