Jill Pole’s Road to Emmaus

On the Road to EmmausIt is one of the more intriguing appearances of Jesus after the puzzling event of the empty tomb. Rather than grand appearances, Christ slowly slipped into the lives of his disciples, visiting two or three at a time while skirting Jerusalem after the heat of that holy weekend.

As can only happen in the days before social media made it possible, back when people lived their lives out of doors, rumours of the Nazarene filled every empty social space. “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days,” one of Jesus’ followers exclaim when a stranger joins them on the road. Certainly everyone else knows. It’s all everyone is talking about.

“What things?” the stranger on the road asks.

This was hardly an uncommon scene. Two men are traveling on the way, and another sidles up to them. There is a pattern for pilgrims ready for a talk on the road. They fall into step, leaning in just a little to find out if these are the kind of people and this the kind of conversation that would help the dusty miles slip away. There is strength in numbers on the road, and after a while one mile starts to look like the last. How many of our great stories start on the road?

Pieter_Coecke_van_Aelst_-_Christ_and_His_Disciples_on_Their_Way_to_EmmausFor whatever reason, the stranger joined in with the two disciples and wonders about the rumours on their lips. So they told him about the things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth:

“He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.  But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.”

This is the news, but then there was the rumour:

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report.  They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive!  Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

Caravaggio - Cena in EmmausIn their sorrow and gloom, and in the scratch, scratch, scratch of shoes on sand, the stranger’s response must have startled them out of their daze.

“Isn’t it obvious?” he answered. “The whole story has led up to this point. Suffering had to precede fame for Messiah. The prophets said all this and more. How come you didn’t see it?”

We know as readers who the stranger is. He is this Jesus, the crucified one. Luke lets us in on the secret. But because of sun or sorrow or miles and miles of sand, these sad Christ-followers could not see it. So the stranger began to talk, then.

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Oh to be there on that road and hear those words! A lot of my work in biblical studies has been an attempt to fall into step behind the stranger and lean in just a little.

Letters to Children by CS LewisI’ve always been struck by how often children asked C.S. Lewis for more Narnia books in their letters to him. Some adults asked as well. But it was to the children that Lewis focused his responses. He never promised new Chronicles. After The Last Battle was published, Lewis never looked back. Instead, Lewis would answer like this:

“But why don’t you try writing some Narnian tales? I began to write when I was about your age, and it was the greatest fun. Do try!” (to Jonathan Muehl, Mar 29, 1961)

“And why not write stories yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history?” (to Denise Howes, Sep 8, 1962)

I don’t know if any of Lewis’ schoolchildren ever took him up on the challenge, but the patterns and possibilities of Narnia transformed children’s literature forever.

In this little note to Ms. Howes, Lewis points her to The Last Battle. “I’ve left you plenty of hints,” he wrote, “especially where Jill Pole and the Unicorn are talking….” And there in ch. 8 we see Jill’s own Road to Emmaus:

“Oh, this is nice!” said Jill [to Jewel the Unicorn]. “Just walking along like this. I wish there could be more of this sort of adventure. It’s a pity there’s always so much happening in Narnia.”

The Last Battle by CS LewisThere is no stranger in the road this time, just a little girl and a unicorn. But Jewel takes a moment to fill in a bit of the open spaces of Narnia that we have all wondered about:

But the Unicorn explained to her that she was quite mistaken. He said that the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve were brought out of their own strange world into Narnia only at times when Narnia was stirred and upset, but she mustn’t think it was always like that. In between their visits there were hundreds and thousands of years when peaceful King followed peaceful King till you could hardly remember their names or count their numbers, and there was really hardly anything to put into the History Books. And he went on to talk of old Queens and heroes whom she had never heard of. He spoke of Swanwhite the Queen who had lived before the days of the White Witch and the Great Winter, who was so beautiful that when she looked into any forest pool the reflection of her face shone out of the water like a star by night for a year and a day afterwards. He spoke of Moonwood the Hare who had such ears that he could sit by Caldron Pool under the thunder of the great waterfall and hear what men spoke in whispers at Cair Paravel. He told how King Gale, who was ninth in descent from Frank the first of all Kings, had sailed far away into the Eastern seas and delivered the Lone Islanders from a dragon and how, in return, they had given him the Lone Islands to be part of the royal lands of Narnia for ever. He talked of whole centuries in which all Narnia was so happy that notable dances and feasts, or at most tournaments, were the only things that could be remembered, and every day and week had been better than the last.

The last Battle 1st editionI don’t know about you, but when I hear of these other stories, the unwritten ones, I can mimic the words of Jesus disciples on that dusty Roman road so long ago:

“Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road….”

Something very much like that happened to Jill as well:

And as [Jewel] went on, the picture of all those happy years, all the thousands of them, piled up in Jill’s mind till it was rather like looking down from a high hill on to a rich, lovely plain full of woods and waters and cornfields, which spread away and away till it got thin and misty from distance.

The terrain is so very different: the lush forest road of Narnia and the bare desert road of Palestine. And the substance of our curiosity is fed in much different ways in each story. The rough grain of the cross is substantially different than the finished wood of the wardrobe. One story made the other one possible.

Yet in each the hearts of the disciples are lifted as there is news that the sorrow they are experience is not the end of all stories. More than that, there are many stories in between, each of them important to the road they find themselves on this day.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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32 Responses to Jill Pole’s Road to Emmaus

  1. Thank you for this lovely post. My students at King’s college created an “8th Narnia chronicle” a couple of weeks ago. One was the gorgeous, heart-breaking tale of what life was like for Susan after all her family was killed in that train crash. Two, interestingly, were about Jadis’s years in hiding and gaining strength between “The Magician’s Nephew” and LWW. Then there was the saving of the Lone Islands, and one in which Narnian characters came to our world. But interestingly, nothing from Jill and the Unicorn’s conversation, although some students said they had considered those tales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the sound of all of those! The story of Susan is especially challenging. Was she sacrificed to Lewis’s apologetic? My youngest daughter has never liked the requirement of multiple deaths as a means to the end in The Last Battle. May be she will get there in the end. I know that heaven is a fulfilment and a transcendence of this world and death is most likely to be our way to get to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “Was she sacrificed to Lewis’s apologetic?” Hers seems a strikingly open-ended account, as far as it’s related (as many exegetes seem to find that/those of the ‘rich young ruler’). One could perhaps compare Till We Have Faces, as a possible analogue? (Or, Surprised by Joy – ?!)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Oh to be there on that road and hear those words! A lot of my work in biblical studies has been an attempt to fall into step behind the stranger and lean in just a little.”

    I thought this might be of interest.

    Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul, Apollos, Aquila, and Priscilla also “took listeners through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Jesus.” …
    1) Acts 2:22-38 Peter’s 1st sermon
    2) Acts 3:18-26 Peter’s 2nd sermon
    3) Acts 7 Stephen before the Sanhedrin
    4) Acts 8:26-39 Philip and the Ethiopian Treasurer
    5) Acts 9:20-22 Saul Preaches at Damascus
    6) Acts 10:42-43 Peter’s sermon to the Gentiles
    7) Acts 13:16-41 Paul’s sermon at Antioch
    8) Acts 17:2-3 Paul at Thessalonica
    9) Acts 18:5 Paul at Corinth
    10) Acts 18:24-28 Apollos, Aquila, & Priscilla at Ephesus and Corinth
    11) Acts 26:23 Paul preaches to Agrippa
    12) Acts 28:23 Paul at Rome

    …and then Jesus Himself gave this same Bible Study

    13) Luke 24:13 On the Emmaus Road
    14) Luke 24:44 In the Upper room

    Seven people and Jesus Himself on fourteen occasions presenting Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and all of them doing it entirely from the Old Testament.

    The key to “leaning in just a little” may be an attempt at re-constructing, from the Old Testament, the contents of that Bible Study.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I generally agree, which was why I concentrated on the Jewish cultural environment of the New Testament–knowing what hidden expectations, credibility structures, and normal social habits were.


  3. Hannah says:

    Your post made the Emmaus road appearance come alive and it reminded me of the poem in the letter Gandalf left for Frodo at the inn at Bree, so that Frodo would recognize Strider.
    Brooks Williams turned it into a beautiful song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2HdmWIXJco)

    All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

    From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
    Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king


    • I generally agree, which was why I concentrated on the Jewish cultural environment of the New Testament–knowing what hidden expectations, credibility structures, and normal social habits were.


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  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Lewis as herald of ‘fan fiction’?

    But then, what of Till We Have Faces, as re-telling? Or Perelandra as analogue? Or all those wonderful Tolkien explorations starting with mysterious fragments and so on (like the word/name ‘earendel’ turning up in Old English poem)? Or, for that matter, ‘starting with a picture’?

    One thing Jewel’s remarks reminded me of (when you so delightfully reminded me of them) are all those wonderful references by Dr. Watson to Holmes cases never chronicled, like ‘the giant rat of Sumatra’. Might they even have been part of what was playing in Lewis’s mind here? (Holmes comes notably into the beginning of The Magician’s Nephew, and back into Mark Studdock’s life at a significant moment.) Adrian Conan Doyle got together with John Dickson Carr to come up with stories for some of those tantalizing references, published together in The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954). But the Holmesian (or Sherlockian) ‘Higher Criticism’ (distinctly helped on its way by Dorothy L. Sayers) may also be a striking early ‘fan-fictionalish’ phenomenon…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hannah says:

      Episode four “A Study in Sherlock” of the sixth season of the Murdoch Mysteries is a great example of this fan fiction, with Sherlock Holmes meeting his creator Conan Doyle and giving Doyle many new ideas, with reference to those Watson stories. (http://murdochmysteries.wikia.com/wiki/A_Study_in_Sherlock).


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thank you – that’s a new one to me, which I’ll hope to catch up with! (A.C.D., a.k.a. ‘The Literary Agent’, fictionalized on stage… From the sound of it, in quite a different way from Without a Clue (1988) – which I enjoyed a lot more than I would have expected. Very interesting, too, is the biographical episode of The Edwardians (1974) with Nigel Davenport as Conan Doyle tackling a real-life mystery – which, I recently discovered had two BBC radio conterpart, from 1972 and 1987, both of which I’ve now enjoyed. But looking up the Davenport details on IMDB has brought me to quite a list of things with Conan Doyle as “Character”!)


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Another possibly interesting context thatjust occurred to me, is Lewis’s paper, “Historicism” (for which Arend Smilde lists Oct. 1950 as date), with its attention to ‘history’ variously as ‘what happened’ and as ‘account(s) of things that happened’, and to what trying to ‘interpret history’ can entail.


  6. David Llewellyn Dodds got there before me. I am fascinated by the phenomena of fan fiction. One of the regular commentors on my blog is becoming a good writer through this medium. I am fascinated by the way each generation finds a new way to express the imagination. I suspect that they would not be terribly interested in writing about the years in which nothing happened! Come to think of it I can’t think of such years in my life. I wonder if Lewis could in his or was he expressing his desire through Jewel?


    • “The phenomena of fan fiction” worries me slightly, perhaps it is just my age? Surely one should only say something because they have something to say (substance) not say something for the sake of saying something well (form)? To me this is the difference between original thought and creation (art), and manipulation of what has already been created into something similar (technique). God gave each individual something unique to bring to the table as “creator” and we were created in His image to use our “image-ination” specifically to do so, and like anything else this ability will atrophy with lack of use. I am as guilty of laziness in this regard as the next man so I am not criticizing in any way, just worrying that the “kingdom of this world” and “collectivism” is gradually moving everything into uniformity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would have agreed with you and would certainly not think it appropriate to do myself. But Jean Rhys and “Wide Sargasso Sea” comes to mind as the use of a prequel to enter dialogue with an author. In a young person in search of a voice I can see a validity in fan fiction. I would hope that maturity would eventually take a young writer to develop their own work. Of course I can think of some appalling examples of “adult” fan fiction but then the work they use is generally pretty appalling too!


        • Hannah says:

          After the Romantic era originality seems grossly overrated, e.g. in Bach’s time the usage of the melodies of other composers was common and accepted. Maybe you mean something else with ‘manipulation of what already has been created’, and not something like the sequel of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by PD James ‘Death comes to Pemberley’? Or the recent pre sequel series ‘Dickensian’ tracing a.o. how and why miss Havisham was jilted at the altar?


          • “In a rational world, things would be made because they were wanted; in the actual world, “wants” have to be created in order that people may receive money for making the things” [C S Lewis].
            The motivation for creation is important and I suppose that’s why I don’t think originality can ever be overrated. If the motivation for creation is the provision of a consumable that will attract someone with free time and money, or if it is just “killing time” for the creator then where is the value?. By “manipulation” I mean that a computer using AI could use a computer database to first determine that the average BBC consumer would be attracted to, watch, and then purchase a Dickensian-type (classical historical) production It could then use another electronic database of all possible stories, available plots, themes and characters and, by simply mixing and matching whilst juggling them around, “create” or “produce” (that’s the question from my perspective), an answer to, the computers calculated answer to, what is the most popular question posed about Dickens’ fictional characters today – why Miss Havesham was jilted at the altar. I think Raold Dahl wrote a short story like this some time ago.
            The real fact is that computerized AI is always going to be limited to stored data and the use thereof, however, the point of a brain, is not for storing ideas, it is for having spontaneiously new and original ideas.
            I forget who said “as a man thinketh, so is he” but that is an original statement and it’s motive was to help anyone who reads it to deal with reality, now that is valuable to me.


          • Hannah says:

            I was thinking more of discussions on modern art that so often reminded me of the Anderson fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with originality (no one has thought of this before) as on of the main criteria; another being the fear of missing out on another Vincent van Gogh and so an investment opportunity …
            Of course the motivation for creation is important, but for me it wouldn’t be trying to be original, but rather expressing truth, meaning, beauty … and being a unique person that will be in a personal way.


          • I am not saying the motivation for creation should be originality only that if you do not have something original to submit you are not creating. I suppose that from this perspective there can only be one Creator, or someone capable of creating something out of nothing because when you go back to source material, in whatever your art, your materials have been created for you. That means that in this discussion I am more un-original than yourself because I quote other, word artists who are far more eloquent than me, as sources more frequently.

            And I suppose C S Lewis ends up agreeing with you about true originality – “Applying this principle to literature, in its greatest generality, we should get as the basis of all critical theory the maxim that an author should never conceive himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of eternal Beauty and Wisdom.” [C S Lewis]

            For me though, the value remains in the “treasure” (the Created eternal Truth or eternal Beauty being presented) not in the “vessel” the art form or technique being used to present it. So, would you say then that the critical point of our debate in the answer to your question about individual expression is then – to what degree is original Beauty or Truth in the creator/artist to begin with and to what degree is it required that the creator/artist is only a mirror capable of reflecting an original (although already Created) eternal Beauty or eternal Truth in a unique and personal way? (I am deliberately excluding existentialism here)


  7. whitemiata says:

    Thank you for an excellent post. I am reading aloud the Narnia series with my ten year old, and it is a wonderful journey as always. I have never dreamt of being a writer of fiction, but your post has almost brought me to that point. I am looking forward with much more anticipation to The Last Battle, and I hope to read aloud the Space Trilogy as well… You are in my prayers.


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