And now to the dwarfs. In the Last Battle Tirian liberates a group of them from two Calormen soldiers and meets with a rather dusty response
“Well struck, Eustace!” cried Tirian, clapping him on the back. “Now, Dwarfs, you are free. Tomorrow I will lead you to free all Narnia. Three cheers for Aslan!”
But the result which followed was simply wretched. There was a feeble attempt from a few Dwarfs (about five) which died away all at once: from several others there were sulky growls. Many said nothing at all.
“Don’t they understand?” said Jill impatiently.
“What’s wrong with all you Dwarfs? Don’t you hear what the King says? It’s all over. The Ape isn’t going to rule Narnia any longer. Everyone can go back to ordinary life. You can have fun again. Aren’t you glad?”
After a pause of nearly a minute a not-very-nice looking Dwarf with hair and beard as black as soot said:
“And who might you be, Missie?”
“I’m Jill,” she said. “The same Jill who rescued King Rilian from the enchantment—and this is Eustace who did it too—and we’ve come back from another world after hundreds of years. Aslan sent us.”
The Dwarfs all looked at one another with grins; sneering grins, not merry ones.
“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick.”
“What do you mean?” said Tirian. He had not been pale when he was fighting but he was pale now. He had thought this was going to be a beautiful moment, but it was turning out more like a bad dream.
“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!”
“By heaven, you make me mad,” said Tirian. “Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?”
“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”
“I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”
“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.
“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”
The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in a jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.
Here the tragedy mirrors the real life tragedy that exposure to false teachings and false promises can so easily lead to disillusionment with the truth. The dwarfs have been deceived once and are determined not to be deceived again. How often do people feel let down by God because promises have been made in God’s name that he never said?
Promises that they would be healed, promises that they would be changed in some way, promises that they would have their financial worries solved. The reaction of the dwarfs is a warning that we shouldn’t make such promises, but instead should stick to the reality of the God who is sometimes uncomfortable, and who doesn’t always make life work in a nice neat and tidy way.
The dwarfs reappear later in the story, seeking to establish themselves against both Tirian and the invaders, until the inevitable moment when they get thrown through the stable door. Reading to the boys tonight I was struck by the differences in the experience of going through the stable door from person to person. For all (but one) of the Calormens and those who have sided with them the stable door brings them face to face with the demon god Tash, and they are devoured by him. For the Narnians it is the doorway, as Jewell rightly surmises, to Aslan’s country.
For the dwarfs it is the doorway to the start of Aslan’s country, but they still think they are in a stable. They are not devoured by Tash. They are free to experience the delights of Aslan’s land. But this is their reaction:
Lucy led the way and soon they could all see the Dwarfs. They had a very odd look. They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves (although the cords with which they had been tied seemed to have vanished) nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn’t see any one but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.
“Look out!” said one of them in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going. Don’t walk into our faces!”
“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our heads.”
“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
“In where?” asked Edmund.
“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”
“Are you blind?” said Tirian.
“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.
“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”
“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?”
“But I can see you,” said Lucy. “I’ll prove I can see you. You’ve got a pipe in your mouth.”
“Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that,” said Diggle.
The dwarfs are convinced they are still in the stable. All attempts by Tirian and Lucy prove fruitless. Then Aslan appears, and Lucy appeals to him. He sets a feast for them, they set about eating, but convinced it is simply stable food fight one another for what each thinks are the least worst bits:
But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.”
The words of Aslan are tragic – yet how tragic when they describe the reality we get ourselves into. How often we get ourselves into a similar sort of state, blind to what God is actually up to because we know better. The title of this blog post matches the title of an article by a professor of mine at Regent. He chose the title because it seemed to fit a certain type of biblical critic, whose denials of any real history in the biblical text become a self perpetuating system, out of which they cannot be argued.
Having heard at least of those he castigates in the article talking at a conference, and having read many similar articles I see his point. The tragedy is, in this case, and so many others, that often these biblical critics come from backgrounds where too much is claimed for the biblical text, and in an over-reaction end up denying the whole thing.
But it isn’t just biblical critics who need to pay heed to the warning of the dwarfs – all of us do, at any point where we know what God wants, but we choose the opposite – whether through wilfulness, or through fear. We all need to be aware of the danger that we will make ourselves blind to what God is up to. And yet there is always hope. After the first episode above in the Last Battle one of the dwarfs breaks ranks and turns to Tirian, and we read in the next chapter of how some of these dwarfs finally recognise Aslan and love him.
The remedy is always to turn back to God – to stop thinking that our cunning is best, and to turn to him and trust that he knows what he is doing, even when we cannot see it. I could name at least four different situations applying to people we know and love right now where I do not have a clue what God is exactly up to right now. Yet in each situation his call is to trust, and not to lean on our own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5-6 seems like a good place to finish:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding – in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.