Narnia: Playing for the Patriarchy

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.


Rainicorn said...

I suspect that "election" refers to the doctrine of election - the idea that you only get saved if God chooses you to be among the saved. Needless to say, I find it Deeply Problematic.

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.

*thunderous applause*

Kerry said...

Yes, I was going to suggest that reading of "election", too.

CantsOnFire said...

I think "election" just indicates the older meaning of "chosen", as in Peter was chosen by Aslan to be king, or Aslan elected to make him king. The theological doctrine of election is ... Calvinist? Not something I had thought Lewis subscribed to, but I could easily be wrong on both points.

As for "by prescription", would that refer to official written documents proclaiming him king ... as in validly possessing the title of "King"?

Makhno said...

Yes, I suspect it does mean "chosen" - as when Marlowe's Pope Bruno insists "I was elected by the Emperor": an electorate of one, just as here.

It *could* refer to election-by-acclamation, along the lines of the later Caesars and early Popes. Sometimes acclamation by army or crowd did actually determine the succession, but at other times it was a way of rubber-stamping a done deal. The Narnian populace presumably would, if asked, have acclaimed whomever Aslan put in front of them.

As for the suitability of different fantastical races as heralds - in the medieval romances of which Lewis was very fond, while this job may occasionally get given to a giant (can't think of any centaurs, talking mice, or bears doing it off the top of my head), you know who were the go-to guys when you needed a herald / envoy / whatever? Dwarves. So commonly so that I'd have expected Trumpkin to be *automatically* given the challenge-delivering job. But clearly dwarves are Not Impressive Enough for Lewis.

Morgan said...

So this is probably something that's come up before in discussions I haven't seen, and it's rather beside the main point, but Miraz's dialogue here is just the last straw for me.

What the heck is with the parenthetical asides in spoken dialogue?

It can work, I'm sure, for certain types of characters speaking in certain modes... but both Peter and Miraz do it here when it doesn't seem to fit at all. I can't figure out how it's meant to sound. Or rather, I know just how it sounds to me, and it completely breaks the flow of the scenes.

*deep breaths*

depizan said...

CW: Copious swearing and anger

" If everybody will leave me alone, and stop trying to help me, I’ll learn, eventually, how not to be conspicuous."


I really don't care if she had all the problems in the world and came to the conclusion that hiding who you fucking are is the way to win at life. She is fucking telling children to hide themselves and pretend to be just like everyone else and presenting this as the wise and right decision. TO FUCKING HIDE WHO YOU ARE FROM EVERYONE.

Because fitting in is the most important thing ever. And the fucking bullies who beat people up to make them fit in are, apparently, RIGHT. There aren't fucking words.

I have so much rage. I never cared for A Wrinkle in Time, the only L'Engle book I ever read - I thought it was boring, made little sense, and irritated me in some way I could never put my finger on. I am so glad I never read anything else by her. Because FUCK. That kind of shit makes me want to burn books. And I don't believe in book burning.

depizan said...

"This is a fell warrior, I warrant you,"

A ten year old kid? Seriously? Are there times and places where this statement might not seem ridiculous? Well, yes, but frankly, this isn't one of them. I cannot believe that Edmund looks like a hardened soldier or, well, anything except a perfectly typical English boy. If he did, it would have had an impact on what happened to him after his return to England in LLW. People would have noticed.

And can someone, anyone, please explain to me why Miraz's people want him to lose? Why would they sabotage him? How can they be certain that their enemies won't have the lot of them executed or tossed in some moldy prison for the rest of their lives? How is it possibly to their advantage to side with their near-defeated enemy? Is this more of Lewis thinking that we all magically know what's right? Probably. Fie.

The only sensible response to Peter's proposal for a villain (or anyone) in Miraz's position is laughter. Peter piles on a ludicrous number of highly questionable titles and proposes a duel with the man who's already won. Miraz has zero reason to take him up on this. (Now, if we were dealing with a culture where this sort of thing was common place, sure, but I don't believe we've been given any reason to think that of this culture.)

Thomas Keyton said...

and by conquest

Is he? Aslan won the battle. Aslan killed the Witch. Aslan was in overall charge of the. non-evil army. Peter may well have been installed as Aslan's representative, but I'm not sure he's actually a conqueror. Unless it's referring to the Pevensie Purges of Jadis' defeated supporters, except that calling that conquest is like Henry VII dating his reign from before he won to retcon Richard III into a traitor. Only worse.

As for election, presumably it's the Ankh-Morpork system of One Man, One Vote.

Also, the only way I can see Edmund looking like a fell warrior is if Aslan glamoured him (possibly in the same way Evil people hate Aslan's name, Evil/Cowardly* people recognise Edmund's fell nature). Is it really chivalrous to have magic Lion auras around your heralds?

* Which are, of course, always equivalent in this sort of story

depizan said...

That could explain it, all right.

But if Aslan cast "fell appearance" on Edmund, and "alignment change," "compulsion: sabotage" or "contagious foolishness" on Miraz's advisers, shouldn't that make him dishonorable, at least by Lewis's standards?

John Magnum said...

Honestly, given Lewis's Platonic leanings, I wouldn't be too surprised if he really did believe on some level that it's impossible for anyone to be genuinely mistaken. After all, we already know from before birth or from subtle revelations from the Holy Spirit What's Right and What's Wrong and How The World Works, and though we sort of forget it or suppress it we never completely forget. So if we do something Wrong, our soul will always be telling us that it's Wrong, and if we do something Right we get Nebulous Positive Aslanfeelings.

Ana Mardoll said...

I love this entire comment thread so very, very much.

Depizan, Infinity Plus One to your comment re: hiding one's essential self. Because that's basically my entire response in a nutshell too. And it's flat out cruel for people who simply CAN'T look normal. Like people who are fat or physically disabled or whose bodies do not conform to gender stereotypes or with speech impediments or mental disabilities or or or or or or ......

Josh G. said...

Thomas Keyton: "Also, the only way I can see Edmund looking like a fell warrior is if Aslan glamoured him..."

IIRC, that was stated to be the case. There's a passage in this chapter that says something like "Aslan had breathed on him [Edmund] at their meeting and an air of greatness hung about him."

depizan said...

I think it's flat out cruel, period. There's just an extra layer of cruelty and wrongness when you consider people who can't pass for "normal," which makes the idea monstrous. And then there's the background that being smart and/or knowledgeable is bad. What the everliving FUCK.

It's one of those cases where I'd love to know what the author thought she was saying, but, even if she were still alive, I couldn't ask her because I'm fairly certain I couldn't keep a civil tongue to do so. (Besides, my luck with asking people to explain their whathefuckery has not been good. Their explanations just add to it.)

depizan said...

IIRC, that was stated to be the case.

I'll just be over here headdesking. I guess Lewis's thing about "fair play" doesn't apply to Aslan.

GeniusLemur said...

These books seem to postively wallow in "You're the best of the best of the best and deserve to be king and spend your days in idle pleasure and are worthy of eternal adoration just for showing up."

Theo Axner said...

And can someone, anyone, please explain to me why Miraz's people want him to lose? Why would they sabotage him? How can they be certain that their enemies won't have the lot of them executed or tossed in some moldy prison for the rest of their lives? How is it possibly to their advantage to side with their near-defeated enemy? Is this more of Lewis thinking that we all magically know what's right? Probably. Fie.

No, it's actually made perfectly clear in the text (though perhaps not very convincingly). The treacherous lords reason that either Miraz wins, and then they've won, or he loses, and then they can do a better job winning without him and get on top themselves. They also mention holding a grudge about being poorly rewarded for their support of his own previous power grab.

All this does rather jump out of nowhere, and this was IMO the greatest of the many improvements the PC movie did on the book's story: this internal Telmarine politicking was greatly elaborated and extended into a fairly major subplot throughout the movie. It also makes Miraz hold a little less of the Idiot Ball is he is manipulated into accepting the duel against his better judgment.

depizan said...

The treacherous lords reason that either Miraz wins, and then they've won, or he loses, and then they can do a better job winning without him and get on top themselves.

Oh good, there's an explanation. That's typical treacherous undervillain thinking, so I can almost give it a pass. But I have this funny feeling that when Miraz loses, they don't actually do anything. Elaborating on it would've been a good idea in the book, but I think we can say that about much of the characterization.

Carly said...

Reading this book at age 12 or so, I remember being a bit confused by the sudden appearance at the 11th hour of two treasonous lords with an apparent deep and long-running plot against the main villain--it seemed to me that these two were important enough to have come up earlier in the story, but they didn't. I remember being even more confused when their actions became instrumental in the final defeat of said main villain. My suspension of disbelief was a heck of a lot stronger then than it is now, but even then I had this vague idea in the back of my mind that it Now I have enough experience to recognize when authors are resorting to throwing in random Handy Dandy Convenience Characters to advance the plot or wrap up the story, and it's one of my pet peeves.

Also, the L'Engle passage bugs me too. Thing is, even if we lived in some bizarro world where suppressing a vital part of yourself to please others is a natural and healthy thing to do, it still wouldn't be good advice! IME, most bullies don't bully because they want to "make you fit in." They bully because bullying makes them feel powerful. Get rid of the trait or feature they're ostensibly bullying you for, and they'll just find another excuse to bully you. Bah.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yep. Once he stops taking "funny", they'll bully him for being short, or wearing glasses, or having brown hair.

And even if, against all odds, they stop bullying Charles, they'll move on to bullying someone else.

Neat! What neat advice from someone with a keen outlook on human nature! *headdesk*

Nathaniel said...

Holy crap. That L'Engle passage. Aaaaahh. Haven't read her books in years. Never remembered something that like. Good god.

GeniusLemur said...

Yeah, it always annoyed me when the treacherous underling JUST HAPPENS to spring his idiotic coup attempt right when the heroes need the distraction to save their bacon.

depizan said...

You know what would be an interesting twist on that? If the treacherous underling succeeded at their coup attempt somewhere during the story - unbeknownst to the heroes - so that when they show up with a battle plan to defeat Villain, they find themselves facing New Villain (former Underling) instead. It would be tricky to write, but I think it could be pulled off. The audience last hears from the underling having reached his decision to betray the villain, so the expectation is that Underling will spring his/her plans conveniently (like always).

It could go all kinds of different places from there. The New Villain could actually be more competent than the old and we end in tragedy or a to be continued, with our heroes in New Villain's dungeon/prison/mines/wherever they toss inconvenient people. The New Villain could not be so directly a villain - or even not a villain at all, leaving our heroes with the question of what to do, especially if it was a "put the rightful king on the throne" story. And all the variants of those, from the New Villain giving the heroes "credit" for defeating the Old Villain (and an ominous "why?" is said), to the New Villain being willing to step down and advise the rightful king (again with the ominous "why?"), to the New Villain pleasantly suggesting the heroes depart since their job was done for them, to who knows what else.

Smilodon said...

As someone who tried to give advice to a 9-year-old who was going through social problems, I sympathesize with L'Engle here, because I was miserably inept at it as well. If you're a child, "leave the situation and don't look back" isn't really an option, at least not for the next ten-odd years. So what should you tell them? "Learn to fit in or fight back" is bad advice, but I honestly don't know what better advice to give.

Thomas Keyton said...

I think something like this happens in The Prisoner of Zenda, though I haven't read it - as I understand it, this just makes matters worse.

depizan said...

What's described in the book excerpts isn't social problems, it's violence. How about, if one is able, rescuing the child from the situation? People are remarkably willing to leave children in situations that would be criminal if adults were involved and which they wouldn't remain in themselves.

Now, if you're stuck giving advice to a kid who's life you have no power over, perhaps sympathy and assurance that the problem is not them, that the situation is all kinds of fucked up, and that it will - eventually - be over. And perhaps, if one is in that kind of situation, a few words with the parents regarding the situation. "Hey, your kid is getting beaten up in school. Maybe you should consider putting pressure on the school to do something, putting your kid in a different school, seeing if it's possible to have kids arrested for assault and battery, home schooling..."

depizan said...

No one said twists had to make things better for the heroes. *evil smile*

Ursula Vernon said...

I recall really liking the Bulgy Bear as a kid, and thinking the paw-sucking bit was funny, so it worked on that level for eight-year-old me.

I had completely and utterly forgotten that bit from L'Engle, and am moderately appalled as an adult...although as a kid, I suspect I understood it as a reflection of the way the world seemed to work, and it's only now I go "Hang on a minute, that might be HOW it worked, but that's not how it SHOULD work, fer cryin' out loud!"

Lonespark said...

I was just thinking earlier that I believe my childhood would have been improved by punching more people who were cruel assholes. I was convinced authority would hold it against me in a big way, so I didn't. Of course I wouldn't give a kid today that advice because ZERO TOLERANCE OMG.

QXZ said...

As for "prescription", perhaps the intended meaning is that provided in Bouvier's Law Dictionary.
(No entry links, so just scroll down about 4/5ths to the bottom, or Ctrl-F and search for Prescription.)
The skinny is that if you use or occupy something (a royal title in this case) for a long enough time, say twenty years, openly and without any serious challenge, it can become your property by right of prescription. Which seems like an odd thing to claim when everyone knows you were crowned by the local creator deity his own leonine self...

depizan said...

And, of course, Zero Tolerance somehow magically never applies to the bullies. I'm so sick of schools being vile, horrible places that are strongly reminiscent of prison.

Charles Scott said...

I'll leave off comments on the idea that the rightful way to respond to bullies is to capitulate with their stated demands. "Conform, damnit, the stupid kids who are willing to beat anybody who is different obviously have their philosophy and worldview well thought out and aren't just making excuses."... You know what? I won't leave off commenting.

My own bullying experience in school amounted to being teased repeatedly. Teasing, by the way, in the way that I was teased translates quite readily to "ritually harrassed throughout my gradeschool career in ways that adult harrassors would be fired for lest the company get their asses sued off." And, later, the bullies always have the excuse of "we were just kids" or the excuse made for them "they were just children." You know what? So were their victims!

By the way, throughout part of that experience, I went to a Catholic Junior High school. I think they thought of bullying as a practice, in the victims, in christliness. Just meekly accept until they stop... it never worked. And, yes, I'm still angry about it. I don't have to have not moved on in order to still be angry about it. I just have to remember that this was something kids shouldn't have to deal with, and don't have to if teachers would back them up like they're supposed to.

But, this does lend over to the comment that I did want to make. It's about Peter's lack of... any seeming emotion. One of the things I learned in Catholic Junior High and in Methodist Church/Sunday School, repeatedly, was that it's not enough to obey God. You have to love God and *want* to obey. Being hesitant, grudging, or to do so merely out of the fear of Hell (which was a part of the faith I had been taught) was as much of a sin as refusal.

I have no doubt in my mind that Lewis operated with a similar sense of morality/theology. "Obey joyfully and unreservedly, for any regret for obedience is a sin itself." So, if Lewis were to acknowledge that Peter might want to, you know, stick around for a while and do a job he's allegedly proven good at or that Peter might have any desires that counter to Aslan's commands, then he'd have to address that of Peter being... well the worst ever.

He'd have to admit that Patriarchy Hurts Men/Priviliged Too.

QXZ said...

A better link for the legal definition of prescription:

redsixwing said...

@depizan, I've done that sort of "discovered check" on roleplaying groups. They beat a villain somewhere on the Villain Ladder, only to discover that the power void created by hir fall has let Someone Else in... or better yet, that the Someone Else was actually scheming on the heroes' success, and will now be taking the reins of power, thanks. Tends to be the sort of thing, done successfully, that roleplaying groups remember for years.

I love that.

I do not love that scene from L'Engle's book. Now, A Wind in the Door I love to little bitty bits despite serious problematic stuff (the mutual incompatibility of femininity and science, plus That Scene, and probably other stuff I'm not remembering) - but That Scene tends to cause CAPSRAGE, especially because I always forget that it's there, then run across it again and go "oh thanks, Author Who Seems To Know Things About People, for reminding me that I will never be good enough to avoid being bullied and It's All My Fault if I can't be frelling perfect enough to make the haters not hate." Yeah, I may have overly identified with Charles Wallace.

Reepicheep seems to be a prime example of Winning At Kyriarchy.

He's a Beast; Beasts are often depicted as foolish or childlike, but Reepicheep is noble and self-sacrificing, so he's not -really- Beastlike.

He's got a tiny piping voice, but his words MAKE others take him seriously (except Eustace, who is the designated hated child of VODT, until Eustace's Grand Theological Point comes about.)

He's small in stature, but his greatness of heart makes others look twice at him. (MAKES them. Even, eventually, Eustace.)

And without being spoilerific, he gets one of the best in-text endings of any Narnia character, IMO.

Gotta go. Would love to discuss this more.

Tigerpetals said...

Or alternately, not present a resolution if one really can't be found and reminding the child that bullying is wrong, instead of poisoning the child.

Tigerpetals said...

The "rightful king" could ally with the New Villain or turn out to have been allied all along, to increase the chances of winning. And then the heroes might or might not be included in future plans, if they don't protest.

depizan said...

Ooh, that's a good one, too.

Amaryllis said...

"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.

Um... how was the Bear managing to talk when he had his paw in his mouth? It must have been a shocked mumble?

And why do only some of the Talking Beasts have actual names? Do you have to Win At Patriarchy-- I adore Reepicheep, but that's an excellent observation; Reepicheep even makes Aslan back down-- in order to have a name of your own instead of a species title?

"This is a fell warrior, I warrant you,"

I wondered about that, too. Maybe it was an actual magical glamor, as the text seems to indicate. Or maybe it was more of Narnian things-looking-like-what-they-are: Edmund has the soul of a great warrior, so that's how people see him, regardless of his true age or stature.

Or maybe, the longer the children are in Narnia, the more they're reverting to what they were when they left it? That is, undergoing an accelerated aging to become the adult rulers of Narnia again? Although they seems to happily go back to acting like children by the end of the book, so maybe not.

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?

I believe the point is that, this time, he was brought back to Narnia explicitly in response to Caspian's call for help. It seems reasonable for him to accept that helping Caspian is what he's there for. And, after all, no matter who rules in Narnia, Peter is the Once and Future High King. He doesn't really need to worry about being upstaged; he outranks everybody forever, "by gift of Aslan, by election, and by prescription," etc, etc.

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
For this relief, much thanks. Voyage of the Dawn Treader (if you're planning to go on) has its issues, but at least it's more fun.

Amaryllis said...

Oh, and I forgot to say, about Peter's letter: I had to look up the difference between "abominable" and "abhominable-- be sure to put in the H."

It seems that they both mean "awful, hateful, detestable, despicable," etc. But "abominable" is from the Latin abominabilis, to despise or try to avert a bad omen, while "abhominable" is a medieval alteration by association with ab homine, from man, i.e. inhuman.

Did Lewis really expect his ten-year-old readers to pick up on that subtle distinction?

Oh well, you learn something new every day.

depizan said...

Whut. In Narnia, where for several centuries now the sapient non-humans have been hunted and slaughtered by humans - who had their very land and country stolen from them - we're going to use something that means inhuman as bad. Fucking what!?

Lunch Meat said...

I've never understood why Peter is "high king forever over everyone." High king over his siblings, sure, that makes sense. High king over everyone, even King Frank and all the ones who came before Peter? That seems kind of unfair.

Brin Bellway said...

while "abhominable" is a medieval alteration by association with ab homine, from man, i.e. inhuman.

Keep your eyes on 'em and feel for your hatchet.

Naomi said...

My younger daughter had "A Wrinkle In Time" read to her at school, and liked it a lot, and requested "A Wind in the Door" as bedtime reading. My husband usually does the bedtime stories, but I pinch-hit some of the time, and ... yeah, that book is full of OMGWTF moments. (I was a L'Engle freak as a kid, but I rarely re-read WITD. I would read "A Wrinkle In Time" and I would read "A Swiftly Tilting Planet" but I'm not sure I read WITD more than once or twice.)


The thing that strikes me most forcefully about WITD is how badly it's aged. If it weren't a sequel to a Newberry Medalist, it would be long out of print and mostly forgotten, just like most of Carol Ryrie Brink's work. (Brink wrote "Caddie Woodlawn" -- Newberry Medalist, still in print -- and the sequel, "Magical Melons," is also still in print, though possibly under another title. The totally delightful and whimsical is thoroughly dated "Pink Motel" is loooooooong out of print, alas.) It survives in the Children's Room at most libraries because it's the book that comes after Wrinkle in Time.

Because, even in the 1980s, when I grew up, the solution to bullying was that the bullied kid was supposed to "ignore it" and this would magically make the bullying stop "because they're only doing it to get a reaction" and the option of adults STEPPING IN AND INSISTING THAT THE BULLIES KNOCK IT THE HELL OFF apparently never occurred to anyone. WITD was published in 1973, so well before I was getting this utterly useless and ineffective advice, so I'm not surprised that "Charles Wallace needs to fake conformity" is the apparently solution here.

In addition to the toxic messages about bullying, it's not very well written (just TRY reading some of those passages about farandolae out loud), it's frequently boring, and Meg (who was a badass in Wrinkle in Time) spends way too much time weeping onto Calvin's shoulder. But it's Book Two, and stays in print.

Loquat said...

Have you read Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy? Book 1: Protagonists defeat evil tyrant; Books 2 and 3: Protagonists find out the now-dead tyrant had actually been holding back something much, much worse and now it's loose.

Loquat said...

we're left with a very long book that largely describes tromping through the woods, a short duel, and then a long celebration.

Which is why the American PC movie tries to liven things up a bit by having Peter order a sneak attack on Miraz's castle. It fails, of course, so as not to derail the plot...

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 ironically, the failed attack delivers the exact opposite message. Peter comes up with the idea for a sneak attack because, hey, you can't just sit around waiting for God to save you, while Lucy (who's in the How with them, because the movie cuts out the girls' excursion with Aslan) says that's not what Aslan wants them to do. (illustrated here)

I do think Team Caspian has an incentive to pick scary-looking messengers to deliver the duel challenge, though. As you mention earlier, why should Miraz risk his life in this duel? If the Narnians look easy for his army to beat, he has no such incentive. If the Delivery Team looks sufficiently tough, on the other hand, he might worry that the whole remaining army is tough enough to kill an unacceptably high number of Telmarine soldiers. It all comes down to how Miraz feels about the relative value of his own life vis-a-vis the lives of his soldiers, and I don't think the book gives us enough insight into Miraz's character to know that.

bekabot said...

"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.'"

Analogy: "If the gummint would stop trying to interfere with the actions of the free market, our economic problems would hoodoo themselves away. It's always a bad idea to try to fix a problem, because guidance is a concession to sissies. Bullies rule and they can prove it, too. Don't believe it? Prepare to live in a World O' Hurt."

The Teacher nodded grave approval.

...And even more gravely handed Charlie a cookie.

depizan said...

Oh dear. Thank you (I think) for pointing out yet another layer of DO NOT WANT!!!!

depizan said...

Is there a happy ending? Because if there is, that might be worth checking out.

Amaryllis said...

Well, in the letter, Miraz is being called out (figuratively and literally) for the abhominable crime of "the bloody and unnatural murder of your kindly lord and brother King Caspian Ninth of that name," as well as for "withholding the dominion of Narnia" from the current Caspian. Two intra-human offenses. The suppression of Old Narnia isn't even mentioned.

Although we're meant to believe that the illegitimacy of Miraz's rule is shown by the way he mistreats Old Narnia, none of that is mentioned in Peter's challenge. Whether that's because Peter thinks that crimes against humans are worse than any others, or because he believes that Miraz wouldn't consider his abuses of Narnians to be a legitimate grounds for a challenge, your guess is as good as mine.

depizan said...

... I... I don't even...

Can we go back to summoning the White Witch? I think Narnia is better off under her than under Aslan.

Kelex said...

By calling himself king "by prescription," I always took it to me "pre" as in "before" and "script" as in written. That is to say, written before it happened. IE: Prophesied. Referencing the prophecy in Wardrobe about Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve taking the thrones.

Nathaniel said...

Agree with you pretty much 100%. Even when I read L'Engle that was the book I only ever bothered to read once. It was simultaneously boring and weird for the sake of weirdness.

Swiftly Tilting Planet fares a bit better. Many Waters is an attempt to justify the Noah's Ark story and fails like all attempts to justify that story do.

ElodieGlass said...

Something that really bothered me about "Wrinkle in Time" was the introduction of mitochondria and the way it was used to sell Charles to us. (Forgive me if I get this wrong, I haven't read the book in over a decade)

In Charles' school, the teacher asked him to do a show-and-tell thing, and suggested that he talk about his parents' scientific research. He stood up and started talking about how our cells are powered by mitochondria, which are symbiotic organisms that were originally separate, independent creatures. This was somewhat cutting-edge science when the book was written, but by no means secretive or difficult to understand - a B-list fantasy author seized onto the concept pretty easily after all, and the kids who read the books were able to understand it - so that Charles' fancy little speech would be the equivalent of standing up in class and saying "My parents study the properties of the water on Mars, which, as you may have noticed from the news lately, is a large red planet that has some ice on it."


When Meg hears about this, she's like "Well, obviously, CLEARLY you should know better than to talk about MITOCHONDRIA, god, why are you so obsessed with getting beaten up?"

I think we're supposed to walk away with the overwhelming feeling that:
1. the teachers/adults/the System in general are corrupt, unpredictable, unreliable and unintelligent, and are not as worthy of power and respect as the children in the story.
2. Charles is really really super smart and revolutionary and we should all marvel at him.
3. Gosh what a clever book this is with mitochondria and farandolae! How whimsical, yet scientific!
4. Because Charles does not "pass" as "ordinary" he deserves to be punished until he learns to pass.

Instead, I walked away with:
1. The adults in power are so poorly written as to be caricatures. There's no doubt that the Children Will Prevail, and all of the conflict and tension are gutted out of the story.
2. It is so difficult to read about the Brilliant and Wise Exploits of the Luminous Large-Eyed Blonde Boy Child when all he does is wander around in a vague trance, tripping off plot points and occasionally using a multi-syllable word. I really dislike when authors try to write a Smart and Clever and Deep and Wise character, but in order to make them actually appear the Brightest in the Room, all the other characters have to make bad decisions and demonstrate poor judgment so that Charles can show them up. Charles is a Brain Leech; he only works as a character (and the book only works in general) because everyone around him Lacks Agency, Loses Faith or Randomly Rolls Ridiculous Decisions.

Loquat said...

Happy ending? To quote the Simpsons, "Short answer: yes with an if; long answer: no with a but". The good guys defeat the Evil and set the world right, but Sanderson does like to kill off characters you've grown attached to.

GeniusLemur said...

I'm dubious about that, because it reads like the heroes knew nothing about the bigger threat. Tyrants LOVE to say "look what I'm protecting you from," even when they have to make something up, so it's not plausible that this particular tyrant was actually protecting them from something worse and never told anybody.

GeniusLemur said...

Maybe Lewis just got sloppy and forgot that they're still little kids.

Will Wildman said...

Recalling your preferences, I think you might also want to know that the Mistborn trilogy also has a pretty severe case of 'only people with superpowers can help'. The one important non-powered character gets imbued with powers in the final book, and then it's all Jedi all the time. (There are other issues, like how the heroes in the first book talk about how terrible it is to be oppressed (even though they personally all have privilege that lets them dodge it), but for an excellent change of pace, the heroine actually calls them out on it.)

There's also a major character who is a eunuch and suffers some gender-related angst about it; whether or not this leads to overall gender-essentialism-fail or genderqueer win may be a matter of individual reading. (I will avoid saying more now, as they would be the spoileriest of spoilers.)

depizan said...

Ah well. Potentially interesting ideas, but I'm not much on all Jedi all the time, and authors who kill off characters frequently kill off my interest in the story.

Isator Levi said...


Everybody else talking about the stuff with the titles and marginalization of people who don't fit widely accepted standards of "normal", while I'm sitting here thinking "how in the name of the Moon did Bears secure some kind of enduring right to stand as marshalls over duels" makes me feel really sheltered.

sweetcraspy said...

I think it would have been interesting (and potentially entertaining) if they had gone with the original plan of "Pretend to issue a challenge to buy time to get other stuff done". Then they could have chosen their heralds and marshals based on who had the most convincing repurposed or made-up rituals that drag out the process. In the end, Miraz sees through the delaying tactics and calls them on their bluff. Cue deployment of whatever they were buying time for. I recommend the Giant Mouse of Minsk.

On the topic of getting pulled into and pushed out of Narnia, I recently read "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" and it deals with the subject in some interesting ways. They are pretty big spoilers, though so I won't go into any more detail.

chris the cynic said...

while I'm sitting here thinking "how in the name of the Moon did Bears secure some kind of enduring right to stand as marshalls over duels"

Oh come on, everyone knows why it was always a right of the Bears to supply one marshal of the lists. It has to do with the the ... thing. And the thing, and the thing and ... mitochondria.


Better way to get the guy to accept the duel:

Adviser One: Dude, Peter is like two years older than Edmund. Clearly you can kick Peter's ass. Your Majesty, whatever magic has returned the Narnian royalty of old has also restored them to excessive youth. Clearly the High King will be too young to be of any threat to you.

Adviser Two: If they keep to their word you'll have won while preserving your army for future conquests. If they don't they'll be demoralized and the army can defeat them with fewer losses.

Adviser One: Clearly there's no downside to accepting this challenge, and lots of upside.

Adviser Two: If it were someone who stood a chance of defeating you that would be one thing, but as is you have nothing to lose.


Can anyone think of any way in which having a Giant and a Mouse be sent together would be anything but awesome? I want these two to be a team:

He's the biggest thing you've ever seen. He's a tiny swordsman with a quick wit. They Fight Crime.

And, that aside, it would show the range of their army. We've got people so big they can hulk-smash Bella's biology teacher Hulk himself. We've got people so small you won't see them coming till they're at your throat.


So... mitochondria. Does Narnia have any Mitochondria? I mean they were once separate thingys and given that Narnia capital letter versions are bigger - presumably big enough to see - seeing an army of them coming toward you would no doubt be disconcerting. Just the sort of thing to knock the other side's army off mental balance.



Lonespark said...

and ... mitochondria.


Because gamma radiation, that's why. What do you mean it doesn't actually work like that? Something something Asgard. Deep Magic and Jasper.

Lonespark said...

Oh no, I don't want to think about Protozoans and Bacteria. Or Leeches. Or...

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm both looking forward to and dreading VoDT.

Looking forward to, because it was easily my favorite of the series. Dreading, because I strongly suspect there will be Problems that I just didn't notice as a child.

Also, since I've ended up strongly sympathizing with all child-villains so far (Edmund, Susan), what's the over/under on how many pages in before I start weeping for Eustace? Ha.

Ana Mardoll said...


I'm always a little startled at how many people like A Swiftly Tilting Planet. L'Engle is on my list of things to decon someday, but since that's not likely to happen any time soon, I'll tip my hat by saying that ASTP always struck me as a child as being racist/essentialist in really problematic ways. Given that the plot is about, if I understood/remembered correctly, going back through time to ensure that a current world leader has the "appropriate" genetic parentage to ensure that they are a Good Guy and not a Bad Guy, that hit all kinds of FUCK NO for me.

And all the bits about blue-eyed Native Americans and "Native American women don't scream during childbirth Because Pride and Otherness and WTFery" just rubbed me up really the wrong way. It felt like L'Engle was really working the Noble Savage stereotype in that one.

'Course, my box set had ASTP *after* Many Waters, and I wasn't inclined to view ANYTHING charitably after that hot mess. Tempty Women After Our Virtuous Boys and Potential Fuck-Partners Should Be Measured By How Worth They Are Giving Up Unicorns For and Sexy Angel-Demons Knock You Up With Impossibly Big Babies and Painful Pregnancies and EVERYONE DIES BY FLOOD and just... no. Really, I just do not like L'Engle when she invokes sex and/or pregnancy in general, or lineages as a result of sex and pregnancy.

Trynn said...

I'm probably being picky, but.... There was no Meg Wallace. Wallace was Charles' middle name: Charles Wallace Murray. Meg's last name was Murray. Calvin, whom she married, had the last name O'Keef.

Trynn said...

Murry, not Murray. Heh, if I'm going to pick on names...

I do agree with what you said about Charles Wallace. Man, how did I miss that as a child?

Ana Mardoll said...


Pqw said...

I tried rereading ASTP about a year ago. WTF isn't strong enough! So, so many things horribly wrong with it.

I've never read Many Waters, and nothing I've heard about it makes me want to.

As a kid I was blown away by _The Young Unicorns_, her book about a blind kid and (I think) NYC in the 1960s, gangs and demons and Canon Tallis. Reread it as an adult, and it ... had not aged well. At all. informs me TYA is part of the Austin Family Chronicles. BUT, there are several other books in that series that I liked. In at least one of them, the teenage heroine had sex with a cute boy she liked, and nothing bad happened. Marine biology! Summer romance! (that didn't last, no biggie) That was revolutionary for me in a YA book. (Unfortunately, I didn't find that particular one until I was probably 30. :-/) Iirc, The Arm of the Starfish, or maybe A Ring of Endless Light.

Brin Bellway said...

Also, since I've ended up strongly sympathizing with all child-villains so far (Edmund, Susan), what's the over/under on how many pages in before I start weeping for Eustace? Ha.

Hmm. First page?

*goes downstairs, removes cobwebs from Voyage of the Dawn Treader, reads first page*

Yeah, I'm thinking first page. Especially if you count the words that would have been on Page 1 if not for the beginning-of-chapter illustration as being part of the first page.

Isabel C. said...

As I mention whenever this comes up: I always wanted the sexy angel-demons to be redeemed. Mostly because their wings were so pretty.

Deep understanding of morality/symbology here. Yep. ("But they come in bright sparkly colors!" has, um, also spurred at least one redemption plot in my D&D campaign.)

Liked the book and everything when I was ten; not sure I would now, because oh my God the madonna/whore binary. Although the tiny mammoths were adorable. I want a tiny mammoth and a sexy angel-demon with jewel-toned glitter wings. Or ideally more than one of the above. Get on that, Universe.

Rikalous said...

The tyrant in question had ruled for a millennium or so, and was generally considered (with good reason) to be personally invincible. Oh, and the superpowers were concentrated in the upper class, who had a vested interest in preserving the status quo so that the lower classes didn't get revenge for their oppression. He didn't really need the extra help from an outside enemy. Plus, Sanderson's villains tend to have a "dirty deeds for the greater good of everyone" attitude, so he might have thought he was protecting his subjects from the knowledge of the greater threat (I haven't read the second two books in the trilogy, so guessing wildly here).

@chris: Narnia probably doesn't have Mitochondria, but it really should. It's got Animals and Trees and Toadstools (or at least people thereof), but where are all the Bacteria and Protists? Giants got around the square-cube law, so they can too.

JenL said...

I'm dubious about that, because it reads like the heroes knew nothing about the bigger threat. Tyrants LOVE to say "look what I'm protecting you from," even when they have to make something up, so it's not plausible that this particular tyrant was actually protecting them from something worse and never told anybody.
It's been a while since I read it, but I'm thinking the tyrant did tell them he was protecting them from something worse. They just didn't see any particular reason to believe that this such a self-serving statement was true.

Peter said...

I love those books so much, the Lord Ruler is such a ridiculously complex character. Best example of an Evil Overlord I think I've ever read.

Thomas Keyton said...

Narnia probably doesn't have Mitochondria, but it really should. It's got Animals and Trees and Toadstools (or at least people thereof)

But there don't seem to be any Invertebrates, or Fish, or Amphibians, and no Reptiles unless you count dragon!Eustace or the transformed Green Lady or whatever her title was in SC. Aslan doesn't seem to be fond of non-warmblooded life that isn't explicitly magical, alas.

(The merfolk in VDT do have hunting fish that are necesssarily at least as intelligent as falcons though, which was the coolest merfolk thing ever until China Mieville came up with hunting squid.)

Loquat said...

Well, he defeated a major threat to the world at the beginning of his reign and told everyone that he had done so, but only his most trusted minions were allowed to know that in fact Evil was only suppressed and might come back to destroy the world if he were killed. And then he made himself a god and ruled for a millennium, so by the time the heroes kill him, the few trusted minions who know the truth are people who've spent their lives worshiping him and are inclined to both hate his killers and see them as pawns of the Evil who should certainly NOT get any kind of help or additional information.

Isator Levi said...

Really, there's surely only one thing they should have tried to get Miraz to agree to their terms.

"Hang on a moment! If you agree to duel us... we'll give you a pizza."
"I have my entire army here waiting to crush you. That's not gonna work."
"Two pizzas!"
"I said no!" {charges with sword drawn}
"With stuffed crusts."

Amaryllis said...

Well, at least VODT has variety and change of scenery. It's not all endless wandering through the woods or highly dubious military shenanigans.

On the other hand, it has Lewis on Education and Colonialism and Democracy and Gender--- help.

On the third hand, some people love the ending (I admit to finding the imagery beautiful) while others think it's absolutely ridiculous.

On the fourth hand, Reepicheep.

And as for Eustace, what Brin said.

So yeah. Good times ahead.

Pqw said...

I think VDT is the only Narnia book besides LWW that I read more than once. Loved the imagery and at least some of the characters, although I don't remember which ones (It's been ~40 years.)

I only very vaguely remember SC and THaHB. Pretty sure I never read Prince Caspian or The Last Battle. I definitely didn't read The Magician's Nephew.

Tigerpetals said...

I remember loving the imagery in that book, moved and crying. I'm sure it did have problems, though.

UrsulaVernon said...

I reread VoDT recently and...sigh...I did sympathize with Eustace on a number of points. He's a jerk to Reepicheep, no question, which is pretty unforgivable, but he actually has a very valid set of complaints and his solution--he keeps asking to be taken to the British consulate, as you probably would if you found yourself in an unknown foreign country--is logical and consistent. And he basically gets portrayed as a wimp and Not Manly for getting seasick. Having been seasick...yeah, I'll vomit on the shoes of anyone who tells me I'm being a wimp.

He's whiny, which is one of the great sins in a protagonist, in my book, but yeah, he's pretty sympathetic, too.

Naomi said...

I haven't re-read A Swiftly Tilting Planet since childhood because even just what I remember was so riddled with racism. (What I remember: the critical importance of the BLUE EYES.) The fact that I'm sure there's plenty more I don't remember... yeah, I'll just leave that shining memory of childhood on the shelf with Anne McCaffrey.

Trynn said...

I've never read beyond the 2nd Book of the Wrinkle in Time series... I thought the second book was not as good as the first, though I couldn't put my finger on why.

Yeah, if only it were tha easy for me to blend in. I have Tourrettes Syndrome (for those of you who think that has to do with swearing, google coprolalia vs TS). You can't hide that. Even with medication (which never helped me personally anyway). As a kid, I was teased horribly, and this was AFTER my parents had talked to the teachers, and the teachers had talked to the students. The kids around me were well educated on the subject. Of course, some of them were decent about it. Really I think education is half the battle, but you get your exceptions.

I knew that "ignore it" is bad advice, and so did my dad, but he kept telling me that anyway. I was like, if you know it's bad advice, why keep telling me that?

It's gotten better as an adult, but I still don't fit in well, because TS isn't something I can hide.

JenL said...

There was a woman I worked with (for about a year) nearly a decade ago. I got the impression she didn't like me, but we had a civil working relationship. But her job (which I was training her to do) was somewhat stressful, and as she took on more and more responsibilities, she started clearing her throat when she was unhappy about something. And as that got more and more common, it started to bug me more and more that she would make a point of letting the entire office know she was unhappy about something, but wouldn't just come out and say it so that we could respond. I got to the point where I was about to say something, when it hit me that she probably wasn't choosing to do it... Can't say we got along any better after that, but I did manage to tune it out once I had it mentally classified as "stress" rather than "commentary".

Gabriella M said...

See also: Why the "It gets better" campaign for gay youth is so tragic and misguided.

Flying Squid with Goggles said...

Now I'm trying to imagine Vetinari ruling Narnia. Damn it, Keyton, this will distract me with glee from serious work for some time...

firefall said...

It also refers to the styling adopted by French & German monarchs referring back to the original Frankish monarchy by acclamation/election .. and I think brought the meaning of being 'one of the elect' into being.

firefall said...

I'd actually assumed, when I first read the book as a pre-teen, that Peter et al had been growing back to their pre-exile (i.e. end of LWW) bodies, rapidly, once they are back in Narnia. Based on nothing much now that I look at it, but it's the only way to make this (and the duel) plausible - even a 14 year old isn't going to be a serious threat to an experienced middle-aged warrior, unless in England he's kept up his sword&shield work and not lost the muscle and callouses needed to make even a slight fist of this.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

1. A Swiftly Tilting Planet aged the best for me of the three, but only because the writing was on a more grown-up level. The majority of L'Engle's books, at least in the Time "Trilogy", began making me feel talked-down-to once I was rereading them past, say, middle-school. (Then I went and found the one about the girl who gets shunted back in time and nearly becomes an Entirely Anachronistic And Historically Inaccurate Druidic Blood Sacrifice -- can't recall it's name, sorry -- and nearly threw it across the room for not just that but also the over all writing level being even more immature than Many Waters.) ASTP has its problems--whoa does it ever, ahoy there racism in the form of worship of European features and demonizing of dark, close-set eyes!--but I can reread it without feeling like I've stepped into the preschool library. Also, I love unicorns. So, ahoy there filters for problematic content!

2. OMG yes, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairland is having a non-subtle conversation with the Narnia chronicles, all right. But yes, you should all read it to find out why. Spoilering that book is unforgivable and there will be no statute of limitations on that.

3. Quoth Ana,

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.

And I'm suddenly reminded of Watership Down, and how Hazel comes out to meet the Efrafran army, and yeah, he's Chief Rabbit, but he doesn't say that, and he's limping. Un-threatening like woah. Which works really well, psychologically, in his warren's favor.

Paul Andinach said...

We've no idea how old Caspian is

One of the bits you quoted from last chapter includes Peter's first impression of Caspian as "a boy about his own age".

Paul Andinach said...

Also: Hi there! I've only recently discovered these posts, so this is the first time I've had something to say since I caught up. I'm really enjoying these posts and finding them very interesting (this includes the comment threads -- all you guys rock) .

Paul Andinach said...

Also: Hi there! I've only recently discovered these posts, so this is the first time I've had something to say since I caught up. I'm really enjoying these posts and finding them very interesting (this includes the comment threads -- all you guys rock) .

Paul Andinach said...

We've no idea how old Caspian is

One of the bits you quoted from last chapter includes Peter's first impression of Caspian as "a boy about his own age".

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