Narnia: Bully For You

[Content Note: Bullying, Ableism]

Narnia Recap: In which Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are pulled into Narnia through a picture on the wall, along with their annoying cousin Eustace Scrubb.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 1: The Picture in the Bedroom

Alrighty. I promised we'd get through Chapter 1 today, and I am nothing if not reliable (except when I'm not, which I think we can all agree doesn't count). And since we've been bouncing all over the place with Aunt Alberta and snippets from Chapter 2 and whatnot, I think it's best if we take it from the top for those of us who haven't read the book and are in danger of being left behind by too many time skips. So! From the beginning!

   THERE WAS A BOY CALLED EUSTACE Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and masters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.

Here is Eustace. You've already met him and his vegetarian ways, and we've talked a little about why his characterization so far is a problem (what with vegetarianism and unusual underwear not being, in themselves, morally bad things), and while I hope we can keep that in mind, I'd like to continue on and talk about where Eustace as a character really is unsympathetic.

   Eustace Clarence disliked his cousins the four Pevensies, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. But he was quite glad when he heard that Edmund and Lucy were coming to stay. For deep down inside him he liked bossing and bullying; and, though he was a puny little person who couldn’t have stood up even to Lucy, let alone Edmund, in a fight, he knew that there are dozens of ways to give people a bad time if you are in your own home and they are only visitors.

Incidentally, here is one of those parts where the narration seems ... a little off. I can quite imagine that Eustace wouldn't be able to stand up to Lucy in a fight, given that this very chapter will point out that she's a proud voyaging sea-faring queen and eventually A Horse and His Boy will assert that she's also a Lady of War in her own right. And, yes, she's in a child's body now but I would still put money against a girl-child with boatloads of hardened battle training against a boy-child of approximately the same age with no fighting experience whatsoever and who may not even be getting sufficient protein in his diet. But the narrator seems to consider Lucy to be some kind of measuring stick for weakness against which Eustace looks really-super-duper weak and that is weird to me. But hey, hold that thought because it will become relevant a little later in the post.

Eustace is, according to the narrator, a bully. Indeed, he is so much of a bully that he doesn't seem to have any friends, as not even the other bullies like him enough to call him Eustace or Scrubb or anything, really. (Although this may later be contradicted a bit in The Silver Chair but consistency is a hobgoblin according to some people you may or may not agree with. YMMV!) But we've seen in the past, specifically with Edmund in LWW, that our narrator is unreliable and cannot always be trusted, so let's reserve judgment on Eustace until we seem some actual evidence of this bullying and bossing.

   Edmund and Lucy tried not to grudge Susan her luck, but it was dreadful having to spend the summer holidays at their Aunt’s. “But it’s far worse for me,” said Edmund, “because you’ll at least have a room of your own and I shall have to share a bedroom with that record stinker, Eustace.”

The "luck" that Edmund and Lucy are trying not to begrudge Susan is the fact that she gets to go to America while the other two have to stay behind at the Scrubbs. And this is kind of an interesting piece of somewhat realistic characterization: sure, Susan has been thrown permanently from Narnia while Ed and Lu were given almost-a-promise that they would come back again, but that doesn't mean much when you're staring down the barrel at a summer-long stay at your relatives' house where you won't have a private bedroom (in the case of Edmund) and where you may not be eating food that you're accustomed to (since the Scrubbs may not choose to -- or may not be able to afford to -- serve meat at the dinner table for the two visiting children).

And I can understand finding this uncomfortable! There's certainly something to be said for trying different ways of life (if one can safely do so, in the absence of food intolerances, etc.) and for experiencing the viewpoints of another culture, but at the same time I absolutely respect the concept of preference, and I understand how helpless and powerless a person can feel -- especially a child -- when they've been placed against their will in a setting where they cannot even have familiar foods to put in their bodies.

But having said that, I cannot help but wonder if Eustace was going through much the same emotional turmoil last year, when he was sent to stay with the Pevensies. Did Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie make an effort to ensure that Eustace always had vegetarian dishes on hand? Were they willing and able to buy the brands that Eustace was used to? (Later, "Plumptree’s Vitaminized Nerve Food" will be name-dropped.)

For that matter, does Eustace know just how easy it is to make things unpleasant for a guest because he's been in that very position? A few paragraphs from now, we will learn that the Pevensies had a habit of taking off and leaving Eustace alone during his visit so that they could steal away and talk about Narnia in private. This action may not have been intended to make Eustace feel isolated and unwanted, but at the same time he must have noticed that his cousins were excluding him from their games. Did that exclusion hurt his feelings? Does his current distaste for fantasy games extend in any way from the fact that he's been historically excluded from them? In the above paragraph, Edmund will refer to Eustace -- in his own house, where he might well overhear -- as "that record stinker". As readers, we're faced with almost a chicken-and-egg problem: do the Pevensies ostracize and name-call Eustace because he bullies them or does Eustace bully them as a defensive mechanism to their ostracizing and name-calling?

And this is a tricky question. Because I absolutely do not mean to imply that all bullying goes two ways or that the victims of bullies brought the bullying on themselves or anything similar. It is entirely possible -- and I certainly think the narrator intends us -- to interpret all this as Eustace being the bully first, and the Pevensies withdrawing and snarking as a defensive response. However! A major hurdle here is that, as we continue through the book, there is so much verbal abuse heaped on Eustace that a line starts to blur a little in terms of who, precisely, is on the side of angels in this equation. It almost seems like everyone in this world -- including and especially the narrator -- is a bully, and that the only difference between a Good Bully and a Bad Bully is whether or not they're Aslan-Approved.

At least that's what the text is leading me to conclude.

A better writer, or at least a different writer, might have noticed this potential Unfortunate Implication and might have either toned down the narrator-Edmund-Caspian-Aslan-approved bullying or turned the story from a one-sided "and then Eustace the Bully became a better person" moral to one where both Eustace and the Pevensies realize that they've each been bullying the other, and subsequently learned to be kinder to one another all round. It would be cozy, sure, but it would also fit rather nicely with the characterization we've seen thus far: Edmund, after all, was the Designated Bully before Eustace tromped onto the scene, and he knows all too well what it's like to be both the Little Bullying One while still feeling excluded and verbally abused by someone older (in his case, Peter).

A reformed Edmund, cleansed by the blood of Jesus Aslan, might be capable of recognizing at the start of Dawn Treader that Eustace's bad behavior may stem from more complicated motives than just being a Bad Egg because he's been in that exact position. Or, in another version, Edmund might come to this realization later as part of the longer moral of the story, and thus also come to see that he has more learning and growing in Christ Aslan to do, so that he might next time recognize that other people, even Bad People, have the capability for goodness in them as well, and that God's The Emperor's grace isn't limited to just the Pevensies. That would be a moral worth teaching, I think.

But we don't really get that. Instead we get Bad Eustace now, and Good Eustace later. Edmund and Lucy will grow in Dawn Treader, but their emotional and spiritual growth doesn't really seem to be related to Eustace much at all. I consider that a shame, as it seems like a lost opportunity for a moral that I would approve of: that people are More Complicated Than They Appear and that treating them as people is the moral high ground in a way that returning bullying with more bullying is not.

(From the link, for those who don't click through and because I think it needs to be said:
But, despite the fact that I do not like Rick Santorum, and despite the fact that I find him to be a contemptible bully, I don't believe that he should himself be bullied in return.

And I'm not even interested in any sort of ethical debate about what he "deserves" or doesn't "deserve." It's just that I hate bullying—and meeting bullies with more bullying just entrenches a culture of bullying that normalizes abuse.
Emphasis mine.)

   They were in Lucy’s room, sitting on the edge of her bed and looking at a picture on the opposite wall. It was the only picture in the house that they liked.

We've already seen the purple-and-green dragon boat picture, so I'll skip over that.

   “Even looking is better than nothing,” said Lucy. “And she is such a very Narnian ship.”
   “Still playing your old game?” said Eustace Clarence, who had been listening outside the door and now came grinning into the room. Last year, when he had been staying with the Pevensies, he had managed to hear them all talking of Narnia and he loved teasing them about it. He thought of course that they were making it all up; and as he was far too stupid to make anything up himself, he did not approve of that.
   “You’re not wanted here,” said Edmund curtly.
   “I’m trying to think of a limerick,” said Eustace. “Something like this:
   “Some kids who played games about Narnia Got gradually balmier and balmier—”
   “Well Narnia and balmier don’t rhyme, to begin with,” said Lucy.
   “It’s an assonance,” said Eustace.
   “Don’t ask him what an assy-thingummy is,” said Edmund. “He’s only longing to be asked. Say nothing and perhaps he’ll go away.”
   Most boys, on meeting a reception like this, would either have cleared out or flared up. Eustace did neither. He just hung about grinning, and presently began talking again.

Let it be noted: C.S. Lewis does not approve of your new-fangled modern poetry. Get off his lawn.

What strikes me the most about this passage -- and I realize that I'm bringing my own experiences to the text, as do we all -- is the realization there at the end that a lot of children would have cleared out on meeting such blatant (but understandable) hostility from Edmund, yet Eustace does not. And the passage sticks with me because I knew children like this. Indeed, I was a child like this at times, in my own way. By which I mean I wasn't a bully, but I did hang around children who were hostile to me even though I knew they wanted me to leave. And I knew other children at church who simply couldn't be driven away no matter how hard it was made it clear to them that they were, for whatever reason, unwanted.

The thing is, though, those children -- they and I -- weren't bullies. We didn't hang around when we weren't wanted in an attempt to torment the others with our presence. We hung around in the face of hostile verbal abuse because we were lonely.

And so here, again, we have a problem with Lewis' attempts at show-and-tell. He's told us, very clearly, that Eustace is a bully. But he's showing us someone who seems less like a bully and more like a socially-awkward painfully-lonely child who seems to think that negative attention (i.e., abuse heaped on him by Edmund in response to Eustace's opening salvo of insults) is better than no attention (i.e., his cousins frequently sneaking off to talk about Narnia privately). That doesn't make Eustace's actions good, and it doesn't make them less harmful to the Pevensies -- Intent is not Magic -- but it can affect how the reader perceives Eustace.

To put it another way, Dawn Treader is something like a magical healing story. There is something wrong with Eustace, and it's up to Aslan and Narnia to fix it. The problem with Eustace is intangible -- spiritual or psychological or philosophical -- instead of a physical illness, but ultimately the story follows the same pattern: a flaw in Eustace must be fixed. But the exact cause of the flaw is important, because even if the symptoms (bullying others) are the same, different causes require different cures. If Eustace bullies because he wants to hurt others, that requires a very different approach than if Eustace bullies because he's lonely and he's internalized the idea that negative attention is better than nothing.

And, sure, in the latter case, turning Eustace into a dragon so that he can be useful to the company (tearing down trees for masts, scouting the ocean ahead, procuring livestock for food, etc.) and then seeing that his pitching in to help brings positive attention and that the positive attention is more rewarding than the negative attention he was scraping by on earlier will, possibly, do the job, but it's going to risk looking like seriously cruel overkill to a reader who may have been reading along in sympathy for the lonely boy up to that point. But then, this wouldn't be the first time that I've questioned Aslan's methodology SO THERE IS THAT.

   “Do you like that picture?” he asked.
   “For heaven’s sake don’t let him get started about Art and all that,” said Edmund hurriedly, but Lucy, who was very truthful, had already said, “Yes, I do. I like it very much.”
   “It’s a rotten picture,” said Eustace.
   “You won’t see it if you step outside,” said Edmund.
   “Why do you like it?” said Eustace to Lucy.
   “Well, for one thing,” said Lucy, “I like it because the ship looks as if it was really moving. And the water looks as if it was really wet. And the waves look as if they were really going up and down.”
   Of course Eustace knew lots of answers to this, but he didn’t say anything. The reason was that at that very moment he looked at the waves and saw that they did look very much indeed as if they were going up and down. He had only once been in a ship (and then only as far as the Isle of Wight) and had been horribly seasick. The look of the waves in the picture made him feel sick again. He turned rather green and tried another look. And then all three children were staring with open mouths.

C.S. Lewis is also not thrilled with your modern art. Why are you still on his lawn?

And I've included the above conversation as Exhibit B in my case that Eustace mostly just wants someone to talk to, and is just deeply, horribly, awfully inept at going about it. Again, it does not make his actions harmless -- I've been in the position Lucy is in now, of being demanded by a hostile person to justify my 'incorrect' likes and dislikes, and it is not a good thing to do to someone and can be a deeply aggressive act -- but it does mean that Eustace's characterization as told by the narrator is missing, I think, some very fundamental pieces to the puzzle.

I also want to note that this conversation -- Eustace prompting Lucy to describe her feelings -- is one of the few times in the Narnia series thus far in which someone has actually solicited a female character to talk about what's on her mind. I find that an interesting factoid, especially in light of the knowledge that Aunt Alberta is a feminist and has apparently tried to communicate feminist principles to her young son.

   What they were seeing may be hard to believe when you read it in print, but it was almost as hard to believe when you saw it happening. The things in the picture were moving. [...] And this was a windy day; but the wind was blowing out of the picture toward them. And suddenly with the wind came the noises—the swishing of waves and the slap of water against the ship’s sides and the creaking and the over-all high steady roar of air and water. But it was the smell, the wild, briny smell, which really convinced Lucy that she was not dreaming.
   “Stop it,” came Eustace’s voice, squeaky with fright and bad temper. “It’s some silly trick you two are playing. Stop it. I’ll tell Alberta—Ow!”
   The other two were much more accustomed to adventures, but, just exactly as Eustace Clarence said “Ow,” they both said “Ow” too. The reason was that a great cold, salt splash had broken right out of the frame and they were breathless from the smack of it, besides being wet through.
   [...] There was a second of struggling and shouting, and just as they thought they had got their balance a great blue roller surged up round them, swept them off their feet, and drew them down into the sea. Eustace’s despairing cry suddenly ended as the water got into his mouth.

This is now, for the record, the second time someone has been pulled into Narnia over their objections. Aslan may be godlike and ineffable, but I think it's also pretty clear that he has nothing but contempt for the concept of Informed Consent.

   When they came up again she saw a white figure diving off the ship’s side. Edmund was close beside her now, treading water, and had caught the arms of the howling Eustace. Then someone else, whose face was vaguely familiar, slipped an arm under her from the other side. [...] In reality the delay was not very long; they were waiting till the moment when she could be got on board the ship without being dashed against its side. [...] After her Edmund was heaved up, and then the miserable Eustace. Last of all came the stranger—a golden-headed boy some years older than herself.
   “Ca—Ca—Caspian!” gasped Lucy as soon as she had breath enough. For Caspian it was; Caspian, the boy king of Narnia whom they had helped to set on the throne during their last visit. Immediately Edmund recognized him too. All three shook hands and clapped one another on the back with great delight.

CASPIAN HAS GOLDEN HAIR. Two books in, and we finally get a description of Caspian that we can all hang our hats on. (Please remember when discussing in the comments: Caspian having blonde hair does not necessarily indicate the heritage of his pirate-men or island-women forebears. Genetics Are Complicated.) Ideally, this would have come back in Prince Caspian when he first showed up, but it's here now and we'll take it.

This scene confuses me, though, for a host of other reasons. When I was a child, I was terribly fond of sea-faring voyage books (possibly influenced by Dawn Treader itself). I read books like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and a whole stack of similar books where normal everyday girls went off to sea and did daring things and had adventures. (I'm also intrigued to note that the book has been re-released with a new and more adventurous cover. Both covers are, to my recollection, accurate to the contents, but they each paint a very different picture of what to expect.)

One of these many childhood books -- though possibly not Charlotte Doyle itself, based on the Google Books Search I just ran -- informed me that many sailors in That time period (you know, That one, the one that Caspian is in. The one that lasted 1,500 years or so with no new technological developments and had Arthurian Chivalry and Divine Rule of Kings and institutionalized misogyny and shiny suits of armor and duels between kings and rampant Orientalism and wooden ships that could sail to the world's end. That one.) couldn't swim. I seem to recall the protagonist passenger being surprised by this, and being informed that (a) swimming wouldn't save you if you fell from the rigging because the fall would probably kill you before drowning would, and (b) swimming wouldn't save you if you went overboard because the ship would out-distance you so fast that no one would be able to save you anyway (ships being notoriously hard to stop and throw into reverse gear, I suppose), so you might as well just drown fast rather than tread water for a rescue that wouldn't be coming.

I don't know if any of that is true, but it popped into my mind when Caspian went leaping overboard and the Dawn Treader apparently ground to a halt while ropes were got to sling around the English trio and a suitable moment was found in which to haul everyone up in relative comfort. Can anyone weigh in on the physics in this passage, because I have sort of a Twilight Van feeling for this scene.

   “But who is your friend?” said Caspian almost at once, turning to Eustace with his cheerful smile. But Eustace was crying much harder than any boy of his age has a right to cry when nothing worse than a wetting has happened to him, and would only yell out, “Let me go. Let me go back. I don’t like it.”
   “Let you go?” said Caspian. “But where?”
    Eustace rushed to the ship’s side, as if he expected to see the picture frame hanging above the sea, and perhaps a glimpse of Lucy’s bedroom. What he saw was blue waves flecked with foam, and paler blue sky, both spreading without a break to the horizon. Perhaps we can hardly blame him if his heart sank. He was promptly sick.

And here is where I justify what I said earlier about the narrator being a bully because I see red every time I read the above. There's a point at which a narrator stops relating facts and starts expressing horrible sickening nasty judgmental awfulness left and right, and if we weren't already past that with the whole vegetarian thing, we're well over the line now with the editorializing about Eustace crying "much harder than [he] has a right to be" when "nothing worse" than getting wet has happened to him because fuck that.

Eustace may not have the words to describe what has just happened to him, seeing that he doesn't have a lot of experience with the fantasy genre of literature, but he knows that something deeply strange, impossible, and traumatic has happened. Eustace has just been impossibly pulled into a painting. Either everything he knows about the world is suddenly terribly wrong or he's hallucinating in a very real and terrifying sense of the word. We don't know if Eustace knows how to swim, but we do know from the text that he "clutched at [Lucy] in a panic" and despite her excellent swimming skills, they both went under water due to Eustace's panicked thrashing. Eustace was then kept in the water until Lucy's "face got blue and her teeth chattered", which means that presumably Eustace was just as chilled to the bone. And then they were pulled up on-board, getting banged up and bruised in the process (Lucy's knee is bruised), and probably getting rope-burn under their arms.

Now Eustace is on a ship, and he knows from experience that sea-travel makes him excessively and painfully sick. And in addition to the fact that it should not be possible for them to be there, there is also no apparent way for him to leave.

Crying is not a shameful response in any case, and I'm absolutely not on board with Lewis using crying to age-shame and gender-shame Eustace and, by extension, his readership. But even if crying is not a reaction that a particular someone is usually prone to, crying on the realization that you're in a place that hurts you, after experiencing a good deal of hurt already, and against your will, with no way to leave, and the whole thing is impossible to boot seems like a very moderate reaction to me. Were I in Eustace's place, there might well be a much more emotional response on my part than a good comforting cry.

But instead the narrator indulges in a moment to point and sneer at Eustace for being a Big Girly Baby and that -- more than anything else Eustace has said or done to the Pevensies thus far -- is bullying. Plain and simple. 

   Rynelf returned with the spiced wine steaming in a flagon and four silver cups. It was just what one wanted, and as Lucy and Edmund sipped it they could feel the warmth going right down to their toes. But Eustace made faces and spluttered and spat it out and was sick again and began to cry again and asked if they hadn’t any Plumptree’s Vitaminized Nerve Food and could it be made with distilled water and anyway he insisted on being put ashore at the next station.
   “This is a merry shipmate you’ve brought us, Brother,” whispered Caspian to Edmund with a chuckle; but before he could say anything more Eustace burst out again.

The statement "sick again" might fly by you there, but I'm pretty sure that's a euphemism in text for vomiting. So Eustace has vomited once -- from a combination of seasickness, physical trauma, and emotional anxiety -- and now he has vomited a second time from the addition of an unusual drink that he's not used to. (Discussion question: What if the Scrubbs' vegetarianism stemmed from food intolerances rather than political liberalism, war rationing, and/or financial difficulties?)

Beyond anything else, Eustace is at risk for dangerous dehydration (from the vomiting) and hypothermia (from the cold sea and wet clothes). So, very naturally, Caspian feels like this is a good time to share a quiet joke with Edmund at Eustace's expense while Eustace is doubled over spewing his stomach contents onto the deck. It's a comedic scene!

We talked last week about how much it sucks to be a woman in an Arthurian world. AND THIS IS CERTAINLY TRUE. But there's a larger picture here in that it also sucks to be the wrong kind of man in an Arthurian world. Specifically, it sucks to be a "girly" man in an Arthurian world, by which we mean a man who fails to conform to gender stereotypes.

Caspian doesn't know that Eustace is a bully. He doesn't know that Eustace hates Narnia or that he torments his cousins whenever they come to visit. Literally the only thing Caspian has seen of Eustace so far is the boy asking to be let go, the boy crying copiously, and the boy vomiting twice after suffering obvious severe physical and emotional trauma. Under the circumstances, it seems downright cruel for Caspian to be mocking a boy who is younger than himself for responding in a very natural way to deeply distressing circumstances. But the key here is that Caspian has seen enough of Eustace to peg him as an Acceptable Target: not because he's a bully, but because he's insufficiently masculine.

In Chapter 1, we're told that Eustace is a vegetarian, preferring vegetables and drinks with frilly names like Plumptree’s Vitaminized Nerve Food to hearty meat and thick wine. We're told that Eustace wears unusual underwear, and that he refuses to smoke or drink. He prefers education and learning to fantasy and games. His mother is an outspoken feminist and he has already started to absorb some of her feminist teachings. He is "a puny little person" who "couldn't have stood up to Lucy ... in a fight". He speaks with authority on art and poetry, including modern theory of the same. He gets seasick. He cries. He vomits.

All of Eustace's characterization points to a boy who adheres closer to the stereotypically feminine rather than to the stereotypically masculine. Even the things that make him genuinely unpleasant -- the bullying of house guests -- is coded feminine, because his bullying comes out through subtle social bullying, by using poetry to aggress against his cousins and by engaging with them in conversations about art so that he can emotionally undermine their preferences with his criticism. Those are bullying methods that are more subtle and less straightforward than, say, direct physical aggression.

By the end of the book, Eustace will have swung from the mistaken path of the feminine and will have adopted more suitably masculine ways. He will eat meat and drink wine, and he'll run about waving his phallic weapon -- Caspian's "second-best sword", no less -- with the rest of the men on board. His response to threatening situations in the real world will become less verbal and more appropriately physical, as in The Silver Chair when he and Jill Pole beat the stuffing out the school bullies not with words but with weapons. Lucy may be the one to physically wear Caspian's clothes (at least until hers dry out), but Eustace will metaphorically take on the clothes of a Real Man before the journey is over as part of his ultimate redemption.

But for now, Eustace is more feminine than masculine. He is crying and shivering and sick. And that is why Caspian makes fun of him: not because he knows Eustace to be a bully (he doesn't; he can't), but because he sees Eustace as a weakling. And that -- more than anything else Eustace has said or done to the Pevensies thus far -- is bullying. Plain and simple.

   [Eustace] really had some excuse this time for feeling a little surprised. Something very curious indeed had come out of the cabin in the poop and was slowly approaching them. You might call it—and indeed it was—a Mouse. But then it was a Mouse on its hind legs and stood about two feet high. [...] Lucy longed, as she had always done, to take Reepicheep up in her arms and cuddle him. But this, as she well knew, was a pleasure she could never have: it would have offended him deeply. Instead, she went down on one knee to talk to him.

Narnia, as noted, is all about contempt for consent, so I think it's worth noting here that at the very end of the novel, when Lucy knows she will never see Reepicheep again and therefore won't have to face any consequences for him being upset with her, will pick Reepicheep up against his will and hug the stuffing out of him. Because that is how a good queen behaves to a subject who has been her friend and loyal companion a dozen times over: by forcing her physical affections on him against his deeply-held objections.

More on that when we get there, I suppose.

From a world-building standpoint, this unfulfilled yearning on the part of Lucy makes me think that a number of Animals -- here I'm thinking Dogs and Cats and the like -- back on the mainland could well make a very good living being Comfort Companions for humans. Just imagine the boon to the field of psychological health that would be, having sentient Animals who could assist as caretakers for disabled, depressed, or otherwise traumatized people and who could also provide all the benefits of being a warm, furry body to pet and coddle.

Of course, that would assume that Narnian culture allows for people with psychological damage to seek treatment for their disabilities, rather than being shamed for being Big Girly Crybabies or whatever. 

   Reepicheep put forward his left leg, drew back his right, bowed, kissed her hand, straightened himself, twirled his whiskers, and said in his shrill, piping voice:
   “My humble duty to your Majesty. And to King Edmund, too.” (Here he bowed again.) “Nothing except your Majesties’ presence was lacking to this glorious venture.”
   “Ugh, take it away,” wailed Eustace. “I hate mice. And I never could bear performing animals. They’re silly and vulgar and—and sentimental.”
   [...] At this moment Lucy and Edmund both sneezed.
   “What a fool I am to keep you all standing here in your wet things,” said Caspian. “Come on below and get changed. I’ll give you my cabin of course, Lucy, but I’m afraid we have no women’s clothes on board. You’ll have to make do with some of mine. Lead the way, Reepicheep, like a good fellow.”
   “To the convenience of a lady,” said Reepicheep, “even a question of honor must give way—at least for the moment—” and here he looked very hard at Eustace. But Caspian hustled them on and in a few minutes Lucy found herself passing through the door into the stern cabin. [...] She felt quite sure they were in for a lovely time.

I don't really have anything to add to this. Eustace is coming from a very different culture in terms of the ethical treatment of animals, but none of that excuses the fact that he behaves truly horribly to Reepicheep and physically bullies him in a deeply distressing manner. That is not okay, and I have no intention of trying to excuse or justify it.

What I will say, though, is that despite what the narrative would have us believe, Eustace is not alone in his bullying of Reepicheep. We've already noted that Reepicheep is the only Animal who was allowed to come on the voyage, and there's some indication in the text that this exception may have only been made as a combination of Reepicheep's status as a celebrated war hero and the fact that it's possible that an Aslan-approved prophecy demanded that he be allowed to come along.

In addition to the racism that must have kept the other Animals off the ship -- since I cannot believe no other Animals wanted to come or were qualified to come, and more than a few species would have been incredibly helpful for navigation, scouting ahead, etc. while also being more self-sufficient in terms of food supply than the human sailors are -- the text continues the trend seen in Prince Caspian of poking fun (both in narration and dialogue) at the Mouse as being silly, ridiculous, and frequently just plain wrong-headed.

We've already seen how King Peter was so amused at the Mouse's request to be a marshal at the duel for Narnia's future (as if a silly little Mouse would be anywhere near impressive enough for such an important post!), and we've seen how Aslan and his following were so amused at the request to have his tail healed (as though it were anything more than a vanity, and would everyone else like another round of meaningless titles? They're Buy-One-Get-One-Free today as a Coronation Day Sale event!).  And we'll see more of that in spades as this book continues.

What the author seems not to understand is that the culture of bullying that makes it acceptable to belittle Eustace until he conforms more closely to the ideal of a Real Man, is the same culture of bullying that makes is okay for Caspian to roll his eyes every time he addresses the silly little Mouse, just as it's the same culture of bullying that makes Eustace think he can honestly get away with physically bullying the silly little Mouse.

Both Caspian and Eustace bully others. The problem is that the narrative only ever criticizes Eustace for it.


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depizan said...

Note: discussing fictional bullying and what constitutes it is different than discussing real bullying.

You've hit on more of that awkward gap between what we're told (Eustace is a bully) and what we're shown (he and the Pevensies dislike each other and are assholes to each other). There's a power aspect to bullying that just doesn't seem present here, but is very present later when Eustace is stuck on the Dawn Treader with a bunch of people who more accurately -can- be said to be bullying him. They have power over him, mistreat him, and he has no recourse. That matches up much better to how I felt in situations in which I was bullied as a child. Eustace is a jerk, maybe, but he's not even using the power he might have since it's his house in the scene we get. He's not finding ways to get them in trouble with his parents - who would, of course, believe him over them, he's not taking advantage of knowing the area to get them hurt or lost or dirty, he's not putting bugs in their beds and blaming it on them, or any of the other things a bully could do in his situation. He's not even bossing them around.

Maybe this is some sort of definition gap, maybe it's Lewis's coziness getting in the way, but it seems really odd.

Daniel Copeland said...

CASPIAN HAS GOLDEN HAIR. Two books in, and we finally get a description of Caspian that we can all hang our hats on. (Please remember when discussing in the comments: Caspian having blonde hair does not necessarily indicate the heritage of his pirate-men or island-women forebears. Genetics Are Complicated.) Ideally, this would have come back in Prince Caspian when he first showed up, but it's here now and we'll take it.
Gold is a persistent motif in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as knighthood is in Prince Caspian. You'll notice that the depiction of Aslan in Caspian's cabin is golden, whereas heraldic Lions elsewhere in Narnia tend to be red. I presume that's where Caspian's gold hair comes from.
C. S. Lewis tended to throw his manuscripts out once the book was published, and this is far from the only place in his works where book-to-book consistency flies out of the window. It's almost to the point where each Narnia book could be considered a work of fanfiction with respect to the previous ones. It can get very frustrating if you're trying to read Narnia as a "filled-in" or realistic world. I'm forced to agree with the school of Narnia criticism that holds that Lewis had a separate atmosphere and a separate set of ideas in mind for each book.

bekabot said...

"Eustace is a jerk, maybe, but he's not even using the power he might have since it's his house in the scene we get. He's not finding ways to get them in trouble with his parents - who would, of course, believe him over them, he's not taking advantage of knowing the area to get them hurt or lost or dirty, he's not putting bugs in their beds and blaming it on them, or any of the other things a bully could do in his situation. He's not even bossing them around."

I agree with this, more or less. When I first read Voyage of the Dawn Treader in my early teens, it crossed my mind that Lewis had a different definition of what a "bully" was than I did. Eustace may be a bully when interacting with children other than his cousins, but in this book he interacts only with his cousins and he doesn't act like a bully around them. (If anything, Eustace acts like something of a victim around the Pevensies and my guess is that that may have been the foundation of Lewis's real gripe against him.) The Eustace we meet first is disagreeable and snide and cringeworthy, and he doesn't know how to put his best side forward, assuming he has one. But he doesn't try to push his cousins around: if anything the pushing goes the other way.

In the passage cited above, Eustace asks the Pevensie kids a bunch of questions about whether they're still playing their old game and what they think about the picture on the wall, that's all. Though it's true that these questions might be deemed invasive and though they could be interpreted as the opening gambits of a deep plot Eustace has laid to get his cousins to do or say the wrong thing, it takes a truly paranoid reader (me) to read them that way right off the bat in the absence of any authorial hints that such a plot exists. Let's say that Eustace's questions are nosy. Edmund and Lucy are perfectly free to respond to them with "Eustace, your questions are nosy and we don't want to answer them; funny you should suddenly get so interested in Narnia when you never seemed to care about it before". (Remember that Edmund and Lucy are supposed to be straightforward children whereas Eustace is supposed to be the twisty one.) Instead they come up with all this "you're not wanted here" and "you won't see the picture if you step out of the room" and they plaster it all over Eustace in his own house. Under his own roof. I suppose it's a matter of opinion whether or not this constitutes bullying but most people would agree that it constitutes rudeness.

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