I’ve been re-reading Prince Caspian for my upcoming Writing with Caspian class. I keep coming back to those scenes in which we first see young Prince Caspian—first with his uncle King Miraz, then with his tutor Doctor Cornelius.
Miraz tries to convince Caspian that his Nurse’s stories of talking animals and Naiads and Dryads and Dwarfs and Fauns are all baby stories, that the brutal, disenchanted world of Narnia under the Telmarines is the only reality there is. He tells the young prince,
Never let me catch you talking—or thinking either—about all those silly stories again. There never were those Kings and Queens. How could there be two Kings at the same time? And there’s no such person as Aslan. And there are no such things as lions. And there never was a time when animals could talk. Do you hear?
Miraz fires the Nurse who has been putting these ideas in Caspian’s head. But he makes a huge error: he replaces Nurse with Doctor Cornelius. And Doctor Cornelius thrills Caspian straight through when he tells the young prince,
All you have heard about Old Narnia is true. It is not the Land of men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and the Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts.
And then there’s that incredible moment of recognition, when Caspian realizes that Doctor Cornelius is a Dwarf, and not a man: Two thoughts came into his head at the same moment. One was a thought of terror—”He’s not a real man, not a man at all, he’s a Dwarf, and he’s brought me up here to kill me.” The other was sheer delight—”There are real Dwarfs still, and I’ve seen one at last.”
I had similar feelings the day my father took me to the Ocmulgee River and I saw a huge alligator in the wild for the first time. I felt reflexive terror, of course, but also the thrill of knowing that there were alligators in the world, and I had seen one at last. That was just one of many moments in which my father, my guide and tutor, showed me that the world was a little more enchanted than I thought.
My father died yesterday. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about him later, but today I want to say this. He was the first person to tell me—and, more to the point, to show me—that the things I saw with my eyeballs weren’t the truest things. As I’ve heard friends and family members reflect on his life and influence, I have realized the extent to which his whole life was telling a truer story than the one the world was telling.
My father was a brilliant raconteur, but he didn’t consider himself a writer. Since this is a newsletter for writers, I’m going to say this in my father’s memory: in the end, we write to tell a truer story than the one the world is telling. We write to bring attention to things that other people aren’t noticing. We write to say this old world isn’t as disenchanted as it appears to be.
Friends, the stories are true. I’m thankful for a life that told the truer story.