Content Note: Slavery, Racism]
Narnia Recap: In which the crew land on an island inhabited by apparently disembodied voices.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 9: The Island of the Voices
When we last left our heroes [sic], Lucy had warned everyone that invisible people were planning to ambush them by the boats. The nature of the ambush is unclear; the voices have indicated that they will have weapons with them, but they haven't said what their goal is -- whether they want to kill or capture or just make sure Caspian doesn't run off with the silverware is still an open question.
“Well,” said Caspian at last, “let’s get on with it. We must go and face them. Shake hands all round—arrow on the string, Lucy—swords out, everyone else—and now for it. Perhaps they’ll parley.”
I'm not sure there's ever been any indication of Lucy being an archer before; possibly there was and I'm just too lazy to check. Either way, I love (read: don't love) that because Lucy is a girl, she obviously therefore must be a Bow Chick and her initial semi-defiance of Father Christmas (a la, "I think I'd be brave enough, even though I lack a penis and therefore your approval", and I may be paraphrasing there) has safely passed and we're back to putting her on the back-lines of combat.
And note that the back-lines of combat, which is where Father Christmas wants her
It was strange to see the lawns and the great trees looking so peaceful as they marched back to the beach. And when they arrived there, and saw the boat lying where they had left her, and the smooth sand with no one to be seen on it, more than one doubted whether Lucy had not merely imagined all she had told them.
LOLWHUT. So, Lucy says the island has invisible people who don't leave footprints or proof of passing, so the fact that they can't see anyone at the boars and the sand in front of the boats is smooth causes the Doubting Thomases to come out and play? Really? Like, it was all plausible before they got to the boats and didn't see the invisible people, but once they got there and the invisible people weren't visible there, that was the point at which doubts began to seriously foster. Sure.
Question: Who is doubting Lucy? Not Edmund, surely, who was so quick to defend her when she was the only one who saw Aslan in Prince Caspian. And probably not Eustace, since Edmund had that post-dragoning chat with him about how Lucy See Things (Especially Aslan) even when others don't. Surely not Reepicheep, who strikes me as the most religiously devout of the group and cares so strongly about honor -- the suggestion that his dearest Queen lied (because in Lewis' world, there are only liars and truth-tellers and Obviously Mentally Ill people, with no option for mistakes) would probably cause Reepicheep to challenge the author to a duel outright, because how dare you besmirch Her Majesty, etc.
That leaves Caspian and Drinian, who is only here because we needed someone to magically pronounce sentence on the Can The Boat Pull Up To Shore question. And since the text says "more than one doubted", I reckon we'll have to go with those two. I can kinda believe Drinian could doubt all this; he's been vaguely characterized as not caring for all this magic malarkey, and he's never been especially devout to Lucy as anything more than a little girl with a courtesy title. Though I note that 90% of this is due to the sparseness of the text rather than actual characterization. And I guess Caspian could probably be read as assuming anyone other than himself is Wrongy McMistakenface about things because, you know, they're not him.
But I bring this up here mostly because it's kinda another example of Lewis not really treating his characters as people. They're sort of an amorphous mass of Away Team here, and some of them are just randomly wondering if Lucy dreamed all this up or is bullshitting them. But there's not really a consideration of specifically which ones are wondering this. Because if there were specific consideration of who, then there'd have to follow a why. Why would Edmund doubt his sister when he didn't before? Why would Reepicheep doubt his sovereign when to do so would be entirely out of character for him? Why would Caspian and Drinian and Eustace think invisible people so strange after all they've seen and done on this trip? (Because dragons and sea serpents and magical islands you can't remember clearly but which might have had magical ponds on them are so much more believable?)
And treating the characters like individuals would give us a sense of history for Lucy, where she could legitimately point out that she sees things before other people All The Damn Time and she's Never Been Wrong Yet so maybe people could stop treating her like Cassandra. It would mean we would have defined personalities for Caspian and Drinian and Reepicheep and Edmund and Eustace, such that we could predict which ones would disbelieve Lucy and which would not. And it might mean that events could flow naturally from characters and their choices as opposed to being literally magically herded into position and then Aslaned out of trouble over and over again.
Oh, and it might also mean that Reepicheep The Mouse might have senses he relies on more strongly than sight. I kinda feel like a mouse might be able to sense the heat of 50 bodies or hear them breathing or smell them sweating in the sun. But I guess I could be wrong.
And I again point all this out here the next time someone says that kyriarchal privilege totally has nothing to do with why Lewis is revered as One Of The Greatest YA/Fantasy/Wev Authors Of All Times, but [insert female author here] is a garbage writer because one time she forgot to use an Oxford Comma. Throwing that out there.
Anyway, let's get to the ambush scene.
But before they reached the sand, a voice spoke out of the air.
“No further, masters, no further now,” it said. “We’ve got to talk with you first. There’s fifty of us and more here with weapons in our fists.”
“Hear him, hear him,” came the chorus. “That’s our Chief. You can depend on what he says. He’s telling you the truth, he is.”
“I do not see these fifty warriors,” observed Reepicheep.
“That’s right, that’s right,” said the Chief Voice. “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”
I know this is supposed to be proof that the Dufflepuds are stupid, but I really am hard-pressed to come up with a better answer to Reepicheep. I mean, he practically set the Chief up for that response like they were at a comedy club. And beyond that, Reepicheep just heard a chorus of voices, which has to be at least a dozen, right?
It's interesting, though, that the Chief simply says they have weapons, but Reepicheep demands that they be "warriors". Maybe this is some kind of smack-talk on his part, a la 300, (though it just as easily might not be), but I gotta say that invisibility seems like a pretty good draw-card for an ambush party to have, regardless of whether they're potters or blacksmiths or whatever at their day-jobs.
“Be quiet, Reep,” said Caspian, and then added in a louder voice, “You invisible people, what do you want with us? And what have we done to earn your enmity?”
“We want something that little girl can do for us,” said the Chief Voice. (The others explained that this was just what they would have said themselves.)
“Little girl!” said Reepicheep. “The lady is a queen.”
“We don’t know about queens,” said the Chief Voice. (“No more we do, no more we do,” chimed in the others.) “But we want something she can do.”
I really do not know what this outburst was intended to accomplish, since Reepicheep just signaled that the ambushing party now has a member of royalty in their clutches as opposed to Just Some Girl. That seems kinda like the thing knights and bodyguards and whatnot should learn on the first day of Chivalry School, especially given that they've already had the "don't tell the slavers we're royal" conversation earlier in the book. Which makes me think that Lewis did this on purpose to chalk up more points into the characterization bucket that Reepicheep is dangerously impulsive and shouldn't be allowed on these kind of trips, with a side-suggestion that he's a problem specifically because he's an Animal and Animals aren't too bright.
Because, seriously, I would not be letting Reepicheep on away-missions anymore.
“What is it?” said Lucy.
“And if it is anything against her Majesty’s honor or safety,” added Reepicheep, “you will wonder to see how many we can kill before we die.”
Because, really, it's just the fact that the Chief is a nice person that he hasn't pointed out that (a) they outnumber the Dream Team approximately 10 to 1 and that (b) it shouldn't be too hard to, say, kill 3/5s of them, capture Lucy and her younger cousin, and then see if she won't be amenable to their wishes when her cousin's safety is on the line. I'm not saying he should do this, but I am saying he could do this, and yet here Reep (and by extension the rest of the Royals who could be stopping him but aren't) are dripping with disdain because their lion-given privilege is JUST. THAT. THICK.
“Well,” said the Chief Voice. “It’s a long story. Suppose we all sit down?”
The proposal was warmly approved by the other voices but the Narnians remained standing.
SEE WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THESE PEOPLE.
Placate their captors with a gesture of trust that can't hurt them any worse (because it's not like they'll be at more of a disadvantage on the ground, what with the people being invisible) or demonstrate their total disdain by standing and presumably staring haughtily down their noses at the empty air? What Would Aslan Do, indeed.
Then we get a lot of backstory that you already know and long-story-short, the Dufflepuds ask Lucy to save them by reading a magic spell to make them visible again because it's very dull being invisible all the time. And it has to be Lucy because only a little girl can read the spells or something. ("Stop asking me questions, dammit, this is the chapter about how vain and gossipy women are so just go with it." ~ C.S. Lewis, I think.)
And we thought we’d rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that. And why? Because we’d like it better. So my little girl, who’s just about your little girl’s age, and a sweet child she was before she was uglified, though now—but least said soonest mended—I say, my little girl she says the spell, for it’s got to be a little girl or else the magician himself, if you see my meaning, for otherwise it won’t work. And why not? Because nothing happens. So my Clipsie says the spell, for I ought to have told you she reads beautifully, and there we all were as invisible as you could wish to see.
Also: *blub-blub-blub* Because this is probably the first expression of parental love in these books (that I can think of, anyway) (and sandwiched in a book about Aunt Alberta The Evil Feminist and how she doesn't like Eustace ever again once he becomes a Proper Patriarch, as opposed to having it break her heart to see her still-beloved boy buy in to the Terrible Bargain) and it's coming from a father whose daughter has been mutilated by magic and Lucy -- the stand-in for this little girl now that the spell has to be reversed -- won't insist that Coriakin restore her body. Because Lucy doesn't identify with other little girls, because (a) educated men in literal ivory towers are who we should all identify with, natch and (b) women are catty and hate each other which is why Lucy hates Susan and is jealous of her despite this never coming up before. Because Women.
“Well, then, to put it in a nutshell,” said the Chief Voice, “we’ve been waiting for ever so long for a nice little girl from foreign parts, like it might be you, Missie—that would go upstairs and go to the magic book and find the spell that takes off the invisibleness, and say it. And we all swore that the first strangers as landed on this island (having a nice little girl with them, I mean, for if they hadn’t it’d be another matter) we wouldn’t let them go away alive unless they’d done the needful for us. And that’s why, gentlemen, if your little girl doesn’t come up to scratch, it will be our painful duty to cut all your throats. Merely in the way of business, as you might say, and no offense, I hope.”
Again: Almost assuredly written to make the Dufflepuds seem churlish and stupid, but which I obstinately persist in finding endearing. Because fuck you, Lewis. And because I like people who get right to the heart of the matter. But, wait, I have more to say on this. Hang on a second.
“I don’t see all your weapons,” said Reepicheep. “Are they invisible too?” The words were scarcely out of his mouth before they heard a whizzing sound and next moment a spear had stuck, quivering, in one of the trees behind them.
“That’s a spear, that is,” said the Chief Voice.
“That it is, Chief, that it is,” said the others. “You couldn’t have put it better.”
“And it came from my hand,” the Chief Voice continued. “They get visible when they leave us.”
And if they'd been Bond Villains, they would have thrown the spear through Reepicheep rather than at a tree. I'm just sayin' that Reepicheep is seriously not allowed on the away-missions again. Never.
“But why do you want me to do this?” asked Lucy. “Why can’t one of your own people? Haven’t you got any girls?”
“We dursen’t, we dursen’t,” said all the Voices. “We’re not going upstairs again.”
“In other words,” said Caspian, “you are asking this lady to face some danger which you daren’t ask your own sisters and daughters to face!”
Okay. Now I'm going to say the thing I'm going to say. Settle in.
Here is the thing. I shouldn't need to say this, but just so we're all on the same page here: What the Dufflepuds are doing is wrong. By my moral compass, at least, it's not okay to detain people on your property (trespassing though they were) and threaten to kill them if they don't cross a dangerous magician for you. The Dufflepuds have no reason to believe that Coriakin won't transmogrify or otherwise seriously harm Lucy and the others. (Indeed, I always kinda wondered if something happened to Clipsie and if that was why she and the others wouldn't go back upstairs. I realize we're just supposed to read them as cowardly, but I think it's a valid question to demand, in light of Coriakin basically being a male (and therefore valid) White Witch.)
But what the Dufflepuds are doing is also understandable. It's morally wrong, but I would argue that it sits at a much more ambiguous level of morality than Caspian and Reepicheep chatting over whether or not to bring an army to invade the Lone Islands because mine, dammit. If Coriakin hurts Lucy and the others, it is because he is an evil overlord (a la the White Witch) who must be stopped. And if Lucy and the others care, even a little bit, about their whole We Are Godly Representatives Of Aslan Who Right Wrongs schtick, they'll want to do something to help the Dufflepuds, even if it's a prudent "let's go home and bring backup" something.
If Coriakin is the White Witch -- and I argue that he could be seen as analogous to her, though I'm doubtful that Lewis intended that (though she WAS the Emperor's hang-woman, so...) -- then the Dufflepuds are the Beavers. Only instead of saying "whoooooooooops, I totally knew your brother was drugged but just didn't notice him walking out in the snow", we get a much more straightforward proposition that the Dufflepuds' existence is unbearable and only the Pevensies can help them, so they aren't going to be given a choice, sorry!
It's wrong, morally wrong. But it's also true, in this particular case, that the Pevensies wouldn't do it if they were given an alternative. Lucy outright says:
“All right, then, I’ll do it,” said Lucy. “No,” she said, turning to the others, “don’t try to stop me. Can’t you see it’s no use? There are dozens of them there. We can’t fight them. And the other way there is a chance.”
“But a magician!” said Caspian.
“I know,” said Lucy. “But he mayn’t be as bad as they make out. Don’t you get the idea that these people are not very brave?”
This is the same girl who insisted that they go to war against the White Witch if it might save her friend Mr. Tumnus, but she'll only go up into a magician's tower during daylight (they specifically hash out whether she could do it during the day since the night is so much scarier, I'm not making this up) and only when there's literally no alternative but immediate death.
So, just to be clear, Lucy the Valiant is both afraid of the dark and not in the least interested in saving an entire race of people from tyranny. Just like Edmund the Just earlier moved to skewer the stranger on the beach rather than find out who he was peaceably. These things are understandable -- we've probably all known fear and an impulse for violence out of self-defense -- but they're never remarked upon, never corrected in text.
And the patterns start to become a problem. The Animals (devout
And that's what I mean when I say that the racism in these books isn't just a matter of how, for example, the Calormen are portrayed. That's a part of it, sure. But there's other forms of racism, just as insidious, and this is one here: How saving the Animals was seen as the obvious right thing to leap up and do because Goodness and Bravery and Rightness, but saving the Dufflepuds is clearly presented as something that is only happening because the heroes were stupid enough to be trapped and ambushed. Something to be done with a heavy heart, not a glad one. And something that will be done half-assed rather than fully, since the Dufflepuds will remain mutilated and will remain slaves.
And something which does not occur in a context-free void. It matters how the Animals and Dufflepuds respectively talk and act and what they look like and what their customs are and how they are presented to the reader in terms of familiar cultural markers (in the case of the former) and othered stereotypes (in the case of the latter).