Narnia: Susan, Problems of

Content Note: Body Mismatch, Hostility to Consent, Mental Health

Narnia Recap: "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" has finished and we are now reading "Prince Caspian".

Prince Caspian, Chapter 1: The Island

There is a Problem with Susan.

The Problem isn't one that is immediately obvious to everyone. It's not one that is always agreed upon by everyone. And it might not even be one Problem; it might be a whole host of them. But there is a Problem nonetheless with Susan, and there's no sense in trying to avoid it any longer. 

In "The Last Battle", the final book in the Narnia series, a brief exchange between a group of humans-who-have-visited-Narnia (hereafter referred to as "Friends of Narnia" for simplicity) reveals that Susan is no longer "a friend of Narnia". Susan is not present to give her side of the story (except for this one brief mention, she does not appear in The Last Battle at all), but it would seem that she either no longer believes in Narnia or claims to no longer believe in it. And since she no longer believes (or claims not to) in Narnia, she does not participate in Narnia-related functions, and because she does not participate, she does not die and go to the afterlife when her brothers and sister do while acting in service to Narnia.

C.S. Lewis stated outside the books that:

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.

Paul F. Ford, author of "Companion to Narnia" wrote: 

This is not to say, as some critics have maintained, that she is lost forever ... It is a mistake to think that Susan was killed in the railway accident at the end of The Last Battle and that she has forever fallen from grace. It is to be assumed, rather, that as a woman of twenty-one who has just lost her entire family in a terrible crash, she will have much to work through; in the process, she might change to become truly the gentle person she has the potential for being.

And so perhaps a very great problem with Susan is that the man who wrote her and other men who write about her consider her a vapid, egotistical, un-gentle person and assert that she is so without ever feeling the need to justify this characterization on the page, with in-character actions. And this characterization-by-assertion is something that has frequently taken fans of the series by surprise, including fans who identified with Susan for her bravery, her courage, her gentility, and her depth of emotion.

But though Susan is not present to defend or explain herself in The Last Battle, surely we have some clue to her character through the descriptions of the others, no? Does not Eustace say, which is never contradicted by the others:

"Yes," said Eustace, "and whenever you've tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'"

And doesn't that seem like a pretty rotten thing to do? Susan can't possibly have forgotten about Narnia, so she must simply be pretending to have done so. And while it's all well and good to argue that she may be "pretending" to do so out of an instinctive need to protect herself *, it still makes Susan a pretty rotten person to tease the others for believing something she fundamentally knows to be true.

* And now I am going to write a note that will likely be longer than the entire rest of the post, because I could write a thousand pages on all the reasons why pretending Narnia doesn't exist is a valid method of self-preservation in my eyes.

Narnia, by all the rules and understanding of the physical world in which Susan lives, doesn't exist. An alternate dimension that can be popped in and out of and in which time passes according to narrative fiat (sometimes impossibly fast, other times remarkably slow), and in which water spirits live, and the salt sea can simply stop being salt and start being sweet after a certain demarcation line, and flying horses fly is not possible. People who insist that the impossible is both possible and has happened to them are routinely considered by our culture to be mentally ill. Denying Narnia can be a method of self-defense against the growing belief that one's own self is mentally ill.

Narnia, as an experience, effectively isolates those which experience it. In all the world, Susan knows only a half dozen people who have been to Narnia: an elderly couple whose "adventures" in Narnia only came out after they heard about Susan's adventures there, her brothers and sister, a cousin, and this cousin's girl friend. For someone who is passionate, gregarious, and sharing, being so firmly isolated from the rest of the world by such an experience can be literally painful. Denying Narnia can be a method of self-defense against being continually walled off from the outside world of which one may want desperately to be a part.

Narnia, as a place, is deeply hostile to the idea of consent. Susan was brought into Narnia because a magic portal opened when she was hiding in a wardrobe. She may or may not have been magically herded into that wardrobe for that very purpose. Though she initially wanted to leave, she felt a duty to stay and save her sister's friend. And once she learned to love the land and chose to live her life there and take lovers and had decided to marry and raise a family, she was dumped without warning from the world she loved and back into a body she was no longer familiar with. One year later, she was physically yanked into Narnia without giving her consent only to find that (a) everyone she'd known and loved was long dead, (b) her kingdom was ruined by her sudden and unwilling prior exit from Narnia, and (c) she would never be allowed to return ever again because she was arbitrarily too old. Denying Narnia can be a method of self-defense against a phenomena that has emotionally hurt Susan in a variety of very deep ways.

But! That last one -- "Narnia has hurt Susan so she's pretending it doesn't exist in order to protect herself" -- is frequently a subject of rigorous debate. How much was Susan actually hurt by being tossed out of Narnia as an adult and back into England as a child? Was the unexpected body swap traumatic, or did magic ease the transition such that Susan and the other children adapted back to their old bodies and old lives easily and simply remembered the whole of Narnia as a fading dream?

And now we are out of the note and back into the post, because "Prince Caspian" is here to assure you that the answer is yes: the children totally took to their childreny bodies like fish to water and the whole Narnia thing was not traumatic at all because it was like a fading dream, half-remembered on waking.

PROBLEM SOLVED FOREVER.

Except... no... wait a second... How does that work, then, that Susan is a vapid, egotistical person for not believing in a dream? And for thinking it a little funny and odd that her brothers and sister believe in their dream? If you make it so that Narnia seems like a hazy dream to ease the trauma, doesn't that make it harder to justify Susan as "silly" and "conceited" for not basing major life decisions on a dream she had when she was a little girl and which she barely remembers?

I SAID, PROBLEM SOLVED FOREVER.

Haha, we have fun, don't we? And what you are going to love, or at least what I loved, going into these first few chapters of "Prince Caspian" is the realization that the Pevensie children only very barely remember anything at all about Narnia and yet they are still terribly traumatized by the experience.

This is going to be such fun. If by "fun" you mean "horrifying". And I do.

   ONCE THERE WERE FOUR CHILDREN whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and it has been told in another book called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe how they had a remarkable adventure.

One of the problems with "Prince Caspian" as a book is that I'm really not sure it knows what it wants to be. As far as I could see, "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" knew precisely what it wanted to be: it wanted to riff off existing Snow Queen fairy tales with a strong dash of Grecian mythology world-building centered around an allegory for Christ's crucifixion. All well and good, and fairly well focused as far as all that goes.

But then you have "Prince Caspian" and it seems like it's really struggling for a thematic purpose. An obvious allusion would be the King Arthur mythos and anything involving the return of a legendary king to set things right, and Lewis is on record saying the book is about "the restoration of the true religion after a corruption", but frankly "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" kind of already handled the King Arthur thing once already with the perpetually absent King Aslan and it's unclear how the Narnian religion is "corrupted" so much as "absent all over again". If you want religious corruption in this series, "The Last Battle" is almost certainly the better way to go.

So PC tends to get lost in the Narnian shuffle a bit, since it frequently feels like "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: Two and a Half", and it's probably not a good sign when an author is name-dropping the last book in the series in the first sentence, but what is interesting here is that the name-drop kind of has to occur in order to really link the two novels.

And here is the first problem with the whole mess that is PC: who are these Pevensie kids, anyway?

I don't mean "who are they" in the literal sense; obviously they're Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. (See up there? The narrator just told us that.) But what are their personalities? At the beginning of LWW, they could be viewed as relatively complex characters. Peter was the eldest, but weighed down by responsibilities he wasn't ready for and frequently failed and took out his exasperation on the others. Susan was motherly, wise, and brave, but she was quiet and not always sure of herself or her position in the world or her family. Edmund was tense, frustrated by a childhood marked by bad schooling, family separation, and a world war. Lucy was the youngest, approaching the world with a childlike sense of wonder that may not always have been safe or wise.

In the last chapter of LWW, Peter had grown into his position as a leader, Susan had become sociable and gregarious, Edmund was wise and serene, and Lucy had grown into a vibrant young woman, hardened as a battle nurse and yet still full of life and joy. The children had deepened and grown and changed... and then they were dumped out into England without so much as a how'd you do. So what are they now? Have their personalities reverted to pre-Narnia personalities along with their bodily reversion, or have they retained their character growth somehow despite the jettisoning of their physical growth and -- we're getting there, I swear -- what seems to be a fair bulk of their memories?

And, really, you might as well just decide what personality to assign to each kid, because I'm just about tempted to make a game out of taking the "X said" tags off all the dialogue and see if I can still tell who is talking because I'm pretty sure I can't.

   That had all happened a year ago, and now all four of them were sitting on a seat at a railway station with trunks and playboxes piled up round them. They were, in fact, on their way back to school. [...] but now when they would be saying good-bye and going different ways so soon, everyone felt that the holidays were really over and everyone felt their term-time feelings beginning again, and they were all rather gloomy and no one could think of anything to say. Lucy was going to boarding school for the first time.

And here is the first moment of buh-who-what-now because the Pevensies are sad, but not because they've lost Narnia and they're no longer queens and kings and they've lost every friend they've known for the last decade or so. No, they're sad because... summer vacation is over. Which is more than a little mundane but also a whiplash moment of wahey because this is not what my reaction as a child would have been towards losing Narnia.

Granted, it's been a year, and granted, this is Narnia and not Edward Cullen, but still I would expect at least some mention of Narnia-related emotion, even if it was just a cozy mention of the fact that kings didn't have to go to boarding school. And yet, there's nothing. And since the narrative doesn't mention the children's thoughts on leaving the house that contains the only portal to Narnia that they're aware exists in the whole world, it creates the impression that the kids aren't thinking about it. Losing Narnia quite possibly forever -- in this moment in England -- doesn't seem to have much of an effect on them.

And that's so alien that I don't even know how to deal with it except to assume that the children have forgotten about Narnia entirely. Or decided that it never existed in the first place. Or otherwise dealt with the knowledge in such a way as to push it from conscious thought.

   It was an empty, sleepy, country station and there was hardly anyone on the platform except themselves. Suddenly Lucy gave a sharp little cry, like someone who has been stung by a wasp.
   "What's up, Lu?" said Edmund -- and then suddenly broke off and made a noise like "Ow!"
   "What on earth -- " began Peter, and then he too suddenly changed what he had been going to say. Instead, he said, "Susan, let go! What are you doing? Where are you dragging me to?"
   "I'm not touching you," said Susan. "Someone is pulling me. Oh -- oh -- oh -- stop it!" [...]
   "Look sharp!" shouted Edmund. "All catch hands and keep together. This is magic -- I can tell by the feeling. Quick!"
   "Yes," said Susan. "Hold hands. Oh, I do wish it would stop -- oh!"

And now here are a couple of things worthy of note.

First, the children are being pulled forcibly into Narnia. There may not be an immediately obvious difference in transport between stepping into a portal in a wardrobe, but it effectively means that the children are powerless to prevent being pulled into Narnia and they are incapable of leaving once there, since there's no obvious portal to step through. Words cannot describe how traumatizing this knowledge would be to me: the idea that I could be sitting here working on a blog post before then being tossed into a fantasy land for gods-know-how-long before being tossed out again without warning would mess with my head. Maybe I'm the only one, I don't know, but there's a fundamental loss of agency here that is terrifying to me.

Second, Susan tells the magic to stop. Twice. The first time she speaks, she might be addressing whoever is "pulling" her in general, even though at that point it's clear that it's not a Pevensie sibling doing the pulling but rather some unseen force. The second time is very clearly stated after she knows it's magic. She tells the force to stop and it doesn't. It doesn't ultimately matter if the puller is Aslan or The Emperor or Deep Magic or Father Christmas; Susan's consent is being overridden and that is a Very Big Problem.

Third, the children speak as they feel the pulling, and they do not feel the pulling in order of age. Chronological order would dictate a speaking pattern of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, Peter. Instead, we get Peter moved before Susan. Possibly because Peter is the more vocal of the two, more apt to speak up when he sees Lucy and Edmund having a problem. But I can't help but note that we're coincidentally following a hypothetical Pevensie pantheon with Lucy The Youngest, Edmund The Second, Peter The Elder, and Susan The Last.

   Next moment the luggage, the seat, the platform, and the station had completely vanished. The four children, holding hands and panting, found themselves standing in a woody place -- such a woody place that branches were sticking into them and there was hardly room to move. They all rubbed their eyes and took a deep breath.
   "Oh, Peter!" exclaimed Lucy. "Do you think we can possibly have got back to Narnia?"
   "It might be anywhere," said Peter. "I can't see a yard in all these trees. Let's try to get into the open -- if there is any open."

Again we have this strange, almost non-reaction when it comes to Narnia. Lucy, the youngest, excitedly proposes that it may be Narnia -- and, really, why wouldn't it be? How many magical worlds have they known? Is Peter resigned to visiting a new magical world every year? -- and Peter makes a noncommittal, disinterested response. Possibly this is meant to seem gamely of him: it might be anywhere! Let's explore and see! but a very real problem is that from now until the penny finally drops and the children realize that it is Narnia, they will all four seem shockingly incurious when it comes to comparing their surroundings with what the remember of Narnia.

Look at the Narnia map again. There are really only two dense forests in Narnia: a forest in the northwest of the country and the forest surrounding Cair Paravel, also known as "the forest surrounding the place where the Pevensies lived for a decade or more". It seems to me that someone would mention that, as in "if we are in Narnia, we must be near Cair Paravel". It seems to me that someone would navigate with that in mind, as in "if we strike an easternly route, we'll have to reach the sea at some point". It seems to me that someone would try to match landmarks, as in "does that boulder seem like the one we used to dance around on Boulder Dancing Day?" No one does this. Not yet, anyway.

   With some difficulty, and with some stings from nettles and pricks from thorns, they struggled out of the thicket. [...] Everything became much brighter, and after a few steps they found themselves at the edge of the wood, looking down on a sandy beach. A few yards away a very calm sea was falling on the sand with such tiny ripples that it made hardly any sound. There was no land in sight and no clouds in the sky. [...]
   Five minutes later everyone was barefooted and wading in the cool clear water.
   "This is better than being in a stuffy train on the way back to Latin and French and Algebra!" said Edmund. And then for quite a long time there was no more talking, only splashing and looking for shrimps and crabs.

And this, like the earlier disappointment framing only in terms of the summer ending, strikes me as utterly true for four ordinary school children, and yet utterly out of place for four ordinary school children who have done this before. I don't mean that the Pevensies shouldn't enjoy childish playing on the beach, but rather I mean that the "omg pretty magic land" reaction is going to be very different if you've already been to a pretty magic land.

For one thing, if this is Narnia, I would expect them to be very preoccupied with getting to the castle to see their friends and get back to ruling their kingdom. For another thing, if they think this is not Narnia, I would expect them to be at least a little on the lookout for the fantastical villain to drive up and cause problems. Edmund in particular should be wary of that, and not focused on Latin.

   "All the same," said Susan presently, "I suppose we'll have to make some plans. We shall want something to eat before long."

And now we're repeating the "omg pretty magic land but Susan points out they've no food on them". It seriously is LWW2.5, I swear.

   "It's like being shipwrecked," remarked Edmund. "In the books they always find springs of clear, fresh water on the island. We’d better go and look for them."
   "Does that mean we have to go back into all that thick wood?" said Susan.
   "Not a bit of it," said Peter. "If there are streams they're bound to come down to the sea, and if we walk along the beach we're bound to come to them."

HOW DO I RECONCILE THIS PASSAGE WITH THE FACT THAT THEY'VE BEEN TO NARNIA BEFORE?

I'm serious. What do you do with this? Edmund is referencing books for crying out loud, which makes perfect characterization sense if this is the first novel in a series, but none whatsoever if this is the second and they've been to a magical land before. The answer is not "omg Robinson Crusoe" but rather the answer is "well, if this is Narnia, the biggest stream letting off into the Eastern Sea was..." and then trying to navigate (north or south?) from there.

And then there's "water always returns to the ocean" Peter who you would never guess as having been king of a great bloody forest for the last decade or so of his life. Because, I mean, I've never lived in a forest, but I'm pretty sure there are streams and lakes and stuff that don't go to the sea, and I'm additionally pretty comfortable saying that the trees have to get the water from somewhere, so get back in that forest kiddo and additionally maybe the shade will keep you hydrated longer.

   They all now waded back and went first across the smooth, wet sand and then up to the dry, crumbly sand that sticks to one's toes, and began putting on their shoes and socks. Edmund and Lucy wanted to leave them behind and do their exploring with bare feet, but Susan said this would be a mad thing to do. "We might never find them again," she pointed out, "and we shall want them if we're still here when night comes and it begins to be cold."

B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bu--. You know what? I'm not even going to comment on this. The entire characterization issue is a scrambled mess as far as I'm concerned.

   Edmund said they must gather gulls' eggs from the rocks, but when they came to think of it they couldn’t remember having seen any gulls’ eggs and wouldn’t be able to cook them if they found any. Peter thought to himself that unless they had some stroke of luck they would soon be glad to eat eggs raw, but he didn't see any point in saying this out loud. Susan said it was a pity they had eaten the sandwiches so soon. One or two tempers very nearly got lost at this stage. Finally Edmund said:
   "Look here. There's only one thing to be done. We must explore the wood. Hermits and knights-errant and people like that always manage to live somehow if they’re in a forest. They find roots and berries and things."
   "What sort of roots?" asked Susan.
   "I always thought it meant roots of trees," said Lucy.

While the children continue to pretend like they've never been in a magical land before so that Edmund can reference his favorite pieces of literature, this seems like as good a time as any to bring back up the point (first mentioned in the comments) that Narnia does not culturally challenge the children. The language is English (even to the point of using common English nursery rhymes in conversational speech!), the food is English, the social norms of clothing and behavior are largely English.

At no point in the stories do the children have to deal with dryads and naiads who don't cover their breasts. At no point are they expected to eat unusual foods, whether it be insects (perfectly reasonable in a court completely staffed by Animals) or simply non-English fare. At no point are they limited by their language or forced to rely on interpreters to speak with the majority of their court. The most they are ever challenged is on their diplomatic visits to Calormen, where they bring along an entire retinue to entertain, service, and cook for them.

The world is molded to their needs, which is a cozy fantasy as a child and yet effectively means that the Pevensie children face fewer challenges to their social norms in their magical world than most of us face in our daily lives. They're effectively insular and isolated in Narnia, which makes it all the more interesting to have the one ex-member of the group labeled "silly" and "conceited" for having different values than the others.

And possibly not surprisingly as a result of this heavy insulation from want and privation, the children don't know the first thing about woodland survival despite having lived in a forest for a decade and been (apparently) avid hunters. Either they've forgotten everything they once knew, or their living and hunting was so much for sport that they never absorbed any actual knowledge as part of their daily lives. Food -- food that must have come from the forest, because Narnia had neither refrigeration nor railway -- just appeared in the Pevensie court, cooked into a form that no longer resembled the raw origins, to the point where the concept of roots and berries and eggs is almost baffling to the former monarchs.

   They were beginning to get very tired of it when they noticed a delicious smell, and then a flash of bright color high above them at the top of the right bank.
   "I say!" exclaimed Lucy. "I do believe that’s an apple tree."
   It was. They panted up the steep bank, forced their way through some brambles, and found themselves standing round an old tree that was heavy with large yellowish-golden apples as firm and juicy as you could wish to see.
   "And this is not the only tree," said Edmund with his mouth full of apple. "Look there—and there."
   "Why, there are dozens of them," said Susan, throwing away the core of her first apple and picking her second. "This must have been an orchard—long, long ago, before the place went wild and the wood grew up."

The orchard -- I'm going to go ahead and spoil this in advance -- is an orchard that the Pevensies ordered planted on their castle grounds thirteen hundred years ago. The castle has been abandoned and the orchard has grown up wild and untamed. And this seems as good a time to mention that apple trees when left in their natural state can grow to be 40 feet tall, and (I'm guessing, mind you, as I have no experience with 1,300 year old apple trees) not always easily picked by small children.

They could have planted small apple trees, of course -- pretty little decorative trees that grow less fruit but can be picked by hand whenever the desire arises. And knowing the Pevensies, they probably did. This orchard probably wasn't put into Cair Paravel to protect the residents from starvation over a long siege. The orchard probably wasn't put into Cair Paravel to feed the surrounding community and ensure they always had food stored up over the winter. It's easy for me to imagine that the priorities of the Pevensie monarchs -- who, let us not forget, spent their last days in Narnia hunting one of their subjects for sport -- were beauty and pleasure over security and social welfare.

And yet it's amusing to me that this isn't intended as social commentary. The Pevensies are called good rulers in the text, and I believe the author intended us to see them as such. They were good rulers who made no plans for the future, lived each day as if they had thousands more to come, and despite coming into their kingdom through the climax of a civil war that had raged a hundred years, saw no need to live as if Narnia was anything other than a peaceful utopia.

In the 1,300 years between LWW and PC, a foreign race will invade Narnia and launch a concentrated program of genocide that will drive all non-human Narnians -- which is, let us remember all Narnians, since the Pevensie were the only four humans in the entire country -- into hiding or exile. Vast numbers will be killed. Families will be destroyed. The country will be plunged into another civil war. And even when the Pevensies win and crown Prince Caspian king, the humans will still outnumber the Animals. The kingdom which was once entirely populated by Animals and magical creatures has been forever altered.

This isn't directly the fault of the Pevensies. They weren't, after all, there to stop it. But neither did they apparently plan for it. Despite living in a country wracked by civil war (a major campaign during their rule was fighting ghouls and werewolves and northern giants) and having tense relations with another country, the country of Calormen, the Pevensies did not build up Narnian defenses. They did not, apparently, maintain a standing army. They didn't install moats or drawbridges or fortifications into Cair Paravel. They didn't establish a fall back position for the Narnian people on the peninsula on which Cair Paravel stands. They didn't (apparently) designate a stable succession in case anything should happen to them.

Instead they planted apple trees. Not the kind that grow tall and great and feed multitudes, but the kind that grow short and squat and look pretty in the garden and from which small children can easily harvest a snack.

And so again we're back to some very great questions: who are the Pevensies, what do they know, and how do they think? Are they childish and ignorant now because they do not recall Narnia, or were they just as childish and ignorant back then when they were living as insulated adults unaware of the very real responsibilities of rulership? I genuinely don't know.

114 comments:

Jenna Moran said...

Gorgeous post!

Personally, I think Susan was too busy running around with the Doctor to be a friend to Narnia. You know how it is. When you're young and magic starts yanking you into another world, there's nothing you can do about it, but when you're old enough to use a sonic wand (it's like a magic wand, only sonic) to set up resonance feedback and smack the Emperor Under the Sea a good 'un, you have to decide whether it's a better use of your time to go to Narnia or Skaro right THEN.

Will Wildman said...

Many cheers for the return of Narnia posts! And I love this post (all posts are Susan posts) but because it is my contrary nature, I am going to get right in to the points of contention.

Regarding orchards: I don't know about wild apple trees, but if we're farming apples, we want them to be relatively easy to pick - the less equipment needed, the better. Thus apple trees that grow short and wide, almost dome-shaped, are often prized in non-decorative orchards, and are readily pickable from the ground, in addition to being quite easy to climb. Of course, these trees in Narnia have been overgrowing for a millennium, so I don't know what the lack of pruning and such might result in. Now I'm wondering if any of them are sapient trees as we've been told exist in the past, because I'm not sure how I would feel about eating a sapient tree's, uh, apples.

Regarding is-it-or-innit-Narnia: I think I might praise Peter for not assuming that they were in Narnia just because they got magically teleported to a forest again. For all they know, there are a bajillion worlds that people can get magically transported to, and the probability of finding the same one twice is infinitesimal. However, all bonus points are revoked for not trying to figure out whether this is Narnia by comparing their surroundings to any landmarks they might remember. Also, given that the use of literary traditions ('robins are good birds') was depicted as an intelligent and Peterful line of analysis in LWW, Edmund is arguably also being smart-ish here by relying on books now. But this depends on the next bit -

Regarding memories: I really cannot figure out how much they are supposed to remember or not. (Presumably it wasn't an aspect of the story that Lewis wanted to tell and so he shuffled it off to one side as much as possible.) I think, from the evidence we're presented with, we can conclude that they lack the vast majority of their memories from their reign. In fact, given the way they've readjusted to Earth, apparently experience no trauma from life-reversion, and yet still remember plot points from LWW, I think the most likely conclusion is that basically they fully remember LWW, and then the timeskip of their reign has been all-but-completely blotted out. This would give them a single contiguous personal history - upon being de-aged, they blurred/lost any memories that happened when they were older than the age they reverted to. This lets them primarily care about events that we actually read about, excuses them for not remembering any landmarks upon their return, and also cuts their effective 'time in Narnia' down to a couple of days, which may be marvellous but would also be easier to get over in a year.

Iopgod said...

Glad to see more narnia posts: just one minor point - I think you would be hard pressed to find a river or stream that didnt flow to the sea eventually, a combination of "water flows downhill" and "land being higher than the sea" ;)

Dav said...

Great post. I have completely different complaints about the orchard, but it's definitely a problem.

Dwarfed or semi-dwarfed apples *can* yield very well, and the increased density can make up for the smaller canopy. MN estimates 300-500 bushels of apples per acre of commercially-managed dwarfed apples, which is a pretty sizeable haul. The ability to pick more apples, to prune properly, and to have a bigger mix of kinds (so you've got summer and fall apples, storage apples and cider apples and apples that bloom late to dodge the last frost) is something that I think would trump a slightly larger potential yield.

Especially in Narnia, where there's presumably no pesticides, it's worthwhile planting lots of cultivars with different growth cycles, so if coddling moths move into your Orange Pippins, you still have a supply of Black Beauties to cover you. *And* their chefs would want different varieties for cooking and fresh eating and drying. So dwarf trees, or semi-dwarf trees, would make sense from that standpoint. (There's no evidence they did plant lots of varieties, of course.)

But there's no way those apple trees are all the same as the originals. Apples don't sprout true to their parents; they're hugely variable. Plant five seeds from a Red Delicious, and you'll get five different apples, none like Red Delicious, likely to be wooly or bitter or just unpalatable. And it's very unlikely that the apples would hold their own against the encroaching forest: fruit trees do not cope well in the shade, and they're easily topped by more shade tolerant species. 30 years? Sure, I buy that. 100? Possible. 1300? No way.

So this is Magic - sort of scary Magic, too. I'm not sure I'd eat the Immortal Convenient Fragrant Apples of Narnia in the Garden Where the Forest Dare Not Overtop. Even if they were crunchy and delicious. I have a hard time telling what's supposed to be Providence of God and Temptation of Satan. I'd expect Edmund might be a little hesitant too, after spending a big portion of the last book in a food-magicked haze and nearly getting killed over it.

Ana Mardoll said...

Dav, how much do I love your informative apple post? SO MUCH.

I should in fairness to Lewis point out that he anticipated the 1,300 year thing by saying that an elite forest spirit lady blessed the orchard. (That will come out in Chapter 2 and promptly be cut by me because there are more interesting things to talk about, like the fact that Susan is crying in the background while Peter expositions to us.)

But I sadly admit that the entirety of my apple knowledge is from books only; I've never actually lived on a property with one, though I've wanted to many times. Good to know that dwarfs can yield heavily.

Rakka said...

Yay, a Narnia post!

To expand a little on the subject of iron: unless there's a source of "free" energy and advanced explosives you don't want to mine for iron ore. You let the water do the work for you and find a suitable bog or lake, and use the iron sand or limonite nodules for your ore. It's much more labour efficient. It takes a lot of fuel to smelt the ore, though, so for any larger scale production you'd either need to mine coal or cut down not insignificant number of trees, the latter of which probably wouldn't win a lot of favours from those sentient trees. (Or is it Trees?)

Brin Bellway said...

Um...hang on.

*fetches unread copy of Prince Caspian*

*reads first chapter*

That'll do for a start. Now to read the post.

the idea that I could be sitting here working on a blog post before then being tossed into a fantasy land for gods-know-how-long before being tossed out again without warning would mess with my head.

Worse, an apparently deserted fantasy land with almost no supplies. Even Susan--who supposedly worries too much--doesn't seem worried enough for the severity of the situation.

Dav: I'm not sure I'd eat the Immortal Convenient Fragrant Apples of Narnia in the Garden Where the Forest Dare Not Overtop.

I can almost hear the horror music.

Cupcakedoll said...

Love that idea!

And if all the Pevensies are Time Lords, they wouldn't be freaked out by becoming children again since they'd be expecting to regenerate at some point anyway! Seems like Time Lords who wigged out after regeneration would be weeded out of the gene pool back in Gallifrey's caveman times, leaving a race that's very calm about sudden bodily changes.

It also might explain the Britishness of Narnia. Wherever the Doctor goes, he carries a field of Britishness that gives all the aliens English accents...

Jenna Moran said...

[Ana Mardoll] Good to know that dwarfs can yield heavily.

Of course, reading this after Patrick Knipe's post, all I can think is

[Patrick Knipe] I sure hope they're not all universally evil or something.

Jenna Moran said...

(Never trust something that looks like an apple tree and isn't, I always say. Particularly if it's actually an evil giant mantis employing some sort of mimesis. Although I guess Santa Claus sort of looks like an apple tree and he is pretty trustworthy.)

Scott said...

Actually, it's quite common for streams, especially small ones, to just vanish into the ground. Especially if the rock is porous, or the soil is deep and fluffy, or there's lot of plant life that might absorb the water. In a hot desert environment, it might just evaporate, and if you've got old empty tunnels from volcanic activity (I presume not the case here) then you might lose a whole small river underground.

...What? I watch a lot of survival shows.

Gelliebean said...

The scary thing to me is, with my religious background everything almost makes sense. If you are:

1) told that your life rightfully belongs to someone else with more Authority, who can see everything, plan to infinity (and beyond!), and who is never ever wrong;
2) told that you are expected to try to figure out what this Authority wants you to do without ever being explicitly told, and then do it no matter what;
3) told that questioning the Authority is a sin, and the Wages Of Sin Are Death;
4) told that if you are good, you will be transported one day to a wonderous, magical, everlasting place, but you can never know when it's coming or even be sure if you've been good enough;
5) told to take all this as Absolute Truth on the basis of faith, constant reiteration, and a few too many teary, shakey Wednesday nights spent at the youth altar waiting for the tingly feeling that might prove it's real just one more time;

then you either continue to believe it, hope, and wait (and one day finally make it back to Narnia!) or you shrug your shoulders and move on with the work of this life.

And honestly, how is the kingdom of God better served? By someone who sees the here and now, or by someone about whom it is said "Never his mind on where he was! What he was doing!" (poke, poke, poke). Someone who accepts her new status as an adult and tries to function in the world on that basis, or someone who keeps waiting to be hit by the proverbial bus?

Marie Brennan said...

I can't get too exercised about the "practicality" issues, because this is not and never was a series that intended to address things from a practical angle. There was a war against the giants because that's the kind of thing that happens in a chivalric romance (which is what the rule of the Pevensies is clearly meant to be), not because of realistic political tensions that need realistic political and military answers. So no, they didn't "build up Narnian defenses [...] maintain a standing army [...] install moats or drawbridges or fortifications into Cair Paravel [..] establish a fall back position for the Narnian people on the peninsula on which Cair Paravel stands [... or] designate a stable succession in case anything should happen to them." I don't expect them to -- because those things don't belong in the Happily Ever After of "and then the rightful kings and queens came to the throne and everything was perfect forevermore."

. . . but of course the problem is that the HEA of Narnia got chucked out the window by fiat, when the Pevensies were sent back to England. And while it's possible to view PC as being the "Return of Arthur" from Arthur's point of view, that doesn't really work, because the story is such an utter mess. (We haven't even gotten yet to my biggest complaint, which is how much of the book consists of the Pevensies listening to somebody tell them about things that have already happened.) I'm okay with Golden Age Narnia being golden and wonderful where practical issues like feeding the royal court aren't a concern, and I'm okay with that Golden Age fading and becoming forgotten after the monarchs are Raptured off by Lion!Jesus, but I'm not okay with the complete incoherence of the consequences. The confusion as to what the kids remember and how they feel about it bothers me a lot more than their failure to be realistic heads of government.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Red Delicious is a hybrid cultivar, so of course the seeds won't breed true. I would assume the native apples of Narnia are not hybrids, given the lack of agricultural development in general, so they would breed true. Apple trees do not live 1300 years, they rarely live 100 years. What you (should) have in that old orchard are their Nth-generation descendants from seed. That the orchard has not been overgrown by forest suggests something or someone has cleared it from time to time...

Lonespark said...

Re: streams and such


There's such a thing as groundwater. And lakes. And springs. On account of (topography and) groundwater.

Lonespark said...

Oh, fake html fail.

Dav said...

Red Delicious is a hybrid cultivar, so of course the seeds won't breed true. I would assume the native apples of Narnia are not hybrids, given the lack of agricultural development in general, so they would breed true.

Actually, native plant populations are likely to have *more* genetic diversity than crop populations because the selective pressures they're under will be vastly more varied. From a fitness perspective, which survives better: a species (or grove) of trees that all blooms, leaves out, and drops fruit at the same time, with the same susceptibility to insects and disease, or one that has some trees blooming a bit earlier, some with better resistance to caterpillars, etc.? It's one of the reasons for sexual reproduction - get different alleles into the mix, and mix the alleles in different ways, so some progeny have a chance of surviving whatever comes along. In addition, assuming genetics works there the same way it works here, there's likely to be an advantage to being a hybrid - the whole "hybrid vigor" thing.

The advantage to homozygous, monocrop survival is dependent on the farmer to provide a buffer between the normal evolutionary pressures and the deficiencies of that particular cultivar.

The advantage of diversity is especially high for plants, because they can't avoid most of their problems. If the locusts come, or the rivers rise, or a 100-year winter shows up, species survival depends on having some members make it through. (Or leaving behind enough seeds to start over if the adults all die. Which is why you get 40,000 red pine sprouts in clear-cut forests that haven't seen a red pine tree in decades.)

If apples there are like apples here, the original orchard was probably based on grafts from an unusually delicious tree (or twenty) onto wild apple saplings. Let's assume that there was only one unusually delicious tree. Even if it was, against all odds, completely true-breeding, that future orchard? Not going to be the same.

1. Mutations of several kinds: apples seem to be extra susceptible to these, but it could be that most of us don't look closely at every ear of corn we eat, so it's just more obvious when it happens. Plus, the long life of the tree means that sports (localized single-branch mutations) are a possibility - the mutation doesn't have to occur in a sex cell for it to be passed on successfully. If a mutation occurs in the right point in dividing tissue, it can be passed on.
2. Outside pollen: Any other apple tree anywhere nearby? Any other species closely related to apples? Plants often interbreed in surprising ways, and insects and wind can carry in pollen from surprising distances.
3. Rise of the wild apples: it's not unusual for the rootstock of a grafted tree to be sturdier than the pasted-on top. If that top dies back, sometimes the rootstock will grow into a tree in its own right, complete with its own genome to share. In a rampantly inter-pollinated species like apples? That's the end of a stable true-breeding grove. Sometimes the grafted part doesn't even need to die - I've seen stocks that spontaneously sucker out.

Ken said...

Regarding trees and such - obviously that's not the same trees, but Narnia works on Fairy Tale Laws and the new trees growing from seeds always produce the same apples. Generally, this is why deconstructing Fairy Tales is unfair - but Lewis writes fantasy here, so he doesn't get a pass. Compare Tolkien who,. for all fantasy, clearly had all heroes KNOW how to survive in wilderness, provided no major baddies are around. Note also, for example that Tolkien knew about sieges and such , whereas Lewis is terribly lacking.
The Problem of Susan is of course, a biggie. On the one hand, we clearly see some foreshadowing here - Susan repeatedly worries about Real Life things like "what will we eat?"`, which never works in fantasy. This is, in fact, the main problem: Susan behaves like a realistic 12 years old child would, whereas Peter, Edmund and especially Lucy play along the magic rules and therefore get magical power boosts (yes, Edmund played for the wrong side, but this is better than not playing at all, and then he DID become awesome in the final battle of LWW). This is not by mistake - Lewis firmly believed that divine rules are contradictory to mundane rules, yet would trump them when it counted - so being a believer is better than being a skeptic. This may not be apparent here, but Edmunds "hurra, no school" is ultimately a non-skeptical mindset, and as the story progresses, we will see even more from "skeptic Susan is wrong, wrong, wrong."
Oh, and one more point: Lewis SURELY hated schools. Remember "School is over - the holidays had begun"? We already get a glimpse of it here.

Marie Brennan said...

I should add that the argument presented here is absolutely my reading of Susan: that she denies Narnia because the alternative is too much to bear. (Especially when you consider that they go from being adults who helped save the world to being kids in the middle of WORLD WAR TWO. No Jesus!Lion is going to come roaring in and stop Hitler.)

I wish these books were public domain. I've already got one story that's me having a big ol' argument with Peter Pan (skating very carefully around the edges of the copyright situation there); I'd love to write a similar one for Susan and Narnia, and then I might go on to Oz and Wonderland and have a whole collection of arguments with classic children's fantasy. But as it stands, the Susan story couldn't be published -- though I might still write it as fanfic.

(Yes, I know about Gaiman's story. He's said in interviews that he made some changes to the story so as to sidestep the copyright problem; I don't know what exactly those changes were, but I can speculate, and I know the story I want to write would not be able to avoid the problem.)

Stuart Armstrong said...

Yay! Narnia deconstruction is bak online.

>and yet still remember plot points from LWW, I think the most likely conclusion is that basically they fully remember LWW, and then the timeskip of their reign has been all-but-completely blotted out.

Nearly my theory. Which is that the children act as if they read the LWW, and all their memories are of the text. So they remember nothing useful about their reign, because the book skipped over their reign so fast. And they don't remember anything about maps or riverlines or contours, because LWW was a book, not an atlas. Voila!

Ursula L said...

What are the ethics of planting an orchard, in a place where trees are sentient?

Do sentient trees recognize their parents? Would the parent trees object to having infant-trees dug up and planted elsewhere?

And what about the other things done to maintain an orchard? Do the trees object to having seedlings thinned out so that the official orchard-trees have the right amount of room to grow? What about pruning trees? Or pinching off the buds on young trees so that they spend their energy in the first few years growing instead of producing fruit?

What about grafting? What does that do to the body-image of a sentient tree?

And it seems, to me, that the Narnian trees don't just have spirit-forms that can move away from the physical tree, but rather that the physical trees can move themselves. So would the trees want to stay in the tidy rows of an orchard?

DavidCheatham said...

Time for the mandatory xkcd link:

http://xkcd.com/693/

Don't miss the hover text.

Ursula L said...

More fun with the idea of sentient trees:

What do trees think about having animals, intelligent Animals, or humans eat their fruit?

After all, fruit isn't just any part of the tree, it is a tree's reproductive organs. So we're talking about something closer to harvesting ova or performing an abortion, rather than just discarded nail clippings, when considering fruit being eaten.

Or planting the trees - what if the parent-tree in question wasn't interested in having children-trees now? Is the orchard an act of forced reproduction? Even if the parent-trees were interested in having offspring-trees, now, would they want their baby-trees to be raised in an orchard, a clinical or institutional setting?

Do sentient trees have a ritual or act to control pollination? So that when they want an offspring-tree, they know who the other parent-tree is, and they maintain a relationship while nurturing the infant tree until it is grown to a certain level? Do they have any form of birth control, some way in which they ensure that the seeds of their fruit don't randomly grow into trees, but only do so when they choose?

Dav said...

Would sentient trees and sentient primates be able to bridge the cultural/reproductive differences? Maybe the act of thinning out young seedlings would be considered normal practice, while to humans, it might look very much like infanticide.

Transplanting? Would saplings who wanted to see the world sell themselves to a nursery? What would the laws/regulations involved be? Can a Tree choose to end its own life, even if others depend on it for food and shelter? Can Beavers dam water at will, even if it might deprive Trees downstream of water - or drown upstream Trees?

I would very very much like to watch a crime/law procedural set in Narnia.

Susan B. said...

As to the eating of a tree's reproductive organs…

Horrible in the case of humans and most other animals, but in the case of plants didn't fruit evolve more or less as a way to increase the dispersal of seeds, by having it eaten or carried by animals? As I understand it, the point of fruit is to be eaten (although not necessarily by humans).

I suppose sentient trees may no longer need this, as they could ask a friendly passing Robin to drop off their seeds if necessary, or use tree birth control as you suggest. But I imagine (if they understand their own biology well enough) they might have some traditions and lore around the symbolic sharing of fruit with their local animals. Perhaps to them, the Sharing of the Fruit is a sacred ritual that reminds them of their close symbiosis with the birds and mammals who helped them spread their seed in times past!

Darn, now I want to read or write a whole essay exploring the cultural differences between Human/Animal species and Sentient Plants, and how the fact of being stationary affects their attitude towards various aspects of life…

cjmr said...

We live on a hill with a 200 year old* apple orchard. Of the dwarf trees, there are still a dozen or so--they flower but don't seem to set fruit reliably and are about 20 ft. tall and quite wizened.

There's at least one 40 ft. tall tree still alive, too. The only way to get fruit from that one is to eat windfalls. Or stand under it waiting for one to fall off and catch it. The closest branch to the ground is about 16 feet up. It probably drops 200-300 apples each fall.

*according to the local historical society

Deird said...

I thought you were going to link to this one:

http://xkcd.com/969/

chris the cynic said...

I've got to assume that plants generally don't mind having their fruit eaten since the entire point of producing fruit is to have it be eaten. Mind you there's an agreement at work here. If you eat the fruit you will distribute the seeds. If you don't do that then the plant has every reason to cry foul.

BC Brugger said...

This song by Seanann McGuire is another take on Susan, the problem thereof (and other girls hard done by in books) AND is on an album nominated for a Hugo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iguNkTKYFtk&feature=related

lyrics here- http://seananmcguire.com/songbook.php?id=238

It's my go to music for Narnia posts.

Amaryllis said...

Well, the prophet says that "all the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is never full." And I used to believe him, but then I found out about endorheic watersheds.

For some reason, It is amusing me no end that the largest inland lake in the world, sitting in the middle of one of the endorheic basins, is called the Caspian Sea.

Dav said...

What about plants where the food is the seed? Nuts can either grow or get eaten - there's no middle ground.

chris the cynic said...

I assume that in those cases the plants are not at all in favor people eating them. Though I could be wrong. I'm not a plant.

Amaryllis said...

I agree that this isn't meant to be any kind of realistic depiction of a plausible political system. Additionally, I find that these books are a hell of a lot easier to take if I take them individually rather than as integrally linked story-building blocks. I don't think Lewis was aiming at the kind of consistency we expect from a modern fantasy series (can I say that I very much enjoyed Warrior and Witch, here?), let alone a single unified tale like Lord of the Rings. As far as I can tell, he had something he wanted to talk about in each book, and he arranged each book to support that theme, without worrying overmuch about what he did with the last one, or giving much importance to what happens outside Narnia, outside the frame of each tale.

Come to think of it, at one point I had a theory that Lewis was writing a Narnia "Bible" the way Tolkien was writing a Middle-earth "legendarium," as he called it, and I mapped each book to a particular Biblical book or section.

I think, also, Lewis was playing with the different modes of fantastic literature, which is why each book feels a little "off" from the one that preceded it. Different modes, different tropes. Thus, TLTWTW is Allegory, this one is Heroic Saga, Dawn Treader is Travelers' Tales, Silver Chair is Fairy Tale, Horse and His Boy is Oriental Romance with a vengeance, The Magician's Nephew is...um, a confused mess? Victorian children's Moral Tale? And The Last Battle is of course a particularly annoying Apocalypse.

We haven't even gotten yet to my biggest complaint, which is how much of the book consists of the Pevensies listening to somebody tell them about things that have already happened.
Just out of curiosity, what did you think of the "info-dump" chapters of LotR? There's a lot that happens in that book that we don't see happening, we just get told about it later: the overthrow of Isengard, Aragorn defeating the corsairs, Gandalf imprisoned by Saruman, and so on. I think it works, myself, but I know it bothers some people.

Guest said...

I'm now picturing groves essentially full of my grandmothers, accosting passerby: "You want something to eat? Are you sure you're not hungry? I have nice fresh fruit. You're not going to eat that sandwich, are you? Look, just take a few bites. Well, they'll be here when you're hungry. Why don't you just take one with you? Are you thirsty? Have a nice sit down. I grew moss on this boulder just for you. What, you just going to leave me here? Well, don't forget your apples. They're not going to stay good forever."

Amaryllis said...

there's a fundamental loss of agency here that is terrifying to me.

Maybe it's meant to be terrifying. One of the things fantasy does for us-- well, for me-- is talk about the way the world is in terms of the way the world isn't, if that makes sense. There's no magic pushing us around in this mundane world, but even here, we don't always get to choose our battles.

You can be sitting innocently in a train station with nothing worse on your mind than the end of vacation, when the war is declared, or the bomb blows up, or the roof falls in. And you don't get a choice about any of it-- only about how you'll respond to it. It's like that famous interchange from LotR, since I seem to be in a Tolkien mood these days:

Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

So, the Pevensies are back in Narnia, willy-nilly: life's like that sometimes. The question is, what grace or courage will they bring to their time there, since, well, there they are.

depizan said...

I'll join the club of people who have trouble making the Pevensies actions fit with, well, anything, really. This has that same inexplicably cozy getting zapped to a magical world that parts of LWW had - they're so blase about the whole thing and I have trouble working out any sensible reason for that. If they remember being in Narnia, they should be curious about their friends from their last visit, even if the wardrobe edited out their rule. If they don't remember being in Narnia, they should be freaking out that they got teleported to another dimension. Or at least concerned about what they'll find. Hell, they should be concerned about that either way. They're also lacking in curiosity. They're just... implausible. They act like the bus broke down on the way to school. I don't buy it. Real people don't act like this.

The only explanation I can come up with is that they've been mindwhammied. Which adds in more disregard for consent on the part of Narnia. It's like the world itself (or Aslan) put a "you're fine" spell on them. Creeepy.

Also, 1300 years!? And I thought the Star Wars universe was the only one with improbable timespans. That's it, I hereby decree that the Force is responsible for the mess that is Narnia, too. It kinda fits.

Mary Kaye said...

Even as a kid I could not stomach the ending of TLTW&TW. At no point, neither while it is happening nor immediately after it has happened nor in any of the later books, does the narrative treat that like a set of real events. If I were Susan I would bloody well decide *that* was a dream. A kid's fantasy of rulership--becoming Kings and Queens without growing up.

Jo Walton did a brilliant short story about the kids who saved the fantasy world and who are now adults in our world. They make a key transition between simply mourning the past to dealing with their present reality that the Pevensie kids either never get to make or, more horribly, make and cannot carry through. You could easily retell things so that Susan is the hero, the one who decides that it is better to be an adult in our world than something in an adult body endlessly pining for childhood. (Lewis was a good enough folklorist--he should have known that that's a folkloric evil. Peter Pan is not a role model, and far less would he be one if he were here instead of in Neverland.)

(I can't find the name of this story. It was written during the Usenet heyday, and the fantasy realm was called something like Porphiria, but my google-fu is not strong today.)

There are points in _Prince Caspian_ where the author who wrote "The Shoddy Lands" pokes out--and that is a vivid piece of storytelling but by the gods it's bitterly misogynistic. It may be that, in the last analysis, his problem with Susan is that Susan is going to grow up, whereas Lucy never will.

There's another take on a Susan-and-Lucy pairing in Pamela Dean's trilogy starting with _The Hidden Land_, which is unique among novels of this kind in my experience as presenting both the choice to stay in the fantasy realm *and* the choice to leave it as defensible and, for the person making them, right.

Ana Mardoll said...

Hang on, I remember that one because someone sent it to me awhile back. It's really good. *digs*

Ah! Here!

Relentlessly Mundane

Ana Mardoll said...

(Lewis was a good enough folklorist--he should have known that that's a folkloric evil. Peter Pan is not a role model, and far less would he be one if he were here instead of in Neverland.)

And now I feel like I should bring up that I never liked "Hook". Adult!PeterPan should not return to Neverland, I feel.

depizan said...

"Hook" is a mess. But then, I've never liked Peter Pan, so I'm not sure how much help my opinion is there.

Rikalous said...

Concerning the sapient plant discussion, if Aslan didn't provide Narnia with a population of non-sapient plants and prey animals, than his asshattery has reached even greater heights than I ever realized. Without nonsapient prey, all the carnivorous Animals will have to engage in (the moral equivalent to) cannibalism or starve to death. We know from the Dogs in Last Battle that not all Carnivores are evil, and since there is never any mention of them being green or eating plants, I think it's safe to assume they have some unmodified rabbits to nom on. If Aslan is providing guilt-free food for the Carnivores, there's no reason for him not to do so for the Herbivores. The Sharing of the Fruit ritual is now headcanon, though.

Actually, now that I think about it, the Carnivores might be able to live off of fish and insects, which never seem to get the Animal treatment. If that's true, then riverfront property would be prime real estate for anything with fangs, and what are those tree-eating Beavers doing living on the rightful territory of the Secret Police?
----
What do you mean, Mrs. Beaver has a sewing machine? A sewing machine implies a level of technology that...

And she got a new sewing machine from Father Christmas. Presumably that's where the original sewing machine came from as well, which means it predates Jadis's reign. No wonder she's so loath to leave it behind where it might get wrecked. Calormene Jones probably tried to steal it for a museum. It may well be illegal, as a symbol of a time before Her Immortal Majesty.

Patrick Knipe said...

"Behold, Mrs. Beaver. Your mother's sewing machine. An elegant tool, for a more civilized age."

Loquat said...

I suspect the apple trees are a settlement of apple dryads, which would account for both the orchard's continued existence in an encroaching forest and the continued deliciousness of the apples after generations of wild breeding. As others have pointed out, fruit trees need humans or animals to eat their fruit and spread the seeds, so if you're an intelligent fruit tree wanting to reproduce but living in a largely deserted wilderness where appropriate fruit-eaters hardly ever show up, making delicious, attractive fruit with a strong fragrance is pretty much your optimal strategy. (I'm assuming here that dryads have some measure of control over the taste, smell, and appearance of their fruit. Because magic.) In fact, the fragrance and appearance are even more important than the taste - if the random passersby don't see and/or smell your fruit, they won't even know it's available, so you want the fragrance to carry as far as possible. Hence the Pevensies smelling the apples all the way from the beach, and hence the apples looking appetizing.

Jeannette Ng said...

Trigger Warning: Family Tragedy, Death of Infant

Considering C. S. Lewis' other work, it actually seems fairly in keeping with his theology for God to kill off your family members because he thinks you've lost the way. Or at least, Early Lewis expressed as much in "The Great Divorce", where there is a whole scene where he explains via one of his mouthpiece characters that sometimes God kills people because he's noticed that some other person loves them very much and He's concerned that if this situation is allowed continue then they'll start to love this other mortal more than they love Him. His argument ran along the lines of the idea that if you love earthly things (including other people) more than you love God, that means you don't love God enough. And if you don't love God enough, then you will make yourself and everyone around you utterly miserable anyway (in line with Lewis' more general belief that one should "aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.")

In the scene in question, the reader is introduced to a mother who has lost her child. She refuses to enter heaven without her son, who died a lot earlier in life than she. She is told that her love is selfish and that she would only be reunited with her son (who is in heaven, of course) once she stops being so selfish about her love and that she would have achieved heaven if she wasn't clinging onto the memory of her son through life. She rants back saying: "No one has the right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to his face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine for ever and ever." It is suggested that she would rather be in hell with her son than in heaven without him.

The mother's love for her son is characterised as idolatrous ("false religion of mother-love") and an impediment to her achieving heaven. The dangers of loving too much is much greater than any other because it is much more easily mistaken for heavenly love. The argument goes: "There's something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there's also something in it that makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil. [...] Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country [heaven], but none will rise again until it has been buried."

Granted, another character points out that this truth may be "too hard for us", but the mouthpiece character then says "Ah but it's cruel not to say it. They that know have grown afraid to speak. Sorrows that used to purify now only fester."

Too long post and that incredibly unpleasant argument later, it seems reasonable in Lewis' framework for Aslan to put Susan through the trauma of losing all her siblings in order to "cure" her of her vanity and bring her closer to Him in the long run.

Beroli said...

For that matter, the Pevensies do talk about the lack of agency when they finally find out that they were summoned by Susan's horn, commenting that they're never going to read a story that handwaves "a magician summons a genie" again without wondering what the genie was doing at the time and what the genie thought about being summoned.

Beroli said...

Adult!PeterPan should not return to Neverland, I feel.
Because Peter Pan should not leave Neverland and grow up, or because, having done so, he should never look back?

Beroli said...

Concerning the sapient plant discussion, if Aslan didn't provide Narnia with a population of non-sapient plants and prey animals, than his asshattery has reached even greater heights than I ever realized. Although I don't believe Lewis ever spells out ratios, it's always clear that there are a lot of nonsapient animals and plants.

depizan said...

Guh. Well, we've answered the question of whether God is good, at least.

Is there a Christian writer out there who does not make their god look monstrously evil? (And thereby make worship of him look purely selfish. Please don't smite me, God, I love you most of all!)

Ana Mardoll said...

It's interesting to me that when a male theologian wants to provide an example of idolatrous love, they frequently reach for mother-child bonding which is, I think it's fairly safe to say, something that many of these male authors have little to no personal experience with from the mother's point of view.

I'm reminded of That Guy (cannot remember his name, but he made the feminist blogging rounds a few years back) who argued in all seriousness that Breastfeeding = Adultery and that women shouldn't breastfeed because it was morally wrong to hurt their husbands in that way.

A mother who would rather be in Hell with her child than be in Heaven without said child is someone I can identify with. A God who KNOWS said child is in Heaven but refuses to divulge that because zie needs the mother to renounce the child first before allowing the reunion is a petty, childish jerk...

...not unlike some men who write theological treatises about things they have never experienced.

I'm just saying.

Lonespark said...

I would agree with you about Peter Pan except that Dante Basco is made of soooo much awesome that I'm very glad Hook was made.

Will Wildman said...

...not unlike some men who write theological treatises about things they have never experienced.

Lewis seems like a case study in how theological attitudes can be changed by personal experience. We've got the godawful god hypothesised in "The Great Divorce", and then his near u-turn following the death of his wife, as expressed in "A Grief Observed". The Narnia books were all written in the exact middle span between those two publications.

I always remember but can never find the quote that said biographies are redundant because we show our truest selves in our fiction.

Dav said...

Eh. I think people's actions beyond "writing fiction" as an action *might* be an important part of our truest selves. And it's not like readers don't bring their own giant steamer trunks of baggage to the table when reading fiction. (Well, okay, maybe some people only bring duffle bags.)

I'm not surprised that Lewis rejected the idea that maybe God killed his wife because God wanted Lewis's attention. It's a terrible, destructive thing to believe, especially when it's your own situation: it's too easy to victim blame and take responsibility for the death/illness of someone else.

kbeth said...

Third, the children speak as they feel the pulling, and they do not feel the pulling in order of age. Chronological order would dictate a speaking pattern of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, Peter. Instead, we get Peter moved before Susan. Possibly because Peter is the more vocal of the two, more apt to speak up when he sees Lucy and Edmund having a problem. But I can't help but note that we're coincidentally following a hypothetical Pevensie pantheon with Lucy The Youngest, Edmund The Second, Peter The Elder, and Susan The Last.

Huh. You know, when I was a kid (and when I read the excerpt just now) I actually just assumed that it was about placement. After all, Peter seems to think Susan is the one tugging him at first. As soon as I read that, I visualized them as sitting in a line, Lucy-Edmund-Peter-Susan, where the tugging was pulling them all toward Susan. And that's why she felt it last -- the magic started with the one farthest away from the portal, i.e. Lucy, and then gathered up the rest of them as it moved towards the portal.

Peter said...

Glad I'm not the only one who thought that, though I suspect that might have been how the BBC version did it and I'm one of those people who's Narnia memories are heavily biased by that

kbeth said...

I've never had any exposure to Narnia outside of the books (didn't see the new movies or the BBC version) so I think it's a reasonable interpretation given only the text. Which isn't to say that it's mutually exclusive with Ana's observation -- after all, Susan the Last could just as easily be reflected in the ordering they were sitting in.

Jeannette Ng said...

I was meaning to emphacise that it's an argument from Early Lewis which he does recant later but it got lost in all the details. I do remember (quoted in a biography of him) writing to a grieving friend something along the lines of "well, this is probably for the better, after all, you were probably getting a bit too close."

Admittedly, mother/child is not his only example. "The Great Divorce" does also list Patriotism as a seductive false religion. The jealous God and possessive/idolatrous love business comes up again in "Til We Have Faces" and that was with love between siblings.

Theo said...

I think, also, Lewis was playing with the different modes of fantastic literature, which is why each book feels a little "off" from the one that preceded it. Different modes, different tropes. Thus, TLTWTW is Allegory, this one is Heroic Saga, Dawn Treader is Travelers' Tales, Silver Chair is Fairy Tale, Horse and His Boy is Oriental Romance with a vengeance, The Magician's Nephew is...um, a confused mess? Victorian children's Moral Tale? And The Last Battle is of course a particularly annoying Apocalypse.

The Magician's Nephew, at least the first two thirds or so, is sci fi/fantasy Weird Tales stuff. IMO it definitely has the closest links to the Space Trilogy of the Narnia books.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I'm going to comment as I go along in the post, because the first bit has me thinking already: Susan's what, thirteen? We know she's old enough to be starting into being a teenager, growing away from her little sister's interests and probably closer to other girls her own age, possibly also her mother. (Do we know anything anything about that relationship? Because that's the right age for an early-twentieth century girl to be becoming her mother's Elder Daughter, expected to help with social duties and start making polite conversation instead of tearing around with the other young children. And that means her mother trying to teach her those skills, and generally how to go about being an adult woman in society.) She would want to tell people, and even if she was careful about how she did it -- "oh, we played at this wonderful game to take our minds off the Blitz" or "we decided to write a story like the Bronte siblings" or something about a dream -- she could so easily talk about it a bit too much. And then:

That Susan, you know. A sweet girl, but there's something odd there; she'd rather talk to her brothers and sister than her peers. Best get her off to school with some other girls her own age, that'll sort out the oddness. A few strokes with a ruler will have her mind on more sensible things than silly fairytales -- it's time she grew up, after all, and she'll thank us for it when she's older.

And then Susan learns to shut down her memories of Narnia, given they only bring her pain and embarrassment. Peter wouldn't get the social conditioning the same way, gender constructs being what they were; if he adapted Good At Swords And Horses And Battles into being good at other sports, he'd get friends and supporters through that if nothing else.

Fluffy_goddess said...

A little further on in the post: oh dear god yes this concept is terrifying. I used to have a recurrent nightmare that I woke up and went about life and then discovered something was horribly wrong -- I'd forgotten the past ten years of my life, everyone in the world was dead except for me, I'd time travelled and was living the same day over, etc. I'm pretty sure Anytime I Do Anything At All I Might Be Interrupted By A Magical World would lead to me wanting to refuse to do anything that *couldn't* be interrupted every again. Including bathing, since what if I was summoned naked and without my glasses?

Fluffy_goddess said...

Personally, I can forgive the apple orchard gone wild. Individual apple trees don't live that long (less than a century, usually), and they crossbreed the same way animals do, which means that left on their own, the fruit of a new tree will be something like a cross between two other varieties of apples. Effectively, these are fruits at least a few generations separate from those the Pevensies planted (even if the Narnians maintained the orchard for years, they've been subjugated for long enough for a few generations of trees to come to maturity), and it makes sense for them to be a very different cultivar, and a very different plant.

But others have said this in much more detail, and much better than I.

I definitely feel that either everything in Narnia is sentient, but not in ways humans can understand, or Narnia is a land with a few sentient Forms of things, and a whole bunch of non-sentient shadows of them as well. I personally come down on the lots-of-unthinking-plants-and-animals side, if only to avoid the Hitchhiker's Guide cow that wants to be eaten. I find that creepy, and yet logical, and thus I do not want it in Narnia. Narnia is all about the cozy-until-you-look-at-it-hard things, not yes-that-makes-sense-but-I-am-very-squicked things.

depizan said...

Isn't it handy how the people who suffer from these sorts of things never wear glasses or rely on any other sort of medical aid? Or do Life Interrupting Magical Worlds handily cure asthma, diabetes, bad vision, etc?

chris the cynic said...

In my first, utterly failed, attempt at NaNoWriMo the story was going to open with someone discovering that outside of his shower was a bizarre desert that certainly hadn't been there when he stepped into the shower (also a notable lack of house.) After it failed to go away like such things should, he wrapped a towel around himself and stepped out to get a better look, without his glasses, only to have the shower disappear behind him.

If I had made it that far he would have shown up later in the story having done fairly well for himself in what would turn out to have been Hell*. Of course, since that was to happen offscreen there's a
little more leeway in how that worked out.

-

Isn't it handy how the people who suffer from these sorts of things never wear glasses or rely on any other sort of medical aid? Or do Life Interrupting Magical Worlds handily cure asthma, diabetes, bad vision, etc?

Once upon a time there was a pile of free VHS tapes at my university, one of them was "Alien from LA" in which a girl with glasses from LA ends up in Atlantis and one of the things they do to her is make it so she doesn't need glasses anymore. Which is disappointing because she should have just gotten more awesome, more fracture resistant, glasses.

As for asthma, diabetes, et cetera, yeah, Life Interrupting Magical Worlds probably cure those because they're inconvenient for the plot and LIMWs run on plot.

-

* The theology I was going for in the story was that Satan fell to earth, earth shattered, and Hell was build between the cracks. Most people walk across the cracks without even noticing them (much like how the bishops on a chessboard have no concept that the squares of the color they're not on exist) but some people and creatures can choose how to traverse earth/hell, and some can even control how others do it. Or something like that, it's been a while.

Brin Bellway said...

Isn't it handy how the people who suffer from these sorts of things never wear glasses or rely on any other sort of medical aid? Or do Life Interrupting Magical Worlds handily cure asthma, diabetes, bad vision, etc?

The time traveler in The Time Traveler's Wife has to have a few teeth pulled because he can't take anything with him during involuntary time travel, so fillings don't take. (He also nearly freezes to death due to being naked in a parking garage* in the middle of winter.)

The protagonist of the Keys to the Kingdom books is made the Chosen One because he's having a severe asthma attack he is destined to die from, so he appears to be a convenient loophole in the "You must have a Chosen One" rule. What they don't realise is that Keys have healing powers.

*I think it was a garage. I read it once over six years ago. It was Mom's Hanukkah present, but I stole it and read it while she wasn't looking. Despite having not actually that much sex in it, I will always remember it as being the book that taught me what "fuck" actually meant, rather than just being an expletive.

Susan B. said...

Ha! I was just going to mention The Time Traveller's Wife! Henry seems to me to take an emminently sensible approach to the fact that he may at any moment find himself involuntarily traveling through time and space, to appear completely naked and helpless in an unknown place. He runs regularly to keep himself fit (in case he has to run from cops, bears, angry people who dislike nudists…), and has learned how to pick locks and gotten very good at stealing clothes and other necessities. Also, he takes a job in a library where his occasional disappearances do not cause too much of a problem (though his coworkers remark on his strange habit of dropping his clothes and running naked around the stacks). All in all, a very well-thought-out approach on the part of both the character and the writer.

Despite having not actually that much sex in it, I will always remember it as being the book that taught me what "fuck" actually meant, rather than just being an expletive.

I too was taken aback by the beginning of the book, in which boy meets girl (girl having already met boy) and immediately has quite intense, lavishly described sex. My delicate sensibilities at the time were somewhat put off, but I did go back to the book after a few weeks and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Amaranth said...

TW: death

I never considered the terrifying aspect of getting whisked away without one's glasses/cane/medication aspect in a lot of fantasy until my son got type 1 diabetes. Now even plausible natural disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes or asteroids hitting the earth, are viscerally frightening to me in a way they never were before. Because I know that if for some reason my family was a situation where we did not have access to a steady supply of insulin for several months, my son would die and there's nothing I could do about it/i>. It just puts my stomach on edge to think about.

I'm actually plotting a story right now that involves a diabetic vampire, in a setting where vampirism doesn't magically cure stuff like that. You can no longer die from it, however, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Marie Brennan said...

Oops, didn't get a chance to come back and check this post for a while. Sorry for the delay!

Amaryllis, I think you're right about each book mostly being individual; but of course where that falls down the most is with LWW and PC. Dawn Treader and Silver Chair both have characters carrying over, but they tell very different stories from the ones that went before. LWW and PC are too similar (kids appear and save Narnia from some terrible threat, only it mostly isn't them that does the saving), and have all four protagonists in common, and the latter is treated very much as a sequel. So of course we expect to act like a sequel, and then it doesn't.

Just out of curiosity, what did you think of the "info-dump" chapters of LotR?

This is where I confess that I've never been a fan of LotR: took something like six tries to get through it, didn't succeed until college (and then only because I was an officer in the SF/F organization and felt an obligation to educate myself), and to this day only have an intellectual respect for the books, no emotional attachment. So I will rant at length about the myriad of pacing problems, of which the Infodump o'Doom that is the Council of Elrond is only one.

Really, what puts it into perspective is the difficulty Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh had dealing with that segment in their screenplay. I remember an interview or special feature where they said they tried umpty different ways of handling it, and ultimately the least clunky was to offload it into Galadriel's infodump prologue. (Because at least then you're not stopping the action dead while everybody explains things to each other.)

But I consider that to be separate from Stuff Happening Offscreen, which sometimes works and is sometimes really annoying. When it works, it makes stuff seem cooler because it gets mentioned in passing. But it fails if the stuff not shown sounds more interesting and/or relevant than the stuff you were shown, which is why it's a delicate trick to pull off.

Cupcakedoll said...

Now I want to write a story about kids returning from a magical world and using the skills they have from 20 extra years of memories to kick butt in the normal world. I am half asleep but will ramble about it anyway.

The boy learned to fight of course; being twelve again means he lost all the muscle mass, but he still has muscle memory of how to use a sword and do some hand to hand, so when he rides his bike past a mugging he can not only stop it, he injures the mugger. The police believe it was martial arts training that let him do it, this time.

The ten year old girl learned to be a healer and remembers all the nonmagical stuff so when a classmate gets injured she knows the recovery position and how to put pressure on the wound and stuff, very calm and competent, it freaks the bejeezus out if the teachers who come running to help. She also enjoyed the food in her kingdom and is always suggesting recipes to her mother. "Cut the meat thin and cover it with soy sauce and some of..." *sniffing different jars of spices* "This one and this one."

The older girl did most of the diplomacy for the kingdom so she can talk to anybody and make them like her. She is now queen bee of the girl cliques in the middle school. Her mother still can't figure out how she went from dowdy to master of makeup in a day, or why she suddenly prefers long dresses. While queen, she enjoyed writing the news of the kingdom and discovered a talent for poetry. Since coming back she's been submitting articles to magazines under an assumed name, and hiding the modest income in a bank account her folks don't know about.

All the children now have adult vocabularies they sometimes forget to dumb down for school, and tend to walk and stand confidently. And having been royalty for twenty years they tend to slip and take it for granted that some chores do not apply to them. Not that they're trying to be all privileged, but it's second nature by now. Also while the kids can't talk to trees in this world, they remember all the species and where each one grows and can diagnose woodworm. Very random knowledge for kids to get overnight.

Theo said...

As I think I commented (along with others) at the last LWW chapter, both the end of LWW and the beginning of PC only really makes any kind of sense if it's not read "realistically" but as something that passes by quickly like a dream. That would - at least a bit - help explain the vagueness of the kids' memories and reactions.

Amaryllis said...

Hasty replies:

MaryKaye: There's another take on a Susan-and-Lucy pairing in Pamela Dean's trilogy starting with _The Hidden Land_, which is unique among novels of this kind in my experience as presenting both the choice to stay in the fantasy realm *and* the choice to leave it as defensible and, for the person making them, right.
This is just to say that I really liked that book.

Jeannette Ng: there is a whole scene where he explains via one of his mouthpiece characters that sometimes God kills people because he's noticed that some other person loves them very much and He's concerned that if this situation is allowed continue then they'll start to love this other mortal more than they love Him.
Yuck. But that was kind of a thing in Christian fiction, for a while. It reminds me of The Wide Wide World, where eight-year-old Ellen loses her mother, at first to physical separation and then to death. And a helpful clergyman explains that God saw that she loved her mother more than she loved him, and Took Steps. And, furthermore, was justified in doing so because everything that Ellen's mother did for Ellen was really God doing it through her. So is God also acting through all the bad parents out there? Or does he just love Ellen best? But not enough to leave the gift, her mother, that he supposedly gave her...it makes my head hurt.

Ana: It's interesting to me that when a male theologian wants to provide an example of idolatrous love, they frequently reach for mother-child bonding
I suppose it was meant to be an example of possessiveness masquerading as love, with all that "He's mine, mine, mine!" But as an example of actual mother-child love, the mother's lines don't ring true to me.

Theo: The Magician's Nephew, at least the first two thirds or so, is sci fi/fantasy Weird Tales stuff.
Good point.

...out of time...

chris the cynic said...

I suppose it was meant to be an example of possessiveness masquerading as love, with all that "He's mine, mine, mine!" But as an example of actual mother-child love, the mother's lines don't ring true to me.

I've been trying to say this for a while now, but the words refused to come so I never did. And then I see the words you've written and can't figure out why I was having such a hard time with it, because it's so simple to say.

Anyway, I agree.

I wonder if Lewis didn't believe that actual love might be someone's reason to opt out of Heaven. If he were wanting to show human love separating someone from God, the way to go about it would be to have someone in Hell and the otherwise Heaven-bound person refusing to leave them, which is nothing like the scene described.

Ana Mardoll said...

If he were wanting to show human love separating someone from God, the way to go about it would be to have someone in Hell and the otherwise Heaven-bound person refusing to leave them, which is nothing like the scene described.

And which is, of course, an actual problem that many families face, depending on the religious beliefs involved.

What little love I had for my grandfather -- a popular minister with his own church for many years -- evaporated when he gave a public prayer at a family reunion where he pointed out to my mother that it was a shame that her youngest son had died and had gone to Hell like that.* Whereupon Mom quite naturally broke down sobbing.

* I recognize that some Christians and Christian denominations recognize (formally or informally) that No One Really Knows, but the denomination I grew up in never suggested that God might bend the rules as we understood them or have an infinitely long "come to Jesus" moment in the final seconds or anything like that.

Will Wildman said...

That is maybe the most atrocious thing that I have ever heard of someone doing with a 'prayer'.

I recognize that some Christians and Christian denominations recognize (formally or informally) that No One Really Knows

I have, like, Double Non-Belief in hell (even if I were, for some extraordinary reason, to convert to a religion that posited a hell, I wouldn't believe it), but I was always rather pleased with the nun who said "We are required to believe that hell exists. We are not required to believe that there is anyone in it."

ends up in Atlantis and one of the things they do to her is make it so she doesn't need glasses anymore. Which is disappointing because she should have just gotten new more awesome, more fracture resistant, glasses.

Well - unless she didn't want them. I mean, I'm a fan of glasses aesthetically and accessibility adaptations in general, but I wouldn't tell someone they shouldn't get a modification made that they actually wanted. I take it from your context that she wasn't asked, though? Not cool.

But I consider that to be separate from Stuff Happening Offscreen, which sometimes works and is sometimes really annoying. When it works, it makes stuff seem cooler because it gets mentioned in passing. But it fails if the stuff not shown sounds more interesting and/or relevant than the stuff you were shown, which is why it's a delicate trick to pull off.

This is something I've struggled with a lot in my latest project, because there is a pretty substantial amount of Stuff Happening, but I'm less interested in writing some of those scenes and more in showing the characters reacting in the aftermath, both on an event-by-event level, and in the book as a whole (which is written something like a sequel despite being the 'first' story). Thankfully, it's still the first draft, so I am thoroughly free to reorganise which scenes get told and which get recounted.

I think that Stuff Happening Offscreen is probably one of the most effective techniques for creating the impression of a complete and organic world - plot happens to people other than the point-of-view characters - though I have noticed, from reading people's reactions to some stories/books, that there are always at least a few people who are convinced that the stuff happening offscreen would have made a much better story.

Ana Mardoll said...

Will, I love that nun quote too. :)

If we're confessing LOTR-related sins, I read it as a child and though I loved it, I really struggled with the info-dumpery. I remember complaining bitterly and longly to my father (who didn't read the books, but was happy to listen to me talk about them) about how they'd gotten to Rivendell and were just SITTING AROUND and EATING ALL THE TIME and TALKING CONSTANTLY for pages and pages and pages and pages.

The really frustrating thing was that I felt at the time that the whole piece could have been condensed significantly without losing material. I have no idea what I feel now; I have the books and I want to re-read them, but there's so much else to be done...

chris the cynic said...

Well - unless she didn't want them. I mean, I'm a fan of glasses aesthetically and accessibility adaptations in general, but I wouldn't tell someone they shouldn't get a modification made that they actually wanted. I take it from your context that she wasn't asked, though? Not cool.

The movie started with her being insulted by her ex boyfriend for many many things, amoung them her glasses, so even if she were saying she didn't want them at that point I'd have serious questions about whether that was her talking or her letting asshole ex boyfriend dictate her standards.

That said, no, she wasn't asked. Some automated thing that, as I recall, she didn't know what it was when she looked at it gave her a makeover that included correcting her vision without telling her first. Hard for me to see it as anything other than part of her transformation from undesirable to desirable. (Movie ends with ex boyfriend trying to get back with her and her not going for it.)

Jeannette Ng said...

And which is, of course, an actual problem that many families face, depending on the religious beliefs involved.

Which is something to be said for Mormonism which takes that into account. The Forever Family keeps everyone together, as long as you've all been sealed in the temple. Everyone gets to heaven. That said, they have the opposite problem since sometimes, you really, really don't want to be with certain members of your family forever, even if it is in heaven and no doubt God would somehow make it all okay. It's an issue that comes up a fair bit on the Feminist Mormon Housewives Blog.

Beroli said...

I really liked the LotR books as a child.

What I read of them. It involved large amounts of skipping; most of Book 2 and a not-inconsiderable chunk of Book 1 got mercilessly jumped over whenever I read them.

Lonespark said...

Feminist Mormon Housewives is a great blog.

I think a large part of my initial love for LOTR may come from my mom skipping extra infodumps when she read the books out loud to five-year-old me.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Oh, and one more point: Lewis SURELY hated schools. Remember "School is over - the holidays had begun"? We already get a glimpse of it here.

He definitely hated school. If you ever read Lewis's autobiography, "Surprised by Joy", you'll understand why. He suffered pretty much the worst of both private tutoring and the boarding school system as a boy.

Thomas Keyton said...

Or do Life Interrupting Magical Worlds handily cure asthma, diabetes, bad vision, etc?

Maybe it comes with the automatic translation.

Amaryllis said...

chris the cynic: Once upon a time there was a pile of free VHS tapes at my university, one of them was "Alien from LA" in which a girl with glasses from LA ends up in Atlantis and one of the things they do to her is make it so she doesn't need glasses anymore. Which is disappointing because she should have just gotten new more awesome, more fracture resistant, glasses.
I hope they asked first. But if they had happened to have asked me, I'd have gone for the brand-new eyes in a heartbeat.

Brin: The time traveler in The Time Traveler's Wife has to have a few teeth pulled because he can't take anything with him during involuntary time travel, so fillings don't take.
Do Not Want. My teeth are as bad as my eyes; I need every last filling.

Marie Brennan: So of course we expect [Prince Caspian] to act like a sequel, and then it doesn't.
Yes, I guess that's why this book seems even more awkward than the rest of them.

Now, I kind of like the "Council of Elrond" chapter. I like the way that everybody's stories, and every group's history, are all coming together in this one moment. And I like that open-ended effect of there's always more to every story. I agree that it would be a terrible scene to film as written, though.

@Cupcakedoll: I'd like to read that story.

Chalcedony_cat said...

You know, I was going to write a long comment about how Lewis was in dialogue with previous children's authors who always a) had one character as the stand-in for the mother that all the other kids had to shout down in order to get to have any fun (which is of course problematic), and b) had kids moving back & forth between magic & reality without any trauma.

But then I realised all the examples I can think of are post-Lewis, so... my theory, it does not hold water.

Amaryllis said...

E. Nesbit? Some of her oldest-daughter characters had something of a mothers'-helper air about them. And the children in her books deal with magic upsetting their ordinary lives-- wishes never do work out the way you think they will-- but they don't seem to suffer any deep emotional trauma because of it.

But then, maybe that's because Nesbit's books do give the children a good amount of agency. Their magic might not work out, but the children are allowed, by Psammead or Phoenix or magic carpet or whatever, to wish their own wishes, no matter how ill-advised the wish or how unexpected the result. I can't think offhand of any case where children are yanked without warning or into another dimension in the Lewis fashion.

Arthur Ransome? There's no magic in the Swallows and Amazons books, but there are children who are given a huge amount of independence. And it wouldn't have worked without oldest-daughter Susan to make sure that, no matter what adventures they were having, everybody was fed properly and sent to bed on time.

Chalcedony_cat said...

I did think of Nesbit, but I've only read _The Story of the Treasure Seekers_ and IIRC it didn't have any magic, so I wasn't sure if it would apply. Ransome, yes, definitely, and I see he started writing in the 30s, so Lewis was perhaps aware of him, and there is a tradition of children's adventure novels going back into the 19th century that tend to have an older-daughter character who steps in as mother and makes the tea and keeps the little ones warm and safe.

I think what I had in mind, though, was Edgar Eager's _Half Magic_ but that's not until 1954, so more likely influenced by Narnia than the other way around.

On another note, has anyone here read _The Magicians_ by Lev Grossman? I am so astonished it hasn't been mentioned in this thread that I'm a little afraid it's a taboo subject. I got to talk with him some at last year's Worldcon in Reno & he had a lot of fascinating things to say about how he was deconstructing Narnia and trying to deal with Susan and all of that.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I once read a story in which the girl summoned was the long-lost twin sister of someone important, but she'd been rendered almost unrecognizable because she wore contacts, had dyed hair, and had had surgery to fix a badly broken nose as a kid. She freaked out about the contacts, because sure you can buy contacts that stay in for a month at a time -- but you still wouldn't want to be wearing them anywhere clean water and saline drops weren't readily available.

depizan said...

Huh. I'm glad a few writers have considered the problems.

And that sounds like a story by an author who liked considering those types of problems.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I've always traced that trope further back -- a lot of myths and legends have the eldest daughter or son acting as the master or mistress of the household in the absence of appropriate masters. Often it seemed to work out as either "here, let us prove the sweet young girl has the skills to be a good wife to the visiting hero" or as "by the way, the son acting as man of the house isn't manly enough, so he needs his dad to come back". Occasionally it's "the son is a manly, powerful man, who will supplant his father figure and save them all" a la Fisher King narratives. In later stories it becomes a way for youngsters to prove they're ready to be treated as adults by other adults.

Then again, in some ways it foreshadows Don't Trust Anyone Over 30. When the adults abdicate their responsibilities and aren't taking care of the kids, anyone who has been around long enough to recognize that young children need support and care is going to be looking for someone to step into that breach, and that means the older teenagers. And, of course, since logic doesn't work when you're in a magical world, they end up looking silly for trying to protect their siblings in what limited ways they know how.

Susan B. said...

I've read The Magicians! And the sequel, The Magician King. I loved the first book so very much; it was one of the few books that I actually had to stay up all night to finish.

There's so much I could say about The Magicians, but I'll just comment that one of the major themes as I saw it was the idea that you can't just wait around for the thing that will finally make you happy. Quentin, the main character, thinks that being accepted to Magical College will turn him into a happy person, then later that finding a way into Narnia--I mean Fillory--will let him live happily ever after, since it's what he's always wanted. But he's never satisfied (and things never turn out as easy and nice as he hopes). It isn't until the end that he decides to take the opportunity he's been given and accept that it won't be perfect, but that he can choose to get some happiness out of it.

Also, without giving too much away, both books get major points for showing the awful emotional effects of *almost* getting to go to the magical school and being turned away.

hapax said...

I think that PETER PAN -- at least in some of its many incarnations -- is practically the textbook example of what you are describing.

Fluffy_goddess said...

That sounds like a wonderful book, and a lesson I wish I'd absorbed as a child. For that matter, finding happiness in the circumstances one finds oneself in would be a good lesson for a lot of people, and I think it goes sadly neglected in north american culture. (At least when it's not being twisted into Just Be Glad You're Not Dead You Ungrateful Wretch.)

Inquisitive Raven said...

I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.* The protagonist is literal leper (he's infected with Hansen's bacillus) dumped into a fantasy world where the mud in certain riverbanks heals. Said mud cures his leprosy although he reverts on returning to earth. The protagonist is also a massive douche, but that seems to be an author specialty. I don't particularly like Stephen R. Donaldson's writing.

When the second trilogy rolls around, the mud is gone and the focus has mostly shifted to a new protagonist. Covenant dies at the end of the second trilogy, and I have no idea where Donaldson is going with the last series. I find that I am insufficiently motivated to find out.

*In the recording I've heard of the original "trilogy of trilogies," Smith describes it as a summary of the Thomas Covenant series. At the time, only the first two trilogies had been published, but anybody who got the joke knew Donaldson was going to write a third series. I'm just surprised at how long it took.

Laocorn said...

It's good to be back, and it's icing on the cake to be back in time for more Narnia deconstruction, too ^_^

With all the talk of apples, I was trying to think of something witty involving the pony Applejack... sadly I've got nothing.

As for _Alien from L.A._: total early 90s nostalgia for me! I used to see the box for that at one of the locally owned rental stores, although I only ever watched the movie itself by way of Mystery Science Theater:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FrkQVpFVXQ
(So, yeah... the movie's not a particularly good one on its own merits.)

chris the cynic said...

MST3K did a thing? Dear god that would have made it so much more bearable.

Amaryllis said...

Yes, I thought the Julia sections were the most interesting part of The Magician King. But I hate, hate, HATED the ending. Why would you give Julia her big healing/apotheosis scene, and only then show in flashback the horrible thing that she needed to be healed of? That way, it's the horror that's your final impression. (And why did the horror have to be that particular horror, anyway?)

I enjoyed parts of both books, but I found Quentin hard to take. And, while I'm not a fan of heavy-handed allegory in the Narnia fashion, I also didn't find much "applicability," to use Tolkien's word, in either book. I got a little tired of what seemed to be the insistence that "nothing means anything; nothing is important; everything is arbitrary."

I didn't find any, any joy in either book. There's pleasure, excitement, fear, sadness, horror, boredom-- lots and lots of boredom-- but no joy. And Lewis, for all his many faults, occasionally manages an image that evokes true deep-down joy.

Maybe I'm missing something. And maybe it's just me, and what I expect of a fantasy novel with ambitions. And I shall certainly read the sequel-- of course there'll be a sequel! Twice now, Quentin's been kicked out of Fillory into the "real world." We know what happened the first time; is it going to take any better this time around? Has Quentin actually learned anything? Clearly, to be continued...

Laocorn said...

About _Alien from L.A._ MSTiefied: personally, I enjoyed watching it again after ten years, but can't really blame you for being gunshy about it, though. For what it's worth, one of the sketch segments from that ep
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVGvszaIr-w
is the origin of the meme-ish phrase "Dull Surprise", as seen, for example, about 20 and a half minutes into the comic book review here here:
http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/linkara/at4w/27977-at4w-transformers-4-5

Laocorn said...

About apples: I once read that they originally came from Almaty, a city in what is now modern-day Kazakhstan. Given this (assuming it's true), along with the "Tamerlane"-looking demonym "Telmarine", along with the very book title _Prince Caspian_, I wonder if C.S. Lewis had Central Asia on his mind at the time. Although, on the other hand, I also have to wonder whether cozy ol' Lewis assumed that interest in Central Asia would be limited to people like pre-draconic Eustace and his parents.

Will Wildman said...

I was intrigued by the idea of The Magicians, picked it up, and by page five found Quentin so completely abhorrent that I could not imagine caring what happened to him. I fear I'm missing out on something good there, maybe stuff that's even applicable to me, but I don't think I could reconcile with that protagonist.

chris the cynic said...

There's a pretty decent chance I'll end up watching it at some point now that you've brought it to my attention, but definitely not right now. That said, your bringing it up did have the immediate and pleasant effect of getting me to click through various "best of" things from MST3K episodes. So thanks for that.

Laocorn said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed what fans've put together -- in general it's good to see that folks "keep circulating the tapes" in a post-VHS era!

Each individual MST3k episode is enough of a timesink that I wouldn't really expect anyone to watch anything right now / right away, anyhow ^_^ I do like to enjoy little marathons of them each US Thanksgiving, though, in honor of what Comedy Central used to do before losing the show.

Anton_Mates said...

IIf you make it so that Narnia seems like a hazy dream to ease the trauma, doesn't that make it harder to justify Susan as "silly" and "conceited" for not basing major life decisions on a dream she had when she was a little girl and which she barely remembers?

Nope, that fits perfectly with Lewis' brand of theology. Faith is a virtue. Having faith makes you a better person, and becoming a better person makes you more faithful, and having faith makes it easier to acquire more faith, because the faithful can more keenly perceive the object of their faith. Thus salvation and damnation are both feedback-driven, self-reinforcing processes. This comes up later in Prince Caspian, with the "chasing invisible Aslan" scene.

Susan, because she is silly and conceited, finds it harder to remember Narnia and the Important Things In Life. This makes her less interested in trying to remember them, which makes her become even more silly and conceited. The other visitors to Narnia, on the other hand, did the right thing and basically formed their own church; they spend a lot of time getting together and talking about Narnia. This allows them to remember Narnia better, and to access more of their Narnian-self mojo on Earth, which makes them even better people. And by that time they're not traumatized by their memories at all, because they've become sturdy Aslaneo-Christians who can accept all the crap they've been put through without blinking.

It doesn't ultimately matter if the puller is Aslan or The Emperor or Deep Magic or Father Christmas; Susan's consent is being overridden and that is a Very Big Problem.

Though it's not even a blip compared to the later books. Once it's established that Aslan is God God, creating and destroying nations and worlds, consent's a joke. It only really comes up when it's time for another allegorical scene about free will.

And then for quite a long time there was no more talking, only splashing and looking for shrimps and crabs.

I choose to believe that this was a rational plan to figure out whether they were in Narnia; they were looking for shrimps and crabs they could talk to. Mussels and barnacles were no good because the notion of a talking barnacle is plainly absurd.

the Pevensie children face fewer challenges to their social norms in their magical world than most of us face in our daily lives.

Only because the Pevensies have proper English norms. Eustace Scrubb, by contrast, comes from a family with effete liberal norms like vegetarianism, and abstinence from alcohol, and interest in global affairs, and not escalating verbal arguments into duels to the death. Lewis, of course, has Narnia stomp all over those.

depizan said...

Nope, that fits perfectly with Lewis' brand of theology. Faith is a virtue. Having faith makes you a better person, and becoming a better person makes you more faithful, and having faith makes it easier to acquire more faith, because the faithful can more keenly perceive the object of their faith. Thus salvation and damnation are both feedback-driven, self-reinforcing processes.

D:

I'm a fairly tolerant person when it comes to beliefs, but this strikes me as a horrible, horrible theology. Especially if one presumes that God himself sets people start points for faith or lack thereof.

Amaryllis said...

"Having faith makes you a better person" is a dubious proposition. But "having faith makes you more faithful" seems to be quite likely, given the way human minds seems to work. "The appetite grows by what it feeds on," and one can train one's mind to religious habits of thought, if you want to put it that way, or to openness to perception of the divine, if you want to put it another way, just as much as to any other habits. That's what all those "spiritual exercises" and daily prayers and meditations and sacred texts and rituals are for.

Not that it works all the time for everybody. Even the greatest saints have been known to cry the equivalent of "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."

But anyone who cares to can honestly make the attempt. Anyone can try to practice faith in the same way that that they practice honesty or charity or fortitude or any other virtue. Whatever Lewis's faults, I don't think, from what I remember of him, that he was much of a Calvinist.

depizan said...

Maybe this is the result of being an agnostic raised by atheists, but how do you practice faith? (And, yes, this is a serious question. I'm baffled, not being snarky.) Honesty, charity, fortitude, whatnot are all things you, yourself, do. How do you do faith? Doesn't that require the world to match your preconceptions?

I mean, yes one can practice it in a rote fashion: saying prayers and the like, but does that really make a difference on how one feels? Because, and maybe this is just me being out of my depth, how can faith not have a large emotional component? And not involve things outside of oneself.

Maybe I'm just at a loss as to what faith is.

Aspermoth said...

I saw a television programme once about a book that explained that the books are related to the seven heavenly bodies of the medieval world and each one has themes from a different planet which is why the books change so wildly in tone and setting.

http://www.planetnarnia.com/ is the website of the bloke who wrote this book. I'm sorry I can't remember more, but it does give a possible explanation as to why the series can sometimes seem rather hodge-podge.

Also, I'm sorry if you've answered this already, but are you planning to do "The Horse and His Boy" and "The Magician's Nephew" too? Because I'd love to see your take on those when you get around to them. If you've already said that you're looking at them in publication order, then I do apologise for being a pest.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I think it's actually that emotional component that allows one to aquire faith through its practice, at least sometimes. When you think about it, a lot of things people do to practice their faith -- repeated affirmations/prayers, listening to and producing specific music, looking at religious artwork and architecture -- are things that are basically designed to grab hold of a human brain and shake it until chemicals align and say "Yes. This. This is real, and right, and my gut is vibrating with it because it is True."

Repeated affirmations are used in various types of therapy today because people tend to believe the things they tell themselves are true. People especially tend to believe things they hear reinforced in lots of different places. So you get people reciting their prayers, which are reinforced by scriptural texts and stories, which are reinforced by aphorisms and slang, all of which are also reinforced by prayers. Brute repetition *works*. Talking yourself into thinking something is true because you've repeated it enough times that it feels like it should be also works (partly because human memory is fallible, and partly because human memory is powerful).

And then you start looking at the ways wider culture reinforces all this. If you spend time with other people of your religion (usually a part of practicing the faith), they'll reinforce its arguments. If you listen to the music -- well, let's face it, music is a very powerful emotional manipulator for huge majority of people. Religious music is grand and tragic and joyful and intense, and it's easy to get caught up in it, even if you don't believe in what the lyrics actually mean/imply. Same with art. People do not build cathedrals with giant statues of the angel of death fixed over the door because it is pretty, they do it because it is genuinely impressive to walk under that, and doubly so when repeated prayers, stories, and music all reinforce that. So the older a faith, and the more built up into an organized religion it is, the easier it is to get sucked in. It doesn't work for everyone, but it works enough of the time that people copy the ways religion trains its followers to train large groups of people to do other things.

depizan said...

That makes sense. Like I said, agnostic raised by atheists. Faith is something of a mysterious thing to me. But laid out like that, I can see it.

Amaryllis said...

How do you do faith? Doesn't that require the world to match your preconceptions?

In addition to the practices the Fluffy_goddess discusses below, there's the mental attitude that Brother Lawrence called "the practice of the presence of God...schooling the soul to find joy in his divine companionship." That is, to cultivate a mindfulness of God not just during formal prayers or set observances, but during one's daily round.
Thus I continued some years, applying my mind carefully to the rest of the day, and even in the midst of my business, to the presence of God, which I considered always as with me, often as in me.... I make it my business only to persevere in his holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God....

Faith of that sort is less about the external world than the interior one. Hopefully, the fruits of such faith would be shown in the way one goes about that daily business:
what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Finally, although I'm no one to speak from personal experience, faith can be a willed act when that internal communication seems to be entirely one-sided. One can choose to "act as if Narnia was real," as Lewis will put it in one of the later books, even when there seems to be only a vast echoing silence on the other side.

Kellandros said...

Your comments about not wanting to be pulled into a strange fantasy world, or denying it ever existed are reminding me of Stephen R. Donaldson's "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant"- the main character views the strange world he ended up in as an escape from the troubles of his life, and therefore as an extreme danger.

He has leprosy, and is losing his sense of touch- meaning won't always notice small cuts, which can get infected more easily leading to long term damage(and exacerbating his underlying condition). He learned to survive through constant awareness of himself and his environment, where inattention or daydreams could slowly kill him.

But at the same time, he can't keep living that way. He is cut off from other people, actively shunned; he has sacrificed dreams and hope for daily survival; he has lost any meaning in his life beyond just staying alive.

His time in a strange, other world is both amazing and beautiful and far more alive than reality; but also full of hardship (travel on foot is exhausting, lack of rations), danger, and suffering. He is hardly equipped to survive in a strange world without help- he would not be able to find food or shelter on his own; he has lost most of his empathy for others and is practically unable to show even common courtesy.

Slowly, as he encounters more and more, he is forced out of his self-enforced passivity, often to terrible consequences(there is a very trigger-warning moment a few chapters in).

And every time he ends up back home, he is far worse off than he left- the reprieve from the pressures and dangers of his normal life turn them into crushing weights.

It is at times a very difficult series of books to read(the main character is almost absurdly unlikable), but it is also very deep and sometimes beautiful.


---------------
I can see Susan ending up in a similar view- there is still a war going on in England after all. Additionally, I'd expect in a 1940s era she is also feeling societal pressures towards marriage as she approaches adulthood(in an era where girls were expected to get married right out of school, not to mention any apocalyptic feelings of get your living in now before the bombs kill you).

Jenny Islander said...

While I agree that there are some serious problems with characterization in the Narnia books, I think you're overstating your case here. As a kid reading this passage and the one following, it was clear to me that when the Pevensies arrived in Narnia, they were just kids--but by the time they found their old treasury, they remembered being Peter the Magnificent, Susan the Gentle, Edmund the Wise, and Lucy the Valiant. The scene where they find one of their old chessmen still gives me a chill. And there is something about the line where they remember walking down the steps into their treasury--counting down 13 steps, as one would if going into a dark room and trying not to trip at the bottom until one could light more lamps--it's all fallen into place, even their bodies remember their old lives.

Also, in later books, we see them making diplomatic visits and discussing dynastic matters. They aren't just partying all the time.

Ana Mardoll said...

I have no "case", for a case implies an argument, and I'm not making one. (Indeed, my post ends with the statement "I genuinely don't know." and is liberally sprinkled with question marks.)

I'm only stating my opinion, which may or may not be unique. :) FWIW, I'm of a similar mind as you regarding the memories -- come Chapter 2 -- in that I believe that the Pevensies only remember Narnia gradually as they spend time in it.

Jenny Islander said...

Yes, poor word choice on my part.

I am looking forward to your reading of The Horse and His Boy, which was the book that I ended up "creatively reading" to my daughters in so many places that I will have to keep a special marked-up copy for bedtime.

Chalcedony_cat said...

Amaryllis, I agree completely about the lack of joy in Grossman's novels. Usually that kind of bleakness makes a novel unreadable for me -- Will, I *really hear you* about how awful you found Quentin -- so I was really astonished how much I loved _The Magicians_. Looking back on it, I think I found enough joy in the narrative for other people that I felt like the fault was in Quentin (who seems like a sort of embodiment of Accidie/Sloth, although I don't think Grossman would put it that way) rather than in the cosmology, and thus perhaps Quentin can eventually learn something.

Going back to Nesbit, it's really occured to me on reflection -- and this may have come up in discussion of TLTW&TW -- that despite Lewis setting the first novel in WW2, the Pevensies are in no way children of the 1930s and 40s. I mean, they never talk about the cinema or wireless, there's no jazz, no magazines about popular mechanics or celebrities, no talk about the war. Edmund and Peter never angst about being too young to fight, or collect trivia about fighter planes; Susan isn't planning to go be a WREN or a VAD if the war lasts long enough. Even though they're sent away from home due to the Blitz, they think & act much more like children from right before WWI -- like the children Lewis might have known as a child. And this, I think, is a large part of what comes out as incredible weirdness when one tries to evaluate the text from a modern understanding of childhood. Lewis is writing in the late 1940s about children living in the early 1940s who act like children in 1905.

This is also, I think, one of the origins of the 'problem with Susan'. If this was 1905, like Lewis kind of wants it to be, Susan would still be a "little girl" at 12 -- even well into the 1930s older authors will call boys and girls in their early teens "little" in the way a person in 2012 talks about an elementary school kid. This makes Susan's position extremely odd, because if this was 1905 she'd be at school or being educated by a governess, and she'd know that somewhere in the far future might be 'finishing school' where she learns how to act in adult society and then has her London season and meets someone and gets married, or if her family isn't high enough social status for a real Season she still 'comes out' locally and meets all the local young men and starts going to dances and looking around for a good marriage. But for girls of Susan's class that didn't happen at 13 or 15; that happened at 18 or 19 or even later, depending on the family's finances and the daughter's personality and how 'ready' she was perceived as being.

In the 1940s, though, even middle class girls are starting to copy celebrities by wearing makeup and looking for 'boy friends' and generally acting the way we think of teenagers as acting today. And my impression is that Lewis was very vaguely aware of that, but saw it as a flaw in the girls -- they were frivolous and silly and all the other things he starts calling Susan later on. Wanting to act like an adult wasn't, I think, really considered normal teenage behaviour; it was "conceit" because you were still a little kid, acting vain and grown-up when you should be off playing with toys and taking care of your younger siblings and riding your bicycle.

Ana, I'm so glad you're engaging with these books, and I'm really looking forward to following your posts going forward.

Amaryllis said...

Looking back on it, I think I found enough joy in the narrative for other people that I felt like the fault was in Quentin (who seems like a sort of embodiment of Accidie/Sloth, although I don't think Grossman would put it that way) rather than in the cosmology, and thus perhaps Quentin can eventually learn something.

An interesting point, and maybe that's why those books grated on me so much: Accidie/Sloth is something I'm intimately familiar with, and I don't need to read about it at that length. And why it grated when the books were praised as being "fantasy for grownups." There's nothing particularly adult or admirable about Quentin most of the time.

Good point also about Lewis's retroactive view of childhood.

EdinburghEye said...

Chalcedony_Cat : And this, I think, is a large part of what comes out as incredible weirdness when one tries to evaluate the text from a modern understanding of childhood. Lewis is writing in the late 1940s about children living in the early 1940s who act like children in 1905.

Ooh! VERY good point.

Ana, do you follow A Softer World at all? Because if not, I thought you might like this.

kbeth said...

Third, the children speak as they feel the pulling, and they do not feel the pulling in order of age. Chronological order would dictate a speaking pattern of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, Peter. Instead, we get Peter moved before Susan. Possibly because Peter is the more vocal of the two, more apt to speak up when he sees Lucy and Edmund having a problem. But I can't help but note that we're coincidentally following a hypothetical Pevensie pantheon with Lucy The Youngest, Edmund The Second, Peter The Elder, and Susan The Last.

Huh. You know, when I was a kid (and when I read the excerpt just now) I actually just assumed that it was about placement. After all, Peter seems to think Susan is the one tugging him at first. As soon as I read that, I visualized them as sitting in a line, Lucy-Edmund-Peter-Susan, where the tugging was pulling them all toward Susan. And that's why she felt it last -- the magic started with the one farthest away from the portal, i.e. Lucy, and then gathered up the rest of them as it moved towards the portal.

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