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.
HOW MUCH DO I HATE 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.
OF COURSE SHE IS BLOODY WELL 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.