Narnia: Ode to the Dufflepuds

[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

Before we get to today's chapter, I need for us to scope out a bit and look at the layout of this book. To that end, here are some chapter headers:

1. The Picture in the Bedroom.
2. On Board the Dawn Treader
3. The Lone Islands
4. What Caspian Did There
5. The Storm and What Came Of It
6. The Adventures of Eustace
7. How the Adventure Ended
8. Two Narrow Escapes
9. The Island of the Voices
10. The Magician's Book
11. The Dufflepuds Made Happy
12. The Dark Island
13. The Three Sleepers
14. The Beginning of the End of the World
15. The Wonders of the Last Sea
16. The Very End of the World

All the chapters flow into one another, of course, but Chapters 3-4 are narratively connected as the story of Caspian and the Slavers, Chapter 5-7 cover Eustace's transformation and recovery, and Chapters 13-14 and Chapters 15-16 cover the final island (and Caspian's whirlwind romance) and the subsequent end of the world (and completion of Reepicheep's and the Pevensies' journeys). Chapters 9-11, which we're about to look at today, cover a startlingly long episode on the isle of the Dufflepuds.

I've done a word count analysis on the book (and this is one of the many reasons why I love ebooks), and the entire novel is roughly 52,820 words long. The Dufflepud interlude is 9,805 words long, or almost 20% of the novel. In contrast, the episode with Eustace (which is the one thing everyone remembers about the book) is 9,403* words long -- or 402 words shorter than the Dufflepud epsiode.

* Chapters 5-7 are 10,386 words total, but the first half of Chapter 7 is about Lucy having new clothes and playing chess, and thus I did not start counting until Eustace starts writing in his diary about the storm.

I point out these numbers because I think it's important to understand that we're looking at 20% of the novel and that clearly this episode was important to C.S. Lewis for reasons of his own. There's really no doubt in my mind that Eustace's transformation and allegorical conversion were important to him, and I am not prepared to assume that an episode which is longer than that episode wasn't also very important to him. Other people are free to interpret differently, of course, but this is my ground assumption going in, based (in part) on the numbers above.

And, to that end, I want to take a week to establish the scene a little first.

The Caspian Dream Team (Caspian + Edmund + Eustace + Lucy + Reepicheep) will land on an island which is immaculately kept, yet strangely devoid of life. It will soon become apparent that the island is inhabited by a race of invisible "servants" called Dufflepods, and that they need Lucy to sneak into the local Magician's tower in order to read a spell which will make them all visible again. Lucy agrees, finds and reads the spell in the tower, and then meets the Magician, who aids the party before they depart again.

Now let's get some details on the page.

1. The Dufflepuds are slaves. This is a position that I am making based on my understanding of how words work. I will point out here that the lines between Slave, Servant, and Serf has often been extremely blurry. Yet most places in most times acknowledge that servants retain basic civil rights, and the Dufflepuds do not: the Magician Coriakin violates their bodily rights by transforming them from a Standard Fantasy Setting Dwarf to a "monopod" shape. Furthermore, there is no suggestion that the Dufflepuds can leave Coriakin's service -- they seem entirely confined to the island, without boats or sea-craft to escape. And there is no suggestion that Coriakin could be asked to leave: Aslan will assert that Coriakin has complete rulership over the island.

In Chapter 9, the Chief Dufflepud will explain how they were transmogrified by Coriakin:

   ‘Well,” said the Chief Voice. “It’s like this. This island has been the property of a great magician time out of mind. And we all are—or perhaps in a manner of speaking, I might say, we were—his servants. Well, to cut a long story short, this magician that I was speaking about, he told us to do something we didn’t like. And why not? Because we didn’t want to. 
   Well, then, this same magician he fell into a great rage; for I ought to tell you he owned the island and he wasn’t used to being crossed. [...] I say he goes upstairs and puts a spell on us. An uglifying spell. If you saw us now, which in my opinion you may thank your stars you can’t, you wouldn’t believe what we looked like before we were uglified. You wouldn’t really. 
   So there we all were so ugly we couldn’t bear to look at one another. [...] I do assure you that we couldn’t find anything in the way of a spell for taking off the ugliness. [...] well, to cut a long story short, whether we did right or whether we did wrong, in the end we see a spell for making people invisible. And we thought we’d rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that.

In Chapter 11, Coriakin will confirm that he did in fact transmogrify the Dufflepuds against their will, but considers the change "for the better" and thus outright refuses to change them back, despite their express wishes:

   “And now that they’re visible, are you going to let them off being ugly? Will you make them as they were before?” 
   “Well, that’s rather a delicate question,” said the Magician. “You see, it’s only they who think they were so nice to look at before. They say they’ve been uglified, but that isn’t what I called it. Many people might say the change was for the better.”
   [...] “Oh, the funnies, the funnies,” cried Lucy, bursting into laughter. “Did you make them like that?”
   “Yes, yes. I made the Duffers into Monopods,” said the Magician. He too was laughing till the tears ran down his cheeks.
   [...] “Will they have to be turned back into their proper shapes?” asked Lucy. “Oh, I do hope it wouldn’t be unkind to leave them as they are. Do they really mind very much? They seem pretty happy. I say—look at that jump. What were they like before?”
   “Common little dwarfs,” said he. “Nothing like so nice as the sort you have in Narnia.”
   “It would be a pity to change them back,” said Lucy.

And also in Chapter 11, Aslan will assert that Coriakin is the ruler of the island, and that the Dufflepuds are his subjects. Aslan won't confirm that Coriakin is morally right in transmogrifying his subjects, but given that he was willing to interfere earlier in Chapter 10 when Lucy was considering whether or not to cast a beauty spell, his lack of interference over Coriakin's transmogrification spell is telling. Especially since Coriakin appears to consider Aslan his superior in a sort of rulership hierarchy.

   “Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses.”
   “Do you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?”
   “No,” said the Magician, “they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps, I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.”
   “All in good time, Coriakin,” said Aslan.

2. The Pevensies immediately side with Coriakin. Despite the fact that this whole journey has been one long tale of slavers and pirates and Calormen slavers and more pirates and slavers, the Pevensies immediately jump to the conclusion that the Dufflepuds, while slaves, don't need freeing and that their evil master who trespassed on their bodily autonomy probably isn't all that bad. This is essentially asserted on the grounds that the Dufflepuds sound like members of a lower (and less educated) class.

   “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?”
   “They’re certainly not very clever,” said Eustace.

After Lucy makes the Dufflepuds visible again, and after she has had confirmation from Coriakin himself that (a) he transmogrified the Dufflepuds against their will, and (b) he did so out of anger at them for not following his orders as master of the island (i.e., not for an actual good reason, and while asserting that they are slaves entirely to his will) and (c) that while he has the power to change them back he refuses to, Caspian et. al. will pack up and leave after mooching off the Dufflepuds (for food) and Coriakin (for magical ship repair) without a backwards glance for the people they are leaving in the worst of slavery.

And it's okay because Coriakin is white and serves English food ("an omelette, piping hot, cold lamb and green peas, a strawberry ice, lemon-squash to drink with the meal and a cup of chocolate to follow") and is not a Muslim from Calormen. And this is something people need to keep in mind when discussing the racism in these books. It's not just that Lewis makes the Calormen have slaves so that he can criticize them for it; it's also that he gives white men slaves and praises them for their forbearance in only striping away their fundamental physical forms from them when a less-kind master would do so much worse:

   “Yes—we’d get on better without [the Chief], in a way. Of course I could turn him into something else, or even put a spell on him which would make them not believe a word he said. But I don’t like to do that.

3. The Dufflepuds are stupid and disobedient in ways which justify their slavery. Coriakin (and, implicitly, Aslan) justify the transformation of the Dufflepuds on the grounds that they deserve it for being stupid and disobedient; indeed, Lucy and Eustace were already jumping to that excuse in Chapter 9 (as seen above).

In Chapter 9, the Chief says that the Dufflepuds were given an order they didn't like, but doesn't elaborate on the details:

   Well, to cut a long story short, this magician that I was speaking about, he told us to do something we didn’t like. And why not? Because we didn’t want to. Well, then, this same magician he fell into a great rage; for I ought to tell you he owned the island and he wasn’t used to being crossed.

In Chapter 11, Coriakin will state that the Dufflepuds needed to do the work in order to survive (i.e., raise food for them to eat), but then his details of the necessary work don't correspond with a life-of-death need (e.g., the Dufflepuds supposedly weren't working efficiently enough):

   “What was it you uglified them for—I mean, what they call uglified?”
   “Well, they wouldn’t do what they were told. Their work is to mind the garden and raise food—not for me, as they imagine, but for themselves. They wouldn’t do it at all if I didn’t make them. And of course for a garden you want water. There is a beautiful spring about half a mile away up the hill. And from that spring there flows a stream which comes right past the garden. All I asked them to do was to take their water from the stream instead of trudging up to the spring with their buckets two or three times a day and tiring themselves out besides spilling half of it on the way back. But they wouldn’t see it. In the end they refused point blank.”
   “Are they as stupid as all that?” asked Lucy.
   The Magician sighed. “You wouldn’t believe the troubles I’ve had with them. A few months ago they were all for washing up the plates and knives before dinner: they said it saved time afterward. I’ve caught them planting boiled potatoes to save cooking them when they were dug up. One day the cat got into the dairy and twenty of them were at work moving all the milk out; no one thought of moving the cat. But I see you’ve finished. Let’s go and look at the Duffers now they can be looked at.”

The setting of Chapter 9, however, silently notes (though it's unclear whether Lewis intended this or not) that the Dufflepuds are extraordinary gardeners and grounds-keepers:

   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.
   Presently they came to a long, straight, sanded path with not a weed growing on it and trees on either hand.

This is established in order to set the lonely scene of the "deserted" island with invisible voices, but it indicates that the Dufflepuds have continued working even after cutting all ties with Coriakin, and that their work is not purely survival-oriented. They're not planting fields and keeping cows all day exclusively; at least some of them are meticulously maintaining garden paths and cutting grass lawns and weeding a ginormous area.

All of this points to Coriakin lying about his harsh punishments being necessary for the Dufflepuds' survival: either they have enough surplus of work or he has enough surplus of magic to be accomplishing all this extra non-survival oriented gardening. Either way, this is not a subsistence situation where a single mistake will mean the widespread death of the community. And that in turn suggests that Coriakin's "justification" (which was hardly a justification in the first place because there is no evidence whatsoever that transgressing the bodily autonomy of the Dufflepuds made them safer or better fed) for his actions is no more than a false narrative to cloak his tyranny.

There's a lot that needs to be said about all of this, and it's very difficult to get it all into one post.

For one, I've previously pointed out how incongruous this episode is in light of this series as a whole and this book in particular. Book 1 in this series was about freeing the native Narnians from a tyrant, though I noted at the time that a suspicious amount of ink was spilled over explaining that Jadis was a tyrant not because of her actions but because of her parentage (as a Not-Daughter-of-Eve) and her social standing (as the Emperor's Hangwoman). Book 2 in this series was about freeing the native Narnians from another tyrant, though again I noted how problematic it was that the new ruler of the Narnians was still not himself one of their own and was instead the son of their oppressor. And Book 3 has heavily featured King Caspian freeing slaves, though I have noted that he freed them from people of color / different religion heritages, and that he demanded the ex-slaves turn around and line his own coffers with tribute.

It is very strange, from a thematic viewpoint, for Lucy and Edmund to not assume that they are here to depose Coriakin as they once did Jadis and Miraz. Deposing tyrants, particularly tyrants who transmogrify the locals, is kind of their thing. And, indeed, it is strange for Lucy and Edmund to almost immediately assume that Coriakin is better than the Dufflepuds are making him out to be, merely because the Dufflepuds seem uneducated; the Beavers weren't exactly non-working class, though (again) I think it is important to note that they laid out Ten Reasons Why Queen Jadis Is A Bastard Child Changeling Not A Daughter Of Eve as opposed to delving in the whole tyranny thing. And it is additionally strange that Caspian, who has seen slavery from the inside (LOL) and who has recently seen the terrible effects of transmogrification on Eustace, so thoroughly decides that Coriakin has every right to keep slaves and transmogrify them at will.

But outside the thematic issues of this series, I'm bothered by the narrative of the Dufflepuds for another reason. I happen to know a thing or two about the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery in the U.S., as I was a history major for some time and took several classes on slavery in America and the associated civil war. And one thing I remember very clearly is that (a) one of the major justifications for slavery has been the notion that slaves need to be enslaved in order for them to survive (i.e., they cannot survive on their own without the orders of their masters) and (b) slaves used this presumption of their poor intelligence to actively resist their enslavement. In an online article I found for linking to this concept, James Sweet writes:

   [...] slaves registered their displeasure by slowing work, feigning illness, breaking tools, or sabotaging production. These everyday forms of resistance vexed slave masters, but there was little they could do to stop them without risking more widespread breaks in production.

Slowing work by, say, gathering water from a spring instead of a stream? Breaking tools by boiling all the seed potatoes before planting? Sabotaging production by stopping the milking in order to move the milk from the cat instead of the cat from the barn?

It's important to understand that these events were not secretive or widely unknown. People who supported the institution of slavery not only knew about these incidents, but also published them widely in order to support their propaganda that slaves were too stupid to survive as free people. That Lewis included what could be taken as signs of resistance in his novel doesn't mean that he recognized (or intended us to view) these actions as resistance; it could just as easily have been intended to show the reader that the Dufflepuds are too stupid to deserve freedom.

In another article I pulled for linkage, I found this candid outline of the justifications for slavery to be more than a little on-topic for this episode:

• Defenders of slavery argued that the sudden end to the slave economy would have had a profound and killing economic impact...

See Coriakin stating that he'll free the Dufflepuds someday and Aslan cautioning him to be patient and wait.

• Defenders of slavery argued that if all the slaves were freed, there would be widespread unemployment and chaos. [...] Defenders of slavery argued that the institution was divine, and that it brought Christianity to the heathen from across the ocean. Slavery was, according to this argument, a good thing for the enslaved. John C. Calhoun said, "Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually."

See Coriakin stating that the Dufflepuds would be lost, confused, adrift, and starving if he didn't command them. (Despite the fact that he hasn't had any contact with them since they turned invisible.)

• Defenders of slavery turned to the courts, who had ruled, [black people] had no legal standing as persons in our courts — they were property...

See Coriakin's total assurance that he can turn the Dufflepuds into whatever form he wishes, because he owns their bodies as his own property.

It has been noted once or twice in these deconstructions that C.S. Lewis was not American, and that is true. But he would hardly have been totally unaware of the institution of slavery, nor of the arguments for and against it. Indeed, he was aware enough of the institution as it relates to an economy, since he made slavery a central part of Caspian's early arc in this book, and Caspian held forth at length his views on how and why slavery is a bad thing. We cannot assume that Lewis, an educated man, then forgot all about slavery and its existence a few chapters later. Yet the Dufflepuds are never acknowledged as slaves, and Lewis is careful to assert on multiple occasions that Coriakin owns the island: this is affirmed by the Dufflepuds and by Aslan himself. His ownership of the people is obviously present in the text, but largely implied by virtue of his owning the land, as opposed to buying the people.

And I think it's noteworthy that while the Lone Islanders were (a) white, English-coded people, (b) being sent to foreign lands, (c) to serve people of color who are coded in the books as Islamic, the Dufflepuds are essentially their exact opposite. They are are (a) foreign and othered (initially described as "common" and "[not] so nice", then transmuted into silly "funnies") and coded as uneducated and not possessing religious sophistication (Aslan refuses to show himself to them as it would frighten them), and (b) they reside in the place of their slavery and indeed are said to own no part of the land. Instead, the land-owner and subsequent owner of their persons is (c) a white Christian man who is coded as entirely comfortable with English customs.

I doubt that Lewis intended these chapters to read as apologia for slavery; I am guessing, based on Caspian's passionate speech against the institution, that he would be unhappy with such an interpretation of his book. But I do think that this episode with the Dufflepuds is another example of the pervasive racism in these books, and not just of the "Christian slave-owner good; Muslim slave-owner bad" variety, although that is clearly here as well.

But despite LWW and PC (and now VoDT) being ostensibly about overthrowing tyrants and freeing the enslaved, the books could be more accurately described as overthrowing the illegitimate. Jadis is a tyrant, but she is also not a Daughter of Eve. Miraz is a tyrant, but he is also the previous king's brother rather than his lawful son. The Calormen slavers are tyrants, but they are also people of color trying to assert ownership over English Christians.

Once the illegitimate are overthrown, the Pevensies seem perfectly happy with supporting "legitimate" tyranny. The four Pevensies become absolute monarchs over Narnia, despite having no real connection with the land, no experience or training in rulership, and no reason for us to believe they'll be good masters of their Talking Animal subjects. (And an argument could be made, and indeed would later be made in Disney's Prince Caspian, that the Pevensies failed to establish the necessary measures to protect the kingdom from the Telmarines, though this is not strictly canonical to the books.) Later, Prince Caspian is crowned king, despite the fact that he is demonstrably willing to favor his Telmarine subjects over his Narnian ones, and despite his problematic assertion that all Telmarine things are now to be called "Narnian" and actual facts be damned. And now the Pevensies and Caspian are more than willing to support Coriakin's tyranny as soon as it becomes clear that Aslan has sanctioned it.

These aren't isolated themes in these books: the entire series is built around the assumption that Talking Animals / Dufflepuds are unsuitable to rule themselves and that they require a divinely-appointed (and upper-class English men and women) to govern them. And it's always, inevitably justified by the Talking Animals / Dufflepuds being silly and stupid and uneducated and therefore unworthy of self-governing. The Son of Adam / Daughter of Eve / People From England rulership rule will be set in place at the very beginning of the world, depending on how you interpret The Magician's Nephew. It's entirely possible to view what happens on Coriakin's island in this 20% of the book as no different from what has happened in every other book in this series so far, wherein legitimate tyranny is given a free reign -- whether it's King Peter and Prince Caspian drawing swords at counsel meetings, or King Caspian discriminating amongst his subjects when picking his crew, or Aslan pouncing on agnostic dwarves for the crime of being agnostic, or Coriakin transforming his subjects into whatever form his whim favors.

It's just harder to see these books as celebrations of legitimate tyranny when so many of the villains are themselves tyrants. We tend to think that the problem with Jadis and Miraz wasn't that they were illegitimate, but because they were... you know... tyrants. And yet apparently that question of legitimacy mattered to C.S. Lewis, because I can think of no other reason why we'd need a genealogy chart for Jadis when she was turning people to stone. And I can think of no other reason why he didn't notice that here he has Coriakin turning people to monopods. Both of those things are magical tyranny. It's just that the latter person had a permission slip from Aslan.

As a final note, this episode with Lucy becomes particularly poignant and depressing for me when you remember that she and Trumpkin are supposed to be dear friends. And yet she's okay with others of his race being enslaved and tormented, just as long as they weren't very pretty to begin with. Terrible Bargain, indeed.



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