Narnia: Lucy in the Sky with Inconsistent Characterization

[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery]
Content Note: Misogyny, Eavesdropping and Friendships and Boundaries
Title Note: Song reference. Also: Holy Colors Google Image Search!

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

Let's see if we can finish Chapter 10 today. When we last left Lucy, she'd been frightened by the picture of Aslan and had quickly turned over the page without reading the beauty spell. So now that we've dealt with the female sin of vanity, it's time to deal with the other female sins: gossip and catty backstabbing. (And note that the best part about having a literal Smurfette in your book is that you can address all the female sins at once and then get back to the manly stuff.)

   A little later she came to a spell which would let you know what your friends thought about you. Now Lucy had wanted very badly to try the other spell, the one that made you beautiful beyond the lot of mortals. So she felt that to make up for not having said it, she really would say this one. And all in a hurry, for fear her mind would change, she said the words (nothing will induce me to tell you what they were). Then she waited for something to happen.

So just to be really clear, Lewis is pretty much acknowledging that there is no in-character reason (or even an in-universe reason) for Lucy to be doing this. (If you haven't read Whitley's wonderful Maze Runner deconstructions, which tackles this very thing beautifully, I really recommend them as super-fun.) And we're once again back to having to decide between two authorial cop-outs: either Lucy is semi-possessed (like the boys maybe-were on Goldwater/Deadwater island) or she acts silly-stupid in order to facilitate the story.

Because, like the Beauty Spell, this desire is straight out of left field. We'd never before seen any evidence that Lucy didn't feel sufficiently pretty or that she felt like she was living in the shadow of Susan; we were really only able to extrapolate a hand-wave for it in hindsight based on stereotypes about girls, younger siblings, growing up, and Susan's visit to America. But without the fact that Lucy wanted to say the Beauty Spell and eclipse Susan, we could just as easily argued that the two girls had a great relationship and that Lucy missed her sister and that their parents doted on Lucy for being the youngest (as opposed to doting on Susan for being the beauty). Since we had no details building up to the Beauty Spell in justification of Lucy's desire to cast it, we had to fill in the blanks (that Lewis should have been filling himself) in retrospect.

And now we're here again because, wait, Lucy has friends? When did that happen??

But stop. Wait. Hold that thought, because I want to pursue another one. I've already said, several times, that I think this whole chapter would have made more sense if it were Eustace upstairs instead of Lucy. (Caspian can be the dragon because he's a destructive, greedy asshole who calls dibs on every island and society he meets. No doy. Lucy can free the slaves. THIS MAKES SENSE. ETA: Credit also must go to commenter Evan for first suggesting Caspian The Dragon and for inspiring the following ideas regarding reassigning Lewis' moral lessons.)

If it were Eustace upstairs, he would be putting himself out to save someone that he feels superior to. Since Eustace started this book feeling superior to pretty much everyone else on earth, this would be a good object lesson for him: people deserve our help, even when we think they are stupid or inferior. Eustace would be motivated to do this act not so much because of selflessness, but because (in addition to the whole "your friends are captives, you can't leave until you help us" thing) he's a liberal communist idealistic child who would hopefully have issues with Coriakin's foreign subjugation of the island's native inhabitants and the anti-communism inherent in his forcing the Dufflepuds to work as his slaves instead of Coriakin contributing properly to the community.

Once Eustace was upstairs, living out the idealistic principles he'd previously only had to grapple with in the comfort of his head, he could be confronted with the temptation of vanity. Eustace thought himself superior to everyone; think how much more superior he could be if all the women loved him and all the men envied him and he was beautiful and wealthy and respected and privileged beyond the dreams of vanity. Caspian, who'd been taller than him, and Edmund, who'd been stronger than him--they'd be so much nothing once Eustace was tall and strong and handsome beyond the lot of mortals. This stuff would not only fit his character, but would actually tie in to established narrative details, like how Eustace is so weak that even Lucy can hand his ass to him in a fight.

Then he turns over to the spell that tells you what your friends think of you. Eustace both does and doesn't have friends, depending on the whims of the plot. In Dawn Treader, he doesn't have friends because he's too nasty for people to hang around him; in Silver Chair, he has ex-friends because he's a persecuted Christian now and no longer popular. But I contend that a Eustace with friends is a much better Reformed Bully narrative than a Eustace without friends, because it's the bullies who can navigate social privilege that are the most dangerous. So: Eustace has friends.

He misses them. He doesn't like being alone in Narnia on this huge ship of people he hates. He casts the spell to see his friends, and realizes that his "friends" back home are bad people (as he himself is a bad person) who are happy to bully him in his absence when he's not there to defend himself. He realizes that the friendships he thought he had were false. Then the spell focuses on Edmund and Caspian and Reepicheep and Rhince. Eustace is initially puzzled--"they're not my friends; why is the spell showing me this?"--and then realizes as he listens to them that they're worried for him. Not just because they want him to succeed so they can leave the island; they're actually worried about him because he's their comrade and they care about him.

Then Eustace realizes that he has friends, real friends, after all. And that he didn't need to be handsome or strong or wise or tall for them to love him. That he can just be himself, and that he has value the way he is.

All of this would tie together: Eustace's backstory as a reason to care about the Dufflepuds (communism), Eustace's flaw as a temptation (superiority), Eustace's old non-Christian life (false friends), Eustace's new Christian companions (real friends, who love him as Christ loves him), and Eustace's realization that the things he wants (friends) can be had as he is, without recourse to sinful solutions (magic) and pursuit of unimportant things (vanity). It would be a consistent, clear conversion story and (bonus!) without him being tortured with two painful body transformations.

I'm not saying it's a tale I'd agree with. (I'm not, for instance, on-board with the whole "only Christians are Real Friends", nor am I even that thrilled about the anti-vanity stuff.) But it's a tale that would make sense to me as a Christian conversion narrative and I think it would be a hell of a lot better than what we ended up with here.

However, we didn't get that tale. I think because: (1) torturing Eustace was kinda the point of his story rather than an unfortunate side-effect, (2) vanity is a girly sin, not a boyish one, (3) vanity is wrong because it is a girly thing (lipsticks, nylons) and not because it is a gender-neutral sin of wishing to be superior to everyone else, (4) the Dufflepuds are not to be pitied and Coriakin is not to be hated because colonialism is great, men in ivory towers are awesome, and communism is awful, and (5) a narrative about real friends is inferior to a narrative about back-stabbing bitches the end.

So let's get back to the back-stabbing bitches. *clears throat* Wait, Lucy has friends? When did that happen??

This is one of those things where Lewis wants to have it both ways. Narnia is real, dammit, and Aslan isn't just a metaphor for Jesus, he actually is Jesus, and Lucy really did experience everything she's experienced in LWW and PC, and it's not a fantastical barely-remembered dream and people who deny it really happened are hardened sinners like Susan. Fine. But the thing is, Lucy's experiences with Narnia and Aslan are not similar to the experiences I personally had with Christianity and Jesus. As a Christian, I was perfectly able to go to a public school (in a secular community that nevertheless, though Lewis would heartily have argued against this, highly privileged Christians and Christian-thinking) and have non-Christian friends.

That experience would not have been the same for me if I were a Narnian Queen going to a secular school making friends with people who not only didn't believe in Aslan, but had never even heard of him. Lucy has lived for decades. She's participated in at least three major wars. She's been through formal courtships, maybe even marriage negotiations that didn't work out for whatever reason. She's killed men on the battlefield. She's saved the lives of dying soldiers, and she's seen others die when her care was inadequate to save them. Then she was shoved into the body of a 10-year-old and sent off to a boarding school and somehow she had to make friends with girls who had never had these experiences. I can well imagine that Lucy may be fond of these other girls, but I can't imagine (going off my own experiences, only) her ever feeling truly at ease with them, or like they were genuinely peers who walked similar paths in life.

So hold on to that imagining for just a moment.

   As nothing happened she began looking at the pictures. And all at once she saw the very last thing she expected—a picture of a third-class carriage in a train, with two schoolgirls sitting in it. She knew them at once. They were Marjorie Preston and Anne Featherstone. Only now it was much more than a picture. It was alive. She could see the telegraph posts flicking past outside the window. Then gradually (like when the radio is “coming on”) she could hear what they were saying.
   “Shall I see anything of you this term?” said Anne, “or are you still going to be all taken up with Lucy Pevensie.”
   “Don’t know what you mean by taken up,” said Marjorie.
   “Oh yes, you do,” said Anne. “You were crazy about her last term.”
   “No, I wasn’t,” said Marjorie. “I’ve got more sense than that. Not a bad little kid in her way. But I was getting pretty tired of her before the end of term.”
   “Well, you jolly well won’t have the chance any other term!” shouted Lucy. “Two-faced little beast.” But the sound of her own voice at once reminded her that she was talking to a picture and that the real Marjorie was far away in another world.
   “Well,” said Lucy to herself, “I did think better of her than that. And I did all sorts of things for her last term, and I stuck to her when not many other girls would. And she knows it too. And to Anne Featherstone, of all people! I wonder are all my friends the same? There are lots of other pictures. No. I won’t look at any more. I won’t, I won’t"—and with a great effort she turned over the page, but not before a large, angry tear had splashed on it.

I'm going to leap forward to the end of the chapter in order that we can deal with all this:

   After a little pause [Aslan] spoke again.
   “Child,” he said, “I think you have been eavesdropping.”
   “You listened to what your two schoolfellows were saying about you.”
   “Oh that? I never thought that was eavesdropping, Aslan. Wasn’t it magic?”
   “Spying on people by magic is the same as spying on them in any other way. And you have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she does not mean.”
   “I don’t think I’d ever be able to forget what I heard her say.”
   “No, you won’t.”
   “Oh dear,” said Lucy. “Have I spoiled everything? Do you mean we would have gone on being friends if it hadn’t been for this—and been really great friends—all our lives perhaps—and now we never shall.”
   “Child,” said Aslan, “did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”
   “Yes, Aslan, you did,” said Lucy. “I’m sorry. But please—”

I know this is going to be a Your Mileage May Vary moment, but even as a child, all this felt deeply wrong to me. I'm now going to endeavor to explain.

First: Lucy is, of course, entirely within her rights to never trust Marjorie again. Forgiveness is not a moral mandate that I am going to impose on anyone. For that matter, Lucy might be wise to not trust Marjorie completely again, or at least not for a very long time until she feels sure that her trust won't be misplaced, because it may be that Marjorie is willing to betray Lucy's secrets to others if she feels pressured to do so. I can why it would be prudent for Lucy to be cautious for awhile. (I also, given these feelings, don't feel that discovering this fact is a tragedy that should have been avoided by Not Eavesdropping; it's entirely possible that Lucy could have had a far greater breach of trust from Marjorie down the road, which she will now not experience. Considering that Lucy has a great many secrets to keep, this may be a good thing. Although, of course, Lucy is free to feel otherwise about the situation.)

But. Second. This whole series is supposed to be about Christian values playing out in an unfallen world and witnessed by children (Just Like You!) who get to physically interact with an earthly manifestation of Jesus Christ. Aslan isn't Aslan, he's literally Lion-Jesus. In which case, it's heartbreaking to me (as a former Christian who still harbors some fondness for some aspects of my childhood religion) that his appearance here is to lecture on eavesdropping (bad!) and to very barely outline social privilege and how fear-of-bullying will make people behave in ways they might not otherwise have done, but then to stop entirely short of the concept of forgiveness.

Lucy isn't obligated to forgive Marjorie. But neither is forgiveness impossible here. Yet it is being treated as though full-and-free forgiveness isn't even an option! Lucy bewails that "we never shall" be "really great friends" and despite the fact that now is the perfect time for a morality lesson, and despite the fact that this particular morality lesson would clearly lift Lucy's spirits, Aslan lets her statement pass unchallenged, indicating silent agreement. He doesn't ask Lucy why they never shall be friends; he doesn't point out that if she wants to, she could forgive Marjorie for her words, especially now that she knows they weren't really meant. (Intent isn't magic, but it may influence Lucy's decision to forgive or not.)

Forgiveness in Narnia isn't really forgiveness as I understand it. Lion-Jesus dies for your sins so that you don't have to go to hell, but you're still supposed to hate yourself for it. Lucy insists that they tell Edmund so that he can live with the guilt of it; Edmund beats his breast when he bares his soul to Eustace and tells him that he was the worst of sinners and the evilest of traitors, etc. The Telmarines and Narnians don't have to grapple with forgiveness; the "bad" Telmarines are sent off to The Island of Misfit Toys and the "good" Telmarines are left behind to run everything and the Narnians are totally okay with that. Eustace and Edmund and Susan won't be brought up in the text without reminders that they were (or will be) bad, and isn't that a shame and that's why Edmund didn't get a magic present from Father Christmas, etc.

Forgiveness in Narnia means that you won't die for your sins, but you will be eternally resented for it because fuck you. (You may also be tortured for your sins, see also Eustace and Aravis.)

Now, I fully believe that Lewis wanted the Marjorie story to have a sad ending because it was important to underscore that non-Christians (and women) are catty back-stabbing bitches and bullies, and that eavesdropping will ruin all the good things. But that meant that he prioritized those lessons about how bad certain Actions are and how bad certain People are over an actual lesson about Forgiveness. Which is, I would think, a more central tenet to Christianity than Women Be Bitches, or even Sin. (Specifically the "sins" of gossip and eavesdropping. Which I really think need to be marked with a "citation needed" sticker.)

Aslan could have explained that Lucy could choose not to heed what she had heard, and to try to have the relationship she hoped they might have had anyway. Aslan could have explained that Lucy has the agency to decide how she wants to respond to Marjorie's actions--as well as the agency to shape the relationship she wants to have, rather than the relationship she feels she must have based on the circumstances. Aslan could have explained that insomuch as he treats Edmund as a son (as opposed to the boy he got killed over), Lucy can choose to treat Marjorie as a friend (as opposed to the girl who badmouthed her). Aslan could have explained that life is more than a series of reactions: Bully makes Marjorie badmouth Lucy; Lucy hears because she had to say a spell; Lucy can never be friends with Marjorie again. (How is there any agency in this framework at all? There isn't. Once again, Lucy doesn't get to have agency.)

A story about Choice and Agency and Forgiveness and Decisions would have been far more useful than a story about a magic book that (maybe) forces you to read it and then you are forced to never be friends with someone again because one time she said something mean about you. (Additionally: "I can't be friends with someone who said something mean about me under duress" seems like a very limited view of friendship to sell to small children.) But then we wouldn't have gotten the lesson that little-girl pitchers have big ears and women be gossipy bitches.

Oh, and also? The Pevensies have spent their entire lives badmouthing Eustace about a thousand times worse than what Marjorie just said about Lucy. But that doesn't make them bad people because the sun shines out of Peter Pevensie's ass, and it definitely would mean that Eustace would be a bad person if he'd felt that they had made it impossible for him to have a friendship with them because Eustace is a snot who needs to get over himself. Because Protagonist-Centered Morality, obviously. (Nor will Lucy have an ah-ha! moment where she realizes that what she's been doing when she talks bad about Eustace to please Peter is not fundamentally different from what Marjorie has done to her. Yes, Lucy wasn't breaching a trust because Eustace didn't trust her to start with, but Lucy is still badmouthing someone in order to please a more privileged person with scathing gossip.)

Ahem. point here being that Lewis is terribly inconsistent on morality unless the consistency is to be found in "people who badmouth my favorite characters are sucky the end".

Third: Lucy really should not need it explained to her that sometimes people say things they don't mean in fraught social situations. Like, I'm okay with Aslan telling her for the benefit of the reader and to maybe provide context for who the other girl is (though this would work better if Lucy didn't know the other girl), but I know for a fact that by the time I was ten, I was well-versed in the idea of agreeing with bullies in order to escape the conversation. Hell, I had been given an explicit pass from my mother to badmouth her if I needed to in order to avoid trouble. (Example being if I was being peer-pressured to do something, I could blame my decision not to do it on my horrible mother. This came in handy from time to time.)

But beyond the fact that Lucy is a girl (marginalized class) living in a bully culture, and therefore presumably aware of the concept of keeping your head down to avoid trouble, she's ex-Queen of an entire country. They idea of diplomatically saying one thing (in private to satisfy someone who is being pushy) while believing another should have been literally the first thing they taught her after she learned how to wear the crown without having it slide off her head. Like, Lucy is literally willing to throw off a friendship she claims to be attached to--and is even acting like she has no choice but to throw it off--over something that she herself must have done dozens of times herself. None of this should be new or shocking or horrifying or Loss of Innocence to her. (Hell, she shouldn't even need a lecture on the perils of eavesdropping. Been there, done that. She's an adult in a child's body for gods' sakes.)

And fourth: I simply have a very hard time believing that Lucy and Marjorie were so bosom-buddies that this is the thing that is breaking Lucy's heart with regards to a lost future. A lost future is never seeing Mr. Tumnus again because he's been dead for hundreds of years. A lost future is knowing that Peter and Susan were exiled for being "too old", and you're getting up there in age. A lost future is flinching every time you see Aslan because what if he's come to end your sea-voyage and send you back to England and you'll never see Narnia (or maybe even him) again. A lost future is losing everyone you knew as an adult--people you lived with and worked with and fought beside and loved for years and years and years--without ever having a chance to say goodbye and with all of them growing old and dying wondering if you'd ever return. A lost future is seeing the kingdom you ruled razed to the ground and nearly everyone in it murdered.

A lost future is not, to my mind, finding out that you may not be super-close friends with a girl you knew for one year, and whom you could probably never share any of your past or feelings or experiences with because she wouldn't believe you anyway and if she told anyone else, you might be locked up in an asylum. Like, everyone is different and straw that broken the camel's back and ymmv etc., but Marjorie would not be a blip on my radar if I were Lucy. If I were Lucy, I'm not sure how I could have imagined we could ever have been that close anyway, since there would always be a yawning gulf the size of Narnia between us. I fully recognize that statement wouldn't be true for everyone in the audience, but it would be for me.

Anyway, let's finish out this chapter:

    On the next page she came to a spell “for the refreshment of the spirit.” The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful. And what Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell. It went on for three pages and before she had read to the bottom of the page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, “That is the loveliest story I’ve ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years. At least I’ll read it over again.”
   But here part of the magic of the Book came into play. You couldn’t turn back. The right-hand pages, the ones ahead, could be turned; the left-hand pages could not.
   “Oh, what a shame!” said Lucy. “I did so want to read it again. Well, at least I must remember it. Let’s see … it was about … about … oh dear, it’s all fading away again. And even this last page is going blank. This is a very queer book. How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can’t remember and what shall I do?”
   And she never could remember; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.

You can't turn back the pages to re-read the self-care story. Sure.

Every other Friday, the Book also kicks puppies for fun. (I'm not even going to address that the story is either Arthurian or Christ's Passion, depending on who you ask, because I feel like Lewis is just wanking off at us now. Ya'll can bat it around in the comments if you want.) Long story short: Lucy finds the Visibility Spell and reads it and Aslan is made visible.

   “Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”
   “I have been here all the time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”
   “Aslan!” said Lucy almost a little reproachfully. “Don’t make fun of me. As if anything I could do would make you visible!”
   “It did,” said Aslan. “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?”
   [... previously quoted lecture on eavesdropping ...]
   “Yes, Aslan, you did,” said Lucy. “I’m sorry. But please—”
   “Speak on, dear heart.”
   “Shall I ever be able to read that story again; the one I couldn’t remember? Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do, do, do.”
   “Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years. But now, come. We must meet the master of this house.”

Finally, we are at the end of Chapter 10. I will pause here to note that Aslan's promise here felt like a lie, even when I was a kid. It felt like he meant that he would "tell" it to her with whispery Jesus telepathy, which (as an evangelical Christian kid) I was very familiar with. Familiar enough to know that it wasn't the same as having a lion in your arms, being warm and fuzzy, and telling you a story you needed to hear with his real out-loud voice. So here Lion Jesus was using Jedi Truth to tell lies to Lucy, and they were lies about something she needed for self-care.

And I hated that, and the accompanying implication that self-care is a luxury to be put off until tomorrow, rather than a necessity to be made time for today. Lucy has--whether it is in-character or not--been dealt a substantial blow in feeling like a dear friendship has been ruined. And this was a real friend that she really saw every day, not a Jesus-telepathy friend that she sometimes wasn't sure was really listening. (Again: Speaking from own experiences; not trying to universalize for everyone.) That friendship is gone. Lucy is sorrowful and needs comforting. But self-care will happen later, not now. For years and years, but not now. Maybe never now.

Now is reserved for the master of the ivory tower, who Lucy will have to mostly face alone because Aslan has shit to do elsewhere. Shit that is presumably more important than (1) Lucy's self-care, (2) preventing genocide, or (3) freeing slaves from slavery.


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