Content Note: Genocide
Narnia Recap: Caspian has been adopted by two dwarves and a badger.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 6: The People That Lived In Hiding
Religious allegories and metaphors are sometimes a bit tricky for me to handle because a lot of times they seem to depend on access to information that, in theory, many of us simply don't have. Or, on the flip side, to the obscuring of information that we sometimes tend to not notice.
A good example of the latter would be the case of Pascal's Wager. On the face of it, the wager seems kind of logical: either the atheists are right or they are wrong. In the case that they are right, it doesn't matter what we do in terms of belief because we all (presumably) fade into oblivion when we die. In the case that they are wrong, it potentially matters a great deal what we do in terms of belief because unbelief could end up with us being tormented for eternity. Sounds like an easy bet to make, right? (It all sounded very logical to me as a kid in private Protestant school, let me tell you.)
But eventually someone points out that this bet carefully obscures the reality that there are a lot of different postulated gods and goddesses and so the wager isn't nearly so simple anymore. It's not Atheism Or Christianity anymore, it's Atheism Or Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, etc.) Or Paganism Or Judaism Or Hinduism Or Islam Or Etc. (Given the plethora of choices, atheism almost seems like the safer way to go: at least I didn't worship your rival, ser!) And the only real rebuttal I know of against this point is that anyone who studies Christianity hard enough will admit that it's Obviously the true religion to choose and anyone who claims otherwise is Wrong. So I don't much care for Pascal's Wager because it seems to hope that we'll forget that there are more options on the table and I don't like it when data points are obscured, whether it be deliberately or accidentally.
And then there's the Narnia series, which strikes me as an example of the former, of providing information we don't normally have access to -- and which the other characters most definitely do not have access to -- and then using that to ask us to draw conclusions from there. It's hard for me to grapple with.
For instance, we know -- you and I -- that in the Narnia-verse, Aslan exists. We know that the White Witch fought him, and that as part of her rivalry with him, she made the lives of many Narnians miserable. We know that she plagued Narnia with a hundred-year winter and that she turned innocent squirrels to stone and she raised an army to engage in a bloody and brutal civil war for control over a country that she had no real claim to and wasn't managing in good faith (see: winter and stoning above). We know that the Pevensies put a stop to her reign and we know that Aslan aided them and we know that since those acts were, on balance, probably genuinely Good Things, we know that Aslan and the Pevensies are capable of doing Good Things.
We know all that because we were, essentially, there. We read it. And we read it in a source that we essentially accept as correct because this is Fiction and not History. By which I mean that I accept at face-value everything that Philippa Gregory writes about Mary Boleyn, but I accept with significant care and skepticism anything that Eustace Chapuys wrote about Mary Boleyn, because I instinctively understand the difference between a fiction author writing a character and a complex-and-fallible person recording the life and actions of another complex-and-fallible person. And if someone were to try to use my acceptance of The Other Boleyn Girl to argue that I should therefore read the history of Mary Boleyn a certain way, I would be right befuddled and perplexed. The two, after all, have essentially nothing to do with one another except for how documentation of the one lead to the fictional representation of the other in the author's mind.
In this chapter of Prince Caspian, the young Caspian will go about the Old Narnians taking what essentially amounts to a roll call and ultimately building support for a civil war. And the people he meets -- the animals, dwarves, various mythological beings -- will react to him in very different ways. And that's all fine and good, and in fact is very realistic after 1,300 years of oppression by Caspian's forebears and abandonment by Aslan. But what doesn't strike me as totally fair is that we already know that Aslan is Good, the White Witch was Bad, and anyone who feels otherwise is quite mistaken within the scope of the narrative.
This bugs me since just because we know it, doesn't mean the Old Narnians should be expected to know it. Thirteen hundred years have passed. Can you think of anything you know from 1,300 years ago that wasn't preserved and written in a book for you to read and which isn't a part of your daily see-touch-feel-taste life for constant and immediate verification? Because I can't, not for myself. And the Narnians don't have the luxury of history books while they're constantly dodging the threat of genocide. So what I think I'm trying to get at is that I feel like I have access to information that the characters don't, and I feel like I'm being asked to judge them on those grounds. We'll see if you feel the same.
NOW BEGAN THE HAPPIEST TIMES THAT Caspian had ever known. On a fine summer morning when the dew lay on the grass he set off with the Badger and the two Dwarfs, up through the forest to a high saddle in the mountains and down onto their sunny southern slopes where one looked across the green wolds of Archenland.
"We will go first to the Three Bulgy Bears," said Trumpkin.
I don't understand the opening line of this chapter because "the happiest times" seems kind of longish, but it's really only a couple of days before the war starts. I mean, maybe we're in Twilight-time and it's actually longer, but it doesn't feel very long to me. And while I imagine it could be very lovely to find out that the mythology you'd always dreamed of is real, I feel like preparing for a war and meeting people who are ultimately going to be dying on your behalf could be kind of stressful for some people.
So I'm kind of stumbling over both the "happiest" and the "times" and additionally I'm interested in the fact that a still-a-child prince who has been (presumably) waited on at least a little bit hand-and-foot in his life adjusts so well to his sudden revoking of privilege, but then again, I can't tell from the text that his privilege has been revoked. Is he lighting fires and cooking meals and helping out around the cave, or is Trufflehunter doing all his work for him?
Anyway, they go off to consult the Bulgy Bears who will be -- like many of the Animals in this book -- stereotypically silly and deeply reverential of Caspian merely because he is a human being.
And when everything had been explained to them (which took a long time because they were so sleepy) they said, just as Trufflehunter had said, that a son of Adam ought to be King of Narnia and all kissed Caspian -- very wet, snuffly kisses they were -- and offered him some honey. Caspian did not really want honey, without bread, at that time in the morning, but he thought it polite to accept. It took him a long time afterward to get unsticky.
And, well, I think the treatment of Animals in this book is just going to be one of those Your Mileage May Vary things.
I, personally, do not like it. I don't like it because it seems to indicate that form dictates behavior and personality in a way that I'm not at all comfortable with because of the various implications contained therein for Otherkin and Transgendered peoples. I don't like it because I have a good deal of experience with animals in my personal life and I see a tremendous variety in personality within the same species, and even within the same genetic family. I don't like it because the variety displayed among the Pevensie children and the Caspian family, combined with the non-variety displayed within an animal species, normalizes "Human Being" as complex-and-varied and pigeonholes Animals as stereotypes, and that reminds me uncomfortably of the normalization of White, Straight, and Male in our society.
And I don't like it because the stereotypical Animal behavior seems to me to be almost always displayed as something worthy of mockery, even when I disagree. (So I feel like I'm being needled by the text to laugh while I do my thing where I cross my arms and give my Nofunnington stare.)
Anyway, the Bears (and a Squirrel that is a chatterbox, because) agree that a Man should be King of the Animals, despite the fact that the last 1,300 years of Men being Kings has worked out very poorly indeed for the Animals. (Hopefully this one will be totes better. The tenth -- or more! -- time is the charm!) But what do the Dwarves think?
Their next visit was to the Seven Brothers of Shuddering Wood. [...] and in the middle of the hole the head of a Dwarf very like Trumpkin himself. There was a long talk here and the dwarf seemed more suspicious than the Squirrel or the Bulgy Bears had been, but in the end the whole party were invited to come down. [...] It took some time to satisfy them that Caspian was a friend and not an enemy, but when they did, they all cried -- "Long live the King," and their gifts were noble -- mail shirts and helmets and swords for Caspian and Trumpkin and Nikabrik. [...] The workmanship of the arms was far finer than any Caspian had ever seen, and he gladly accepted the Dwarf-made sword instead of his own, which looked, in comparison, as feeble as a toy and as clumsy as a stick. The seven brothers (who were all Red Dwarfs) promised to come to the feast at Dancing Lawn. [...]
A little farther on, in a dry, rocky ravine they reached the cave of five Black Dwarfs. They looked suspiciously at Caspian, but in the end the eldest of them said, "If he is against Miraz, we'll have him for King." And the next oldest said, "Shall we go farther up for you, up to the crags? There's an Ogre or two and a Hag that we could introduce you to, up there."
"Certainly not," said Caspian.
"I should think not, indeed," said Trufflehunter. "We want none of that sort on our side." Nikabrik disagreed with this, but Trumpkin and the Badger overruled him. It gave Caspian a shock to realize that the horrible creatures out of the old stories, as well as the nice ones, had some descendants in Narnia still.
The Red Dwarves -- the ones who look like Trumpkin and are named for their soft, fox-fine red hair -- are suspicious, but once they are brought around to the right point of view, they hail Caspian as the true and rightful king, whose health they praise and long for. Then they provide finely worked tools of war: weapons and armor that surely must have cost great effort to make, and which raw materials they must have obtained at great risk to themselves. (And where do they vent the smoke from their forge and how do they ensure the humans won't see it?)
The Black Dwarves -- the ones who look like Nikabrik and are named for their coarse, thick, hard hair -- are also suspicious. But they are brought to the side of Caspian only by expediency, stating that the enemy of their enemy is their friend, and they do not wish him life or health. Nor do they provide gifts of fealty. At most they offer to help with the recruitment, but their offer is for creatures who are Always Chaotic Evil and therefore their offer is openly disdained by the party.
And this... strikes me as rude. And we're back to Knowing Things Caspian Should Not Know.
We "know" that Ogres are mean and awful and aren't like Shrek at all because we were flat out told that in LWW, and we saw them fighting on the side of the Witch. But Caspian has never met or even seen an Ogre. Who is he to say that they aren't like Shrek? (Indeed, who are we to say there aren't Good Ogres in the same way that there are Good Giants in LWW?) Why, he's a prejudiced person, in the sense that he has pre-judged these Ogres before being provided with any proper basis for judging. And yet, it seems like we're to agree with him, for Trufflehunter and Trumpkin certainly do, and we never see any evidence that they were wrong to judge the Ogres as Evil and unworthy of joining the cause.
Furthermore, even if the Ogres are Evil, Caspian's open disdain of the Black Dwarves' offer to do the leg-work to recruit them strikes me as a really poor reaction on his part. The Black Dwarves have already demonstrated that they're pragmatists: Miraz is Evil and is trying to wipe out the Narnians, so they'll cooperate with Caspian if it means an end to Miraz' reign. Simple, straightforward, and logical. Caspian doesn't have to agree with their philosophy, but if he wants their help, I'd expect him to be respectful of it. "No, thank you, I'm not sure we can trust Ogres to represent our common interests" would seem to be a more diplomatic response to the offer rather than "Certainly not, because I am motivated solely by racial hatred." That's a great way to simultaneously sneer at the Dwarves' acceptance of Caspian and to prove that Caspian's reign over Narnia will be motivated not by logic or fairness but by prejudice and racial bigotry. Double-fail!
"We should not have Aslan for friend if we brought in that rabble," said Trufflehunter as they came away from the cave of the Black Dwarfs.
"Oh, Aslan!" said Trumpkin, cheerily but contemptuously. "What matters much more is that you wouldn't have me."
"Do you believe in Aslan?" said Caspian to Nikabrik.
"I'll believe in anyone or anything," said Nikabrik, "that'll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?"
"Silence, silence," said Trufflehunter. "You do not know what you are saying. She was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race."
"Not to Dwarfs, she wasn't," said Nikabrik.
And then there's this.
We know -- we know because we were there -- that Aslan is Good and the White Which is Evil. (Debatably. Work with me here.) Trumpkin doesn't believe in Aslan, but he's good and cheery and kind about it. He's not one of those unpleasant atheists who is kind of a jackwagon about the whole thing, in the same way that Cornelius isn't one of those unpleasant marginalized peoples who is sort of pissed off about the whole genocide deal. And -- totally coincidentally -- Trumpkin is a Good Person who is cheerful and kind and good and loving and sweet and a good sport about being teased by four little children.
Nikabrik doesn't believe in Aslan, either, not really. But he's willing to do so, if doing so would help his cause. (And let's remember that his "cause" is a world where he's not in constant danger of being murdered by genocidal humans. Just in case we forgot.) But he's angry and aggressive in his stance, and what's worse, he's pragmatic. He'll believe in anything if they will help him restore Narnia to the land of his ancestors. Aslan, the White Witch, probably even Tash; they're all the same to him: if they're willing to prove themselves worthy of his worship, it's theirs for the having. If they won't, he won't.
I don't actually have a problem with this theology, but then again I'm one of those Liberal Pluralistic Heathens with flighty concepts of There Is No Wholly Good Nor Wholly Evil Deity, But Rather There Is Potential For Both Good And Evil In Each Of Them. If Aslan or the White Witch or Tash wants my worship, I don't have a problem with posing a bit of an audition. Are you the sort of deity I want to worship? Are our goals aligned? Are you methods such that I approve of them? Existence, for me, isn't good enough -- compatibility is just as important.*
* This is, incidentally, why I hate-hate-hate the sometimes-espoused-online statement that belief in gods -- any gods -- makes people like me one faked vision away from doing terrible things to people. No, it does not! If my gods told me to do terrible things, I would simply stop worshiping them. I wouldn't stop believing in their existence, but Existence is not a necessary-and-sufficient condition for my Worship.
Trumpkin will, once it is proved that Aslan exists, worship him. Existence is enough. (Or, possibly, Existence and Serious Trauma. We'll get there in a later chapter, I promise.) Nikabrik won't be alive long enough to make the choice, but I think that he wouldn't worship Aslan, not until it was made clear to him that Aslan was willing to provide the support that Narnia needs. Existence is not necessary and sufficient for Nikabrik's worship; compatibility is also a requirement.
And -- totally coincidentally-- Nikabrik is a Bad Person who is angry and aggressive and mean in the sense that he doesn't care about Caspian's feelings and he keeps pointing out that Caspian has privilege and prejudice and protections that the rest of Nikabrik's people don't have and never will.
So there's that.
Their next visit was a pleasanter one. [...] there came in sight the noblest creatures that Caspian had yet seen, the great Centaur Glenstorm and his three sons. His flanks were glossy chestnut and the beard that covered his broad chest was golden-red. He was a prophet and a star-gazer and knew what they had come about.
"Long live the King," he cried. "I and my sons are ready for war. When is the battle to be joined?"
Up till now neither Caspian nor the others had really been thinking of a war. They had some vague idea, perhaps, of an occasional raid on some Human farmstead or of attacking a party of hunters, if it ventured too far into these southern wilds. But, in the main, they had thought only of living to themselves in woods and caves and building up an attempt at Old Narnia in hiding. As soon as Glenstorm had spoken everyone felt much more serious.
Glenstorm will convince the party -- in a mere couple of sentences -- that it's open war they must and should have because the stars say so. And, well, okay, I don't usually make life-or-death decisions based on astrology, but I'll believe in anyone and anything who means to help Narnia! So if this very noble-and-serious looking centaur says that is what we must do, who are we to argue?
The stars are, by the way, ultimately right. They do win the war. But they only win the war after being beaten to near-defeat. They only win because Aslan shows up at the last minute with a bevy of Greek gods and a walking forest of trees. They only win because the Pevensies show up and challenge Miraz to a winner-take-all duel. They only win because Miraz' self-centered and short-sighted advisers decide to goad Miraz into the duel and then murder him in the middle of it. They only win because of conditions that Caspian and his crew could never be expected to foresee or guess at.
By engaging in ill-advised open warfare on the say-so of the centaur, the Old Narnians will lose several of their number (many of them nameless and faceless Black Dwarves). These are lives who might not have been lost in guerrilla warfare, and there's no real guarantee that such a warfare wouldn't have also contained an Aslan-GreekGod-Pevensie-Treachery win therein. (Why not?) They are lives which are lost, and yet are not Caspian's life, nor any of the named characters, and so they are unmourned except in the gee-it's-a-shame-we-have-fewer-soldiers-today by all except, apparently, Nikabrik.
I don't have a point here, by the way, except that it might not be the soundest battle strategy to bar Ogres from your army because you hate them and follow the advice of random centaurs because they talk about the will of the stars. Or maybe it is, I don't know. I've never won a war before.
There Trufflehunter called at the mouth of a little hole in a green bank and out popped the last thing Caspian expected -- a Talking Mouse. He was of course bigger than a common mouse, well over a foot high when he stood on his hind legs, and with ears nearly as long as (though broader than) a rabbit's. His name was Reepicheep and he was a gay and martial mouse. He wore a tiny little rapier at his side and twirled his long whiskers as if they were a moustache. "There are twelve of us, Sire," he said with a dashing and graceful bow, "and I place all the resources of my people unreservedly at your Majesty's disposal." Caspian tried hard (and unsuccessfully) not to laugh, but he couldn't help thinking that Reepicheep and all his people could very easily be put in a washing basket and carried home on one's back.
Meet Reepicheep. You'll either love him or hate him. I love him, but I partly love him because I feel like the narrative makes fun of him. If I felt like the narrative was talking him up all the time as the Best Thing Evar, I wouldn't love him. Because I'm fickle like that.
"Now," said the Badger, "if only we could wake the spirits of these trees and this well, we should have done a good day's work."
"Can't we?" said Caspian.
"No," said Trufflehunter. "We have no power over them. Since the Humans came into the land, felling forests and defiling streams, the Dryads and Naiads have sunk into a deep sleep. Who knows if ever they will stir again? And that is a great loss to our side. The Telmarines are horribly afraid of the woods, and once the Trees moved in anger, our enemies would go mad with fright and be chased out of Narnia as quick as their legs could carry them."
"What imaginations you Animals have!" said Trumpkin, who didn't believe in such things. "But why stop at Trees and Waters? Wouldn't it be even nicer if the stones started throwing themselves at old Miraz?"
The Badger only grunted at this, and after that there was such a silence that Caspian had nearly dropped off to sleep when he thought he heard a faint musical sound [...]
"Fauns!" cried Caspian, jumping up, and in a moment they were all round him. It took next to no time to explain the whole situation to them and they accepted Caspian at once. Before he knew what he was doing he found himself joining in the dance. Trumpkin, with heavier and jerkier movements, did likewise and even Trufflehunter hopped and lumbered about as best he could. Only Nikabrik stayed where he was, looking on in silence.
The Trees are sleeping. This will be a HUGE plot point in the sense that paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs are devoted to them. Most of those paragraphs will be cut, not because they are not interesting or pretty, but because I can't think of much to say about them. Just be aware that they are there, in the background, all the time. WATCHING YOU.
Also, Nikabrik doesn't dance. Probably because he's sullen and evil and terrible and horrible and not because he's sensible enough to know that he'll be grateful for a good night's sleep after today's work and tomorrow's war.