Narnia: God's Will For Thee, But Not For Me

[Content Note: Reproductive Rights, Healthcare Denial, Immigration Inequality, Cancer]

Narnia Recap: In which Eustace is turned back into a boy.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 7: How The Adventure Ended

I wanted to get to Eustace's redemption narrative this week, but I've been feeling sickly all weekend and I can't seem to shake it. So instead today will be a short one, with my apologies. I hope that we can get to Eustace's salvation metaphor next week, Aslan-willing.

   But of course what hung over everyone like a cloud was the problem of what to do with their dragon when they were ready to sail. They tried not to talk of it when he was there, but he couldn’t help overhearing things like, “Would he fit all along one side of the deck? And we’d have to shift all the stores to the other side down below so as to balance,” or, “Would towing him be any good?” or “Would he be able to keep up by flying?” and (most often of all), “But how are we to feed him?” And poor Eustace realized more and more that since the first day he came on board he had been an unmitigated nuisance and that he was now a greater nuisance still. And this ate into his mind, just as that bracelet ate into his foreleg. He knew that it only made it worse to tear at it with his great teeth, but he couldn’t help tearing now and then, especially on hot nights.

There's a lot of things that frustrate me about this passage, and it's hard to know where to start.

I suppose first and foremost, I'm angry that Caspian et. al. are discussing this stuff in places where Eustace can hear them. They have a great bloody big boat in the middle of the ocean and every reason to pop over there now and again to check on the repairs and made sure the new supplies -- you know, the ones Eustace is fetching and carrying for them? -- are being strung up properly and dry below deck. Why can't they have these conversations in Lucy's private cabin or in hushed voices below deck? Everything about this passage suggests that they're talking about this on the island and Eustace is overhearing it because he's well within earshot.

So all this tells me that Caspian et. al. are not even trying to shield Eustace, who is still a very young little boy, from these conversations which suggest that he is more trouble than he is worth (despite all the tremendous aid he is giving) and which hint that they might well leave him behind after all.

Which brings me to a previously-mentioned complaint I have with this situation: Caspian et. al. have still not made a genuine effort to learn why or how Eustace was dragonified, nor have they made a sincere effort to try to turn Eustace back into a little boy. Indeed, as far as we can tell from the narrative, the idea that they might try to help him change back has not even been mentioned. They apparently see only two real ways of dealing with his situation: to either leave him here or go on with him in some capacity to be worked out in these secretive discussions which they are deliberately excluding him from but not so thoroughly that he can't overhear them and feel ashamed at what a "nuisance" he is for, basically, existing in first an 11-year-old's body and then in a dragon's body.

I have mentioned being angry with this before because it is the worst kind of fatalistic apathy which prevents people from actively helping to improve the misfortunes of others while salving their consciences for their inaction. Pretty much no one on earth genuinely believes that everything should be left up to the gods to sort out; we go to work in order to earn money for food, we wear seat-belts in the car, we attempt to preserve our health and ensure some kind of comfortable future for ourselves. Even when none of those things apply (as I am well aware that many of us do not have jobs, nor cars, nor control over our health), we usually do something for ourselves that we don't leave up to supernatural providence.

It's only when it's something we can't change or don't have the spoons for or don't care about that we wash our hands of it and say, welp, nothing we can do. Gotta leave that shit up to god or whatever. And I want to be clear: that's not automatically a bad thing. None of us can do everything, and some of us can only do a very limited range of things. Sometimes self-care demands that we turn away from things we simply can't cope with. There are some things in this world that I can't deal with; I deal with the things I can and hopefully free up other people to deal with the things I can't. (For instance, I wasn't able to help much with the North Carolina pro-choice activism because I was so swamped with the Texas pro-choice activism. But my handling the Texas activism meant that others were able to spare time to help North Carolina, and they were kind enough to tell me so.)

But I won't give Caspian et. al. the spoon excuse; this group is quite literally the most privileged group of people in the entire Narnian multiverse. And while it's possible that there's nothing they can do to help Eustace, we'll never really know that because they haven't tried. They haven't even talked about trying! Which means that they basically just don't care enough to try to help Eustace.

And this is something I want to really stress. People most frequently insist that something should be left up to "God's will" when bad things are happening to people they don't care about. Women are dying from forced births? Well, that's the sort of thing you need to leave up to God's will. Poor people are dying from lack of healthcare and draconian immigration policies? Well, that's the sort of thing you need to leave up to God's will. A privileged and famous white man is dying? Break out the plastic Livestrong bracelets and donate more money to cancer research stat! (Note: This is not a dig at Lance Armstrong; it is a reference to a citizen who testified in favor of revoking abortion access in Texas while wearing a Livestrong bracelet.)

When Caspian and Lucy and Edmund were crowned kings and queens of Narnia they presumably (because they are God's elect, the best of all possible rulers) made an oath, either explicitly or implicitly, to protect the weakest in their kingdom. If God cares for every sparrow that falls, I except his ideal monarchs to give a shadow of a damned for every Sparrow who falls. Eustace nay not be a native Narnian, and he may be annoying at times, but he needs their protection now -- he is an outcast in their land and in need of aid.

That Caspian et. al. are planning to go forward with or without him at all is a problem; the way back home is known to them now and the moral thing to do is to get Eustace -- who is not only "sick" in the sense of his transformation, but who is also in danger of losing his leg and then his life if they can't get that bracelet off -- all the aid that they can. In Narnia there are magicians (Doctor Cornelius) and scholars and ancient trees and witches (they can't all be evil, but even if they were, I'm sure a deal could be worked out for information) and probably a dragon or two who might know a thing about dragonification and how to cure it.

And barring any kind of cure, they can at least ensure that Eustace is safe and comfortable and not being fucking towed behind a rickety little boat that nearly carked it after the last storm hit and which would be totally incapable of offering him shelter in the event of a second storm. If Eustace goes forward with them in his current state, there is every possibility that he may die. Which doesn't even address the fact that Eustace going forward with them as an 11-year-old could also result in his death, and he still has not had any kind of choice in this voyage. (Minus the possible, but unmentioned, chance to stay behind on the Lone Islands after, you know, being enslaved there.)

A few pages back, the narrative assured us that Caspian et. al. wouldn't leave Eustace behind, or at least wouldn't leave him behind merely for being annoying and unhelpful and a minor drain on their supplies. (Whether or not they will leave him behind for being a larger drain on their supplies will not be answered.) We're supposed to consider them Good people simply because they are not actively doing Evil things. But not doing Evil doesn't make you Good; in order to be Good you have to do Good.

Good would be caring about Eustace at least enough to try to help him rather than washing their hands of him and deciding that his transformation is in god's hands because they can't be bothered to investigate or turn around to take him back to someone who can help. Good would be acting on their duties as kings and queens of Narnia to protect the people most in need of protection. Good would be treating Eustace like a person of worth rather than an annoying conundrum to be solved. Good would mean doing a lot of things that Caspian and his crew just plain aren't doing -- things they aren't even considering doing. Which is especially telling because, thanks to the Aslan Ex Machina in a few pages, Lewis could have shown them considering Good things without having to actually derail his story. He didn't.*

I find that really frustrating because that kind of theology, the idea that what happens to people we don't care about is entirely the problem of gods and never a problem for ourselves, is a "Got mine, fuck you (unless The Lord wills otherwise!)" philosophy that actively hurts and kills people.

* Which I do think is very interesting authorial choice, given how determined the narrator is to make us see Caspian as a Good person; it seems like Caspian planning to abandon his voyage for the sake of the weakest member on-board would have been free Paragon Points. I'm not sure Lewis would have seen it this way though, since it would have meant putting Caspian's vow (which I note was not time-limited) on hold in order to save a life and I'm not sure what the Lawful perspective on that is.

And from a textual perspective, such a decision might have made the voyage itself (rather than its participants) seem most important to Aslan, if he only showed up to de-dragon Eustace when it became clear that Caspian was going to turn around to take him back to Narnia. It's possible that this is why Lewis chose not to work the scene that way, but it seems equally likely to me that both the author and his characters couldn't conceive of why they would put their voyage on hold to ensure the comfort and safety of Eustace Clarence Scrubb.


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