Narnia Recap: Prince Caspian has been told (in flashback form!) about the peoples of Narnia.
Ana's Note: Instead of my usual sprinkling of links in-text, I'm going to place many of them at the end because some of them require content notes. Also be aware that this is a post about racism in the context of (among other things) hair texture. If that statement drew a total blank for you, please note the links at the end of the post and check your privilege before posting. I appreciate your help in keeping this a safe space.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 5: Caspian's Adventure in the Mountains
Today I'd like to talk a little about Proximate Causes and Ultimate causes. A proximate cause is a cause which is closest to an event, with an ultimate cause being an underlying or "real" cause under the proximate one. (And an "ultimate" cause can itself be "proximate" for a deeper ultimate cause. Nested causes!) So if someone says "why did the abandoned warehouse burn down", the proximate cause would be (if I understand my terms correctly) "because gasoline and accelerant and matches", but the ultimate cause would be "because the government wanted to cover up the evidence of the badly-scaled alien invasion". They're both causes but they're causes that answer the question from an entirely different point of view.
And this is important in literary analysis! Because one thing that is fun to do in literary analysis is to point out trends. So if, say, you notice a trend like Feminists Being Frequently Portrayed As Evil In Literature , and you then point out as an example that Queen Constantina Charlotte Ermintrude Gwinyvere Maisie Marguerite Anne  is of course Evil "because she's a feminist", then someone is going to pop up and helpfully explain that QCCEGMMA is evil because she bathes in the blood of her murdered servants every morning, and the fact that she's a feminist is just incidental.
When this happens -- as it inevitably does -- the important thing to remember here is that we're talking proximate causes versus ultimate causes. Yes, the proximate cause of QCCEGMMA's evilness is because she's a murderer who bathes in the blood of innocents. But the ultimate cause of her evilness, or so the deconstructer is asserting, is that the author didn't understand feminism and so decided to combine "feminism" with "evil". (Or even just made a mistake, and accidentally furthered to a disturbing trend!) And that this happens a lot.
So when I now say that Chapter 5 introduces us to Nikabrik the Dwarf and when I then assert that Nikabrik is Evil because he's a Black Dwarf with Bad Hair and a Marginalized Person who refuses to give cookies to Prince Caspian for meeting a bare minimum of decency, that is me making a statement about ultimate causes. I'm fully aware that the more proximate causes of Nikabrik's evilness are that he has no qualms about killing wounded human children, he is intensely racist towards half-dwarves, he wants to resurrect the White Witch, and he consorts with people who are Not Very Nice. And now I've made everyone else aware of those things well ahead of time (spoilers!) so we're all on the same page.
Now let's dive into the text.
AFTER THIS, CASPIAN AND HIS TUTOR had many more secret conversations on the top of the Great Tower, and at each conversation Caspian learned more about Old Narnia, so that thinking and dreaming about the old days, and longing that they might come back, filled nearly all his spare hours. [...]
After some years there came a time when the Queen seemed to be ill and there was a great deal of bustle and pother about her in the castle and doctors came and the courtiers whispered. This was in early summertime. And one night, while all this fuss was going on, Caspian was unexpectedly wakened by Doctor Cornelius after he had been only a few hours in bed.
Just to fill you in on the background, Caspian has learned all sorts of things like History and Archery and Music, and he's also noticed that his aunt the queen hates him and that his uncle the king is a dreadful ruler with high taxes and stern laws and general wanton cruelty. How he noticed that is not directly mentioned, and it's kind of a shame since it's a rare case of a privileged character in literature learning to see things from another point of view, and it would be nice to see it, but we're on a schedule and I respect that. FULL SPEED AHEAD.
"Hush!" said the Doctor. "Trust me and do exactly as I tell you. Put on all your clothes; you have a long journey before you."
Caspian was very surprised, but he had learned to have confidence in his Tutor and he began doing what he was told at once. When he was dressed the Doctor said, "I have a wallet for you. We must go into the next room and fill it with victuals from your Highness's supper table."
"My gentlemen-in-waiting will be there," said Caspian.
"They are fast asleep and will not wake," said the Doctor. "I am a very minor magician but I can at least contrive a charmed sleep."
They went into the antechamber and there, sure enough, the two gentlemen-in-waiting were, sprawling on chairs and snoring hard.
The queen has delivered a baby boy and now suddenly Prince Caspian is unsafe. Miraz had been keeping him around and alive and groomed for the position of king because he preferred his nephew be king than a stranger, but now that he has his own son, he wants to murder Caspian as soon as possible. Cornelius is bravely risking his life and limb to help the prince escape, and he's doing it in a fashion so sensible that Mrs. Beaver would be proud: he's getting the boy properly clothed and fitted with food and provisions.
Of course, it's a shame that Caspian's gentlemen-in-waiting will almost certainly be punished for letting him slip away. I mean, if Cornelius honestly believes Miraz will take his head off just for telling the crown prince about Old Narnia, and if Miraz is as cruel as Caspian observes, then I'm sure that Miraz will torture or kill the guards who let his nephew slip away and mount a civil war against him. But those men are spies and tools of Miraz, no doubt, and even were they not, it's not like Caspian and Cornelius should be held responsible for what Miraz does to them -- it's on Miraz's head if he chooses to behave evilly, and Caspian and Cornelius should not be blamed for that choice which they have no control over. Victim-blaming is not good, is what I'm saying.
But...wait. I've seen this before, haven't I? Hang on, where's my copy of The Horse and His Boy?
"Then I called the maid who was to go with me to the woods and perform the rites of Zardeenah and told her to wake me very early in the morning. And I became merry with her and gave her wine to drink; but I had mixed such things in her cup that I knew she must sleep for a night and a day. As soon as the household of my father had committed themselves to sleep I arose and put on an armor of my brother's which I always kept in my chamber in his memory. I put into my girdle all the money I had and certain choice jewels and provided myself also with food, and saddled the mare with my own hands and rode away in the second watch of the night. [...]"
"And what happened to the girl -- the one you drugged?" asked Shasta.
"Doubtless she was beaten for sleeping late," said Aravis coolly. "But she was a tool and spy of my stepmother's. I am very glad they should beat her."
Huh. Well, you know, I'm not going to blame Lewis for recycling a good escape scene. Sleeping drugs all round and food provisioning and... what's this?
"Draw near, Aravis my daughter. See! My paws are velveted. You will not be torn this time."
"This time, sir?" said Aravis.
"It was I who wounded you," said Aslan. "I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings. Do you know why I tore you?"
"The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother's slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like."
Well! That's...weird. I think I missed the part in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe where Edmund was turned into stone so that he would know what it felt like, or betrayed to an enemy so that he would know what it felt like, or put over to death as a traitor because it would be a good character lesson for him what with him (supposedly) having such a bad attitude all that time. And I must have missed the part in Prince Caspian -- I'm sure it's coming! -- where Cornelius the Dwarf is beaten or tortured or mauled or even executed so that he would know what it felt like when Miraz ordered the same done to the drugged guards he so cavalierly magicked and never thought twice of again.
I mean, it must be that I made a mistake and missed those punishments against Edmund and Cornelius, punishments based on things they didn't do, punishment based on things that evil people did to other people, evil people whom Edmund and Cornelius had no power to stop and were forced to make terrible bargains in order to escape and survive. Because I'm pretty sure that Aslan is always the same and steadfast and doesn't just make up new rules on the spur of the moment, so if he visits an eye-for-eye punishment on Aravis on behalf of her drugged guard, then he surely will do the same to Cornelius on behalf of his drugged guards. I have faith that Aslan will be consistent on this matter.
Of course, I could make the case that there are differences between the two situations. I could argue that Cornelius is saving a boy from being murdered, whereas Aravis is merely saving herself from the minor inconvenience of being raped repeatedly for the rest of her life by a husband she detests (and in a culture that seems a little chill about domestic violence). I could argue that Cornelius is merely indifferent to the fate of the human guards, whereas Aravis seems a little uppity and defensive in her indifference. I could argue that Cornelius is male, and Aravis is female.
But I'm not going to argue those things, because those supposed "differences" are immaterial to me. Murder and "lifetime rape and domestic violence" are not something I place on the Scale O' Equivalency so that I may measure which one is "worse" because they're both abominably bad things. Indifference to the fate of people you can't save is a psychological defense mechanism that I'm not going to berate when we're talking about murder and lifetime-rape-and-domestic-violence, and it's a psychological defense mechanism that isn't suddenly made so much worse by being a little snitty and defensive about what you've done when you're in a conversation with someone who isn't taking your lifetime-rape-and-domestic-violence situation seriously because he's interrupting you and calling you unfair for doing the only thing you could think to do to avoid a lifetime of rape and domestic violence. And I'm not going to point out the difference in gender, because I believe that any god worth being called so wouldn't use that in the Sliding Scale O' Proportionate Justice.
So I'm just warning ya'll now not to get too attached to Cornelius, because I'm pretty sure he'll be killed by Aslan before the book is over. It's the only way to be fair.
"Shall I never see you again?" said Caspian in a quavering voice.
"I hope so, dear King," said the Doctor. "What friend have I in the wide world except your Majesty? And I have a little magic. But in the meantime, speed is everything. Here are two gifts before you go. This is a little purse of gold -- alas, all the treasure in this castle should be your own by rights. And here is something far better."
He put in Caspian's hands something which he could hardly see but which he knew by the feel to be a horn.
"That," said Doctor Cornelius, "is the greatest and most sacred treasure of Narnia. Many terrors I endured, many spells did I utter, to find it, when I was still young. It is the magic horn of Queen Susan herself which she left behind her when she vanished from Narnia at the end of the Golden Age. It is said that whoever blows it shall have strange help -- no one can say how strange. [...]"
I want to take this moment to point out just how devoted Cornelius is to the Magical Minority role in this book. Years and years and years ago, he suffered multiple terrors and expended all his wits and strength and magic into finding one of the lost treasures of Narnia: the Horn of Help. This horn could bring great help to anyone in dire need, help that might include the shining old Kings and Queens or even Aslan. (Cornelius knows this; I cut it for brevity.)
So then, in a land plagued by hundreds of years of tyranny and genocide, the plucky and resourceful Cornelius... sat around twiddling his thumbs and daily dodging discovery and death as he tried to blend into society. He didn't use the lost sacred treasure to try to lessen the plight of the Narnian peoples -- his people -- because he knew that one day a privileged white human would need the horn. And you really don't want to waste the charge on those things.
And now they entered a dark and seemingly endless pine forest, and all the stories Caspian had ever heard of trees being unfriendly to Man crowded into his mind. He remembered that he was, after all, a Telmarine, one of the race who cut down trees wherever they could and were at war with all wild things; and though he himself might be unlike other Telmarines, the trees could not be expected to know this.
Have we mentioned this week that Caspian is awesome because he doesn't agree with genocide? Because he is. It's just a shame that his radiant awesomeness isn't evident to all the pissed off trees. In plot-related news, Caspian rides through the menacing woods, smacks his head, and comes to in a cave.
When he came to himself he was lying in a firelit place with bruised limbs and a bad headache. Low voices were speaking close at hand.
"And now," said one, "before it wakes up we must decide what to do with it."
"Kill it," said another. "We can't let it live. It would betray us." [...]
"Horns and halibuts!" exclaimed the third voice. "Of course we're not going to murder it. For shame, Nikabrik. What do you say, Trufflehunter? What shall we do with it?"
"I shall give it a drink," said the first voice, presumably Trufflehunter's. A dark shape approached the bed. [...] It was not a man's face but a badger's, [...] And Caspian knew that he had found the Old Narnians at last. Then his head began to swim again.
In the next few days he learned to know them by names. The Badger was called Trufflehunter; he was the oldest and kindest of the three. The Dwarf who had wanted to kill Caspian was a sour Black Dwarf (that is, his hair and beard were black, and thick and hard like horsehair). His name was Nikabrik. The other Dwarf was a Red Dwarf with hair rather like a Fox's and he was called Trumpkin.
And now: Nikabrik.
Nikabrik is evil. Nikabrik is evil because he wants to murder Caspian. He wants to murder Caspian because he believes that letting Caspian live will lead to their discovery and death, but Caspian is the helpless protagonist and murdering him is evil. Nikabrik is evil because he hates half-dwarves like Cornelius. He hates half-dwarves because he believes they share secrets about full-dwarves -- dwarves who can't survive by passing in human society -- to the humans and that these secrets lead to the deaths of innocent dwarves, but Cornelius is our Magical Minority and hating him is evil. Nikabrik is evil because he wants to resurrect the White Witch to fight Miraz. He wants that because he barely knows anything about history (his companion dwarf doesn't even believe that Aslan exists, nor King Peter and the rest) but he recalls tales that the White Witch was powerful and good to his people, and additionally he doesn't trust Aslan and the Pevensies because they are humans (or allied with humans) and humans have nearly wiped out his race and oppressed him his entire life. Nevertheless, we know that the White Witch is evil and Aslan is good, and so Nikabrik is evil for loving the one and hating the other.
Nikabrik is also evil -- and this is an ultimate cause, a theory, an opinion, a trend in literature at large that troubles me -- because he is Black. Not black-skinned, but black-haired, and distinctively black-haired enough to be called a Black Dwarf. And this evil dwarf, this Black dwarf, has black hair that is thick and hard and coarse, not fine and soft and thin. This Black dwarf has Bad hair.
The United States' Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color as well as national origin, sex, or religion. The prohibition against race-based discrimination includes "race-related characteristics" and notes: "Discrimination on the basis of an immutable characteristic associated with race, such as skin color, hair texture, or certain facial features violates Title VII, even though not all members of the race share the same characteristic."
And this is where a lot of white people -- including myself, not too many years ago -- kind of double-take. Hair texture? Who discriminates based on hair texture? And the answer is: quite a lot of places and people, actually.
In isolation, Black women’s preferences to straighten their hair may seem simply to be a choice of adornment; however, when coupled with all the other available "self-improvement" choices in which they sometimes engage -- such as wearing colored contacts, lightening their skin, reducing the size of their lips, and decreasing the size of their noses -- it is clear that the standard of beauty in the U.S. is in direct opposition to the natural features and characteristics of most Black women. It is also important to consider these grooming choices in the context of societal norms. Black women do not have the luxury of mere preferences; their choices are colored by a historical lens that includes negative stereotypes and lowered expectations. Throughout American history, skin color, eye color, and hair texture have had the power to shape the quality of Black people’s lives, and that trend continues today for Black women in the workplace. 
Did you know that? Chances are that if you didn't, you are a person of privilege. I am, too, for the record. Like Caspian -- and like his author -- we may not be directly responsible for the discrimination and hatred against marginalized people, but also-like-Caspian, we don't get cookies and milk for being blissfully ignorant in our cozy privilege blanket. We get to sit up and learn what everyone else has already known, and has been frequently taught at great personal cost.
Privilege is insidious. People who are wrapped in it can sometimes grow up so blissfully ignorant of so many terrible things that marginalized people face, to the point where hearing about things like "hair prejudice" provokes shock, even anger and umbrage: How can we live in a world like this? This cannot be so!
[White] Mary exclaimed, "Some of us have straight hair that we perm, and some of us have curly hair that we get straightened. So what? In the end, we're all the same whether black, white, green, or purple. Aren't we all the same?"
[Black] Sarah sighed, saying that she often finds herself in the wearying position of educating whites about ordinary black life. Then she explained that 'good hair' is hair that is straight and European in appearance. 'Bad hair' is hair that is African, nappy, kinky. 
Nikabrik's hair is coarse and black and thick and hard. Trumpkin's hair is soft and red and like fox-fur. One of these dwarves has "good hair"; one of them has "bad hair". One of them is brutish and murderous and evil; one of them is noble and good and admirable. This may or may not be a coincidence, but it is certainly a trend.
"And now," said Nikabrik on the first evening when Caspian was well enough to sit up and talk, "we still have to decide what to do with this Human. You two think you've done it a great kindness by not letting me kill it. But I suppose the upshot is that we have to keep it a prisoner for life. I'm certainly not going to let it go alive -- to go back to its own kind and betray us all."
"Bulbs and bolsters! Nikabrik," said Trumpkin. "Why need you talk so unhandsomely? It isn't the creature's fault that it bashed its head against a tree outside our hole. And I don't think it looks like a traitor."
And this dialogue reads to me like someone who has never had to think about life from a truly marginalized position.
Caspian doesn't have to be (or look like!) "a traitor" in order to put all their lives at stake. He has only to be found, or rescued, or to escape. Even if he intends to keep their secrets, he may well say something damaging in the company of humans. And he can -- and very likely will -- be in the company of humans again someday, seeing as how he is one, and is additionally a child, and may well be missed by someone.
No, that doesn't make it right to murder an innocent, unarmed child. But to insist that he looks totally honest and trustworthy is to miss the point, and to additionally miss it in order to beat home once more that Caspian Deserves Cookies. Caspian is great, Caspian is good, Caspian is an ally, merely because he doesn't go in for that whole genocide thing. It's a pat on the back for being a privileged person whose only interest in marginalized people has been romanticizing them, and while that is understandable, it shouldn't be rewarded with a billion narrative back-pats.
Nikabrik sulkily promised to behave, and the other two asked Caspian to tell his whole story. When he had done so there was a moment's silence.
"This is the queerest thing I ever heard," said Trumpkin.
"I don't like it," said Nikabrik. "I didn't know there were stories about us still told among the Humans. The less they know about us the better. That old nurse, now. She'd better have held her tongue. And it's all mixed up with that Tutor: a renegade Dwarf. I hate ‘em. I hate ‘em worse than the Humans. You mark my words -- no good will come of it."
"Don't you go talking about things you don't understand, Nikabrik," said Trufflehunter. "You Dwarfs are as forgetful and changeable as the Humans themselves. I'm a beast, I am, and a Badger what's more. We don't change. We hold on. I say great good will come of it. This is the true King of Narnia we've got here: a true King, coming back to true Narnia. And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King." [...]
"As firmly as that, I daresay," said Trumpkin. "But who believes in Aslan nowadays?"
"I do," said Caspian. "And if I hadn't believed in him before, I would now. Back there among the Humans the people who laughed at Aslan would have laughed at stories about Talking Beasts and Dwarfs. Sometimes I did wonder if there really was such a person as Aslan: but then sometimes I wondered if there were really people like you. Yet there you are."
"That's right," said Trufflehunter. "You're right, King Caspian. And as long as you will be true to Old Narnia you shall be my King, whatever they say. Long life to your Majesty."
"You make me sick, Badger," growled Nikabrik. "The High King Peter and the rest may have been Men, but they were a different sort of Men. This is one of the cursed Telmarines. He has hunted beasts for sport. Haven't you, now?" he added, rounding suddenly on Caspian.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I have," said Caspian. "But they weren't Talking Beasts."
"It's all the same thing," said Nikabrik.
"No, no, no," said Trufflehunter. "You know it isn't. You know very well that the beasts in Narnia nowadays are different and are no more than the poor dumb, witless creatures you'd find in Calormen or Telmar. They're smaller too. They're far more different from us than the half-Dwarfs are from you."
There was a great deal more talk, but it all ended with the agreement that Caspian should stay and even the promise that, as soon as he was able to go out, he should be taken to see what Trumpkin called "the Others"; for apparently in these wild parts all sorts of creatures from the Old Days of Narnia still lived on in hiding.
My eyes and fingers are tired, so I'll leave counting the Caspian back-pats as an exercise for the comments.
And now, some final thoughts.
I know that sometimes I give the impression that I'm contrary, or just looking for Alternate Character Interpretations for the sake of mischief. If ever I have done that before, I am definitely not doing that here. I understand Nikabrik, even if I don't agree with him or his methods. I understand why he's angry. I understand why he's frightened. I understand why he feels the way he does, why he says the things he does, why he does the things he does. I don't agree with those actions, I don't condone those actions, and I agree that he is not a good person. But he's an understandable person to me.
Trufflehunter I do not understand. Oh, I understand him as a literary trope, like I understand Cornelius. He's here to reassure Caspian that all those bad things people say about him aren't real, aren't true, aren't his fault. He's there to tell Caspian -- and thereby the audience -- that he's the real king, the true king, the one who should mount a civil war and let Narnians fight and die for him to take the throne and have all the nice things. I get why he exists. But as a real person, I don't understand him because I don't understand welcoming a the privileged son of my oppressor in with open arms and immediately reassuring him -- without knowing anything about him -- that he is my rightful liege and sovereign, by virtue of his privileged background.
I'm not saying he's wrong to do so, I'm saying I don't understand it.
 Straw Feminist on TV Tropes. Page requires significant clean up, and there is misogyny in the example text for several examples, including the B-word.
 Queen Constantina Charlotte Ermintrude Gwinyvere Maisie Marguerite Anne is not actually Evil; I'm just borrowing her name here. The most recent example I've seen for this particular discussion is this comment here. Note that all the usual Song of Ice and Fire triggers apply, including rape, torture, and murder. Also note that I have not read the series, just that this is a good example of a Proximate vs. Ultimate conversation over Unfortunate Implications in Evil characters.
 The Hair Dilemma: Conform to Mainstream Expectations or Emphasize Racial Identity. A very valuable article that struggles with the dilemma of conforming in order to survive or confronting and risking serious consequences. There are no easy answers.
 The Politics of "Good Hair" makes some good points about privilege-induced ignorance and the undue burden on marginalized peoples to educated privileged peoples, but commits some frustrating and basic Fail errors, saying that black people "collude" with white people to perpetuate stereotypes.
Final Note: This post is scheduled for 5/29 at 9 am CST. I will be in surgery on 5/29 from 7:30 am to whenever it gets done. Thoughts and well-wishes and prayers and secular good-tidings are all welcome and appreciated. I will try to post here briefly as soon as I'm conscious and can persuade someone to hand me my Android phone.