As part of the celebration for the 800th anniversary of the founding of St Denys’ Church, Evington, Leicester, the parishioners and villagers of Evington are staging a production of C S Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in Katherine Ward’s adaption. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C S Lewis in 1950, tells the story of the Pevensie children’s adventure in the land of Narnia. Set in the 1940s during wartime, it is one of seven books that form the Narnia Chronicles.
I have the privilege of playing Mr Tumnus in the St Denys’ production, a faun who Lucy, one of the four Pevensie children, encounters when she first enters Narnia. A faun is a creature human from the waist up, goat from the waist down. Peaceful, playful, somewhat frothy, Tumnus introduces us to the world of Narnia.
Fauns were popular creatures in Greek and Roman mythology. And Lewis, steeped in ancient and medieval literature, drew on many sources for characters in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When fairy tales became popular in the Romantic age, Fauns were separated from their Greek and Roman origins and became magical creatures of the forest.
Katherine Ward’s adaption is true to the original text. All the dialogue is straight out of the original novel. As I learnt the dialogue of Mr Tumnus and began to let go of the script, I began to recognise the complexity of Tumnus and his pivotal role in launching the story. Lewis does not waste words and the apparent free flow of the story is underpinned by detailed structure.
Mr Tumnus bears a heavy burden in setting the atmosphere of the story and providing the back-story for Narnia. In any story, the scene and back-story and the characters must be introduced early on. Writers of three-act film screenplays know this. Act One is about fleshing out characters and background, Act Two creates the conflict and Act Three is about its resolution.
The entire set of Narnia books were triggered by a mental image Lewis had when he was sixteen of a faun, carrying an umbrella and Christmas parcels and dancing through the snow. It is that character which started Lewis off in writing the Chronicles.
The scene with Lucy and Tumnus which introduces us to Narnia is, I think, not just a telling of a back-story, but an exploration of the human condition and a vignette of the whole book. Tumnus is a complex character, plagued by the internal conflict between good and evil, between fear and courage, between compromise and resistance. The sea of emotions and conflict is iced over by a froth of dancing, light-heartedness and simple humour which distracts the audience from what is actually going on. Tumnus’ progression through the scene is from the jovial dancer towards serious resistance and a courage unto death.
Tumnus wants the easy life. He has a warm house, unusual for a faun, well furnished with a delightful tea set up, which would indicate comfort in the forties, particularly in contrast to wartime rationing. Where does he get all the food from when he invites Lucy to tea?
But this superficial comfort comes at a cost. He has, as he tells Lucy later, taken service with the White Witch. The White Witch, almost rather cartoonish, possibly based on the witch in Hans Anderson’s Snow Queen, represents more than just a cut and dried evil, but the riches and comforts of an easy life, the lure of Turkish delight, the temptation of power and control by which decisions are in her hands and those who pursue her power. That service is a worldly compromise, the easy life: the freedom for Mr Tumnus to buy all he needs, the material possessions, the economic prosperity at the cost of endless winter. His comfort comes from an acceptance of winter, an attempt to adapt himself to winter.
Most of us do this. There is no resistance nor questioning, rather, we adapt ourselves to the systems, mindset and morality of the world. We do not sink into the depravity and licentiousness of satyrs, who were similar to fauns but prone to indulge in immoral activities, but we remain in the world, perceived as nice but harmless and unlikely to challenge the cold status quo. But at some point, payment must be demanded: the consequences and cost of a profligate life, however innocent, focusing on what I want and what I get, come home to roost. The bill appears on the carpet.
For Tumnus, the debt is called in with the arrival of Lucy. It is no wonder he drops the parcels. He understands what he signed up to in order to buy, if not the good life, a cosy life, without conflict and risk of crossing the White Witch. And before him is his nemesis: a human. While he has never met a human, he has a suspicion that Lucy is a human, and that consequences will follow and deceit will be required. He is superficially delighted, but is he actually? “I’m delighted, that is to say delighted, delighted.” He enters into a dialogue, hoping that Lucy isn’t what he thinks she is.
Here, I would suggest, Lewis is drawing on stories of an evil witch luring Snow White, of the Pied Piper of Hamelin enticing the children, of Hansel and Gretel, lost in the wood, finding the gingerbread house and being fattened up by the witch.
Tumnus is not the nice sweet faun but a menace in disguise. His heart is corrupt, driven by the fear that leads us all to wrongdoing. He starts to enact a plan to catch Lucy and hand her over to the Witch. He has little knowledge of children. What do they like? A meal of “a nice brown egg, sardines on toast, buttered toast, toast with honey and a lovely iced cake” is rustled up with unnatural speed in the hope that such a range of food will include something the child likes.
Lewis sets out the land of Narnia in a brief sentence, before letting Tumnus apparently reminisce on the wonderful life in the forest … or is this part of the lure? The flute, the music, the dancing like the Pied Pipers’ leading Lucy to her doom… If it is, it backfires and Tumnus realises the difficult situation he is in, the evil course he has subscribed to: “It’s no good now.”
The tears which follow are not tears of remorse or repentance but self-pity. Tumnus sinks into a pit of self-pity. He feels helpless. There seems nothing he can do. He must turn evil intent into evil action.
We cannot face the evil which inhabits us. We avoid addressing it by partying, by living a life of froth and dancing and inconsequentiality. And when our conscience impels us to look at ourselves and our state, we cannot hide.
Lucy calls the faun the nicest she’s ever met. Strange since she’s never met one before. We paint over our faults and our black fallen nature with the veneer of niceness. In using the word nice, there is really an irony. Tumnus may seem nice and innocent. But he is not. He is a whitewashed sepulchre. And he has hidden so long from this that when there is a necessity to face up to it, his response is one of “Poor me”. He feels he can’t help it, he has to. The tears do not lead to repentance, nor resisting the actual deed. Driven by fear he starts to execute the capture of Lucy and is ready to drag Lucy off to the White Witch despite her protests.
It is not Lucy’s protests that change the situation, but Tumnus’ awakening to the nature of humanity: “I didn’t know what humans were like.” It is when we recognise that we are made in God’s image, we carry his image and hence we are not all dust and animal, that we have the courage to face our sin and resist the White Witch. Tumnus gains the courage to face the evil that is in him and pursue a good path.
I note that that the evil is evil intent. Tumnus never carries out the act. As in the Sermon on the Mount, the lustful thought and the murderous intent are enough to convict. While Tumnus moves from self-pity to repentance, he cannot save himself from the consequences of sin and having been turned into stone, must await Aslan.
Mr Tumnus sealed his fate when he took service with the White Witch. That’s when sin entered. The relentless track toward being turned into stone, towards a stone heart was sealed then. It does not matter that he didn’t deliver Lucy to the white witch, or he only through it, or he stopped before the crime was committed. Mr Tumnus stands guilty. And we have all taken service with the White Witch. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Tumnus’s self-pity is only to be expected. There is nothing he can do about his state. His exercise of the virtue of courage is in looking at himself.
In the brief scene with Tumnus and Lucy, Lewis has surveyed the entire fallen state of man, he has contrasted self-pity with repentance and established our inability, with however much effort, meditation or flagellation, to purge ourselves of the sin which insists in dwelling in us. Only something, someone outside can rescue us. That is the theme of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.