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
Alright. Dufflepuds chapter. I think some loin-girding is called for here. Let me go get my girders. Speaking of loin-girding, what would lion-girding look like? Is that a thing we need to do to protect us from Aslan? Can you lion-gird your loins? I don't know.
All I know is that this chapter is so terrible and sad and tragic. Territragic.
AND NOW THE WINDS WHICH HAD SO long been from the northwest began to blow from the west itself and every morning when the sun rose out of the sea the curved prow of the Dawn Treader stood up right across the middle of the sun. Some thought that the sun looked larger than it looked from Narnia, but others disagreed.
We'll get to this later, but just so you know now: It's world-canon that Narnia is a flat-earth. Seriously, there's a whole conversation with Caspian about it and everything, and he's envious that the Pevensies live on a round earth because how cool would that be, etc. Knowing me, I'll probably be all bitchy and uncharitable when we get there and talk about how Caspian shows more enthusiasm for England than he does about taking care of his people or freeing slaves or whatever. Something to look forward to! But in the interim, that's why people think the sun might look larger -- they're literally sailing closer to the horizon. (Though it seems like the sun should only look larger in the early morning. The afternoon sun should look about the same and the evening sun should look smaller, no?)
And they sailed and sailed before a gentle yet steady breeze and saw neither fish nor gull nor ship nor shore. And stores began to get low again, and it crept into their hearts that perhaps they might have come to a sea which went on forever. But when the very last day on which they thought they could risk continuing their eastward voyage dawned, it revealed, right ahead between them and the sunrise, a low land lying like a cloud.
I know Lewis is trying to be all suspenseful about all these close-calls when it comes to food shortages, but even as a child, all I could think was: (a) this voyage was planned very poorly, and (b) they're going to have a hell of a time on the return trip if Caspian hasn't made freaking-perfect notes along the way. Because if they miss even one island on the way back, it's starvation time. I never quite understood why they didn't bring more ships -- the smallish ones which carry food but don't require a lot of crew to operate. Those ones.*
* I might as well note right now that this entire post is one of those light-hearted ones with extremely questionably historical accuracy.**
** This is a feature, not a bug. If I don't laugh about Narnia, I cry.
(Fun fact: Uncharted Waters: New Horizons was my favorite SNES game growing up. Tell me I'm not the only one. Earthbound and FFIII/6 were close seconds, but how often does a game make real-world geography FUN? Answer: Just the one time, in my experience. And this was immeasurably helpful, since none of my school classes ever taught me the outline of anything except the Americas and the bits surrounding Mesopotamia.
Also neat: Ali Vezas, Turkish merchant, had the funnest campaign of all the playable characters. Not the English privateer. Not the red-headed Spanish pirate girl. The guy wearing a turban who grew up as an orphan, finds his sister, and opens an orphanage because he's a nice guy who also happens to be from the 16th century Ottoman Empire and there's nothing wrong with that. Somewhere C.S. Lewis' head has exploded in fury.)
Anyway, I guess the constant state of near-starvation on the Dawn Treader also makes it easier to loot and pillage all the islands and cozy up with the local despot, so BONUS.
They made harbor in a wide bay about the middle of the afternoon and landed. It was a very different country from any they had yet seen. For when they had crossed the sandy beach they found all silent and empty as if it were an uninhabited land, but before them there were level lawns in which the grass was as smooth and short as it used to be in the grounds of a great English house where ten gardeners were kept. The trees, of which there were many, all stood well apart from one another, and there were no broken branches and no leaves lying on the ground. Pigeons sometimes cooed but there was no other noise.
So, couple of thoughts. One, Coriakin tasks his slaves to keep the island looking like a traditional English manor, which is obviously a point in favor of his being the Good Guy here, just as long as you accept that the English rule and everyone else drools. Two, (as previously noted) this is a highly-specialized division of labor, if we have gardeners and orchard-keepers in addition to basic farming and animal husbandry -- and this of course will belie Coriakin's claim that his orders have to be followed because otherwise starvation.
Three, the Dufflepuds are invisible, not inaudible. For everything to be this quiet and still doesn't bode good things, especially on a small island where the inhabitants communicate by jabbering loudly in groups and move by making loud thumping jumps. Either the Dufflepuds were watching the shoreline very carefully (for what they openly perceive as rescue) or they are so afraid of Coriakin that they regularly go about their tasks in as furtive and quiet a manner as possible. Later, the Dream Team will notice a water pump being worked silently in the background and will presume Invisible Person rather than Sorcerer's Apprentice, which would seem to be a point in the "cowed worker" bucket, since a person deliberately trying to spy on them would presumably stop pumping water.
Four, we're once again in the realm of "C.S. Lewis writing cool shit without making it work". An entirely silent island would be unnerving, but I would like very much to know where all the cows are being kept, since those are a thing. Maybe it's a really big island and there's lots of wind and they can't hear the cows and the local town of Dufflepud women and children (which we never see, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that humanoid communities have them because creating humanoid races without all those pesky non-cis-adult-white-men is kinda problematic), but it just kinda undercuts everything on the second read-through when you're wondering why Caspian et. al. can't see the Dufflepud village. Is the island really hilly? Is that it?
Anyway, the Dream Team somehow manage to leave Lucy behind which I find absolutely hilarious given that the narrator assured us waaaaaaaaaaay back on the Lone Islands that the Newer, Better, Future Experienced Caspian wouldn't explore a dangerous new island without a guard but which is also hilarious because Experienced Caspian is apparently unable to notice when 25% of the humans are missing from the exploration party. "Whoops, we not only lost nearly 1/4th of the away team" -- I'm unsure how to add Reepicheep to the body mass math here -- "but we also lost the girl who is here to keep our chivalric intentions sharpened in lieu of nothing else to hotly defend. Whoooooops!"
Also: I guess it's canon that Lucy doesn't talk much. *that face*
Almost as soon as they entered this path Lucy noticed that she had a little stone in her shoe. In that unknown place it might have been wiser for her to ask the others to wait while she took it out. But she didn’t; she just dropped quietly behind and sat down to take off her shoe.
I do like that it's Lucy's fault, though, because she's not wise enough to alert the others to the fact that she's been briefly incapacitated. It's definitely not the fault of the Menz for not noticing that she's become briefly incapacitated. Thank god she wasn't mauled by lions or bitten by poisonous snakes or taken by slavers or turned into a dragon or something.
Anyway: Lucy sits against a tree and despite the fact that the Dufflepuds stand right in front of her and talk about their plans, none of them see her. Maybe it's to underline how stupid they are, but if I were Lucy, I'd be worried right about now that maybe she is the invisible one, given that Caspian et. al. are apparently blissfully unaware that she even exists. This is like an island where people forget you, even when you're right in front of or right behind them. Lethe Island, we'll call it.
It was really very dreadful because she could still see nobody at all. The whole of that park-like country still looked as quiet and empty as it had looked when they first landed. Nevertheless, only a few feet away from her, a voice spoke. And what it said was:
“Mates, now’s our chance.”
Instantly a whole chorus of other voices replied, “Hear him. Hear him. ‘Now’s our chance,’ he said. Well done, Chief. You never said a truer word.”
“What I say,” continued the first voice, “is, get down to the shore between them and their boat, and let every mother’s son look to his weapons. Catch ‘em when they try to put to sea.”
“Eh, that’s the way,” shouted all the other voices. “You never made a better plan, Chief. Keep it up, Chief. You couldn’t have a better plan than that.”
“Lively, then, mates, lively,” said the first voice. “Off we go.”
“Right again, Chief,” said the others. “Couldn’t have a better order. Just what we were going to say ourselves. Off we go.”
Immediately the thumping began again—very loud at first but soon fainter and fainter, till it died out in the direction of the sea.
I think we're supposed to be shocked and appalled by all this, but it's worthy of note (I think) that the Dufflepuds are actually amazingly humane to the intruders. They definitely use their invisibility to tactically strengthen their position, and they bear arms against the party, but (a) we've already seen that the Dream Team whip out their swords at the first sign of strangers, so apparently the custom in Narnia-verse is to ask the questions from the other end of a pointy stick, and (b) the Dufflepuds really have no reason to assume that the people landing on their island aren't here to loot their island (like Capsian does) or enslave them (like the pirates do). Or cozy up to Coriakin, like Caspian eventually will do.
I grant you, they could have put a Keep Out sign up, maybe with a picture of an invisible guard dog (*rimshot*), but by Narnian standards they're actually being really civil here. Except of course they're using SNEAKY TACTICS and challenging CASPIAN'S AUTHORITY so obvs they're the bad guys. *yawn*
Lucy knew there was no time to sit puzzling as to what these invisible creatures might be. As soon as the thumping noise had died away she got up and ran along the path after the others as quickly as her legs would carry her. They must at all costs be warned.
While this had been happening the others had reached the house. It was a low building—only two stories high—made of a beautiful mellow stone, many-windowed, and partially covered with ivy. Everything was so still that Eustace said, “I think it’s empty,” but Caspian silently pointed to the column of smoke which rose from one chimney.
They found a wide gateway open and passed through it into a paved courtyard. And it was here that they had their first indication that there was something odd about this island. In the middle of the courtyard stood a pump, and beneath the pump a bucket. There was nothing odd about that. But the pump handle was moving up and down, though there seemed to be no one moving it.
“There’s some magic at work here,” said Caspian.
“Machinery!” said Eustace. “I do believe we’ve come to a civilized country at last.”
At that moment Lucy, hot and breathless, rushed into the courtyard behind them. In a low voice she tried to make them understand what she had overheard. And when they had partly understood it even the bravest of them did not look very happy.
Everything about this is so delightfully awful. I love, love, that they reached a house and thoroughly examined it before anyone noticed Lucy was missing. In fact, no one notices that Lucy is missing: their first indication that Lucy was missing is Lucy herself running up to them. It's like chivalry in a microcosm: ostensibly about protecting women, but in reality about patriarchal men being self-absorbed. Well played, C.S. Lewis -- you are officially self-parodying your own world-building!
And then, and then, *gasping between laughter* the pump handling moving up and down is "the first indication that there was something odd about this island". Apparently the TOTAL STILLNESS despite being OBVIOUSLY INHABITED what with chimney fires and perfectly-mowed lawns wasn't an indication of oddness -- that was just wonderful little English touches. Nothing odd about that in Narnia at all!
Also: Coriakin has chimney smoke, but there's no smoke coming from the as-yet-unseen Dufflepud village? My god, is he keeping them in such poverty and deprivation that they can't have cooking fires and fires to heat bath- and laundry-water and fires to keep off the morning cold? This just gets worse and worse, really.
Bonus love for Eustace being so happy to see (apparent) machinery. I'm sorry, Eustace, as I would have liked some steampunk for you, too! *sad face*
“Invisible enemies,” muttered Caspian. “And cutting us off from the boat. This is an ugly furrow to plow.”
WE COULD TRY TALKING TO THEM AND ALSO MAYBE KEEP IN MIND THAT WE WOULD DO THE EXACT SAME THING IN THEIR POSITION SO MAYBE THEY AREN'T BAD PEOPLE, JUST PROTECTIVE OF THEIR LANDS WE INVADED, BUT NAH.
“You’ve no idea what sort of creatures they are, Lu?” asked Edmund.
“How can I, Ed, when I couldn’t see them?”
This, plus Lucy's "fuck you violent patriarchal man-assholes" thing on Dead/Goldwater Island makes me really believe that meta-Lucy is a feminist no matter how much Lewis despises us. I like to think that Lucy and Susan and Aunt Alberta had a lot to talk about after all this.
“I wonder,” said Reepicheep, “do they become visible when you drive a sword into them?”
Ah, Reepicheep. Sometimes I love you, sometimes I wish someone would punt you off the nearest cliff. "Plan for escape and protecting the young queen and her younger cousin? Nah, better to fantasize about killing native people whose biggest crime so far is that they haven't thrown us a parade yet."
“It looks as if we shall find out,” said Caspian. “But let’s get out of this gateway. There’s one of these gentry at that pump listening to all we say.”
PROBABLY NOT, GIVEN THAT HE WOULD HAVE STOPPED PUMPING IN ORDER TO HIDE AND LISTEN BETTER. Poor guy is probably ignoring you and praying that Coriakin doesn't punish him for slacking off on the job if he doesn't finish his work in time. I'm sure Coriakin would turn him into a frog or something if he dashed off to go warn the others.
“Now, Drinian,” said Caspian. “How would it be if we gave up the boat for lost, went down to another part of the bay, and signaled to the Dawn Treader to stand in and take us aboard?”
“Not depth for her, Sire,” said Drinian.
Oh, sorry, turns out that Drinian THE SEA CAPTAIN was with the team, so Lucy is 1/5 of the humans. My bad, but I'm not going to go fix it. It's Drinian's fault for not existing until this moment, in my opinion.
I like to think he was literally summoned into existence by the author in order to answer the "why can't we signal the boat" question. I'm pretty sure he doesn't speak again for the entire chapter.
“Your Majesties all,” said Reepicheep, “hear me. It is folly to think of avoiding an invisible enemy by any amount of creeping and skulking. If these creatures mean to bring us to battle, be sure they will succeed. And whatever comes of it I’d sooner meet them face to face than be caught by the tail.” [...]
“Surely,” said Lucy, “if Rhince and the others on the Dawn Treader see us fighting on the shore they’ll be able to do something.”
“But they won’t see us fighting if they can’t see any enemy,” said Eustace miserably. “They’ll think we’re just swinging our swords in the air for fun.”
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"...while everyone considered how stupid that excuse was."
MEANWHILE ON THE DAWN TREADER:
SAILOR A: Feck me, but it's nice to have the majesties and his lordship off the ship for a few sweet moments.
SAILOR B: We can hold hands and lounge about sharing the hammocks and enjoying the breeze without Caspian going off on one of his rants about male affection being "unmanly".
SAILOR A: That boy has definitely got a gender-expectation stick up his ass, with waaaaay too many homophobia- and biphobia-twigs attached.
SAILOR C: I don't even want to think about how he'll react if he finds out I'm asexual. All that "Telmarine bloodlines" crap is too much to deal with when I haven't have a proper cup of coffee in months.
SAILOR B: Well, if he was going to make an executive decision of No Girls Allowed on the hella-long cruise, he shouldn't be too surprised that the majority of volunteers were various degrees of Okay With That. It's not like Narnia is 16th century Europe where sailors were motivated by crushing poverty and indentured servitude -- I left a gorgeous country villa to come out here and live on three-month-old bacon.
RHINCE: Whoops, rein it in -- I see their 'assjesties' on the beach.
SAILOR A: Dammit. *pause* What are they doing?
RHINCE: Huh. They appear to be fighting invisible enemies. I deduce this with my giant brain, on account of them clearly fighting something that they equally clearly can't see.
SAILOR B: Oh, hell. I'll go get Master Bowman and tell her to break out the flaming arrows. Maybe the invisible things will burn and we'll get an outline.
SAILOR C: And you'd be surprised how many things that'll kill.