The Narrator recalls another discussion he overheard while he was with George MacDonald. He saw a woman’s ghost talking to a Spirit, her brother, whose name was Reginald. Reginald greets the ghost, and explains that Michael, her son, is up in the mountains. The ghost, whom Reginald addresses as Pam, is visibly angry with Reginald. Reginald explains that Pam will be allowed to see Michael as soon as she’s ready—she must become solid enough to be with Michael. In order to become solid, Pam must learn to want “someone else” besides Michael. Reginald explains that Pam must begin to feel a desire for God—from there, her progress toward the mountains will be easy.
Pam’s sin, it would seem, is that she’s turned her back on the other people in her life, including her friends, her family, and God, in order to focus on “loving” her dead child, Michael. Moreover, the passage suggests that the only way to achieve salvation is to love God above all other things. It would seem that a mother who loves her child more than God is a sinner—what Lewis tries to show, then, is that this kind of love isn’t true love at all, but just another kind of selfishness.
Pam irritably claims that she’ll love God as long as it brings her back to Michael, but Reginald points out that this way of thinking is no good: loving God cannot be a means to the end of reuniting with Michael. The only way to enter the mountains for good is to love God for God’s own sake. Pam objects that Reginald wouldn’t be talking this way if he were a mother, but Reginald claims that Pam isn’t only a mother—she’s still a creature of God. Reginald also suggests that Pam didn’t love Michael fully—the only way to truly love another human being is to love God first.
There are many who love God because of what God gives them—love, happiness, wealth, etc. The problem with loving God in this way is that God becomes a means to some other end (material wealth, for example). A true Christian must love God above all other things, including other people—indeed, Lewis suggests, loving God above all else is the only way to love other people fully.
Pam dismisses Reginald’s argument as “cruel and wicked nonsense.” She insists that she loved her son as much as it is possible to love anyone—she’s lived with “his memory” for years. Reginald claims that Pam made a mistake by mourning Michael’s death for so long. By refusing to forget Michael, Pam turned her back on her living friends and family, including Dick, her husband. In essence, she “embalmed” her love for Michael and refused to love anyone else, including Reginald himself. Pam insists, “Michael is mine.” She scoffs and accuses Reginald of being “hurt” and trying to hurt her in return. Reginald insists that he’s not hurt—indeed, it’s impossible to hurt anyone here. Pam doesn’t reply—instead, she’s silent and open-mouthed.
It slowly becomes clear that Pam doesn’t really love Michael at all; on the contrary, she thinks of Michael as an extension of her own body and self, even claiming, “Michael is mine.” Thus, the passage suggests a reason why it’s so important for people to love God above all things: love for God is, by definition, humble and unselfish. If a human being is capable of loving God, she is capable of loving other people unselfishly. People like Pam, who refuse to love God, are only capable of expressing a selfish, controlling “love” for others. (It’s also made abundantly clear that what Pam is loving isn’t really Michael himself, but only her selfish idea of him, by the fact that the real Michael is waiting for her in Heaven, and wants her to give up her obsession with his memory.)
MacDonald carries the Narrator away from Pam and Reginald, explaining that their conversation will go on for a very long time. There is some hope left for Pam, as long as she realizes that her love for her son has turned into something else. MacDonald explains that sometimes, human beings’ natural love for one another helps them to love God and enter Heaven. But sometimes, humans’ love distracts them from entering Heaven and being truly happy. Love can be good, as long as it’s directed primarily at God, but it can also be dangerous.
The chapter steers the Narrator toward the surprising conclusion that what humans consider to be “love” is not by necessity virtuous. Indeed, love can be a distraction from God, and therefore, from salvation. Humans have a bad habit of deluding themselves into thinking that they love one person “more than anything”—which, Lewis, shows, can easily be twisted into a selfish, corrupt sort of love.
MacDonald leads the Narrator on to another ghost, who’s carrying something on his shoulder. The ghost is carrying a small hissing lizard, and keeps yelling for the lizard to be quiet. As the lizard continues to whisper in the ghost’s ear, the ghost smiles, and begins to walk away from the mountains.
This passage conveys the divided nature of the human soul—even before we know what the lizard represents, the ghost seems to be fighting his own internal desires, embodied by the lizard. (Interestingly, the author Philip Pullman has mentioned this passage as the inspiration for the daemons in his rather anti-Christian novel, The Golden Compass!)
A tall, bright angel calls out to the ghost, “Off so soon?” The ghost turns and explains to the angel that he won’t be able to go to the mountains while carrying the lizard. He’s told his lizard to keep quiet, but unfortunately, the lizard keeps making noise. The angel offers to kill the lizard, but the ghost insists that the angel spare it, claiming that he’ll find a way to keep the lizard “in order.” The lizard begins to speak—it warns the ghost that the angel will kill it if the ghost gives his assent. Reluctantly, the ghost tells the angel to kill his lizard. The angel closes his hot, bright hand around the lizard, and the ghost screams out in agony.
Although we don’t yet understand what this passage symbolizes, it’s important to notice that the man is deeply conflicted about his lizard—he knows that on some level, it’s bad for him, and yet he seems to like having it around. Second, notice that the angel won’t kill the lizard until the man asks the angel to do so—as in other parts of the novel, Lewis emphasizes the importance of free will: the man must choose to sacrifice his lizard.
After the lizard is dead, the ghost begins to change. He becomes solider and bigger, until he’s a huge, naked man, almost as big as the angel. The Narrator also notices that the lizard is growing—it changes into a large stallion with a golden mane. The ghost—now a new-made man—embraces his horse with joy. Then he climbs onto his horse, and rides off toward the mountains. As he rides off, the Spirits sing, praising the new-made man for his strength and willpower.
The ghost has made a difficult sacrifice, and as a reward, the angel transforms his lizard into something far more beautiful and powerful—a stallion. While we still don’t know what this scene symbolizes, it’s clear that the man has made a difficult sacrifice and been rewarded for doing so: God rewards people for taking the often-painful “leap of faith” required to truly love him.
MacDonald explains to the Narrator that the lizard was lust—a creature who has no home in the mountains. With the ghost’s assent, the angel crushed lust and transformed it into something much stronger and more beautiful—“that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”
This passage reiterates one of Lewis’s most important points—most evil is just a corruption of good, not an equal opposite to good (as might be suggested by William Blake). Thus the lizard of lust isn’t killed, but instead is transformed into its “true” form—the original goodness (which comes from God) that had been corrupted and weakened into mere lust.
The Narrator is confused. It would seem that the ghost’s lust was less of an obstacle to entering the mountains than Pam’s love for her son. MacDonald explains that Pam loved her son too little, not too much—she only thought that she truly loved him. In order to move into Heaven, humans must sacrifice their love for earthly things, so that these feelings can be transformed into new, more beautiful feelings—just as the angel transformed the lizard into a beautiful horse. If Pam would temporarily give up her feelings for her son, her feelings would be “reborn” into something far more beautiful. Suddenly, the Narrator asks George MacDonald if there is “another river.”
Once again Lewis is being deliberately counterintuitive, showing how sins that seem worse on Earth aren’t necessarily greater obstacles to Heaven than those that might even seem moral in worldly terms. Pam’s love for her son was close enough to true, virtuous love that it remained a powerful obstacle for her, whereas the man’s lust was something obviously harmful, and so easier to cast off. As the lizard was transformed into a stallion, MacDonald suggests that Pam’s selfish, possessive love for Michael could potentially be turned into something far more powerful and beautiful.