Narnia Recap: In which Lucy and Edmund are shown around the ship and we are introduced to King Caspian (as opposed to Prince Caspian from the previous book) and a reasonable amount of backstory is given in order to bring everyone up to speed on the plot.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 2: On Board the Dawn Treader
When we last left our royal children, they were discussing their route so far, in between the time they left Narnia and the time that Lucy and Edmund and Eustace were dropped into the sea.
[...] We left Redhaven six days ago and have made marvelously good speed, so that I hope to see the Lone Islands the day after tomorrow. The sum is, we are now nearly thirty days at sea and have sailed more than four hundred leagues from Narnia.”
“And after the Lone Islands?” said Lucy.
“No one knows, your Majesty,” answered Drinian. “Unless the Lone Islanders themselves can tell us.”
“They couldn’t in our days,” said Edmund.
“Then,” said Reepicheep, “it is after the Lone Islands that the adventure really begins.”
We talked last week about the problems inherent in the framing of the voyage of the Dawn Treader as a pleasure cruise or an adventure trip rather than as an effort that Caspian is making in order to help grow and enrich his kingdom. And I want to reiterate that there is nothing inherently wrong in finding pleasure in one's duty -- I can easily imagine that someone like Caspian or Lucy could find considerable pleasure in a sea trip while still maintaining first and foremost in their mind that what they are doing, they are doing for the good of their people.
But this is an Arthurian adventure, and so there will not be much (or really any) mentions of the people they have left behind and how, precisely, this trip is meant to benefit them. And this saddens me somewhat, because it changes the entire tenor of the book. When Aslan crowned Caspian in Prince Caspian, he made a point of asking Caspian if he felt ready to be king. Caspian told him that he was not, and Aslan pronounced his approval, saying that his answer proved he would be a good king. But there were no kingly lessons imparted to the ruler chosen by the god-lion, none of the usual "being a king means living for the good of your people" morals that often accompany chivalric tales.
I cannot help but contrast Narnia with Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar, which is a another fantasy property where benevolent spirits chose the country's rules. Valdemar is not without its problems, but it does at least try to impart the lesson that the Ideal Benevolent Monarch lives hir life for the people instead of for hir own pleasure:
Although I am the head of state, in truth I am the least,
The true Queen knows her people fed, before she sits to feast.
The good Queen knows her people safe, before she takes her rest,
Thinks twice and thrice and yet again, before she makes request.
Of course, even in the ideal version the queen isn't going to bed hungry just because there's a beggar in the kingdom, and she's not constantly in danger of disenfranchisement against her person just because the powerless in her realm are vulnerable to these things. But -- in theory at least -- she is supposed to be aware of these things and is supposed to be constantly working to address and redress these wrongs, and to leave the realm a better place than she found it. That is where the "ideal" part of the Ideal Benevolent Monarch comes from.
We've talked about how the voyage of the Dawn Treader could help Narnia, but there's not really an emphasis in the text on these things, nor any real reminders that Caspian is doing this as a duty instead of as a pleasure. And, indeed, by the end of the book he will have to be scolded quite a bit for wanting to sail on over the edge of the world into Aslan's country and never return because, hey, adventure. So I guess I'm glad that point was made, but I wish it were made a little more forcefully and with more idealistic reasons (i.e, because of Country and Duty and Responsibilities and Marginalized Peoples) than just because Aslan Says So.
Anyway, I digress.
Caspian now suggested that they might like to be shown over the ship before supper, but Lucy’s conscience smote her and she said, “I think I really must go and see Eustace. Seasickness is horrid, you know. If I had my old cordial with me I could cure him.”
“But you have,” said Caspian. “I’d quite forgotten about it. As you left it behind I thought it might be regarded as one of the royal treasures and so I brought it—if you think it ought to be wasted on a thing like seasickness.”
“It’ll only take a drop,” said Lucy.
So the magic cordial is a royal treasure that is invaluable to the Narnian state, and must be handled with care and never wasted, so Caspian brought it along on a sea cruise into the unknown where they have every real expectation of never returning. Of course.
What's even more interesting here is Caspian's contempt for sea-sickness, given that apparently not a single Telmarine on-board was a sailor before Caspian's coronation three years ago. I suppose three short years is enough time to build up a small navy -- the Dawn Treader, though small and spare, is supposed to be the biggest and finest ship Caspian has built -- and weed out those Telmarines which were brave enough to volunteer for the job but didn't have the constitution for sea life, but it's a pretty accelerated schedule, and you'd think Caspian would have a little more respect for debilitating sea-sickness than he actually does here.
Anyway, they go below deck to see Eustace and they see the oars:
Of course Caspian’s ship was not that horrible thing, a galley rowed by slaves. Oars were used only when wind failed or for getting in and out of harbor and everyone (except Reepicheep whose legs were too short) had often taken a turn. At each side of the ship the space under the benches was left clear for the rowers’ feet, but all down the center there was a kind of pit which went down to the very keel and this was filled with all kinds of things—sacks of flour, casks of water and beer, barrels of pork, jars of honey, skin bottles of wine, apples, nuts, cheeses, biscuits, turnips, sides of bacon. From the roof—that is, from the under side of the deck—hung hams and strings of onions, and also the men of the watch off-duty in their hammocks.
And now you know what they have to eat on-board, and that everyone on-board is either human or has the manual dexterity to row an oar (except our Token Animal, Reepicheep). Interestingly, there's not a lot there that Eustace will probably want to eat. We don't know if he's a vegan in addition to being a vegetarian, but he definitely won't want the beer, pork, wine, bacon, or ham and he may not want the honey or cheeses. The biscuits may have been made with animal fat, and therefore would also be out of his diet. And since this route is the only way to reach his bunk, presumably the stumbling and sick Eustace was forced to pass the pit of bacon and the swinging hams in order to get to bed.
Eustace, very green in the face, scowled and asked whether there was any sign of the storm getting less. But Caspian said, “What storm?” and Drinian burst out laughing.
“Storm, young master!” he roared. “This is as fair weather as a man could ask for.”
“Who’s that?” said Eustace irritably. “Send him away. His voice goes through my head.”
“I’ve brought you something that will make you feel better, Eustace,” said Lucy.
“Oh, go away and leave me alone,” growled Eustace. But he took a drop from her flask, and though he said it was beastly stuff (the smell in the cabin when she opened it was delicious) it is certain that his face came the right color a few moments after he had swallowed it, and he must have felt better because, instead of wailing about the storm and his head, he began demanding to be put ashore and said that at the first port he would “lodge a disposition” against them all with the British Consul. But when Reepicheep asked what a disposition was and how you lodged it (Reepicheep thought it was some new way of arranging a single combat) Eustace could only reply, “Fancy not knowing that.” In the end they succeeded in convincing Eustace that they were already sailing as fast as they could toward the nearest land they knew, and that they had no more power of sending him back to Cambridge—which was where Uncle Harold lived—than of sending him to the moon.
It's kind of subtle there in that paragraph, but in case you missed it: Eustace is wrong about things.
He's wrong about thinking that fair weather is like a storm, just because he's so susceptible to sea-sickness. (And once again it is a very strange thing that the land-native Telmarines would be so blase and unsympathetic about sea-sickness, given that absolutely none of them were raised on ships, but RETCON ACCOMPLISHED, I guess.) And he's presumably meant to be wrong for not wanting a bellowing laughing man in his room while suffering from the sea-sickness version of a migraine, although I personally sympathize. ("Baby, can we pretend Mommy is hungover?" is not an uncommon sentiment in this house when debilitating headaches hit, and is frequently directed at whichever cat is being noisy at the moment.)
Eustace is also apparently wrong about the cordial because it smells "delicious", although I would point out that the cordial is made from a flower extract and there are a number of flower extracts which smell terribly yummy and yet which are not remotely palatable (to my tastes, anyway). And of course he seems to get a little better in that he manages to start talking, and if he were really ill he wouldn't be able to demand that he be put off the ship and returned home, now would he? Oof.
I think we're also supposed to suspect that Eustace doesn't really know what it means to "lodge a disposition" and that he's just parroting something he's heard, given that he has no real answer for Reepicheep. Yet it strikes me that I'm not sure I would know how to explain, to pick something at random, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to a talking mouse, were I called upon to do so. There's so many things that need to be explained just in order for the conversation to take place at all, that it seems an almost insurmountable task.
It's interesting to me that no one ever mentions or again thinks on the wardrobe door that they know is in the Narnian forest near the lamp-post. Now, we don't exactly know what happened to Kirke's wardrobe out here in England, but the children must be reasonably certain that the doorway exists on the Narnian side, and they have presumably no reason to believe it has been closed. But there's no mention of turning around and heading back to Narnia, nor is there any idea that the children will go home via that route once the voyage of the Dawn Treader has successfully been completed. Apparently Narnia robs you so much of agency that you no longer consider these things and you just figure you'll go home whenever Aslan shows up to banish you.
The name of the ship was Dawn Treader. She was only a little bit of a thing compared with one of our ships, or even with the cogs, dromonds, carracks and galleons which Narnia had owned when Lucy and Edmund had reigned there under Peter as the High King, for nearly all navigation had died out in the reigns of Caspian’s ancestors. When his uncle, Miraz the usurper, had sent the seven lords to sea, they had had to buy a Galmian ship and man it with hired Galmian sailors. But now Caspian had begun to teach the Narnians to be sea-faring folk once more, and the Dawn Treader was the finest ship he had built yet. She was so small that, forward of the mast, there was hardly any deck room between the central hatch and the ship’s boat on one side and the hen-coop (Lucy fed the hens) on the other. But she was a beauty of her kind, a “lady” as sailors say, her lines perfect, her colors pure, and every spar and rope and pin lovingly made. Eustace of course would be pleased with nothing, and kept on boasting about liners and motorboats and aeroplanes and submarines (“As if he knew anything about them,” muttered Edmund), but the other two were delighted with the Dawn Treader,
Also, Eustace knows nothing about modern travel. Although I suppose Edmund is saying that he knows nothing about them in the sense that he lacks direct experience with them, rather than having no theoretical knowledge of them, since Eustace's passion for non-fiction books has already been well-established.
Incidentally, though I am familiar with the tradition of calling ships "she", I can find nothing on Google about calling ships "ladies". But I guess it's all well and good that the children aren't sailing on one of those slutty ships whose colors aren't pure and whose ropes were made for money rather than with love. (Oof, the sexual issues that I could unpack from that paragraph. Let's move on, instead.)
Although I will note that they brought live hens on board but couldn't be arsed to bring some Talking Birds that could serve as advance scouts. Why? It wouldn't have cost more to feed them; they already have bird feed on-board.
Anyway, let us move on to Eustace's diary:
“August 7th. Have now been twenty-four hours on this ghastly boat if it isn’t a dream. All the time a frightful storm has been raging (it’s a good thing I’m not seasick). Huge waves keep coming in over the front and I have seen the boat nearly go under any number of times. All the others pretend to take no notice of this, either from swank or because Harold says one of the most cowardly things ordinary people do is to shut their eyes to Facts.
Of course, this establishes that Eustace is either a knowing liar or is self-deceitful since the narrator has already informed us through Drinian that there is no storm except in Eustace's imagination.
It’s madness to come out into the sea in a rotten little thing like this. Not much bigger than a lifeboat. And, of course, absolutely primitive indoors. No proper saloon, no radio, no bathrooms, no deck-chairs. I was dragged all over it yesterday evening and it would make anyone sick to hear Caspian showing off his funny little toy boat as if it was the Queen Mary. I tried to tell him what real ships are like, but he’s too dense.
This, in itself, is a spiteful observation but not entirely an incorrect one. It is very foolhardy (note: not madness) to set out in such a small ship without any kind of advance scouts or support lines to make sure that the ship doesn't run out of provisions. Eventually in the novel, the crew will face going forward into the unknown or turning back because of a lack of provisions, and Caspian will choose to keep going forward and risk starvation rather than turn back. And, of course, the ship is fairly fragile and will at one point be nearly crushed into tinder by a sea-serpent. So there's that.
E. and L., of course, didn’t back me up. I suppose a kid like L. doesn’t realize the danger and E. is buttering up C. as everyone does here. They call him a King. I said I was a Republican but he had to ask me what that meant! He doesn’t seem to know anything at all.
And I suppose now is as good a time as any to notice that -- as best we can tell from the sparse world-building -- the Pevensies apparently didn't import their English ideas of a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary systems into Narnia when they were acting as (apparently) absolute monarchs of the theocratic Narnian state. And I find that somewhat interesting, since some Americans tend to mistakenly think that Britain is an absolute monarchy and that Queen Elizabeth II can, for example, order someone's head off at a whim a la the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Apparently -- or as best as I can tell -- Caspian and the Pevensies are absolute monarchs in Narnia in the same way that some Americans mistakenly think Queen Elizabeth II is in England. So that's kind of interesting.
Needless to say I’ve been put in the worst cabin of the boat, a perfect dungeon, and Lucy has been given a whole room on deck to herself, almost a nice room compared with the rest of this place. C. says that’s because she’s a girl. I tried to make him see what Alberta says, that all that sort of thing is really lowering girls but he was too dense. Still, he might see that I shall be ill if I’m kept in that hole any longer. E. says we mustn’t grumble because C. is sharing it with us himself to make room for L. As if that didn’t make it more crowded and far worse. Nearly forgot to say that there is also a kind of Mouse thing that gives everyone the most frightful cheek. The others can put up with it if they like but I shall twist his tail pretty soon if he tries it on me. The food is frightful too.”
And now we come to the bullying. Eustace has telegraphed in advance to the reader that he is going to bully Reepicheep and however much he may be provoked by his circumstances -- the sea-sickness, the arrogance and brashness of Caspian, the cramped living space, and the bad food -- it is not okay for him to bully the only other smaller person on board. So this is Eustace's Moral Event Horizon.
The trouble between Eustace and Reepicheep arrived even sooner than might have been expected. Before dinner next day, when the others were sitting round the table waiting (being at sea gives one a magnificent appetite), Eustace came rushing in, wringing his hand and shouting out:
“That little brute has half killed me. I insist on it being kept under control. I could bring an action against you, Caspian. I could order you to have it destroyed.”
At the same moment Reepicheep appeared. His sword was drawn and his whiskers looked very fierce but he was as polite as ever.
“I ask your pardons all,” he said, “and especially her Majesty’s. If I had known that he would take refuge here I would have awaited a more reasonable time for his correction.”
A couple of quick things. One is that the others have the leisure to wait around for dinner to be served. We never really get a sense of what Caspian and Edmund and Lucy do on the ship, if anything. This is an interesting omission, given that a lot of Tales At Sea stories explicitly focus on the exotic and different daily life that the children are allowed to experience. Clearing the table is a tedious everyday chore, but clearing the table on a rolling, pitching ship in the midst of a rough, choppy sea can be quite interesting indeed. And clambering around in the rigging is obviously the most exciting thing ever when you're not even certain what rigging is or how one would clamber about in it.
But from an Arthurian standpoint, this omission is perhaps understandable: if Lucy was clearing plates and Edmund was swabbing decks, they wouldn't be Exalted Kings and Queens, now would they? (I think they still would be, of course, but I'm uncertain how Lewis would see the matter.) Still, on such a small ship, it seems like everyone would need to be able to do their fair share. And later, during a storm, Drinian will tell Lucy et. al. to get below because "landsmen—and landswomen—are a nuisance to the crew" and she will obey. And this is very strange indeed given that Lucy has more experience on a ship than Drinian has, but I suppose we're not supposed to remember that?
My point; I have lost it. Anyway, I note from above that Eustace still does not seem to think that Reepicheep is a sentient being, and instead sees him as some kind of trained performing animal, based on the insistence that he could have Caspian "destroy" Reepicheep as a dangerous animal. That still doesn't make the bullying right -- indeed, it may make it worse, since it's really very uncool to abuse animals who don't have the ability to speak up and complain about the abuse to others -- but it makes it a little stranger in a sense. Eustace has been described as someone who likes animals, and who may be a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but he doesn't consider anything wrong with hurting a mouse. Is it because he thinks the mouse "belongs" to Caspian, and he's acting out against Caspian, or is it because he think that mice are not worthy of protection in the same way as, say, cows and sheep? I don't know. (And that's assuming that Lewis really thought through the characterization issues at all.)
What had really happened was this. Reepicheep, who never felt that the ship was getting on fast enough, loved to sit on the bulwarks far forward just beside the dragon’s head, gazing out at the eastern horizon and singing softly in his little chirruping voice the song the Dryad had made for him. He never held on to anything, however the ship pitched, and kept his balance with perfect ease; perhaps his long tail, hanging down to the deck inside the bulwarks, made this easier.
I just want to note that Reepicheep would not have had this tail had he not "vainly" asked Aslan to restore it after the Telmarine battle. Also, giving credit where credit is due, I love this characterization of Reepicheep gazing ahead of the ship and singing softly to himself. I really find that very endearing and lovely, and once again I am frustrated and sad that we don't have more Animals on board for this very reason: in order to personify the marginalized Narnians that this series has ostensibly been about.
Anyway, as soon as he saw that long tail hanging down—and perhaps it was rather tempting—he thought it would be delightful to catch hold of it, swing Reepicheep round by it once or twice upside-down, then run away and laugh. [...] It is not very easy to draw one’s sword when one is swinging round in the air by one’s tail, but [Reepicheep] did. And the next thing Eustace knew was two agonizing jabs in his hand which made him let go of the tail; and the next thing after that was that the Mouse had picked itself up again as if it were a ball bouncing off the deck, and there it was facing him, and a horrid long, bright, sharp thing like a skewer was waving to and fro within an inch of his stomach. [...]
“Why do you not draw your own sword, poltroon!” cheeped the Mouse. “Draw and fight or I’ll beat you black and blue with the flat.”
“I haven’t got one,” said Eustace. “I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in fighting.” [...]
“Then take that,” said Reepicheep, “and that—to teach you manners—and the respect due to a knight—and a Mouse—and a Mouse’s tail—” and at each word he gave Eustace a blow with the side of his rapier, which was thin, fine, dwarf-tempered steel and as supple and effective as a birch rod. Eustace (of course) was at a school where they didn’t have corporal punishment, so the sensation was quite new to him. That was why, in spite of having no sea-legs, it took him less than a minute to get off that forecastle and cover the whole length of the deck and burst in at the cabin door—still hotly pursued by Reepicheep. Indeed it seemed to Eustace that the rapier as well as the pursuit was hot. It might have been red-hot by the feel.
There was not much difficulty in settling the matter once Eustace realized that everyone took the idea of a duel seriously and heard Caspian offering to lend him a sword, and Drinian and Edmund discussing whether he ought to be handicapped in some way to make up for his being so much bigger than Reepicheep. He apologized sulkily and went off with Lucy to have his hand bathed and bandaged and then went to his bunk. He was careful to lie on his side.
I want to be very, very clear here: what Eustace does here is wrong.
It was wrong for him to physically abuse Reepicheep in the manner that he did. And it was wrong of him to brush the whole incident off as "a joke" that Reepicheep just doesn't have the necessary sense of humor to appreciate. This is a common tactic used by the privileged to disenfranchise the marginalized and it is bullying and harmful and wrong.
Yet what strikes me about this passage is that none of this wrongness is really meaningfully called out -- we don't hear why this is wrong, or receive any sense of how this is a common tactic used by the privileged to harm the marginalized. Instead, we get a passage about the vital importance of corporal punishment. Eustace "of course" goes to a school where the teachers and administrators do not hit him -- why "of course"? Lewis seems to be suggesting -- both here and in The Silver Chair -- that bullying is a direct consequence of not being physically struck as a child. There seems almost to be the implication of a one-to-one ratio: children who are not struck become bullies and children who are struck do not become bullies. That some children who are not struck do not become bullies, and some children who are struck may become bullies who strike other children, seems not to be imaginable in the world of Narnia or its associated alternate-history fictional England.
So instead of having this passage be about the Badness of Eustace and a sample of why he needs salvation and what must change in him in order for him to be considered morally redeemed, we are instead treated to a passage that seems more of an invective against non-spanking parents and teachers than one against bullies and bullying; Eustace "of course" isn't used to corporal punishment, and Lewis carefully and vividly describes with an exactness that is otherwise lacking from his narrative: the blade is "thin" and "fine" and "supple", the effect is like a "birch rod", the feel is "red-hot", and Eustace lies carefully on his side because of the residual sting of the attack.
The scene has a lavishness attending on the punishment itself -- rather than the reasons why the punishment was necessary or warranted -- that reminds me almost of erotica: the scene seems to exist almost entirely for the purpose of the punishment, with any flimsy excuse for why the punishment was necessary inserted into the writing after the fact. By which I mean that when Madam Has Been A Naughty Girl, we are not particularly expected to care what precisely warranted the punishment that is about to follow. And this impression of "punishment first, offense afterward" is reinforced by the almost inconsistent randomness of characterization that caused Eustace -- who has not been shown physically bullying anyone before, and who is said to be a vegetarian who likes animals -- to suddenly attack Reepicheep in the first place.
Of course, I am not suggesting that this scene in this children's book is intended to be erotic to the reader. But I do think it's important to point out the fact that the punishment seems to be the ultimate point of the scene, rather than the sin that preceded it.
On the face of it, Dawn Treader would seem intended as a salvation story with Eustace as the sinner and his redemption into the ways of Narnia as a spiritual climax within the book. Yet Eustace's sins are all over the map: he is a vegetarian, he is a social bully, he wears special underwear, he physically bullies Reepicheep, he espouses feminist ideals which he learned from his mother. Nothing ties his sins together coherently, and neither is his redemption focused on addressing whatever "first cause" is at the root of his badness. Eustace just is bad, for a whole slew of reasons, and he just is punished, in ways that do not thematically address his sins but are very lavishly described in their tortuousness nonetheless.
Eustace's beating by Reepicheep is the climax of Chapter 2, and is vividly described; his "redemption" from his magical dragon form will be just as vibrantly painful. How these experiences are meant to make him a better person, we aren't really told, and by avoiding any sense of cause-and-effect between Badness-to-Goodness, the punishments seem less like necessary evils which were sadly required in order to properly fix Eustace and more like exotic and interesting punishments that we are invited to partake in out of enjoyment.
And if that is the case, it's difficult for me to see how punishing a character for the pleasure in it is fundamentally different from what Eustace does here and now to little Reepicheep.