Narnia: For Want of a Nail... Nothing Changed In The Slightest

[Content Note: Misogyny]

Narnia Recap: In which the crew finds a destroyed village, a Sea Serpent, and a Midas pool.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 8: Two Narrow Escapes

Last week was the Burnt Village; this week is the Sea Serpent. Wow, we're just zooming along. Today Eustace will be allowed to exist. (Unlike last week when he might have been able to pipe up and explain all the reasons why Dragon! was not likely to be the cause behind Burnt Village. But we'll assume he was taking a well-deserved nap on the ship. Rest well, Eustace!)

   For some five days they ran before a south-southeast wind, out of sight of all lands and seeing neither fish nor gull. Then they had a day that rained hard till the afternoon. Eustace lost two games of chess to Reepicheep and began to get like his old and disagreeable self again, and Edmund said he wished they could have gone to America with Susan. Then Lucy looked out of the stern windows and said:
   “Hello! I do believe it’s stopping. And what’s that?”

Blah blah blah Eustace sucks fart holy shit lookit Edmund wishing he was in America with Susan rather than in Narnia.

I like this passage because you can take it so many different ways. Since the scene is that the bad weather has made Eustace more like his old self (i.e., Sinful), you could take Edmund's wish to be with Susan as a desire to rebel against the Narnian Order and maybe even dabble in hellish lipsticks. Or you could just interpret this to mean that Edmund has been in Narnia so often and for so long that it's finally become banal to him (especially with the bad weather) and he's restless to get off this damn boat and maybe go see the world. (Though I would point out that wanting pretty much that very thing was a sign of sinfulness when coming from Eustace earlier in the book, so we may still be back to the moralizing.)

Or you could genuinely interpret this to mean Edmund misses his family, which isn't something we've really been allowed to see in this series -- the children don't miss England when in Narnia and they don't miss their old long-dead friends in Narnia when they come again and find themselves in new Narnia. I have to say, I like the idea of an Edmund who misses Susan, even if he requires bad weather to feel it. Though it's again interesting that it's ex-traitor tainted-by-sin Edmund who misses his sister rather than innocent Lucy who is -- and I have to stress this again -- the only female person on the boat. I have to say, I've never been on a boat full of men for 4+ weeks, but I have been on a road trip in a van full of men for 4+ hours, and I'd be missing Susan at the end of that.

(Someone will ask, so I checked: Lucy is supposed to be 10 years old in this book.)

   They all tumbled up to the poop at this and found that the rain had stopped and that Drinian, who was on watch, was also staring hard at something astern. Or rather, at several things. They looked a little like smooth rounded rocks, a whole line of them with intervals of about forty feet in between.
   “But they can’t be rocks,” Drinian was saying, “because they weren’t there five minutes ago.”
   “And one’s just disappeared,” said Lucy.
   “Yes, and there’s another one coming up,” said Edmund.
   “And nearer,” said Eustace.
   “Hang it!” said Caspian. “The whole thing is moving this way.”

And I will freely grant that I like this bit. This bit here is a bit that I like. YOU HEAR ME, C.S. LEWIS? If you would just stick to the magic and supernatural that you are demonstrably capable or writing, and not lever in mass tragedies for the profit of your privileged characters, and not make everything about a racist or disablist message, and additionally let everyone take a turn at the conversion, I'd be as happy as a Talking Cat with a whole saucer of cream. I'm not unreasonable.

   They all held their breath, for it is not at all nice to be pursued by an unknown something either on land or sea. But what it turned out to be was far worse than anyone had suspected. Suddenly, only about the length of a cricket pitch from their port side, an appalling head reared itself out of the sea. It was all greens and vermilions with purple blotches [...] at last they were seeing what so many people have foolishly wanted to see—the great Sea Serpent. The folds of its gigantic tail could be seen far away, rising at intervals from the surface. And now its head was towering up higher than the mast.

Meh, and then you stick me in the heads of your characters and it throws me out of the experience, because (a) this thing is famous enough that So Many People have wanted to see it, but (b) no one could have Suspected that this very unique and memorable way of pursuing the ship could possibly be the Sea Serpent that people at home can't stop yammering on about despite the fact that the Telmarines all hate the sea with a vengeance and Narnia hasn't been a sea-faring nation in centuries, so how would "people" have wanted to see this thing in the first place, do we mean English people or Lone Islanders or Calormen or oh nevermind.

Incidentally, if you ever need to point out to someone that Wikipedia has all kinds of accuracy problems (in addition to its many more serious problems with privilege in its community and among its gatekeepers), I point you to this article on Drinian:
As they near the end of their journey, Drinian spots an odd rock formation that he correctly identifies as a sea serpent.

Almost everything in that sentence is wrong.


I like that it's green and purple though, to match the ship. And... come to think on it, sea serpents are usually rendered to be fairly dragon-like (because, you know, Huge Mythical Serpent), so maybe the dragon-shaped ship matches the sea serpent in more than color. So two thoughts: Does anyone want to take a stab at why green and purple are recurring themes here, and does anyone want to join my mischievous fan-theory that the Very Hard To Find sea serpent sidled up to this ship not for food but because it was confused and thought the dragon-shaped ship was a kindred spirit? Clearly the whole loop-the-loop thing was the sea serpent trying to hug its new friend.

   Every man rushed to his weapon, but there was nothing to be done, the monster was out of reach. “Shoot! Shoot!” cried the Master Bowman, and several obeyed, but the arrows glanced off the Sea Serpent’s hide as if it was iron-plated. Then, for a dreadful minute, everyone was still, staring up at its eyes and mouth and wondering where it would pounce.

THERE IS A MASTER BOWMAN? Give him a name, dammit. So far all we've had is the royalty (Caspian, Edmund, Lucy, Cousin Eustace), and the mates (Captain Drinian and First Mate Rhince), and the one Animal (Rheepicheep). We still have no idea how many sailors are on the ship, though we previously hazarded maybe fifty. How many of them are also skilled with bows in addition to being decent sailors is unknown -- it's not like Caspian had his pick of Telmarine sailors when he left Narnia, right?

I'm just going to christen him "Bowman Jean" from Star Ocean 2, and call it a day. So now he's not the Master Bowman, he's just Master Bowman Jean and he prefers being called by his first name. There: Now we have eight characters. And I have decided that Master Bowman is the son of a poor Telmarine forester (the Telmarines hated forests but still needed the wood, so the foresters are the lowest in society) and a wood dryad, so he's half-Narnian and he advanced to the post of master archer on talent alone as opposed to being a Lord like Drinian. FIXED THAT WHOLE PRIVILEGED CAST THING FOR YOU, LEWIS. You're welcome!

Where were we? I just can't stay on target today.

   But it didn’t pounce. It shot its head forward across the ship on a level with the yard of the mast. Now its head was just beside the fighting-top. Still it stretched and stretched till its head was over the starboard bulwark. Then down it began to come—not onto the crowded deck but into the water, so that the whole ship was under an arch of serpent. And almost at once that arch began to get smaller: indeed on the starboard the Sea Serpent was now almost touching the Dawn Treader’s side.

Oh, right, the sea serpent. I do like this as a hunting strategy, just to be clear, but it's criminal how long it takes the humans to figure out what's going on. It's no wonder Reepicheep beats everyone at chess; I barely play, but I'm freaking Twelve Dimensional Grand Master to these folks.

   Eustace (who had really been trying very hard to behave well, till the rain and the chess put him back) now did the first brave thing he had ever done. He was wearing a sword that Caspian had lent him. As soon as the serpent’s body was near enough on the starboard side he jumped on to the bulwark and began hacking at it with all his might. It is true that he accomplished nothing beyond breaking Caspian’s second-best sword into bits, but it was a fine thing for a beginner to have done.

And now we out-pour all the ambivalence about this scene.

On the one hand, I'm so relieved to see the narrative stop abusing Eustace that I want to almost burst into tears at this scene. Are we finally past all the awful, my brain wants to whimper. On the other hand, I'm truly distraught that the only way Eustace was allowed to graduate out of the Most Abused Character slot was by becoming as much like Caspian as possible: instead of using his head (a task which will be left to Reepicheep in this scene), he starts swinging his sword willy-nilly at an amphibian/reptile/something specimen which you'd think old!Eustace might have found scientifically intriguing.

And it's even Caspian's hand-me-down sword, just to really drive home that Being Good means being like Caspian. And you know what? No. This is not a "fine thing" for a beginner to have done. A "fine thing" would have been to think for a minute. Not that I want Eustace to be abused more, but that it's really interesting to see how characters in this novel aren't praised for the results of their actions, but rather are praised based on how much they align to Arthurian Chivalry ideals. Eustace is "good" here not because he did good, or even because he approached the situation correctly in order to solve the problem, but rather because he approached the situation like a Knight-King would do.

   Others would have joined him if at that moment Reepicheep had not called out, “Don’t fight! Push!” It was so unusual for the Mouse to advise anyone not to fight that, even in that terrible moment, every eye turned to him. 

And that one moment where everyone had to luxuriously stare, rather than following the voice of someone who knew the way out, was what damned them all. If only they hadn't been so full of their preconceived notions about Talking Animals being one-dimensional stereotypes instead of three-dimensional characters like humans (and note that no one stopped to stare at Eustace's character development). The ship sank to the sea and we all went home! Buh-bye everybody! 

Oh, alright. Reepicheep points out that the serpent is trying to close a loop around the ship in order to break the ship in half and that everyone needs to push the loop off the ship, because geez guys. Fortunately, the loop (apparently) was started between the mast and the back of the ship, so they don't have to worry about the big-ass mast being a problem. "Quite a number of people [...] rushed" to help Reepicheep push and we end up here:

   Reepicheep alone had, of course, no more chance of doing this than of lifting up a cathedral, but he had nearly killed himself with trying before others shoved him aside. Very soon the whole ship’s company except Lucy and the Mouse (which was fainting) was in two long lines along the two bulwarks, each man’s chest to the back of the man in front, so that the weight of the whole line was in the last man, pushing for their lives. 

And I'm already really grinding my teeth over Lucy not being involved in this, but I presume the reading is supposed to be that there just wasn't room for her and she would have gotten in the way. How thrillingly convenient for misogyny that the Delicate Little Lady Queen can't participate. *side-eye*

   And now the real danger was at hand. Could they get it over the poop, or was it already too tight? Yes. It would just fit. It was resting on the poop rails. A dozen or more sprang up on the poop. This was far better. The Sea Serpent’s body was so low now that they could make a line across the poop and push side by side. Hope rose high till everyone remembered the high carved stern, the dragon tail, of the Dawn Treader. It would be quite impossible to get the brute over that.

But, so, okay, why wasn't Lucy ducking under the serpent coil in the chaos in order to get up on the poop deck and guide everyone with the benefit of her sight? "Bowman, you're going to need to lift there!" or "Drinian, you're good, just keep pushing!" Every second is supposed to drastically matter here; every moment she can guide the crew is a moment they're not having to stop and look and/or coordinate with each other.

   “An axe,” cried Caspian hoarsely, “and still shove.” Lucy, who knew where everything was, heard him where she was standing on the main deck staring up at the poop. In a few seconds she had been below, got the axe, and was rushing up the ladder to the poop.

Oh, no, wait, I see. Lucy's hands had to be free (and she had to be on the other side of the deck from where the pushing was happening) so that she could get the axe that would save them all! For want of a nail, etc. Lucy will be the nail which saves everyone! Lewis, how could I ever doubt you??

   But just as she reached the top there came a great crashing noise like a tree coming down and the ship rocked and darted forward. For at that very moment, whether because the Sea Serpent was being pushed so hard, or because it foolishly decided to draw the noose tight, the whole of the carved stern broke off and the ship was free.


Seriously, Lewis, fuck you.

   [...] But the Dawn Treader was already well away, running before a fresh breeze, and the men lay and sat panting and groaning all about the deck, till presently they were able to talk about it, and then to laugh about it. And when some rum had been served out they even raised a cheer; and everyone praised the valor of Eustace (though it hadn’t done any good) and of Reepicheep.

But not the valor of Lucy, because fuck girls, amiright?

Just to clarify: We're in Chapter Eight. Has there been even a single moment in this book where Lucy's presence was actually useful or necessary? I know they gave her the king's cabin and she got to participate in the Lone Island looting in order to soften the whole "look at all the nice things we got from the impoverished slave-economy pirate-wracked island community" interlude, but has she actually done anything yet? This was her chance, and Lewis yanked it away at the last minute. And I idly wonder if the Lucy that Lewis wrote these stories for and dedicated them to appreciated being reduced to a tourist in her own story.

Can someone please rewrite this so that Lucy is just as valorous and key to this scene as Eustace and Reepicheep, please? I NEED THIS.


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