Narnia: Wild Gods

Content Note: Physical Abuse, Religious Abuse, Hazing, Swearing, Gender Policing

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. Now the entire group is on the march, following Lucy as she follows Aslan.

Prince Caspian, Chapter 11: The Lion Roars

Ha, remember when I said "more on Chapter 11 next week"? I lied! I didn't mean to, but clearly I did. But it's because this chapter drains me like Imhotep drains anyone who opens the chest containing the sacred jars which house the innards of his dead girlfriend. (I re-watched "The Mummy" this weekend.) By which I mean: Chapter 11 leaves me a dried husk of a human being. Let's finish it.

   "Get on, King Edmund, get on," came Trumpkin's voice from behind and above: and then, farther behind and still nearly at the top, Peter's voice saying, "Oh, buck up, Susan. Give me your hand. Why, a baby could get down here. And do stop grousing."

I really don't know why I should be surprised anymore at the narrative treatment of Susan, but maybe it's some sort of self-defense mechanism: upon reading sentences like this one, my brain is forced to either explode with rage (leaving nasty gray matter all over the carpet) or simply wipe the last few seconds and refuse to record the existence of the sentence. Because oh-my-gods this sentence.


I hate it because it's so damn belittling. "A baby" could follow the path, and Susan is "grousing". This is classic Condescension 101, and I want to laser-etch onto my copy of this mean-spirited chapter that it is not Peter's place to decide how Objectively Difficult stuff is. Nor is it C.S. Lewis' place to do so. Setting aside the obvious ableism issues as (relatively) irrelevant for the moment, Susan has been in Narnia now (by my count) for three days. There was the first day, which was castle and sleeping on the ground and eating apples. There was the second day, which was rescue and rowing in the hot sun and eating apples. There was the third day, which was walking forever and being attacked with arrows and eating bear meat. Susan has -- for three days now -- been on an almost continuous forced march, punctuated by heavy rowing, and alleviated only briefly with sleeping on the hard ground.

And now she's not even getting her sleep.

So Peter can fuck right off, as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to Objectively Difficulting All The Things. It's a miracle no one has turned an ankle at this point in the narrative, doing a forced march at night after three days of almost continuous walking and rowing on crappy nutrition and crappy sleeping conditions.

But I also hate this sentence because it's essentially silencing. We don't get to hear what Susan thinks about the state of the trail or her feelings at the moment, because we might agree with her. Better to shut her up and relay this stuff only through Peter. It's a mean-spirited swipe at Susan, and it's one that deeply bothers me. Because once again -- and obviously this won't be the last time -- Lewis' "sinners" aren't allowed to speak for themselves. They don't get to present their case, or appeal to our logic or emotions. They're silenced and bridled because the alternative, that we might actually agree with them, is too dangerous. "Susan was the worst", and that's all we really get to know. Susan isn't allowed to speak in her own defense. 

   This time Edmund saw him. "Oh, Aslan!" he cried, darting forward. [...]
   "Peter, Peter," cried Edmund. "Did you see?"
   "I saw something," said Peter. "But it's so tricky in this moonlight. On we go, though, and three cheers for Lucy. I don't feel half so tired now, either." [...]
   With a jingling of mail the others climbed up behind her. Aslan glided on before them and they walked after him.
   "Lucy," said Susan in a very small voice.
   "Yes?" said Lucy.
   "I see him now. I'm sorry."
   "That's all right."
   "But I've been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him -- he, I mean -- yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood. And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I'd let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and -- and -- oh, I don't know. And what ever am I to say to him?"
   "Perhaps you won't need to say much," suggested Lucy.

What to deal with first? Lewis' bizarre need to give characters understandably bad grammar and then correct them mid-narrative (something we saw in LWW) or Lewis' bizarre insistence that all sinners fundamentally know they're wrong but do wrong anyway because they like to be wrong (something we also saw in LWW)?

I guess we'll go with the latter, because I can't even begin to tackle the former.

The "I knew I was wrong all along" sinner confession is as annoying to me here as it was in LWW. In LWW, we were told by the narrative that Edmund knew that the Witch was evil, but he went to her anyway because he didn't want to believe it. And that is a very crucial point because if we weren't told that by the narrative we might see Edmund as a confused and frightened little boy who was also under the influence of a poorly-defined mind control spell. And if we thought that, we might think it unfair for him to be put to death for his actions. Quelle horreur!

And now that it's Susan's turn at the sinner's bat, it's vitally important for her to have her day in the humiliation stocks. We've already heard from the narrative that Susan was the worst, but now she's going to dutifully come forward and confess that she's been awful all along because... Jasper. No, no, it's very simple. She didn't want to believe that her best friend and kind deity had come to lead them out of the woods and to their destination because she wanted to get out of the woods and to their destination. That makes sense, right?

Of course, Susan could state here that she didn't want to believe because she didn't want to grapple with the implications that Aslan would show himself to Lucy but not to Susan, the only other person alive who was there at his death and resurrection. But she doesn't say that, because if she did the reader might well wonder what's up with that. So instead we get this half-baked awfulness about Susan wanting to get out of the woods and therefore not believing in things that could get her out of the woods. MORAL LESSON IMPARTED TO CHILDREN, CHECK.

So remember kids, the next time you "could" believe something impossible if you "let [your]self", try real hard to do so, mmkay? But always use good grammar.

   "Our side don't keep very good watch," muttered Trumpkin. "We ought to have been challenged before now -- "
   "Hush!" said the other four, for now Aslan had stopped and turned and stood facing them, looking so majestic that they felt as glad as anyone can who feels afraid, and as afraid as anyone can who feels glad. The boys strode forward: Lucy made way for them: Susan and the Dwarf shrank back.

I have lost count of how many times Trumpkin has spoken only to be literally told to shut up by the others, but I do know that every time it happens, I lose another little piece of my heart. Trumpkin is focusing on the war for his country and his people, he's thinking about how to keep those in his army alive, and he has no time for religious lessons tailored for young English children at the expense of the safety and security of his nation. If you can just imagine.

   "My dear son," said Aslan.   Then he turned and welcomed Edmund. "Well done," were his words.
   Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, "Susan." Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. "You have listened to fears, child," said Aslan. "Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?"
   "A little, Aslan," said Susan.

Here is another example of how the narrative considers Susan radioactive: we don't get to know that she's crying, instead we hear that "the others thought she was crying". The narrator doesn't know because the narrator doesn't care. He doesn't want to look too closely. He doesn't want us to see too deeply.

Susan is crying.

Susan has been torn here to Narnia over her stated objections. She spent the night in the ruins of her old castle, crying herself to sleep as she clutched an ancient chess piece -- the one link she has left to the past. She has been marching and rowing and working non-stop for three days straight. Since she was the only one with a ranged attack, she was called upon to use serious force in order to save the life of Trumpkin. Her sister was almost killed by a bear, and in the process she was forced to consider breaching her principles against killing sentient creatures. She was nearly skewered with an arrow, had not her brother tackled her to the ground. She hasn't had a comfortable night's sleep since she arrived here, nor a pleasant meal to eat. She has committed wholly to the fight for Narnian independence, even knowing that they are very likely to die in the process. She has been shunned by Aslan.

And now she is crying.


I'm crying for her. And the narrative won't even acknowledge this stuff. I didn't make any of the above up -- that stuff is in the narrative. But we don't get to see how it affects Susan. Even to the point where her tears are relayed by what the "others" think. But, hey, they could be wrong. Whatever. Not important. Nothing to see here. Move along.

   "And now!" said Aslan in a much louder voice with just a hint of roar in it, while his tail lashed his flanks. "And now, where is this little Dwarf, this famous swordsman and archer, who doesn't believe in lions? Come here, son of Earth, come HERE!" -- and the last word was no longer the hint of a roar but almost the real thing.
   "Wraiths and wreckage!" gasped Trumpkin in the ghost of a voice. The children, who knew Aslan well enough to see that he liked the Dwarf very much, were not disturbed; but it was quite another thing for Trumpkin, who had never seen a lion before, let alone this Lion. He did the only sensible thing he could have done; that is, instead of bolting, he tottered toward Aslan.
   Aslan pounced. Have you ever seen a very young kitten being carried in the mother cat's mouth? It was like that. The Dwarf, hunched up in a little, miserable ball, hung from Aslan's mouth. The Lion gave him one shake and all his armor rattled like a tinker's pack and then -- heypresto -- the Dwarf flew up in the air. He was as safe as if he had been in bed, though he did not feel so. As he came down the huge velvety paws caught him as gently as a mother's arms and set him (right way up, too) on the ground.
   "Son of Earth, shall we be friends?" asked Aslan.
   "Ye -- he -- he -- hes," panted the Dwarf, for it had not yet got its breath back.

What can I say about this passage that you all don't already know?

Trumpkin is an atheist or an aLionist or whatever you wish to call him -- him, not it -- because he's never seen one. It's as simple as that. Not because he's evil or because he knows he's wrong and doesn't care or any ridiculousness like that. No, he simply doesn't believe in that which he doesn't see. As philosophies go, it's a cautious one, but not -- in my opinion -- a bad or unreasonable position. Many of us don't believe in things until we've seen them demonstrated in ways that are meaningful to us. I do not, for example, believe in the existence of Oompa Loompas, but I'm happy to revise my opinion as evidence comes in.

Trumpkin may well also not believe in Aslan because Aslan as a Narnian deity does not make sense. Nothing that Aslan has done in this book makes sense. It was all well and good for everyone to speculate that Aslan didn't deliberately leave Narnia to the White Witch, but rather was forced out by Old Magic and Deep Magic and Jasper Magic. But the Telmarines do not have magic, have worked no spells, have created no lasting winters. Aslan has left Narnia in their clutches for three times as long as the reign of the White Witch and to such a detrimental effect that it is now literally possible to deny that Native Narians ever existed at all. That's an unprecedented level of genocide and Aslan apparently let it happen. With gods like these, who needs enemies?

So Aslan naturally decides to punish Trumpkin for his non-belief by attacking him. And the narrative makes it very clear that Trumpkin is very seriously harmed by this attack -- he genuinely feels terror and horror at being pounced on in this way. BUT IT'S OKAY because the Pevensie children know that Trumpkin is safe and loved, even if Trumpkin doesn't know that and indeed feels the opposite of safe and loved.

No wonder Susan brain-blanks on this place. This scene is excruciatingly awful and utterly contradictory. There's no reason for Aslan to be a violent sadistic jerk like this. He just is. And that's supposed to be somehow reconcilable with a god who is also loving and gentle. And maybe for one who stands with the Pevensies and knows that everything is going to be alright it is reconcilable. Maybe this is how the author's conversion from atheism seemed to him, laced with fear and horror, and eventually the process attained some sort of hazing status to be inflicted on all atheists. Because Aslan.

Some people do come out of hazing, self intact. But a lot of people don't. And we don't judge the rightness of hazing rituals based on it not being damaging 100% of the time.


Aslan sends the boys into the mound to "deal with" what they find there. Which is a really stellar way to prepare people for a violent battle that may end in the assassination of the army's princely figurehead BUT WHATEVER. Then he takes the girls off for more theology. Because if there's one thing that was established well in LWW, it's that boys do the fighting and girls do the Observing Of Theology.

   What Lucy and Susan saw was a dark something coming to them from almost every direction across the hills. It looked first like a black mist creeping on the ground, then like the stormy waves of a black sea rising higher and higher as it came on, and then, at last, like what it was -- woods on the move. All the trees of the world appeared to be rushing toward Aslan. [...]
   The crowd and the dance round Aslan (for it had become a dance once more) grew so thick and rapid that Lucy was confused. She never saw where certain other people came from who were soon capering about among the trees. One was a youth, dressed only in a fawn-skin, with vine-leaves wreathed in his curly hair. His face would have been almost too pretty for a boy's, if it had not looked so extremely wild. You felt, as Edmund said when he saw him a few days later, "There's a chap who might do anything -- absolutely anything." He seemed to have a great many names -- Bromios, Bassareus, and the Ram were three of them. There were a lot of girls with him, as wild as he. There was even, unexpectedly, someone on a donkey. And everybody was laughing: and everybody was shouting out, "Euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi." [...]
   At that moment the sun was just rising and Lucy remembered something and whispered to Susan,
"I say, Su, I know who they are."
   "The boy with the wild face is Bacchus and the old one on the donkey is Silenus. Don't you remember Mr. Tumnus telling us about them long ago?"
   "Yes, of course. But I say, Lu -- "
   "I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan."
   "I should think not," said Lucy.

Bacchus, of course, is the Roman name for Dionysus, the god of wine and wild ritual ecstasy -- which encompassed anything from frenzied dances to unbridled orgies to dangerous violence. The name "Bacchus" comes from the root "bakkheia", which is the wild give-up-all-self-control-and-follow-your-passions frenzy the god's presence produces in his followers. He is a liberator god, one who frees people from self-conscious restraint and subverts the control of the powerful.

Whether he and Aslan have much in common is debatable. Both gods like wild romps. Both gods have a propensity to turn violent at a moment's notice. Both gods have died and returned to life. But Aslan, as he is depicted in the series, is about control and obedience and chastity and restraint. Dionysus is about liberation and subversion and pleasure and indulgence. 

Ironically, I rather think that both gods would have a bone to pick with Susan Pevensie. By Aslan's standards, I imagine she is measured and found wanting for her failure to devote her post-Narnian life to Narnian memories and meetings and endeavors. She refuses the call to be a Nun for Narnia, devoting her life entirely to her Narnian friends and family and forsaking all worldly connections. She's too independent, too headstrong, too confident in her own ability to chart her course.

But by Dionysus' standards, I rather suppose Susan is a little too tame, too restrained. She doesn't seem lost in orgiastic excess; she's wearing lipstick and nylons, yes, but those hardly constitute wantonness. She sees herself as a grown-up, as someone who doesn't indulge in childish fantasies or -- can we assume? -- passionate excesses. By blazing a trail that is neither Virginal nor Promiscuous, I wonder if Susan hasn't been rendered unacceptable to either god as a devotee.

Good on her, I say. But that's just me.

Oh. And personally I think it's odd to have the god of orgiastic romps show up in a frenzied romp in the middle of a children's book while Lion Jesus oversees everything, presumably to make sure the Talking Trees aren't making the beast with two backs. Also, I'm so not in fan of the gender policing inherent in a face that it "too pretty for a boy". We don't need any of that, thank-you-very-much.

And now we're done with Chapter 11 and we can all start brain purging the awful.


Nick said...

Again, the narrative is doing the weird thing where it refers to characters as "he" when giving their names (e.g. "Trumpkin", "Tumnus") but as "it" when referring to them by their species (e.g. "the Dwarf", "the Faun"). One has to wonder why they're called "it" at all -- it's not simply because they aren't human, because I don't think Aslan is ever referred to as "it". (And I'm fairly sure the Witch is always "she" even though she's not human either.)

EdinburghEye said...

Agree with you about Aslam and Trumpkin and Susan.

(Especially Trumpkin. Not that I don't feel for Susan, but what Aslan does to Trumpkin is directly and horribly appalling - bullying him for not believing in the Narnian God - and I knew that even when I first read it.)

About Bacchus and Silenus - it's worth noting that to many children, Bacchus/Dionysus would be famiiar primarily as the Greek god of wine/grapes and the theatre: in a transformation rather like the Canae wedding wine into grape juice, most British children who are at all interested in Greek mythology have bowdlerised versions of the myths available. Roger Lancelyn Green is probably the most famous / best-read, and he (student of C.S. Lewis) published his Tales of the Heroes years after Prince Caspian came out, but there were other "myths as stories for children" versions available before him. (Charles Kingsley, for example, who famously managed to tell the story of Danae and Perseus without actually mentioning her rape or alluding to the attempted murder at the start of the legend.) What I mean is: Bacchus was already turned into grape juice and moderately good parties, instead of wine and total licence.

JenL said...

No wonder Susan brain-blanks on this place. This scene is excruciatingly awful and utterly contradictory. There's no reason for Aslan to be a violent sadistic jerk like this. He just is. And that's supposed to be somehow reconcilable with a god who is also loving and gentle.

I think it's meant as a throwback to the "he's not a TAME lion" dialogue and the happy-Aslan-is-a-big-dangerous-kitten imagery from LWW. And we're most definitely supposed to be siding with the kitten having fun, not the poor terrified mouse. Which is all the worse when you add it the narration referring to Trumpkin as "it".

Will Wildman said...

I'm trying to figure out what the positive interpretation of Aslan here is supposed to be, especially in regards to harassing/assaulting Trumpkin. I think it's very dependent on premise. If we take as given that Aslan is extremely powerful, magical, mysterious, and unaccountable, then mortals would quite reasonably fear him if he existed (or they believed he did). If we add that his existence is a matter of some debate, then someone (although this position never comes up to my knowledge) not be sure that Aslan exists but be terrified of the possibility, which I think is a position that Lewis relates to. So then we lastly add that Aslan is definitively Good, which in this context means that (disregarding psychological harm) he won't actually punish you for failing to believe in him.

This is, I think, supposed to be a safety fantasy, or a comforting article of faith - the supreme being may be terrifying and you may anger him with your failures to live up to his expectations (sometimes despite not fully knowing what they are), but even if you think he's going to hurt you, he actually isn't. He's safe and wonderful and perfect.

...Oh my. Aslan can fill the same emotional role as Edward.

VMink said...

It's always been hard to find a female character who is neither virginal nor promiscuous -- there isn't anything wrong with those two but it's a simplistic duality and it denies that there can be a whole spectrum of female -- and human! -- approaches to sexuality. It's fascinating that Susan, for all that Lewis tries to write her as being rather pants, manages to straddle that dichotomy. Inadvertantly, of course, but still.

Lonespark said...

These Narnia posts are always full of stuff and then I get full of thoughts and can't finish without commenting and thinking and...wheee!!!

First of all, Bacchus is a lot more like Nahadoth and Aslan is considerably more like Itempas, so...yeah. Aslan kind of comes across like Odin, too. "I'm the magician-king! I do what has to be done! Rules are for everybody else!"

A religion that allows for love peace and violence and cruelty works for me. But it doesn't at all when the religion is supposedly Christianity, especially when the god-figure is supposed to be Jesus rather than God the Father. Hashem having an avatar (if zie decided to go for that sort of thing) who's a lion that doesn't follow zir own rules seems pretty well in keeping with the God Fred Clark talks about in the Book of Job and other places, who needs His creations to argue him back into justice and compassion. But the Jesus I was raised to follow had more emphasis on the Divine Love bit and I can't make it work.

Lonespark said...

Also, I want to see Dinosaur vs. Aslan.

Dinosaur is a children's book hero. He's a very small bright red t-rex who goes around roaring at obstacles, thereby defeating them, and at creatures, thereby winning them as comrades. He's a pretty good analog for a preschool kid. He doesn't roar because he's angry or scary. He's boisterous and bigger on the inside and small and confused and easily frustrated and wildly enthusiastic.

Joanne said...

I (who grew up in an evangelical Christian household and am now an atheist) remember this scene from Prince Caspian more clearly than any of the rest of the book, I think because I read it at the time as a parable about my own shaky childhood faith. Aslan is capricious, dangerous, unreliable and invisible- much like the god of my childhood. You can't expect him to reply to your prayers in a timely or understandable manner, or even at all. When he does act, he does so in ways that are evil by any consistent moral standard. But, all good Christians, like Lucy, decide to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that he is both immanently present and Good. Those who rely on their own senses and reason, like Susan, or Trumpkin, are at best weak and foolish. I read this story then- and I think my interpretation was a faithful one- as a scolding of people like me who noticed that the story being told about god didn't match up with my experience of the world.

Since I was about eight at the time, I took my scolding to heart and became convinced that the reason I never saw or heard God was that I was failing at something deeply important. Now, I look at it with adult eyes and I get a little angry. C.S. Lewis gets paraded around as some kind of theological deep thinker, but looking at this book again makes me think that his theology is as arbitrary, unreasonable and cruel as his God.

Which, maybe I'm not being totally fair to him. I know there are a lot of people who really love these books, and I can't say they're wrong. I just don't see it.

TheDarkArtist said...

Bacchus is my kind of guy. Pretty, unpredictable, liberated, and he loves music and wine. I think we could hang out. Aslan, not so much. I do love cats, especially big cats, but old Assy is just a big party pooper.

Being a person who's torn between atheism and deism (although, after some thought, I'm considering starting my own Dionysian cult ... ) I really feel for Trumpkin and Susan. I really, really hate the implication that, just because I don't believe in some Magical Sky Dad that I'm somehow trying to lie to myself about the truth.

And, to be fair, I hate when people say things like "Magical Sky Dad," because I think it belittles the extremely deep faith that many people have. The thing is, the people who believe that atheists and agnostics are just big ol' stubborn stinkers generally seem to believe in a god that seems to be just a mean-spirited magical father figure. I can't get behind that.

I think that Lewis failed to recognize, or perhaps thought that it didn't matter in a childrens' novel, that a lot of the arguments against believing in Aslan are equally as justified as the arguments against believing in the God of Christianity. Depending on what you believe he's never seen, and at best extraordinarily rarely seen in person. He's all powerful and apparently all loving, but he lets terrible, terrible things happen to innocent creatures.

Lewis seems like he was a weird guy, though, so I don't think he really went through all of the implications of how his philosophical and religious beliefs mated. That said, I think that his ideas about theology are given way too much credit by sections of the Christian community who think that his writing is just the bee's knees.

In any case, that whole sinner's confession of I-was-so-blind-now-I-see-the-obvious-truth is just grating and stupid to me, because the truth is far from obvious; and, in any case, faith isn't about what's obvious. Arg.

Jeannette Ng said...

"I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan."
I wonder a little if this is more about the seductive allure of the the classics and its associated paganism. It was very much a theme in medieval scholarship, that the theologians of the middle ages adored the Greece and Rome and lamented that they were pagan. As such, there were many attempts to reconcile Platonic models of the universe with Genesis, for example. These theologians could be seen as being tempted away from the correct path.
If I recall correctly, some of the classicists at the time even converted (in their way) to the classical gods, though famously never actually engaging in many of the documented practices such as animal sacrifice.
So in some ways, I wonder if Lewis is saying that engaging with classical material is alright as long as you are certain in your identity as a Christian first, otherwise, you would be led astray.

Yamikuronue said...

I always figured the positive interpretation of Aslan here is that, while he seems scary, what he's really doing is playing with Trumkin happily like one might a small child: pick them up, swing them around, toss them up gently, in the hopes of making them giggle. It's scary because he's a predator, but he's trying to be playful.

Will Wildman said...

Well, yes, that is a good parallel, but adults who do that to terrified children on their first meeting without knowing whether the child enjoys it or not (or, in the case of omniscience, especially if knowing that the child-analogue will not enjoy it) are still colossal jackasses.

If Aslan lacks omniscience in this case, and is doing his best to put Trumpkin at his ease around a giant mysterious predator of legend, then the incident seems like it becomes a case of Aslan goofing up in a rather embarrassing way, which I think would be a first for the series.

Yamikuronue said...

Well yes, but see, Aslan didn't mean any harm, so obviously it's only that the DLF isn't sufficiently advanced like the children are, he doesn't understand the greatness that is Aslan.

>.> I didn't say it was defensible, just that that's the interpretation that makes his behavior not intentional, terrifying bullying.

Steve Morrison said...

I suspect that Lewis defenders would say that Trumpkin needed to have Aslan's existence demonstrated to him in the most undeniable, overpowering way possible, to overcome his resistance to believing in Aslan at all. (It was all for his own good, you see...)

muscipula said...

Ana, I share your feelings about this chapter. When you started the deconstruction of this book I decided to read it again for the first time in many years and AAAARGHHH! so many problems! I had the same experience a while back with Swiss Family Robinson - when I was a child I read it and liked all the "building a cool treehouse" stuff, but now...

Anyway, I do agree with posters above that Trumpkin's bit here is meant to resemble Lewis's own whether-you-like-it-or-not conversion experience. Intellectually it is rather unsatisfying. Trumpkin is now convinced that Aslan does exist, but he jumps straight to believing in the "good" Aslan rather than the "asshole" Aslan (the Nikabrikian Heresy, let's say). He's seen Aslan acting in weird semi-visible ways, which even the children don't understand; he's said that he doesn't see the point of liongods that don't help with Narnia's problems; he's worried about what might be happening to Caspian and the army right now; and the Aslan he meets is the violent, unpredictable predator. The text describes him "hunched up in a little, miserable ball" and "he did not feel [safe]". And then the same Aslan asks "shall we be friends?" I'd be thinking "I'm doomed, Narnia is doomed".

I think I said in a previous thread that conversations with Aslan feel like conversations with Smaug. But here he's acting more like Tom Bombadil - powerful but unreliable, likely to get bored with the quest and wander off to dance in the forest.

depizan said...

I have the same problem with Aslan as with the god of Left Behind. They prove themselves real in ways that should make good people not side with them. The fact that Aslan wandered off to - wherever he went - and left his people to suffer and die makes him an unfit ruler. I mean, we wouldn't be any too pleased with a non-god ruler who did that. "My kingdom's at war and my people are being exterminated, but, man, the beaches of Maui are just so nice." Why is this okay in a deity? Because a god's ways are unfathomable by man? I think I'll take Cthulhu over Aslan, thanks.* (Not that I'd want to worship him, either, but at least he's more consistent.)

If he is trying to be playful with Trumpkin, he owes him an explanation and an apology. "I'm sorry, old chap, I was so happy to add you to my list of followers that I didn't think about how it might look from your end." I mean, as it stands, it looks like Aslan terrified Trumpkin into following him. I mean who'd say no to being "friends" with a being that could squash them like a bug? (Okay, heroes sometimes do, but they've got script immunity. Trumpkin doesn't.)

And then there's Susan and...

Oh it's all so in need of HULK SMASHing.

*And note with amusement that spellcheck recognizes Cthulhu but not Aslan.

Thomas Keyton said...

CN: mention/discussion of divine overpowering love (I think I remember this triggering someone before)

And now!" said Aslan in a much louder voice with just a hint of roar in it, while his tail lashed his flanks. "And now, where is this little Dwarf, this famous swordsman and archer, who doesn't believe in lions? Come here, son of Earth, come HERE!" -- and the last word was no longer the hint of a roar but almost the real thing... The children, who knew Aslan well enough to see that he liked the Dwarf very much...

I honestly don't know what Lewis is doing with that last sentence. I mean, I can see how Aslan's speech here could be read in a sort of Brian Blessed-y, Aquaman-y, Tazendra-y way that would probably culminate in a crushing hug, and one could see where the Pevensies would get the impression that Aslan actually likes Trumpkin. But none of those characters would be roaring throughout! And a crushing hug, overpowering and borderline-violent though it might be, looks far more affectionate to the recipient and would still preserve Aslan as an unstoppable force of overpowering love (with all the issues involved in that, of course, but it would at least look like Aslan was trying to be nice and overdoing it). What kind of relationship did the Pevensies have with Aslan that makes speech full of roaring sound like affecti... oh, wait.

As it is, Aslan does come across as liking Trumpkin here - in the manner a cat likes a toy.

Lonespark said...

Capricious, terrifying, incomprehensible gods are ok. Gods who are good are ok. Combining the two is FAIL, IMO. Mostly good, but limited by their natures? Ok.

Amaryllis said...

"Euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi."

Oy is right.

It may be just me, but doesn't it seem odd that Susan and Lucy get swept up in this party/orgy, with Aslan's blessing, while their brothers are "dealing with" whatever's inside the mound? I am usually willing to give Lewis a pass on his "surprised by joy" moods, but this really doesn't seem like the moment.

I agree that the treatment of Susan continues to be inexcusable. But I do have one minor quibble:
She didn't want to believe that her best friend and kind deity had come to lead them out of the woods and to their destination because she wanted to get out of the woods and to their destination. That makes sense, right?
It, actually, sort of does make sense to me. Maybe I'm particularly dense or lazy or something, but I do understand about suspecting what's the right way to get to a desired outcome, and attempting the easier path anyway.

Aquila said...

Perhaps the Trumpkin scene is supposed to be a "wild lion" version of Jesus confronting the Apostle Thomas after the Resurrection. The apostle said he wouldn't believe until he could see and touch Him. When Jesus appears again, He tells Thomas to do just that. There is the famous Carravaggio painting depicting this meeting and in the painting, it looks like Jesus is holding Thomas's fingers to His wounds. If so, I don't think this is particularly successful, but as an adult, I am feeling that way about a lot of things in the Narnia books.

I always felt a little sorry for Trumpkin in this part of the book. However, I was always a little puzzled why he could accept that the children are really the great kings and queens of the past, but cannot or will not at least politely consider what they say about Aslan.

Nick said...

I don't think the bit where Aslan shakes Trumpkin is meant to be threatening at all: it's meant to be a playful sort of scare. Like, say, imagine if in a ghost story there was one character who several times insisted he didn't believe in ghosts, and then a (friendly) ghost appeared in front of them and went "Boo!" It's a bit mean but it's kind of funny. When I was a kid I never read anything malicious into it.

But maybe given that this comes after several chapters of the Pevensies mocking Trumpkin for no reason this can appear to be a bit much.

Theo said...

I never thought the scene with Aslan and Trumpkin was intended as malicious, and it's a good point that Lewis probably had his own reluctant conversion in mind. Still, what it does come across of is the sort of "good-natured" bullying that is indeed harmless from the bully's point of view - "eh, I wasn't actually gonna hurt him, just having a bit of fun" - but is still terrifying enough to the victim. Considering that Lewis himself had been bullied at school and that some of his other writings show a keen awareness of the awfulness of bullying*, I'm quite surprised at his insensitivity in this scene.

*) Mostly in Surprised by joy, but there's also an aside in That hideous strength that stuck with me: when Mark is imprisoned and visited by Professor Frost, the narrator remarks (quoting from memory of the Swedish translation) that 'not since being bullied at school he could remember what it was like to so intensely hate and fear someone'.

darthhellokitty said...

I think it would've served Aslan right if Trumpkin had wet on him in terror.

About Susan "grousing" - when I was angry with my ex, he would always say I was "fussy"!

Nina said...

I had forgotten about that bit where Susan says she knew better deep down. It didn't bother me as a kid when I wasn't reaing the books as religious allegories, but now it immediately stands out to me as the old "all athiests

Rowen said...

I've viewed that thing with Susan as "hindsight is 20/20." Kinda like how I'm currently kicking myself for not signing onto the lease of my apartment when my roommates' landlady wanted me to, because that would mean they can't kick me out. However, at the time, I had my own reasons to NOT sign the lease, and while I feel NOW that I really should have, THEN I didn't.

Though, i think Ana's kinda brought that up, but not in regards to how it applies to Susan's little annoying statement. I can certainly read it the way Ana is.

As for Bacchus, I was raised on movie musicals, and there's a scene in Merry Andrew where he's singing to his students about Pan, and it's very. . . cutsy. And Danny Kaye pulls out a double flute and they all skip around. I also loathed Edith Hamilton's Mythology for being so. . . watered-down. I kinda wonder if that's the tradition that C.S. Lewis was pulling from, rather then things like the scene in Metamorphoses where the Maeneds dismember Orpheus.

Dav said...

I'd totally read a fic that was basically Aslan wandering around trying to make friends and just causing one catastrophe after another because he just doesn't get what it's like to be mortal. (And you know he'd be all "well, when I was killed" all the time in an attempt to relate, and it would totally fall flat.) I think there are deities that you can have a sort-of friendship with, but that's sort of reliant on you being on the same field in some way.

MaryKaye said...

You know, there's already something very tricky and potentially troublesome about casting the Lamb of God as a *lion*. You could see this as a fundamental denial of one of the difficult things about Christianity--its rejection of triumphalism and power in favor of love and sacrifice.

Aslan is suddenly reminding me of the Brick Testament interpretation of _Revelations_ where the Lego artist is trying to show what the Lamb as described would look like ("Then between the throne and the four living creatures, I saw a lamb standing and looking as if it had been killed. It had seven horns and seven eyes") and suddenly it's horrific.

I never liked _Prince Caspian_ as a kid, but yikes, I didn't remember it was this bad. It was _The Last Battle_ that really deeply offended me.

Lonespark said...

Wow, Dav, I think that would be a great story!

Jesus seemed pretty good at being a human. But Aslan has to be a Beast, but interact with humans...There are a lot of obstacles to friendship or even just understanding.

Will Wildman said...

So I've been thinking more about this section of PC and something else has struck me.

In LWW, for all that it had parallels to temptations of saints and the crucifixion, it made sense on its own terms - Edmund is a bit of a bully and a contrarian, Aslan knows the secrets of magic and gambles his life trying to haxor the Stone Table, et cetera.

In PC, I don't get what any of this section is for aside from being a metaphor for faith and bloody-minded denialism. Aslan can or cannot be seen, they disagree about where to go, they go down, they're prodded to go up, everyone is sad, they go up, Aslan can be seen. Am I missing something about this section that could somehow make it satisfying and gripping to a reader who wasn't reading the Second Person into Aslan?

I'd totally read a fic that was basically Aslan wandering around trying to make friends and just causing one catastrophe after another because he just doesn't get what it's like to be mortal.

For some reason I immediately pictured Willy Wonka as played by Gene Wilder.

Asha said...

This is a bit OT, but has something to do with religious bullying:

Today, I was helping pack of more of my grandma's things. She has been showing symptoms of dementia, and last month she went to live with my Aunt who has more time and resources to help care for her. My mom was going through her books and found a letter she wrote to my sister and to me... and it felt very much like emotional blackmail. Partially because one does NOT argue with Grandma, and because she basically threatened my sister and me with hell if we didn't start going to church again.

I haven't spoken openly with my mother's family about my (lack of) religious belief, nor am I out to them as bisexual. (And frankly, I think it is none of their business and my sexuality is never set in stone anyways) and a good faith discussion could not happen with them. As soon as I start mentioning my feelings, they would basically tell me I was wrong and needed to pray about it. I'm sure the problem with that particular line is obvious. More to the point, I would be ostracized on that side. I have been close to them in the past and I know their reaction to coming out would not be respected.

I just... get so damn sick of it. An honest discussion with her is not a possibility. And that letter really, really hurt.

Sorry for the complaining. I'm just... really angry about it.

depizan said...

I'm sorry.

*offers hugs*

Asha said...

Thanks. Just... gah. Going through her stuff like she's dead when she's still alive is hard enough, but finding out she thinks that? I'm just... Oh, Grandma... We're suddenly the bad guys in my Mom's family if that gets read after she dies. There's no avoiding it.

Aspermoth said...

You know, it genuinely amazes me how much problematic material can be found within these stories. With every piece you post, I become more and more flabbergasted that I never noticed this sort of thing when I was a child, or even during re-reads as a teenager. But oh my goodness, poor Susan. I kinda want to re-write this book entirely from her point of view now, just to give her a voice and some recognition. And maybe re-write "Lion" from the point of view of Edmund so he can get a wee bit of justice as well. Just... gah!

Amag said...

I know I'm hardly the first to touch on this, but it seems to me that Susan's "confession" is very much part and parcel of why Aslan's behavior towards Trumpkin is not supposed to be seen as bullying. If we accept for the moment that Susan is actually reporting her own feelings ("I could have [believed], if I'd let myself"), rather than only saying what Lewis needs her to say, then a parallel could be drawn about what she must be thinking during the two events:

Wandering through the woods - I THINK that what I'm doing is good, but if I paid attention to some of my contrary instincts/past knowledge of Aslan, I would KNOW that it's bad.

Observing Aslan - I THINK that this looks bad, but if I paid attention to some of my contrary instincts/past knowledge of Aslan, I would KNOW that it's good.

In other words, the only real difference is that she "correctly" assigns the good/bad values in the second case. People do, sometimes, decide after a time that their previous understanding of some situation was wrong, and that they wish they hadn't ignored those contrary thoughts and niggling doubts for so long. If Lewis showed Susan's struggle to develop her skills at dealing with contradictory information, (and if he didn't assign moral culpability for the ordinary fault of not arriving at his preferred answer the first time out,) I'd find that an interesting and thought-provoking part of the story.

But that's not what he has her do, because here, there is an indisputable true answer, instead of the real-life situation where the truth could lie anywhere within that range of contradiction, or even completely outside it. There are a lot of pieces that don't quite fit together - past memories of the way vs. changes in landscape, the downward path looks easier vs. the upward path is reputedly Aslan's choice (assuming Lucy understood his non-verbal behavior correctly), Susan trusts Aslan but can't see him and has to rely on Lucy's report, he should be here but he's never appeared selectively before, the instincts that tell her to believe deep down vs. an undefined fear, etc., etc. So Susan, instead of trying to evaluate all of the information as best she can with the tools she has at the time, is supposed to just know what parts are the important ones.

That's why no matter how terrified Trumpkin looks and sounds, it's never going to matter - Aslan is all friendly and good, and Trumpkin will figure that out, like all good people, as soon as he "gets over" that part where he's so terrified and out of breath that he struggles to get out the words to agree. And Susan must never, in the future, decide that actually, she's never been quite comfortable with the way that Aslan treated his followers, and that she wants to do something about it (ask him to change, or decide that she doesn't want to remain a friend of Narnia on those terms, for example). She already has the truth, if she "lets herself" have it, and it's never going to change.

I think this is meant to be comforting, and I can see how it could be, because reevaluation is often rough to go through. But the contradictions don't go away just because we're told not to pay attention to them. So ironically, although Lewis intended for Susan's choice in the woods to be the illustration of "willful blindness," it's the part where she, in the aggregate of all the other children, sees that Trumpkin is terrified but dismisses his experience because they all just know, deeply and irrefutably, that Aslan is being friendly, that really makes me want to tell her "pay attention to that other feeling, the one which tells you this is wrong!" At least in the first case, she's vaguely aware of the disconnect.

Lily said...

Aslan is capricious, dangerous, unreliable and invisible- much like the god of my childhood. You can't expect him to reply to your prayers in a timely or understandable manner, or even at all. When he does act, he does so in ways that are evil by any consistent moral standard.

This is probably why my evangelical Christian faith fell apart. I totally understand this and, for me, God and Jesus don't add up.

MotherDemeter said...

I just caught up on the Narnian deconstruction, as a sometimes lurker through shakesville.

Anyway, I always thought that PC (the book but in some ways the person) is supposed to be inspired by, at least somewhat, Paul the apostle. The whole genocide thing i think is supposed to be like the persecution of Christians in the early life of Paul, then he converts and is really the founder of Christianity as an organized religion. Thus much of the series is about Prince Caspian and his life and rule. The Dawn Treader is also like his missionary work starting churches in various towns. It isn't a perfect metaphor, and is certainly mixed with influence from many other things, but I think it is there. Fitting the books into a Bible narrative is hairy for a lot of them, especially The Silver Chair and Horse and His Boy but thinking of Prince Caspian as a Paul character helped me put it together more or less.

So I thought the whole agonizing reveal of Aslan was supposed to be a road to Damascus moment. I know it isn't Caspian having it which contradicts my idea, but he sort of has a similar moment so this is just pounding the idea home. Maybe to show that all Christians who convert have a moment like that, I am not sure. I was raised Christian but stopped being one when I was 15, basically as soon as I learned enough about the world to have a choice in the matter.

The Bacchus stuff in the narrative is weird to me. I think it is trying to show how the love of the pagan classics can be safe through Christian goggles (as it were). As a child it just put me on Team Bacchus, but then I grew up to be a pagan.

Phoenix said...

With gods like these, who needs enemies?

Word. Even as a kid reading this, I remember wondering why in fark the kids couldn't tell Trumpkin, "It's cool, dude, he really likes you and it's going to be okay."

As an adult reading this through Ana Eyes, WOW. Hazing is such an apt description that I am left with nothing to add, and I just finished a book on the horrifying nature of hazing, which makes this scene all the more ghastly.

Kristy said...

Randomly, there's a bit in "That Hideous Strength" that talks about "baptizing" and therefore Christianizing the Pagan gods - two characters meet with mythical gods/creatures, and it's outright stated that since the one woman is Christian, what she sees is a safer, more easily-understood version. The other, more secular woman, gets the undiluted, unbaptised version - wilder, more dangerous, and a good deal more frightening.

Make of that what you will; I just thought it was food for thought and gave some explanation for why we have Bacchus in Narnia.

Scott P. said...

Regarding the hazing of Trumpkin, Lewis once wrote about God: "God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies." I think it is this which Lewis is trying to communicate in the interaction between Aslan and Trumpkin.

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