“Something Understood”: Sacramental Imagination and the Communion of Saints in the Fantasy of Chesterton, Lewis, and Rowling

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“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

“Harry, this isn’t a game, this isn’t practice!  This is the real thing, and Dumbledore left you very clear instructions: Find and destroy the Horcruxes! . . . [F]orget the Deathly Hallows, we can’t afford to get sidetracked-” (Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 433; ch. 22)

Third, participation in the communion of saints results in members holding each other accountable to develop godly character and accomplish their God-given tasks.  Lewis’s Silver Chair is valuable for its particular portrayal of accountability within communion, for in The Silver Chair we discover a group that is by no means perfect.  Jill is a fledgling believer, and she and Eustace receive their mission with reluctance.  Aslan communicates this mission-the four instructions she must follow–to Jill alone: “These are the Signs by which I will guide you in your quest. . . ,” says Aslan. “[R]emember, remember, remember the Signs. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs” (19, 21; ch. 2).  These instructions include greeting Eustace’s old friend Caspian, journeying to the ruined city of the giants, obeying the ancient writing they find on a stone there, and recognizing Prince Rilian by his invocation of Aslan.  Yet, for the children, disagreements and bad attitudes take precedence over remembering the Signs.  Eustace and Jill’s initial squabbling continues in their relationship with Puddleglum, whose exaggerated pessimism often rubs the children the wrong way.  “O bother his ideas!” exclaims Eustace to Jill at one point along the journey.  “He’s always expecting the worst, and he’s always wrong” (78; ch. 6).  Both Eustace and Jill are guilty of focusing on their selfish desires rather than on community and their mission, and their disregard for Puddleglum’s leadership of the group results in a loss of focus, such as a failure to heed Aslan’s directions.

The Silver Chair reveals a very important lesson, however: the faithful can mend disunity and regain communion through confession, forgiveness, and accountability.  Once the children and Puddleglum realize where their selfish neglect of shared purpose has led them, they repent:

“It’s my fault,” [Jill] said in despairing tones.  “I’d given up repeating the Signs every night.  If I’d been thinking about them I could have seen it was the city [of the giants], even in all that snow. . . . I’ve spoiled everything ever since you brought me here.” (102, 103-4; ch. 8)

Jill does not have to bear the responsibility for the failure alone, however.  The other members of her community share in the blame: “I’m worse,” declares Puddleglum after Jill’s confession.  “I did see, or nearly. . . . Didn’t try hard enough, though” (102).  Eustace immediately follows, and his use of the pronoun “we” binds the group together: “The truth is we were so jolly keen on getting to [Harfang castle] that we weren’t bothering about anything else. . . . We must just own up.  We’ve only four Signs to go by, and we’ve muffed the first three” (103; ch. 8).  All members of the community have failed to put forth sufficient effort to remember Aslan’s instructions and to hold each other accountable to follow through with their mission.  From this point forward, though, they concentrate on getting out of their present situation as prisoners of the giants and returning as best they can to following the Signs.

In such a way, Lewis’s Silver Chair reminds us that Christian communities have to work to stay unified and focused during the tough times of distraction, separation, and temptation.


“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galations 6:2)

“The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” (Book of Common Prayer Catechism)

The final benefit of participation in the communio sanctorum might be the most obvious: communion provides practical help for an individual as companions shoulder some of his or her burdens.  In the case of Harry Potter, the “saints” who surround him are the faithful few who believe in the late Headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s discernment, in Harry’s ability to succeed in overcoming Voldemort, and in fighting for good against evil, even if the battle seems doomed.