The beginning of a new year is always an opportune time for reflection on the meaning and purpose of our lives and for resolutions to lead fuller, richer lives. All of us crave more meaning in our lives and often look to good adventure stories for inspiration. On an adventure, characters have an important purpose to fulfill, and their decisions and actions are meaningful because they have real consequences on the achievement of the mission they seek to accomplish. I propose that our experience of meaning in our own lives depends on the degree to which our lives manifest these characteristics of adventure.
A classic adventure story is C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is now playing in theaters. My wife and I saw it this weekend and recommend it highly. The younger Penvensie children, Edmond and Lucy, return to Narnia to aid King Caspian in his quest to defeat an ominous evil force that is gaining strength and threatening to engulf all of Narnia. To destroy this force, manifested as a mysterious green mist, they voyage on the seas from island to island (on their ship the “Dawn Treader”) to find seven magical swords. There are a number of moral themes in this story that we should embrace to give our own lives a greater sense of adventure, and thus enrich our lives with greater meaning.
1. We are all called to a higher purpose of combating and overcoming evil.
The reality of evil in the world impinges our our consciousness regularly as we encounter true stories of violence, hatred, injustice, and tragedy through the media. We hear about terrorists murdering innocent people, greedy business executives destroying livelihoods for their own gain, government leaders in Africa slaughtering and starving their own people, young girls being kidnapped and sold into slavery, and on and on. Some of us are actively involved in fighting such evil and righting injustices, but for most of us such evil seems far removed from our lives and we believe we can do little to stop it.
As Caspian, Edmund, and Lucy discover the full truth of the enemy they face, they are warned that “to defeat evil without, you must first defeat evil within.” On their quest, they are tempted by the very evil force they seek to destroy: Edmund is tempted to power; Lucy to covetousness; Eustace (their cousin) to greed and fear. By giving into these temptations they would make the evil force stronger, but by resisting them they move the quest forward.
Most us are not on the frontlines devoting our lives to combat the notorious evils of our day. Yet we each have a daily battle against evil within that temptations appeal to. Resisting temptation and overcoming evil within is a noble purpose and an adventure we should all be living.
2. We should value our own unique, individual calling and not wish to be someone else.
Lucy, the youngest child, is beginning adolescence and thus is at the age when girls become preoccupied with their attractiveness. She covets the beauty of her older sister, Susan. In a dream, she chooses to become Susan and meets her two brothers at an upscale party. As they pose for a family picture, Susan asks, “But where is Lucy?” The brothers ask “Who is Lucy?” Aslan appears and interprets the dream for her: “By wishing you were Susan, you wished yourself away?” On this journey, Lucy learns that she has a special purpose unique to her and that she should value who she is herself, not long to be someone else.
All of us face the temptation to covetousness. Discontent with our own lives, we wish for a different spouse, a different job, a bigger house, a prettier face or fitter body. Covetousness is evil because its lie that I am not valuable unless I have what others have degrades the self. God has created each of us for a special purpose, or calling, and thus we have individual life and dignity. We need to remember “It’s a Wonderful Life”!
3. We need others to help us resist temptation along the way
Though each character is individually and uniquely tempted, they are not alone in resisting temptation. Lucy intervenes when Caspian and Edmond are fighting for power. Eustace’s (whose character transformation in the story is worthy of its own post) courageous act rescues Edmond from the precipice of temptation from the spirit of the White Witch.
The forces of evil in the world are too powerful for anyone to overcome alone. We need like-minded allies to speak truth to us when the lies of temptation become alluring and to act boldly on our behalf when we stray. Such alliances in our struggle against evil is one of the most important functions of the Church. God calls us to membership in a community that is actively resisting evil together in order to bring to others the blessings of the reign of the righteous, just King. If we face evil alone, it will devour us.
I hope these themes will help you on your Voyage this year. These are just a sampling of themes from the story. If you have seen the movie or read the book, I’d love to hear your insights on the meaning of the story.
May your New Year be filled with adventure!