Part 3: The Un-Dragoning of Eustace
As we said in the first article in this series, for C.S. Lewis, and for all of Narnia, it is only a personal relationship with Aslan that can cure our hearts of bitterness, self-centeredness, discouragement, and despair. The greatest of all mysteries is that our only hope is to be found in the very One whose love humanity betrayed from the beginning, and who has never ceased to love us — even at the price of the shedding of His own blood — and who is preparing for us, even now, an eternal splendor beyond all imagining.
The character in Narnia who experiences this in the most powerful way is the nasty little boy, Eustace Scrubb. The film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader largely edits this scene out of the story, which was a dreadful mistake, because it is one of the most important episodes in the whole Narnia series.
The story goes like this. Eustace was brought into Narnia pretty much against his will — compelled by magic to go “along for the ride,” you might say, with Lucy and Edmund — and he was exceptionally obnoxious about it. In fact, he thought so many angry, selfish, and greedy thoughts (“dragonish thoughts”) during his early days in Narnia that, after a while, he ended up turning into a dragon himself (much to his dismay, and everyone else’s). Once he had “hit rock-bottom,” so to speak, he realized that being a dragon in no way fulfilled his heart’s desires. On the contrary, he was now more alienated from others than ever before, and they in turn were afraid of him. He even loathed and feared himself — and there was nothing either he or anyone else could do to cure him.
Aslan, however, would not leave him trapped in this desperate state for long. Eustace related the story himself to Edmund:
Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm was hurting like anything….
[A]nyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it — if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it. …
And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round where the lion wherever he went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden — trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it, there was a well.
I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells — like a very big round bath, with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could just get in there and bathe, it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means that I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — “You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay down flat on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like the billy-oh, but it is fun to see it coming away. …
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me — I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. …
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me … [H]e did somehow or other; in new clothes — the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which makes me think it was all a dream.
“No, it was no dream,” said Edmund.
“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been — well, un-dragoned, for another.”
What do you think it was, then?...
“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund. …
But who is Aslan? Do you know him?
“Well — he knows me,” said Edmund. “He’s the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We’ve all seen him. Lucy sees him most often. And it may be Aslan’s country we are sailing to.”
What Eustace experienced here in this story of his un-dragoning was the incredible, saving grace of Aslan, whose love always takes the initiative and seeks out the children in their lost and broken state (notice that Aslan came to Eustace first, and invited him to follow). Aslan never compels anyone to follow him or to surrender in trust to him anywhere in the Narnia stories (notice that at each step, Eustace had to choose to respond to Aslan and his guidance — and then he had to choose to trust in Aslan and let him take away the deepest layers of his dragon-skin). The point is, if we let Him, the Son of God will completely renew and heal our hearts, and restore us to our true selves again.
Robert Stackpole, STD
©The Fellowship of Catholics and Evangelicals, 2016