Content Note: Religious Differences, Warfare
Narnia Recap: Lucy has seen Aslan and believes he wants the children to go up the gorge; none of the others have seen Aslan and they decide to go down the gorge.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 10: The Return of the Lion
The title, you will note, is a TV Trope.
And it's time to point out a few obvious things.
First, I am not a Christian. I used to be, for almost two decades of my life, and I was as devoted and passionate as you could imagine and read the Bible cover-to-cover many times and struggled with the difficult bits, but I was a Christian, through and through. Now I'm not, largely because the community I was in pushed me away for a lot of really complicated reasons and it ultimately turned out that another religion "fit" me better. So while I do feel that I have the requisite experience to speak on some Christian topics, it should be noted for the record that I am not one.
Second, I do not have a problem with anyone believing whatever they want to believe. Seriously, I am all about the religious pluralism. So absolutely none of this post is about your religion and how you are awful for having it or sharing in it. I want that to be crystal clear. (Nor is this about Lewis being awful in any way.)
Third, what I do have a problem with, is fictional characters -- whether they be ineffable deities or not -- who behave in ways that I, personally, find to be nasty and insupportable. Even if this bad behavior is designed to make some kind of deep theological point. Possibly especially then, because it seems to me like the bad behavior is going to seriously undermine the deep theological point.
Fourth, as a reader, I take some small exception to an author deliberately slogging around for three chapters in order to get to said deep theological point, particularly when the theological point isn't explained or supported in text very well and is just supposed to be self-evident. And as an author, I take some issue with gods showing up in text to faff about without moving the plot along because there are deep theological points to be made. THIS IS A VERY SUBJECTIVE POSITION FOR ME TO TAKE.
'K. Got all that said, let's plunge in.
TO KEEP ALONG THE EDGE OF THE gorge was not so easy as it had looked. Before they had gone many yards they were confronted with young fir woods growing on the very edge, and after they had tried to go through these, stooping and pushing for about ten minutes, they realized that, in there, it would take them an hour to do half a mile. So they came back and out again and decided to go round the fir wood. This took them much farther to their right than they wanted to go, far out of sight of the cliffs and out of sound of the river, till they began to be afraid they had lost it altogether. Nobody knew the time, but it was getting to the hottest part of the day.
So, just to recap, we were at Point X, the point at which Lucy observed Aslan and no one else did. And at Point X there were two options for continuing on: they could go Up or they could go Down. Lucy believed that Aslan wanted them to go Up, but Trumpkin argued for Down. The two youngest children -- Lucy and Edmund -- voted for belief in the ineffable and unseen, while the two oldest children -- Peter and Susan -- voted with their logic and brains to take the route that seemed the most sensible at the time.
And there's another dimension here that, frustratingly, is not explored in the text. Susan and Peter did not see Aslan. The text may or may not later imply that it's their fault for a lack of faith, or a side-effect of their advanced age and lack of innocence. But never before has faith or age been a determining factor in whether or not Aslan is visible: in LWW, he simply was, as solid and as visible as everyone else the Pevensies interacted with. The children have no frame of reference for an invisible Aslan.
The argument that Edmund makes in-text is that Lucy was right once before, when she was right about the Wardrobe and the existence of Narnia, so shouldn't they give her a free pass on this one? And there's a certain kind of logic there, if we were talking about Lucy discovering a new world in a nearby tree stump. But -- and here is what makes me an unbeliever in Narnian terms, I suppose -- I don't think that being right about a magical world that one time means that Lucy deserves some kind of free pass for the rest of her life when it comes to impossible things. ('Course I didn't think she deserved it in LWW for being a model of truthiness, either, so... yeah.)
But beyond that, if I were Susan or Peter, I think I would want to understand why Aslan wouldn't show himself to me. They are a King and a Queen of Narnia, after all, once and always. They were crowned by Aslan and had as close a relationship with the "wild lion" as seemingly anyone could have in Narnia. Are they so far off the mark to expect that if Aslan were there, he'd do them the personal and professional courtesy of being visible? This is like having a parent only appear to one child -- the favorite -- and expecting the other children to grapple with the fact that either the favorite is wrong (being dehydrated, starving, concussed, and sleepless) or the parent really doesn't love the others as much as zie does the favorite.
So Peter and Susan have strong psychological reasons for not accepting at face-value Lucy's sudden Aslan-dowsing abilities, no matter how many pointed sticks she has at her beck and call. But psychology is for liberals (who probably don't even spank their children!) and for people who think Edmund didn't deserve all the narrative pile-on in LWW, so let's plow on.
As they went on, the Rush began to fall more and more steeply. Their journey became more and more of a climb and less and less of a walk -- in places even a dangerous climb over slippery rock with a nasty drop into dark chasms, and the river roaring angrily at the bottom. [...]
The boys and the Dwarf were now in favor of lighting a fire and cooking their bear-meat. Susan didn't want this; she only wanted, as she said, "to get on and finish it and get out of these beastly woods." Lucy was far too tired and miserable to have any opinion about anything. But as there was no dry wood to be had, it mattered very little what anyone thought. The boys began to wonder if raw meat was really as nasty as they had always been told. Trumpkin assured them it was.
And then they walk and walk and walk and walk and walk. There are pages of walking. And I don't want to quote it all because I do try to be cool about the whole Fair Use copyright thing and keep the percentage of quoted text to a minimum, but take it from me that there is walking for a very very long time. This is important because the party is covering what is apparently miles and miles of ground but when the way eventually becomes impassable, there will be no other option than to backtrack to Point X and go Up. I feel like I'm in a text adventure game here.
"By Jove," said Edmund. "We fought the Battle of Beruna just where that town is!"
This cheered the boys more than anything. You can't help feeling stronger when you look at a place where you won a glorious victory not to mention a kingdom, hundreds of years ago.
I, er, can't argue with this because I'm not sure anyone has ever looked at a place where they "won a glorious victory ... hundreds of years ago". In the ongoing tide of Lewis telling us what makes people feel how, I'm at an impasse here, so well played. But! I'm pretty sure that I, personally, wouldn't feel cheery looking on a place where my friends died and my enemies perished. Did I mention I'm a liberal?
Then -- all at once -- whizz, and a sound rather like the stroke of a woodpecker. The children were still wondering where (ages ago) they had heard a sound just like that and why they disliked it so, when Trumpkin shouted, "Down," at the same moment forcing Lucy (who happened to be next to him) flat down into the bracken. Peter, who had been looking up to see if he could spot a squirrel, had seen what it was -- a long cruel arrow had sunk into a tree trunk just above his head. As he pulled Susan down and dropped himself, another came rasping over his shoulder and struck the ground at his side. [...]
Wait, what? Susan the Archer, Susan who takes archery classes in the Real World because she loves Narnia so much, Susan who knows archery better than anyone else, that Susan needs Peter to pull her down to cover because she doesn't instinctively duck when she hears the tell-tale sound of an arrow whizz-and-thunk?
It was heart-breaking work -- all uphill again, back over the ground they had already traveled. [...]
"I ought to have my head smacked for bringing us this way at all," said Peter.
"On the contrary, your Majesty," said the Dwarf. "For one thing it wasn't you, it was your royal brother, King Edmund, who first suggested going by Glasswater." [...]
"And for another," continued Trumpkin, "if we'd gone my way, we'd have walked straight into that new outpost, most likely; or at least had just the same trouble avoiding it. I think this Glasswater route has turned out for the best."
Here's an interesting juxtaposition: it's not Peter's fault for taking this route because Edmund suggested it, but it's a good thing Peter took this route because Trumpkin's idea was worse. I, uhm, go Peter?
"I suppose we'll have to go right up the gorge again now," said Lucy.
"Lu, you're a hero," said Peter. "That's the nearest you've got today to saying I told you so. Let's get on."
We've already discussed this, but let's talk about it some more.
There's someone else in the party who didn't think this route was liable to pan out, though she thought so even before Lucy, and that's Susan. But Susan brought up her opinion more than once, and used an insufficiently sweet tone of voice, and thus was termed a "nag" and "rotten". Lucy, on the other hand, is meek and mild and so is "a hero".
And I want to underscore that the Patriarchy is set up so that girls cannot win. Later in this same chapter, Aslan will chide Lucy for being so meek and mild and will flat-out order her to give the others an ultimatum: they can either come with her right away or she will go by herself. And this would, if it weren't sanctioned by God Himself, be rotten, nagging behavior if someone like Susan were doing it. But supposedly Lucy was supposed to do this very thing way back in the last chapter, even without the open God sanctions.
So, basically, if you're a girl reading this -- as I once was -- you learned that disagreeing with male authority figures made you a rotten wet-blanket nag and that all disagreement has to be voiced meekly and mildly in order to be heroic except if God wants you to do otherwise in which case you should be as stubborn and unyielding to group consensus as possible. And there was, of course, always the chance that you could get these things wrong from lack of faith or being too old.
And this is why growing up female in the church community I grew up in left me a timid nervous wreck.
Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She thought at first it was her father's voice, but that did not seem quite right. Then she thought it was Peter's voice, but that did not seem to fit either. [...]
"Lucy," came the call again, neither her father's voice nor Peter's. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear. The moon was so bright that the whole forest landscape around her was almost as clear as day, though it looked wilder. Behind her was the fir wood; away to her right the jagged cliff-tops on the far side of the gorge; straight ahead, open grass to where a glade of trees began about a bow-shot away. Lucy looked very hard at the trees of that glade. [...]
A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all round it. And then -- oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him. [...]
"Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan," sobbed Lucy. "At last."
The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.
"Welcome, child," he said.
"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.
"Lucy," he said, "we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today."
"Yes, wasn't it a shame?" said Lucy. "I saw you all right. They wouldn't believe me. They're all so -- "
From somewhere deep inside Aslan's body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.
As a Good Girl, I also learned that I wasn't to express my frustration with other people, people who wouldn't listen to me when I was right, people who talked down to me or acted like I was a fool. I learned I wasn't to share those thoughts even in private with God because the god I was raised to believe didn't brook negativity like that. Venting was forbidden, pressure valves were not allowed, and God wasn't there to be my best friend and let me release any steam under my collar. And since God knew your every thought, I couldn't even indulge in frustration in the privacy of my brain because that would make god growl at me.
"I'm sorry," said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. "I didn't mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn't my fault anyway, was it?"
The Lion looked straight into her eyes.
"Oh, Aslan," said Lucy. "You don't mean it was? How could I -- I couldn't have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don't look at me like that … oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn't have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?"
Aslan said nothing.
"You mean," said Lucy rather faintly, "that it would have turned out all right -- somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?"
"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that."
And gods but my heart goes out to Lucy. Because at least if she had some kind of explanation for how going off on her own would have worked out alright in the end, then she could use that information to inform her decisions in the future. But information and logic don't -- or, rather, shouldn't -- inform decisions in Narnia, because that's the kind of thinking that leads children Down the gorge. Good Girls make decisions based on their emotional gut and magical insight, and yet... and yet... nowhere in the last chapter did we get the impression that going off on her own even crossed Lucy's mind.
It feels like she's been set up to fail in so many ways. First, Aslan appears only to her. Then he says nothing, and offers her no guidance -- he just looks at her in a way that makes her think he wants them to go up the gorge. He doesn't say whether the act is time-sensitive or if he wants her to come alone if she can't convince the others. He just stands there, and the onus is on this child -- who isn't more than, what, nine years old? -- to intuit all this. And when she tries to gather empirical evidence and learn and understand where she went wrong, she's just told that she did wrong and that's all she'll ever get to know.
I QUESTION YOUR TEACHING METHODOLOGY, ASLAN.
"But anyone can find out what will happen," said Aslan. "If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me -- what will happen? There is only one way of finding out."
"Do you mean that is what you want me to do?" gasped Lucy.
"Yes, little one," said Aslan.
"Will the others see you too?" asked Lucy.
"Certainly not at first," said Aslan. "Later on, it depends."
"But they won't believe me!" said Lucy.
"It doesn't matter," said Aslan.
"Oh dear, oh dear," said Lucy. "And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you'd let me stay. And I thought you'd come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away -- like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid."
"It is hard for you, little one," said Aslan. "But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now."
"Well, I mean, not hard for me, personally. I've been sort of sad and all about the whole genocide thing, but not enough to do anything about it. I keep meaning to, though. It's on my list. But it's been hard for a lot of other people. Most of whom are now dead even though I could have helped saved them. What were we talking about?"
"Now, child," said Aslan, when they had left the trees behind them, "I will wait here. Go and wake the others and tell them to follow. If they will not, then you at least must follow me alone."
It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won't believe and making them do something they certainly won't like. "I mustn't think about it, I must just do it," thought Lucy.
She went to Peter first and shook him. "Peter," she whispered in his ear, "wake up. Quick. Aslan is here. He says we've got to follow him at once."
"Certainly, Lu. Whatever you like," said Peter unexpectedly. This was encouraging, but as Peter instantly rolled round and went to sleep again it wasn't much use.
Then she tried Susan. Susan did really wake up, but only to say in her most annoying grownup voice, "You've been dreaming, Lucy. Go to sleep again."
She tackled Edmund next. It was very difficult to wake him, but when at last she had done it he was really awake and sat up. [...] She said it all over again. This was one of the worst parts of her job, for each time she said it, it sounded less convincing.
"Aslan!" said Edmund, jumping up. "Hurray! Where?" [...] Edmund stared hard for a while and then said, "No. There's nothing there. You've got dazzled and muddled with the moonlight. One does, you know. I thought I saw something for a moment myself. It's only an optical what-do-you-call-it."
"I can see him all the time," said Lucy. "He's looking straight at us."
"Then why can't I see him?"
"He said you mightn't be able to."
"I don't know. That's what he said."
"Oh, bother it all," said Edmund. "I do wish you wouldn't keep on seeing things. But I suppose we'll have to wake the others."
This situation? Is not fair.
It's not fair to Lucy, to put her in the position of having to be a divisive element in the family: You will do things my way or I will leave. It's not fair to Edmund, placing him in a position where he can't see the person he wants most in the world to see. It's not fair to Peter and Susan, putting them in a place where they are forced to either obey the whims of their little sister or watch her walk off into the night alone. It's not fair to the entire rest of Narnia where people and Animals and Dwarves are dying nightly as Miraz builds more fortresses and roots out more Old Narnians for the slaughter while Aslan faffs about making Deep Philosophical Points for English children.
But this isn't meant to be literal, perhaps. This is meant to be a Deep Philosophical Point. A point about what, though, I don't know. The only point I can see here is that when you don't know the right thing to do (or even when you think you do know, but someone with More Faith disagrees), you should set aside your own beliefs and knowledge to follow the decisions being made for you by the person with More Faith. And if you are that person of More Faith, it is your absolute duty to be a divisive factor in your family or group -- Aslan wants you to say Either we all do it my way or just I do it my way, but my way will be done.
That's... not a Deep Theological Point I can really get behind. I think everyone should do what feels right for them, absolutely, but the laying down of the ultimatums in a group situation like this makes me incredibly uncomfortable.
And what's more, in this case it's not even necessary. The children have already agreed to go up the gorge, they're just trying to get some sleep first. So this "wake up your siblings and tell them they must go NOW" situation is just added theological testing for the sake of testing, it seems. And, of course, to underscore to Lucy that she did it all wrong yesterday by choosing not to abandon her family. It just seems unnecessary to me as a literary addition and cruel to me from the point of view of Aslan.
But your mileage may vary. And that's okay.