Content Note: Prejudice, Social Punishment, Bullying
Narnia Recap: Peter and Edmund have joined Prince Caspian at Aslan's How.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 13: The High King In Command
Now is as good a time as any to point out that there are three chapters left in this book: there is Chapter 13, Chapter 14, and then Chapter 15 and then we are done with PC forever (barring the BBC and American adaptations).
One of my biggest problems with PC is that, as a book, it is not very interesting to me. When you take out all the religious allegory about Susan The Worst and Trumpkin The Atheist and Nikabrik The Heretic, we're left with a very long book that largely describes tromping through the woods, a short duel, and then a long celebration. That's not a large amount of action, it's an even smaller (in my opinion) amount of character development, and the over-arching narrative moves so slowly and ploddingly that it's easy for me to become bored and frustrated as a reader. So there's that.
The entirety of today's chapter is setting up for the duel that will take place in the next chapter. And the duel needs a lot of setting up because there's really no good reason for Miraz to accept a winner-take-all duel with a young warrior who is likely to be significantly more spry on his feet. Not when Miraz is in a position of utmost power and the war, as it stands, is pretty much his to lose. So brace yourselves because Chapter 13 is going to be ONE WILD RIDE of meetings and side-meetings and sub-meetings and pre-meetings.
"NOW," SAID PETER, AS THEY FINISHED their meal, "Aslan and the girls (that's Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, Caspian) are somewhere close. We don't know when he will act. In his time, no doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own. You say, Caspian, we are not strong enough to meet Miraz in pitched battle."
"I'm afraid not, High King," said Caspian. He was liking Peter very much, but was rather tongue-tied. It was much stranger for him to meet the great Kings out of the old stories than it was for them to meet him.
"Very well, then," said Peter, "I'll send him a challenge to single combat." No one had thought of this before.
"Please," said Caspian, "could it not be me? I want to avenge my father."
"You're wounded," said Peter. "And anyway, wouldn't he just laugh at a challenge from you? I mean, we have seen that you are a king and a warrior but he thinks of you as a kid."
I find it interesting that the narrative has so happily latched back on to its favored boy of privilege, young master Caspian. I really do feel that Lewis was much more comfortable writing Caspian than he was with writing Peter again, and it's moments like these that shape that impression: we seem to get so much more in the way of feelings and emotions from Caspian than we do from the more mechanistic Peter, and I don't think that's a coincidence. But it troubles me that this preferential treatment of Caspian has caused Peter (and the other Pevensies) to be largely erased from the narrative as real people with real feelings and instead downgraded to plot movers.
Case in point here: why would it be more awkward for Caspian to meet Peter than vice versa? I can understand that perhaps Caspian has idolized the Pevensies and is now faced with the strange experience of meeting them in the flesh and in an unexpectedly childish form, although of course for even that interpretation to work, we have to assume that Caspian has known about the Pevensies for long enough to idolize them at all. I suppose they were covered back when Doctor Cornelius was risking his life to teach Caspian about Old Narnia, but it's really kind of sad to me that in the past 1,300+ years, it was the decade or two of Pevensie reign that really stood out as the best time ever, with the kings and queens most worthy of idolization out of all the Narnian royalty before and since. More and more, it just seems really Not Worth It to be a Narnian in Narnia.
But moving past that for a moment, I'm skeptical at the aplomb that Peter exhibits here in meeting Caspian. Almost the first words out of his mouth were to assure Caspian that he's not here to usurp his position, and he's immediately fallen into a nice little routine of winning Caspian's war for him -- even to the point of suggesting a duel to his own death in order to help Caspian's cause. Why?
Peter doesn't know Aslan's plan or which child (or children) Aslan intends to crown, because Aslan hasn't shared any of his thoughts on the matter with him. Peter cannot possibly know that he'll be tossed out of Narnia forever in a few dozen hours or so. The last time he won a war in Narnia, he ruled for a decade or more. Why should now be any different? We've no idea how old Caspian is, but some estimates have him at a whopping nine years old and Wikipedia lists him as thirteen-years-old. This places him anywhere from the same age as Edmund the first time the Pevensies were in Narnia to a year younger than Peter is now. Why should Peter not expect Caspian to co-rule with them, or to act as their heir and learn to rule while the Pevensies manage the kingdom for a dozen years or so with their vastly greater experience?
Beyond his own expectations, is it not even remotely likely that Peter wouldn't envy Caspian, even a little? Caspian doesn't have to return home to England in a few days or even a few years; his life belongs to Narnia forever. Caspian embodies what Peter used to be -- a young king in the making -- but embodies that kingly ideal more perfectly than Peter could because there's no magical force waiting in the wings to fling Caspian back into England where he supposedly 'belongs'. Everything that Peter ever could have wanted as a king -- to find a wife, to bear an heir, to grow old in luxury, to die serving his kingdom -- will belong to Caspian, but never to Peter. And any regrets Peter could have harbored after being tossed out of Narnia in LWW might reasonably come back to haunt him now as he deals with Caspian.
As always, I want to be clear. I'm not saying that Peter would have to feel this way. He doesn't have to feel any way. Very possibly what we have here is a realistic emotion for him for at least someone in the audience. And indeed, I find his actions to be reasonable and mature: Peter seems to have accepted that Aslan's will is for Caspian to be king and for Peter to put him there, and now Peter is doing his best to make that happen. His ability to put aside any feelings he has one way or the other to the side is commendable. But, for me, were I in Peter's place, I would have conflicting feelings about all this. Strong ones. Peter here either doesn't have those feelings, or lives in a narrative that is uninterested in exploring them. And given how neatly this dovetails with the narrative insistence that, no, really, Susan is FINE and NOT TRAUMATIZED by all this Narnia business ... well, it irks me. I can accept one-or-more Pevensie dealing with all this very dispassionately, but for all of them to do so (and Jill and Eustace and Digory and Polly) strains my credibility.
"But, Sire," said the Badger, who sat very close to Peter and never took his eyes off him. "Will he accept a challenge even from you? He knows he has the stronger army."
"Very likely he won't," said Peter, "but there's always the chance. And even if he doesn't, we shall spend the best part of the day sending heralds to and fro and all that. By then Aslan may have done something. And at least I can inspect the army and strengthen the position. I will send the challenge. In fact I will write it at once. Have you pen and ink, Master Doctor?"
And speaking of Aslan's plan that they don't know, this whole duel thing in general strikes me as more than a little off.
I get the theology lesson here, really, I do: we can't sit around waiting for God to solve our problems and we have to do our best as we can see it and just respond to his guidance when he chooses to offer it. Mmkay. Fine. But the thing is, the god in this picture is literally right outside. It would take all of ten minutes for someone to pop out and go, "Hey, Aslan, we're planning to challenge Miraz to a winner-take-all tournament. Is that alright with you?"
Because if it's not, then Peter and Caspian and the rest of them have very possibly screwed up all of Aslan's plans and lost Narnia forever. Aslan is off partying with the girls in order to wake the forest so that the living trees can serve as reinforcements in the Narnian army. None of that will mean anything if Miraz lands a lucky blow in the first round. Peter will lose his life and the Narnians will lose Narnia, because we all know that everyone on the side of Good is way too honorable to point out that, point of fact, they actually don't have to roll over and be genocided because some outsider fourteen-year-old boy bet everyone's life on a duel that he didn't win.
And all this "do what seems best to you and don't double-check with Aslan because he'll roll with whatever you throw his way" philosophy seems particularly facepalmy seeing that it comes about an hour after the whole "Susan was the worst for wanting to do what seemed best to her instead of doing what Aslan's prophet told her to do without question". Except, oh wait, Susan admitted in text that she knew she wasn't doing what seemed best to her, she was just being stubborn. Glad we cleared THAT up. So Peter is right to do whatever fool thing pops into his head and Susan is wrong to do whatever sensible thing pops into her head, because DEEP DOWN INSIDE they can just feel if an action is Aslan-approved or not.
Between this and the "Liar, Lunatic, Lord" Trilemma, I really question whether Lewis believed people could ever be genuinely mistaken. And I shudder that the lessons in LWW and PC seem to imply a strong "no", because the idea that we all know, DEEP DOWN INSIDE, what is right and wrong strikes me as fundamentally dangerous. Being convinced of the rightness of a action doesn't make it right, and we've explored numerous times how a seemingly harmless action of privilege can hurt marginalized peoples in ways that privileged peoples often do not expect, cannot predict, and frequently will not accept.
"Peter, by the gift of Aslan, by election, by prescription, and by conquest, High King over all Kings in Narnia, Emperor of the Lone Islands and Lord of Cair Paravel, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion, to Miraz, Son of Caspian the Eighth, sometime Lord Protector of Narnia and now styling himself King of Narnia, Greeting. Have you got that?"
I'm sure that's going to get Miraz to listen, but wev.
Peter is an elected monarch? Elected ... by Aslan? An election by one is not how I am used to encountering that concept. And I don't know what a prescripted monarch is, or if I do, I'm not familiar with it by that term. I do know well enough what a conquering monarch is, and I have more than a few issues with that, but let's move on. Feel free to tackle Peter's titles in the comments section.
"That ought to do," said Peter, drawing a deep breath. "And now we must send two others with King Edmund. I think the Giant ought to be one."
"He's -- he's not very clever, you know," said Caspian.
"Of course not," said Peter. "But any giant looks impressive if only he will keep quiet. And it will cheer him up. But who for the other?"
"Upon my word," said Trumpkin, "if you want someone who can kill with looks, Reepicheep would be the best."
"He would indeed, from all I hear," said Peter with a laugh. "If only he wasn't so small. They wouldn't even see him till he was close!"
"Send Glenstorm, Sire," said Trufflehunter. "No one ever laughed at a Centaur."
There's a lot of machismo in Chapter 13 about the VERY IMPORTANT ISSUES of Who Will Deliver The Challenge and Who Will Serve As Marshal At The Duel and will they be manly and frightening and impressive enough and WE CANNOT LET THE MOUSE DO IT because obviously the war would be just lost if there was a squeaky little mouse on the Delivery Team or the Marshal Team. I mean, even if the fourteen-year-old boy from England won the winner-take-all battle, the principle of the battle -- Looking Manly And Badass At All Times -- would be completely lost, so what would be the point? I mean, fuck freedom; we're here to get our vanity on, no? /sarcasm
On the one hand, I couldn't care less about all this ridiculously plodding nonsense. On the other hand, it's here, it's pretty much the entirety of the chapter, and it gives me a good chance to talk about playing to the patriarchal tune, so I might as well.
Maybe there's some reason I'm missing, but it seems to me that the Delivery Team doesn't need to be totes badass looking in order to deliver the damn summons. In fact, it seems to me that looking a little un-threatening could work in their favor at this point. I mean, the Telmarines have been skirmishing with the Narnians for some time now, so they are already more than familiar with the deadliness of their army. That ship has sailed, for good or ill. Now the Narnians are proposing to end all the skirmishing with a winner-take-all battle. Would it not perhaps be in their best interests for the challenged Telmarines to think that such a battle might be easy to win? If I'm going to accept a gamble for my life and my kingdom, I'm going to want good odds in my favor -- especially if I'm in a position where I don't need to accept the gamble.
There's some indication here that Peter et. al. think that the challenge won't be taken seriously if the Delivery Team isn't acceptably badass. Apparently this is some kind of Rule of Chivalry I'm not familiar with, or maybe they're concerned that if the Delivery Team doesn't look imposing enough, they might be captured or killed. (In which case, though, they're taking a big gamble by sending Edmund on the team. Nor do I imagine a ten-year-old boy is likely to be considered imposing and terrifying to seasoned adult warriors.) Maybe desperate times call for desperate measures and this is the only way they can be certain of being heard. But considering that this exact same discussion will take place just a few pages later, after the duel has been accepted and when Marshals are being picked, I'm not very inclined to give Peter and Lewis a free pass on needing to include this.
I've mentioned before my dislike of a certain passage in Madeline L'Engle's "A Wind In The Door". Young protagonist Charles Wallace is being beaten up at his school on a regular basis because he sounds smarter than the other students. His speech patterns mark him as different, and different in ways that are not acceptable to the surrounding patriarchal society, and so he is brutally punished by his social peers. This is underlined as fact by both his sister and mother:
“How would you look if people punched you in the nose and kept giving you black eyes just because you know more than they do?” ~ Meg Murray
“Here we are, at the height of civilization in a well-run state in a great democracy. And four ten-year-olds were picked up last week for pushing hard drugs in the school where our six-year-old is regularly given black eyes and a bloody nose.” ~ Mrs. Murray
When a supernatural being shows up one evening claiming to be Charles Wallace's new teacher, Meg naturally assumes that this teaching will be done as a replacement for "ordinary school" which isn't working out for Charles. When the being coolly responds that the violence against Charles is "hardly my problem", Meg is astonished and asks why, then, is he there?
Again came the rumble that bubbled up into a laugh. “My dears, you must not take yourselves so seriously. Why should school be easy for Charles Wallace?”
“It shouldn’t be this bad. This is the United States of America. They’ll hurt him if somebody doesn’t do something.”
“He will have to learn to defend himself.”
Charles Wallace, looking very small and defenseless, spoke quietly. “The Teacher is right. It’s a question of learning to adapt, and nobody can do that for me. If everybody will leave me alone, and stop trying to help me, I’ll learn, eventually, how not to be conspicuous. I can assure you I haven’t mentioned mitochondria and farandolae lately.”
The Teacher nodded grave approval.
I hate this passage. Hate. Hate-hate-hate. I hate this passage partly because it was written, as far as I can tell, by a woman who enjoyed all-or-most of her life, all the many significant privileges that go along with being white, cis-bodied, able-bodied, heterosexual, hailing from a socially-approved heterosexually-coupled family, and financially well-off enough to be enrolled in private schools, attend college, and travel internationally, so please pardon me if I take with a grain of salt advice on how to deal with the patriarchy from someone who enjoys numerous protections from same. But I hate this passage mostly because even if the author was the most marginalized person who ever existed in the entire world (and I just know, because I pointed out the fact that she had at least some privilege, that someone is going to feel compelled to point out all the different ways she was marginalized so I'll tell you right now: Do not bother because I do not care even a tiny little bit, hence the clause immediately prior to this aside.), this passage is still a steaming pile of Playing For The Patriarchy.
You know what pisses me off so much about Twilight? It's not the abusive relationships, or even the glorification of same. No, it's the treatment of the book -- in-text and without -- as some kind of guide to Winning At Patriarchy. It's the idea, constantly underscored in a thousand different passages, that if girls just submit to the patriarchy and embrace the status quo and do it even better than everyone else that has ever tried -- if they are, in effect, absolutely perfect Good Girls -- then they'll win. And if you do all these things just right, like little squares on the game board of Life, then it will be worth it at the end. In essence, the entire series is an invitation to marginalized people to embrace their marginalization in the hopes of reaching a big payoff at the end.
As a fantasy, I think that's potentially fulfilling: so many of us already work so hard at being Good Girls because realistically we have to already for our protection, so why not imagine doing it perfectly and getting a kewpie doll at the end? As an actual honest-to-god manual for how to live one's life, I find it utterly damaging: in a world where we're fed an impossible behavioral model over and over again, pretending that it really will result in a magically happy fairy tale ending at the end is the worst kind of deceit.
Because, ultimately, it is impossible to live perfectly according to patriarchal expectations. Some of us simply cannot -- we are indelibly marked in ways that everyone can see. Women are harassed because they look like women. The visibly disabled are harassed because they look disabled. People of color are harassed because they look like people of color. And so forth. Even people who can manage to hide their characteristics for which they are harassed are frequently deeply unhappy at having to hide pieces of their essential self in order to survive social punishment. To suggest that everyone just work REALLY REALLY HARD to pass in a patriarchal approved manner is to ignore the fact that many people quite simply cannot, and that many who can are nonetheless seriously damaged by the attempt. To go further and suggest that such a solution is good and worthy of grave approval -- as opposed to a horrible fact of life that we should all be working hard to subvert -- is beyond distressing to me.
Chapter 13, here and now, is about staffing teams with people who meet patriarchal expectations. Not, I think, because this is a necessary evil in order to survive right now, but because the people staffing the teams agree with the patriarchal expectations. Those who are deemed unacceptable to serve are described in mocking terms: the giant is "silly" (and is only redeemed by being told to stay silent), the bear sucks on his paws (and when honor demands he be included on the Marshal team, he is sternly ordered not to do so), and Reepicheep is repeatedly teased (in a later chapter, by Aslan himself) for being a person of small stature.
These characteristics -- silliness, sucking, and smallness -- are childlike, and yet are openly detested in a novel that is ostensibly written for children and where we are asked to accept that a ten-year-old boy strikes fear in the hearts of adult veterans and that his fourteen-year-old brother stands a sporting chance in a duel to the death against an older, more experienced warrior. And, of course, that the aforementioned ten-year-old boy can easily best a century-old dwarf (I'm guessing; I don't think Trumpkin's age is ever mentioned) who has had ample reason to keep his survival skills sharp.
These novels -- the books of Lewis and L'Engle and dozens others that shaped my childhood -- never stated or even implied to me that the patriarchal bullying of things that were "childlike" or "womanly" was something to be deplored and fought and changed. At best, these novels told me that submitting to those patriarchal expectations was necessary for survival; at worst, these novels told me that my submission was something to be gravely approved of. It's hardly any wonder to me that books like "The Hunger Games" have struck such a deep chord in the hearts and minds of young adult audiences today; for all their faults, at the bare minimum these are books that assert that submission to the patriarchy is damaging and that, if we can, fighting and subverting is the better option.
Anyway. That got away from me there. That's what I get, I suppose, for writing these the night before they're due to go up. Sorry. Moving on. Lewis needs a convenient fall guy to convince Miraz to accept the challenge, and who will then conveniently murder Miraz so that Peter doesn't have to get his hands dirty:
"He that is walking between the Centaur and the Giant has no look of surrender in his face," said Glozelle. "Who can he be? It is not the boy Caspian."
"No indeed," said Sopespian. "This is a fell warrior, I warrant you, wherever the rebels have got him from. He is (in your Lordship's private ear) a kinglier man than ever Miraz was. And what mail he wears! None of our smiths can make the like."
"I'll wager my dappled Pomely he brings a challenge, not a surrender," said Glozelle.
"How then?" said Sopespian. "We hold the enemy in our fist here. Miraz would never be so hair-brained as to throw away his advantage on a combat."
"He might be brought to it," said Glozelle in a much lower voice.
How convenient. Then there is a VERY LONG conversation while the Bad Guys counsel Miraz to refuse the challenge, but do so in terms that indicate that Miraz should refuse because he couldn't possibly win if he did agree to the duel.
Inside, they found Miraz, unarmed and finishing his breakfast. His face was flushed and there was a scowl on his brow.
"There!" he growled, flinging the parchment across the table to them. "See what a pack of nursery tales our jackanapes of a nephew has sent us." [...]
"Most infallibly to refuse it," said Glozelle. "For though I have never been called a coward, I must plainly say that to meet that young man in battle is more than my heart would serve me for. And if (as is likely) his brother, the High King, is more dangerous than he -- why, on your life, my Lord King, have nothing to do with him."
"Plague on you!" cried Miraz. "It was not that sort of counsel I wanted. Do you think I am asking you if I should be afraid to meet this Peter (if there is such a man)? Do you think I fear him? I wanted your counsel on the policy of the matter; whether we, having the advantage, should hazard it on a wager of battle." [...]
"No man of your Majesty's age," said Glozelle, "would be called coward by any wise soldier for refusing the combat with a great warrior in the flower of his youth."
"So I'm to be a dotard with one foot in the grave, as well as a dastard," roared Miraz. "I'll tell you what it is, my Lords. With your womanish counsels (ever shying from the true point, which is one of policy) you have done the very opposite of your intent. I had meant to refuse it. But I'll accept it. Do you hear, accept it! I'll not be shamed because some witchcraft or treason has frozen both your bloods."
And, you know, who am I to complain if it gets us that much closer to the end of the book, you know? But it's annoying to me that Miraz -- who has, up until now, been as far as I can see a cautious and reasonably capable commander-slash-usurper -- would so easily fall for such an obvious trick. I'd really hope that anyone who was promoted to king by virtue of killing the last king would be less cavalier about his own physical safety and maybe just a smidgen careful about trusting his underlings to have his best interests at heart. This scene feels like some kind of deleted scene from The Lion King where the hyenas manage to convince Scar to take on a stampeding herd of wildebeasts on his own because Mufasa totally would have done it, or something. But whatever.
There was a great stirring at Aslan's How when the news came back and was communicated to the various creatures. Edmund, with one of Miraz's captains, had already marked out the place for the combat, and ropes and stakes had been put round it. Two Telmarines were to stand at two of the corners, and one in the middle of one side, as marshals of the lists. Three marshals for the other two corners and the other side were to be furnished by the High King. Peter was just explaining to Caspian that he could not be one, because his right to the throne was what they were fighting about, when suddenly a thick, sleepy voice said, "Your Majesty, please." Peter turned and there stood the eldest of the Bulgy Bears. "If you please, your Majesty," he said, "I'm a bear, I am."
"To be sure, so you are, and a good bear too, I don't doubt," said Peter.
"Yes," said the Bear. "But it was always a right of the bears to supply one marshal of the lists."
"Don't let him," whispered Trumpkin to Peter. "He's a good creature, but he'll shame us all. He'll go to sleep and he will suck his paws. In front of the enemy too."
"I can't help that," said Peter. "Because he's quite right. The Bears had that privilege. I can't imagine how it has been remembered all these years, when so many other things have been forgotten."
"Please, your Majesty," said the Bear.
"It is your right," said Peter. "And you shall be one of the marshals. But you must remember not to suck your paws."
"Of course not," said the Bear in a very shocked voice.
"Why, you're doing it this minute!" bellowed Trumpkin.
The Bear whipped his paw out of his mouth and pretended he hadn't heard.
"Sire!" came a shrill voice from near the ground.
"Ah -- Reepicheep!" said Peter after looking up and down and round as people usually did when addressed by the Mouse.
"Sire," said Reepicheep. "My life is ever at your command, but my honor is my own. Sire, I have among my people the only trumpeter in your Majesty's army. I had thought, perhaps, we might have been sent with the challenge. Sire, my people are grieved. Perhaps if it were your pleasure that I should be a marshal of the lists, it would content them."
A noise not unlike thunder broke out from somewhere overhead at this point, as Giant Wimbleweather burst into one of those not very intelligent laughs to which the nicer sorts of Giant are so liable. He checked himself at once and looked as grave as a turnip by the time Reepicheep discovered where the noise came from.
"I am afraid it would not do," said Peter very gravely. "Some humans are afraid of mice -- "
"I had observed it, Sire," said Reepicheep.
"And it would not be quite fair to Miraz," Peter continued, "to have in sight anything that might abate the edge of his courage."
"Your Majesty is the mirror of honor," said the Mouse with one of his admirable bows. "And on this matter we have but a single mind…. I thought I heard someone laughing just now. If anyone present wishes to make me the subject of his wit, I am very much at his service -- with my sword -- whenever he has leisure."
An awful silence followed this remark, which was broken by Peter saying, "Giant Wimbleweather and the Bear and the Centaur Glenstorm shall be our marshals. The combat will be at two hours after noon. Dinner at noon precisely."
I didn't write this book. I didn't devote two entire scenes to explaining why giants and centaurs are acceptable to have as companions in public because they are Big and Manly and why bears and mice are not acceptable to have as companions in public because they are Small and Not Manly. I didn't spend over 600 words (the Marshal scene alone is 609 words) is on this Very Important Point in a chapter that is only 2,600 words long.
But I can sit here and point out that this theme -- the theme that there is an approved way to look and act and a not-approved way to look and act, and that it is and should be the patriarchy that determines these things -- runs thick and fast through this chapter, and indeed through the entire series. I can point out that how one looks and acts is frequently not something that can be easily changed, and I can point out that the patriarchy is not a disinterested, impartial, or fair party when deciding these things.
And I can point out that I consider a narrative that challenges and subverts the decisions of the patriarchy to be far, far more worthwhile than a narrative that affirms and supports them. And I can even speculate that the guy for whom Aslan is supposed to be standing in as an allegory might have had a few things to say along those lines as well.