“Courage, dear heart”

I’ve been unsure whether and what to write in the last few days. The temptation to offer uneducated opinions seems to be strong in much of the online community, and I don’t want to add my voice to the noise.

Yet there has been a lot of beautiful communication as well; people offering to help out, teachers offering assistance to parents homeschooling in the coming days, folks eager to make deliveries / shopping runs for older people or others more vulnerable to the illness. It’s good to remember how wonderful human beings can be.

I’m thinking about writing some posts in the next few weeks with ideas/resources for ELA teachers who are transitioning to teaching online, so watch for those and feel free to share with parents or other teachers who might find them useful.

In the meantime, a passage from C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader I have always loved, that seems timely. Of course, the situation in the story is by no means an accurate analogy for our situation now — but Lucy’s response feels right. A long excerpt below (Lewis’ works are now in the public domain).

The crew of the ship are headed into a mysterious darkness hovering over the sea:

So the three lanterns, at the stern, and the prow and the masthead, were all lit, and Drinian ordered two torches amidships. Pale and feeble they looked in the sunshine. Then all the men except some who were left below at the oars were ordered on deck and fully armed and posted in their battle stations with swords drawn. Lucy and two archers were posted on the fighting top with bows bent and arrows on the string. Rynelf was in the bows with his line ready to take soundings. Reepicheep, Edmund, Eustace and Caspian, glittering in mail, were with him. Drinian took the tiller.

“And now, in Aslan’s name, forward!” cried Caspian. “A slow, steady stroke. And let every man be silent and keep his ears open for orders.”

With a creak and a groan the Dawn Treader started to creep forward as the men began to row. Lucy, up in the fighting top, had a wonderful view of the exact moment at which they entered the darkness. The bows had already disappeared before the sunlight had left the stern. She saw it go. At one minute the gilded stern, the blue sea, and the sky, were all in broad daylight: next minute the sea and sky had vanished, the stern lantern – which had been hardly noticeable before – was the only thing to show where the ship ended. In front of the lantern she could see the black shape of Drinian crouching at the tiller. Down below her the two torches made visible two small patches of deck and gleamed on swords and helmets, and forward there was another island of light on the forecastle. Apart from that, the fighting top, lit by the masthead light which was only just above her, seemed to be a little lighted world of its own floating in lonely darkness. And the lights themselves, as always happens with lights when you have to have them at the wrong time of day, looked lurid and unnatural. She also noticed that she was very cold.

How long this voyage into the darkness lasted, nobody knew. Except for the creak of the rowlocks and the splash of the oars there was nothing to show that they were moving at all. Edmund, peering from the bows, could see nothing except the reflection of the lantern in the water before him. It looked a greasy sort of reflection, and the ripple made by their advancing prow appeared to be heavy, small, and lifeless. As time went on everyone except the rowers began to shiver with cold.

Suddenly, from somewhere – no one’s sense of direction was very clear by now – there came a cry, either of some inhuman voice or else a voice of one in such extremity of terror that he had almost lost his humanity.

Caspian was still trying to speak – his mouth was too dry – when the shrill voice of Reepicheep, which sounded louder than usual in that silence, was heard.

“Who calls?” it piped. “If you are a foe we do not fear you, and if you are a friend your enemies shall be taught the fear of us.”

“Mercy!” cried the voice. “Mercy! Even if you are only one more dream, have merry. Take me on board. Take me, even if you strike me dead. But in the name of all mercies do not fade away and leave me in this horrible land.”

“Where are you?” shouted Caspian. “Come aboard and welcome.”

There came another cry, whether of joy or terror, and then they knew that someone was swimming towards them.

“Stand by to heave him up, men,” said Caspian.

“Aye, aye, your Majesty,” said the sailors. Several crowded to the port bulwark with ropes and one, leaning far out over the side, held the torch. A wild, white face appeared in the blackness of the water, and then, after some scrambling and pulling, a dozen friendly hands had heaved the stranger on board.

Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:

“Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”

“Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”

The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.

“Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”

“That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”

“And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.

“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams – dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had – dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again – and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.

Only Reepicheep remained unmoved.

“Your Majesty, your Majesty,” he said, “are you going to tolerate this mutiny, this poltroonery? This is a panic, this is a rout.”

“Row, row,” bellowed Caspian. “Pull for all our lives. Is her head right, Drinian? You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face.”

“It is, then, my good fortune not to be a man,” replied Reepicheep with a very stiff bow.

Lucy from up aloft had heard it all. In an instant that one of her own dreams which she had tried hardest to forget came back to her as vividly as if she had only just woken from it. So that was what was behind them, on the island, in the darkness! For a second she wanted to go down to the deck and be with Edmund and Caspian. But what was the use? If dreams began coming true, Edmund and Caspian themselves might turn into something horrible just as she reached them. She gripped the rail of the fighting top and tried to steady herself. They were rowing back to the light as hard as they could: it would be all right in a few seconds. But oh, if only it could be all right now!

Though the rowing made a good deal of noise it did not quite conceal the total silence which surrounded the ship.

Everyone knew it would be better not to listen, not to strain his ears for any sound from the darkness. But no one could help listening. And soon everyone was hearing things. Each one heard something different.

“Do you hear a noise like . . . like a huge pair of scissors opening and shutting .. . over there?” Eustace asked Rynelf.

“Hush!” said Rynelf. “I can hear them crawling up the sides of the ship.”

“It’s just going to settle on the mast,” said Caspian.

“Ugh!” said a sailor. “There are the gongs beginning. I knew they would.”

Caspian, trying not to look at anything (especially not to keep looking behind him), went aft to Drinian.

“Drinian,” he said in a very low voice. “How long did we take rowing in? – I mean rowing to where we picked up . the stranger.”

“Five minutes, perhaps,” whispered Drinian. “Why?”

“Because we’ve been more than that already trying to get out.”

Drinian’s hand shook on the tiller and a line of cold sweat ran down his face. The same idea was occurring to everyone on board. “We shall never get out, never get’ out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.” The stranger, who had been lying in a huddled heap on the deck, sat up and burst out into a horrible screaming laugh.

“Never get out!” he yelled. “That’s it. Of course. We shall never get out. What a fool I was to have thought they would let me go as easily as that. No, no, we shall never get out.”

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better. […]

“Look!” cried Rynelf’s voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s […]


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