Narnia: Pass The Magic Peas, Please

[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery]
Content Note: Body Transformation, Racism, Sexism, Religious Intolerance, Rape Culture]

Narnia Recap: Lucy has cast the spell to make things visible and will now spend time with the Magician Coriakin.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 11: The Dufflepuds Made Happy

So I'm sorry to stick you with Narnia for two weeks when we haven't had a Twilight or Hunger Games post for a bit, but it's been nasty winter here and somehow Narnia is easier for me to grapple with than Bella's depression, so here we are. Hopefully I can get a Twilight out soon for ya'll. Also: ((hugs)) as wanted to everyone else dealing with S.A.D.

Today Lucy gets to meet the Magician Coriakin, though it seems as if he's been with us all this time because we've already given his character quite a thorough threshing in the comments. So a lot of this may read like a recap of the comments, but I think it's a useful recap to have. But first I want to go off on a small tangent about racism and sexism in literature.

Racism and sexism in literature don't occur in a context-free void, and they don't only occur in obvious ways. One of the things that Lewis apologists like to point to when we talk about sexism in Narnia is how Lucy is allowed to be a warrior queen, and how Aravis is married to a king and becomes both a queen and an important figure in Narnian history. Similarly, Lewis apologists tend to point to the existence of Aravis and Emeth (The Last Battle) as proof that Narnia isn't built on racist principles.

But the reality is more complicated than that. Racism and sexism aren't simply a function of whether there are acceptable token characters in the cast. We've pointed out, for example, how Caspian and the dream team immediately leap to the assumption that white slaves should be freed from slavery (particularly slavery which places them in servitude to people of color), but how it doesn't even occur to them to try to free the Dufflepuds from a magician who codes as white and British. And we've pointed out how various rules that are used to harm women (Lucy with eavesdropping, and Aravis with drugging others to escape) are not applied against privileged white men (Peter who eavesdrops, and Caspian and Cornelius who drugged Miraz's guards).

Similarly, regardless of whether you accept that the White Witch is written in a sexist way (and that Edmund is condemned for sexist reasons, i.e., submitting to and collaborating with a woman), it is important to note that the same rules which applied to the White Witch and Edmund back then will now not apply to Magician Coriakin (who may or may not be an authorial avatar) and Lucy (who was named for Lewis' godchild, Lucy Barfield). That contextual difference--the difference between how the narrative treats a woman magic user versus how it treats a man magic user--is itself an issue of sexism, and not one that can be compensated for by including a few token Strong Female Characters because sexism in literature is not a mathematical equation of credits against demerits.

   LUCY FOLLOWED THE GREAT LION OUT into the passage and at once she saw coming toward them an old man, barefoot, dressed in a red robe. His white hair was crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, his beard fell to his girdle, and he supported himself with a curiously carved staff. When he saw Aslan he bowed low and said,
   “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.
   “Yes, all in very good time, Sir,” was the answer. “Do you intend to show yourself to them?”
   “Nay,” said the Lion, with a little half-growl that meant (Lucy thought) the same as a laugh. “I should frighten them out of their senses. Many stars will grow old and come to take their rest in islands before your people are ripe for that.

It has already been noted that there are a number of similarities between the White Witch and Coriakin. For one, neither of them are human, though they both appear to be--the White Witch is either a giantess (citation: LWW), which ties into stereotypes about large and physically strong women being threatening to proper masculinity, or she is from another world altogether (citation: TMN), which would presumably make her closer to human than Coriakin who is a star. Yet while the fact that Jadis appears-human-but-isn't was treated as a sure sign of her being evil, we have conveniently dropped that world-building detail when it comes to Stars. Coriakin here is good and Aslan-worshipping; later, Caspian will marry the daughter of a Star.

For two, both Jadis and Coriakin seem to hold their positions of rule-by-magic with some kind of approval from Aslan and/or the Emperor. Aslan here explicitly asserts that the Dufflepuds are "subjects" that Aslan has "given" to Coriakin, and it was implied in LWW that Jadis was a punisher working for the Emperor and that her rule, while displeasing to Aslan and the Emperor, was at least occurring with some semblance of their awareness and consent (as well as apparent foreknowledge, courtesy of their godly omniscience).

For three, both Coriakin and Jadis used "rough magic" (a phrase which is way too close for comfort to "rough wooing", which has ALL KINDS of problems with rape culture and imperialism and war crimes) to terrorize the local population with body transformation: Jadis turned Narnians to stone and Coriakin turned the Dufflepuds from dwarves to their "monopod" form. Both Jadis and Coriakin claim that these transformations were necessary and within their rights as local ruler.

And yet, Jadis is a villain who must be destroyed (she is literally mauled by Aslan) and Coriakin is a friend to be honored and revered. Yet the only apparent differences between them are their gender, their religion (by which I mean "proper submission to Aslan"), and a fuzzy objection to Jadis' "legitimacy" and genealogy, which I'm not convinced isn't just another way of pointing out her gender and religion. (How has she been invested with less authority than Coriakin? How is her non-human genealogy inferior to that of a non-human Star's? These are rhetorical questions.)

That these are the only differences between Coriakin and Jadis is important, because a lot of apologists like to insist that Lewis wasn't sexist and wasn't anti-atheist / anti-non-Christian. Because, sure, he believed that Christians go to heaven, but he also lets non-Christian Emeth in (more on how very wrong that scene is when we get there; let us set that aside for now) and sure he does that whole horrible scene with the atheist dwarves, but that wasn't against ALL atheists, just SOME atheists and therefore the theology in Narnia is kind and gentle to people who are non-Christians and/or women who aren't Exceptional Acceptable Women.

But this isn't tenable when the difference between your series Big Bad and your Author Avatar isn't how they act, or how they treat others, or the choices they make, but rather simply their religion and gender. When the only thing that makes Coriakin good (as opposed to a terrible evil tyrant) is that he is a man and he is a Christian, then the theology being peddled here is anti-women and anti-non-Christian, no matter how you try to spin it.

It isn't enough to let a token non-Christian into heaven; it's also necessary that your objectively evil (and if non-consensual body-transformation explicitly done for the purpose of terrorizing slaves into abject obedience isn't objectively evil, then I don't know what is) "good" Christian characters not be given a morality pass on their actions because, hey, they're Christians and as long as you worship Aslan, it's morally alright to magically alter peoples' bodies without their consent merely because you are a Christian.

That's not a kinder, gentler version of Christianity--it's literally giving Christian men a free pass to hurt others whenever they want because they know best and intent is magic.

   [Aslan:] And today before sunset I must visit Trumpkin the Dwarf where he sits in the castle of Cair Paravel counting the days till his master Caspian comes home. I will tell him all your story, Lucy. Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”
   “Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon?”
   “I call all times soon,” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away and Lucy was alone with the Magician.

And we note again that Aslan doesn't tell folks the stories of other people when doing so would bring comfort to women (Lucy, Aravis) but he's more than happy to do precisely that when doing so brings comfort to men (Trumpkin, Diggory).

I note also that Aslan doesn't ask Lucy for her consent to tell her story to Trumpkin (because consent and agency are not things that Lion-Jesus respects) nor does he tell Lucy precisely what of her story he intends to tell. Aslan is omniscient (because Lion-Jesus) so he could conceivably tell Trumpkim literally every thought, word, and deed Lucy has done since she landed in the ocean, but even if he were not omniscient, he has been literally spying on Lucy while invisible.

So Aslan is straight-up telling Lucy that he is planning to tell Trumpkin "all [her] story" (including privately wishing Susan were neglected and lonely? Who knows!) without attempting to obtain her consent nor define the limits of what he intends to tell. And this is reason 5,083,131 why a God / Guardian Angel who stares at you all the time without your knowledge (and especially whenever you are pooping) is fucking creepy to some folks. (YMMV.)

Gotta also love Aslan's douchebag "I call all times soon because fuck you" deflection of Lucy's question.* Which is doubly great because she looks forward to seeing him for self-care and (possibly) equally dreads seeing him because he's usually only around long enough to kick a Pevensie or two out of Narnia forever. So he's not willing to give her any idea of when that might happen to her because (again!) agency and self-preparation for traumatic events is for other religions. (If Aslan was Lucy's parent, I have no doubt he would be the kind who doesn't prep her for her menstrual period. Or sex. Or anything because surprises are never terrifying or traumatic and they build character.)

   “Gone!” said he, “and you and I quite crestfallen. It’s always like that, you can’t keep him; it’s not as if he were a tame lion. And how did you enjoy my book?”
   “Parts of it very much indeed,” said Lucy. “Did you know I was there all the time?”


I know this is a reference to the self-care story that Lucy will never be allowed to read again (which would make me sad, not happy, to have read) but this is beyond reasonably polite for a book that caused Lucy to confront a secret desire that her sister be neglected to the point of depression and a book that just ruined-forever a friendship she held very dear. I don't buy that this is Lucy being excessively polite (when literally any other answer would have sufficed--"I thought it was very unusual!" would have been fine) and I am certain this is just another example of Lewis' appalling lack of empathy.

Lewis has forgotten that Lucy just lost a lifelong friendship, and I think that really undermines any argument that the "lesson" of Chapter 10 was something deep and thoughtful and meaningful about the importance of boundaries in friendships or whatever. When the fact that your character just lost something dear and precious to them is important to the author, it doesn't get dropped right away afterward. But if the lesson of Chapter 10 was "women be bitches", then I can absolutely imagine Lewis forgetting all about Lucy's loss because the loss wasn't a loss, but rather a punishment.

Lucy has accepted her punishment (the forever-loss of her friendship with Marjory) and learned her lesson and we can all go on with life, just as we did when Eustace was flayed back into human form. There is no dwelling on her loss because the loss (and her feelings about it) weren't important as something that affected Lucy deeply--it was only inflicted in order to connect a punishment to the moral law (No Eavesdropping) being laid down for the reader. None of that is, in my opinion, compatible with an empathic lesson about friendships, nor is having all of it being dropped a few seconds later because SHINY CHRIST PASSION STORY.

   [Coriakin:] Are you hungry?”
   “Well, perhaps I am a little,” said Lucy. “I’ve no idea what the time is.”
   “Come,” said the Magician. “All times may be soon to Aslan; but in my home all hungry times are one o’clock.”
   He led her a little way down the passage and opened a door. Passing in, Lucy found herself in a pleasant room full of sunlight and flowers. The table was bare when they entered, but it was of course a magic table, and at a word from the old man the tablecloth, silver, plates, glasses and food appeared.
   “I hope that is what you would like,” said he. “I have tried to give you food more like the food of your own land than perhaps you have had lately.”
   “It’s lovely,” said Lucy, and so it was; 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. But the magician himself drank only wine and ate only bread. There was nothing alarming about him, and Lucy and he were soon chatting away like old friends.

So let's break this down.

A young child (9-to-10 years old in both cases) meets an adult magic user, and eats magical food provided for them, and then immediately tells the adult magic user all about hirself and hir companions. When it's a boy trusting a woman and eating food that isn't sturdily English, then he's a traitor to his race (literally) and deserves to be put to death according to the laws set down at the beginning of time by God himself. When it's a girl trusting a man and eating food that is patriotically English, then she's a good girl living out God's plan for her life and being obedient and awesome.

This context matters. It matters that magic in this series is portrayed as benign and exciting and pleasant when men do the magic (Coriakin; Cornelius--I also point out here that C.S. Lewis also starts with a C for Clive) and yet evil and vile and disgusting when women do the magic (the White Witch; the Hag; the Green Witch). And not merely evil, but so obviously evil that it's treated as self-evidently correct for Edmund to be called a traitor because obviously the Witch shouldn't have been trusted because she was a woman using magic and what more do you people want I mean really.

Once again: If the only material difference between an Obviously Good person like Coriakin and an Obviously Evil person like Jadis ("obvious" being on the part of the author and narrative) is that one is a man and the other is a woman, that is sexism.

Lucy demonstrably knows more bad things about Coriakin at this point than Edmund did about the White Witch. She knows that he is a foreign power who has enslaved the native people of this island and tortured them with body transformation while requiring them to work for him (even though he clearly can provide for his primary needs through magic and thus presumably does not need their help at all). And she has had experience enough with Narnia and magic to clearly see that this food is magical (and the implications of that), whereas Edmund was still grappling with holy shit snow in the wardrobe and therefore may not have even realized the food was magic nor what that might mean.

Hell, Lucy has the extreme benefit of knowing Edmund's history -- she sat in the cold, bitter darkness and watched her friend Aslan be tortured and killed because her brother ate magic food. Arguably, Lucy has significantly more knowledge to know how fraught this situation is (or could be) than Edmund did. I could even argue that for Lucy's character to be in any way consistent, she should be freaking the fuck out about magic food (or, at least, magic food that wasn't provided by Aslan, since I seem to recall there was also magic food in Prince Caspian and I would say fuck any consistency in these books except that's kind of the problem: magic food is treated with consistency, as long as you accept that the food provided by women/witches is bad and the food provided by men/magicians is good.**)

Yet Edmund, in all his ignorance, is the sinner who was condemned to death. Why? Because he trusted the female Satan avatar. Whereas Lucy is only "guilty" of trusting the male Author avatar who has been blessed by the male Jesus avatar.

That gender assignment and accompanying morality -- the good authority-holder avatars being male and the evil illegitimate-tempter avatar being female, and the traitor/sinner being a man who submits to a woman (see also: Rilian) while the good person is a girl who submits to a man -- might not in itself be a bad thing to have in a book, though it would be a suspect thing because literature does not occur in a contextless void divorced from society.

But! It would be, it is, necessary to characterize these avatars -- the ones who are good, the ones who are evil, the ones who are right, and the ones who are wrong, and the ones who have the authority to wield privilege, and the ones who attempt to wield it illegitimately without the approval of the right Powers That Be -- with actual actions and characteristics beyond their gender. Jadis needs to be evil because of the bad things that she does, not merely because she is female; Coriakin needs to be good because of the good things that he does, not merely because he is male.

And their intentions are entirely moot--it's not acceptable for them to both body-transmogrify the locals only it's okay when Coriakin does it because he's teaching them crucial irrigation techniques whereas Jadis was just doing it for a larf.

The people they are terrorizing are still just as terrorized, regardless of Coriakin's male identity and pure heart.

* Chris is fond of quoting Alice in Wonderland at these times, which always makes me smile. And it's noteworthy that Lewis Carroll pretty clearly intended for Humpty Dumpty to come off like a gasbag in this exchange, whereas is seems equally clear that C.S. Lewis did not. This is one of many reasons why I now prefer Alice to Narnia.

There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’ ” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

“Would you tell me, please,” said Alice, “what that means?”

“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased, “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”

“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”

“Oh!” said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

** Incidentally, this is one reason why male Wiccan practitioners often identify as "witches" and not "wizards" (a la Harry Potter) or "magicians"*** (a la Narnia), because the gendering of female=witch and male=somethingelse is hugely problematic and additionally makes this extra morality association (female=witch=evil and male=somethingelse=good) worryingly easy to invoke in fiction.

*** Plus, depending on whose definitions you use, "wizard" and "magician" are terms that actually mean gender-neutral things. Think "methods of study" and "methods of doing magic" and other things that would differentiate Magic User A from Magic User B. One more reason to not use these words to mean gender, because they mean actual gender-neutral things.


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