Narnia Recap: In which Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reepicheep are captured by slavers.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 3: The Lone Islands
I have to say that my favorite part of deconstructing is the fan-fixing that goes on in the comments. If you're not reading the comments, you're missing a whole barrel full of fanficcy fun. We've already come to the following tentative fan-conclusions:
1. The picture of the Dawn Treader which pulled the children in to Narnia looks Narnian not by chance but because it was painted by Polly (of the Magician's Nephew) and framed by Professor Digory with the same wood used to make the magical wardrobe.
2. The picture was given to Alberta by Professor Digory. Alberta's relation to Digory is that her sister Helen's boyfriend (John Pevensie) and her own future husband (Harold Scrubb) were students of Professor Digory at university. Alberta met the Professor briefly at his home, when he arranged for her to stumble into Narnia. Alberta, Helen, John, and Harold were intended by Narnia magic to be the four human rulers who would end the 100-year winter, but Alberta refused to eat the White Witch's food (thereby refusing to take Edmund's role) and vowed not to return after being warned away by a Talking Animal (thereby refusing to take Lucy's role). Digory gave her the picture in an attempt either to needle her further or to try to embroil her in Narnia after all; Alberta shut the picture up in the guest room and Narnia had to make do with the next available set of four humans to stay in Digory's house.
3. Alberta's rejection of Narnia informed all her "bad" character traits: she avoids mention of fantasy, and her vegetarianism, socialism, and alternative underwear is a response to the ethics of eating animals once she's met a Talking Animal, as well as an attempt to solve world-hunger after hearing that the White Witch is starving the Narnians with eternal winter. Alberta also invites the Pevensie children to visit out of concern for them after Eustace reported their strange fantasy games and their lingering depression (since Eustace met them either after they'd been booted out the first time, or after Susan and Peter had been permanently exiled).
4. Sometime after Eustace returns from the Dawn Treader and becomes estranged from Alberta, she strikes up a relationship with her niece Susan Pevensie, who dejectedly confides that she dislikes being treated like a child after having once been an adult in Narnia. Alberta helps the girl take an interest in 'dressing older' (with lipsticks and nylons) so that she might be treated at the age she feels comfortable with. Alberta and Susan additionally comfort one another after the railway accident in The Last Battle which takes from them Alberta's sister and son, and Susan's parents and siblings.
5. Meanwhile, in Narnia, it has been speculated that Caspian being able to go off on this trip at all (for an extended period, with no way to communicate with those back home, and with no real expectation of returning since no one else has been able to do so before) is that Trumpkin (a leadership figure for the Old Narnians) and Cornelius (a leadership figure for the New Narnians, as someone with mixed-race parentage who has spent a great deal of time in Telmarine culture) have been effectively wielding power while Caspian was off having adventures and fighting giants, and now that the northern campaign has ended, the adventurous -- and politically dangerous, given his slight of the Duke of Galma's daughter -- boy has been sent off with a number of Telmarine lords, adventurers, and malcontents in order to keep the peace. No Old Narnians -- save Reepicheep -- have volunteered for the journey on the grounds that it's an obvious snipe hunt with a low expected survival rate.
6. And Reepicheep is unusual amongst the Talking Animals because he is long-lived enough to have been prophesied over as a baby by a Dryad before the trees went silent during the occupation of the Telmarines. And this is why Reepicheep has such unusual ideals of honor and chivalry because he grew up in the Golden Age after the Pevensies, rather than during the Telmarine occupation when guerrilla warfare was the name of the survivalist game. (When Aslan told Reepicheep that the Mice had forgotten what they did for him at the Stone Table, he was forgetting that Reepicheep is almost as old as that event. But Aslan gets stuff wrong half the time anyway.)
Now tell me that all that is not awesome. Because I think it so very much is. You are all amazing.
But on to Chapter 3! In which everything is very cozy and nice, and sometimes more than a little confusing.
“LAND IN SIGHT,” SHOUTED THE MAN IN the bows.
Lucy, who had been talking to Rhince on the poop, came pattering down the ladder and raced forward. [...] there, a little way off on the starboard bow, was the nearest of the Lone Islands, Felimath, like a low green hill in the sea, and behind it, further off, the gray slopes of its sister Doorn.
“Same old Felimath! Same old Doorn,” said Lucy, clapping her hands. “Oh—Edmund, how long it is since you and I saw them last!”
I unexpectedly like this; it reminds me somehow of Marianne in Austen's Sense and Sensibility:
Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. "Dear, dear Norland!" said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; "when shall I cease to regret you, when learn to feel a home elsewhere! Oh, happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence, perhaps, I may view you no more! And you, ye well-known trees! — but you will continue the same. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! No; you will continue the same, unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! But who will remain to enjoy you?"
It's debatable how much we're meant to entirely agree with Marianne here; of the two sisters, I do believe that Elinor is the one who is supposed to be the most 'correct' and Marianne the one who has the most growing and learning and changing to do. But I do think that we are intended to empathize at least with Marianne's sentiment here of missing the soon-to-no-longer-be her home: Norland was her home for a very long time, and now she may never see it again. And even if she does see it again, it will be as a guest rather than as an owner, and those can be two very different things.
In a way, Lucy and Edmund are in a similar position. When they left Narnia, they left without any awareness of when or if they would ever see it again. The people they left behind surely mourned their leaving, but the land itself continued growing and changing and existing, largely unconscious of the absence of the Pevensies. Now Lucy is seeing the Lone Islands again for the first time in ... well, years to Lucy, and centuries to the islands. I can imagine that there would be a number of emotions for her to grapple with: joy, at seeing them again; alienation, at seeing the ways in which the land has changed over the past centuries; regret, that she is now a child queen emeritus instead of the reigning adult queen she once was; sorrow, at the realization that she may be seeing them for the last time; guilt, that she is seeing them here without the presence of Peter and Susan.
Lewis, characteristically, only shows us the joy, but I think it's easy enough to read the rest into Lucy's words if we are so inclined. So I like that. 'Course, then Caspian has to open his mouth:
“I’ve never understood why they belong to Narnia,” said Caspian. “Did Peter the High King conquer them?”
“Oh no,” said Edmund. “They were Narnian before our time—in the days of the White Witch.”
Reading Narnia, I stumble on passages like this. Because I honestly cannot tell if exchanges like this are supposed to be world-building, or if they are meant to be character-building, or if they are unintentional slips that provide a bit of a mirror into Lewis' ideals about perfect fantasy worlds. Why would Caspian assume that the Lone Islands are part of Narnia because they were conquered? For that matter, why does he ask how they "belong" to Narnia rather than why they are a "part" of Narnia? The words here baffle me.
I suppose Texas "belongs" to the United States of America in a sense, if you are using "belong" in the same sense that one "belongs" to a religious congregation or "belongs" in a country club. The word "belong" is, after all, a very complex word with a lot of different connotations, and "attached to" and "affiliated with" are both valid meanings of the word. But it is more often used to indicate ownership, and here seems to mean -- especially when paired with the idea of conquering and subduing -- that the Narnian king owns these islands, possibly against the will of the inhabitants, rather than that they joined the Narnian state out of shared ideals or shared lineage.
Why does Caspian seem to assume that these islands weren't populated by Narnian Animals and Fauns and Nymphs who retained their loyalty to the Narnian mainland government? (They don't, in fact, seem to be -- the Lone Islanders appear to be human with no awareness of Talking Animals -- but why should Caspian know that? The Telmarines have apparently never set foot on the Lone Islanders before in all their time as conquerors of Narnia.) Or that the Islanders didn't join Narnia freely in an arrangement that benefited both groups? Are we to understand that those things don't happen in Lewis' fantasy land, or is this an indication that Caspian tends to see things and people as his possessions that "belong" to him rather than as his subjects?
I honestly don't know, but if this is a clever commentary on Caspian viewing people as possessions immediately prior to being made a possession himself, then it's almost a little too subtle given that Caspian will ultimately fix the whole slavery situation by asserting his ownership of the area as forcefully as possible. The sin of possessiveness can't really be fixed by more possessiveness, is what I am saying.
“I’m sorry we’re not landing on Felimath,” said Lucy. “I’d like to walk there again. It was so lonely—a nice kind of loneliness, and all grass and clover and soft sea air.”
“I’d love to stretch my legs too,” said Caspian. “I tell you what. Why shouldn’t we go ashore in the boat and send it back, and then we could walk across Felimath and let the Dawn Treader pick us up on the other side?”
If Caspian had been as experienced then as he became later on in this voyage he would not have made this suggestion; but at the moment it seemed an excellent one.
This is going to be one of those Your Mileage May vary things, but here is today's hot tip for writers: Don't do this. Seriously. Chapter 3 is a whooping 2,860 words, which is actually not very many words at all. You don't need to spend 31 of those words telling us that shit is about to get real. And you especially do not need to tell us how totes awesome Caspian is going to become as a result of this character-building voyage because if we didn't already know that Caspian wasn't going to die in Chapter 3, we do now. ALL MY DRAMATIC TENSION IS GONE.
“You’ll come, will you?” said Caspian to Eustace, who had come on deck with his hand bandaged.
“Anything to get off this blasted boat,” said Eustace.
“Blasted?” said Drinian. “How do you mean?”
“In a civilized country like where I come from,” said Eustace, “the ships are so big that when you’re inside you wouldn’t know you were at sea at all.”
“In that case you might just as well stay ashore,” said Caspian.
And I just want to note that I actually like this passage, too. If Lewis had cut all that heavy-handed meanness about Eustace's vegetarianism, and had left off all the bits where Caspian and his Telmarines chortle happily about Eustace's sea-sickness and just done this, everything would have been far more lovely. Because here is a very good example of someone being understandably sulky and arrogant and fairly unlikable (as well as demonstrably wrong, since Eustace was sea-sick on modern English ships), and someone else being realistically brisk in response but without descending into outright rudeness, meanness, or bullying. By letting Eustace be irritating without being Evul Liberal, and by letting Caspian et. al. be irritated without being Conservative Punisher, everything goes down much more smoothly in my opinion.
Of course, Lewis did have to remind us that Eustace's hand is still injured. But at least we weren't treated to an update on Eustace's sore backside.
The King, the Mouse, the two Pevensies, and Eustace all got into the boat and were pulled to the beach of Felimath. When the boat had left them and was being rowed back they all turned and looked round. They were surprised at how small the Dawn Treader looked.
So, just to be clear: the entire party consists of four children and a largish Mouse. And it's only Caspian's lack of experience that made this plan seem reasonable. All the adult Telmarines on the ship also apparently thought this was a crackerjack plan, or didn't think it was a bad enough idea to warrant speaking up with their opinion. (More raw meat for the fan-fic'ers and their snipe hunt theory, I see. If only Caspian had been captured / killed / etc. properly here and they could have all gone home early.)
In the green valley to which they were descending six or seven rough-looking men, all armed, were sitting by a tree.
“Don’t tell them who we are,” said Caspian.
“And pray, your Majesty, why not?” said Reepicheep who had consented to ride on Lucy’s shoulder.
“It just occurred to me,” replied Caspian, “that no one here can have heard from Narnia for a long time. It’s just possible they may not still acknowledge our over-lordship. In which case it might not be quite safe to be known as the King.”
No. No, this is not possible. This cannot be the first time this has occurred to Caspian. The whole secondary point of this whole voyage is to reestablish connections between the Narnian mainland and her island territories and allies. As I've argued in an earlier post:
Caspian is supposedly going on this voyage to help his subjects. He wants to rescue the Seven Lost Lords, sure, but Narnia is also well overdue for a survey of its sea territories and reestablishment of relations with its island allies, considering that the Telmarines from the previous several centuries of Narnian occupation were so terrified of the water that the Seven Lost Lords had to hire Galmian sailors and buy a Galmian ship (it's canon; we just haven't gotten to that bit yet) just in order to be properly banished by Miraz. In that light, Caspian stopping for a tournament and a quick-but-failed flirtation is a responsible thing to do -- whether Galma is a Narnian territory or an ally, they needed to meet the new Narnian liege and affirm that Galma's friendship and loyalty to Narnia is secure.
When visiting Galma, or when planning to visit Terebinthia, the question must have come up about how to put their best foot forward as the first official Narnian delegation to visit these countries in years, decades, or even centuries. This simply cannot be the first time someone has pointed out that the Telmarines didn't travel to their island territories (and/or allies) to talk with them or trade with them or maintain control over them for however many hundreds of years.
And, for that matter, if these islands are Narnian territories, why should they recognize the current Telmarine lord as though he were an ancient Narnian king? Yet if the islands chose to be Telmarine allies (and perhaps even loyal to Miraz) during the long occupation of Narnia, will they recognize Caspian the Boy King at all if they think he acquired his throne illegitimately a la the apparent disposal of Miraz and his son on the Coronation Day Massacre?
Indeed, what is the official Narnian party-line for how Caspian came to power to begin with? "The god-lion of legend and the four human children of the ancient Golden Age popped into existence for a day to crown Caspian and magic all the Telmarines away to another realm, before disappearing that night"? Did the Duke of Galma actually believe that story, or did they have to fabricate another one that was less fantastical (if untrue) in order to not seem like liars and frauds?
Caspian must have had to deal with these questions, even before setting out from the mainland, and yet it's brought up here as though it has just occurred to him:
“We have our swords, Sire,” said Reepicheep.
“Yes, Reep, I know we have,” said Caspian. “But if it is a question of re-conquering the three islands, I’d prefer to come back with a rather larger army.”
And ... I ... I have no words. Caspian just treats it as obvious that they would come back and reconquer the islands (assuming they were ever conquered in the first place, which we still don't know that they were), should it be the case that the islands no longer want to be affiliated with Narnia after several hundred years of being ignored by the Telmarine interlopers who conquered Narnia.
And I guess we're really lucky, from a morality standpoint, that all objections from the islanders to "belonging" to the Telmarine lord who sailed up that afternoon comes from evil slavers and greedy opportunistic governors. Because if there had been good islanders who didn't want to "belong" to Caspian, I guess we would have just had to kill them all with a rather large army. Que sera, sera.
Caspian thanked him, though neither he nor the others much liked the look of their new acquaintance, and all of them sat down. But hardly had they raised their cups to their lips when the black-haired man nodded to his companions and, as quick as lightning, all the five visitors found themselves wrapped in strong arms. There was a moment’s struggle but all the advantages were on one side, and soon everyone was disarmed and had their hands tied behind their backs—except Reepicheep, writhing in his captor’s grip and biting furiously.
I want to again point out that everyone in this party is either roughly under the age of fifteen or about the size of a large cat. So, yeah, I imagine the advantages were all on one side. It's just a bit surprising that anyone is, well, surprised by this. As Caspian clearly is, and as Drinian and the adult Telmarines apparently will be since no one thought the boy-king wandering around a foreign country without an armed escort was a good idea.
(And for all the "Caspian learned better later" narration, he actually doesn't; the same cast of characters is captured on the Isle of Voices by pretty much the same surround-and-outnumber tactics. And the children will be left similarly unescorted and unguarded on Deathwater Isle and the Isle of Sleepers. Which is just more evidence that we can't trust the narrator. Obviously.)
“Coward! Poltroon!” squeaked Reepicheep. “Give me my sword and free my paws if you dare.”
“Whew!” whistled the slave merchant (for that is what he was). “It can talk! Well I never did. Blowed if I take less than two hundred crescents for him.”
So not only has there been no communication between the Telmarines and the Lone Islands, there's been no communication between the Islanders and the Narnians. And apparently no Narnians chose to emigrate to the islands in the face of Telmarine persecution, despite that being both sensible and possible given all the sea-nymphs and Dolphins and mermaids that inhabited Narnia in the Pevensies' day. And not a single Talking Animal lives on the islands, nor do the Islanders have stories and legends about Talking Animals living back on the mainland. Because this Islander is apparently as befuddled by the idea of a Talking Animal as Eustace is:
“Is there a British Consul there?” asked Eustace.
“Is there a which?” said the man.
But long before Eustace was tired of trying to explain, the slaver simply said, “Well, I’ve had enough of this jabber. The Mouse is a fair treat but this one would talk the hind leg off a donkey. Off we go, mates.”
Then the four human prisoners were roped together, not cruelly but securely, and made to march down to the shore. Reepicheep was carried. He had stopped biting on a threat of having his mouth tied up, but he had a great deal to say, and Lucy really wondered how any man could bear to have the things said to him which were said to the slave dealer by the Mouse. But the slave dealer, far from objecting, only said “Go on” whenever Reepicheep paused for breath, occasionally adding, “It’s as good as a play,” or, “Blimey, you can’t help almost thinking it knows what it’s saying!” or “Was it one of you what trained it?” This so infuriated Reepicheep that in the end the number of things he thought of saying all at once nearly suffocated him and he became silent.
I mean, it's funny I guess, but it makes no goddamn sense. Telmarines from Prince Caspian and Lone Islanders from Voyage of the Dawn Treader believe in Talking Animals about as much as Eustace does, which is to say not at all. But they live in a world where Talking Animals exist. This isn't our real world, where there are Talking Animals only in stories and even then treated as rather remarkable to the person interacting with them. This is a completely different world where Talking Animals have existed since the dawn of time. In large numbers, even! To the point where they vastly outnumbered the humans, and may even have outnumbered the non-talking animals! I do not understand how it is possible for Telmarines and Lone Islanders to disbelieve Talking Animals as thoroughly as Lewis' English audience would have.
Anyway, I do like the idea of Eustace doggedly explaining his situation to the slavers, on the grounds that it puts me in mind of him completely refusing to let Narnia wrest the framing from him (as well as his personal agency), and being bound and determined to explain his problem patiently to anyone who chooses to listen until someone sets things right. But I don't see how he can explain his situation past a few choice words without letting it slip that Caspian and the others consider themselves royalty.
“Now, youngsters,” said the slave dealer, “let’s have no fuss and then you’ll have nothing to cry about. All aboard.”
This is not the last time the slave dealer will use this threat -- later he tells Lucy to stop crying and then she "won't have nothing to cry about, see?" -- and it strikes me just how much this sounds like a parent threatening to strike a child. Don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about were actual words that were actually said to me when I was an actual child. And by adults who knew that I knew what was being threatened.
Maybe Lewis added this in an attempt to make the slavery more cozy: the slaver isn't abusing them capriciously, and as long as they keep a stiff upper lip everything will be alright. The framing makes the slaver controllable and predictable, where punishment only occurs in response to stated provocations. But I can't help but reflect that it can also serve to make corporal punishment seem more cruel than its supporters usually present it as being, since there's something terribly wrong with a child-rearing method that sounds perfectly natural and yet utterly sinister coming from an evil slaver.
At that moment a fine-looking bearded man came out of one of the houses (an inn, I think) and said:
Well, at least we know he's a good person, since he's so fine-looking and not at all like these slavers whom we were told we would not like the look of.
“How much do you want for that boy?” asked the other, pointing to Caspian.
“Ah,” said Pug, “I knew your Lordship would pick on the best. No deceiving your Lordship with anything second rate. That boy, now, I’ve taken a fancy to him myself. Got kind of fond of him, I have. I’m that tender-hearted I didn’t ever ought to have taken up this job. Still, to a customer like your Lordship—”
“Tell me your price, carrion,” said the Lord sternly. “Do you think I want to listen to the rigmarole of your filthy trade?”
And he has no hesitation preventing him from yelling abusive epithets at slave-owners, despite the fact that riling up an abusive person is very likely to end in them taking out their anger on their helpless prisoners. I imagine this fine-looking, sharp-tongued, perfectly-privileged gentleman will get along very well with our golden-haired, white-knight, son-of-privilege Caspian.
“A hundred and fifty, then,” said the Lord. “As for you, little maiden, I am sorry I cannot buy you all. Unrope my boy, Pug. And look—treat these others well while they are in your hands or it’ll be the worse for you.”
The dreadful moment had now come. Caspian was untied and his new master said, “This way, lad,” and Lucy burst into tears and Edmund looked very blank. But Caspian looked over his shoulder and said, “Cheer up. I’m sure it will come all right in the end. So long.”
“Now, missie,” said Pug. “Don’t you start taking on and spoiling your looks for the market tomorrow. You be a good girl and then you won’t have nothing to cry about, see?”
[...] Then they were rowed out to the slave-ship and taken below into a long, rather dark place, none too clean, where they found many other unfortunate prisoners; for Pug was of course a pirate and had just returned from cruising among the islands and capturing what he could. The children didn’t meet anyone whom they knew; the prisoners were mostly Galmians and Terebinthians. And there they sat in the straw and wondered what was happening to Caspian and tried to stop Eustace talking as if everyone except himself was to blame.
Where to begin?
I guess I'll start with the what-the-fuckery that is "the children didn't meet anyone whom they knew". Well, I would suppose not given that Lucy and Edmund didn't meet any Telmarines other than Caspian the last time they visited and every Lone Islander they knew from their first visit has now been dead for roughly 1,300 years; and that Eustace has never been to Narnia before in his life; and that Reepicheep is apparently the first Talking Animal to ever be known to the Lone Islanders, let alone to visit them. So it would be very strange indeed if the children had met someone they knew.
I also like the fact that "the children" (i.e., Lucy and Edmund, and presumably Reepicheep is roped into that description) "tried to stop Eustace talking as if everyone except himself was to blame", because as far as I can see Eustace is right. I mean, he did agree to go on the walk in order to get off the ship, but I don't remember anyone telling him that he might be captured by slavers. He may well not even know about the existence of slavery in Narnia, given that he was sick and below deck when we were informed about the pirates in the area.
So the three people with a vast deal more experience with Narnia and its Might Makes Right ways offered to take Eustace on a pleasure trip without informing him that the area was mightily dangerous and that they were foolishly ill-equipped in the event of a scuffle. I rather imagine that Eustace has a legitimate grievance to air. Now, I can also imagine that Lucy and Edmund might not want to hear it right now -- and especially that it might increase their distress in the slave ship and distract them from coming up with a useful plan to escape -- but that doesn't change the fact that I think Eustace has right on his side in this particular event.
And I say that not just because Eustace wasn't warned beforehand about the danger that Lucy and Edmund apparently didn't foresee (since they went on the trip without any concerns for their own safety). This whole situation can also be laid somewhat at Caspian's doorstep because he knew about the pirate ships in the area and saw no real reason to do anything to stop their pirating or to help the people they were capturing and selling into slavery.
Caspian decided that being a king didn't mean protecting people whom he thought were his possessions (courtesy of whichever king conquered the islanders for Caspian in the past) and now the children who were supposed to be under his protection are being abused by those same pirates. And the only real difference in Caspian's mind between the pirates who are preying on the islanders and Caspian himself -- who is planning to come back with a large army to reconquer the islands if necessary -- is that he has an ancient right to his claim of possession based on the fact that his Narnian forebears were conquering the islanders long before these pirates were. Whereas these pirates are just squatters on his property. Big difference.
Meanwhile Caspian was having a much more interesting time.
An interesting time. Because the only thing Eustance and Lucy and Edmund are suffering from is boredom. More on Caspian's interesting time next week.