Narnia: If Only They'd Planted Ginkgo Biloba

Narnia Recap: The children have been pulled back into Narnia and have found an abandoned castle with apple trees for sustenance.

Prince Caspian, Chapter 2: The Ancient Treasure House

Last week we talked about an ongoing world-building problem with Narnia: namely, how much the children remember about their adventures therein. This is not a trivial point to me, since it's on this question that hinges a great deal in terms of the Problem of Susan. After all, if some magic muddles the children's memories of Narnia, she can hardly be blamed for thinking of the whole experience as a child's dream game. And if magic doesn't muddle their perceptions and memories, then we are justified in asking how all this zig-zagging between Narnia and England and all this living of two lives concurrently is affecting the children emotionally and mentally.

The problem with "Prince Caspian" is that the whole book is a bit of a mess. And yet it's a mess that was written second in the series -- it's a little early to be jumping the shark but a little late to be struggling to hit one's stride. So it's a mess that, by gum, we're going to have to deal with, and I'm going to ask you to help me out by telling me what you think of my theory. It's my theory that the children remember Narnia only vaguely and in small pieces when they're outside Narnia, and that their memories return to them slowly when they're inside. 

I will base that theory on a few things so far and then more yet to come:

  1. The children are mentioned in the introduction of being sad at parting and sad at the prospect of school, but no mention in made in either narrative or dialogue about being sad at losing Narnia possibly forever (by leaving the Kirke house, which contains the one known portal to Narnia). 
  2. Within the first few minutes of their return to Narnia, the children mention the possibility that the land is Narnia, but they don't use their memories of Narnia to navigate this new and confusing world, even though they are highly motivated by hunger and thirst (indicating limited recollection).
  3. Though the children vaguely hope that the land is Narnia, they feel no sense of urgency to find someone immediately so that they can assess the state of their kingdom and review any damage done since their unexpected leave (indicating they've forgotten their duties as monarchs). 
  4. The children remember nothing of basic navigation and food foraging, despite living and hunting in a forest for over a decade, and instead rely on classical literature to guide their actions (indicating they've forgotten basic skills acquired in Narnia).

I think that's everything so far. Now we find the children standing in Cair Paravel, munching on apples from the orchard they planted, and glancing about themselves in curiosity.

   "THIS WASN'T A GARDEN," SAID SUSAN presently. "It was a castle and this must have been the courtyard."
   "I see what you mean," said Peter. "Yes. That is the remains of a tower. And there is what used to be a flight of steps going up to the top of the walls. And look at those other steps—the broad, shallow ones -- going up to that doorway. It must have been the door into the great hall."
   "Ages ago, by the look of it," said Edmund.
   "Yes, ages ago," said Peter. "I wish we could find out who the people were that lived in this castle; and how long ago."
   "It gives me a queer feeling," said Lucy.
   "Does it, Lu?" said Peter, turning and looking hard at her. "Because it does the same to me. It is the queerest thing that has happened this queer day. I wonder where we are and what it all means?"

As a child, I suppose this all seemed very natural to me; as an adult, it utterly baffles me. How can the children not recognize their home, the castle they've spent most of their lives in?

Yes, it's been 1,300 years and the years can be hard on a castle. Yes, there have been other kings and queens (legitimate and otherwise) in Narnia in the intervening years and they may have made alterations to the castle. Yes, Narnia has suffered an invasion from hostile foreign forces and this perhaps led to some damage to Cair Paravel. And yet, the basic outline is still there, even if it's covered in ivy and vines and crumbling stone. The castle should still be shaped the same.

But maybe it's one of those square, boxy castles which all castles invariably look like? Except that Cair Paravel is on a cliff overlooking the sea, and has an eastern door that faces the sea, and in the Disney movie looks like this:

@ jaguarhero.blogspot.com

That's not the sort of castle that you can mistake for just any castle. And it's not the sort of location that you're just going to forget. Maybe it makes sense that the children don't acclimate to the location; the coastline has changed so much in the last 1,300 years that the peninsula of Cair Paravel has become a full island. And yet... surely the cliff is still there? Surely it overlooks the sea, and they can hear the sound of the waves? And surely they remember -- have they not talked about it? -- how time goes so differently in Narnia than in the real world. Are they forgetting or in denial?

   "I wonder, was it really the hall," said Susan. "What is that terrace kind of thing?"
   "Why, you silly," said Peter (who had become strangely excited), "don't you see? That was the dais where the High Table was, where the King and the great lords sat. Anyone would think you had forgotten that we ourselves were once Kings and Queens and sat on a dais just like that, in our great hall."
   "In our castle of Cair Paravel," continued Susan in a dreamy and rather singsong voice, "at the mouth of the great river of Narnia. How could I forget?"
   "How it all comes back!" said Lucy. "We could pretend we were in Cair Paravel now. This hall must have been very like the great hall we feasted in."


This passage is incredibly interesting to me. Peter is describing the dais, and describing it with increasing excited and agitation as he recalls what their dais looked like. Susan joins in the memory with a "dreamy" and "singsong" voice, as though she's only now recollecting the memory herself. Even her wording seems suspect; it's not "At Cair Paravel!" it's "In our castle of Cair Paravel" and it's not "at the river mouth" it's "at the mouth of the great river of Narnia." Her words are formal and stilted, describing things as though a stranger would describe them. This is probably for the benefit of the reader, but it gives the impression that Susan doesn't know these things intimately, but is more reciting the words as they come to her.

And Lucy puts the cherry on it with her statement that the memories are coming back, and the suggestion that they "pretend" they're in Cair Paravel, as if she only remembers their Narnian lives as a game, and as if she doesn't consider this adventure to be any more pressing or any more meaningful than yet another grand game.

I have to wonder at this, though. In between LWW and PC, the children apparently went on with their lives and when they spoke of Narnia at all, they did so in terms of dreamy fun-times. Apparently there wasn't a lot of weeping over what was lost, nor was there a lot of gnashing of teeth over them being unable to help the Narnians in their time of need (as they most certainly would be, given that the true rulers unexpectedly disappeared). And I think that sort of response to being magically tossed out of a magical land that one cannot re-enter at will is probably... well, I don't want to say healthy since it almost certainly involved magically mucking with the children's memories in order to get to that point, but certainly less emotionally fraught than the alternatives. So it seems like a good thing?

But then we see the Pevensies all grown up in "The Last Battle" and suddenly Narnia is Serious Business. There are meetings, and the meetings are important and serious and people who treat the whole thing as a half-remembered dream -- even though they all used to do that at one time -- are not held in high esteem by the larger group. And there are visits to go dig up magic rings and take them by railway to Narnian sympathizers who have not been explicitly forbidden to use the rings and it's all very exciting and action-packed and tense, and... it seems like such a huge paradigm shift. What happened? Why did Peter and Lucy and Edmund grow up to start caring about something that previously they'd not cared about -- either because magic robbed them of the capability to do so, or because they didn't believe in fretting over a world they could never visit or directly influence again? Did Eustace or Polly or Kirke or Jill fan the flames of... of what? Devotion? Extremism? Fanaticism?

And now I've veered way off course.

   "We shall need a camp-fire if we've got to spend the night here," said Peter. "I've got matches. Let's go and see if we can collect some dry wood."
   Everyone saw the sense of this, and for the next half-hour they were busy. The orchard through which they had first come into the ruins turned out not to be a good place for firewood. [...] They went to and fro with bundles until they had a good pile on the dais. At the fifth journey they found the well, just outside the hall, hidden in weeds, but clean and fresh and deep when they had cleared these away. [...] They tried roasting some of the apples on the ends of sticks. But roast apples are not much good without sugar, and they are too hot to eat with your fingers till they are too cold to be worth eating. So they had to content themselves with raw apples, which, as Edmund said, made one realize that school suppers weren't so bad after all—"I shouldn't mind a good thick slice of bread and margarine this minute," he added. But the spirit of adventure was rising in them all, and no one really wanted to be back at school.


Not a lot here to note. Basic needs are satisfied: apples for food, well-water for drink, matches (they were carrying matches with them to school? On their person, and not in their left-behind luggage?) for fire. And yet again we have that odd tone permeating the narrative and dialogue, a tone that would be perfectly appropriate if this were the first book in a Journey To A Magical Land series, and yet seems wildly out of place here. It almost feels like Lewis is cribbing off of someone like Nesbit and forgetting that his established characters are going to react to things a great deal differently than new characters would.

   Shortly after the last apple had been eaten, Susan went out to the well to get another drink. When she came back she was carrying something in her hand.
   "Look," she said in a rather choking kind of voice. "I found it by the well." She handed it to Peter and sat down. The others thought she looked and sounded as if she might be going to cry. Edmund and Lucy eagerly bent forward to see what was in Peter's hand -- a little, bright thing that gleamed in the firelight. [...]
   All now saw what it was -- a little chess-knight, ordinary in size but extraordinarily heavy because it was made of pure gold; and the eyes in the horse's head were two tiny little rubies -- or rather one was, for the other had been knocked out.
   "Why!" said Lucy, "it's exactly like one of the golden chessmen we used to play with when we were Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel."
   "Cheer up, Su," said Peter to his other sister.
   "I can't help it," said Susan. "It brought back -- oh, such lovely times. And I remembered playing chess with fauns and good giants, and the mer-people singing in the sea, and my beautiful horse -- and -- and -- "


Susan, it will be noted, is the only one to be moved to tears by this discovery. Peter goes from flummoxed to barely comforting to logician in three sentences total. Edmund argues eloquently with Peter, while the two of them have a genial battle of wits. Lucy hangs on every word and interjects with excitement and barely restrained glee as she literally claps her hands at Peter's description of "that funny old [mole]" who planted their orchard for them. Susan alone is the sad one.

Susan is the one who knelt on the ground and ran her hands through the dirt and weeds and grass by the freshly-cleared well to find the chess-piece. Susan is the one who is moved to tears by the memories of the things she has lost. Susan is the one, out of all the Pevensie children, who really truly mourns the Narnia that she can never return to -- the one where she was a happy queen surrounded by the people she loved.

It should also be noted that the Pevensie monarchs were so rich and so cossetted that they apparently thought nothing of playing chess with solid gold pieces set with precious gemstones. Hey, you know what some of that wealth could have been invested in? Defenses against foreign invaders, for a start. I'm pretty sure that the folks in Archenland and Calormen and wherever else could have been convinced to work up some nice gates, walls, signal towers, and so forth in exchange for some chess-pieces. I guess that shows a lack of faith in Aslan, though.

   "Now," said Peter in a quite different voice, "it's about time we four started using our brains."
   "What about?" asked Edmund.
   "Have none of you guessed where we are?" said Peter.
   "Go on, go on," said Lucy. "I've felt for hours that there was some wonderful mystery hanging over this place."


There isn't a cut there, by the way -- Peter's interjection comes right after Susan's last line. Either he interrupted her or she was too overcome by emotion to continue speaking. In either case, this means that her siblings are effectively ignoring her for the next two dozen paragraphs (literally! I counted!) while she either cries or struggles to keep from crying.

I don't think this is meant to show Peter, Edmund, and Lucy as callous. I think that if we're to notice this at all, we're to see it as them discreetly letting Susan pull herself together while they attend to important business. I think that, if we're to notice at all, the crying is to be seen as understandable but slightly shameful -- a natural body function that shouldn't be indulged in public.

Of course, it's more likely that we're not to notice. This is a children's book of adventure, not an adult's book of the emotional ramifications of losing one's entire life and complete identity. To dwell on Susan's sorrow would be to point out the elephant in the Narnian wardrobe: that a series of such adventures would probably be deeply traumatic for at least some children. And that if children are being herded or pulled in without consideration for that fact, someone is eventually going to lose the Narnian emotional-breakdown lottery.

And yet, it's here. We have this strange, teasing presentation of emotion without being shown the full extent of it. Susan isn't joyous and happy and excited like Lucy, nor is she logical and rational and thoughtful like Edmund and Peter. These are characters in a novel, whose actions and personalities are defined by the author; Susan very easily could have been just as joyous and logical as her siblings. But she wasn't. (Narrative consistency has been trod upon so thoroughly at this point that I can't imagine making Susan as cheerful as Lucy would muddle the narrative any further.)

So why not? Why make Susan deeply and emotionally affected by her memories of her lost life and then immediately yank the focus away? What is the narrative gain, the character development, the lesson to be imparted? Doesn't this just make the narrative more muddled (what do they remember, and when, and how?), the characterization more confusing (why aren't the others as emotional as Susan, and why do they not comfort her?), and the lessons imparted more upsetting (how can Susan possibly be blamed for leaving behind a place that causes her so much emotional pain?)? I honestly don't understand the authorial choices here.

   "There's one thing," said Lucy. "If this is Cair Paravel there ought to be a door at this end of the dais. In fact we ought to be sitting with our backs against it at this moment. You know -- the door that led down to the treasure chamber."
   "I suppose there isn't a door," said Peter, getting up.
   The wall behind them was a mass of ivy. [...]
   "We must clear this ivy away," said Peter.
   "Oh, do let's leave it alone," said Susan. "We can try it in the morning. If we've got to spend the night here I don't want an open door at my back and a great big black hole that anything might come out of, besides the draft and the damp. And it'll soon be dark."
   "Susan! How can you?" said Lucy with a reproachful glance. But both the boys were too much excited to take any notice of Susan's advice.


And it is interesting that Lucy is chosen to be the one to put Susan in her place. Lucy the also-female, Lucy the female Pevensie who is younger and more favored in Narnia than her sister. And I can't help but come back to how often the two girls are positioned as rivals as the books.

Lucy is the discoverer of Narnia, and the one allowed to come back the most times. Lucy is the specially beloved of Aslan, though both girls were present at his death. Lucy is the younger sister, less pretty and sophisticated than Susan, for Lucy is jealous of Susan's beauty in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and even as early as LWW, Adult!Susan is the one sought by ardent kings while Adult!Lucy is merely sought by playful princes. Lucy, the Valiant, is "as good as a man, or at any rate as good as a boy", but Susan, the Gentle, is a "lady" in Narnia and "interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations" and "being grown-up" in England.

But though the girls are positioned against each other as eager tomboy and vapid teenybopper in the dialogue and narrative, it's astonishing how much of what we're actually shown conflicts with those descriptions. Lucy, the valiant one who rides into war as a worthwhile man-boy-girl, is the one who is most excitable, most easily distracted, most willing to turn her head to a new adventure despite the costs she might inflict on others. In VDT, Lucy was willing to work dark magic in order to be prettier than Susan, and only the magical appearance of the growling face of Aslan changed her mind -- who here is the one more vapid and shallow? Susan, the gentle lady who is unduly interested in being grown-up, is the one who wisely counseled against continuing past the lamppost, the one who is pierced deeply enough by the loss of Narnia to weep, and is the best archer among all the children, though she dutifully obeys the commands of He Who Gave Her The Bow and stays out of war. And, once again, we see that Susan is damned and sneered at despite her following the rules.

And this is why Twilight is so insidiously misogynistic and yet grudgingly feminist at the same time: Bella wins at Patriarchy by following the rules better than anyone else. It's misogynistic because it props up the Patriarchy and insists that those rules can and should and must be followed. It's feminist (or, depending on how charitable you want to be, a Bait-and-Switch misrepresentation) because she is, ultimately, able to win by virtue of her own steadfast willpower. In the real world, in Susan's world, following the rules doesn't damn you any less than not following the rules. The only factor in winning is whether or not those in control let you win.

   It took them longer than they expected and, before they had done, the great hall had grown dusky and the first star or two had come out overhead. Susan was not the only one who felt a slight shudder as the boys stood above the pile of splintered wood, rubbing the dirt off their hands and staring into the cold, dark opening they had made.
   "Now for a torch," said Peter.
   "Oh, what is the good?" said Susan. "And as Edmund said -- "
   "I'm not saying it now," Edmund interrupted. "I still don't understand, but we can settle that later. I suppose you're coming down, Peter?"
   "We must," said Peter. "Cheer up, Susan. It's no good behaving like kids now that we are back in Narnia. You're a Queen here. And anyway no one could go to sleep with a mystery like this on their minds."


It's hard to escape the impression that Susan doesn't want this to be Cair Paravel, and it's interesting that none of the other children share her view. I think it's meant to look insular and willfully ignorant for Susan to try to avoid the truth, but this is a truth that is going to be incredibly painful.

When the children left Narnia, they left without any means of ever knowing what was happening there. That could almost certainly be stressful and worrisome, but it could also be freeing to a certain extent. If you couldn't get back to your kingdom, it might be easier not knowing what was happening there. Then you could at least imagine that things were going well. You would have still suffered a great personal loss, but you could believe that your kingdom was flourishing in spite of your absence.

If Peter can prove to the others that this is Cair Paravel, then that comforting fantasy is shattered. Something has almost certainly gone horribly wrong for Cair Paravel to be abandoned in this way -- war, famine, plague, or maybe the Emperor just woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day, but whatever has caused the castle and the surrounding country to be abandoned and left to rot cannot possibly be a good thing. Then, too, the current state of the castle implies a tremendous amount of time passing since their exodus, as Edmund has already noted. That means that if this is Cair Paravel, Susan and the others have to grapple with the fact that everyone they ever loved in Narnia is now dead. They have to say goodbye forever, and give up the fantasy that they'll ever see their friends and loved ones again.

Small wonder that Susan doesn't want to test this hypothesis further.

   For now all knew that it was indeed the ancient treasure chamber of Cair Paravel where they had once reigned as Kings and Queens of Narnia. There was a kind of path up the middle (as it might be in a greenhouse), and along each side at intervals stood rich suits of armor, like knights guarding the treasures. In between the suits of armor, and on each side of the path, were shelves covered with precious things -- necklaces and arm rings and finger rings and golden bowls and dishes and long tusks of ivory, brooches and coronets and chains of gold, and heaps of unset stones lying piled anyhow as if they were marbles or potatoes -- diamonds, rubies, carbuncles, emeralds, topazes, and amethysts. Under the shelves stood great chests of oak strengthened with iron bars and heavily padlocked. [...]
   Then, of course, they began walking about and picking things up to look at. It was like meeting very old friends. If you had been there you would have heard them saying things like, "Oh look! Our coronation rings -- do you remember first wearing this? -- Why, this is the little brooch we all thought was lost -- I say, isn't that the armor you wore in the great tournament in the Lone Islands? -- do you remember the dwarf making that for me? -- do you remember drinking out of that horn? -- do you remember, do you remember?"


Now I'm wondering why the Pevensie monarchs needed huge oak chests with massive padlocks on them. Apparently they didn't trust their courtiers. And this whole thing makes them seem like greedy, irresponsible hoarders: their treasure room is hidden in a locked room behind their thrones and they've installed even heavier locks within to make absolutely sure that their thieving subjects don't make off with the gold that is rightfully theirs by accident of birth. Ah, yes, these were clearly True Kings and Queens fit to nurture the land and its people.

Occupy Cair Paravel!

And given that the later kings and queens of Narnia apparently didn't take much (or possibly anything!) away from the treasury, despite the war that surely must have needed at least some financing to fight and lose, one wonders if anyone even knew about this treasury other than the Pevensies.

   "We must take the gifts," said Peter. For long ago at a Christmas in Narnia he and Susan and Lucy had been given certain presents which they valued more than their whole kingdom. Edmund had had no gift because he was not with them at the time. (This was his own fault, and you can read about it in the other book.)

ARGH. DO NOT DO THIS THING.

Anything that reminds your reader that they are reading a book necessarily hurls them out of the immersive experience and makes them hate you. Don't do it!

   They all agreed with Peter and walked up the path to the wall at the far end of the treasure chamber, and there, sure enough, the gifts were still hanging. Lucy's was the smallest for it was only a little bottle. But the bottle was made of diamond instead of glass, and it was still more than half full of the magical cordial which would heal almost every wound and every illness. Lucy said nothing and looked very solemn as she took her gift down from its place and slung the belt over her shoulder and once more felt the bottle at her side where it used to hang in the old days. Susan's gift had been a bow and arrows and a horn. The bow was still there, and the ivory quiver, full of well-feathered arrows, but -- Oh, Susan," said Lucy. "Where's the horn?"
   "Oh bother, bother, bother," said Susan after she had thought for a moment. "I remember now. I took it with me the last day of all, the day we went hunting the White Stag. It must have got lost when we blundered back into that other place -- England, I mean."


A very major issue I've always had, even as a child, with the Super Rare Healing Potion is that it seems like such a horrible gift to inflict on a child. I was the sort of child who was deathly afraid of using things up and not having them anymore, and I still fight hoarding tendencies to this day. (One of my first memories of dating Husband was him gazing in awe at the boxes and cans of non-perishable food I'd carefully stacked in my garage after a trip to the bulk grocery warehouse and him saying that he'd know who to hole up with in case of terrorist attack or zombie apocalypse. I took this as the very great compliment that it was.)

Lucy has received a finite gift, unlike Peter and Susan. Peter's sword will never rust or break; Susan's bowstring does not rot with the passage of time. But Lucy's knife is without any value, and her diamond vial is only as valuable as what it contains. And what it contains is a new lease on life for anyone dying of any wound or illness.

How do you cope with that? How do you deal with the knowledge that you're not constantly touring the kingdom, healing the sick and wounded and tending to their needs? How do you reconcile the fact that you were told to use the cordial wisely and you have the impression that it's meant to be used on Main Characters and at Plot Relevant moments, so you can't "waste" it or you'll be in trouble, yet at the same time there are people dying and you could help them and you're not.

As a child, reading these books, I couldn't deal with that. It made me so anxious and upset and unhappy. I seriously wished Lucy would just use up the dang vial, or that Aslan would bring the flowers over in a pot and the forest-people could set up a whole production line, or something. It seriously bothered me. It still does. I don't know what to do with it, but I'm frustrated that the books never even acknowledge the problem. The Pevensies treat health exactly like they treat wealth: something to hoard for themselves and their subjects be damned.

Another interesting thing here is that Susan calls England "that other place", which supports my theory that they have their English memories when in England and their Narnian memories when in Narnia, but there's something else here too: Susan doesn't call England "home". And it's worth pointing out once again that Susan embraced Narnia as her home at least as much, if not more, than any of her siblings. 

   "Never mind," said Susan, "I've still got the bow." And she took it.
   "Won't the string be perished, Su?" said Peter.
   But whether by some magic in the air of the treasure chamber or not, the bow was still in working order. Archery and swimming were the things Susan was good at. In a moment she had bent the bow and then she gave one little pluck to the string. It twanged: a chirruping twang that vibrated through the whole room. And that one small noise brought back the old days to the children's minds more than anything that had happened yet. All the battles and hunts and feasts came rushing into their heads together.
   Then she unstrung the bow again and slung the quiver at her side.


Narratively, Susan had to lose the horn so that it could be found and used to call them into Narnia, and she had to keep the bow so that she can prove that she's Queen Susan the Renowned Archer and not some random kid. And yet it seems strange that she'd take a horn on a hunt against a single stag and yet leave her bow at home. ('Course, they weren't looking to kill the stag, but what were they going to catch it with? Harsh language? And what were they hunting and eating on the way there and back?)

Couple more things before we move on: Susan is good at archery and swimming. They're not "some" of the things she is good at; they are "the" things she is good at. Not embroidery or dance or clothes-making or your standard shorthand for Frivolous Girly Pursuits. And yet Susan doesn't go into war -- we have that for a fact from one of her contemporaries in "The Horse and His Boy". She hunts for pleasure and she swims for pleasure; neither of these things are used in service to her kingdom. And I feel a certain pang for this girl who enjoys tomboyish things and yet has taken to heart the warning from Father Christmas that she's not to be useful with them.

And so deeply has she taken this advice to heart that though they are in a strange and abandoned place with night upon them and possibly enemies all round, she hastily unstrings her bow before they go back upstairs and emerge into the dangerous night. This despite the fact that bows should (apparently) only be unstrung during periods of long non-use, the only benefit is to lengthen the bow and string lifespan (which at this point have both been demonstrated to be magically preserved), and restringing the bow takes both time and forces the archer to recalibrate the bow for accuracy.

So basically Susan has just taken a perfectly working, magically preserved bow and rendered it completely useless as a weapon even though she is in a potentially extremely dangerous situation for no reason whatsoever despite being one of the most skilled archers in Narnia and thus presumably knowing the implications of her actions. That's how committed she is to never using the bow for anything other than pleasure hunts.

   Next, Peter took down his gift -- the shield with the great red lion on it, and the royal sword. He blew, and rapped them on the floor, to get off the dust. He fitted the shield on his arm and slung the sword by his side. He was afraid at first that it might be rusty and stick to the sheath. But it was not so. With one swift motion he drew it and held it up, shining in the torchlight.
   "It is my sword Rhindon," he said; "with it I killed the Wolf." There was a new tone in his voice, and the others all felt that he was really Peter the High King again. [...]
   They climbed the stair again and made up a good fire and lay down close together for warmth. The ground was very hard and uncomfortable, but they fell asleep in the end.


...and then Peter unscrewed the blade from the hilt and unhooked the shield strap from the metal bit and stuck the strap in his pocket for safe keeping.

Haha, just kidding!

127 comments:

Evan the Lurker said...

And yet it's a mess that was written second in the series -- it's a little early to be jumping the shark but a little late to be struggling to hit one's stride.

I don't think it's too late to have hit one's stride - this reads to me like he's struggling to change from a one-book sprint to a seven-book marathon. In the first book, he could and did follow the conventions of protagonists who're new to all this; here in the second book, he hasn't fully thought through yet how he wants them to handle life after Narnia. (Had any pre-Lewis author really dealt with these issues before? I don't really think so - even E. Nesbit had her characters meeting MagicalThingTwo with almost the same reaction as MagicalThingOne in the previous book.)

By the next book, Lewis has decided these issues: Edmund and Lucy are talking about Narnia so readily that Eustace starts teasing them about it. Yes, ideally, he should have done that in time to put it into PC (interesting acronym, by the way...) But I think this's the best explanation.

EdinburghEye said...

matches (they were carrying matches with them to school? On their person, and not in their left-behind luggage?)

Peter is old enough by now to be a smoker - at least he would have been at my school. (Which was an ordinary Scottish high school turned comprehensive, but my guess is there are smokers at all schools and have been since tobacco was first forbidden.) Smokers may or may not smoke a lot, depending how much pocket-money they have to buy cigarettes, but they always carry matches.

This may not be the reason Peter was carrying matches. (It would not altogether surprise me if it was, though - C.S.Lewis had his faults, but he also had a very realistic idea of what actual schoolboys at real schools are like.) But any British schoolkid would know if you're carrying contraband of any kind, matches, a pocketknife, a forbidden book - obviously you carry it on you, not in your luggage, because your luggage can be searched at any time by any adult in authority. Besides, if Peter was going back to boarding school, his trunks would have been unpacked by the school housekeeper, who would certainly not have allowed a box of matches: smoking in the dorm leaves burn-holes in the sheets.

JenL said...

(how can Susan possibly be blamed for leaving behind a place that causes her so much emotional pain?)? I honestly don't understand the authorial choices here.

I'm thinking that what's unacceptable is the fact that she made her own choice. The others have this progression of one place then the other, memories changing at the whim of some unknown (possibly intelligent) force. And as we saw with Edmund, you don't have to know the rules of the old magic, or the new magic, or Aslan or any other higher power to be bound by whatever rules the nearest higher power chooses to apply to you.

So when the others are in England but do remember Narnia, and are acting on that memory, Susan's refusal to participate means that she's resisting the whim of a higher power. Therefore, she must be punished, because we can't have people (even High Kings and Queens) making their own decisions, now can we?

EdinburghEye said...

Now I'm wondering why the Pevensie monarchs needed huge oak chests with massive padlocks on them.

Because they were kings and queens out of Story, and in Stories, treasure is kept in huge oak chests with massive padlocks. The key to these padlocks was kept hanging up in the butler's pantry, and it was quite safe because everyone in the kingdom knew it was there.

Actually, I wonder if this "treasure room behind the thrones" was the Narnian Bank? Which was never properly explained to the four kings and queens because they didn't seem terribly interested in economics and how Narnia paid for the sewing machines and marmalade from the strange land of kangaroos and technology far overseas.

Silverbow said...

and restringing the bow takes both time and forces the archer to recalibrate the bow for accuracy.

Just as an aside, the recalibration of the bow is only relevant on compound bows, which are complicated modern bows that make use of a pulley system for extra draw strength, accuracy, and energy efficiency. That type of bow wasn't around in C. S. Lewis' day, as it wasn't developed until the 1960s.



Susan's bow is more likely to have been a recurve, which is a simpler, older design that was frequently used for hunting on horseback. This type of bow does not require recalibration after stringing -- you just string it and shoot.



I think it's a given that Susan's bow was unlikely to be a longbow, since that type of bow was primarily used as a war bow, and it would be extremely ungainly to use while hunting due to its large size (approximately 6 feet long, or nearly 2 metres).

(I have a very simple recurve bow with a draw of 26 lbs that I use for shooting targets occasionally, but I've shot arrows from all the other types I've mentioned, including a longbow with a draw of 90 lbs. That one was extremely difficult to hold at full draw for targeting, and my arms were shaking the entire time. I managed to hit the target though, of which I was extremely proud.) :)

Silverbow said...

Oh drat, I forgot to italicize the quote. Whoops. That'll teach me to come out of lurk mode! :)

Btw Ana, I very much enjoy all your deconstructions! Thanks for doing these -- they're most informative and entertaining.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank YOU. Last week I learned about apple trees; now I'm learning about bows. :D

Will Wildman said...

The memory-screwing effects of Narnia are revealed to be at once compassionate (here's a thing that ought to be traumatic, so we'll ease the process by magic...) and terrifying (...by @#$%ing around with your concept of dreams and reality!) I think I've seen how this goes in the end, and it involves someone framing Leonardo DiCaprio for murder.

Also, all posts are Susan posts and we are enriched for this fact. I still kind of enjoy Edmund and Peter's actions, because they're continuing to act like people who know they're in a fantasy story (it's like a bit of pre-made deconstruction; what TVtropes calls the Unbuilt Trope), but Susan's reactions do seem far more plausible and poignant under the circumstances.

ARGH. DO NOT DO THIS THING.

Anything that reminds your reader that they are reading a book necessarily hurls them out of the immersive experience and makes them hate you. Don't do it!


Really? I mean, I may not think actively be thinking about pages when I'm reading a good story, but I never really forget that I'm reading a book, and I think there's quite a difference between acknowledging that a book is a book (which is what Lewis seems to be doing here) and acknowledging that a book is fictional (which I don't think he's doing). I can kind of like it when authors acknowledge that you are currently reading a story, which they are telling you, as long as they maintain the notion that they are relating events which actually happened. There are literary styles (unreliable narration) that rely upon it, don't they?

I'm less enamored of Lewis taking this opportunity to remind us that Edmund totally had all his suffering coming, though.

As for the riches of Narnia - I always got the impression that, considering they still have marmalade after a century of winter, the onset of spring meant that the entire nation was now beset with unimaginable plenty and the value of gold was minimal because no one particularly wanted to trade for anything.

Silverbow said...

No problem!

As another aside, if you're used to restringing a recurve, it only takes seconds. It's safer to use a bowstringer but you don't actually require one for a recurve.

Recurve bows must be stored unstrung, or their arms will get badly warped. What interests me in this passage is that Lewis doesn't say how the bow was stored -- strung or unstrung. We only get told that Susan unstrung the bow after she tested the string by gently plucking it. (I would hope she was a good enough archer not to "dry-fire" the bow, that is, pulling back to full draw and releasing without an arrow -- that's another good way to warp your bow, or even break it.)

I'm guessing, charitably, that Lewis did actually know what he was talking about with recurve bows; that the bow was originally stored unstrung, and that Lewis didn't bother telling us this, and didn't bother mentioning Susan stringing the bow before testing it, as it would probably have been obvious to Lewis' intended audience that Susan was expert enough to know these steps. But the omission is interesting.

RedSonja said...

'Course, they weren't looking to kill the stag, but what were they going to catch it with? Harsh language?

I just want to say that I LOVE the Aliens reference.

Ana Mardoll said...

PEVENSIES! WE! ARE! LEAVING!

Brin Bellway said...

(they were carrying matches with them to school? On their person, and not in their left-behind luggage?)

Well, yeah. I always keep a lighter with me whenever I leave the house. It's supposed to be for sterilising things (it's in my first aid kit), but I've only ever used it for lighting campfires.

(Schools might not be so happy about that, though. I wouldn't know.)

If you held them with the lighted end up they went out, and if you held them the other way they scorched your hand, and the smoke got in your eyes.

...what? Why would anyone think it might be a good idea to hold a torch by the fire end?

(After a little while it's occurred to me perhaps he meant holding it by the same end but on a downward slope. Confusing way to phrase it.)

In the end they had to use Edmund's electric torch; luckily it had been a birthday present less than a week ago and the battery was almost new.

If they had a flashlight, and they presumably weren't planning to spend very long down there and use up much battery, shouldn't that be their Plan A?

had been given certain presents which they valued more than their own kingdom.

This is an exaggeration, right? I'm not so sure anymore.

Edmund had had no gifts because he was not with them at the time (This was his own fault, and you can read about it in the other book.)

His own fault. Really. *sigh*

Will: I think I've seen how this goes in the end, and it involves someone framing Leonardo DiCaprio for murder.

Which movie is that?

Ana Mardoll said...

Really? I mean, I may not think actively be thinking about pages when I'm reading a good story, but I never really forget that I'm reading a book, and I think there's quite a difference between acknowledging that a book is a book (which is what Lewis seems to be doing here) and acknowledging that a book is fictional (which I don't think he's doing).

I personally hate it, because I do sink into the story and forget I'm reading. I'm not sure how to describe it, but I seem to recall King references it in "On Writing" and I think he even has a term for it. But for me, it's like being jettisoned out of the narrative and suddenly I can SEE the book in my hand where before I sa only words and it's such a ruining of the experience.

The only time I've ever seen it used well (imho) was in Douglas Adams' works, which are so self-aware they practically have their eyes swiveled 180 degrees in their sockets, so it fits very nicely. But, yeah, any reference in a book to "oh, by the way, you're reading a book" drives me BONKERS. Even if it's a pretend autobiography, that at least tells me that the person speaking survived till the end so that they could write the thing...

kbeth said...

I think I agree with JenL -- the problem here is that Susan is trying to make her own choices, instead of going ahead with whatever a higher power (or, well, Peter) wants. The whole discussion of Susan and Lucy's roles here actually hits on something really interesting about the roles women are expected to play in modern culture, I think. Lucy is said to be "as good as a boy", and explicitly not as good as a man; as you put it, Ana, she attracts playful princes rather than ardent kings. And as we see here, she's always up for adventuring with the boys, no matter how ill-advised it might actually be. In other words, Lucy's personality is to be the perpetually childlike younger sister -- always cheerful and cute, nonthreatening, and ready to be led wherever her older brother takes her. This, I think, is one of the most accepted ways to win at Patriarchy. I'd actually say it's similar to why all those romantic comedy heroines tend to be clumsy -- it's a flaw that makes them, well, cute and nonthreatening and easy to patronize without having to deal with any messy emotions or the idea that they might have thoughts. In other words, it makes them seem like children, which provides a justification for not letting them do anything important.
After all, you wouldn't let children ride into battle or make important decisions, would you? Which is why it's such an accepted role for women -- it allows everyone to keep up the social fiction that women's thoughts aren't as important, because look, they act in such demonstrably childlike ways!

But crying isn't cute, and being cautious and sensible and not completely in the moment isn't childlike, and while children should and usually do have thoughts and emotions and reactions to things that are different from adults' thoughts and emotions and reactions, having to deal with those makes it much more difficult to, well, think of them as children. After all, when someone asks a good question or points out something you hadn't thought of, you start to wonder if maybe they have insights on other problems as well, and other people might make a note that they pointed out something you didn't know, and so on.

I guess my point is, it seems to me like Susan is being punished here for trying to follow the rules as stated, rather than the actual rules. If Lucy wants to be prettier than Susan to the point where she's using magic in VDT -- well, I don't remember the book very well, but that sounds like an impetuous and rash thing to do, and probably requires someone else to come and bail Lucy out of whatever mess she makes -- in other words, it reinforces that she's childlike. Whereas when Susan cries for the Narnia she's lost -- that's the kind of grief adults feel, and the kind of grief they often try to shield children from ("The dog's gone to a farm where he can chase rabbits all day!") -- that makes her an adult. When she's obedient in a way that aligns with her caution and sensibleness, such as not using the bow in war -- that also seems more like the actions of an adult than a child. And since acting like an adult isn't what she's supposed to do, Lewis ends up describing Susan later with words that are demeaning and insulting. The accuracy is irrelevant, as long as he makes her sound Bad.

Anyway, that was a lot longer than I intended it to be, but I have a lot of thoughts on the ideas of projection of childish qualities onto women and how that interacts with gender roles, so thanks for giving me the opportunity to air them. :)

depizan said...

Perhaps people over a certain age are barred from Narnia because the mindwhammy doesn't work as well on them. This would explain why Susan seems to be less effected by the "everything's fine" spell, and seems to be on the verge of instantly grasping that they are in Cair Paravel. (Seriously, their reaction really makes the mindwhammy obvious.) Or, alternatively, she's the least weak minded among them. ("The Force has a strong influence on the week minded.")

It's also worth pointing out that they continue to not react to having everyone they knew in Narnia be dead. They never seem to really consider them to have been friends (and lovers, in Susan's case?). Even with the spells in place, there should be some hints of "wait, those people are dead. noooo."

hapax said...

Or, just perhaps, the point of the Narnia books is NOT to construct a completely consistent fantasy world with Rules of Magic that can be mapped out, and the mental and emotional effects of visiting there is not to be compared with an extended holiday in France?

I always considered "going to Narnia" as equivalent to the state of Mystical Vision. Except, instead of Union with the One, one achieves Union with the Story -- and, for children (quite reasonably), Story would manifest itself as a fairy tale world, complete with talking animals, magic swords, and chests of jewels.

Time works *differently* there. The ordinary rules are not in effect. Fortifications and defenses and banks and suchlike are irrelevant -- the world operates not by physics and economics, but by convention and narrativium.

Being in Mystical Union is experienced as a very real state -- REALER than Real -- but it's not someplace that you're supposed to *stay* (not in this corporeal life, anyhow). Leaving it can cause a sense of grief, and of disassociation, but not the kind of trauma that everyone assumes *must* have happened. Trying to cling to it beyond its natural end; trying to force your way there when it's not yet time; trying to resist irresistible Grace as it ravishes you (and yes, the metaphors are deliberate) : THOSE are what cause trauma and damage and brokenness. Because that's how human beings are designed to operate -- fully committed and active and rejoicing in this physical world, yet always seeking, our hearts set on our True Home.

And I really really wish people would stop saying that "Susan is damned." There is no evidence of this. Lewis flatly contradicted this. And I really wish that people would stop saying that Lewis "sneered" at Susan. He didn't, at least not in the text. Eustace (who is fully established as a judgmental, not-very-nice person) sneers at her. Polly didn't like her. There is no evidence that these sentiments are shared by the other characters.

Every single other character (except Aslan) makes bad choices, exhibits bad attitudes, and are condemned in the text for it. Only in Susan's case is this suddenly a "problem".

Honestly, I get kind of angry at the way people treat the "Problem of Susan." What's the problem? Susan chose to participate and more fully enjoy the opportunities of this life, rather than keep her heart on Narnia. So Aslan let her stay in this life, with all its joys and sorrows, rather than take her to Narnia against her will.

Why is this a BAD thing?

Ana Mardoll said...

I wrote a whole post on the Problem of Susan and why I consider her treatment to be a bad thing.

John Magnum said...

trying to resist irresistible Grace as it ravishes you (and yes, the metaphors are deliberate) : THOSE are what cause trauma and damage and brokenness.

This made me go ick ick ick ick ick.

Ana Mardoll said...

You're not the only one. If we were supposed to interpret "yes, those metaphors are deliberate" as "I am deliberately using a rape metaphor here", then.... um, ick. (I have previously pointed out that Aslan's contempt for consent is a problem, but in a general way, not as a rape metaphor.)

If there's a deity out there that damages people who try to resist it, then that deity fits my personal version of evil (and is additionally a big honking hypocrite if zie pretends to care about free will). YMMV.

Laocorn said...

I'm guessing the author had reading-aloud specifically in mind when he wrote certain parts.

Thinking of traditional storytelling, and various genres of that (well, rakugo specifically in my mind, at the moment), here's something from a story I read recently:

Celestia turned the soil in her mind over on what she just experienced, on how the pegasi reacted to her tale and all the little trades of conversation that followed. At the same time, she gave Momma her attention, listening to the legend unfold. While the elements of storytelling were the same, Celestia noticed a style distinct to the old mare. Little tilts of her head or mischievous smiles, sentences that ended in a subtle wink and a low whisper, the mare shared stories like she was letting her listeners in on a joke and that they would all laugh together.

Naturally, Celestia thought while trying as hard as she could to keep the eye-roll to herself. Not even their history can be taken seriously.≤strong≥
http://www.fimfiction.net/story/273/15/Paradise/Chapter-14

Overall, I agree it was tacky of Lewis to reference his own first-book-in-the-series so much. I mean, Mark Twain had Huckleberry Finn do something like that as a narrator at the start of "his" book, but Twain/Huck soon at least moved on from that. (That is, until near the end. That, *eyetwitch* however, is a different topic, and one that folks here hashed out months ago anyhow.)

Back to PC: as you've pointed out, Lewis does so at least twice -- almost twice in a row, it seems -- right at the beginning. This was something that'd stuck out in my memory for a while, too. Although this may not have been his intent, to me it came across as though he were saying, "Oh dear, did you pick this one up first? Go buy and read the other, first. Go on. Don't worry! We'll still be here when you're done with that fine product." I mean, seriously! In the narrative? Isn't that the publisher's job, anyway?

Laocorn said...

Interesting failing in format, there, Lao! I don't even know how that happened, but I apologize for it.

Ana Mardoll said...

(I got it. Somehow it turned them into greater/lesser-than-OR-EQUAL-TO tags. Amazing. Never seen that before!)

Rainicorn said...

I've always found Narnia very dreamlike. It makes sense to you while you're there, even though the logics of waking life don't apply, and once you wake up your memory of it is warm but fuzzy, and even if it was the greatest dream ever you don't mourn its loss as such. The whole dynamic of the return to Narnia here reminds me of dreams I've had where, partway through, I remember that I've had this dream before.

Laocorn said...

I think that, if we're to notice at all, the crying is to be seen as understandable but slightly shameful -- a natural body function that shouldn't be indulged in public.

A younger cousin of mine (in middle school at the time) was taken-aback and confused by a scene in _Flags of Our Fathers_, where Corporal Ira Hayes was at a bonds fundraiser and saw the mother of a comrade who had been slain. In the only genuine show of emotion at that fundraiser, Hayes embraced her to cry into her shoulder and try to say how sorry he was. If I'm remembering correctly, all his fellow marines had to say was along the lines of "That damned Indian, getting drunk and embarrassing us all!"

The amount of shock shown by my cousin was a subtle reminder to me of how generation gaps are -- or at times can be -- a good thing.

Dav said...

I have dreams that I mourn their loss, rather sharply. Not "lived there for thirty years as Queen", but more than "oh, this fades away and is gone". I dream deep and vivid, and I don't usually get to revisit those places, in all their strangeness and wonder, and I don't usually feel the things I feel when I dream, or see them realized, and sometimes that's incredibly sad. (Other times, not so much: I'm just as glad not to be revisiting the caving expedition gone horribly horribly wrong, or the unending staircase where hooved things moved at the corner of my vision. But still.) I've wondered if I were an artist, if I could recall some of that, but the answer is sort of moot.

And +1 to the incredible ick of "trauma from resisting irresistible Grace", but knowing hapax, I'm sure that's not a "yay mystical rape" comment.

Lonespark said...

I don't want to highjack anything, but we're talking about bows and archery here...

I'm trying to think of some situation that could occur in a modern-ish, sci-fi-ish universe where a really good archer is the only person who can save the day. I was looking for something that doesn't involve killing, and hopefully not hurting, any sentient beings. I am stumped and I don't want to have to bring magic into it.

Beroli said...

And I really really wish people would stop saying that "Susan is damned." There is no evidence of this. Lewis flatly contradicted this. And I really wish that people would stop saying that Lewis "sneered" at Susan. He didn't, at least not in the text. Eustace (who is fully established as a judgmental, not-very-nice person) sneers at her. Polly didn't like her. There is no evidence that these sentiments are shared by the other characters.
That's the first time I've ever seen anyone suggest that we're supposed to be discounting things Eustace-After-VotDT says because of Eustace's presentation in the first half of VotDT.

And while I'm all for "be careful not to confuse what a character says with what the author says," none of them has anything at all positive to say about Susan. Only two of them actively slag her off; the closest any of the others comes to saying "No, you're being unfair to her" is to say they'd rather not talk about her at all.

So Aslan let her stay in this life, with all its joys and sorrows, rather than take her to Narnia against her will.

Why is this a BAD thing?
Because Lewis considers it a bad thing.

The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there's plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end... in her own way.
Ana's quoted it before; the bolding this time is mine, however. There is no ambiguity that it's meant to be a bad thing. Of all the cases it's possible to argue where Susan is concerned, "C. S. Lewis doesn't consider her wrong and in need of correction" strikes me as the most insupportable*.

*And considering it's been suggested here that she's a Time Lord, that's saying something.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ana's quoted it before; the bolding this time is mine, however. There is no ambiguity that it's meant to be a bad thing. Of all the cases it's possible to argue where Susan is concerned, "C. S. Lewis doesn't consider her wrong and in need of correction" strikes me as the most insupportable*.

Which doesn't even get into the fact that -- if I understand Lewis' theology correctly -- Susan has to go SOMEWHERE when she dies, and the alternatives to "Aslan's Country" aren't either not very nice places (Hell) and/or do not contain her family (if we go with the unsupportable-in-my-reading-of-the-text-but-for-hypothesis-sake reading that earth has a separate Heaven).

So Susan is "damned" both in the sense that she is "detested" by her author, and in the sense that she's not going to the good afterlife if she doesn't change or "mend" her ways. It's up to the reader to decide if that situation is fair; I think I've been terribly clear where I fall on that particular question, but I don't expect everyone to come to the same conclusion -- it's my subjective opinion.

depizan said...

But for me, it's like being jettisoned out of the narrative and suddenly I can SEE the book in my hand where before I saw only words and it's such a ruining of the experience for me.

I lose myself in books to the point that I see the story (and at times live the story - another reason for my squeamishness about ick and dark stories, I suspect) - it is a movie in my head. What book? What words? So I share your dislike of being dumped out of the story. Though, on rare occasions, I've read things that used that kind of device without dumping me out. Very rare occasions.

depizan said...

trying to resist irresistible Grace as it ravishes you

I cannot put my DO NOT WANT into words strongly enough.

hapax said...

No, I'm not saying that Lewis didn't consider her WRONG. I'm saying that he didn't consider her DAMNED. Which are very different things.

Because Lewis considered *everybody* -- including himself -- to be "wrong and in need of correction."

The idea behind "irresistible Grace" is a difficult one, and I'm not surprised people find it repellent. But basically, it comes down to the idea that human beings are broken. We do have free will, and it deserves respect as a divine gift. Through it we are able to choose between better and worse. But -- and whether you agree with it or not, this is how Lewis thought -- we are never freely able to choose BEST. We will always set our hearts on lesser goods. We will always fail to be our best selves.

Lucy -- even on her third trip to Narnia -- sets her heart on a beauty spell. Peter and Edmund both try to pull rank on Caspian. Caspian tries to bully his way into Aslan's country. Eustace, even after his "baptism", remains sulky and argumentative and arrogant with Jill. And so forth and so on.

And -- this is the sticking point for many people (and yes, I have problems with it, but Lewis did not) -- the point is, in Christian theology, God does know best. God designed us, God built, us, God knows us better than we know ourselves.

TW: Mental illness, bulimia, cancer, self-harm From God's point of view, we are like children drinking poison because it is pretty and smells good. From God's point of view, the we are the patient with the tumor refusing treatment because he's scared of the scalpel. From God's point of view we are like my relative with bulimia, who kept insisting (and truly believed that) she was hideously fat and throwing up her meals, while the rest of us could see her bones beneath loose skin, her hair and nails falling out, until she had to be hospitalized and force-fed. Except that the difference between us humans and God is infinitely more vast than the difference between children and parents, between the patient and the professional, between the mentally healthy and the mentally damaged. There is no conceivable way, shape, or level in which we approach God as equals.

And -- if you accept this premise -- there comes a certain point where talking about consent is not only nonsense, it's cruel nonsense. Yes, the first choice is always to allow free exploration, to teach, to comfort, to persuade, to woo, even to bribe and threaten. Sometimes one has to place the beloved in uncomfortable situations, make them face painful truths, in order to allow them to have truly informed consent. But eventually, it can come down to the choice of "allow the beloved to choose suffering and death?" or "override consent and heal against the beloved's will?"

Lewis believe in universal salvation -- that given all of eternity, God would eventually hit upon the correct means to educate and entice us all in to the only choice that would make us happy. Yes, in his letters Lewis seems to have given up on Susan, written her off as silly and vain. But in the actual text of the story, Lewis's God is much more patient and respectful of her freedom of choice.

chris the cynic said...

How are people using the word "damned"?

I ask because when I see the word damned used with respect to Susan it seems to mean, "Not yet in Heaven and uncertain to go there when she eventually dies," whereas when I see damned used with respect to anyone other than Susan else it seems to mean, "Irrevocably doomed to spend all of eternity in Hell."

Is there some third meaning that I'm missing?

Beroli said...

Yes, in his letters Lewis seems to have given up on Susan, written her off as silly and vain. But in the actual text of the story, Lewis's God is much more patient and respectful of her freedom of choice.

"God is right when he forces humans to take their medicine" and "God is right when he respects Susan's freedom of choice" strike me as fundamentally irreconcilable.

For that matter, I don't see Aslan showing concern for Susan's freedom of choice throughout all the books. In, out, in, out, barred from ever coming back, all without the slightest concern for what Susan wants. And so, when, at the end of the Last Battle, two of the Friends of Narnia say she's no longer one of them and none of the others express any measure of disagreement--well, "Susan has chosen to turn her back on Aslan and for once Aslan decided to respect that" may well be what Lewis was going for, I don't know. He most likely did see Susan's continued life as fundamentally about respecting her free will in a way that yanking her in and out of Narnia wasn't. But I don't see it that way, and I don't understand how it made sense to him.

Aspermoth said...

Before thinking about the Susan issue from a feminist angle, I always just thought of it in terms of religion. If you replace "Narnia" with "Christianity", you get a person who experienced religion with her siblings as children, but when she grew up, decided to reject spirituality in favour for material things and denounce the religion she once worshipped as silly stories for children. Thus she cannot get into Heaven until she repents and returns to God. And I'm not saying that this understanding isn't problematic – it very probably is – but I think it's less problematic in some ways than assuming she's been damned for liking lipstick. It isn't the lipstick that's the problem: it's the loss of spirituality.

Having said that, Narnia and Christianity aren't interchangeable and it makes far more sense for Susan to reject Narnia than it would be for her to reject Christianity. For all we know, she could be very religious, but she keeps quiet about it, hence she would still be going to Heaven because she still believes in Jesus (a.k.a. Aslan).

And there's another aspect, too. Susan goes to America and, I believe, joins popular society there. She has a social position to upkeep. She needs to ensure that she fits in with the others in her social group. How is she going to do that if she keeps telling stories about a magical land of talking animals that she went to as a child? Surely it's better to explain them as games you played with your siblings than as something real, if you mention them at all.

So yeah. This comment is too long. Sorry.

Beroli said...

How are people using the word "damned"?

I ask because when I see the word damned used with respect to Susan it seems to mean, "Not yet in Heaven and uncertain to go there when she eventually dies," whereas when I see damned used with respect to anyone other than Susan else it seems to mean, "Irrevocably doomed to spend all of eternity in Hell."

Is there some third meaning that I'm missing?

Word search on "damned" here: Two references in the post, "And, once again, we see that Susan is damned and sneered at despite her following the rules.[...]subjects be damned." An unrelated reference in a comment by Laocorn. Then hapax's comments.
What Ana meant appears to be:

So Susan is "damned" both in the sense that she is "detested" by her author, and in the sense that she's not going to the good afterlife if she doesn't change or "mend" her ways.

Which is true. "Damned" in the literal sense is not true, though "On a course which will lead to damnation barring yet-unheralded but possible course changes" would be. "Sneered at [by Lewis]" certainly is.

Ana Mardoll said...

And -- if you accept this premise -- there comes a certain point where talking about consent is not only nonsense, it's cruel nonsense.

But *I* do not accept that premise. And since I write deconstructions from *my* point of view, and not from the point of view of the author, I do not have to accept Lewis' framing anymore than I have to accept Meyer's worldview or the conglomerated worldview of the hundreds of people responsible for Disney movies. If I did, we'd have nothing to talk about.

But in the actual text of the story, Lewis's God is much more patient and respectful of her freedom of choice.

This is a subjective opinion, not an objective fact. We are discussing that subjective opinion, with many different points of view (i.e., not just Lewis') weighing in. Furthermore, in all the deconstructions I run, out-of-text statements from the author have and will continue to be referenced. (I quote S. Meyer interviews in Twilight posts, for example.) I'm here to have a conversation with different viewpoints, not to try to explain to everyone what the author meant when zie wrote the text under deconstruction and why the text makes sense from hir point of view. That is an entirely different goal, and not one I'm interested in.

The idea behind "irresistible Grace" is a difficult one, and I'm not surprised people find it repellent.

That may be, but in the future please be careful when using rape metaphors here without trigger warnings. I do not find the concept of "irresistible Grace" repellent; I find it triggering (I touched on why in last week's post). I also find the framing highly problematic -- trying to resist irresistible Grace as it ravishes you [...] are what cause trauma and damage and brokenness -- as the phrasing would seem to place the responsibility for the "damage" on the resisting party, and not the party causing the actual damage. That framing strikes me as both hostile to consent and victim-blaming; whether Lewis held it or not does not mean it shouldn't contain a content note in the future, please.

Laiima said...

I'm normally rather interested in your take on your God, hapax, but everything you've said here is (DO.NOT.WANT)^3.

If I *want* to die, even if that's going to involve suffering, *healing me against my will* is an abomination. It's vile. I don't care if a god is doing it - it's WRONG. And someone who does that to me, in the hopes of 'educating and enticing me' to spend *more time with them* is ... SQUICK. I'd take Hell in a heartbeat to get away from that. (Despite not being Christian, and therefore, not believing in Hell.)

All that stuff about people being irreparably broken, I also find horrible and repellant. A god that convinces you that's true about not just you but everyone else, while they are So Much Better Than You, and that's somehow a good thing? Ewww. I've experienced that, to a lesser extent, with my family of origin. And developed chronic PTSD, and lifelong depression. I wouldn't say that's a good outcome.

hapax said...

I wrote a whole post on the Problem of Susan and why I consider her treatment to be a bad thing.

Yes, Ana, I read that post and well... I wasn't persuaded.

And that's because it seemed to privilege the story you wanted to read over the story Lewis wanted to tell.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that there aren't real problems of sexism, racism, classism, what Kit Whitfield pinpointed as (I might get the words wrong here) the "privileging the comfortable and the familiar" -- these are all in the text of the Narnia story, and they're in Lewis's other writings as well. Part of it was being a product of as sexist, racist, classist, etc. society. More of it was projecting his preferences as universal values, and protecting his vulnerabilities by imagining Divine sanction.

These are all very bad things, and important to point out.

But, well... That's not what I got when I read your Problem of Susan post, and not what I get when I read other Problem of Susan analyses. What I read in those situations is: "This is how I imagine that I would react in this situation. This is how I would feel under these circumstances. These are the problems that I would like to be addressed."

But the text tells us that Susan DOESN'T react that way, feel that way, see those problems. And therefore I -- who like Susan, identifies with Susan, wishes Susan the best -- feel sure that it must really be in the story, somewhere, and Lewis is merely hiding it from us. But since Lewis didn't tell that story, there is a PROBLEM!

And that's not fair to the story, and it's not fair to Lewis, and it's ultimately not fair to me.

Because Susan isn't me. She isn't a real person. She is a fictional character, and what she does and thinks and feels are what Lewis tells us. If I respect the story, then I have to accept that Susan isn't traumatized by her experiences in Narnia. I have to accept that. The other characters don't find their experiences in Narnia to be isolating or otherwise disabling.*

Now it's perfectly reasonable to find that implausible. The respectful way to treat the story, and the writer, is to say: "I find this character to be badly written, for these reasons."

And it's perfectly reasonable to find the way the text addresses (or fails to address) questions of sex, race, class, etc. to be distasteful or not in line with my own values. Then the respectful way to treat the story, and myself, is to say "I don't like this story because of XYZ." Or, alternatively, "Despite XYZ, I do like this story for reasons ABC."

But the reaction that Lewis somehow harmed Susan, did her an injury, was unfair to her -- well, that to me reads an awful lot like Arnold Cunningham inserting Magical AIDS Frogs into the Book of Mormon. (Is that to obscure a reference? Do I need to elucidate? This response is already getting way too long.) It's well-meaning, and made him and the people he was talking to feel better -- but still, he was "making things up again."

*And honestly, I'm a little insulted by the assumption that they MUST. Hey, I personally have experienced things that I can never adequately explain to someone else, unless they've "been there themselves." Many people I love and respect -- including my spouse and one of my children -- think those experiences were fantasies or daydreams or the products of a diseased mind, so I don't discuss them with them. Nonetheless, those experiences were important to me; so important that I base my entire conduct of life upon them. And I frequently get together with a few folks who have had the same kind of experience, so we can "jaw about them." I guess I must be bitter, socially maladjusted, and isolated in my little cult, then!

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Cancer

From God's point of view, the we are the patient with the tumor refusing treatment because he's scared of the scalpel.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out that my father just spent the last week deciding whether or not to refuse treatment for his cancer because the treatment in question is incredibly scary and does permanent damage to the body. My family -- and his doctor -- felt that the treatment was better than refusing the treatment, but we left it to his decision because we consider his consent to be the most important thing.

hapax said...

bleah.

Formatting fail.

If you're still speaking to me, Ana, might I impose on you to fix?

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes, Ana, I read that post and well... I wasn't persuaded.

And that's because it seemed to privilege the story you wanted to read over the story Lewis wanted to tell.


I do not expect you to be persuaded; I linked to the post because you said "What's the problem? [...] Why is this a bad thing?". The post in question explains part of the reasons why I see a problem. If you disagree with my reasons, that's fine, but I understood your post to say that you weren't aware of my reasons.

I talk about Susan from my perspective for the same reason that I talk about Bella from my perspective and I talk about Ariel from my perspective: it's the perspective that I know intimately. I do think the text supports Susan being traumatized, and I highlight areas in the text that lead me to believe that she is, but I don't expect everyone to agree with me. This is a conversation of many different viewpoints -- and several people have noted that they have and continue to interpret Susan differently. That's fine: this isn't about arriving at The Answer; it's about having a conversation.

Ana Mardoll said...

(I think I fixed it -- let me know if I left off at the wrong place.)

hapax said...

Yes. Thank you, Ana.

I think I need to step away from this conversation for a while. While C. S. Lewis's understanding of God and my understanding of God differ in very important ways, I think they are being conflated here (both by me and by some of the people responding) in a way that is making it difficult to stay calm.

Before I do, keeping fully in mind that This Is Not MY Blog, I might respectfully submit that words have meaning.

I made that mistake, and I apologize. I was using the word "ravish" as a deliberate reference to the John Donne poem, in which the "ravishment" was invited. In retrospect, the allusion was very much NOT obvious, and the triggering association unavoidable.

I am sorry. That was a very bad word choice on my part. I did not and do not want to hurt anyone. I will try to be more clear in the future.

Likewise, however, the word "damn" -- especially in the context of Lewis's writing -- has a very specific and very strong meaning. It is not a metaphor for "dislike". It is not a metaphor for "disapprove of." It is not a metaphor for "judge harshly." It is a word with at least as many horrifying implications and triggering associations as my poor choice.

I would ask that if people are going to use it to mean something other than "condemn as without possibility of redemption to everlasting suffering", they think about it very carefully; and if they still feel the necessity to use it, please make their meaning absolutely clear.

Dav said...

TW: Rape, rape culture

The idea behind "irresistible Grace" is a difficult one, and I'm not surprised people find it repellent. But basically, it comes down to the idea that human beings are broken. We do have free will, and it deserves respect as a divine gift. Through it we are able to choose between better and worse. But -- and whether you agree with it or not, this is how Lewis thought -- we are never freely able to choose BEST. We will always set our hearts on lesser goods. We will always fail to be our best selves.

Ah, so it is sort of yay mystical rape. Awesome. Wait, no, the opposite of that.

Equating "broken human beings who can only be made whole by God making them do it" with "women who get raped" is the most terrible idea ever. There's already enough bullshit about raping people because they deserve it, both as punishment and as healing. There's already enough equation of women with "lesser beings who don't know what's good for them". There's already enough of the idea that the "best selves" of less privileged are as objects for the satisfaction of rapists.

I'm not sure if you don't see the problematic parallels, or if you think they're easily disregarded, or if you think they're problematic and you're just explaining what Lewis thought, but "I'm not surprised people find it repellant" sounds really dismissive to me. It comes across as "well, if you don't understand how awesome God is, yeah, you might object to be fucked by him, but you'll come around and soon you'll like it." Which. Um. Yikes on about 36 different levels.

End TW.

But the text tells us that Susan DOESN'T react that way, feel that way, see those problems. And therefore I -- who like Susan, identifies with Susan, wishes Susan the best -- feel sure that it must really be in the story, somewhere, and Lewis is merely hiding it from us. But since Lewis didn't tell that story, there is a PROBLEM!

I think there's different ways to approach the text. I don't think it's entirely unfair to see this text, in particular, as a sort of unreliable narrator. That is, we're told that Edmund is a betraying traitor who betrays, but I think the text can also support a reading that's much more sympathetic both to his actions and to the conclusions we draw about him from those actions (and certainly from the appropriate "punishment" for his betrayal). We're told that there's been a hundred years of winter, and everyone has suffered tremendously under the Witch, end of story, but it's fair to observe that there's also butter and potatoes and marmalade and tea and WTF?

And I think it's fair to bring in our own experiences and extrapolate from there, even if the text resolutely doesn't care about a particular aspect: what must the kids be feeling, as they leave behind their home, which is being bombed relentlessly? Is Bella really as intellectually engaged as she claims to be?

In short, I think there's a difference between telling and showing, and when what the text tells a reader does not gibe with what it shows, there's an issue. We don't, actually, see Susan get silly and conceited. It happens, by and large, off-stage, and we're told about it by a text that is already . . . prone to interpreting events in a light that is not particularly kind to those that doesn't buy into its perspective 100%. I don't think it's unfair to wonder about the accuracy of the interpretation of the character that we don't even see but the text strongly disapproves of. Especially if the text supports another reading.

Ana Mardoll said...

hapan, I will add this.

In your last post, you have stated (I think) that what I write is "not fair to Lewis, and it's ultimately not fair to [you]". Did I read that correctly? And you have also stated that you are "insulted" by something you feel I have assumed in my deconstruction of the text.

In the kindest possible way, I need to emphasize that my writings are not about you or any other individual here. I am not writing to be unfair to you or to insult you or to make you angry; I write what I write because these things are my opinions and I like to share them in this "room of my own" that I've carved out on the internet. (To borrow Shakesville's framing.)

If someone doesn't like what I write, they are welcome to either not read me (and save the spoons) or speak up in the comments and share their point of view, and if I have the time, I will engage with them on whatever they say because I receive enjoyment from these conversations. (Really! I put in about 40 hours a week on this blog and I rake in about $10 a month in ad money! I'm not doing it for the gold and glory.) For a personal example: Husband refrains from reading what I write about GRRM because our opinions vary so widely about the series.

However. Accusations that I am being "unfair" to authors and/or commenters based on what I write in the OP are accusations that I am posting in bad faith and that is something that zaps my spoons and makes me want to close down the blog and call it a day because it's essentially stifling to me as a blogger. I simply cannot write my opinion of Susan if I'm worrying that what I write will be taken as an unfair swipe at someone who feels differently, nor can I write my opinion on Bella if someone says I'm insulting them with my assumption that Bella's disability would likely affect her more because mine certainly does! (Which is an actual case where people disagreed with me without saying that my opinion insulted them. We just had different experiences and different viewpoints.)

I value your opinion here, and I hope that you will stay here because you enjoy the deconstructions. I know that your unique and valuable voice adds a great deal to the atmosphere here. But accusations that I am unfair or insulting are not welcome here because they are accusations that I post in bad faith in order to hurt people -- and I can't defend against that and I don't want to be repeatedly asked to do so.

If you (or anyone else!) genuinely believes that I am being unfair to them, I encourage them to email me and I hope we can have a conversation and come to a better understanding. But I do ask, for the sake of myself and for the sake of the larger conversation, that personal issues with me be taken off-board so that people can continue to discuss the subject at hand without feeling the need to leap in to defend me (which will only alienate the insulted commenter further, in my experience).

TL;DR: This.

Dav said...

Last post was written before reading hapax's last past.

The Donne poem makes it . . . more complicated, but I'm not sure it solves the crux of the dilemma. (But then, I also am not familiar enough to know if "ravishment" for Donne meant "rape" and thus we're discussing "non-consensual edge play" or "enthusiastic vanilla bonking". I think even non-con edge play (how I read that poem with my limited knowledge) has some serious issue.

John Magnum said...

And -- this is the sticking point for many people (and yes, I have problems with it, but Lewis did not) -- the point is, in Christian theology, God does know best. God designed us, God built, us, God knows us better than we know ourselves.

So this is true, and yet also it is simultaneously true that free will is super valuable for some reason (axiomatically, really).

It just seems like a bunch of pointlessly convoluted circles. Free will is super crucial, and what good would free will be if we couldn't choose to poison ourselves? Thus, God is morally obligated to leave metaphorical bottles of poison lying around for His children to drink from, that's responsible parenting! But of course your free will is also nearly worthless because you will inevitably make bad stupid decisions with it that MUST be overridden by God. So free will is necessary and valuable precisely to the extent that you choose to surrender your will back to God and let Him choose everything for you. The whole process of God giving you free will and waiting for you to go "Okay, I don't need free will after all" and give it back is apparently Very Important for some reason. Indeed, this process is SO IMPORTANT that it apparently justifies all suffering in existence.

Majromax said...

But the text tells us that Susan DOESN'T react that way, feel that way, see those problems. And therefore I -- who like Susan, identifies with Susan, wishes Susan the best -- feel sure that it must really be in the story, somewhere, and Lewis is merely hiding it from us. But since Lewis didn't tell that story, there is a PROBLEM!

This quote is from Hapax, but my reply is more general. I think that the Problem of Susan blends very nicely with the Problem of Narnia: Lewis wasn't sure if he was telling a children's story about talking animals or making a Deep Theological Argument.

This deconstruction takes the former view, both because (I think?) the children's story is the more common experience and because that's how children themselves will first experience the story. In that interpretation, Susan is denied the companionship of her family and entry to the Perfect World because at the moment she was "silly and conceited." Whether that denial is permanent or merely for the rest of her life is an open question, but it's still a pretty cruel consequence.

From the theological standpoint, Lewis could be making a subtle argument about material distractions separating humanity from the divine. Susan's absence isn't a deliberate punishment so much as the natural state of humanity in this view.

But the children's story interpretation just doesn't support that. Lewis isn't a subtle author here; we don't have to assume that the children need to take Narnia on faith the same way modern Christians have faith. In light of her experiences, the judgement of Susan must reflect some kind of serious Face-Heel Turn... that occurred entirely off-screen. It's problematic, and I can only imagine how children who identified with the near-adolescent Susan felt.

To no surprise, my view is fairly negative. Either Lewis is telling a children's story that kicked a likely identified-with character for no good reason, or Lewis is trying to make a deep theological statement that is not age-appropriate for his audience. Either way, it's a Problem.

Lliira said...

So why not? Why make Susan deeply and emotionally affected by her memories of her lost life and then immediately yank the focus away?

This might be sort of muddled, so I hope you'll bear with me.

C.S. Lewis was a good writer. I disagree with many of his moral ideas, and I couldn't get past the first few pages of Prince Caspian, but the man could write. And he was a natural storyteller. Sometimes that good writer/natural storyteller is in ascendance, and Lewis lets his characters and story be themselves, without trying to preach or pull their strings in order to teach some lesson. That's when his stories are most effective both as stories and as specifically Christian tales.

Other times, the preaching and string-pulling are in ascendance. And in my opinion, that's where he falters -- when he imposes the preacher on the storyteller.

I think that Susan breaking down is an example of the storyteller in ascendance. Susan's tears are in-character for Susan, it would not make sense for her not to cry, so it has to happen. The story flows from the characters. For good, character-driven writers, such as C.S. Lewis at his best, characters aren't marionettes, doing whatever the author wants in order to make a point or further the plot. He had to let Susan be Susan. She gave him no choice.

As a writer, I've had these moments myself, when a character says, "this is what I'm going to do, and that is all there is to it." And I have to decide whether to go back and change the story so they're not in that situation, or let the story play out naturally with their unexpected reaction, which might change what I had previously planned. Lewis appears to have instinctively let Susan have her natural reaction, because that's the kind of writer he was, but not let the story change his pre-plotted course at all because of it, because that's the kind of preacher he was. It makes for a very strange scene and even de-rails the entire story to some extent.

Anton_Mates said...

Ana,

Why did Peter and Lucy and Edmund grow up to start caring about something that previously they'd not cared about -- either because magic robbed them of the capability to do so, or because they didn't believe in fretting over a world they could never visit or directly influence again? Did Eustace or Polly or Kirke or Jill fan the flames of... of what? Devotion? Extremism? Fanaticism?

Well, it's not really a sudden shift to The Last Battle; they get better and better at remembering Narnia over the course of the series. They definitely remember more in Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair than in the first two books. And once the Professor's been retconned into Narnia in the Magician's Nephew, it becomes obvious that he still recalls Narnia even in his own age. Oh, and, The Silver Chair has the whole scene where the heroes have to fight against the magic spell which forces them to forget about Narnia and Aslan.

To echo hapax: for Lewis, part of being a good Christian is learning to husband the occasional moments of grace God grants you, so that you can draw enough strength from them to keep your faith through the bleaker times. God often smacks complacent sinners in the face with big obvious religious experiences, just to say, "Hey, remember me? I do exist. Come find me!" Then, once they've repented/converted, he challenges them by temporarily dampening the emotional payoff of religious devotion, hoping that they'll respond by strengthening their faith and keeping their minds on heavenly matters anyway. Once they learn to do so, they're rewarded by a stronger sense of divine grace in their daily lives. It's a sort of spiritual game of tag.

So the Narnia trips are like spiritual training wheels. Aslan sends the kids there because they could never have imagined Narnia, or how a good Narnian should live, on their own. As they mature and improve at recalling Narnia and upholding its ideals, they no longer require refresher trips, and instead Aslan challenges them to stay good Narnians while living normal lives on Earth.

You're perfectly correct, of course, that most of this character development occurs off-page and between books, which is not a good thing for the reader.


the only benefit is to lengthen the bow and string lifespan (which at this point have both been demonstrated to be magically preserved),

The specific possibility Lewis advances is that the treasure chamber magically preserves its contents; it may still be that the bow needs normal care and maintenance once it's been taken into the outside world again.


Which doesn't even get into the fact that -- if I understand Lewis' theology correctly -- Susan has to go SOMEWHERE when she dies, and the alternatives to "Aslan's Country" are either not very nice places (Hell) and/or do not contain her family (if we go with the unsupportable-in-my-reading-of-the-text-but-for-hypothesis-sake reading that earth has a separate Heaven).

I think the most probable alternative to "Aslan's Country" is annihilation. We don't see anyone suffering in an afterlife, but we do see the Aslan-hating creatures disappearing forever into his "black and terrible shadow," and the Talking Beasts have their consciousness and sentience erased just before they disappear. This seems more like permanent death than anything else (and would be consistent with, for instance, The Great Divorce).

And yes, earth definitely doesn't have a separate Heaven; its Heaven is connected to Narnia's, and every world's Heaven is part of Aslan's Country.

chris the cynic said...

This is something that came to me in the shower when I couldn't check the actual text to let it guide me in anyway, in other words it has only the loosest connection to the book:

Susan: Is this... home?
Peter: No, it couldn't be, because if it were home it wouldn't have *pause* *puts head in hand* How long have we been gone.
Lucy, on surveying the site: I count seven seperate additions built in extremely divergent styles. It wouldn't surprise me if they were built hundreds of years apart.
Susan: That means that everyone we ever knew... everyone we ever loved...
Edmund: We don't know that. If life could survive a hundred years of winter then maybe...
*Edmund trails off when he sees it isn't helping Susan a long sad silence follows*
Lucy: We turned back into children, maybe our friends had their youth restored as well.
*This has no effect*
Peter: Susan-
Susan: I told you! I told you all not to go. We should never have gone passed that lamp post. Why the hell were we even on the hunt in the first place?
All of the children, as one: We had to hunt the Stag. In all our days we never hunted a nobler subject.
Peter: Ok...
Susan: That was disturbing.
Edmund: Something must have manipulated us into leaving.
Susan: I hate that wardrobe.
Peter: But we didn't come through the wardrobe, that's why I thought this wasn't Narnia.
Edmund: And that's not all.
Lucy: We landed amoung the trees.
Edmund: No tree spirits.
Lucy: We went down to the ocean.
Peter: No ocean spirits.
Lucy: We searched amoung the shallows.
Susan: And we found no Animals.
Lucy: We've been all alone, but someone should have greeted us by now. That's why I stopped hoping it might be Narnia.
*a time for quiet contemplation*
Susan: I'd like to think that there's a not-bad reason for everyone to have gone, but when you consider the way we were, as Edmund says, manipulated into leaving that seems unlikely. I don't think we were shoved out of the picture so that peace and light and happiness could reign supreme and that somehow depopulated the area. *Susan Sighs* But I can't take getting pingponged around any more. If I'm staying then I'm staying. No more lamp posts. If I'm not staying then I plan to leave right now.
Peter: How?
Susan: I still remember where that accursed lamp post is.
Edmund: What makes you think the wardrobe will be open?
Susan: The way in has frequently been blocked, but has anyone ever had trouble getting out?
Peter: How would we explain being back at the wardrobe when we're supposed to be at the train station?
Susan: I don't know. I don't care. If I'm going to have to leave again I want to do it before I get too attached this time.
*pause*
Susan: I'm not saying you have to come with me. I'll go alone if that would be better for you.
Lucy: Don't you at least want to know what's going on before you make up your mind?
Susan: *Thinks a moment* I suppose, but I'm serious. If I decide to stay, I'm staying. I'm not going passed the lamp post no matter what you might say about being shamed if we turn back.
Lucy: Sorry.
Peter: I'm sorry too.
Edmund: Sorry.
*Pause*
Peter: What now?
Susan: Now, we sleep. I can't deal with any more memories tonight, and we're going to want to raid the ruins before we go anywhere. So we'll do that first thing tomorrow.

-

Elsewhere in the narrative:

Edmund had had no gift because he was not with them at the time. (This was his own fault, and you can read about it in the other book.)

Anton_Mates said...

hapax,

What's the problem? Susan chose to participate and more fully enjoy the opportunities of this life, rather than keep her heart on Narnia. So Aslan let her stay in this life, with all its joys and sorrows, rather than take her to Narnia against her will.

Why is this a BAD thing?

Well,

1) Aslan never actually presents Susan with this choice. As far as she knows, she's barred from Narnia for good because of her age. She has no idea that there's actually a heavenly Narnia which is still open to her, let alone that all her siblings are about to be taken away from her and relocated there for eternity, let alone what she has to do to gain admission. (Even Peter has no idea, until after he's dead, and Peter remembers Narnia and Aslan a lot better than Susan does.) A choice this uninformed is no choice at all.

2) The choice isn't Earth versus Narnia. It's Earth versus infinitely improved versions of Earth and Narnia and every other world in the multiverse. Had Aslan taken Susan to his country, she could have spent her days on an Earth with all of the joys but none of the sorrows. She would be immortal, super-powered and supernaturally attractive. There might even be lipstick and invitations there. Even current ditzy Susan might consider that a good deal...if Aslan had bothered to tell her about it.

3) From all indications, not being a friend of Aslan is a very bad thing in the long run. You can't be a neutral party--every creature comes to him as a friend or enemy in the end, and the enemies go somewhere...not good. Susan is currently in the "not friend" category.

4) Aslan does pretty much everything against people's wills in The Last Battle. The friends of Narnia didn't ask to die in a railway accident, the villains didn't ask him to let Tash devour them, the Narnians didn't ask to be slaughtered in a giant war and then forcibly herded to Aslan for judgment before their world is destroyed. It seems pretty unlikely that he cared overmuch about respecting Susan's choices at that point.


Lewis believe in universal salvation -- that given all of eternity, God would eventually hit upon the correct means to educate and entice us all in to the only choice that would make us happy.

Er, he did? At what point in his life? He's certainly not a universalist in Screwtape, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, or the Space trilogy. People are occasionally saved after death, but there are still souls that are lost forever.

Laocorn said...

I'm trying to think of some situation that could occur in a modern-ish, sci-fi-ish universe where a really good archer is the only person who can save the day. I was looking for something that doesn't involve killing, and hopefully not hurting, any sentient beings. I am stumped and I don't want to have to bring magic into it.

The best I can think of off-hand would be some incarnations of Hawkeye in Marvel Comics and, to give an example below, DC's The Green Arrow:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNs9PCPzCZo

That's probably pretty different from what you have in mind for the most part, though, and I'm guessing that superscience counts as magic, too (without even evoking Arthur C. Clarke).

Laocorn said...

*Narrator realizes he's just been hit by a thrown apple*

Yeah, I've wanted to do that with some narrators, too, at times; C.S. Lewis being far from an exception!

Rikalous said...

You know, all the gold and gems just lying around make me wonder if they're as rare and therefor valuable in Narnia as on Earth. Narnia is an entirely separate world created by Aslan's say-so rather than anything involving starstuff, so there's no reason the concentrations of gold and rubies and so forth have to match Earth's. So there's all these gold chess pieces and such not to show off all their wealth, but because its shiny and the dwarves keep finding it, and it's not like you can make anything useful out of it until you invent electricity. As for why there are all the locks, maybe it's a symbolic show of respect and value with, like EdinburghEye said, the key hanging up in the butler's pantry.

'm trying to think of some situation that could occur in a modern-ish, sci-fi-ish universe where a really good archer is the only person who can save the day. I was looking for something that doesn't involve killing, and hopefully not hurting, any sentient beings. I am stumped and I don't want to have to bring magic into it.
If you need to get a paper with a message on it or some similarly small object into a whole to a small area on the other side of a crevasse, an arrow might be a useful means of transport.

depizan said...

If you need to get a paper with a message on it or some similarly small object into a whole to a small area on the other side of a crevasse, an arrow might be a useful means of transport.

Oh, yes! My D&D character actually did that with a vial of healing potion a few sessions back. It marked the first time she'd actually managed to hit something with any kind of weapon. (I so need a "the dice are trying to kill me" t-shirt. Rolling a two digit number on a twenty sider is something of a miracle.)

But, surely, there are any number of non-magical things one could strap to an arrow.

Evan the Lurker said...

Like maybe a rope? I remember the Niagara Falls suspension bridge got started by hiring a boy to fly a kite across the gorge, and then they sent larger and larger cables across by means of the kite string.

Of course, anything substantial tied to an arrow would throw off the weight, but I've heard that experienced archers can compensate for that.

Makabit said...

Briefly, the chess pieces are gold because Lewis is borrowing the image. In the Prose Edda, the gods who survive Ragnarok meet after the carnage, and speak of the things that have been, and find the golden chess pieces of the Aesir scattered in the grass.

As for Susan...I have an abiding fascination with the juxtaposition of the Chosen Tomboy and the Socially Normative But Diminished By The Author Girl in fantasy, and all the changes that can be rung thereon, and Lucy and Susan are an early, and influential dyad in the tradition.

A friend and I once wrote most of a fantasy novel with the intent of kicking at least one standard of the genre in the behind. Our flame-haired, magically-gifted, bosomy heroine was first encountered standing in front of a mirror, experimenting with dressing as a boy in order to run away and see the world, and realizing that no one was going to buy this.

J. Random Scribbler said...

Chris, those two pieces are made of Win! Maybe I've said this before, but I deeply envy your creativity. You make it look like you can just casually toss off this genius stuff. For all I know it's the product of fifteen editing passes, but it still looks like pure unfiltered inspiration.

Occupy Cair Paravel!

Ana, I hereby award you All The Internets!

But on a more serious note...

If I respect the story, then I have to accept that Susan isn't traumatized by her experiences in Narnia. I have to accept that.

Hapax, it would be unfair of me to pour out a pageful of rage without first giving you the chance to explain how that's different from "Anyone who thinks Susan could've been traumatized is disrespecting the story." Because that's how I saw that on the first reading, and the second, and I still don't see how I can read it as anything other than "If you don't agree with my interpretation then you are wrong." But I'm not used to seeing that from you, and I'm operating on way too little sleep, so before I embarrass myself with a gigantic rant I want to make sure I'm not reading too much into this.

Rachel said...

In your last post, you have stated (I think) that what I write is "not fair to Lewis, and it's ultimately not fair to [you]". Did I read that correctly? And you have also stated that you are "insulted" by something you feel I have assumed in my deconstruction of the text. And that I need to change my posting style in order for my deconstructions to be the "respectful way to treat the story, and [your]self".

Not hapax (lurker, in fact), but since she's bowed out I want to hazard a guess--
I believe that when she wrote ". . . it's ultimately not fair to me," she intended to refer to a hypothetical person, as in the preceding paragraphs ("And therefore I -- who like Susan, identifies with Susan, wishes Susan the best -- feel sure that it must really be in the story, somewhere . . ."). As I read it, she's not saying "the way you, Ana Mardoll, writes blog posts is unfair to me, hapax," she's saying "if I, a hypothetical reader, impose a contrary interpretation on a text at the expense of what's actually written, then I'm not being fair to the author or to myself."

Makabit said...

And I'm also going to add that, in terms of Lucy's vial, the thing that made my head explode as a youngster reading the books was that she uses the stuff to cure Eustace's seasickness in VOTDT

I'm sorry, but unless you're so violently ill over a long period that you're unable to hold down enough water to keep from dehydrating, being seasick is not actually life-threatening. This stuff can heal the dying, and we're gonna use it on someone's queasy cousin?

Lonespark said...

Thanks so much for the ideas, y'all. The thing is, I don't want to just save a person or a metropolitan area; I want it to be something an archer can do (working with others is ok) to save the world. Super-science is fine, as long as I can explain the rules well enough that it isn't all lionturtle-ex-machina.

Ana Mardoll said...

Would it be plausible for FUTURE ARROWS to be wide dispersal dispense mechanisms for something airborne?

Lonespark said...

I don't see why not, but I don't know exactly how that fits with accuracy being important. Maybe some kind of special rare material to make an arrow out of to get through some kind of shield, and you only have one, and there's some kind of gap, and then you disperse a chemical to knock out evil aliens or something?

On a slightly related note, now I'm wondering if Jadis and/or Tash could work as Marvel villains. (Or TurboJesus!)

depizan said...

Clearly, they have to not only shoot the control panel beyond the only-arrow-penetrable forcefield, but shoot the proper button or place or whatever on the control panel.

Laocorn said...

You know, all the gold and gems just lying around make me wonder if they're as rare and therefor valuable in Narnia as on Earth.

This is something that came up in one of White Wolf's pen and paper RPGs from a while back, _Changeling: The Dreaming_. In the fae world, satin and silk were/are seemingly the most common kind of fabric one could find.

I'm pretty sure you could not take it back with you and that things did not work that way. That is, unless there was a four- or five-point application of some ability I've completely forgotten.

Lonespark said...

Is it weird that I now feel the need to see The Hunger Games to figure out how Katniss might fit in with other crazy-good archers in some giant crossover fanwork? (partly because of this comic: http://snoipahkat.tumblr.com/post/22676791774
and the discussion about Susan, and someone saying 2012 is the year or the movie archer.

Laocorn said...

Clearly, they have to not only shoot the control panel beyond the only-arrow-penetrable forcefield, but shoot the proper button or place or whatever on the control panel.

Seconded.

Lonespark: Pertaining to the first part of Depizan's specific condition, I too was considering something of a modified "_Dune_ shield", one which would still allow for the general use of melee weapons and of low-enough-velocity projectiles. (Hm, in such a scenario, I wonder what would happen to a whip in the right/wrong place that's about to be cracked!)

Depizan: These questions are more off on a tangent, or maybe on a coffee break; I'll also admit upfront that my _Full Metal Alchemist_ lore is weak to begin with. Did Hawkeye ever use ranged weapons aside from firearms? Did her vision itself also come up, aside from markswomanship?

chris the cynic said...

The show Stargate SG-1 had a type of shield that repelled bullets but not lower velocity objects. The guy with the shield in the episode it was introduced in was eventually shot with an arrow.

Pete said...

On Stargate there was an early episode where they tried to assassinate Apothis. The plan revolved around the fact that Goauld forcefields (designed to defend mainly against laser guns) stop fast moving things (like a bullet) from penetrating but something as (comparatively) slow as an arrow could penetrate easily

Fluffy_goddess said...

Indeed, this process is SO IMPORTANT that it apparently justifies all suffering in existence.

By some arguments, this justifies all human existence, not just the suffering therein. Which leads Certain Types Of People to sit in the grad pub with their first year philosophy TA and drive him crazy by positing that, therefore, whatever morality/authority any free-will-having human chooses to follow must, therefore, be God. God is thus simultaneously all things and all thinkings, and it's very silly to say that people who worship him in one way are failing because they aren't worshipping him in some other way.

(Possibly I just had an excessive fondness for circular logic in first year. And my TA *did* explain what was actually intended by the text we were studying when this came up, but this was my interpretation.)


TW: Continues Ravish/Rape Discussion of Donne and Word Choice
Re: Donne: he had a habit of conflating spiritual and sexual ecstasy. So "ravish" meant, sometimes, seduction, sometimes rape, sometimes spontaneous orgasms, sometimes mutual seductions, and sometimes getting high. (In the drugged-on-illicit substances sense.) He was a prolific guy; his words meant a lot of different things at different times, and he did a lot of stuff in his life that influenced his writing at different periods.

Fluffy_goddess said...

You'd really only need a very light rope. And if you just need it to stick to *something* on the other side, you just need to make sure there are no unshielded people there for it to stick to; perfect aim not required, but handy.

bekabot said...

"The plan revolved around the fact that Goauld forcefields (designed to defend mainly against laser guns) stop fast moving things (like a bullet) from penetrating but something as (comparatively) slow as an arrow could penetrate easily."

That sounds a lot like the body shields ("Holtzmann fields") from the Dune series. Just saying.

Theo said...

Lucy, the Valiant, is "as good as a man, or at any rate as good as a boy",

This has come up a couple of times in the post and comments, and I think it's only fair to point out that this condescending description is not from the omniscient narrator. The words are Prince Corin's, and Corin's a colossal dick.

RedSonja said...

Aslan mostly comes out at night. Mostly.

Ana Mardoll said...

It is my solemn duty to inform you that you have won this shiny internet.

RedSonja said...

Another lurker popping up here to comment on Susan. When I first read The Last Battle, I remember being grateful that I was a tomboy, because it meant I wasn't EVER going to be obsessed with boys and lipstick and thus was in no danger of being declared a Not-Friend of Narnia.

Looking back, this is profoundly messed up, and probably contributed to my perception of "girly girls" as less than. Which lead to some pretty sexist behavior on my part growing up as I tried as hard as possible to be just one of the guys and to distance myself from anything feminine.

I'm not saying that, if I hadn't read CS Lewis I wouldn't have ever thought those things, but the Narnia books surely didn't help.

Fluffy_goddess said...

Oddly enough, Lucy's Vial never bothered me much because I always assumed it was never-ending. I mean, it's obviously magical, why shouldn't it be magically self-replenishing? Susan's quiver of arrows obviously was, or else she'd have run out by now. (I was a child who assumed that there was some magical deus ex machina offpage in almost every story. Also, that *everyone* read as much as I did. I was wrong on both counts.)

Then again, I'd have preferred to be Susan instead of Lucy, because a) I was a child afraid of pretty much everything ever, so trying to be sensible and cautious resonated well with me, and, b) I liked lipstick (well, gloss, but still) and pretty clothes and swimming, so she was the one I identified with. At the time I dismissed all of the problems of Susan with thoughts somewhere along the line of "oh, she caught on to The Lessons of Narnia fast, so she's off doing awesome things elsewhere, she'll climb the ladder of increasingly large and awesome heavens of earth when she eventually dies, and they'll all meet up at whatever heaven is so awesome it comprises both the existence of earth and Narnia." It wasn't until years later that I started realizing how creepy and gender-imposed the narrative is here.

Laiima said...

@Bekabot, that was awesome and packed with insights, imo.

I never got all the way through the 7 books as a kid (and it seems a really good thing I missed out on The Last Battle). But my favorite characters were always nonhuman. In the first book, I was captivated by the pagan-ness of a world with fauns and dryads. Even though I was raised Catholic, I totally missed the Christian symbolism of Aslan, but Deep Magic resonated in a way I didn't understand. And it still does. Lewis helped me become a Pagan - I bet he'd be so proud (not!).

kitryan said...

I remember one or two of those arrow/thrown dagger/thrown stone moves slower than a bullet and thus penetrates the force field that is set to repel bullet-speed type object situations- I've read Dune and seen most of the first 5 seasons of Stargate and I think I've seen this plot device elsewhere as well.
I also remember a short story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the late '90s or early '00s where a person on a spaceship could not use a gun but constructed a rudimentary bow/arrow from the carbon rods they were transporting and used it to repel the hijackers of his ship. The twist was something about how it would still work in a vacuum where guns would not, because of the combustion required to fire a gun. So, possibly if the archer was in a vacuum, in a pressurized ship where bullets would penetrate the hull, or in a high oxygen or other flammable gas atmosphere where a gunshot/laser/blaster would set it alight, the archer would have a serious advantage.

Makabit said...

It never occurred to me before: YES! Edmund's primal sin against gender roles is to ask for directions!

(LIttle-known fact: the only reason the Israelites ever made it to Canaan is that after thirty-nine and a half years, Tzipporah secretly asked some Midianites at a gas station for directions.)

Cupcakedoll said...

Lewis helped me become a Pagan - I bet he'd be so proud (not!).

And me as well. Perhaps while he was doing one thing, the fates were doing another with him. (same with atheist Terry Pratchett, who says some wise things about modern paganism while he mocks it.)

depizan said...

I don't remember her ever using anything but firearms. Though she does work as someone else's eyes for a bit toward the end.

BaseDeltaZero said...

Would it be plausible for FUTURE ARROWS to be wide dispersal dispense mechanisms for something airborne?


Yes, but there's no reason you couldn't use an airbursting shell, or some other variety of gun/missile launched mechanism.


Thanks so much for the ideas, y'all. The thing is, I don't want to just save a person or a metropolitan area; I want it to be something an archer can do (working with others is ok) to save the world. Super-science is fine, as long as I can explain the rules well enough that it isn't all lionturtle-ex-machina.


You could possibly make a bow-like weapon that actually works in some other sophisticated way. I don't have an explanation at hand for how it would work, but maybe some sort of psychic energy bow? Maybe whatever mechanism you need won't fit on a bullet, but the larger arrow can hold the Super-Science, which is good enough to compensate for the reduced velocity?


Lonespark: Pertaining to the first part of Depizan's specific condition, I too was considering something of a modified "_Dune_ shield", one which would still allow for the general use of melee weapons and of low-enough-velocity projectiles. (Hm, in such a scenario, I wonder what would happen to a whip in the right/wrong place that's about to be cracked!)


Presumably it'd bounce off/get burnt. From what I recall, the 'everything explodes' reaction was specifically something to do with high-energy laser weapons, whose power and incredible speed make them react especially badly. Bullets and the like will just bounce, that's what the shield was designed for, after all. I note that the Dune shield are apparently more fine tuned than that, actually, and would probably happily bounce arrows (and whips)... I think people had to specifically train how to fight against them without swinging the sword too fast...


Accusations of bad faith directed against either blog-mistress or regular commenters are not welcome on this blog.


Should I interpret this to mean that accusations of bad faith directed at irregular commenters are acceptable?


I remember one or two of those arrow/thrown dagger/thrown stone moves slower than a bullet and thus penetrates the force field that is set to repel bullet-speed type object situations- I've read Dune and seen most of the first 5 seasons of Stargate and I think I've seen this plot device elsewhere as well.


I'll admit I used this as well in my CotIW crossover, to explain how the heck a mere monomolecular bayonet propelled by muscle power could possibly hurt a mage in a Barrier Jacket, though not as extreme - a Barrier Jacket is an imperfect shield, and has a 'tension' - it'll block both APFSDS shell from a railgun, an arrow, and a 1 miligram pellet at high velocities... but since it's not a perfect 'wall', some energy leaks through. While more energy will leak through from the high-velocity shell (because more energy is imparted in the first place) Porportionally, more of the arrow's energy risks leaking through simply because it's below the 'tension level' - moreover, while the 1 mg pellet has the same energy, its energy/mass ratio is higher, so it gets blocked... (meanwhile, say, an oxygen molecule, has so little energy it passes through without a problem).

I should probably keep this kinda stuff to my blog...

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Before Dune, before Stargate, there was FIRST LENSMAN:

"Why axes? Why not Lewistons, or rifles, or pistols? Because the space armour of that day could withstand almost indefinitely the output of two or three hand-held projectors; because the resistance of its defensive fields varied directly as the cube of the velocity of any material projectile encountering them. Thus, and strangely enough, the advance of science had forced the re-adoption of that long-extinct weapon."

Will Wildman said...

I am fascinated with the boyish-boy > boyish-girl > girlish-boy > girlish-girl hierarchy above, although it seems like it clashes with some of the Platonism that has been implied in Narnia thus far, i.e., that the best things are the ones that represent their own essence and don't try or pretend to be something else. Of course, we heard this implicit statement (things that 'look human but aren't' are bad) from a talking beaver who enjoys fruit preserves in jars, speaks English, and celebrates Christmas, so I guess that message was always going to be at least a little mixed.

(same with atheist Terry Pratchett, who says some wise things about modern paganism while he mocks it.)

He has rather gleefully mentioned how Small Gods got him two major kinds of fan mail: atheists saying "Yeah, stick it to those Christians!" and Christians saying "Thank you for writing such a magnificently positive book about our faith".

Lonespark said...

Ooooh, in a vacuum could work! Arrows could still cause depressurization, but it's less likely...

You guys are full of excellent suggestions. Of course I am leaning toward "less research, more poetry," but I'll probably have to think about this all for a while.

Laiima said...

Have I mentioned lately that I hate Plato's Forms with the fire of 10,000 suns? Having said that, I think 'intersectionality' is relevant concept here. Lewis may have loved Plato's Forms, but I'm guessing Lewis also agreed with Patriarchy Is Good. Patriarchy Is Good is certainly explicit in the Catholicism I was raised in, where we were actually told of the Chain of Being or whatever it was called that went: God, angels, Man, boy, woman, girl, pond scum. (Slight exaggeration.) Virgin Mary aside, girls were utterly useless and reviled in that view.

OMG, do I love Small Gods! Not only is it great religious satire about all sorts of beliefs; really got me thinking in unexpected directions, etc.; but Vorbis? is a dead ringer for my mother. Very useful to read someone explain that kind of character in a way that illuminates the problems I've had with them.

Ana Mardoll said...

I am fascinated with the boyish-boy > boyish-girl > girlish-boy > girlish-girl hierarchy above,

I've always seen it as a "men are great, children are good, women are not" mentality with 'good' children of either gender adhering to traditional male behavior. (Though I'm not suggesting Lewis was deliberately espousing that, it's just been my experience as a girl growing up in the patriarchy.) There's a certain mindset that children are fun and exciting and wonderful but that when the secondary sexual characteristics start popping out, it's time to KNUCKLE DOWN and ENFORCE DISCIPLINE because if you don't, the newly-minted* girl will be giving it away at the roadside by the end of the month.

It's certainly noteworthy to me that a number of Adorable Moppet Traits (like adventurousness and outspokeness and assertiveness and affectionateness) that I had when I was a child suddenly became Highly Inappropriate the moment I went through puberty.

* All of which ignores the fact that the girl has always been a girl and that "traditional boy behavior" isn't some norm to be adhered to, with "girly" behavior being a deviation.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'd also love to see a scholarly look at the GirlyGirl / Tomboy dichotomy in literature as heroine tied in with the childlike ingenue love interest that is frequently highly favored in literature as more innocent and desirable and malleable than the big-hipped, big-breasted, probably-an-evil-femme-fatale woman.

Surely there's a correlation between Girly(Bad)/Boyish(Good) and Big-Sexy-Body(Bad)/Small-Childish-Body(Good). 'Course, the obvious link there would be that Girly and Visibly Female are both, well, viewed as being highly female.

Laiima said...

TW: body image issues

Based on previous comments you've made, Ana, I think we fall on different sides of that above divide, and I agree it hurts everyone.

I was really tall for my age, but also really skinny, and my body didn't start looking any different until I was 15 or so. And I never did get big enough in the chest to ever *need* to wear a bra.

And then every guy I ever met, for years, only drooled over big breasted women. Guys told me to my face that not having a big chest meant I was hideously ugly, and no boy/man could possibly find me attractive. I didn't know enough to not believe them.

My father indirectly hurt me in that fashion. He was very outspoken about how big breasts were the most important quality an attractive woman could have. Next they should be blonde. Then flattering to a man's ego. If they were intelligent, or interesting, that *could* work, as long as they didn't talk too much, or think they were smarter than a man.

I'm sure my mother's natural adult hair color is actually brown, but I've never seen it, and neither has she. She's been coloring her hair blonde since she met my father almost 50 years ago. My sister and I both inherited our small chests from my mother, and our dark brown hair from both parents. I'm also really smart. Both of my parents made it really clear to both me and my sister that if I was smart, I couldn't be pretty; if she was pretty, she couldn't be smart. That messed both of us up, a lot.

Patriarchy sucks.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Body Shaming

It absolutely sucks, and you're completely right that women get hammered on both ends: women who aren't big-breasted are told they aren't sexy; women who are big-breasted are told that they're slovenly and too sensual and "spilling out" or "in peoples' faces".

And, to tie back into the girly-girl/tomboy dichotomy, we see it all over again: women who are active and display 'masculine' characteristics are shamed for being non-gender conformative; women who are 'girly' and enjoy traditionally feminine things are shamed for being un-serious, vain, silly, and conceited.

Patriarchy! Heads they win, tails we lose.

Ana Mardoll said...

I have read this comment four times now and ever time and still fascinated by it. I feel like I'm on the verge of something great.

Makabit said...

Surely there's a correlation between Girly(Bad)/Boyish(Good) and Big-Sexy-Body(Bad)/Small-Childish-Body(Good). 'Course, the obvious link there would be that Girly and Breasty are both stereotyped as highly female.

This is something I began noticing in fantasy aimed at girls relatively early on. There was a whole lot of stuff I read in my middle and high-school years that was, wholeheartedly, meant to be empowering of female readers. It wasn't until college that I started to noticed the rules, which were just as crappy as the mainstream rules.

The heroine was, with remarkable regularity , thin, slim-hipped and flat-chested. Able to pass as a boy, when needed, but generally not tall, despite this. Always blossoming out eventually into a conventionally sexually desirable but never curvaceous adult.

Female antagonists could be voluptuous, and in more incidents than I care to remember were outright dismissed as 'fat', but what they really all had in common was that they were girly. They cared about boys and looking pretty, and did embroidery, and that made them utterly contemptible, because, of course, caring about horses and swords is inherently less shallow than caring about the visual arts.

Of course, in time, the heroine would be permitted to care about the right boy, and get dolled up, but that would be different. Also, she would look better than the shallow girls when she did.

I loved many of these books, and some of the authors I'm thinking of are iconic. But I also realize as an adult that along with 'girls can be anything', I was getting a hefty dose of 'your body is all wrong', 'conventionally feminine women are bitches', and 'you'll put on a dress for the right man some day'. That's one hell of a whammy.

BaseDeltaZero said...

I am fascinated with the boyish-boy > boyish-girl > girlish-boy > girlish-girl hierarchy above, although it seems like it clashes with some of the Platonism that has been implied in Narnia thus far, i.e., that the best things are the ones that represent their own essence and don't try or pretend to be something else.


Yes, but only if you assume there's such a thing as 'Woman'. To Plato there wasn't: women were a corruption of Man. Of course, to Plato, they were so corrupt a woman being 'more like a man' was an absurdity, like a broken shard of clay striving to be more like a pot... or an Orc trying to be an Elf. The concept that a woman acting like a man could be a good thing is actually an improvement on Paleoplatonism.


Catholicism I was raised in, where we were actually told of the Chain of Being or whatever it was called that went: God, angels, Man, boy, woman, girl, pond scum. (Slight exaggeration.) Virgin Mary aside, girls were utterly useless and reviled in that view.


Late Catholicism. Early Catholicism it went more like: God, Angels, Man, boys, demons, animals, girls, plants, women. Girls aren't as good as a horse, dog, or ox, but at least they're nice and helpless - and obviously aren't as mighty as a demon. Women, meanwhile, are soulless monstrosities put on Earth to tempt righteous men - not only worthless, but actively malevolent.

JenL said...

As I read it, she's not saying "the way you, Ana Mardoll, writes blog posts is unfair to me, hapax," she's saying "if I, a hypothetical reader, impose a contrary interpretation on a text at the expense of what's actually written, then I'm not being fair to the author or to myself."

But isn't "the text claims Edward is dreamy, yet his actions show him to be anything but" pretty much PRECISELY what we do here? And we spent all kinds of time talking about the contradiction between "Edmund the traitor deserved what he got" and his actual actions and choices in the text. So why is it suddenly off-limits to say "we're TOLD that Susan didn't make it back to Narnia because she was conceited and vain, but we're not SHOWN anything to support that"?

Ursula L said...

I'm trying to think of some situation that could occur in a modern-ish, sci-fi-ish universe where a really good archer is the only person who can save the day. I was looking for something that doesn't involve killing, and hopefully not hurting, any sentient beings. I am stumped and I don't want to have to bring magic into it.

Well, archery doesn't involve any sort of fire or spark, while a modern firearm does. So any time that you need to send something as a projectile, but don't want to risk fire, archery is an option.

In a sci-fi setting, such as a spaceship, this might be quite important, as trying to contain fire in an artificial environment is a problem. You don't want to waste oxygen on unnecessary combustion. And the fastest way to put out a fire would probably be to vent the air from the space - but that would kill anyone in the area, and waste a lot of precious air.

Perhaps in zero-g and vacuum, archery could be a way to move items across open spaces. Perhaps it allows for more accuracy than trying to push/throw something in the right direction? I'm thinking of the construction of a space station, perhaps, and using archery to help string cables or pass tools to a different area.

They might also adapt the tension/release means of propulsion used in archery into other applications. I'm imagining, to move items easily, you have a cable strung between two places, and a sort of basket attached to the cable. A bow-like contraption at one end, permanently installed so the alignment is correct, could be use to launch the basket, which slides along the cable guided to the other end.

JenL said...

Sorry, I replied before seeing the "let's move to another topic" post....

Ken said...

Actually, second books are very often bad. Take "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", for example. It also suffers from the same problems: reads like a bad copy of the first (Voldemort again? Meh...) has massive pacing Issues, and the ending is a huge Deus ex Machina, with the phoenix saving Harry FOUR times, not considering the ride back. Second book is always the book when the original ideas are spent, and the author must learn not to plagiarize from himself. That's why many authors either only ever bring one book out (like Harper Lee), or their second, thrid, etc book is way worse then the first, and they only catch themselves later.
Oh, and regarding bows: first, since arrows are not mentioned, the bow was probably useless anyway unless they could find/make some arrows, so for now unstringing it was a good idea. Second, old bows were strung and unstrung easily, so it is not comparable to "unscrewing blade from the hilt" - it was more comparable to sheathing the sword, which Peter did.

Ursula L said...

The bow had been stored unstrung. Lewis says Susan bent the bow, which would be necessary to string it, but would not be done if she was merely twanging the string of an already strung bow. She then twanged the string, and then unstrung it again, indicating it was unstrung before. Susan then slung the quiver by her side. This tells us that she did have arrows, as there would be no reason to wear an empty quiver. In addition, the quiver had been previously described as filled with "well feathered" arrows.

Lewis seems to be familiar enough with archery, and assumes the reader is familiar enough archery, that he leaves a lot of details to be filled in.

What's interesting is that Lucy's gift of a dagger is completely erased. They explain away the loss of Susan's horn, which is needed elsewhere in the story. But now, Lucy's gift is just the healing potion. She doesn't miss the dagger, no one wonders where it went.

And Lucy's gift, unlike Peter's sword and shield, or Susan's bow, requires no skill to use. Susan is described as a skilled archer, and her skill is useful in the story. Peter is shown, in-story, to have considerable skill using his sword and shield. Lucy might have been a skilled fighter with a dagger. But she is shown, in-story, as having no particular skill. She isn't even big enough to help rowing. Lucy is there to be small and cute and spunky, and to see Aslan but not be believed.

Ken said...

And I really really wish people would stop saying that "Susan is damned." There is no evidence of this. Lewis flatly contradicted this. And I really wish that people would stop saying that Lewis "sneered" at Susan. He didn't, at least not in the text. Eustace (who is fully established as a judgmental, not-very-nice person) sneers at her. Polly didn't like her. There is no evidence that these sentiments are shared by the other characters.


Susan is not yet damned. But "No longer friend of Narnia" is pretty close. It is clearly stated that what she cares for are things not worth caring for, Peter rejects her as well, and other siblings didn't correct him. Also the Lewis's disdain for "Lipstick and Nylons" (women's items) is clearly shown. The letter also says that Susan has to "Mend" her ways, or else.


So Aslan let her stay in this life, with all its joys and sorrows, rather than take her to Narnia against her will.
Why is this a BAD thing?

The joys would be more and the sorrows less if, for example, her parents wouldn't die with the others. Note that the parents weren't "freinds of Narnia" (likely they didn't know about it at all) yet they are there so the "good" Pevensies don't have to miss them, even though they have their Narnian friends and could surely wait for them. Susan now has got no one - no siblings, no parents, no one to relate her experiences. All because she wanted to wear lipstick and did not want to spend her time mourning things she was told will never come back. So the will of the parents (who most likely woiuld choose to stay with Susan) doesn't matter. The choices of Susan earlier (when she didn't want to go / return due to huge shifts it entailed for her and she indeed lost much with each shift) didn't matter. But now that she can only gain (Narnia, her parents, etc) her (mis-informed due to "can't go to Narnia again" choice suddenly matters?

The sad thing is, Lewis WAS a good writer, and he wrote Susan well, and a very likable character. But in the end, his subtext won over the actual narrative. Lewis allowed the IDEOLOGIST to win over HUMANIST and AUTHOR, death over life , devotion over human passions, and dogma over humanity. And thus Narnia cycle, which started as one of the most renowned fantasy works, ended in definitaly unsatisfactory way.

Ana Mardoll said...

I am seriously considering printing this comment off and hanging it by my monitor because THIS is pretty much where my thoughts are, if I were all articulate and such.

Ursula L said...

So expecting Susan to adhere closely to this tribal ritual, and considering her distancing from it--given all the many, many reasons she has to distance--as a deep moral failing doesn't seem unfair to me, so much as massively unconvincing. I am unaghast at Susan's betrayal of Aslan. While Aslan may be a Christ figure, the faith of Narnia is massively inferior to the faith of Christianity, as faiths go. The faith of Narnia, in fact, makes me think of the passage from the Screwtape letters, where Screwtape advises his nephew that the new Christian's head is full of vague images of people in togas and sandals. He correctly identifies this as something that will weaken the faith of the new Christian when he finds that churches are packed not with sword-and-sandal outtakes, but with regular people. But the ENTIRE DAMN FAITH of Narnia is all about swords and lions and wolves and witches and wars and feasting, and castles and...high excitement. It's a pretty cheap kind of religion.

Another thing we know, from the end of VDT, is that Aslan told Edmund and Lucy, and probably Peter and Susan at the end of PC as well, that they needed to find "him" in their world - a pretty clear instruction to figure out all the Christian allegory he's been surrounding them with, and go be a normal Earth Christian.

So the continued Narnian faith of the "Friends of Narnia" is, in fact, a violation of Aslan's instruction. While Susan living in the world, and trying to find what good she can there, is following that.

Susan was told not to fight with her bow, and she obeyed, to the point where she left it home. She was told to leave Narnia behind. And she did.

So she's punished for following the rules given, but the others, with their clannish and not-Christian "Friends of Narnia" meetings, are rewarded.

Ursula L said...

Another thought, on Edmund being a traitor.

In 1950, when LWW was published, Britain was still rationing sweets. The were rationed, as well, during the war when the book is set.

So the meal the witch gave Edmund, consisting of a huge quantity of candy, wasn't just the type of meal that parents would disapprove of as not nutritious. It was illegal. To get such a meal, you'd have to somehow get sugar and sweets far beyond what you were allowed. And during the war, such a meal would be seen as a betrayal, undermining the general war effort and the controls that were used to ensure that food was fairly and appropriately distributed.

And it was, of course, the type of thing that would be a particular temptation to children. All the candy you want!

The meal that Tumnis fed Lucy was also probably beyond what a child at that time could expect. But it was still balanced. The type of meal that wartime parents wished they could feed their child. Likewise the meal that the Beavers prepared for the children. Generous beyond wartime shortages, but not greedy. Imaginable, if ration coupons reflected an idealized diet controlled in a responsible way but not restricted to the point of feeling deprived.

Makabit said...

@Ursula--I think it's the awareness of the enormity of the fight happening at home that makes me so impatient sometimes with how frivolous Narnia seems to be. And I don't think I'd mind that--it's meant to be escapist--except that in The Last Battle, the balance suddenly seems to tip toward "Oh gosh, this is deathly serious after all," and I start to lose my patience.

Be interesting to contrast Narnia with "Pan's Labyrinth". Set at almost the same time, with a superficially similar sort of overarching concept--and almost couldn't be less similar.

Ken said...

By the time of TLB, Lewis indeed had an unhealthy fascination for death, though this is understandable. He has lost hif wife, he was ill, and he had nothing to expect anymore. Of course, him taking this and applying this to teenagers was incredibly stupid. This makes the ending of TLB so jarring - all charachters (except "traitor" Susan) are dead - and that is supposed to the the happy ending??!
Regarding faith - here we have the same problem as in "Left Behind". To Lewis "having faith" (i. e. believing in God) was a goal in itself. In fact, in the TLB chapter about the dwarves, said dwarves are not condemned and could go with others, if only they would believe in heaven. So for Lewis , not believing in Narnia was a big deal - and it also was a point where Susan broke the rules - others were told "you can never go back, bu you must devote your life to it regardless" - and they did, and she didn't, even though this made no sence.
The situation with arrows, btw, is ridiculous. Of three girls in Narnia (Susan, Lucy, and Jill, not counting Polly since there wasn't a point in shooting), one is given a magical bow as a gift. She is the only one who doesn't use arrows, ever. (Lucy did in "A Horse and his Boy", Jill in "The Last Battle"). Epic Plot Fail.
Re: the whole "Lipstick and Nylons" - the problem was that Lewis indeed disliked women - at least women in their "best" years (he married when both he and his bride were already old). Girls, and women who behave as men, can be "weaker (second class) men", so Lucy and Jill can fight "like a boy" - but Susan, who insists on being a woman (even in Narnia), is condemned. By the way, it is not that behaving like a woman was good for Susan in Narnia - the whole ending of "A Horse and his Boy" is about how Susan got this close to be raped / forcibly married and getting Narnia conquered duribng their reign, all because she wanted to flirt.
The whole thing with gift usefullness: Yes, in a sense, horn and cordial ARE more useful, and attached to children. A child caught in actual war would really rather wish for aa means to heal and summon help than a sword. But this is another problem with Narnia, and one more prevalent in earlier books: girls in Narnia are as useless in fight as they would be in real world (only useful as healer), but boys are transformed from helpless kids into superheroes. I wouldn't be surprised if the sword and shield granted Peter Jedi-like abilities,a allowing him to deflect arrows - and bulltes - at the attackers. So while both parts are for themselves valid - girls get gifts that makes them useful despite inability to fight (which aplies to all children regardless of gender) while boy get gifts that make them able to fight (at least in Narnia) - the combination sounds sexist. Again, this is due to Lewis' values - girls are isupposedt to be useless, though if the prove "boyish" enought they can fight (Jill, Lucy in later books), but boys must be fighters, even though still children, and are worthless otherwise, so would somebody please invent a way to get that 13-years old in a war?
A throwaway thought: is there no way Ginormica from "Monsters vs. Aliens" could be Susan from Narnia? now that would be interesting!
Finally regarding meals of Lucy and Edmund - indeed the difference is precisely that Turkish Delight is seen here a s a perverted version of a good meat also hard to attain, but ultimately NOT WORTH attaining. "The Screwtape Letters" elaborate on it - temptaions are thing that one thinks he wants, but mostly does not get actual pleasure from whereas "good old things" - tee, big hearty meals etc - are either good or at least easily forgivable.

Lonespark said...

Pretty sure Ursula's comment above needs a TW, unless the post itself has one that covers the comments.

Amaryllis said...

Ken: Lewis indeed had an unhealthy fascination for death, though this is understandable. He has lost his wife, he was ill, and he had nothing to expect anymore. Of course, him taking this and applying this to teenagers was incredibly stupid. This makes the ending of TLB so jarring - all charachters (except "traitor" Susan) are dead - and that is supposed to the the happy ending??!

Er...why "unhealthy"? Was J.K. Rowling "unhealthy" when she wrote the Harry Potter books-- death has its fingerprints all over those. If you take death out of literature, even out of children's literature, the library shelves will be pretty empty.

As for the end of The Last Battle, Lewis would probably have said that it was supposed to the Happy Beginning. We all of us *are* going to lose our last battle, regardless of what other victories we may have won along the way. (Or how long the way is; even without a war, even children die.) The question is, is that defeat the end of the story? Or the beginning of the next?

Makabit: I think it's the awareness of the enormity of the fight happening at home that makes me so impatient sometimes with how frivolous Narnia seems to be. And I don't think I'd mind that--it's meant to be escapist--except that in The Last Battle, the balance suddenly seems to tip toward "Oh gosh, this is deathly serious after all," and I start to lose my patience.

According to one critical theory, one reason that fantastic and dystopic literate became so popular in the post-WW2 generation is that people wanted to write about the war, to read about the war, to think about the war, without actually talking about The War. That is, they wanted to think about the nature of evil that could corrupt whole societies, they wanted to think about individual responsibility and free will, they wanted to think about individual resistance and its limits, they wanted to think about "hope beyond hope," without limiting themselves to one specific historical context.

And I think that's was Lewis was trying to do, on what he thought was a suitably child-sized scale, in these books. You can argue about how well he did it, or whether his ideas of childhood are plausible, or about how his considerations of such universal questions are hampered by his unexamined ideas about race and class and gender. You can complain about how his occasional moments of convincing imagery are undermined by his fatal love of the cozy. And so on. But I think he always meant to be deathly serious.

Ken said...

Er...why "unhealthy"? Was J.K. Rowling "unhealthy" when she wrote the Harry Potter books-- death has its fingerprints all over those. If you take death out of literature, even out of children's literature, the library shelves will be pretty empty.

Accepting death is very important, even for a children's boks. But Glorifying it is another matter altogether. In "Last Battle", the charachters' death is revealed with "The term is over: the holidays have begun" (cited by Philip Pullman's "The Darkside of Narnia" ). This is different from, say Harry Potter, where death is to be accepted,m but not embraced, or from "Bridge to Terabithia", where Jess moves on, but no happy afterlife is brought to Leslie. This is not what Lewis did - note that Pevensie achieved nothing important in England (whereas Leslie at least managed to make believe in his dreams). In the 2003 Peter Pan we get "to die... would be a great adventure", but "to live" would be a greater one, and Lewis constantly ignores that.

And while on it I would like to cite more from that article. First, on the ending:

To solve a narrative problem by killing one of your characters is something many authors have done at one time or another. To slaughter the lot of them, and then claim they're better off, is not honest storytelling: it's propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology. But that's par for the course. Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on.


and then, specifically on Susan:

Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she'd been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.


Not that Pullman's own fiction is without problems, but those two quotes hit the nail on the head.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Death, Disaster

I have mixed feelings about that Pullman quote. On the one hand, I respect someone's religious beliefs that Death Is Better. (Heck, I accept it without religious trappings. I hang out in the Disability Community: life is not always rainbows.) So I respect what Lewis seems to have been trying to do, his right to do so, and that other people will ind value in it.

On the other hand, it seems awfully convenient that the train would crash then and there as needed. And so we're back to Aslan The Slayer who kills an entire train full of people (and train wrecks are dreadful things) just to bring the Pevensies home. Couldn't he have just given them spontaneous heart attacks? It just seems dreadful for the families of everyone else on that train that they had the bad luck to be there when Aslan decided he needed to send the call. *sad face*

Amaryllis said...

Accepting death is very important, even for a children's boks. But Glorifying it is another matter altogether.

Hmm. I don't think that TLB glorifies death. Death is presented as the sadness that it is:
"I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia. Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door."
"...What world but Narnia have I even known? It were no virtue, but very great discourtesy, if we did not mourn."

It does "glorify" what comes after death. So, if you believe that nothing comes after death, I suppose you'd see that as morbid or dishonest. But C. S. Lewis wasn't being dishonest in that book; he was writing from his own beliefs. You can call him wrong, if you like, but you can't accuse him of lying for the sake of narrative convenience. The whole point of the narrative of that book is that sometimes the battle is lost, sooner or later everybody's battle is lost, but that this world and its battles are not the whole story.

note that Pevensie achieved nothing important in England (whereas Leslie at least managed to make believe in his dreams).
Doesn't anything they achieved in Narnia count for anything? And, for that matter, we have no idea what they may have achieved in England. I remember we had some discussion once as to how old the various Pevensies were when called back to Narnia, and how much of life they'd had a chance to live; it's not really clear in the text, I don't think. I will, however, concede that however old they were, they were young, and that it is a sadness that they had to leave this world so soon. "It is not wrong to mourn."

But anyway, Lewis was not a ninth-century Saxon warrior:
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.


Lewis, as a Christian, put his faith in other bulwarks: "now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever."

I can, with Tolkien, dislike the way Lewis threw bits of pagan and Christian imagery together miscellaneously to make a not-very-coherent whole. I can, as we discussed at length at the time, find TLTLTW very unconvincing as Christian allegory. I can, with Pullman and numerous other critics, cringe at "the reactionary sneering, the misogyny, the racism."

But I think it's kind of pointless to complain about "supernaturalism" in a work that was explicitly intended to tell a supernatural story. And, while I've got a lot of objections to a lot of what Lewis wrote in these books, as a personal preference I'll take his final chapters over Pullman's final chapters, any day.

Ursula L said...

Hmm. I don't think that TLB glorifies death. Death is presented as the sadness that it is:
"I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia. Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door."

That's talking about the end of a place.

But the deaths of people are treated quite differently. There is no mention of people who are dead and frozen behind the door. The separation from Susan is mourned because she is "no friend of Narnia" not because they're trapped in a different universe and may never see their sister again.

Whatever the theology of death, the emotions that come with even temporary separation from a loved one, let alone separation by death, are bizarrely, inhumanly, ignored.

Amaryllis said...

True, I was thinking in terms of the person doing the dying, the one who has to say good bye to the only world she's ever known. Whether or not the world literally ends, like Narnia at the end of TLB, or just ends for her, it's an ending to be mourned.

But from Lewis's point of view, the Pevenseys are not "trapped in a different universe." They're in the country which contains all worlds and times including the world and time where their sister is, that blessed where "nothing good is lost."

Granted, this does not address the suffering of Susan, or for that matter Jill's and Eustace's parents, who *are* trapped in a single world and time, and suffering the pain of loss. But again, TLB is written for the ones who die, not the ones who mourn for them.

Ursula L said...

I thought it was fairly clear, in TLB, that Susan was unreachable. The Pevensie parents were reachable, in the Earth/England version of heaven/Aslan's land, because they also died in the crash. But Susan was still living, and therefore not (yet?) in the perfect version of everything. And she seemed to be classified in the same way as the Dwarfs and others in Narnia who were destroyed along with Narnia, because of a lack of the appropriate type of faith.

Even if she later found faith and wound up in the right place, she's separated from them at the moment when they're talking about how she was "no friend of Narnia." And that separation should hurt. And that hurt, for her siblings, should not be about how she's "no friend of Narnia" but because they're in Perfect!Narnia, and she's not, and they love their sister and don't want to be separated from her.

Similarly for the king of Narnia, who was weeping for the death of Old Narnia, his home and birthplace.

All those dwarfs who died? They were his subjects. His responsibility. They were deceived by a false-Aslan.

And that happened, in large part, because of the king's failure. He was supposed to know what was going on, and maintain law and order. If Calorminians are murdering sentient trees, and getting away with it on the genocidal scale that would come with commercial logging, then the king has failed, horribly. Dwarfs seeing this, and rejecting both the king who was supposed to stop this but let it happen, and Aslan whom they reasonably believed ordered this to happen, shouldn't be damned, they should be blessed, for rejecting such evil.

But the king weeps neither for his failure nor for the loss of good and moral subjects who rejected genocide and were damned for it.

He doesn't weep, either, for any other friends and acquaintances, human or talking Animal, who were lost when old Narnia died.

This is how the king mourns:

"...What world but Narnia have I even known? It were no virtue, but very great discourtesy, if we did not mourn."

The king mourns Narnia, but not the loss of Narnians as individuals lost.

***

It strikes me as being the same problem that Fred identifies in Left Behind. The people who are Raptured are happy. They hope their loved ones left behind may yet be saved. But they're inhumanly callous about the countless people who died without the chance to be saved in the aftermath of the Rapture, as the cars they were so irresponsibly driving (knowing they might be Raptured at any moment) crashed, the planes they were flying fell from the sky, etc.

The belief in life after death, a way to avoid death and dying being final, leads to inhumanity, ignoring the reality of what is happening to those who aren't included in the avoid-really-dying scheme.

Ken said...

Add to that the utter disregard for the lives of those in the train. The problem is precisely that the whole thing is ewritten not from position "people after death persist somehow, so while Death is necessary, it is not fully the end" but "life sucks (it's like school with chores, boring teachers etc) and the only reason in life is to earn a good afterlife, which will be then all partying, and happiness" This may be appropriate for a sermon, (or a sermon like book like "Screwtape Letters"), but is a terrible moral for children.
Oh and by the way: "Left Behind" does sound like an awful attempt to set forth Lewis' ideas, but this is way out of topic.

Amaryllis said...

Even if she later found faith and wound up in the right place, she's separated from them at the moment when they're talking about how she was "no friend of Narnia."
Oh, absolute, I admit that that conversation about Susan is exceedingly stupid. At least some of her friends seem more intent on shaming her than worrying about her, or trusting her to know what's best for herself. If I wan to give Lewis the benefit of the doubt, I might say that Susan's siblings are newly dead, and haven't quite grasped the situation that they're in or shaken off their earth-bound attitudes yet.

But, very shortly, the concept of "at that moment" is going to lose its relevance for them. From the moment of the train crash, for them; from the moment that Time puts out the sun, for all of Narnia, there is no more time or place. There is only "Aslan's country," which even now they only see the borders of...and you see, I can't talk about it, any more than Lewis could, without using time-and-place words where they aren't appropriate. But where/when the Pevenseys "are" from then on, it's where Susan is too, where no good thing is lost. And we have no reason not to believe that when Susan dies, she'll see her family again-- there's nothing in the text against it-- and that however long it is on Earth until Susan's death, for her family, it's no time at all, because there is no more time.

Similarly for the king of Narnia, who was weeping for the death of Old Narnia, his home and birthplace.

All those dwarfs who died? They were his subjects. His responsibility. They were deceived by a false-Aslan.

I'm going to have to go re-read those chapters; ISTR that the dwarves were presented as being *willfully* ignorant. Which may have been unfair of Lewis, or unconvincing; I wouldn't be surprised.

But when the king mourns for Narnia, surely that includes all the people who lived there? Just as anyone who dies mourns for what and who they're leaving behind when they leave their "world."

It strikes me as being the same problem that Fred identifies in Left Behind...The belief in life after death, a way to avoid death and dying being final, leads to inhumanity, ignoring the reality of what is happening to those who aren't included in the avoid-really-dying scheme.
There is a bit of a similarity, perhaps, in that once the damned disappear into Aslan's shadow, we hear no more about them. At least Lewis doesn't gloat, LaHaye-fashion; he leaves their ultimate fate a mystery.

The other difference is that Lewis doesn't try to separate death and afterlife. That is, there's a difference between trying to avoid death, hoping for a Rapture of your living body, and believing that dying isn't final. The Pevenseys, and the Narnians, are dead. They have to go through death like everybody else; noboy gets to avoid-really-dying. It's just that, once again, death isn't the end of their story.

A distinction without a difference, perhaps, if you don't accept that death isn't final. But that's the terms of this story.

Amaryllis said...

It's also possible to read the moral as "life has its good parts-- enjoy them-- and its hard tests-- do your best-- and trust to love for everything else."

Chalcedony_cat said...

So why not? Why make Susan deeply and emotionally affected by her memories of her lost life and then immediately yank the focus away? What is the narrative gain, the character development, the lesson to be imparted? Doesn't this just make the narrative more muddled (what do they remember, and when, and how?), the characterization more confusing (why aren't the others as emotional as Susan, and why do they not comfort her?), and the lessons imparted more upsetting (how can Susan possibly be blamed for leaving behind a place that causes her so much emotional pain?)? I honestly don't understand the authorial choices here.

I think this has already been touched on in a few separate places, but I'm hoping to weave the strands together.

Yes, Lewis does have a sort of pyramid of gender goodness, and the top is Peter, because Peter is the Perfect English Schoolboy, and Lucy comes second because she is the Perfect English Schoolgirl, which is to say, she is very much like the Schoolboy except with a few 'feminine' touches like being a healer instead of a warrior and being able to be more openly affectionate. And one of the big parts of this whole school code, in my reading, is the importance self-discipline. One doesn't cry, male or female, because crying lets everyone down; one keeps up morale, even in the face of misery, because that's how it's done. But Susan, being already characterised as not quite the Perfect Schoolgirl, with her reluctance to leap into adventure, her caution and common sense, is also showing more 'motherly' reactions like getting sad about the nostalgic past.

So, characteristion-wise, it shows that Susan is in the "oldest girl must act as a mother" role, and just like an adult woman she's at the mercy of her emotions -- or at least she is less able to control her emotions than the rest. But (from this perspective) she's got her act together enough not to "blubber" and the others care about her enough not to mention it, whereas if they were being cruel they'd mock her for her inability to control her feelings.

In case it's not clear, I do not share any of this weird gender slotting or any of that, but I do feel like I get it, in the sense one can get a foreign language or culture, just because of the amount of interwar reading I've done, and I still think Narnia reads an awful lot like interwar novels. So I'm trying to act as a Helpful Cultural Interpreter rather than arguing that Lewis is being reasonable or fair by any modern standards.

Ana Mardoll said...

This comment keeps making me cry, but in a profoundly good way. Thank you.

Ursula L said...

The other difference is that Lewis doesn't try to separate death and afterlife. That is, there's a difference between trying to avoid death, hoping for a Rapture of your living body, and believing that dying isn't final. The Pevenseys, and the Narnians, are dead. They have to go through death like everybody else; noboy gets to avoid-really-dying. It's just that, once again, death isn't the end of their story.

A distinction without a difference, perhaps, if you don't accept that death isn't final. But that's the terms of this story.

But Lewis is gloating.

The good people, the saved, escape the finality of death and are rewarded by being allowed into Perfect!Narnia.

But the bad people, the not-saved people, are sent into the shadow, where either death is final or death is followed by the undefined-but-definitely-not-nice things that happen to you in the shadow.

And the good people are disgustingly smug about being in Perfect!Narnia, and disgustingly indifferent to the fate of those who were sent into the shadow.

The standards by which it is decided whether one gets an eternity in Perfect!Narnia or an eternity in the shadow are undefined and arbitrary. Eternity in the shadow is an utterly disproportionate punishment/consequence for not meeting Aslan's/God's standards. It is utterly impossible that all the vast number of people/Animals/other-creatures sent into the shadow did or believed anything bad enough to make the eternal nature of being sent into the shadow a just consequence.

And Lewis portrays this as not merely a bad situation that is but as a situation that is good.

hf said...

This seems slightly unfair to the King, in that I had the impression he mourned his failure (briefly but deeply) while tied to a tree awaiting death. And at the end he can tell himself that, while he failed to help the dwarves, Aslan himself couldn't save them and thus a mere human shouldn't feel too bad about it. (Shades of useless proselytization!) Now this seems to me like an ugly and implausible claim. Not only consent but rebellion as well seems like nonsense with respect to a sufficiently superior intelligence, because a mind like that could take over human brains through text-only communication. But the King has reason to believe this nonsense based on his somewhat ugly and implausible experience.

hf said...

Heh, the comparison to "Left Behind" seems unfair. Lewis took a more Platonist or Neoplatonist approach (at least here). That means his Aslan seems to have restrictions on his actions due to the nature of the unimaginable One or the Emperor. Aslan is only identical with this deity in the sense that nothing can exist without the One, and Aslan somehow exists more fully than anything else with a voice or a face.

Now as I've pointed out before, this turns out to mean that Aslan serves an alien vampire-cosmos which feeds on worlds like ours. Since, in reality, existence does not require God or the Emperor, it doesn't surprise me that Lewis couldn't imagine and write any good evidence for this claim (meaning evidence that should convince the characters). But he did try.

hf said...

Hmm, I don't think those who go into the shadow continue to exist. It would seem pointless even from the author's perspective unless they can somehow change their minds later. The Animals lose their capital letter and ability to speak, which sounds like the annihilation of their minds and most of their ability to change. (Though the fact that ordinary mice could make a choice in TLTWATW and earn speech makes this hopelessly confusing.) I think nonexistence would fit the general sort-of-Platonist view here.

Mind you, death seems plenty bad enough. I actually think we should resist this in the real world and try our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive for millenia or longer.

Ursula L said...

This seems slightly unfair to the King, in that I had the impression he mourned his failure (briefly but deeply) while tied to a tree awaiting death.

I just looked up that scene. And it is mostly about the King feeling sorry for himself, rather than any reflection on his own actions and their consequences. Initially, the king believes that the situation is genuinely caused by Aslan, but when he sees the scene outside the stable and the donkey walking stiffly in the Lion's suit, he decides that it was some type of trick.

He spends some time thinking about how unlucky he is, and how earlier kings had been helped by Aslan and alien children, but that he can't expect that sort of help to come "these days." Eventually, he calls out to Aslan and the children for help, first for himself, and then to help Narnia even if they won't help him.

But there is no thought about his responsibilities as king and how he allowed this situation to develop. No thought about the trees being murdered. No thought about how blundering into the middle of the meeting about Aslan, alone, might have been poor strategy.

Feeling sorry for yourself is, perhaps a form of mourning, when you believe that you're about to be killed. To the extent that the king is concerned for his people, it is about being upset that they are deceived by the false-Aslan, rather than concern for the ongoing commercial logging and murder of intelligent-trees.

Phil_Malthus said...

Also, one reason for unstringing a bow (at least per medieval history) was to stop the string getting wet & therefore useless til carefully dried out - a definite consideration given they are camping out sans equippage

Ursula L said...

So expecting Susan to adhere closely to this tribal ritual, and considering her distancing from it--given all the many, many reasons she has to distance--as a deep moral failing doesn't seem unfair to me, so much as massively unconvincing. I am unaghast at Susan's betrayal of Aslan. While Aslan may be a Christ figure, the faith of Narnia is massively inferior to the faith of Christianity, as faiths go. The faith of Narnia, in fact, makes me think of the passage from the Screwtape letters, where Screwtape advises his nephew that the new Christian's head is full of vague images of people in togas and sandals. He correctly identifies this as something that will weaken the faith of the new Christian when he finds that churches are packed not with sword-and-sandal outtakes, but with regular people. But the ENTIRE DAMN FAITH of Narnia is all about swords and lions and wolves and witches and wars and feasting, and castles and...high excitement. It's a pretty cheap kind of religion.

Another thing we know, from the end of VDT, is that Aslan told Edmund and Lucy, and probably Peter and Susan at the end of PC as well, that they needed to find "him" in their world - a pretty clear instruction to figure out all the Christian allegory he's been surrounding them with, and go be a normal Earth Christian.

So the continued Narnian faith of the "Friends of Narnia" is, in fact, a violation of Aslan's instruction. While Susan living in the world, and trying to find what good she can there, is following that.

Susan was told not to fight with her bow, and she obeyed, to the point where she left it home. She was told to leave Narnia behind. And she did.

So she's punished for following the rules given, but the others, with their clannish and not-Christian "Friends of Narnia" meetings, are rewarded.

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