[Content Note: Bullying, Violence]
Narnia Recap: Peter and Miraz are going to fight to the death in a winner-take-all extravaganza event.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 14: How All Were Very Busy
Hello, everybody! Are you all excited to see that this book is still not finished? Are you maintaining MAXIMUM ENTHUSIASM for Prince Caspian? I know I am! I am so enthusiastic about Prince Caspian that at least four times this week I have thought, "You know, I need to finish those Prince Caspian posts," only to suddenly remember that I needed to wash the car or re-catalog the library or plan our vacation for next year or anything other than writing about Prince Caspian.
Ha ha, I kid. That was a little deconstructionist humor. I am totally on the edge of my seat in anticipation of this VERY EXCITING CHAPTER. How can I not be? Peter and Miraz are going to battle to the death, and we will all be genuinely very worried that Peter might lose. But because I don't want anyone sustaining mental or emotional damage from that stress, I will go ahead and let you all know that Peter will in fact be okay. (Whew!)
A LITTLE BEFORE TWO O'CLOCK TRUMPKIN and the Badger sat with the rest of the creatures at the wood's edge looking across at the gleaming line of Miraz's army which was about two arrow-shots away. In between, a square space of level grass had been staked for the combat. At the two far corners stood Glozelle and Sopespian with drawn swords. At the near corners were Giant Wimbleweather and the Bulgy Bear, who in spite of all their warnings was sucking his paws and looking, to tell the truth, uncommonly silly. To make up for this, Glenstorm on the right of the lists, stockstill except when he stamped a hind hoof occasionally on the turf, looked much more imposing than the Telmarine baron who faced him on the left.
Do you know what is fun about this opening paragraph? SO MUCH.
I love how C.S. Lewis still continues his aggressive Othering campaign of his non-human characters, here calling what I presume is Trufflehunter "the Badger" as though it hasn't already been established that there are multiple Badgers in the Narnian army, what with two of them standing sentry at Aslan's How just a couple of chapters ago. But who cares about which Badger was sitting with Trumpkin, am I right? It's not like the Animal characters are important in these books. Heck, I'm just surprised that Trumpkin hasn't been reduced yet again to "the Dwarf" considering that he's the only named dwarf left now that Nikabrik has been killed.
Continuing the theme of Othering the Narnian Animals as uninteresting and/or silly, we get to see "the Bulgy Bear" (which, again, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? There are three Bulgy Bears. Yes, it was established that the eldest one was picked as a marshal, but still, is it too much to ask that zie be referenced as an individual, like, "the eldest Bulgy Bear" or "the chosen Bulgy Bear" instead of just acting like the other two have stopped existing as far as the narrative is concerned?) sucking on his paws and looking totally silly and un-masculine and therefore utterly embarrassing to the Narnian cause, naturally. Honestly, I'm shocked that Caspian and the Pevensies don't commit ritual suicide right then and there rather than continue to lose face like this. Thank the assorted Narnian river gods that there's a scowly Centaur in the picture to lend everything the appropriate air of machismo, otherwise Narnia wouldn't be worth saving.
And here is a point: Husband and I went ahead and watched the Disney Prince Caspian movie this week because Blockbuster decided to mail it to us and I wanted to watch it once through before taking my usual rambling notes. And there's actually a little bit during the Peter/Miraz battle where the camera cuts away after Peter sustains a wound and there's a reaction shot to the Marshal Bulgy Bear and zie sucks hir paw into hir mouth out of concern for Peter. It's supposed to be a comedic cut, to lessen the tension a bit and retain that all-important PG-13 rating in a movie that has a higher body count than the last R movie we watched, and Husband (who hasn't read the books and wasn't expecting a 'silly' bear) did let out a chuckle. But there was something else going on in the movie, and while I'm sure I'll point it out again in the movie post, I want to talk about it here.
Because the movie -- which, by the way, was SO MUCH BETTER than this book, mostly because they just tossed the source material out on its head and rewrote everything -- didn't spend two or three chapters belaboring just how MONUMENTALLY SILLY the Bulgy Bears are, thus the scene didn't make it seem like the Bear in the reaction shot was being buffoonish. It looked like zie was just genuinely concerned for High King Peter, and was expressing that concern in an unreserved non-patriarchal manner. The scene became something very sweet and endearing, as well as undermining stereotypes: here's this big Bear that you think is going to have a deep voice and be as stoic and terrifying as the Minotaurs already characterized earlier, but instead the Bear is something deeply different from the stereotype. And I liked it. I actually felt like they took something that was just another example of Lewis being what I can only describe as a mean-spirited bully towards his own characters -- because, really, I cannot imagine any other reason for all this character-shaming that he's now devoted SO MANY WORDS to -- and turned it around to be a real Stereotypes Are Harmful And Wrong moment. Go, Disney.
"I wish Aslan had turned up before it came to this," said Trumpkin.
"So do I," said Trufflehunter. "But look behind you."
"Crows and crockery!" muttered the Dwarf as soon as he had done so. "What are they? Huge people -- beautiful people -- like gods and goddesses and giants. Hundreds and thousands of them, closing in behind us. What are they?"
"It's the Dryads and Hamadryads and Silvans," said Trufflehunter. "Aslan has waked them."
"Humph!" said the Dwarf. "That'll be very useful if the enemy try any treachery. But it won't help the High King very much if Miraz proves handier with his sword."
I think this really illustrates everything that's wrong with this chapter, and very possibly with the book entirely. And in more ways than one.
In the Disney movie, which I may or may not stop banging on about, the trees show up in the middle of the final climactic battle and are instrumental in turning the tide for the Narnian army. But here, they've shown up early and are now going to quietly sit in a corner while the fight commences. WHAT AN EXCITING ENTRANCE. And since nothing else is said about this for the time being, presumably the Narnians (who have never seen moving trees in their lives, or at least not for the past 300 years) and the Telmarines (who are so terrified of the trees that they assiduously avoid all forests) just take the arrival of the trees in stride. NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG.
Then there's the point, which I feel is underscored deliberately here, that the Narnians really are willing to give over their lives if Peter dies. I mean, I suppose Trumpkin's line could just mean that it won't help Peter because he'll be dead, but it seems like the sub-text of this conversation is that if Peter is defeated, the Narnians won't be 'treacherous' like the Telmarines soon will be. If that is the sub-text of this conversation, then the point is that Good Is Honorable and won't go back on the winner-take-all terms of the battle. But this isn't a battle over lands or titles; it's literally a battle for the survival of the Narnians. I am admittedly a Chaotic Good rebel with disdain for most Lawful systems, but it seems really pointless and stupid to me for an entire race to submit quietly to genocide because their chosen champion didn't manage to win the battle that they only suggested in the first place as a stalling tactic.
But moving away from alignment questions for the moment, I think it's worth noting here that the Lewis!Trees are essentially dryadic humanoids, and very attractive ones at that. The narrative has several times noted how human-like the trees look in their moving forms, and we'll see that again in the next chapter. And I think it's an interesting contrast that the Disney!Trees are, simply, trees. They look like trees. They walk like trees, with their roots curling in and out of the dirt. They fight as trees, letting their roots spring up out of the ground to attack soldiers and siege engines alike. They're deeply foreign, unlike us in every possible way, and yet a respected and meaningful part of Narnia, as well as instrumental to the Narnian victory. And to me, there's something really beautiful there, especially in a series where being human is a prerequisite to being a ruler or a protagonist.
It strikes me that Lewis' trees are humanoid for the same reason that his rulers are human and his Animals are ridiculed and his Centaurs and River Gods occupy a place of grudging respect: the more human you are in Lewis' Narnia, the better you are, with a few key exceptions (Aslan, Jadis, the Black Dwarves). Whereas you look at the Disney Narnia, the one they pretty much rewrote from scratch, and you have non-humanoids who are valued because of their unique and incredible differences. The trees are helpful in the final battle not because there are so many of them, or because the Telmarines are terrified of tree-colored humanoids, but because they are trees. Because trees can fight in ways that Centaurs and humans and Minotaurs and Badgers cannot.
The Badger said nothing, for now Peter and Miraz were entering the lists from opposite ends, both on foot, both in chain shirts, with helmets and shields. They advanced till they were close together. Both bowed and seemed to speak, but it was impossible to hear what they said. Next moment the two swords flashed in the sunlight. For a second the clash could be heard but it was immediately drowned because both armies began shouting like crowds at a football match.
WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN.
I'm trying to remain of good cheer throughout these, but the Constant Cozy is beginning to grate more than a little. "A football match"? "A football match"? Was there really that much of a concern that the children reading their Christian allegory before bedtime would be so terribly concerned for Peter's safety that we needed to liken the whole thing to a football match?
Anyway, we're going to fast-forward through Doctor Cornelius' play-by-play and Edmund's color commentary -- EXCITING THOUGH IT IS to be told what is happening in a battle not through direct narrative but through the voice of the guy sitting next to you who won't shut up -- to get on with it. Suffice to say that both Peter and Miraz get wounded and Edmund informs us that it is REALLY VERY CLOSE and Peter just might lose. Very exciting stuff, this.
[...] Peter staggered, slipped sideways, and fell on one knee. The roar of the Telmarines rose like the noise of the sea. "Now, Miraz," they yelled. "Now. Quick! Quick! Kill him." But indeed there was no need to egg the usurper on. He was on top of Peter already. Edmund bit his lips till the blood came, as the sword flashed down on Peter. It looked as if it would slash off his head. Thank heavens! it had glanced down his right shoulder. The Dwarf-wrought mail was sound and did not break.
A great shout arose from the Old Narnians. Miraz was down -- not struck by Peter, but face downward, having tripped on a tussock. Peter stepped back, waiting for him to rise.
"Oh bother, bother, bother," said Edmund to himself. "Need he be as gentlemanly as that? I suppose he must. Comes of being a Knight and a High King. I suppose it is what Aslan would like. But that brute will be up again in a minute and then -- "
See Peter fight. See Peter nearly get killed by the bloodthirsty usurper. See Peter distinguish himself as more honorable than the bloodthirsty usurper when he gets the chance to move in for the kill and honorably chooses not to. See how very chivalrous it all is.
And I feel like a bad person here, because my general reaction is somewhere between a sigh and a yawn. Peter is gooder than the goodest thing in goodsville, yeah? And he can't bloody well kill the bad guy, because pretty much the only way to kill a bad guy in battle is to go for the throat in a weak moment and that would be Wrong. So naturally, we're going to need a self-dispatching villain, and as you can see from the sentence break up there in Edmund's dialogue, we're about to get just that.
The thing is, this is a kids' book. I get that. Lewis didn't write this for some uppity feminist woman in the year of our gourd 2012 to come along and poke holes in everything and criticize his book. He wrote this for little children to hear chivalrous tales about a King Arthur figure that looks and acts and walks just like them and also hangs out with Jesus on the side and Jesus is also a furry lion. Oooooooh. So who am I to complain about this? I'm nobody special, that's who.
But I hate-hate-hate self-dispatching villains. I do, I can't help it. I hate how they conveniently die at the hands of their underlings or by flinging themselves off of cliffs in a ridiculous attempt to drag the hero to his death with them. And I especially hate how they manage to let the heroes be all heroic without having to get their hands dirty. I hate that.
Peter is fighting for the life of every Narnian there now is or ever will be. Every person in his army, every member of their families, every baby born to them now has their life dependent on his actions. Right now, there's a Centaur woman in the army watching this fight with baited breath, praying that her foal will see another dawn after this one. In the archer ranks behind her, there's a Dwarf who hopes that he will have the chance to return home and see his wife again. Deep within the How, there's a Badger working the supply lines and listening to the battle above and hoping against hope that he will live another day to see his eight siblings, his parents, and that nice boy Badger across the river whom he will finally work up the courage to ask out if he gets out of this battle alive.
There are hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of Narnians all over Narnia, and right now whether they live or die past today depends on whether a little boy from England can manage to kill a grown warrior who has him wounded and on the defensive. So naturally, the Right and Moral thing to do is to make sure the genocidal tyrant has the best possible chance to win as Peter can possibly give him.
I don't know, maybe that attitude makes me a bad person. Maybe it means I lack sufficient faith in Aslan's plan to show up at some point this century, or maybe that I lack the appropriate belief in Peter's ability to win a battle that he himself has deemed very probably unwinnable. MAYBE I JUST NEED TO CLAP MY HANDS AND BELIEVE. But whether I'm really deep down inside evil or lacking faith or just plain wrong, I can't help but feel that if I were a Narnian in this audience, I wouldn't be valuing chivalry. This wouldn't be a courtly game to me. My life would be at stake and the lives of my loved ones, and I'd want someone out there who could press the advantage and win whatever the cost to his or her 'honor'. Not because a slash-and-burn win-at-any-cost strategy is always right, but because in this moment I believe it is.
Anyway. We won't have to grapple with hard moral questions like the above, because LUCKILY Miraz has just hit his expiration date as a villain and the seal of freshness is about to pop.
But "that brute" never rose. The Lords Glozelle and Sopespian had their own plans ready. As soon as they saw their King down they leaped into the lists crying, "Treachery! Treachery! The Narnian traitor has stabbed him in the back while he lay helpless. To arms! To arms, Telmar!"
Peter hardly understood what was happening. [...] If all three had set upon him at once he would never have spoken again. But Glozelle stopped to stab his own King dead where he lay: "That's for your insult, this morning," he whispered as the blade went home. Peter swung to face Sopespian, slashed his legs from under him and, with the back-cut of the same stroke, walloped off his head. Edmund was now at his side crying, "Narnia! Narnia! The Lion!" The whole Telmarine army was rushing toward them. But now the Giant was stamping forward, stooping low and swinging his club. The Centaurs charged. Twang, twang behind and hiss, hiss overhead came the archery of Dwarfs. Trumpkin was fighting at his left. Full battle was joined.
"Come back, Reepicheep, you little ass!" shouted Peter. "You'll only be killed. This is no place for mice." But the ridiculous little creatures were dancing in and out among the feet of both armies, jabbing with their swords. Many a Telmarine warrior that day felt his foot suddenly pierced as if by a dozen skewers, hopped on one leg cursing the pain, and fell as often as not. If he fell, the mice finished him off; if he did not, someone else did.
One, as above, thank gods we didn't have to grapple with hard moral choices regarding the killing of Miraz. Two, thank more gods that the New Villains are so disorganized that they value getting a final quip in to a dying man over killing the head of the opposing army. PRIORITIES! Three, Edmund's battle call sounds kind of weak to me. I mean, I hate to criticize a little kid in the middle of a pitched battle, but "The Lion"? Oookay. But then again maybe he's in the same boat as I and am hoping that Aslan might get off his furry butt and do something useful in this novel. HERE, LION! DIN-DINS!
Four, I really really really want someone to explain to me WHY Sons of Adams are natural-born kings for Narnia. Because Peter has absolutely no excuse for being a wise-ass racist human who discounts the battle skills and talents of the smaller Animals. I mean, he was king of Narnia for how many years? At least a decade. And supposedly went into numerous battles. Maybe he didn't have fighting Mice then, but they had Dogs and Badgers and Beavers and Cats and Possums and Sugar Gliders, for crying out loud. I'm glad that Lewis actually does allow the Mice to distinguish themselves here and prove Peter wrong, but where is Peter coming from that he thinks its appropriate to discount the contributions of the smaller Animals, and to tell them how they can and cannot spend their lives in service to Narnia? How did he successfully rule even one day without learning to not be a condescending racist asshat? I'm starting to think the best thing the Narnians could do after this battle is dismantle the monarchy and set up a council of Animals.
[...] In a few minutes all Miraz's followers were running down to the Great River in the hope of crossing the bridge to the town of Beruna and there defending themselves behind ramparts and closed gates.
They reached the river, but there was no bridge. It had disappeared since yesterday. Then utter panic and horror fell upon them and they all surrendered.
But what had happened to the bridge?
You'll just have to wait and find out, won't you?