Narnia Recap: Trumpkin and the Pevensies have decided to join Caspian by boat rather than take the dangerous and grueling over-land route Trumpkin previously traveled.
Ana's Note: It's been a long
Prince Caspian, Chapter 9: What Lucy Saw
So we're in Chapter 9 of a book that is fifteen chapters long. That means we have seven chapters -- including this one -- to wrap things up and actually do something with all this backstory and narrative setup that has been plopped in our laps over the course of the last eight chapters or so.
In my current drug-addled state, I kind of imagine Lewis panicking a little at this point. Whole chapters have been invested into dropping the Pevensies into Narnia, helping them to discover when and where they are, and feeding them with copious amounts of increasingly-unappetizing apples. When it became clear that we were getting nowhere fast with that tack, we hopped laterally -- and with a bit of a flashback -- over into Prince Caspian's viewpoint and got a huge info-dump on his childhood, his genealogy, his family history, his classical education, his daring escape from his evil uncle, and a Recruiting Montage, before being dumped into the middle of an unwinnable war (Because Astrology Centaur). And now that we've painted ourselves into that little corner, NOW WHAT DO WE DO?
Well, if we look back at the last book in the series, we need some kind of heavy-handed theological lesson about Christianity to hang everything on. And we pretty much have to have a badly-behaving Pevensie so that they can muck up God's Greater Plan by thinking they know so much better than God does (spoiler: they totally don't, ya'll! Christian Message Accomplished!). And then we can wrap everything up by solving all the war-related problems with a triumphant return of the King-of-Kings-and-Lord-of-Lords backed by a magically
Why mess with a formula when it works, yeah?
But you've got to jazz things up, you know? For instance: we can't do the Passion of Christ again all over again, because the whole point (or, at least, one of the whole points) of the sacrifice of Christ is that he doesn't have to keep being re-crucified every couple of centuries. Just the one time was good enough for everyone, at least here on Earth, and it seems like that should probably hold true for Narnia too, because otherwise the allegory starts sprouting plot holes. And while we're on the topic of Edmund, he really can't be the Sinful Pevensie this time around, because if he hasn't radically reformed his personality as a result of Aslan's ultimate sacrifice in the last book, then it's going to kind of cheapen it in retrospect, no?
So clearly we're going to need to start making some minor alterations if we want to keep following the overall established Narnia pattern so far. And this is the chapter in which we're going to return to those tried-and-true LWW roots... with a vengeance. And, well, if some of my criticisms today sound a little familiar, it's not my fault that we're in the same song, second chorus.
SUSAN AND THE TWO BOYS WERE BITTERLY tired with rowing before they rounded the last headland and began the final pull up Glasswater itself, and Lucy's head ached from the long hours of sun and the glare on the water.
And I'm going to give a kudos here because it's nice to see Susan helping with the boat rowing.
I mean, she could easily not, what with her being a girl and Queen Gentle Susan (whose gentleness may or may not extend to not getting blisters on her hands) and what with work being ugly when noble-born ladies do it or whatever else Lady-on-a-Pedestal theories people like Father Christmas have always been fond of spouting. And for all that, the two boys and Trumpkin might have tried to actively prevent her from helping out of a sense of chivalry (girls shouldn't have to help row!) or sexism (girls aren't strong enough to help row!) but either they didn't or Susan prevailed over their objections because here she is, rowing with the best of them.
But, really, why shouldn't she? Everything about Susan's established character telegraphs that she's the sort of person who would help in a situation like this. Way back in LWW, she was mediating arguments between her siblings, she was gathering up warm coats as a survival tactic in a harsh winter landscape, and she was advocating to save a faun she'd never met simply because she felt vaguely responsible for his imprisonment by the local evil queen. Here in PC, she was the one who was digging around in the dirt for clues to their whereabouts, she was stringing bows and shooting arrows in order to save innocent dwarves from death-by-drowning, and when called upon by her brother to show off her archery prowess she tried to blame her opponent's loss on the wind because she felt so badly about hurting his feelings.
Everything about Susan's character so far has been that of a young woman who exudes love and kindness to friends and family alike; who expends an excess of effort to avoid, mediate, and end disputes; and who never hesitates to get her hands dirty when there's work to be done.
Naturally, this is all going to have to change now that we need an Evil Pevensie To Learn A Moral Lesson. What? Don't look at me like that. It can't be Edmund; we already talked about how if he fell into that role again, it'd cheapen the earlier Passion of Aslan. And it can't be Lucy; the series is dedicated to her for crying out loud. That leaves Peter and Susan as available candidates for Worst Pevensie, and I think we already know which way the wind is going to blow in that contest.
They went ashore at last, far too tired to attempt lighting a fire; and even a supper of apples (though most of them felt that they never wanted to see an apple again) seemed better than trying to catch or shoot anything. After a little silent munching they all huddled down together in the moss and dead leaves between four large beech trees.
Everyone except Lucy went to sleep at once. Lucy, being far less tired, found it hard to get comfortable. [...]
Lucy's eyes began to grow accustomed to the light, and she saw the trees that were nearest her more distinctly. A great longing for the old days when the trees could talk in Narnia came over her. She knew exactly how each of these trees would talk if only she could wake them, and what sort of human form it would put on. She looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face, and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty old man with a frizzled beard and warts on his face and hands, and hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which she was standing. Ah! -- she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, the lady of the wood.
I've banged on a bit -- some would probably say too much of a bit -- about the Platonic essentialism in this series, but there's a reason why I take all this so very seriously. I don't like Animals whose personalities can be divined simply by knowing their breed, for the same reason that I don't like Trees whose body types can be known simply by virtue of their species. I don't like these things because they tie into a fantasy world of Privilege, the Sherlock Holmes world, where people -- especially minorities -- can be neatly and easily pegged into clearly defined categories at a single glance. It's a world where individuals do not exist, only Archetypes and Stereotypes, and the Privileged need never waste any effort getting to know the marginalized because such an effort would only be confirming the obvious.
I care about this framing deeply because it has affected me very personally throughout my entire life. So much of my life's interactions have been with people thinking that they can know something, anything, about me based on how I look, how I was raised, or whatever little factoids they can gather about me.
I am a cis-gendered woman, and thus follows assumptions about my skills at software engineering and spacial reasoning. (This is one of many reasons why scholarly articles in my field are signed with initials instead of with names, in an attempt to reduce gender bias.) I am fat, and therefore assumptions may be made about my self-control and eating habits. I appear able-bodied, and clearly any claims to the contrary are steeped in laziness, depression, and neediness. I have unruly hair; surely we can deduce from that fact that I am slovenly and either too poor or too gauche to take pride in my appearance.
Even superficial details about my past and background haven't been safe from this Sherlock Holmes style of social prying: I have been asked on multiple occasions if being home-schooled left me with "no social skills". (The correct answer, for any home-schoolers out there reading this, is that we have enough social skills to recognize how rude that question is. Just don't expect the response to be pretty.) I genuinely cannot count how many friends and lovers in my lifetime have treated me as some kind of puzzle to be opened up and solved, and I cannot express strongly enough how othered and isolated this behavior makes me feel.
And I don't think this just happens to me. Maybe I'm an exception, but I find it difficult to believe that other women aren't subjected to this as well -- and, I suspect, people of color and people of other minority walks of life. There seems to be almost a cultural game of "getting to know" minorities -- not by, say, becoming close friends and confidantes and asking about minority experiences, but rather by sidling up long enough to harvest a few personal quirks and historical details and then running off to gleefully piece together the puzzle. I don't understand the motivation, but I've seen it happen too many times not to recognize the impulse.
So when I see these passages, yes, I see the prettiness of Narnia, the land where the trees are all silvery maidens or wizened old men depending on tree type. But I also see the conservative side of Narnia, the side that never challenges or surprises, the side that serves marmalade and butter instead of frog sashimi or fried crickets. It's a child's fantasy, to be sure, this magical land that is also fundamentally conservative and comforting. But it's also a fantasy land that wouldn't be out of place in, say, the minds responsible for "Left Behind" -- a world where you can tell the political leanings, the sexual orientation, and the very status of a woman's soul just by the types of shoes she wears.
"Oh Trees, Trees, Trees," said Lucy (though she had not been intending to speak at all). "Oh Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don't you remember it? Don't you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come to me."
[...] But the moment did not come. The rustling died away. The nightingale resumed its song. Even in the moonlight the wood looked more ordinary again. Yet Lucy had the feeling (as you sometimes have when you are trying to remember a name or a date and almost get it, but it vanishes before you really do) that she had just missed something: as if she had spoken to the trees a split second too soon or a split second too late, or used all the right words except one, or put in one word that was just wrong.
I think one of the saddest things of all about PC is the lack of agency on the part of the children in it. Lucy and Susan will spend pretty much their entire time here in Narnia chillin' with Aslan while he wakes the trees and romps with members of Greek mythology, which is basically what they did the last time they were here, but with even less pluck and determination because this time around they're not bravely witnessing the crucifixion. Peter and Edmund don't fight in a war this time; Peter will fight in a duel and Edmund will watch, but Peter won't even be allowed to win the duel because that might have a touch of moral ambiguity and we can't have that now can we.
So you have scenes like this one where Lucy feels she might just be able to wake the trees -- she was their queen once, after all, wasn't she? -- but it's all ultimately just a big tease because she doesn't have the right power or the right words or the right something and the moment passes and we might as well have not had it at all. (But then I wouldn't have been able to rant about essentialism, so there's that.)
It was a cold and cheerless waking for them all next morning, with a gray twilight in the wood (for the sun had not yet risen) and everything damp and dirty. [...]
"I suppose your Majesties know the way all right?" said the Dwarf.
"I don't," said Susan. "I've never seen these woods in my life before. In fact I thought all along that we ought to have gone by the river."
"Then I think you might have said so at the time," answered Peter, with pardonable sharpness.
"Oh, don't take any notice of her," said Edmund. "She always is a wet blanket. You've got that pocket compass of yours, Peter, haven't you? Well, then, we're as right as rain. We've only got to keep on going northwest -- cross that little river, [...] and strike uphill, and we'll be at the Stone Table (Aslan's How, I mean) by eight or nine o'clock. I hope King Caspian will give us a good breakfast!"
"I hope you're right," said Susan. "I can't remember all that at all."
"That's the worst of girls," said Edmund to Peter and the Dwarf. "They never carry a map in their heads."
"That's because our heads have something inside them," said Lucy.
And here we go. I'll bet half of you thought I was joking when I said that Susan was going to be changed from her established character as a kind, conflict-adverse, helpful young woman, didn't you? It's okay, I won't blame you for doubting me. It's not like any of the Pevensies come off well in this exchange, but I assure you that things are only going to get worse as far as Susan is concerned.
So what do we have here? We have Susan snapping that she certainly doesn't know the way and that she thought they shouldn't have gone by the river at all. We have Peter snarking back at her, but the narrator assures us that his snarking is quite "pardonable" (THANK YOU, NARRATOR), and how could it not be pardonable, seeing that Susan is a girl who really should know her place by now. I mean, she was already the quietest Pevensie, but can't she dial it down a little bit further and just not talk at all?
Then Edmund piles on, very nicely I might add, to say that Susan is "always a wet blanket" which is a very helpful detail for him to add because had he not asserted that just now, I might not have noticed, what with Susan's character being established as anything but a "wet blanket" over the course of the last book-and-a-half. Then we get Susan being either snarky or submissive -- I can't quite tell -- and Edmund gets to have a nice moment of sexism with the other males in the party to talk about how girls can't navigate worth shit.
Unfortunately, Lucy does not get points for calling Edmund out for his bad behavior because participating in the flip-side of misogynistic stereotypes ("girls rule, boys drool") does not actually solve the problem or even address it in a meaningful way. However, I'm tempted to blame this one on the author more than the character since I feel like established Lucy would be more likely to point out that Edmund is being beastly rather than sniping back with an "oh, yeah, well you suck" response, but then again we've already thrown character consistency to the wind, so who knows at this point.
Just as they were passing the place, there came a sudden something that snarled and flashed, rising out from the breaking twigs like a thunderbolt. Lucy was knocked down and winded, hearing the twang of a bowstring as she fell. When she was able to take notice of things again, she saw a great grim-looking gray bear lying dead with Trumpkin's arrow in its side.
"The D.L.F. beat you in that shooting match, Su," said Peter, with a slightly forced smile. Even he had been shaken by this adventure.
"I -- I left it too late," said Susan, in an embarrassed voice. "I was so afraid it might be, you know -- one of our kind of bears, a talking bear." She hated killing things.
"That's the trouble of it," said Trumpkin, "when most of the beasts have gone enemy and gone dumb, but there are still some of the other kind left. You never know, and you daren't wait to see."
"Poor old Bruin," said Susan. "You don't think he was?"
"Not he," said the Dwarf. "I saw the face and I heard the snarl. He only wanted Little Girl for his breakfast. And talking of breakfast, I didn't want to discourage your Majesties when you said you hoped King Caspian would give you a good one: but meat's precious scarce in camp. And there's good eating on a bear. It would be a shame to leave the carcass without taking a bit, and it won't delay us more than half an hour. I dare say you two youngsters -- Kings, I should say -- know how to skin a bear?"
"Let's go and sit down a fair way off," said Susan to Lucy. "I know what a horrid messy business that will be." Lucy shuddered and nodded. When they had sat down she said: "Such a horrible idea has come into my head, Su."
"Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you'd never know which were which?"
"We've got enough to bother about here and now in Narnia," said the practical Susan, "without imagining things like that."
A few little things.
1. TRUMP-KIN. It's two syllables. Two! "The D.L.F." is four. Unless you're somehow pronouncing it as a word and not three letters, like "The Dilf". In which case it's still two syllables but with a glottal stop in between in order to differentiate the "the" from the "dilf". It's even harder to type because you have to keep slapping those periods in there. Why? What good is this stupid nickname other than to de-personify Trumpkin and make him seem like less of an adult being worthy of respect?
2. "Even" Peter had been shaken by the adventure of his youngest sister nearly being killed. Nice to see that the patriarchy isn't hard at work here proactively shaming Peter if he isn't braver than the bravest thing ever at all times. But at least he can make a joke about the "shooting match" in order to lighten the mood, which is actually something I would probably do too, only after checking to see if my lying-on-the-ground sister was alright first.
3. Does it really have to be a wild bear instead of a Bear in order to hunt and kill human girls at this point? It's been three hundred years of war and genocide between Humans and Animals, and I'll bet just about anything that the Humans haven't scrupled to differentiate between Animal and animal when they sit down at the dinner table. If food really is scarce in the forest, I don't know why "he wanted to eat Lucy" is evidence that he wasn't intelligent. That doesn't make it wrong to kill him in self-defense, I don't think, but I just don't understand the reassurance here.
4. Please note that Lucy thinks there is no harm in speculating that humans -- even really good humans -- might some day go wild against their will on Earth. This will be relevant later.
They had come, without seeing it, almost to the edge of a small precipice from which they looked down into a gorge with a river at the bottom. On the far side the cliffs rose much higher. None of the party except Edmund (and perhaps Trumpkin) was a rock climber.
"I'm sorry," said Peter. "It's my fault for coming this way. We're lost. I've never seen this place in my life before."
The Dwarf gave a low whistle between his teeth.
"Oh, do let's go back and go the other way," said Susan. "I knew all along we'd get lost in these woods."
"Susan!" said Lucy, reproachfully, "don't nag at Peter like that. It's so rotten, and he's doing all he can."
It's going to turn out that Peter was Right All Along and that the landscape of the gorge has just changed in the time since the Pevensie's reign, so you can all breath a sigh of relief knowing that Peter is right and Susan is wrong, but I bring this up to say this:
If someone says early in the morning that they think the party is going the wrong way, and then later in the afternoon evidence is presented that the party is going the wrong way, it's not "nagging" to point out that you'd presented this "wrong way" theory before and that you're still a firm believer in it.
Because, seriously: Grr.
But, then, this is going to be a running thing. In a few paragraphs, the sides will be switched and Lucy will be saying they are going the wrong way and when it's finally proved that Lucy was right, she'll just meekly say that well, I guess we'll have to go the other way after all and Peter will profusely praise her for not saying "I told you so" or anything like that.
And this irks me as it's deliberately held up as model behavior for a good woman, because surely there's enough social pressure on women in our culture to always keep our opinions to ourselves and to never speak to the contrary and if by some miracle we do happen to be right, we're not supposed to draw attention to it. Do we really need more examples of how Bad Women are nags who refuse to shut up after the men have made a decision but Good Women are calm and meek when circumstances finally prove them to be right?
"I'm not sure the High King is lost," said Trumpkin. "What's to hinder this river being the Rush?"
"Because the Rush is not in a gorge," said Peter, keeping his temper with some difficulty.
There's that narrator pulling for Peter again. He's not being rude or stubborn or obstinate -- I mean, I myself would have said to Trumpkin, "What makes you think so?" or "Why do you say that?" as opposed to just repeating the obvious as though Trumpkin didn't hear me the first time -- but no, he's keeping his temper with some difficulty because honestly, ya'll, between the dwarves and the women it's getting to be Stress City in High King Town. Poor Peter. Anyway, Trumpkin gives a perfectly logical explanation about how landmarks change over time and they all decide that Peter has been right all along (sorry, Susan!) and they press on. We will, too.
"Look! Look! Look!" cried Lucy.
"Where? What?" asked everyone.
"The Lion," said Lucy. "Aslan himself. Didn't you see?" Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone. [...]
"Where did you think you saw him?" asked Susan.
"Don't talk like a grown-up," said Lucy, stamping her foot. "I didn't think I saw him. I saw him."
"Where, Lu?" asked Peter.
"Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was -- up there."
And then there's this.
I'm not even sure how to approach this, except to tell you to settle in because this is going to be a LONG one. (Seriously, this plot-line of "only Lucy can see Aslan" will continue through to the end of Chapter 11. ELEVEN.) I guess I'll go ahead and give the spoilers: The children can either go up or down. Lucy sees Aslan telling them to go up, but no one else sees him at all and they decide to go down. Later on, it'll turn out that down was absolutely the wrong way to go and they'll have to backtrack and go up. And then eventually one-by-one the children will see Aslan -- with Susan seeing him last, natch -- and also Aslan will criticize Lucy for not going off alone when he told her to go up even if it meant leaving the others to go off in the wrong direction down.
And this will take pages and pages and pages of material to plow through.
BECAUSE IT'S A DEEP, PHILOSOPHICAL POINT.
But what it's a deep, philosophical point of, precisely, I'm not sure. So far, it's a point that Susan continues to be the Worst Pevensie Evar because not only does she not believe Lucy, she's also talking like a grown-up which is obviously condescending and rude and not at all fair despite the fact that Lucy may well have sunstroke from being in the boat all day yesterday and then sleeping on the hard ground all night and then walking without resting for most of the day and nearly getting killed by a bear and possibly being concussed after hitting the ground like that and with almost no clean water and nothing but apples and bear meat to eat but STILL, Lucy should be believed without question.
Despite the fact that no one has ever seen Aslan appear "selectively" before. And despite the fact that it wouldn't make sense for him to be messing around with something important like "how to get to the battle that will save Narnia" by appearing selectively. And despite the fact that a selective appearance seems kind of rude and disrespectful and childish, especially under these dire circumstances.
"Her Majesty may well have seen a lion," put in Trumpkin. "There are lions in these woods, I've been told. But it needn't have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear."
"Oh, don't be so stupid," said Lucy. "Do you think I don't know Aslan when I see him?"
"He'd be a pretty elderly lion by now," said Trumpkin, "if he's one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what's to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?"
Lucy turned crimson and I think she would have flown at Trumpkin, if Peter had not laid his hand on her arm. "The D.L.F. doesn't understand. How could he? You must just take it, Trumpkin, that we do really know about Aslan; a little bit about him, I mean. And you mustn't talk about him like that again. It isn't lucky for one thing: and it's all nonsense for another. The only question is whether Aslan was really there."
And now it seems to be a deep, philosophical point about how it's perfectly alright to violently attack someone if they question that a lion or a man or anything else you've chosen to worship might possibly not be immortal and unchanging from the last time you saw him 1,300 years ago. And I find this especially disappointing because not five minutes ago Lucy was chatting idly about how wouldn't it be awful if humans ever went wrong somehow, but for someone who has never seen Aslan, doesn't know him, and doesn't mean any harm to bring up the very possibility, Lucy is ready to cause serious and genuine physical harm. And that's really terrible.
And Peter defusing the situation by telling Trumpkin -- *cough* "The D.L.F." *cough* -- that he simply can't say such things around his sister lest he get, I dunno, his eyes gouged out or whatever for his troubles is also not cool. Once again, these people don't seem that far removed from a Left Behind novel.
"There's nothing for it but a vote," said Edmund. [...]
"Don't be angry, Lu," said Susan, "but I do think we should go down. I'm dead tired. Do let's get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything."
"Edmund?" said Peter.
"Well, there's just this," said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. "When we first discovered Narnia a year ago -- or a thousand years ago, whichever it is -- it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn't it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up."
"Oh, Ed!" said Lucy, and seized his hand.
"And now it's your turn, Peter," said Susan, "and I do hope -- "
"Oh, shut up, shut up and let a chap think," interrupted Peter. "I'd much rather not have to vote." [...] "Down," said Peter after a long pause. "I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can't help it. We must do one or the other."
So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.
Trumpkin voted against Lucy. Peter did, too.
But it's Susan who tries to "nag" Peter into voting her way, Susan who has to be told to "shut up" and know her place while the High King works out his thoughts. It's Susan who will see Aslan last of all the children. It's Susan who will, in Chapter 11, make the most fuss when Luck throws down an ultimatum. And it's Susan who will 'admit' that she knew she was wrong all along (just like Edmund 'knew' the White Witch was really evil all along) and that she was just making trouble to... make trouble, I guess. She doesn't really get fleshed out as a character beyond that, and we don't get any motivation to hang our hats on.
But, really, why would we need any motivation or expect to receive one? IT'S A DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL POINT. That we'll explore in further depth next week in Chapter 10.