Content Note: Abuse (Emotional / Family / Physical / Religious)
Narnia Recap: Lucy has met Aslan in the middle of the night. Aslan has told Lucy to get the others to follow her, though they cannot see Aslan themselves, or leave them alone in the forest.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 11: The Lion Roars
I'm just going to go ahead and be upfront about this: Chapter 11 is one of my least favorite chapters in this series.
I don't mean that in a bad way. I didn't start this series to bash on it, and I don't feel like I'm bashing on it now. If I had more time and more energy and more spoons, I would have more posts about all the nice things in the series, the stuff that I love and still do, but I have a limited number of spoons and frankly all that has been done to death. There's about eleventy-billion books, blogs, and articles about the awesome stuff in Narnia and the yummy descriptions of dirt and the tear-bringing moments of sad and everything else that is lovely, so that's not a gap that I feel specially called to fill. I'm here to talk about the stuff that I consider problematic, and to talk to it in a very genuine, detailed way that's more than just grr Lewis-flavored Christianity.
Because I've been there. I may not be a Christian now, but I was one once, and I know very well that it is perfectly possible to be a Christian and a Good Person and a Lover of Narnia all at the same time. Yet we remember through all this that it's perfectly possible to be a Good Person, and yet remain unaware of, say, White Privilege or Male Privilege or Religious Privilege*. And those are things that I am very interested in writing about, and so here we are.
* Religious Privilege is a tricky term because there is no religion-or-lack-thereof that is universally privileged in all areas of the world. However, in the USA (where I reside) one almost has to profess some brand of Christianity if one wants a serious career in politics, and I consider that to be strong evidence in favor of a Religious Privileged class in the USA. However, it's worth remembering that one of the odd things about privilege is that it's not an invincible shield: it can provide substantial benefits in some situations but it doesn't mean you'll never be unfairly criticized or stereotyped. That is why privilege is complicated.
And so here we are, staring down Chapter 11 in the face and trying to figure out what to coherently say about a chapter that is essentially a long walk, badly spoiled, but in this case not by golf but by a god.
WHEN THE WHOLE PARTY WAS FINALLY awake Lucy had to tell her story for the fourth time. The blank silence which followed it was as discouraging as anything could be.
"I can't see anything," said Peter after he had stared his eyes sore. "Can you, Susan?"
"No, of course I can't," snapped Susan. "Because there isn't anything to see. She's been dreaming. Do lie down and go to sleep, Lucy."
"And I do hope," said Lucy in a tremulous voice, "that you will all come with me. Because -- because I'll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not."
There is so much here that I'm not really sure where to start. Well, first, I'll just jump ahead a bit and congratulate Peter for pointing out that it makes no sense for Aslan to be doing all this. He doesn't belabor the point, but I will: Aslan has woken Lucy up in the middle of the night in order to play another game of The Others Can't See Me. He's put the onus on her to wake everyone and start out seemingly at random, and that's a lot to ask of a very little girl dealing with an entire group of people set against her.
And the command that she go off on her own is entirely designed to manipulate the other children into doing what she says, because the urgency of waking them all up in the middle of the night -- I'll just pre-spoil this for you -- is that King Peter and King Edmund and Trumpkin need to save Prince Caspian from assassination with their pointy swords. Which Lucy doesn't have. So her going off alone wouldn't solve things and is instead just a threat to get everyone to fall in line. Stellar.
I want to point out, also, that none of this is adequately explained in the book. When the kids meet up with Aslan, he shuffles the boys off immediately to go use their pointy swords. Then there's a duel. (With pointy swords.) Then there's a battle. Finally everyone gets a chance to breathe and stop for a minute and Peter and Susan walk up and reveal that they had an off-text conversation with Aslan and Everything Makes Sense Now.
So the Deep Theological Point here is so deep that it can't be clearly laid out for inspection by the reader. Either the reader "gets it" or they don't, and I think that's a bit of a dodge because it means you can fill in just about anything and everyone can be certain that they have the "right" interpretation and everyone else has it "wrong". And while I'm sympathetic to the idea that this is analogous to post-crucifixion Jesus-sightings among the True Believers, I'm not sure how well the analogy holds up given that Aslan will eventually forcibly make himself seen by the Non Believer in the group by literally pouncing on him. I feel that's the point where the analogy breaks down, and hard.
But we'll get there, I guess.
"Don't talk nonsense, Lucy," said Susan. "Of course you can't go off on your own. Don't let her, Peter. She's being downright naughty."
Then there's also here the odd use of that word, naughty. I trip over it every time I read this passage, and I genuinely do think there's a reason why that word is used there, and by Susan. A search of the word "naughty" reveals that it occurs not at all in my version of LWW and only this once in PC. The word therefore does not seem to be a common part of the Pevensie children's vocabulary, despite the fact that they've had opportunity to use it in the past. (For example when Edmund ran off in LWW, someone could have said he's not a bad child, but rather just being a bit naughty. Indeed, this would have been appropriate to mention when Mr. Beaver was going on about how "treacherous" Edmund was.)
The word sounds like something an adult would say, and sounds like something that the children would avoid using against each other for fear of sounding like a know-it-all condescending adult. In the first chapter of LWW, Edmund accused Susan of "trying to talk like Mother"; in The Last Battle, Susan will be castigated by Jill, who claims that "She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." I think that the use of the word naughty here is intended to sound like an adult (or a wanna-be adult) talking down to a child. And -- because we know that this child is right -- we know already that this not-quite-adult is terribly wrong.
The word "naughty" does occur in the series beyond this book. In The Horse And His Boy, King Edmund will scold Prince Corin (who is really Shasta in mistake) for being "naught" and the narrative notes that he uses that word instead of "naughty". Edmund in mistaken in this case, at least in part, for although Corin has been naughty, Shasta himself is merely the victim of a case of mistaken identity. The word gets heavier use for a total of three times in The Magician's Nephew: twice by Uncle Andrew who is a perpetually silly and barely sober man, and once by Polly's unnamed parents who refuse to believe her truthful story about the Wood Between The Worlds.
If there's a pattern here, it's that the people who accuse children of being "naughty" in the Narnian books are people who are (a) adults, (b) quite wrong, and (c) almost disastrously silly to not believe the outlandish stories of these children. Susan's unwillingness to believe Lucy's story could have ended in Prince Caspian's untimely death, Edmund's unwillingness to look closely into the Corin/Shasta matter might have prevented a lot of international trouble, and the adults in The Magician's Nephew cause so much trouble that if I started now, I'd not be able to stop.
So all in all, I find this to be an interesting word choice, and one of the reasons why I do feel the narrative is somewhat stacked against poor Susan who is, after all, no less cross than Peter and Edmund and is stating an otherwise non-controversial fact: telling everyone that you're going off into the woods alone in the middle of the night and they can follow you or stay here kind of is naughty. Except that here the naughty party is, in my personal opinion, Aslan and not Lucy.
"I'll go with her, if she must go," said Edmund. "She's been right before."
"I know she has," said Peter. "And she may have been right this morning. We certainly had no luck going down the gorge. Still -- at this hour of the night. And why should Aslan be invisible to us? He never used to be. It's not like him. What does the D.L.F. say?"
"Oh, I say nothing at all," answered the Dwarf. "If you all go, of course, I'll go with you; and if your party splits up, I'll go with the High King. That's my duty to him and King Caspian. But, if you ask my private opinion, I'm a plain dwarf who doesn't think there's much chance of finding a road by night where you couldn't find one by day. And I have no use for magic lions which are talking lions and don't talk, and friendly lions though they don't do us any good, and whopping big lions though nobody can see them. It's all bilge and beanstalks as far as I can see."
"He's beating his paw on the ground for us to hurry," said Lucy. "We must go now. At least I must."
Once again, Trumpkin is stripped of a name and of any kind of identity besides being shorter than the rest, here reduced to "the D.L.F." and "the Dwarf". But once again he utterly steals my heart because, like Trumpkin, I too have no use for magic lions which are talking but do not talk and friendly yet do not raise a paw to help their subjects and huge yet who choose to be invisible until suddenly they choose not to be so. Bless your heart, Trumpkin.
And it makes me a little sad, because these are actually pretty common atheist objections when they've been backed into a corner at a party and aggressively proselytized to and are trying to explain why they, personally, do not believe in the god being sold to them. Saying flat-out that a god who does not demonstrably provide benefits above and beyond what chance would provide is not far off from saying "okay, but your religion doesn't have added value for me, but thank you", and that's actually a pretty polite objection as far as it goes considering my own feelings on proselytizing and the harm I feel it causes. But here the narrative is stacked against Trumpkin, too, because we already know he's wrong.
Atheists in this world might be wrong, too. But most atheists aren't anti-theists; they just don't believe in something that they don't see evidence for. There's a big, talking, friendly lion in the room with you, only you can't see it or hear it or measure it any way? Well, they'll reserve belief for, ah, when it actually manifests itself, okay? This is not, in my opinion, an unreasonable position to take, and indeed is my own position on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But when Aslan finally manifests himself to Trumpkin, it won't be to give presents or bright candies.
And it's also interesting that Trumpkin is barely allowed to say his piece before Aslan starts stamping his foot for everyone to SHUT UP and MOVE IT.
"You've no right to try to force the rest of us like that. It's four to one and you're the youngest," said Susan.
"Oh, come on," growled Edmund. "We've got to go. There'll be no peace till we do." He fully intended to back Lucy up, but he was annoyed at losing his night's sleep and was making up for it by doing everything as sulkily as possible.
And it's a very interesting narrative aside that Edmund is excused for grumbling at Susan because he really does intend to back Lucy up. The framing seems to indicate that Edmund's grumbling causes some small harm to Lucy, but it's okay because he's genuinely on her side. But his grumbling almost certainly causes as much or more harm to Susan, who is being roughly overruled and largely un-listened to.
Susan is the Sensible One; this has been nothing if not well-established, and indeed the last chapter actually called her "the practical Susan" in the narrative. She knows, because it's her narrative job to know these things, that marching at night is more dangerous: they're more likely to trip on exposed roots, more likely to get lost without adequate bearings, more likely to be hunted by night animals now that they've left their campfire, more likely to stumble into a human stronghold and held for questioning.
Susan's objections aren't listened to, and are barely given a hearing at all, because Edmund is growling at her to shut it and move it. But it's okay... because he fully intends to back Lucy up. And I don't see the same cause-and-effect flow that the narrator (dispenser of all pardons for Peter's and Edmund's recurring abusive tones, attitudes, and words) seems to see here. "It's okay... because he loves Susan and intends to apologize for his tone later" is something that makes a degree a sense to me. "It's okay... because he's right and she's wrong" doesn't. (Why, hello there Twilight. What are you doing here in a Narnia post?)
"On the march, then," said Peter, wearily fitting his arm into his shield-strap and putting his helmet on. At any other time he would have said something nice to Lucy, who was his favorite sister, for he knew how wretched she must be feeling, and he knew that, whatever had happened, it was not her fault. But he couldn't help being a little annoyed with her all the same.
It's a shame no one can be arsed to say something nice to Susan, knowing that she must be feeling pretty wretched too at this point. After all, she's only been told in the last two days that her opinions are best kept to herself and that she's too empty-headed to navigate properly, despite the fact that she's been walking without complaint and rowing boats with the rest of them and is now missing out on much-needed sleep after a truly wearying day and nearly being skewered by arrows. But I guess she's no one's "favorite sister". Can we really at this point blame her for wanting to "grow up" and get out of this family? I can't.
Susan was the worst. "Supposing I started behaving like Lucy," she said. "I might threaten to stay here whether the rest of you went on or not. I jolly well think I shall."
"Susan was the worst."
Let's just linger on that one for a moment.
The Chronicles of Narnia doesn't let you make up your own mind about the narrative. Well, that's not true. You can make up your mind on the little stuff, like why exactly Aslan went through this whole "you can't see me" game when apparently he can make himself visible to non-believers any time he wants, as we'll see later in this chapter. That stuff is stuff you can make up on your own time, and who is to say that your subjective opinion is wrong?
And you can also, quite frankly, figure out on your own time what Greek gods are doing in this Christian fairytale allegory, because the author isn't going to take time out to tackle that one for you, nor what repercussions their inclusion might have on the overall Christian message. It's not an important point, it shouldn't be taken seriously, it's a fairytale, it's like Mrs. Beaver's sewing machine. Let the fanficcers clean it all up with some deft world-building, but don't expect the narrative to get involved because that stuff is not important and everyone can have their own interpretation and their own opinion. The narrative isn't here to tell you what to think about all that.
But the important stuff, like how to interpret Edmund's growling and Peter's annoyance and Susan's legitimate-objections-to-coercive-tactics (like, for example, someone waking you up in the middle of the night and saying that if you don't do what they say right now without further discussion or explanation, they will leave you there on your own), that stuff has to be told to us, because it's vitally important that we understand right off the bat who is the "worst". Edmund is best, because he fully intends to back Lucy up. Peter is alright, because Lucy is his favorite sister. But Susan?
Susan was the worst. True fax.
"Obey the High King, your Majesty," said Trumpkin, "and let's be off. If I'm not to be allowed to sleep, I'd as soon march as stand here talking."
And so at last they got on the move. Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan.
Oh, don't worry, Lucy. The narrative is saying all that for you.
More on Chapter 11 next week. I've run out of steam on this chapter. Here's your teaser: Next week, Aslan will pounce on Trumpkin for being a non-believer while the children smilingly look on, and Bacchus will show up for a wild romp that totally-isn't-an-orgy. Probably.