The Power of $11.30

We have drained the life out of all our flashlights and cannot find suitable replacements for their dead batteries. So my son Cade lays by his open bedroom door. The muted light from the hall falls into his room, cuts a shadow that keeps his sleeping little brother in the dark. Cade is in the light, looking at a book.

He reads “The Magician’s Nephew,” the first (or, depending on how you look at it, the seventh) book in CS Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It’s a book about magic rings and witches from other worlds and children leaping from one enchanted pool to the next, making sure they don’t lose their way. It’s about Aslan and healing trees and beginnings.

How I wish I could read it again, for the first time.

* * * * *

Twenty-eight years ago, a small boy dragged his parents into his church’s tiny bookstore. He showed them the boxed set of a series of books he wanted to read. They looked at each other, uncertain: they had grown up among the Amish, and this book of witches and lions and wardrobes seemed a bit, well, worldly. But they gave in. They bought the boy his books.

On top of the box, in pen, someone had written “$11.30 for the set.” Not a princely sum, but the little boy’s father probably made about $15,000 that year – to spend that much money was something like a birthday. When the boy got home he wrote his name underneath the price in wavering print, as if he were now part of the package.

He burned through the books, reading by way of flashlight under his blankets at night until everyone else was asleep. He perched his favorite Christmas gift (an alarm clock) on his dresser and woke up early, before school, so that he could read about the Pevensies and the professor and Scrub and Prince Caspian and the voyage of the Dawn Treader. He quite fancied the name Lucy.

How could stories be so glorious? he wondered. How could someone make something up that felt more real than life?

* * * * *

I peek down the short hallway toward Cade’s bedroom. He has fallen asleep on the floor, both his mouth and his book wide open. I wonder if he’s gotten to the part where the two children come upon a crumbled city, and a small bell with the inscription:

Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.

* * * * *

Sometimes, when we are young, we must strike the bell just to see what will happen.

7 Replies to “The Power of $11.30”

  1. On a shelf in the guest room here at my parents’ house, my first set of Narnia books sits. It’s well-worn – I read them every summer – and I, like you, wish every time that it was the first time. Thank you, Shawn.

  2. I still have my first set. I don’t remember how old it is, but it’s the set I used to read the stories out loud to my kids when they were very young, and then the set that they used for their first read through it. I think my set might have cost less than $10. Not sure, but the cover price of each is like $1.50 or something.
    Now my kids have their own sets to pass on to their kids eventually.

    There is no age limit on these books, and every time I read them, I see something new. There’s just something about them….and it was these that turned me into a major Lewis fan, and from there I discovered Tolkien, Williams, McDonald, Sayers, Chesterton, and more….


  3. Our first set is in such disrepair it’s hardly readable anymore. Looking forward to introducing my daughter to them when she’s older. Great post.

  4. Ah! I remember the wonder and excitement that filled my heart as I read those seven books as a grown man. As a kid? I hated reading too much to finish them.

  5. I never actually owned the books, but I wore out the copies in my school library. They are some of my favorites and part of what gave me my lifelong love of fantasy stories. I am planning to buy a set for my two boys.

  6. This totally captures what I am looking forward to with my sons as soon as they get old enough.

    Beautifully captured, eloquently stated.

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