Narnia: Invisible Crimes Against The Tediously Silly

[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery.]
Content Note: Slavery, Racism, Classism]

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

(Short one this week because Thanksgiving has consumed all my resources.)

This week we need to talk about the ways in which Lewis elides marginalization by belittling its victims. This is a common tool in his toolbox, as we've seen numerous times already. When Eustace was wet and traumatized and half-drowned -- which would normally be an exceedingly uncomfortable state to be in -- we were invited to laugh at him for being sick and for being, essentially, a big baby about the situation.

And, of course, I've talked frequently in the past about how the Animals in Narnia are deliberately made over-the-top silly in ways which (a) obscure their historical marginalization (i.e., Aslan and the Emperor doing fuck-all about Miraz and Jadis) and (b) obscure their future marginalization (i.e., them being forced to submit to an absolute monarchy run by a passel of children who have yet to demonstrate that they can rule better or more wisely than a representative Animal council would or could).

Now Lewis is going to go to a great deal of effort (and break his own world-building rules in the process) in order to establish the Dufflepuds as Tediously Silly so that their past, present, and future marginalization is obscured to the reader. And as several of us have already noted: this strategy works very, very well for Lewis. Lots of us (myself included) just plain didn't notice the problems in this situation when we went through the first time.

Step One on the elision process is to keep calling the transformation of the Dufflepuds "uglification" instead of "transformation" or "mutilation" or anything else which would be both more accurate and more difficult to gloss over. "Uglification" isn't really that bad of a curse, Lewis would probably argue, since ugliness is relative anyway and it's especially relative when everyone on the island is equally "uglified". And, of course, the "uglification" will ultimately be neutralized not by restoring the dwarves to their original (and preferred) form, but by Lucy and Coriakin unilaterally deciding that the dwarves are prettier this way anyway, and thus aren't really "ugly". No harm, no foul.

A good example of using "ugly" to obscure the drastic nature of the transformation (as opposed to a more accurate word) is the way the Chief mourns his daughter, Clipsie. If, as I was inclined to do, we interpret his statement that Clipsie was a sweet child before she was uglified as a statement about her mental health and/or emotional outlook, then the change wrought in her by the transformation is serious and deplorable. (Coriakin has stripped innocence and happiness from a young girl who never did him the slightest bit of harm; it's even possible that she was too young to work in the fields and thus wasn't associated with the 'fault' to begin with.)

But if, as boutet points out in the comments, the statement is meant to be rendered as a tautology on the unfortunate transformation of Clipsie's body -- i.e., that Clipsie was a pretty ("sweet") girl before she was made un-pretty -- then the Chief is tacitly confirming that the only harm done to Clipsie is the physical one, and that it is a non-harm to 'right-thinking' people, that is to say people who are not vain (which will be a major theme of this chapter) and to people who prefer the 'improvement' of the Dufflepuds into this form which Coriakin, Lucy, and Lewis assert is more pleasing to their eyes.

Step Two in the process of de-personifying the Dufflepuds is to continue to assert that they habitually are Doin' It Wrong. We haven't yet gotten to Coriakin's justification with regards to the dwarves gathering water at the stream source, but we get a touch of that here with the soup:

   THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE FEASTED THEIR guests royally. It was very funny to see the plates and dishes coming to the table and not to see anyone carrying them. It would have been funny even if they had moved along level with the floor, as you would expect things to do in invisible hands. But they didn’t. They progressed up the long dining-hall in a series of bounds or jumps. At the highest point of each jump a dish would be about fifteen feet up in the air; then it would come down and stop quite suddenly about three feet from the floor. When the dish contained anything like soup or stew the result was rather disastrous.

This doesn't work, and I refuse to believe that Lewis and his army of editors were too stupid to notice that literally a few sentences before (in Chapter 9), it was made clear that the things which the invisible people hold (i.e., their spears) are themselves invisible while held and only become visible when they're let go. If a spear is invisible (and it was), then that means that the wood of the spear shaft being held is invisible, and that any tips used on the spear (it did lodge itself, quivering, in a tree once thrown, which suggests to me an actual head to the spear and not just a sharpened point on the wood, but this isn't my area of expertise) are also invisible, along with any ties or leather strips used to either attach the tip to the spear or to make the spear easier for the wielder to hold.

(Compare the Disney Dufflepuds and their spears here and here.)

And, of course, the clothes of the Dufflepuds and anything they're wearing or carrying on their persons are invisible. So it just doesn't work that the food dishes (and the food inside and/or on those dishes) should be visible to the children. Nor does it even really make sense -- as depizan has already noted -- for this dinner to even take place. They're all literally inside the wizard's house. They think there's an invisible wizard upstairs who harbors extremely hostile intentions towards them and who they can't see or hear and believe may be spying on them. So rather than demand Lucy go up right away, or (better yet) insist that the entire away-team go up with her to protect her (and maybe subdue Coriakin for good measure), they decide the best thing to do is throw a party in the downstairs area of the house and just assume the Evil Wizard won't creep down to listen in on everything.

Nothing about this makes sense, unless you start from the assumption that this scene does something for Lewis' goals. And in that respect, it's a winner. For one thing, he foreshadows the Dufflepuds' unusual forms more thoroughly -- Eustace will muse on whether the people are like large grasshoppers or toads. (Edmund admonishes his cousin not to mention this theory to Queen Lucy the Valiant because obviously like all girls she would be icked out by this.) But for another, Lewis gets to point out how stupid the Dufflepuds are, for sloshing soup everywhere instead of inventing Tupperware or table-side cooking or not serving soup at all. And this is a foreshadowing of Coriakin's prime argument with the Dufflepuds and the reason why it is justifiable for him to torture them: they refuse to do things efficiently and instead do thing their way.

And of course there is the Christian parallel that Lewis would probably want to inject here, that our ways are hella-stupid compared to God's ways and that he has every reason to be pissy when we won't use Tupperware and harvest from the stream where he commands. (Although please note that not all Christian people hold this viewpoint of ourselves and God.)

   The meal would have been pleasanter if it had not been so exceedingly messy, and also if the conversation had not consisted entirely of agreements. The invisible people agreed about everything. Indeed most of their remarks were the sort it would not be easy to disagree with: “What I always say is, when a chap’s hungry, he likes some victuals,” or “Getting dark now; always does at night,” or even “Ah, you’ve come over the water. Powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?” [...] But it was a good meal otherwise, with mushroom soup and boiled chickens and hot boiled ham and gooseberries, redcurrants, curds, cream, milk, and mead. The others liked the mead but Eustace was sorry afterward that he had drunk any.

And Step Three is, of course, making the Dufflepuds not merely inefficient in deed but also stupid and tedious and tiresome in conversation. What is particularly appalling here to me is that it seems not to have occurred to Lewis at all that when your entire life has been lived under the thumb of an all-powerful slave master who has magical ways of spying on your conversation (especially now that he's invisible) and who is given to torturing your entire community for the smallest of infractions, it might be wise to restrict dialogue to the most banal and trivial of observations.

I mean, seriously, the longer I live with Narnia the more horrified I am at how deeply and thoroughly C.S. Lewis seemed to be devoid of empathy for others unlike him.

Even if we take Coriakin out of the picture, by which I mean even if we believe he wouldn't spy on the Dufflepuds' conversation with their guests, what are they supposed to talk about with Caspian and the others? It took weeks of travel for Caspian et. al. to get here in a boat that the Dufflepuds presumably have not the technology to imitate, so news of the outside world may as well be a fairy tale story to them. They could, I'm sure, talk to Caspian about life on their island and about the intricacies of farming, bee-keeping, brewery, and (of course) slavery, but I seriously doubt Caspian would want to hear it or that Lewis would consider their conversation more refined for it.

And indeed I can't help but feel that this caricature of banality (as with water being "powerful wet") is just an exaggerated version of how boring the privileged people think the common little people talk. How dare they dwell on the common and vulgar things in life when they could be discussing great thoughts among the beautiful books in the literal ivory tower up the grand staircase. Etc. And, of course, all this is very convenient that we've not been privy to any of the conversations on the Dawn Treader which probably isn't, after several weeks of enforced togetherness between a bunch of privileged lords and a lot of probably-barely-educated sailors, a bastion of Renaissance enlightenment.

It's easy to portray the Dufflepuds as stupid when we've nothing to compare them to.


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