Narnian Ulster (IV)

These Narnian stories are not altogether allegories but supposings: suppose Christ reappearted among us as an animal, which one would He be? Of course, He would be the King of beasts, death resurrection and redemption outlined in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But natural law, basic values and stock responses apply to all as what is to be expected as decent behaviour -- or not: stealing is wrong, robins are good, dwarfs are dicey. Curiosity is usually negative: ‘mind your own business’ is frequently implied. Aslan tells no one any story but his own. The King is under the law, because it’s the law that makes him King. This Aslan Himself recognises: "Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?" But yet Aslan is not a tame lion. Ulster people recognise this, and are uncomfortable about people who keep God in their pocket, and expect instant rewards for their good behaviour. They know that holding on, sticking it, in a desperate situation is more likely to be expected of them. So, in The Silver Chair, the marsh-wiggle, Puddleglum, says before the risky adventure, "I’m on Aslan’s side, even if there isn’t an Aslan to lead it", "I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia." So thousands of Ulstermen went to their deaths at the Battle of the Somme.

Yet Lewis gives his characters a taste for glory, and isn’t mealy-mouthed about it. On appropriate occasions, trumpets, drums and banners announce and express Royalty in gorgeous sounds and colours.

He uses memorable phrases that evoke Ulster echoes: as in The Dawn Treader where ‘everyman drew his sword and set his face to a joyful sternness.’ I at once see Orangemen on parade on the 12th of July, their banners held aloft, their bowlers straight, their white gloves gleaming - and with just that look on their faces. This solemn joy has something to do with the Ulsterman’s love of ritual.

The Ulsterman I knew best was, of course, my father. Regularly, every summer, he would take us on Saturdays by train to Bangor or Newcastle. We always had the same lunch at the same restaurant, too, the same walk along the beach to Ballyholme, Bangor, or the golf links in Newcastle. No-one thought of asking, ‘Can’t we go somewhere else?’ ‘May we try another cafe?’ ‘may I have strawberries instead of ice-cream? The Ulsterman likes to know what he is going to do next. I seem to remember his saying, "There’s a right way and a wrong way of doing most things." Strawberries weren’t wrong: but they weren’t what we usually had.

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