When I was a kid, I used to reread C. S. Lewis' Narnia books over and over, especially when I was down in the dumps or feeling blue, in much the same way I escape to Jane Austen now. I have been thinking lately about a scene that lodged itself in my brain long ago from The Voyage of the Dawntreader (maybe my favorite). In it, I remember Lucy is in some oddly empty house and flipping through a strange book, full of spells and the temptations of magic. She succumbs to that temptation with a spell which allows you to know what your friends think of you. I’m not sure why this scene so seared itself into my memory. Some comments from fellow posters brought it back to mind. Rigoberto talks about the lack of privacy on the Internet (unflattering appearances on Youtube posted for all to see); Gillian Conoley mentions avoiding online social networking. Ange points out the paradox of blogging—on the one hand, it is supposed to seem casual, extemporaneous—but on the other hand, nothing on the internet ever seems to die or fade away: an off-hand remark you thought you jotted down in pencil turns out to be set down in indelible ink (ye gods! indeed). Or, as the Greeks say, “Nothing is so permanent as the temporary.”

So I went back to The Voyage of the Dawntreader, to refresh my memory:

And all in a hurry, for fear her mind would change, she said the words (nothing will induce me to tell you what they were). Then she waited for something to happen.

As nothing happened she began looking at the pictures. And all at once she saw the very last thing she expected—a picture of a third-class carriage in a train, with two schoolgirls sitting in it. She knew them at once. They were Marjorie Preston and Anne Featherstone. . . .

‘Shall I see anything of you this term?’ said Anne, ‘or are you still going to be all taken up with Lucy Pevensie.’

‘Don’t know what you mean by taken up,’ said Marjorie.

‘Oh yes, you do,’ said Anne. ‘You were crazy about her last term.’

‘No, I wasn’t,’ said Marjorie. ‘I’ve got more sense than that. Not a bad little kid in her way. But I was getting pretty tired of her before the end of term.’

‘Well, you jolly well won’t have the chance any other term!’ shouted Lucy. ‘Two-faced little beast.’ But the sound of her own voice at once reminded her that she was talking to a picture and that the real Marjorie was far away in another world.

‘Well,’ said Lucy to herself, ‘I did think better of her than that. And I did all sorts of things for her last term, and I stuck to her when not many other girls would. And she knows it too. And to Anne Featherstone of all people! I wonder are all my friends the same? There are lots of other pictures. No. I won’t look at any more. I won’t, I won’t’—and with a great effort she turned over the page; but not before a large angry tear had splashed on it.

I’m not sure why this scene shocked me so—the real, everyday world violently intruding on the fantasy one? There is a loss of innocence in it, certainly—her friendship with Marjorie will never be the same, even if Marjorie’s behavior toward her is unchanged. And there is a wrongness here, too, as Lucy is eavesdropping on a conversation not meant for her ears. Perhaps Marjorie is only saying these hurtful things to curry favor with Anne, and doesn’t mean them at all.

The conversations that go on in cyberspace are subject to this kind of magical eavesdropping. We writers are all sometimes tempted, I think, to “Google” ourselves. We justify it, perhaps, as keeping up with reviews of a new book, etc. But surely we stumble on things not meant for our ears. Likewise, we may be aware others are eavesdropping on us. Is it possible to have a candid discussion about a living writer on the web, for instance, without fear that that very writer may be reading over our shoulders? (I have lately been relishing the privacy and intimacy of letters.) The internet, with its “pages” and moving pictures, its Book of Faces, its overheard conversations, is strangely like Lucy’s magic book, full of enchantment and temptation.

But in some ways, that book was very different too. I had forgotten that part of its magic was you couldn’t turn back to a previous page. Only the right-hand pages turned. The left-hand pages were closed forever.

Originally Published: April 4th, 2011

A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...