Narnia Recap: Trumpkin has been sent to the ruins of Cair Paravel in the hopes of collecting any help summoned by Queen Susan's horn.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 8: How They Left The Island
And now we're finally done with the backstory of Prince Caspian and we can come back to the Pevensies who we left behind so many chapters ago. Did you miss them? They missed you.
No, actually I can't swear to that at all. I can't be certain that the Pevensies have ever missed anyone in their entire lives but certainly not us just now because I am surprised to report that Chapter 8 is where everything suddenly turns more than a little sour and all our characters start getting snotty and sore with one another. And I really do not know why that is, but I'm serious: by my estimation, everyone is a right narky jackwagon here except Susan, and she'll make up for it with a complete character derailment into Libby McSnotmouth in the next chapter in order to make a Deep Theological Point. SO STRAP IN FOR A BUMPY RIDE.
And I honestly can't tell you why everyone is so dreadful in this chapter. At first I thought it was just me being in a right dreadful mood; as of writing this, I've only been home a week since the surgery, and I've been fighting the effects of Valium all day long, so I'm more than willing to concede that I'm just not mentally in the best of places right now. But the more I read and re-read this chapter, the more it seems like it's not just me, which brings me back to the why question above. Maybe it's as simple as Lewis being annoyed at having been made to give up his new favorite character in order to have to go settle back into his old protagonists? We'll get there and then you tell me.
"AND SO," SAID TRUMPKIN (FOR, AS YOU have realized, it was he who had been telling all this story to the four children, sitting on the grass in the ruined hall of Cair Paravel) -- "and so I put a crust or two in my pocket, left behind all weapons but my dagger, and took to the woods in the gray of the morning. I'd been plugging away for many hours when there came a sound that I'd never heard the like of in my born days. Eh, I won't forget that. The whole air was full of it, loud as thunder but far longer, cool and sweet as music over water, but strong enough to shake the woods. And I said to myself, ‘If that's not the Horn, call me a rabbit.' [...]
"What time was it?" asked Edmund.
"Between nine and ten of the clock," said Trumpkin.
"Just when we were at the railway station!" said all the children, and looked at one another with shining eyes.
And I don't even know what to say to this. If one of you clever people can explain how Narnia Time and English Time can work out such that the time of day is always the same but with time accelerated such that approximately one year of English time can work out to 1,300 years of Narnia time, then by all means be my guest. Bonus points if you can accommodate in your theory how the Narnia time between Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader is (I think) about three years, and the Narnia time between Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Silver Chair is (I think) about thirty years, despite the English time between each also being (I think) about a year or so. Because Aslan, I guess.
There's another interesting thing here that I'm not sure how much to dwell on, and it's that Caspian blew the horn later than he'd intended. (This will come out later; Miraz's army attacked and the unexpected onslaught prevented Caspian from blowing the horn precisely at sunrise when Cornelius had conjectured the White Magic would be strongest. (Another odd point: referring to "good" magic as "White" magic when the last "White" magician in these parts was undoubtedly evil.)) This is another piece of legend that got glommed onto the story of Susan's horn: at no point did Santa mention that the efficacy of the horn would be heightened at sunrise, rather Cornelius tossed that little tidbit out there as either something he truly believed or in an attempt to justify his keep as the wise old magician of the group.
Either way, the horn apparently worked just fine without any special timing (unless we're meant to believe that a sunrise call would have resulted in some help that was more, er, helpful than the four Pevensie children, but I see no evidence of that), and this is therefore perhaps simply another example of how a religion can evolve, change, and accrue new (and potentially incorrect) bits and pieces over time. I'm not sure, though, if Lewis meant for us to notice that, since that particular observation can be a seriously dual-edged sword in just about any kind of religious discussion. There's a reason there's a bieberbillion versions of Christianity, you know?
"Well, as I was saying, I wondered, but I went on as hard as I could pelt. I kept on all night -- and then, when it was half light this morning, as if I'd no more sense than a Giant, I risked a short cut across open country to cut off a big loop of the river, and was caught. Not by the army, but by a pompous old fool who has charge of a little castle which is Miraz's last stronghold toward the coast. [...]
Anyway, Trumpkin kept on running like the wolves were at his back because it was his duty, dammit, but he took a shortcut in his haste what with being in a super-big hurry in order to save all of Narnia and also additionally having run all morning and being really tired and probably hungry and almost surely dehydrated, and so he made an error in judgment and has now decided the best way to describe that error in judgment is with a racial slur against Giants as opposed to owning up to the mistake in good faith or genuinely excusing it as perfectly understandable under the circumstances.
Because it's important to remember once again that Protagonists make mistakes and have depth and complexity, but Others are one-dimensional and usually in ways that set them apart as dangerously foolish, stupid, lesser beings who just simply aren't as good as God's Chosen
"Great Scott!" said Peter. "So it was the horn -- your own horn, Su -- that dragged us all off that seat on the platform yesterday morning! I can hardly believe it; yet it all fits in."
"I don't know why you shouldn't believe it," said Lucy, "if you believe in magic at all. Aren't there lots of stories about magic forcing people out of one place -- out of one world -- into another? I mean, when a magician in The Arabian Nights calls up a Jinn, it has to come. We had to come, just like that."
And then there's this. Which is... I have to say, a decidedly strange way for Lucy to address her older brother. Tone isn't something that is always very well conveyed in these books, but she seems startlingly aggressive towards what was never a real objection in the first place. "I can hardly believe it; yet it all fits in," is not a statement of the status of one's disbelief, but rather a statement of one's genuine belief. The "I can hardly believe" clause is rhetorical -- the speaker is effectively saying that though their mind rebels against the miraculous situation at hand, yet still the speaker is forced to admit that the miracle under discussion must be what has happened.
So for Lucy to take issue with Peter's phrasing seems very odd. By effectively arguing with him -- "I don't know why you shouldn't believe it, if you believe in magic at all" -- she's basically challenging his manner of agreement with the general assessment at hand. She's accepting that he does believe it, but that his statement of belief is insufficiently enthusiastic. This is kind of rude in my book, but it's also strangely out-of-character for Lucy, who has until now limited the majority of her interactions with Peter as a sort of ingenue looking up in wonder at her older brother. Either this is some form of her aggressively agreeing with him while being oblivious to how she sounds as though she's criticizing him or this is an abandonment of previously established character traits in order to head off reader objections at the pass: THIS IS REALLY ALL TOTALLY REASONABLE IF YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC, NOW LET'S MOVE ON, WE'VE GOT THINGS TO DO.
At least that's how it reads to me. Neither option feels terribly natural to me, to be honest.
Then there's a lot of talk about how Jinns have no choice in being called up in "The Arabian Nights", which is a theological muddle I don't want to try to sort out, given that the most frequently summoned Jinns in those tales were usually imprisoned in their various containers (lamps, rings, jars, etc.) for crimes against God/Allah and Solomon/Suleiman and Heaven and there is -- in my mind -- a very great deal of difference between summoning a criminal supernatural being against its will in order to command it to exercise one sliver of its magical power as part of an ongoing divine punishment versus summoning an innocent child against its will in order to expect it to fight in a war to the death on behalf of a land they can never truly be a part of. But, no, whatever, these two things are PRECISELY THE SAME.
"Meanwhile," said the Dwarf, "what are we to do? I suppose I'd better go back to King Caspian and tell him no help has come."
"No help?" said Susan. "But it has worked. And here we are."
And I know I keep harping this in, but once again Susan is the first one to vocally volunteer to help Narnia and the first one to step up to do the dirty work of fixing the mess that Aslan has left lying around. I mean, I keep beating this drum, but gorram it, this is important. Susan is a pacifist; she's not volunteering for the sake of blood lust or because this is her idea of a grand holiday. And for all the later nope, not a Friend of Narnia characterization, both in "The Last Battle" and here in "Prince Caspian" as soon as Lewis belatedly realizes that he needs a Pevensie villain to maintain the tension and he can't reuse Edmund since he's supposedly reformed, it's worth remembering that when Narnia issues the call Susan is the one to come running. "It has worked," she says. "Here we are." Ready, willing, and able to help.
This isn't good enough for Trumpkin, because the four Pevensies are only four in number and only children in age. And this is curious to me. I still have no sense from the text as to the scale of this war -- it seems like the Narnian army may be no more than a few dozen in number, in which case a "mere" four new soldiers might make quite a difference indeed. And I still have no sense from the text as to how old Caspian in -- it seems to me that he may be younger in age than Peter is in English years, in which case four "children" shouldn't be such an odd addition to the army since Caspian is supposedly doing just-as-good-if-not-better than all the other soldiers in all the skirmishes.
Still, if Caspian really has waited until the absolutely last minute to call for help, maybe four children at this point simply is inadequate, period. Maybe 300 Spartans and their very own pass of Thermopylae would be insufficient at this point. But the sense here seems to be less that four warriors are far too few so much as that four children are far too young. And that seems odd in light of Caspian's own young age, but maybe Trumpkin is just one of those old fashioned dwarves who thinks battles are ugly when children fight. And why not? We have, after all, already been exposed to a similar viewpoint from Father Christmas, and though Lucy didn't fully agree with him at the time, she deferred to his elder judgment in her characteristically polite way.
"Um -- um -- yes, to be sure. I see that," said the Dwarf, whose pipe seemed to be blocked (at any rate he made himself very busy cleaning it). "But -- well -- I mean -- "
"But don't you yet see who we are?" shouted Lucy. "You are stupid."
Er, but I guess it's never too late in a series to have one of your characters learn the joys of shouting rude insults at another?
The problem -- one of the problems, for there are many -- with deconstructing Narnia is that the characterization is so utterly random at times. You take something like this: I'm fairly certain this is the first time that Lucy has yelled at someone, the first time she's called anyone "stupid", and the first time she's directed obvious ire or anger at anyone outside the family. So... is this character growth? Is this Lucy growing from young, sweet, innocent Lucy who prefers peace and hates fights into an older, harsher, cosmopolitan Lucy lashing out at those in the world who underestimate her based on their prejudice towards her?
Or is this, if not character growth (for I am not at all sure that we see any such growth sustained over the course of the story), an example of Lucy lashing out with Author Knowledge (as opposed to Character Knowledge) at the little person in front of her? This dwarf is lacking the authority of either Aslan or Father Christmas and is therefore standing illegitimately between her and her noble calling. By the rules of this world, does that make him unworthy of even the slightest consideration or kind word? I tend to see Lucy's outburst as more of this latter case, based on how Edmund and Peter will soon pile on, but this makes deconstruction dreadfully difficult because we're left with a very confusing picture of Lucy as a character. Does she have a temper that leads her to name-calling? Is she racist against dwarves? Has she finally been pushed too far, having been summoned into Narnia and then not immediately hailed as long lost Queen Lucy? Is she just being taken over here by the Authorial Voice? I just don't know.
"I suppose you are the four children out of the old stories," said Trumpkin. "And I'm very glad to meet you of course. And it's very interesting, no doubt. But -- no offense?" -- and he hesitated again. [...]
"You mean you think we're no good," said Edmund, getting red in the face.
"Now pray don't be offended," interrupted the Dwarf. "I assure you, my dear little friends -- "
"Little from you is really a bit too much," said Edmund, jumping up.
The thing is, I can understand the children being upset about not being taken seriously. They were kings and queens of Narnia. They had adult bodies and adult skills and it was through their reign and rule that they led Narnia into a golden age of peace and prosperity. Now they've reverted to children's bodies that they are no longer comfortable in and they're being doubted and patronized by the adults around them.
I don't get why this is only now getting to them, mind you, but I do get why it's irritating.
But! And I want to emphasize this because I think it's worth making a point. The answer to all this frustration isn't to get angry at the adult who is gently pointing out that the body you're stuck in isn't well-suited for battle. The answer isn't to start hurling ableist insults about who is and isn't "little" and who is and isn't "stupid". The Pevensies have every right to be angry for a good number of things -- for being dumped out of Narnia and back into their English bodies without so much as a how'd-you-do, for being pulled back into Narnia against their will even after they'd told the puller to stop, for being dropped into the middle of a Narnia civil war without their old bodies or so much as a calling card to prove their identity. Those are all valid things to be angry about.
But none of those things are Trumpkin's fault.
"There's no good losing our tempers," said Peter. "Let's fit him out with fresh armor and fit ourselves out from the treasure chamber, and have a talk after that." [...]
The Dwarf's eyes glistened as he saw the wealth that lay on the shelves (though he had to stand on tiptoes to do so) and he muttered to himself, "It would never do to let Nikabrik see this; never." [...] As they came back up the stairway, jingling in their mail, and already looking and feeling more like Narnians and less like schoolchildren, the two boys were behind, apparently making some plan. [...]
So left in here because it seemed worth noting that not only is Nikabrik a Black Dwarf with Bad Hair and a propensity for evil, he's also greedy and very possibly a thief. Of course he is. Ten dollars says he also juggles kittens on the weekends.
When they came out into the daylight Edmund turned to the Dwarf very politely and said, "I've got something to ask you. Kids like us don't often have the chance of meeting a great warrior like you. Would you have a little fencing match with me? It would be frightfully decent." [...]
"It's a dangerous game," said Trumpkin. "But since you make such a point of it, I'll try a pass or two."
[...] Round and round the two combatants circled, stroke after stroke they gave, and Susan (who never could learn to like this sort of thing) shouted out, "Oh, do be careful." And then, so quickly that no one (unless they knew, as Peter did) could quite see how it happened, Edmund flashed his sword round with a peculiar twist, the Dwarf's sword flew out of his grip, and Trumpkin was wringing his empty hand as you do after a "sting" from a cricket-bat.
"I see the point," said Trumpkin drily. "You know a trick I never learned."
Edmund and Peter have decided to draw Trumpkin into a series of tests in order to demonstrate the Pevensie's useful skills and in order to show that the children really can be of some help as members of Caspian's army. And I approve of this plan! I'm all about tryouts to demonstrate that there is compatibility of skills and purpose and goals and whatnot.
What I approve less of is the idea that Edmund and Peter seem to have that they are tricking Trumpkin into these tests. Presumably this tack is taken because the boys believe that Trumpkin would never agree to the tests otherwise if he weren't flattered into the tests, but why wouldn't he? Trumpkin is a skeptic, yes, but he's been nothing except exceedingly polite to the children and has acknowledged multiple times that he owes his life to them. Perhaps he might refuse a testing on the grounds that there isn't time for games and he needs to get back to Caspian, but that reason doesn't prevent him from being flattered into a show-match with Edmund so is the implication here supposed to be that Trumpkin is vain and easily manipulated? I just don't see why the children won't be up-front with him, nor why the narrative seems to think this is awfully clever planning on Peter's part.
"That's quite true," put in Peter. "The best swordsman in the world may be disarmed by a trick that's new to him. I think it's only fair to give Trumpkin a chance at something else. Will you have a shooting match with my sister? There are no tricks in archery, you know." [...]
"I think that apple hanging over the wall on the branch there would do," said Susan.
"That'll do nicely, lass," said Trumpkin. "You mean the yellow one near the middle of the arch?"
"No, not that," said Susan. "The red one up above -- over the battlement."
The Dwarf's face fell. "Looks more like a cherry than an apple," he muttered, but he said nothing out loud. [...]
Then Susan went to the top of the steps and strung her bow. She was not enjoying her match half so much as Edmund had enjoyed his; not because she had any doubt about hitting the apple but because Susan was so tender-hearted that she almost hated to beat someone who had been beaten already. [...]
"Oh, well done, Su," shouted the other children.
"It wasn't really any better than yours," said Susan to the Dwarf. "I think there was a tiny breath of wind as you shot."
"No, there wasn't," said Trumpkin. "Don't tell me. I know when I am fairly beaten. [...]
And bless her heart, but Susan is the one Pevensie who isn't enjoying giving dwarf Trumpkin his comeuppance for doubting their royal usefulness. Lucy can shout "stupid" all day long and Edmund can smirk and pretend to be a green boy just looking for a proper swords-lesson and Peter can patronize about swordsmen knowing secret tricks -- which I've no doubt he does know more than Trumpkin, what with Peter living the pampered life of a warrior king and Trumpkin surviving his whole life on his wits and his speed and his secrecy and whatever bit of sharpened raw metal he happened to have at hand -- but it's dear Susan who tries to blame the wind on Trumpkin's loss despite how proud she is of her archery talents.
"And now," said Peter, "if you've really decided to believe in us -- " [...] "It's quite clear what we have to do. We must join King Caspian at once."
"The sooner the better," said Trumpkin. "My being such a fool has already wasted about an hour."
And here we're back to that strange insistence again that marginalized people are horribly, terribly wrong if they don't immediately trust and believe in the white saviors presented to them. Taking an hour to check to see that the Pevensie children will be a help and not a hindrance to the war effort is not a waste of time at all, in my opinion; it was very prudently done and was vital for establishing how the children will be able to help in the coming days (as well as during their dangerous journey back).
Skepticism is not, in my opinion, a bad thing; nor is reserving judgment until more facts and evidence are in, but you'd never know it from the way these books castigate non-believers for failing to believe at the very instance they're asked to reconcile an impossible claim with the only reality they've ever known. It seems unfair, and like a system that is rigged against us from the start.
"Look here," said Edmund, "need we go by the same way that Our Dear Little Friend came?"
"No more of that, your Majesty, if you love me," said the Dwarf.
"Very well," said Edmund. "May I say our D.L.F.?"
"Oh, Edmund," said Susan. "Don't keep on at him like that."
"That's all right, lass -- I mean your Majesty," said Trumpkin with a chuckle. "A jibe won't raise a blister." (And after that they often called him the D.L.F. till they'd almost forgotten what it meant.)
The Pevensies will not be staying on at the end of this book to rule Narnia for a decade or more in the way they did at the end of LWW. Their entire sojourn in Narnia over the course of PC will last maybe, maybe, a week. (I'd have to recount, but I'm almost certain it's no longer than seven days. I think it's closer to four.) So for those four-to-seven days, they will call dwarf Trumpkin -- a person who has spent his entire life having to hide because of his height or be brutally murdered by the genocidal humans who took over his country (probably) before he was even born -- an acronym based around a jibe at his height and which he graciously accepts rather than risk offending the ancient kings and queens on whom the fate of Narnia (and the lives of all dwarves who reside within her) rests.
I don't think I need to explain why this is rotten, bullying, Othering behavior on the part of Edmund. I don't think I need to explain why using this euphemism "till they'd almost forgotten what it meant" over the course of a mere four-to-seven days serves to illustrate just how quickly and easy it is to forget the hurtful meanings behind words whenever you're the privileged one using the hurtful words and not the marginalized one hearing the hurtful words.
"As I was saying," continued Edmund, "we needn't go that way. Why shouldn't we row a little south till we come to Glasswater Creek and row up it? That brings us up behind the Hill of the Stone Table, and we'll be safe while we're at sea. If we start at once, we can be at the head of Glasswater before dark, get a few hours' sleep, and be with Caspian pretty early tomorrow," [...]
"It's like old times," said Lucy. "Do you remember our voyage to Terebinthia -- and Galma -- and Seven Isles -- and the Lone Islands?"
"Yes," said Susan, "and our great ship the Splendor Hyaline, with the swan's head at her prow and the carved swan's wings coming back almost to her waist?"
"And the silken sails, and the great stern lanterns?"
"And the feasts on the poop and the musicians."
"Do you remember when we had the musicians up in the rigging playing flutes so that it sounded like music out of the sky?"
Presently Susan took over Edmund's oar and he came forward to join Lucy. They had passed the island now and stood closer in to the shore -- all wooded and deserted. They would have thought it very pretty if they had not remembered the time when it was open and breezy and full of merry friends.
"Phew! This is pretty grueling work," said Peter.
"Can't I row for a bit?" said Lucy.
"The oars are too big for you," said Peter shortly, not because he was cross but because he had no strength to spare for talking.
I want to feel sorry for the Pevensie children, I really do. I can sink into their shoes so easily. I can imagine being a queen of a far-away fantasy fairy land. I can envision the moonlit sailing parties, the music wafting from the rigging, the exotic food dripping with fats and spices, the dancing, and breezes, the merriment. I want to lie back and close my eyes and feel the privilege wash over me and under me and around me and carry me away into a world where things are simpler and life is whatever I need it to be.
I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think escapist literature is healthy, valuable, and can even be subversive. I think there's beauty available to be had in Narnia, and I think it's a beauty that shouldn't be taken away or tarnished.
But I think there's also an ugliness underneath it, and I think it's an ugliness that we need to be aware of because it affects how we live and interact in the real world. I think there's a wrongness in double-dealing with people rather than being upfront with them about collaboration and how best to meet each other's needs. I think there's an ugliness in lashing out at people for failing to believe everything you assert the moment you assert it, or for cruely talking down at them when they aren't a member of an authority figure group you choose to follow. I think there's a place for respect and consideration to people who are being polite, and that it is wrong to answer that basic politeness with misdirected aggression.
And I think there's a time and a place for romanticizing about music-filled voyages while still remembering the dangers you put your musicians through by weaving them through the rigging for your own heightened amusement.
What I'm asking for, I think, is a little balance. A little basic politeness. A little less marinating in the privilege that is being a king or queen of Narnia, and a little more recognition of the responsibilities that should come with the job description.