There Was a Boy Called Eustace Clarence Scrubb

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“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

We tend to be naïve about the process of spiritual growth. When it happens, we are shocked at the ugliness and pain of the process. Conceptually, we know that sin is terrible. Sin put our Lord on the Cross. But conceptual knowledge of something is always weaker than the thing itself. Our concept of sin always falls short.

We can look at our sin, mentally holding it out at arm’s length as a scientist might analyze a problem or a philosopher might consider an abstraction. This is dangerous, though, for we have an incredible ability to rationalize sin away – scientifically, philosophically, psychologically.  Whatever does the job. It has been this way since the Garden.

No, to fully grasp the seriousness of sin, we must engage more than our minds.

To look along our sin, and the death and destruction it causes is altogether a different and terrifying experience. This is perhaps why we expend such incredible mental effort in rationalizing it away. We are afraid to experience the truth about ourselves. Indeed, it could be that God shields us from much real knowledge of our sin, especially how it affects others, its poisonous tendrils reaching into their hearts and lives. If we knew perfectly, as He knows, we’d most likely be crushed under the weight of such awareness. Such knowledge would be too awful for us.

This passage from C.S. Lewis’s Narnian Chronicle, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, provides a vivid illustration of looking along one’s sin and how a humble response to the experience can lead to freedom. Every Christian, at any stage of their life in Christ, can see themselves in the spiritual journey of Eustace Scrubb.

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”[1] Eustace begins the tale as an arrogant, entitled, and extremely self-focused young man. He complained incessantly and routinely stung people with his cutting words and self-righteous bullying. Most egregious of all, he refused to take on responsibility and work with the others, becoming instead a boorish burden. Even the most kindhearted reader will find it hard to endure him.

Eustace added nothing but negativity to the Narnian Chronicle until a cursed dragon-horde transformed him into a dragon after he greedily stole one of its bracelets. Inside, he had long been a dragon, but now his inner and outer person matched. When his physical appearance mirrored his dragonish thoughts and heart, Eustace had the opportunity to look along his sin and see its consequences.

The effect was profound for Eustace and, though understandably distraught at what he had brought upon himself, instead of sulking along in self-pity as the old Eustace would have done, “the dragon-that-had-been-Eustace” turned his thoughts away from his own needs and eagerly sought to serve others. He begins to take on responsibilities and work, doing everything he could do to lessen the burden his dragoned-self brought upon those around him. His virtuous response to looking along his sin was key to what happened next. He had to truly want to shed his old ways, demonstrating the change in concrete and real ways.

The scene in which Eustace is undragoned by Aslan is rich with allusions to the Christian life. Take note of how Eustace’s attempts at undragoning himself are completely ineffectual. There is a deep truth to be gleaned here that pertains not only to one’s initial salvation by Christ, but one’s subsequent spiritual growth. Eustace had no idea the real pain of shedding years of selfishness. Layer upon layer of dragon behavior would not be removed easily. He thought he could do it with a few scrapes here and there. Like all of us, he underestimated sin’s effects. Like all of us, he naively thought he could do it alone.

“…I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling.”[2]

Only a moment later, the lovely feeling would vanish. Despite all the work at scrapping, Eustace remained a dragon. After three failed attempts at freeing himself, Eustace was dismayed – truly dismayed. Looking along his sin as he had, he was ready to truly shed his dragonish ways, but they ran too deep. His genuine readiness, as demonstrated by his desperate attempts at undragoning, summoned Aslan, the Christ-figure of Narnia.

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble in Narnia as well as our world.

“You will have to let me undress you,” Aslan says.

Eustace tells the reader that though he was frightened of Aslan’s claws, after rounds of trying to peel away the dragon himself, desperation gave him just enough courage to face the fear. He hated his sin that much.

“So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. ‘The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off … he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was, lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.”[3]

After being washed in cleansing waters, Eustace was finally forever changed from the proud and petty boy who had been “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape” from Narnia, to one of the special fellowship of Narnian travelers.[4] (Quoted here are the words that Lewis used to describe himself in Surprised By Joy.) Eustace’s spiritual journey in Narnia would not end here.

Genuine, self-shedding humility and the courage to endure the pain of the process were key to Eustace’s undragoning. The two go hand in hand. We are often frightened of the pain of looking along our sin, seeing it for what it is and the damage it causes to ourselves and others. Pride is easier and we are content to rationalize our sin away as we look at it. Oh, how the mind is deceitful above all else!

Sometimes, God allows us to experience the full effect of our dragonish behavior. Often times, only desperation will force in us the courage to face the pain of shedding our sin.

And yet, what freedom awaits if we do! Eustace shows us this. Like Aslan, Christ alone can effect the full shedding, but it will be painful.

In the end, Eustace Clarence Scrubb became a person that didn’t deserve such a name. I imagine, though, he was thankful for the reminder.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ~Hebrews 12:11

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[1] C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (HarperCollins, Kindle Edition), 1.

[2] Ibid., 53.

[3] Ibid., 54.

[4] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Kindle Edition), 229.

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