Welcome back to my mini-series on Literary Time Consciousness, where I discuss various facets of how literature (and stories in general) can manipulate and undermine our understanding of time and temporality.
In C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, specifically The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the two main worlds we experience as readers operate by two entirely different timelines. Narnia, at the beginning of the book, is temporally stuck in an eternal winter (always winter, but never Christmas). When Lucy Pevensie goes into Narnia, she feels as though she’s been gone for hours, when to her family, she’s been missing for only a few minutes at the most. When all four Pevensie children go to Narnia and live out lives as kings and queens, they barely miss any time back in “our” world. It’s an incredibly simple device, but it invites so many layers of reflection on how we experience time in reality, in our imaginations or in stories, and even in eternity.
Even people who might never consider time to be anything but an objective measure that marches on without their consent nevertheless notice that they experience time differently at different times in their lives. Children who cannot wait for their birthday feel as though it will never come. When we’re little, summers last a lifetime and afternoons spent in a game of make-believe expand to fit our imaginations. When we get older we lament how fast time goes, noting that the years feel shorter as each one passes by. We grumble that the summer is over too fast, that the years slip by without our even noticing, and that here is never enough time for anything. We’re always under slept, overworked, and letting time slip through our fingers.
The explanation I most often hear is that the objectivity of time turns our experience of it into a percentage. When you’re only two years old, a year is literally half of your life, but when you’re thirty years old, it’s merely one thirtieth. Of course you’ll experience it faster.
But I’m not convinced that’s the whole story. When I look at Lewis’ Narnia, I’m swept up by the idea that you can find pockets of time if you look for them in the right places, or in the right way. It makes me think that how you live, think, and dream can actively change how you experience time. If you’re open to finding Narnia, then you can find moments that expand.
I’m reminded of when I used to travel a lot for weekend dance workshops. They’d start on Friday night with an evening dance, and then after midnight we’d head to a late night dance. After a shower and a nap, we’d be up for 4-5 hours of classes on Saturday, another evening main dance, followed by another late night. Then on Sunday there’d be another 4-5 hours of classes, and another dance in the evening. Add in meals, traveling with friends, live bands, and more, and you’d have a weekend that felt like a full week. It was incredible how much life you can pack into a short amount of time, how full a weekend can feel. Every dance would expand too, and every song – especially a good dance to a live musician. It’s difficult to describe, but there are moments when you’re so full of joy and excitement, so given over to the music and the muscle memory that it’s like stepping into Narnia for hours in what turns out to be just a few minutes.
In the same way, reading a story can fill our moments with a temporal experience that seems to exceed the objective passing of time. We can have tea with the Fawn and feel our heads grow heavy with the weight of the hours, even though barely a fraction of that time passes in our own world. And so does every good story beckon to its audience as the Fawn beckons to Lucy:
Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?