Narnia: Intent is Magic

[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery]
Content Note: Misogyny, Rape Culture]

Narnia Recap: In which Lucy goes into the Magician's tower to read a spell.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 10: The Magician's Book

There's a lot of reasons why I prefer to deconstruct books in the order of publishing date as opposed to canonical order. My biggest reason is ultimately a personal one: it's more intuitive for me to navigate the words on the page as they appeared in (semi-) real-time, as opposed to how they were arranged later, with all the benefits and drawbacks of hindsight. Others, I know, approach literature in different (and equally valid) ways.

I mention this, however, because today's passage is an illustration of how words-on-the-page are often approached differently depending on what we've read before. If we were working through the books in canon-order, we would have already done The Horse and His Boy, given that it is set within the Golden Age of the Pevensies and therefore straddles the time gap between The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. (Indeed, technically speaking, THaHB occurs within a single chapter of LWW.)

And if we had already read THaHB, it would be firmly fixed in our minds that Queen Lucy the Valiant is not only a lovely vibrant young woman who has had every prince in the Narnia 'verse bucking for her merry hand in marriage (citation: LWW), but who is also a passionate warrior-queen who loves the thrill of battle for its own sake and is as brave as any man et cetera, et cetera. We might therefore be a touch confused at child!Lucy here who is frightened of her own shadow. 

I struggle somewhat with how to express my sense of contradiction here, because I do not want to come off as saying that it's wrong to be afraid (it's not) or unnatural for a little girl in this situation to be afraid (it's not) or like Lucy is a bad person to be afraid (she's not). It is okay to be afraid. It's also totally okay, from a Watsonian perspective (by which I mean if Lucy were a real live person) for Lucy to be afraid in this instance: there's obviously a qualitative difference between being an adult archer in a huge battle with comrades beside you versus being a child in a solitary situation facing an invisible magician. Those things are not the same thing.

But from a Doylist perspective (that is to say, seeing the text through the eyes of an author), I feel like it's appropriate to ask why Queen Lucy the Valiant is so fearful in this chapter when, a couple of books from now, she'll be jostling for the joy of battle with more than a little fervor. The simplest answer is (as always) that Lewis forgot, or that he didn't care about consistency. Or we can fall back on the fact that the Pevensie children seem to have curiously faulty memories about their time in Narnia. (Though this, as usual, undermines the Problem of Susan--she can't be sinful for thinking their childhood memories nothing more than make-believe if her memories really are fuzzier than a kitten wrapped in a skein of yarn and napping on an alpaca throw-blanket.)

Yet I believe the answer is that characterization, for Lewis, was intentionally kept fluid in order to fit the moral he was trying to convey in any situation. (And I believe, without belaboring the point, that we've seen this shifting characterization several times already in this book with regards to Edmund and Eustace.) In THaHB, Lucy will appear in contrast to Susan; Susan, who is weak and womanly and fearful, will stay home from the literal war being fought over her, while Lucy will be brave and courageous and will risk her body (in a way that Susan will not risk hers) to save her country. Good Lucy, Bad Susan--and in a moral message that clearly links bravery with goodness.

Here however, Lewis wants to use Lucy to send a moral lesson to the girl readers about their sinful girly vanity, so that means that Lucy must be the bad girl in the room. This means that Lucy has to be stripped of her bravery (since bravery is a measure of goodness) and additionally that Lucy has to be given the sin of vanity where she has never before shown any sign of being vain. (And this is especially frustrating because if Lewis wanted to showcase a lack of bravery and a surfeit of vanity, Caspian or Eustace would surely have been better characters for this sequence. But instead we get Lucy, because Lewis seemed to have a serious bug up his butt about female vanity, if the "lipsticks and nylons" didn't already make that plain.)

But a major problem that I want to address is that when characterization is kept fluid in order to serve morality, you end up with the problem that morality is inextricably linked to personality rather than to actions. Instead of having good people wrestle with the morality of their actions, we end up with morality lessons around people whose personalities are good or bad as the situation demands. Good People people do good things simply because they are Good People, and Bad People do bad things because they are Bad People, and the difference is not one of actions--for, as we've already seen, our protagonists do bad actions all the time without the narrative noticing or caring--but rather one of intentions, and of who is wearing the Bad Person hat for any given day and chapter.

Let's dive in before I talk your ears off. 

   When Lucy woke up next morning it was like waking up on the day of an examination or a day when you are going to the dentist. It was a lovely morning with bees buzzing in and out of her open window and the lawn outside looking very like somewhere in England. She got up and dressed and tried to talk and eat ordinarily at breakfast. Then, after being instructed by the Chief Voice about what she was to do upstairs, she bid goodbye to the others, said nothing, walked to the bottom of the stairs, and began going up them without once looking back.

If it was at any point explained why Lucy has to go upstairs alone, I missed it. I could maybe understand it if this were supposed to be a stealth mission, but that idea is entirely undermined by the fact that the Dufflepuds gave them a ginormous feast and had them stay the night rather than sending Lucy upstairs right away after the capture. I'm guessing that this is supposed to just be one of those self-evident things, because magic or because adventure or because whatever. I also note that there is no mention of Lucy being armed, which again contradicts everything we know of her to this point.

So we're sending a little girl all alone and unarmed upstairs to confront an evil wizard, and Reepicheep feels like this isn't going to affect her honor, and we all know (as Lewis surely must have) that when the word "honor" is applied in the chivalric sense to a woman, 9 times out of 10 the speaker means sexual purity. I don't really know what to say about this, except that I'm thunderstruck by Lewis' continual invisibling of the concerns of women in his stories. He's like Caspian living it up with his new friends while Lucy is being chained up by pirates, blissfully ignoring anything that would ruffle his privileged happy feels.

Then there's a lot of stuff about the whole place being very scary except Not Really because later, when everything is all said and done, the house will seem very warm and homey and cheery. So there's a strong undercurrent of a theme that the place is scary only because Lucy herself is scared, and not because the place or the situation are legitimately frightening things.

   It was quite light, that was one good thing. [...] “The last doorway on the left,” she said to herself. It did seem a bit hard that it should be the last. To reach it she would have to walk past room after room. And in any room there might be the magician—asleep, or awake, or invisible, or even dead. But it wouldn’t do to think about that. She set out on her journey. The carpet was so thick that her feet made no noise.

Lucy the valiant warrior queen, who has been in many a battle and slain many an enemy and healed (and surely also failed to heal) many a fallen comrade on the bloody field of combat, is afraid of dead bodies. And, as previously noted in the last chapter, insects and maybe also frogs and other jumpy things. OK. 

   “There’s nothing whatever to be afraid of yet,” Lucy told herself. And certainly it was a quiet, sunlit passage; perhaps a bit too quiet. It would have been nicer if there had not been strange signs painted in scarlet on the doors—twisty, complicated things which obviously had a meaning and it mightn’t be a very nice meaning either. It would have been nicer still if there weren’t those masks hanging on the wall. Not that they were exactly ugly—or not so very ugly—but the empty eye-holes did look queer, and if you let yourself you would soon start imagining that the masks were doing things as soon as your back was turned to them.

And also unknown and maybe magical signs on the wall (despite not being frightened by the strange wall-symbols in the caves under the Stone Table in Prince Caspian) and also masks with empty eye holes. Sure.

   After about the sixth door she got her first real fright. For one second she felt almost certain that a wicked little bearded face had popped out of the wall and made a grimace at her. She forced herself to stop and look at it. And it was not a face at all. It was a little mirror just the size and shape of her own face, with hair on the top of it and a beard hanging down from it, so that when you looked in the mirror your own face fitted into the hair and beard and it looked as if they belonged to you. “I just caught my own reflection with the tail of my eye as I went past,” said Lucy to herself. “That was all it was. It’s quite harmless.” But she didn’t like the look of her own face with that hair and beard, and went on. (I don’t know what the Bearded Glass was for because I am not a magician.)

And also novelty mirrors. Lucy the valiant queen of valiantness is afraid of insects and frogs and dead bodies and door-symbols and masks and novelty mirrors. And while Lewis might not know what the Bearded Glass was for, I can venture to guess that it was for showing how frightened Lucy is, because it wasn't enough for Lucy to be unsettled or disconcerted, she has to be frightened and a-frighted and frighty-fright-fright-boo for the reader to really appreciate just how scared Lucy is: she's literally scared by her own reflection.

   Before she reached the last door on the left, Lucy was beginning to wonder whether the corridor had grown longer since she began her journey and whether this was part of the magic of the house. But she got to it at last. And the door was open. [...] For the Book, the Magic Book, was lying on a reading-desk in the very middle of the room. She saw she would have to read it standing (and anyway there were no chairs) and also that she would have to stand with her back to the door while she read it. So at once she turned to shut the door.
   It wouldn’t shut.
   Some people may disagree with Lucy about this, but I think she was quite right. She said she wouldn’t have minded if she could have shut the door, but that it was unpleasant to have to stand in a place like that with an open doorway right behind your back. I should have felt just the same. But there was nothing else to be done.

You know? No. NO. All this faux pat-the-little-girl-on-the-head, no-really-this-is-very-scary, you-poor-little-dear fake sympathy can go stuff itself. The door won't close, and the book won't move, and the reading desk won't rotate, etc. etc. because the author says so and railroading is the only way Lewis The Dungeon Master likes to play so strap in and get ready for a bumpy ride NO. 

Queen Lucy the Valiant does not accept this. Queen Lucy the Valiant breaks the window panes, or the dishes she brought up with her for this very purpose, and scatters the broken glass and ceramic shards across the threshold to warn her if any invisible magicians try to sneak into the room. Queen Lucy the Valiant stacks books up at the doorway so that no one can enter without knocking them over and giving her warning. Queen Lucy the Valiant sets the door on fire as a warning to the other doors to listen to her over the author. Queen Lucy the Valiant does anything other than meekly submit to the situation crafted by the author (and/or by the evil wizard) to put her at the most disadvantage.

   One thing that worried her a good deal was the size of the Book. The Chief Voice had not been able to give her any idea whereabouts in the Book the spell for making things visible came. He even seemed rather surprised at her asking. He expected her to begin at the beginning and go on till she came to it; obviously he had never thought that there was any other way of finding a place in a book. “But it might take me days and weeks!” said Lucy, looking at the huge volume, “and I feel already as if I’d been in this place for hours.”

So, too, can all this Have I Mentioned Lately That The Dufflepuds Are Stupid go stuff itself. Considering that the Dufflepuds are slaves and probably don't own any books of their own and come to think on it it's a miracle they aren't all illiterate, then no it's not surprising that the Chief doesn't know about tables of content and bookmarks and whatnot. And given that the magician's book is a traditional grimoire, with hand-written pages and no tables of content and no bookmarks and (very probably) designed to allow the pages to be moved around, the Chief just so happens to be right that the only way to find the spell is to start at the beginning and step through. Not that he gets any credit for that.

I want to save the actual vanity spell for next time, because I think it deserves its own post, but I want to touch on one more piece of characterization here.

As Lewis does with all his characters who he dislikes (or who are intended to be disliked for the duration of a scene like this one), Lucy has descended into Stupidly Silly. I've already talked at length about how the Talking Animals and the Dufflepuds are stupidly silly, and we've discussed how this is a technique to Other the character and distance the reader from sympathy with hir. Now we get to see this applied to Lucy.

Lucy has spent the better part of this morning being so frightened that she has literally been terrified by her own reflection. She's practically shaking with fear in this (Not Really) ominous house, and she's thoroughly anxious to finish her job and get out as quickly as she can. She has every reason to believe that the magician in the house is hostile and might try to harm or retaliate against her; once she makes the Dufflepuds visible (which will release her obligation to them and hopefully cause them to free her and the others) she needs to hoof it back to the Dawn Treader before the evil magician can hurt her.

(All of this is supposing that Queen Lucy the Valiant doesn't intend to fight the magician and free the Dufflepuds, but that has been the understanding left to us by the dialogue and narrative--Lucy appears to intend to do only for the Dufflepuds what they have asked and no more, and then to flee the island.)

So of course, while she's in a huge rush and no small terror at being discovered and attacked, she's going to leaf as slowly as possible through this book:

   It was written, not printed; written in a clear, even hand, with thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, very large, easier than print, and so beautiful that Lucy stared at it for a whole minute and forgot about reading it. The paper was crisp and smooth and a nice smell came from it; and in the margins, and round the big colored capital letters at the beginning of each spell, there were pictures.
    There was no title page or title; the spells began straight away, and at first there was nothing very important in them. They were cures for warts (by washing your hands in moonlight in a silver basin) and toothache and cramp, and a spell for taking a swarm of bees. The picture of the man with toothache was so lifelike that it would have set your own teeth aching if you looked at it too long, and the golden bees which were dotted all round the fourth spell looked for a moment as if they were really flying.
   Lucy could hardly tear herself away from that first page, but when she turned over, the next was just as interesting. “But I must get on,” she told herself. And on she went for about thirty pages which, if she could have remembered them, would have taught her how to find buried treasure, how to remember things forgotten, how to forget things you wanted to forget, how to tell whether anyone was speaking the truth, how to call up (or prevent) wind, fog, snow, sleet or rain, how to produce enchanted sleeps and how to give a man an ass’s head (as they did to poor Bottom). And the longer she read the more wonderful and more real the pictures became.

There are really only two ways that I can see to make sense of this.

One way is that Lucy is ensorcelled. (And it is, I think, a reflection on Lewis' writing that we have to reach for this option so very often. "The characters are acting wildly out of character! Are they ensorcelled? Maybe? WHO KNOWS.") This is definitely how the movies of this scene play it; that Lucy is dawdling over the magic book because her attention is magically arrested. But, as with every other ensorcelled scene, this explanation vastly reduces the impact of the moral lesson, since Lucy is no longer fully in control of her actions. The sin of vanity, or temptation of vanity, can't really be a sin or a temptation if the person has limited control over her actions. As a moral lesson, it doesn't work.

The second option--which leaves Lucy's culpability intact but not her character--is that she's suddenly become very stupid. She's fearful, yes, but not so fearful that she acts sensibly. She's like the Dufflepuds who fear the magician but not enough to not bad-mouth him loud enough for him to hear them. She's like the Animals who fear the Telmarines but not enough to form a capable fighting force, and who instead have to wait around a few hundred years until a sensible human shows up to overrule their silly impulses.

As a tool in the moralist's arsenal, making the sinner Stupidly Silly might seem like an unproductive move. After all, wouldn't Lucy be a better object lesson if she were willfully vain instead of silly-ly vain? But in actuality, the Othering provided by the sillyfication is necessary in order for Lewis' message to go down without the reader questioning it. If Lucy were behaving shrewdly and rationally, the reader might wonder if her vanity is also shrewd and rational. (Spoiler: It is.)

In order for Lewis to be sure that the reader (who is also expected to be a child and less likely to argue with the author) accepts that Lucy's actions are wrong, he needs to also be clear that the source of her actions are wrong. If Lucy's reasoning is silly, flawed, faulty, and stupid, then it therefore follows that the actions resulting from her reasoning are wrong without need for further examination.

Everything that follows in Narnia flows from this poisoning of the well: If a character--whether it be Talking Animals or Dufflepuds or Lucy or Calormen--is silly and wrong-headed, then hir actions are wrong. If a character is right-headed, then hir actions are right. Eustace was right to attack the sea serpent with a sword, not because it was the right action, but because it stemmed from the right attitude. Lucy will be wrong to try to cast the beauty spell not because it is a wrong action (we will not be allowed to examine the rightness or wrongness of the action) but because she is, right now, in the wrong frame of mind. Caspian and Cornelius were right to drug their guards in order to escape because they had the right attitude, but another character (to be discussed later) will be wrong for doing the exact same action, merely because she is deemed by the author to be uppity.

Intent in Narnia doesn't just excuse actions, it actually colors them entirely, with no thought allowed otherwise for whether the action itself was right or wrong.


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