Why So Serious?

 

For some reason, whether it be the complexity of the story, or the fact that I know the true meaning behind it, I cannot seem to just quietly read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. With every sentence, I get the intense urge to scribble down an annotation or a thought. However, the version I am currently reading is a beautiful, cloth-bound, gold-foil-stamped piece of art found at a local book consignment boutique, so naturally, I feel disinclined to sully any of its precious pages.

My next best option, then, is to take down a note and remind myself to write about it later – which leads us to the following passages that stuck out to me as I was reading last night:

  • “And Lucy felt in her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you’re being solemn and still.”
  • “Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.”
  • “The shield was the colour of silver and across it there ramped a red lion, as bright as a ripe strawberry at the moment when you pick it. The hilt of the sword was of gold and it had a sheath and a sword belt and everything it needed, and it was just the right size and weight for Peter to use. Peter was silent and solemn as he received these gifts, for he felt they were a very serious kind of present.”

Notice that C. S. Lewis uses the word “solemn” to mean something very different than words with which you would normally equate it. It is not used once or twice, but three times in a matter of two pages, which I found to be a little odd. This is the reason I felt so obliged to stop and analyze why this word was so carefully chosen.

Clearly, C. S. Lewis is not a novice author, and he undoubtedly has a multitude of words in his literary arsenal, so why choose exactly the same one to be used three times in three different descriptive senses so close to one another?

I do not believe it was a mistake, but a very thoughtful and careful crafting of words that mean something more than meets the eye.

The dictionary definition of “solemn” has about seven different variations. The most obvious ones, of course, are used to describe something as “grave,” or “somber,” or “depressing.” Certainly, this was not the intended meaning behind the passages given above.

Another Dictionary definition of “solemn” says the word can also mean “serious,” “dignified,” or “having a religious character.” In passage 1, the author uses it to describe Lucy’s feelings of deep gladness – exactly the opposite of what “solemn” typically means. However, paired with the word “still,” I believe it changes the meaning of the word by altering the context.

To me, the word “still,” is what binds it all together. The word “still” is used in passages 1 and 2 alongside “solemn,” and in passage 3, the word “silent” is used, another term for stillness. If we refer back to the Bible, I am reminded of two verses which speak to the same effect as these three passages:

Philippians 4:7

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Taking these verses and the passages from the book, I think it is safe to say we can equate the words “solemn,” “still,” and “peace,” with one another in context.

The importance of this is the notion that solemnity, or stillness, is a trait valued by God. To be solemn is to be still, but in an entirely deeper sense of the word. To be solemn is to rest in stillness and respect; to bask in the peace of God.

The kind of joy that Lucy was feeling in passage 1 is the joy that accompanies the peace being spoken of in Philippians 4:7.

In passage 2, the children meet Father Christmas for the first time, and they experience what is described as stillness, gladness and solemnity all at once. And in passage 3, Peter is given his gift of the sword and shield, his reaction being to remain silent and solemn.

 

Solemn, quiet, peaceful.

 

These are not words used often to describe happiness. When we think of being “happy,” we think of being surrounded by friends and family, being busy with an array of activities and laughing uncontrollably. While these things are certainly not bad, I do not believe they lead to the kind of joy God wants for us. True happiness and joy as described by the word of God is simply being still, being quiet and resting in His peace.

Lucy may have been just a young girl, but she was wise beyond her years. I hope to continue practicing the art of being still and solemn and rejecting the world’s definition of what “happiness” really is in search of what God has intended for us.

 

Cover photo credit here.
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