Pessimism: If it’s Good Enough for Puddleglum, It’s Good Enough for Me

C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair is an often-underappreciated volume in The Chronicles of Narnia, but it’s one of my favorites. Now yes—like the rest of the series—there are some antiquated themes in there. Namely, how the boys get the swords while the girl just stands by and watches them fight the evil serpent? Really? Only a male author would have girls hiding from the fight, am I right? Because I’ve sure never met a woman who would.

But I’m a keep-the-good-forget-the-bad kind of a reader and one thing The Silver Chair does have is my all-time favorite pessimist in the history of literature, the frog-like killjoy, Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle.

Puddleglum’s cup isn’t just half-empty, the water never existed and the glass has a hole in the bottom anyway. With him, it’s not Good News or Bad News; it’s Bad News or Worse News. 

When the owls showed up at his place with a mission, the first thing he asks is if the king is dead, Narnia flooded, or been attacked by dragons?! And then, he says of the mission he’s undertaken that they’re looking—in the cold of winter—for a prince that probably isn’t even there by way of a city no one’s ever seen. That’s the attitude, Puddleglum. Let me pack my bags lol. 

When descending a cliff, Puddleglum does make an attempt to cheer up Scrubb and Pole, but it’s by telling them that if they break their necks during a fall on the rocks at least they won’t have to drown in the water below. Never did this Marsh-wiggle point out a silver lining, break in the clouds, or bright side that made anyone feel the better for it. In other words, Puddleglum is my people. 

Friends, family, and even therapists—she says cringing—have commented on my dreary view of the world. I’m a worse-case scenario planner. An I’m-not-that-lucky kind of thinker. An if-it-can-go-wrong-it-will believer. And like Puddleglum, all that negative thinking seems so incongruous with my faith. How can I exist in that kind of cognitive dissonance? I mean, my faith is hopeful. I am less so. What does that say about me? Can I even be a real follower of Jesus and think the way I do?

If you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve asked that same question. I’m sure you’ve wondered if there’s just something fundamentally wrong with you. Well… I think if we could ask Puddleglum that question, he’d say no. I don’t know how you came across your pessimistic streak. Maybe you were born thinking the glass was half empty or maybe life experience shaped you as it does all of us. But I say we should give ourselves a break. Stop beating ourselves up when we see those sickeningly sweet, flowery memes of optimism on social media and roll our eyes. 

Your hope can still rest in Jesus even when you see the darkness in the world around you. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t see it too. And when you are at your lowest, when the worst has happened, when the—excuse my language—shit gets real, your circumstances aren’t going to affect what you believe deep down. Your faith will sustain you. In Philippians, Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

And if you don’t want to take Paul’s word for it, when the evil enchantress had convinced all the rest of his companions that Narnia, Aslan, blue sky, and even the sun was just made up fantasies by children in a world that is really just darkness and grief, it was Puddleglum who fought off the spell, saying, 

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” (pp 190-191) Harper Collins. Kindle Edition.

So, give yourself a break today if you’re going to the beach, but still expecting rain, or trying a new restaurant with the assumption you won’t like it. Hold strong to the hope you have deep down. Because if a touch of pessimism is good enough for Puddleglum, it should be good enough for you too.

If you want to continue the conversation, leave me a comment and tell me what you’re reading this summer. And while you’re here, be sure to stop on my CONTACT page and sign up to receive July’s newsletter. In this issue, I’ll be talking about a new suspense novel I’ve been reading as well as the Dr. Juli Slattery book, Rethinking Sexuality. And you’ll even have a chance to win a $20 AMAZON GIFT CARD!

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