Narnia Recap: In which Eustace is turned back into a boy.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 7: How The Adventure Ended
When I was a child, I used to love reading Sherlock Holmes stories. I loved the progression of logic throughout the stories from the first clues to the final answer, and I loved the way in which once everything was explained, you could frequently see how you yourself could have gotten to the answer first, if only you'd followed the same steps that Sherlock Holmes was able to follow. The experience of reading the stories felt deceptively like learning, and I believed I understood people better as a result.
Now I know, of course, that this feeling was entirely a harmful deception. Sherlock Holmes is often right not because he has an encyclopedic awareness of cigar ash (though that does get consulted from time to time) but because the people in his world do not deviate from stereotypes. Holmes can predict motivations, situations, and future action based entirely on demographic characteristics (gender, sex, class, nationality, orientation, job, etc.) and external datapoints which entirely predetermine behavior. To quote James Randi, author of Flim-Flam!:
England at that time was not yet ready to mature out of the mindset that Queen Victoria had left as her hallmark: the notion that the world was a rather predictable place and that everything was secure and stable. Little girls were always innocent and frivolous. Evil men had heavy brows and wore black. People were forever classified by birth and education. And so it went. It was the tenor of the time.I think Randi is correct except in one important respect: I don't think Sherlock's reliance on stereotypes was a mindset of a specific time. Stereotypes are with us to this day, and they exist because it is easier to classify people according to a "predictable" type (regardless of how inaccurate this process will actually be in reality) than to accept that people are individuals and that their behavior will often be unpredictable to us if we do not know them well. And this reliance on stereotypes allows us to feel secure in our surroundings by pretending that we can accurately predict behavior. (This is also a major root of victim-blaming; the idea that we "would have known" that person was a rapist or that we "wouldn't have done" whatever it was that supposedly caused/allowed the rape to occur. The need to be in control of our environment leads to a lot of problematic impulses.)
Holmes himself, though apparently an intellect of huge proportions, could not have survived outside the fictional world that Doyle wove about him. For his deductions to be correct, the consistency of his world was absolutely necessary. People in particular had to conform to type; otherwise Holmes would have been hopelessly wrong. It was just this rather naively invented universe that Doyle imagined into existence and projected about himself, and it accounts in large measure for his fanciful interpretation of phenomena that he came upon only late in life—the wonders of spiritualism. [emphasis mine]
It needs to be said loudly and longly that stereotypes are both deeply inaccurate and profoundly harmful. Stereotypes also invariably favor the privileged while harming the marginalized, in part because we accept a wider range of acceptable behavior from privileged people while expecting a much narrower range of expected behavior from marginalized people. For example, there are many culturally acceptable ways to be straight, but our culture expects queer people to adhere a limited range of stereotypes. As a bisexual woman, I am supposed to be compulsively promiscuous (because obviously I can't be "satisfied" with only one person) or "secretly" heterosexual and just putting on a tantalizing identity for my husband (because obviously all heterosexual men are excited by women bisexuals and also obviously my sexuality is influenced by who I wed). Those are pretty much my only two options, according to the stereotypes, and they are both harmful bullshit options.
Most people don't conform to stereotypes because most people don't conform to some rigidly-defined type that they were born into and which they shall never deviate from. (STOP THE PRESSES.) Yet our culture is so invested in stereotypes for marginalization purposes, and as individuals we are so invested in stereotypes as ways of asserting control over our lives, that we rarely recognize this. And it can be especially hard to recognize that Not All People Conform To Type when we are children reading Sherlock Holmes or Narnia and deferring to the supposed superior logic of the authorial voice.
“Look at the device on the gold,” said Caspian.
“A little hammer with a diamond above it like a star,” said Drinian. “Why, I’ve seen that before.”
“Seen it!” said Caspian. “Why, of course you have. It is the sign of a great Narnian house. This is the Lord Octesian’s arm-ring.”
“Villain,” said Reepicheep to the dragon, “have you devoured a Narnian lord?” But the dragon shook his head violently.
“Or perhaps,” said Lucy, “this is the Lord Octesian, turned into a dragon—under an enchantment, you know.”
“It needn’t be either,” said Edmund. “All dragons collect gold. But I think it’s a safe guess that Octesian got no further than this island.”
Case in point, this made perfect sense to me as a child. It was clean and tidy: the dragon has Lord Octesian's bracelet, so the dragon must either be Octesian or have eaten Octesian. What could be more logical? How about a whole universe of other choices? The dragon's horde held multiple crowns in the pile; are we to assume that the dragon killed a king (or is the product of a whole line of transfigured kings) for every crown in its collection? Isn't it just as possible that the dragon stole those crowns? Isn't it therefore possible that the dragon stole Octesian's bracelet?
The last knowledge that Caspian and his party have of Octesian's plans is that he was sailing to or past this island in a boat. Couldn't the bracelet have been stolen along the way, either by the dragon or someone else (a sailor, a native inhabitant, a mischievous small animal, etc.) the dragon later stole from? Couldn't the bracelet have been lost and then found by the dragon? Couldn't the bracelet have been traded to someone for food or shelter and then ended up with the dragon that way? (The Lost Lords might not have followed the Caspian "gimme-gimme-mine" method of resupplying their ships.) Couldn't the Lord Octesian have thrown the bracelet to the dragon when passing by the island so that the dragon would let them pass, either as a distraction or as a toll tribute?
If we are to believe Lewis' train of logic here, the answer is an emphatic no. Lord Octesian, and indeed all the Lost Lords (for Caspian does not know them as individuals), would apparently rather die than be separated from their jewelry because that's Just What Lords Do.
But wait a second. Let's review, shall we?
The Lost Lords were banished from Telmarine society because they weren't supportive of Miraz's regime. We don't know why they weren't; Caspian believes that some or all of them weren't comfortable with the death of his father and possibly suspected Miraz of murder. Note that that does not make them axiomatically opposed to tyranny or the oppression of the native Narnians -- it's entirely possible that some or all of them are just as evil as Miraz yet couldn't get along with him. It happens.
And yet, some of them could have been Narnian sympathizers, if Lewis had chosen to go that route. Back in Prince Caspian, Doctor Cornelius told Caspian that some Telmarines wished to restore the native Narnians to a less marginalized status. And we've already seen one Lost Lord, Bern, settle down with the local inhabitants and abandon any desire to return to his home. Combine those two facts and it's easy to see how Lewis could have written one or more of the lords as genuinely disgusted by his genocidal ancestry. Couldn't that hypothetical disgust have then spread to the trappings of nobility that they brought with them from Narnia?
I'm imagining a Lord Octesian who willingly divests himself of his gold and jewels and signs of nobility, and leaves them on a beach somewhere to be found by anyone who wants them (which in this case happens to be a dragon). I'm imagining a Lord Octesian who over the course of his travels came to recognize that the life he'd lived before his exile had been lived cruelly on the backs of others and had brought him no joy. I'm imagining this Octesian choosing to live a new life, one where he doesn't trade on the privilege afforded to him by a family crest his ancestors stole from others. I'm imagining a Lord Octesian who chooses to settles down with the native inhabitants of a non-Telmarine society and to live his life as a non-Telmarine in a way that Caspian never has and never will.
Lewis can't imagine this. His world is tidier than mine, or at least more static. His world is one in which it is inconceivable for a Lord to regret his privilege or to attempt to divest himself of its symbols, just as Caspian never seriously attempted to refuse the throne and become a knight in service to the newly-appointed Animal Council. It's a world which is neater for storytelling, perhaps, but it's interesting to note that it's a world which is significantly more grim and lacking an edifying moral lesson attached to it (despite the fact that he was seeking to teach children with these books). In Lewis' world, a bracelet without an owner is a dead man, and privilege is never given up in a quest for redemption. Jesus may have told the rich man to give all his possessions to the poor and live like a bird of the field, but Lewis won't allow that fate for Octesian any more than he would for Caspian. Lewis would rather see him dead.
Dead Lords are admittedly more chilling for an adventure story and have fewer loose ends than Living Lords who are wearing fig leaves and deferring to the local Tropical Bird Triumvirate. Yet there is possibly another reason why Lewis might rather see his Lost Lords dead before they settle with native inhabitants who are treated as equals instead of as subjects and slaves. In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen notes:
The first English settlement in North America, Roanoke Island in 1585, probably did not die out but was absorbed into the nearby Croatoan Indians, “thereby achieving a harmonious biracial society that always eluded colonial planters,” in the words of historian J. F. Fausz. Eventually the English and Croatoans may have become part of the Lumbees. The English never learned the outcome of the “Lost Colony,” however. Frederick Turner has suggested that they did not want to think about the possibility that English settlers had survived by merging with Native Americans. Instead, Fausz tells us, “tales of the ‘Lost Colony’ came to epitomize the treacherous nature of hostile Indians and served as the mythopoetic ‘bloody shirt’ for justifying aggressions against the Powhatan years later.” Triracial isolates have generally won only contempt from their white neighbors, which is why they have chosen rural isolation. Our textbooks isolate them, too: none mentions the term or the peoples. [emphasis mine]And before the mention of Roanoke, he notes the laws which the Europeans enforced in an attempt to prevent white settlers fleeing to live with the American Indians:
Historian Gary Nash tells us that interculturation took place from the start in Virginia, “facilitated by the fact that some Indians lived among the English as day laborers, while a number of settlers fled to Indian villages rather than endure the rigors of life among the autocratic English.” Indeed, many white and black newcomers chose to live an American Indian lifestyle. In his Letters from an American Farmer, Michel Guillaume Jean de Crévecoeur wrote, “There must be in the Indians’ social bond something singularly captivating, and far superior to be boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become Europeans.” Crévecoeur overstated his case: as we know from Squanto’s example, some Natives chose to live among whites from the beginning. The migration was mostly the other way, however. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.”Earlier in the previous chapter, we noted that at the time which it would make the most thematic sense to firmly re-establish Eustace as a "sinner", Lewis spent words not on having Eustace think especially greedy thoughts, nor on having him plan any form of violence or revenge, but instead he fell asleep dreaming of moving to Calormen -- and I noted how strongly Lewis would have felt about a white English boy voluntarily emigrating to a country inhabited by non-white people with non-English customs.
Europeans were always trying to stop the outflow. Hernando de Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to Native societies. The Pilgrims so feared Indianization that they made it a crime for men to wear long hair. “People who did run away to the Indians might expect very extreme punishments, even up to the death penalty,” Karen Kupperman tells us, if caught by whites. Nonetheless, right up to the end of independent Native nationhood in 1890, whites continued to defect, and whites who lived an Indian lifestyle, such as Daniel Boone, became cultural heroes in white society. [emphasis mine]
The Lost Lords are, to a certain extent, the flip side of this position. Only one of the Lost Lords settles down with local inhabitants, and he (Bern) is very carefully positioned by Lewis to be as close as someone can physically be to Narnia without actually being in it. He is also notably still Telmarine in his speech, manner, bearing, dress, grooming, and very probably food consumption. Indeed, not only has he retained his Telmarine culture, he is implictly recognized by the other Lone Islanders as inherently better than they: he is explictly a leader of freemen; he is implicitly an owner of slaves (given that he has an open account with the local slavetrader, who bows and scrapes for him); he owns a large amount of land, a beautiful house capable of supporting quite a few unexpected guests, and has an attractive and obedient wife and multiple children; he has numerous friends who respect him enough to support a political usurper (Caspian) on his say so and at a moment's notice, and who will support him as a political usurper himself (as the new Duke) when Caspian leaves.
The remaining Lords are either dead or ensorcelled, and they are dead and ensorcelled in ways which carefully mark them as still undeniably Telmarine and not as having given up on returning to Narnia or creating their own Telmarine-esque community in exile:
• Octesian is presumed dead; Caspian believes he was turned into the dragon which Eustace ate, after having undergone a similar transformation due to greedy thoughts. If this is true, it would imply that Octesian still felt he had some use for gold.
• Restimar is presumed dead; Caspian believes that he was turned into the golden statue at the bottom of the Goldwater/Deadwater enchanted pool, after having docked at the island for the refreshing of his ship's stores. If this is true, it would imply that Restimar intended to travel further forward or back to Narnia.
• Rhoop is found trapped on an island of dreams; there is no indication that he traveled there expecting to find inhabitants and live with them, and it seems that instead he had seen the place as an unpeopled holodeck where he could live the rest of his life in imaginative splendor.
Rhoop's tale ends with being granted his remaining wish: permanent dreamless sleep from which he will never awaken. As I'm hard-pressed to explain how this is functionally different from suicide, I will tally these so far as 1 survivor (Bern) and 3 dead (Octesain, Restimar, Rhoop).
The remaining three lords are Revilian, Argoz, and Mavramorn, all of whom are ensorcelled into quasi-eternal slumber at Aslan's Table (and will be awakened off-screen at the end of the book). These three men had argued as to whether to (a) return to Narnia, (b) keep going, or (c) call it quits and live on an uninhabited island in a little Telmarine-in-exile community all their own.
By limiting all seven lords to these three choices -- Narnia, Telmarine-in-exile, Dead/With Aslan -- Lewis demonstrates how unthinkable it was to him that even one of the lords might abandon their Telmarine culture and embrace a different one. At no point is this seen as desirable or even acceptable for survival.
We often don't notice this uniformity of thought as children, partly because we don't notice the other non-Narnian cultures that the Telmarine lords have to choose from. The major community we see (the Dufflepuds) is deliberately painted as a caricature of childishness; it is not presented as a viable community in its own right. And the nearest community to Dragon Isle will be shown as decimated by pirates or dragons or the weather or authorial disinterest -- again, not a viable community for the lords to consider joining. Other cultures will be either hidden from the crew (as with the mer-community under the sea), or will be implied only to exist in the background (as with Lucy's passing mention of "savages").
But we also do not notice as children that the Lost Lords (plural) are almost all the same Lost Lord (singular) because of the power of stereotypes.
If the Lost Lords were real people, there would be no reason to assume that they share the same age, or even that they have the same backgrounds beyond being Telmarine nobility. They may be a mixture of young and old, of wealthy or (relatively) impoverished, of established lineage or parvenu. Some of them may have been peers of Caspian IX and gone hunting with him; some of them may have been his elders and admired him for some quality unbeknownst to us. Some of them may have been truly irascible and exiled less because of their loyalty to Caspian IX and more because Miraz hated having them around. Or because they were unpopular with their peers. Or because their money was coveted by the crown. Some of them may have left parents or sweethearts or wives or children or grandchildren behind them in Narnia. Some of them may have been happy to leave and flee the society they had never felt comfortable in. There is a whole universe of possibilities, because if the Lost Lords were real people, they almost certainly weren't cardboard cutouts of one another.
Yet these Lost Lords are copies of each other and because we are taught to believe in stereotypes as children we often fail to recognize that: it seems reasonable to us that the Lost Lords, like Caspian, would never lay down their privilege, and would never distance themselves from their Telmarine heritage. It seems natural to us that every Telmarine in this book yearns to live either at one end of the map or the other -- in either Narnia or "the unpeopled world behind the sunrise" -- and that they make their homes in the middle only very rarely and never without losing their Telmarine culture. It seems normal to us that this yearning would manifest itself as a perfectly straight line from Narnia to Aslan's Country, with not a single Lost Lord deviating from this path despite being on an open ocean with 360 degrees worth of choice.
We could argue that Lewis made all the Lost Lords (and Caspian) little identical privilege clones because it was simple and easy for him to do so. We could argue that he made this authorial choice because it never occurred to him to do it another way. We could argue a lot of things regarding authorial intent, and we could argue all day and forever, because realistically we'll never know what Lewis intended.
What I'm more interested in is exploring how, as children, we're not taught to question why every member of a group should be viewed as a homogenous clone of each other, and whose behavior will fall into a limited number of available choices. We're taught to accept that the seven Lost Lords are interchangeable and indistinguishable from each other; we're taught to accept that they have no unique family history or life experience or hopes and dreams. And once we're taught to accept the sameness of people within a shared demographic group (here, Lords Exiled by Miraz), we're then taught to expect them to share the same future behavior, deviating only in minor ways and (even then) only into a finite bucket of choices.
Lost Lord? Back to Narnia, On to Aslan, or Telmarine Expatriate. Those are the only three choices.
Female? Tomboy or Girly Girl. Remember: there are no wrong answers, but some answers send you to hell.
Male? You can be the bully or the wimp, but bad things happen to non-bullies in Narnia.
Bisexual woman? Depraved Bisexual or But Not Too Bi. Take your pick.
We don't get any in-betweens in Narnia, and we aren't allowed to step outside of the stereotypes that have been crafted for us. Tomboy Lucy doesn't get to fall in love with a Calormen Prince. Girly Girl Susan doesn't get to fight with her bow and arrows. Peter and Caspian are forever the golden boys who bully the weaker ones; Edmund and Eustace are the weaklings who are punished until they join the oppressor class.
And the Lost Lords are uniformly committed to retaining their Telmarine culture and the privileges and trappings of privilege that come with it because that's just what Lords do, and because no one would ever seriously question the superiority of white human culture in Narnia -- the Narnians of Lion, Witch, Wardrobe don't; the Narnians of Prince Caspian don't; the Lone Islanders of Dawn Treader don't. So why would it occur to us to think so?
Thus we're off to visit the Narnian Aslan/Santa, who will size us up with a glance and decide what is best for our lives. And what demographic are you, child? Let me tell you, based on your perceived gender and race and class and orientation and interpersonal skills what present you want for Christmas. No, no, it goes so much better if you let me decide for you, and once I've picked your present, I'll tell you how you are allowed to use it...