Those who object to globalism find themselves in a frustrating, even infuriating position, even now in the age of Brexit and Donald Trump. Three years after the 2016 votes were counted there is still no wall, Britain is still stuck in the EU, and an anonymous White House “adult in the room” has gotten away with openly bragging in The New York Times about having worked to subvert the agenda of a democratically-elected administration. Meanwhile populist conservatives find themselves subjected to incessant, categorical demonization as a class by the very same media which insists that catastrophic terrorist actions perpetrated by assorted Muslim groups worldwide have nothing whatsoever to do with Islamic ideas. Just to be clear, in responding to the leftist propaganda barrage there is no point in denying a certain propensity for right-wing terrorism, for the truth is that people who find themselves systematically excluded from the political process really will be tempted to extralegal violence. And the sad fact is that in a few extremely rare instances some of these people have gone entirely off the deep end to become cold-blooded murderers. The question for us is whether we mean business when we speak of resisting hate, or whether we are merely posing. If the former, we would do well to shut off the chattering voices of MSNBC and open up to serious and dedicated Christian thinkers such as C.S. Lewis. In particular, we might consult the second book of Lewis’s Narnia series, wherein we find an episode which makes Lewis’s relevance to 2019 eerily apparent.
Devotees of the original release of Lewis’s series will guess that I refer to Prince Caspian, the book featuring a title character who dreams of Old Narnia, of the glorious, romantic days when two kingly brothers and two queenly sisters reigned from Cair Paravel and enchanted creatures walked the land. Caspian may be a Telarmine prince by blood, but his heart lies with the long-lost Old Narnian ways, stories, and culture. Eventually his wish to come face-to-face with Old Narnia is granted as he has to escape his murderous uncle, flee the city, and seek refuge in the wilderness with an Old Narnian underground composed of a small remnant of dwarves, centaurs, and talking beasts. As Caspian learns, most of these legendary creatures have legends of their own. They tell and retell stories about Aslan, the sacred lion who is Narnia’s maker and ultimate sovereign. In Lewis’s mythology it was Aslan who centuries ago sacrificed himself to save Narnia from the malevolent power of the inhuman sorceress known as the White Witch. According to the legends preserved in the collective memory of the magical creatures of Narnia, Aslan will someday return to rescue their land yet again.
In contrast to the other members of the alliance, however, dwarves tend to be hard-headed and skeptical regarding the old Aslan legends, especially since the lion has not been seen for generations. Nonetheless, most of the Dwarfs appreciate the ideals which the Aslan cult exemplifies, and so are like the cheerful and practical Trumpkin, who proves a trusty companion in the struggle to free Narnia from the Telmarines. Ironically enough, the one Dwarf who does take Aslan’s existence seriously has also become warped by years of bitter struggle against the Telmarine occupation.
“Do you believe in Aslan?” Prince Caspian asks the grim Nikabrik upon meeting him. “I’ll believe in anyone or anything,” Nikabrik replies, “that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything. Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?” For Nikabrik, only total war can relieve the oppression under which he and his fellow Dwarfs labor; the ends justify the means. Such talk scandalizes Nikabrik’s companions, but no one pays it much mind until it is too late and Nikabrik is too far gone.
After a seemingly failed attempt to summon the four Pevensies—the child-monarchs of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, emissaries of Aslan—Nikabrik calls a war council. There he proposes a new plan to Prince Caspian and the other leaders of the underground, and insists that they accept in council two new members, “friends” of his. Nikabrik’s associates are unsettling, even somewhat sinister, especially since their identities are shrouded in cloaks.
“[W]e have tried one link in the chain of old legends,” Nikabrik tells Caspian, when called upon to explain his proposal, “and it has done us no good. Well. But when your sword breaks, you draw your dagger. The stories tell of powers beside the ancient Kings and Queens. How if we could call them up?” By misconceiving Aslan and his reign as a “sword”—a tool—Nikabrik comes upon a reckless and foolish notion:
Either Aslan is dead, or he is not on our side. Or else something stronger than himself keeps him back. And if he did come – how do we know he’d be our friends? He was not always a good friend to Dwarfs by all that’s told. Not even to all beasts. Ask the Wolves. And anyway, he was in Narnia only once that I ever heard of, and he didn’t stay long. You may drop Aslan out of the reckoning. I was thinking of someone else.
The “someone else” is of course the White Witch, and Nikabrik’s shadowy friends reveal themselves to be a werewolf and a sorcerous hag, who intend to use black magic to resurrect their long-dead mistress. In the meantime, Nikabrik reveals himself to be burning with ethno-nationalist resentment vis-a-vis Caspian’s authority: “Who is sent on all the dangerous raids? The Dwarfs. Who goes short when the rations fail? The Dwarfs. . . . And so, if you can’t help my people, I’ll go to someone who can.” The result is a desperate fight to the finish which pits Caspian and his supporters against Nikabrik and his newfound monstrous allies.
Although there can surely be found parallels for Nikabrik’s ethnic resentment in grievance-driven minority gangs such as La Raza and Black Lives Matter, he has always struck me as an especially appropriate emblem for certain factions within the diverse coalition known as the “Alt-Right.” Just as Nikabrik sees Aslan as an ineffectual tool, so too do certain of those who are (rightly) disillusioned with the conservative establishment mistake religion for a mere tool. Such characters usually have no respect for the Christian tradition, seeing in it little more than a weakling slave morality that has corrupted and undermined European civilization. As Christianity imposes too many constraints and does not put the tribe at the center, let us have a revived pagan religion, a neopaganism, some of the Alt-Right have declared. Thus as Nikabrik seeks to revive the White Witch, these neopagans seek to revive esoteric gnosticism, or in other cases the literal worship of heathen idols. Insofar as Nikabrik is sick-souled he epitomizes the potential dangers which arise when nationalism is left untempered and undisciplined by the Gospel. In the worst cases, such a situation can lead to seduction by the occult. No political cause can justify invoking unholy powers, and nothing more nor less than simple justice is accomplished when Caspian and his loyal friends slay not only the hag and the werewolf but the treasonous Nikabrik too.
There is more to be said, however. As he and his friends recover their breaths following the short but confusing and terrible battle in the darkness, Caspian is more than a little melancholy. “I am sorry for Nikabrik,” he says, “though he hated me from the first moment he saw me. He had gone sour inside from long suffering and hating. If we had won quickly he might have become a good Dwarf in the days of peace. I don’t know which of us killed him. I’m glad of that.” Even as the hag and werewolf are disposed of as the monsters they are, “the Dwarf we will give to his people to be buried in their fashion.” Let the reader go back and read these phrases again. For they prove to us, plainly, that Prince Caspian was truly written by a great medievalist, by a Christian who possessed psychological insight rooted in traditional English life and seasoned by first-hand experience of the horrifying Great War. Such lines most certainly could not have been written by one of the many 21st-Century faux-conservatives who can imagine nothing outside of a cushy elite lifestyle and who mistake for a sign of enlightenment their deficiencies with respect to love of home.
For had such a faux-conservative written the story, all the Old Narnians would have felt so guilty and shamed by the whole Nikabrik incident that they would have promptly abandoned their defense of Old Narnia. Confronted with Nikabrik’s revolting attempt at necromancy, treachery, and murder, all the Old Narnians of a sanitized version of Prince Caspian would have had their eyes opened, realizing at last that the only way for them to prove they are not like Nikabrik would be by learning to love Telarmine hegemony. Perhaps the Old Narnians would even develop a preference for Telarmine cuisine, and teach their children to cherish the gloriously cosmopolitan Telarmine history and culture over their own. Some Narnian versions of Father James Martin and Russell Moore could show up—in the form of talking cuckoo birds, perhaps—and condemn the Old Narnian rebellion, and lecture the Old Narnians about how serving Aslan means multiculturalism, tolerance, and creating a world where nobody anywhere has to endure the pain of rules, limits, bounds, or borders.
It so happens, of course, that the widespread substitution of a sanctimonious and superficial liberal “Christianity” for the genuine article is one of the factors which have pushed the various Nikabriks of the real world toward ungodly madness in the first place. Nobody could tell the story better than Lewis actually did, for in his rendering it is abundantly clear that the angry Dwarf really does have reasons to be outraged, however inexcusable his deeds may be. Far from hectoring the fallen Dwarf’s corpse with self-righteous platitudes about hate, Caspian laments the loss of a former comrade who went down a dark path. After defeating the conspiracy, Caspian and his companions do not wallow in morbid self-loathing, much less surrender, but instead go on to batter the Telarmine army to pieces and drive the Telarmine rulers from Narnia.
The lesson here for us is not that Nikabrik should have pretended as if the injustices done to his people weren’t real, or that he should have pretended that such injustices actually signified “progress.” Nor is the lesson that we ourselves should become coolly indifferent to the demands of patriotism and embrace what amounts to a foreign occupation. No, the lesson here is that we need more dauntless Christian men with the grit to correct, inspire, and lead the often confused and lost youths around them, before it is too late to help.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Sabre Duel of German Students” (c. 1900) by Georg Mühlberg (1863-1925), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.