Narnia Recap: The Telmarines have surrendered to the Narnias. Also note: This is the last chapter of Prince Caspian and the last post on the book proper, before we move on to the BBC rendition and the Disney movie.
Prince Caspian, Chapter 15: Aslan Makes a Door In The Air
Next day messengers (who were chiefly squirrels and birds) were sent all over the country with a proclamation to the scattered Telmarines -- including, of course, the prisoners in Beruna. They were told that Caspian was now King and that Narnia would henceforth belong to the Talking Beasts and the Dwarfs and Dryads and Fauns and other creatures quite as much as to the men. Any who chose to stay under the new conditions might do so; but for those who did not like the idea, Aslan would provide another home.
The Telmarines have been beaten, and Narnia again belongs to the Narnians. But what are we going to do with the Telmarines?
This isn't an academic question, and a lot is riding on the answer. The Telmarine army is not tiny, and remains largely intact since they weren't beaten in battle so much as surrendered as soon as they found they could not outrun the trees. Furthermore, assuming that Miraz' son is still alive (though as far as I can see, neither the baby nor the mother are mentioned in this chapter, and have apparently gone back to the plot-ether from whence they emerged, and more on that in a minute), he could very easily become a focus for any opposition forces (like the corrupt advisers and generals who conspired to murder Miraz) looking to overthrow Caspian.
Casting an eye beyond the army and the castle residents, there's the genuine threat of civil unrest. The Narnians' numbers have been so decimated by 300 years of genocide that it was lately possible to pretend they never even existed. Even if the Telmarines haven't been reproductively fruitful on the whole (and there's nothing to suggest that they have not), they almost certainly vastly outnumber the remaining Narnians, and would be well-placed to carry out all kinds of racially motivated violence against their new neighbors when they emerge from their hiding places and try to live above-ground and out in the open as free peoples.
These threats of political intrigue, military coups, and civil unrest have to be neutralized if we're going to have a neat and tidy ending. It's not surprising to me, therefore, that Aslan (and Lewis) would hit upon the idea of voting all the Telmarines off the island. Emigration is a more realistic solution than having everyone suddenly willing to play nice; it's a neater solution than leaving young Prince Caspian with a deeply divided country on the precipice of civil war; and it's a cleaner solution than dragging out the guillotines and showing the defeated Telmarines what genocide looks like from the other end of the sword.
It's also a relatively realistic solution. Historically, emigration has been suggested both by the powerful and the powerless as a viable response to unsafety or dissatisfaction under a given regime. From the point of view of those satisfied with the regime, emigration allows all those "complainers" to exit the country and leave behind valuable resources such as land and goods. This "if you don't like America, then git out" mentality has historically been employed to the extremes of forceful deportation. From the point of view of those dissatisfied with the regime, emigration may still sometimes be viewed as a good thing since they can move either to a space more pleasing to them, or be involved in the creation of a new safe space entirely. This can be seen in the historical emigration of the Puritans, of the Randian rallying-cry of "Who is John Galt?", in the Davy Crockett quip that his constituents could "go to hell, and [he] would go to Texas".
Some of them, chiefly the young ones, had, like Caspian, heard stories of the Old Days and were delighted that they had come back. They were already making friends with the creatures. These all decided to stay in Narnia. But most of the older men, especially those who had been important under Miraz, were sulky and had no wish to live in a country where they could not rule the roost. "Live here with a lot of blooming performing animals! No fear," they said. "And ghosts too," some added with a shudder. "That's what those there Dryads really are. It's not canny." They were also suspicious. "I don't trust ‘em," they said. "Not with that awful Lion and all. He won't keep his claws off us long, you'll see." But then they were equally suspicious of his offer to give them a new home. "Take us off to his den and eat us one by one most likely," they muttered. And the more they talked to one another the sulkier and more suspicious they became. But on the appointed day more than half of them turned up.
But it's disappointing to me that this issue of emigration has been approached from this angle.
For starters, we have something approaching ageism here. The young Telmarines are presented as largely open-minded, while the older Telmarines are mostly racist. I realize that this is a children's novel slash instruction manual, but despite the presumed good intentions I reserve the right to be irked by this. Thanks to my Conservative Christan Childhood (CCC), I was an inordinately prejudiced child in many ways, and it took years of experience to jar me out of the thought patterns that had been drilled into me by my culture, so I find the generalization here (Youth is Good; Age is Bad) inaccurate. It is also completely unnecessary: there was no need for this age-division any more than there was for color-coded dwarves (Red is Good; Black is Bad). Lewis could have taken out the words "chiefly the young ones" and "most of the older men" from the preceding paragraph -- nine little words! -- and had the same concepts but minus the generalizations along age lines.
Secondly, it's more than passingly convenient that the Telmarines who are implied to make up the vast majority of the emigrants are painted with a ridiculously broad brush: they are superstitious, foolish, and racist, and are described with deeply prejudicial words like "sulky" and "suspicious" and "shudder" and "muttered". But hang on to this thought, because we'll get there in a moment. Let's keep pressing forward.
"You came into Narnia out of Telmar," said Aslan. "But you came into Telmar from another place. You do not belong to this world at all. You came hither, certain generations ago, out of that same world to which the High King Peter belongs." [...]
"You, Sir Caspian," said Aslan, "might have known that you could be no true King of Narnia unless, like the Kings of old, you were a son of Adam and came from the world of Adam's sons. And so you are. Many years ago in that world, in a deep sea of that world which is called the South Sea, a shipload of pirates was driven by storm on an island. And there they did as pirates would: killed the natives and took the native women for wives, and made palm wine, and drank and were drunk, and lay in the shade of the palm trees, and woke up and quarreled, and sometimes killed one another. And in one of these frays six were put to flight by the rest and fled with their women into the center of the island and up a mountain, and went, as they thought, into a cave to hide. But it was one of the magical places of that world, one of the chinks or chasms between that world and this. [...]
"And now," said Aslan, "you men and women of Telmar, will you go back to that island in the world of men from which your fathers first came? It is no bad place. The race of those pirates who first found it has died out, and it is without inhabitants. There are good wells of fresh water, and fruitful soil, and timber for building, and fish in the lagoons; and the other men of that world have not yet discovered it. The chasm is open for your return; but this I must warn you, that once you have gone through, it will close behind you forever. There will be no more commerce between the worlds by that door."
Please do not get me started on the "took the native women for wives" euphemism. I leave that to you dear readers in the comments because if I get started on that, we will never get through this chapter.
The island, which we shall call Ramlet (and isn't that amusing given the Elizabethan play which inspired this novel?), is empty. This is convenient, and reflects the Platonic Ideal of the emigration gambit. When moving to a new area and setting up your new safe space, it's so much easier when there aren't any natives around that need dislodging. Note, too, that the old inhabitants died out by providence. Then note that a number of Christians believed -- and some still do because I have met some -- that God used smallpox to kill the Native Americans to make room for his chosen people the Europeans. Now ask yourself how much you trust Aslan and the Emperor to not do exactly that.
A Telmarine steps forward to be the first to go through, and Aslan blesses him with a good future on the grounds that he spoke up first. I think this is supposed to be a reward for being brave and good-hearted and trusting, but please note that for all we know this guy is a horrible mass murderer who decided he had nothing to lose because the Telmarines were going to execute him anyway. (Possibly there is a spin-off opportunity here for a Narnia-inspired horror movie. The Ramlet lagoon would feature heavily in the promos, as it would provide the all-important hint at female nudity that American horror movies require by law, but without having to actually commit to anything, thus retaining that critical PG-13 rating.)
After he disappears through the "doorway", the Telmarines grumble that the doorway could be lethal, and the Pevensies step forward to act as a demonstration. We don't get to see anything after that, but the implication is that this is taken very seriously by all the Telmarines rather than assuming that the four children are sacrificial victims picked by the evil lion in order to trick them all into a bloodless suicide. We'll come back to the Pevensies in a moment, but I'd like to talk a little more about our emigrants.
I noted two things above that I said to hang on to: One, there is no mention of what happens to Miraz Jr. and his mother; and Two, the emigrant group simply cannot be 100% composed of racists, though that fact has been seriously glossed over. I held onto those things until now because I think it matters in terms of talking about what happens after the Pevensies leave and the book ends.
After the Pevensies leave, we are given to understand that a large number of Telmarines leave for Ramlet -- possibly more than half of the Telmar population, given how deeply racism and fear-of-the-other is entrenched in their society. The text makes most of these people out to be racist assholes who are positively champing at the bit to leave, but I have a hard time believing that can be so. I do accept that the Racist Asshole group would be heavily represented within the Emigrant group, but I do not think they comprise the entire group. Here is a highly stylized Venn diagram of what I mean:
Racist Assholes are going to chose, on an individual basis, whether to emigrate or stay as a habitant in Narnia. The text implicitly suggests that many of them do stay in Narnia with the line way up there about "more than half of [the dissatisfied] turned up". Presumably the remainder stayed behind, either because they weren't dissatisfied enough to leave or because they are intent on retaking Narnia. But the ones who choose to leave Narnia can't be the entirety of the emigrants because this situation is so much more complicated than that.
We aren't told the text of the message relayed by the birds and squirrels, only the summary, but there is no mention that the Telmarines who choose to stay behind will be allowed to keep their life, their liberty, or their property. We, the readers, feel relatively sure that they will because our heroes are the Good Guys, but how could the Telmarines know that? The majority of them have never seen or even heard of a Narnian, and the point was made in the last chapter that they're taught a version of history sanctioned by the Telmarine ruling class which is a complete fabrication. Way back in Chapter 4, it was hinted that young Prince Caspian had been hitherto taught that Narnia was empty when the Telmarines arrived, and indeed the Telmarines are so ignorant of their history that when they think Aslan intends to send them back to Telmar, they say "We don’t remember Telmar. We don’t know where it is. We don’t know what it is like."
There should be a non-negligible number of Telmarines who are simply concerned that they won't be treated fairly under the new regime of fantastical creatures they've never seen and don't know are the rightful owners of the land. Even if they did know Narnian history, they might understandably fixate on the fact that the last time the Narnians won a victory with the aid of Aslan, the newly installed child-rulers immediately embarked on a campaign to kill everyone associated with the old regime. (And that the four ancient Golden Age rulers before them had a very strong policy against human-fantastical hybrids thanks to those two very racist Beavers they had on staff, which means that those of mixed Narnian-Telmarine blood may be equally in danger from their new overlords.)
But beyond the people who are Racist Assholes and the people who Fear The Other, there are going to be emigrants who leave Narnia simply because they can't bear to see their loved ones go without them. And there will be habitants who do choose to stay for the wonderful fantastic new Narnia but who deeply miss the ones who left.
Probably C.S. Lewis would be alright with that. Possibly he would say it was The Whole Point, and that this emigration gambit has a deeper theological meaning than just a motivation to wrap everything up neatly. (Though if that were the case, he could have made it explicit rather than so deeply implicit that I'm pretty much fanficcing at this point.) Perhaps he would point to Luke, Chapter 12, where Jesus is said to state:
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
The Telmarines aren't divided in the sense of fighting under one roof, of course, but they are divided physically, in space and time, this once and for all eternity. Those Telmarines who leave shall never again return. The Telmarines who stay will never again see those who left; indeed, they won't even glimpse them arriving safely on the other side. There's no way this will divide cleanly. It's simply not possible that the Telmarines have been living in little isolated clans, and that each clan will choose as a whole whether to stay or go. Families and friends will be sundered forever. The "doorway" around which the Telmarines have crowded curiously should be a sight of tears and anguish and wailing as people make last-ditch attempts to change the minds of their loved ones.
There is a thought pattern which is in vogue among a few rare-but-vocal liberals, and it goes thusly: Whenever a red state like Texas does something particularly damaging to its people (like defund Planned Parenthood) these people like to fantasize about dividing the nation into two, and letting the red states go off and do whatever damaging things they take it in mind to do. When the people living in these states point out how horrible such a division would be for the people living in the red states, the flip answer is that they can always emigrate to a nice blue state. Easy!
As a Texan, this answer invariably frustrates me. It frustrates me for being intensely, damagingly ableist, classist, and clueless, but it also frustrates me because it is fundamentally dismissive. I don't want to leave Texas -- and I don't want to hand it over to people with hateful agendas -- because it is my home. I was raised here. I have lived here most of my life. Meaningful possessions that I cannot move (like my house!) are here; memories that I want to savor and relive are here. My family is here, and would not unanimously agree to leave in this hypothetical scenario. My job is here. My life is here. I have a connection to Texas that is something special and rare for me -- a connection that I simply would not have elsewhere.
I don't rightly own the land I live on in the Narnian sense of the word. God didn't cause my ancestors to spontaneously bubble out from the Texas soil. To paraphrase Wikipedia directly, "Spanish conquerors first arrived in the region now known as Texas in 1519, finding the region populated by various Native American tribes. During the period from 1519 to 1848, all or parts of Texas were claimed by six countries: France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America." Though Texan history is taught here in schools, it is frequently taught badly (though not yet to Mirazian levels of inaccuracy), and our monuments and memorials do not much fill in those gaps. (I have stood in the Alamo and wept at the loss of life, while still being deeply and utterly frustrated at how one-sided the tour guide presentation is.) But even so, this place is my home. I wouldn't want to leave my home just because a legion of fantastical armed-to-the-teeth ghosts suddenly swept in and gave me notice; and I would deeply mourn those of my family who did decide to leave forever in that scenario.
I said earlier that the emigration of Telmarines makes sense to me, that it's cleaner and easier and safer than allowing the Telmarines to stay where they are and foment revolution. But is it really neater in the long-run? When I try to imagine this scene from the point of view of the Telmarines, when I take into account their complete ignorance -- underscored at least three times in text -- and the army standing in the background, glowering at the cowed and superstitious Telmarines, and when I imagine the wails of the children and the parents and the grandparents as families are separated forever, never to see or even hear from one another again... I just don't know.
What is the likelihood that the remaining Telmarines will look back on this day in bitterness? The day when half of their population disappeared -- sons and daughters and mothers and fathers -- and no one can ever really be certain that they weren't all killed, that they weren't dumped into the ocean, or that the supposed island of Ramlet wasn't a fiction, or a deadly trap. I'm reminded, belatedly here, of Fred Clark's deconstruction of Left Behind and of his point that families members who are Gone Forever are not, functionally speaking, much different from Dead. Will the Telmarines, now Honorary Narnians, look back on the beginning of King Caspian the Tenth's reign as something bright and glorious, or will they call this the Coronation Day Massacre?
We the readers -- like the Narnians -- do not get to know what ultimately happens to the Telmarines. We don't get to peek in on Caspian's aunt Prunaprismia nor his little cousin Miraz Jr. For all Aslan's description of Ramlet as an island paradise capable of supporting a whole squadron of Swiss Family Robinsons and Robinson Crusoes, the place is utterly primitive. There are no tools, no medicines, no seed crops, no domesticated animals, nothing that the Telmarines -- who are not presented in the novel as a hunter-gatherer culture -- would need in order to recreate their daily lives or even ensure that they are sheltered, healthy, and well-fed. Assuming that this is a "today only" offer, how many of the Telmarines came to the mysterious gathering with bags packed, tools at hand, and belongings at the ready? How many of them will have the chance to retrieve these things before they leave?
I can see why the emigration is a good deal for the native Narnians. Half the population is cleared out, but their homes and their belongings are left behind for the Narnians to easily absorb. Assuming the remaining Telmarines get past their deep emotional wounds from losing half their friends and family, society can continue unchanged, only with half of its members effectively transmogrified into fantastical creatures.
But as a deal for Narnia as a whole, as a deal for both Narnians and the habitant Telmarines, I can't help but think that Aslan's emigration plan may be terribly short-sighted and deeply damaging to the soul of the country. And as a deal for the emigrating Telmarines, I worry that the very young and the very old, the women and the disabled, the weaker members of society who aren't Burly First Guy of the Order of Robinson Crusoe, that these members of society may fare very badly indeed on Ramlet, the Island of Many Unexplained Deaths.
Let's talk about the Pevensies, or we'll be here all night.
"Come on," said Peter suddenly to Edmund and Lucy. "Our time's up."
"What do you mean?" said Edmund.
"This way," said Susan, who seemed to know all about it. "Back into the trees. We've got to change."
"Change what?" asked Lucy.
"Our clothes, of course," said Susan. "Nice fools we'd look on the platform of an English station in these."
"But our other things are at Caspian's castle," said Edmund.
"No, they're not," said Peter, still leading the way into the thickest wood. "They're all here. They were brought down in bundles this morning. It's all arranged."
"Was that what Aslan was talking to you and Susan about this morning?" asked Lucy.
"Yes -- that and other things," said Peter, his face very solemn. "I can't tell it to you all. There were things he wanted to say to Su and me because we're not coming back to Narnia."
"Never?" cried Edmund and Lucy in dismay.
"Oh, you two are," answered Peter. "At least, from what he said, I'm pretty sure he means you to get back some day. But not Su and me. He says we're getting too old."
"Oh, Peter," said Lucy. "What awful bad luck. Can you bear it?"
"Well, I think I can," said Peter. "It's all rather different from what I thought. You'll understand when it comes to your last time. But, quick, here are our things."
I'm deeply sorry that we don't get to see this conversation between Peter and Susan and Aslan. I'm sorry that we don't even get a coherent summary of it, really, because Peter "can't tell it to [us] all". (Is this a reference to gnosis? An authorial cop-out? Something else?) And then there's the Puberty Rule in play: that Peter and Susan can't come back again to Narnia because they're "too old", that "once you start growing hair around your naughty bits, God doesn't want you anymore." Possibly it's an age of accountability thing. Possibly it's the idea that puberty wreaks havoc on the ability to see and sense fantastical things (fairies, unicorns, etc.). Possibly it reflects an authorial uncomfortableness with older and/or sexually aware protagonists. Possibly it just reflects that Lewis was getting tired of carrying around four protagonists when two or three would do the trick just as well.
But whatever the reason, we don't get an answer. I'm not sure the Pevensies get an answer. Peter seems pretty chill about it all, but Susan doesn't say a word about the Aslan conversation. And I'll note that in the Disney movie -- which is wonderfully sympathetic to Susan, in my opinion -- this whole scene is played out with her being brisk, practical, and obviously devastated. That gathering of their things up there? That's Susan accepting the inevitable and getting out of Dodge before she breaks down grieving. That's someone in mourning trying to rush through the motions of whatever they have to do so that they can hurry up and find a nice private place to fall to pieces. At least, that's how I read it and it seems as good a reason as any. Certainly Lewis doesn't seem interested in telling us how she takes it; we won't ever hear directly from Susan again and we'll only briefly see and hear of her through the viewpoints and judgments and biases of others. (Caveat: We will get a cameo of her in The Horse and His Boy, but ... well, we'll get there. We'll get there in time.)
Since this is pretty much the last we'll see of Susan, I'll take a moment to recommend here author-and-filker Seanan McGuire's "Wicked Girls" which calls out Susan specifically and never fails to bring tears to my eyes. (The CD is here and it's the most exquisitely melancholy and yet fiercely independent song I think I've ever heard. I recommend it.)
Susan and Lucy were queens, and they ruled well and proudly.
They honored their land and their lord, rang the bells long and loudly.
They never once asked to go back to their lives
To be children and chattel and mothers and wives,
But the land cast them out in a lesson that only one learned;
And one queen said 'I am not a toy', and she never returned.
At the end of the day, Susan really doesn't have a choice whether or not she returns to Narnia. For all the ink that is spilled over what she could have done to remain a "Friend of Narnia", or what she could do after The Last Battle to once again become a Friend of Narnia, ultimately it was never really up to her. She may have turned away from a willingness to return, but it was always entirely up to Aslan whether or not she would come. He pulled her into Narnia over her objections at the train station, and he is pushing her out again at the doorway in the air because he needs her to serve as an object-lesson in order to remove all those nasty Telmarines that are cluttering up his country. And years from now, despite having told them that they're "not coming back to Narnia", he yanks the Pevensies back again, and permanently, to New / Real / Platonic Narnia. And like all the moves to and from Narnia there is no communication, no consent, no consideration for the desires and feelings of the people involved.
Friends of Narnia, it seems, do not question the will of Aslan, and do not get uppity about being summoned and dismissed at his will without explanation. Friends of Narnia do not get so attached to things and people, either in Narnia or in England, such that these movements in space and time are things that cause them undue or burdensome concern: their friends will be back in Narnia/England when they return or -- if 1,300 years accidentally pass and everyone dies -- they'll make new ones. Friends of Narnia know not to get bogged down in little details like that. Friend of Narnia are, like the Telmarine emigrants and Telmarine habitants, good little pawns on the chessboard who don't mind being moved from setting to setting, never to see again the people they've left behind (or is it Left Behind?). The club requires a dedication to detachment that strikes me as almost inhuman, and which seems to me deeply disturbing.
I still don't think that Susan's ending in The Last Battle is a good one. But I'm not sure that her alternate hypothetical life as a Friend of Narnia is any better. Being left behind bereft of friends and family and loved ones seems pretty damn bad to me. But having to live a life without attachments because Aslan may take them all away at any time -- not just one or two or three lost to death but all of them, without warning or closure -- just like he took away Mr. Tumnus and the Beavers and Trumpkin and Trufflehunter and Prince Caspian and everyone else? Seems infinitely worse.