Narnia: Justice, Mercy, and Humility

[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery]
Extra Content Note: Magical Torture, Enchanted Sleep]

Narnia Recap: The ship travels to an island where they find enchanted sleepers.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 13: The Three Sleepers

I'm still sick, but I don't like going this long without a deconstruction up, so let's soldier on. When we last left our heroes, they were sailing into the empty sea of the empty world that is the empty Narnia 'verse, only now they were doing it under completely different constellations so obviously that's new. The new constellations have (maybe?) also made the crew introspective:

Most of them slept on deck and talked far into the night or hung over the ship’s side watching the luminous dance of the foam thrown up by their bows. On an evening of startling beauty, when the sunset behind them was so crimson and purple and widely spread that the very sky itself seemed to have grown larger, they came in sight of land on their starboard bow. 

I've been re-reading Fred Clark's older Left Behind and Tribulation Force blog posts lately, and it strikes me again how much I wish the sailors on this voyage had some kind of representative member (or three or four) among the main named cast. All we really have is Drinian (who is explicitly a Lord) and Rhince who might be a commoner, but who speaks very rarely and usually only so that Drinian will have someone other than himself to talk to. Rhince is therefore not so much a character as he is a parrot or a mirror for Drinian to interact with.

We don't even know if the majority of the sailors on this voyage are commoners--since the ship-building and sailing industries were invented literally from scratch in the past few years (an almost impossible feat in itself), it's entirely possible that noble families were jockeying to send their heirs off with the new King in the hopes that they'd come back bosom-buddies. Or maybe second sons were sent into sailing, like they used to be sent to the Church. Since the industry is brand-new, there's no reason to assume that Narnia holds classist attitudes about the job.

On the other hand, the job is dangerous and frequently unpleasant, so maybe these are the commoners of Telmarine society. And we already know that Reepicheep has a low opinion of sailors as opposed to the other, better kinds of humans out there (i.e., more Chivalric ones). And we know that in the upcoming island, the sailors will pull a (fake, discredited) Christopher Columbus and (briefly) refuse to go on, which the book seems to expect us to see as cowardly and low-born and something something classism.

And so we come to the burning question, never addressed in this book: Why are these sailors here? 

Is it money that motivates them? Is Caspian really planning to pay them enough when they get back to cover the dangers and discomforts of this voyage? (Him and what treasury? The voyage itself will not be particularly prosperous; all they've gained so far is a free boat, a magic map that is more of a novelty than anything else, a gold-spring they can't use and would ruin the economy anyway, and deeply damaged relationships with Calormen as well as possibly the Lone Islanders.) Or is post-civil war Narnia one of those Londonesque places where overcrowding and underemployment pushes men to take terrible jobs for pennies a day?

Are they there for honor? This would make more sense if the sailors were nobility, because nobility regularly has trouble finding things for their sons to do. One of the reasons that knights (both real and legendary) traveled and fought and explored and campaigned was because they didn't have any other occupation. The spiritual successors of Lancelot and Galahad were able to travel for years (or decades) at a time because traveling was their occupation. ("SPARTANS? WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION?") Any old quest was a good enough way to pass the time, because they didn't have real jobs to be getting back to. Holy Grail? Sure. Edge of the world? Why not. God's country? Let's go. It's not like I'm needed at the plow after all. Except that those knights don't seem to be these sailors, based on what little we see of them.

If it's not honor and not money that motivates them, are they there out of a newfound sense of nationalism? Adventure? Adoration of the king they've sworn their lives to protect? Are they former soldiers (some of them are archers, and several more seem to know how to hold a sword, after all), trying to find a new meaning in life since the disbanding of Miraz's warrior-society? Without knowing what motivates the soldiers to sail forward, we can't understand what motivates them to stop on the upcoming island. We fall back on tired old classist narratives about them just being stupider than their betters. James Loewen notes how this story is a staple of the Columbus myth:

After studying the matter, Columbus’s biographer Samuel Eliot Morison reduced the complaints to mere griping: “They were all getting on each other’s nerves, as happens even nowadays.” So much for the crew’s threat to throw Columbus overboard.

Such exaggeration is not entirely harmless. Another archetype lurks below the surface: that those who direct social enterprises are more intelligent than those nearer the bottom. Bill Bigelow, a high school history teacher, has pointed out that “the sailors are stupid, superstitious, cowardly, and sometimes scheming. Columbus, on the other hand, is brave, wise, and godly.” These portrayals amount to an “anti-working class pro-boss polemic.” Indeed, even in 2006, Pageant still characterizes the sailors as “a motley crew,” even though they now grasp that the world is round.

False entries in the log of Santa Maria are interpreted to form another piece of the myth. “Columbus was a true leader,” says A History of the United States. “He altered the records of distances they had covered so the crew would not think they had gone too far from home.” Salvador de Madariaga has persuasively argued that to believe this, we would have to think the others on the voyage were fools. Columbus had “no special method, available only to him, whereby distances sailed could be more accurately reckoned than by the other pilots and masters.” Indeed, Columbus was less experienced as a navigator than the Pinzon brothers, who captained NiƱa and Pinta. During the return voyage, Columbus confided in his journal the real reason for the false log entries: he wanted to keep the route to the Indies secret. [emphasis mine]

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a children's book and possibly can be forgiven for not delving too deeply into the motivations of sailors (though hold that thought for a moment), but it's also a book for and about the children of privileged people--children who are intended to grow up to be privileged themselves.

So it is disappointing to me that the sailors on this ship are interchangeable, faceless, and ultimately portrayed as weak, stupid, or cowardly whenever a point needs to be made--this despite the fact that such a portrait does not fit with the actual events that occur in the book. People who sail to the end of the world, who face sea monsters and nightmare islands, who look into the face of all this and don't mutiny or throw Caspian overboard cannot be called 'cowards', except in the Cowardly Strawman sense where they're too fearful to sail forward but even more fearful to disobey Caspian.

And, indeed, in a very short space of time, Caspian will brow-beat the crew with a Ya'll Suck, I'm Awesome speech that is supposed to be reverse-psychology but wouldn't motivate a three-year-old and will manage to suggest over a single fevered speech that the soldiers: (a) are ranked according either to their nobility or their "purity" of unmixed blood (the text is ambiguous, but both interpretations are horrifying considering the Narnian / Telmarine contexts), (b) and are motivated by both honor and money and loyalty to the king, all at once and without differentiation. In fact, let's just jump ahead and post that speech here so that we're all on the same page:

At this point Caspian jumped to his feet. “Friends,” he said, “I think you have not quite understood our purpose. You talk as if we had come to you with our hat in our hand, begging for shipmates. It isn’t like that at all. We and our royal brother and sister and their kinsman and Sir Reepicheep, the good knight, and the Lord Drinian have an errand to the world’s edge. It is our pleasure to choose from among such of you as are willing those whom we deem worthy of so high an enterprise. We have not said that any can come for the asking. That is why we shall now command the Lord Drinian and Master Rhince to consider carefully what men among you are the hardest in battle, the most skilled seamen, the purest in blood, the most loyal to our person, and the cleanest of life and manners; and to give their names to us in a schedule.” He paused and went on in a quicker voice, “Aslan’s mane!” he exclaimed. “Do you think that the privilege of seeing the last things is to be bought for a song? Why, every man that comes with us shall bequeath the title of Dawn Treader to all his descendants, and when we land at Cair Paravel on the homeward voyage he shall have either gold or land enough to make him rich all his life. Now—scatter over the island, all of you. In half an hour’s time I shall receive the names that Lord Drinian brings me.” [emphasis mine]

So apparently the sailors are all nobles (or at least are all soldiers, since I suppose we have no reason to assume that the best-trained warriors in a medieval militaristic society are nobility except that that's usually how it worked) motivated by the honor, and they're all commoners motivated by a drive for riches (and riches that were worth this unlikely-to-return voyage, which suggests an impoverished starting point as opposed to "eh, je suis le sire de Coucy") and they're all bright-eyed nationalists who are here for the "clean-living" (lolololol) and loyalty to their two-year-reigning (iirc) monarch who totes overthrew the last one.

Sure. I mean, it makes perfect sense to not pick a characterization-slash-motivation for your crew for the entirety of the book, and then at the last minute load them down with not one characterization-slash-motivation, but rather all of them. More is, after all, better. Not unlike lands and money and glory, no doy. And so then we are forced to look back on passages like this one--Most of them slept on deck and talked far into the night or hung over the ship’s side watching the luminous dance of the foam thrown up by their bows.--and attempt to make sense of them.

The passage itself is nice. It's cozy and pastoral and suggests a relaxing of burdens and a camaraderie between close friends and coworkers--the sort of closeness you might otherwise be forced to make the best of in a long voyage like this on a cramped ship like this. Instead, the sailors seem to enjoy the voyage and each others' presence. It would not be impossible, in a different book written by a different author for a different audience, to read the sailors "slept on deck" as a statement that they slept together--for companionship or human touch or, yes, maybe even romance. And when they're sleeping together and watching the waves together and talking into the night together, we assume that they are talking about things. And these conversations would, perhaps, provide insight on why they signed up for a painful, dangerous, uncomfortable voyage that seems highly unlikely to make it back.

Last time, I compared this book to Peter Pan, which predated it by about 40 years. Today I want to compare it to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was published in the 1880s, some 60 years before this ocean voyage. In Treasure Island, we know how many people are on-board the ship (26), and the sailors have names like Dick and Barbecue and Israel. The sailors are villains in this piece, but they have motivation and agency beyond the dreams of the Dawn Treader crew: they want treasure, but more specifically they want a fair share of the treasure, rather than a flat salary for the laborers and to the privileged map-owners the spoils. Silver, the leader of the mutiny, tempts them with a real share in the treasure thusly:

"Here it is about gentlemen of fortune. They lives rough, and they risk swinging [being hanged], but they eat and drink like fighting-cocks, and when a cruise is done, why it's hundreds of pounds instead of hundreds of farthings in their pockets.

The Muppet adaptation of the source makes their motivation even more explicit:

Tell the truth, lad. Do you really think the captain and the squire are planning to share the treasure with the likes of us? Can't hear ya. No? And we being the rightful owners. Flint's own crew, who shed our blood getting it here!

Long John Silver is wrong, but he's wrong because he's a murderer. His actual motivations--getting a fair share of the treasure he's giving his life and time (and disabled body!) to find and not being screwed over by the privileged financiers of the voyage--are sympathetic. That's what makes him an interesting character, and is why he gets away in the end: because the readers/viewers tend to sympathize with his audacity to make his way in a world that disadvantages him so thoroughly and so completely without shame.

And because they have names, and dialogue, and motivations, we can understand the sailors in Treasure Island. If the sailors of the Hispaniola sleep on the decks under new stars, or talk late into the night, or stare for hours at the waves beneath them, we can piece together what they might be thinking. Motivations. Memories. Regrets. Something. That we don't get that here is, I would argue, bad writing on Lewis' part, but it's also just one more example of the classism in these novels.

The Telmarine sailors get no more voice or characterization than the nameless faceless Narnian Animals in the previous books. The emphasis always must be, and always will be, on the privileged protagonists. Because when you give characters motivation, you give them agency and make them sympathetic. You can't have your Good Guys beat them in the face or brow-beat them with terrible speeches or call them cowards or torment them for being human and fallible (check, check, check, and check). If you do, they stop being Good Guys. Long John Silver gets away in part because if he didn't, if Captain Smollett had hung him from the yardarm, then Captain Smollett would have become a villain.

Keep that in mind, please, as we go forward. Also, this is for Kristy with love.


[The island] came slowly nearer and the light behind them made it look as if the capes and headlands of this new country were all on fire. But presently they were sailing along its coast and its western cape now rose up astern of them, black against the red sky and sharp as if it was cut out of cardboard, and then they could see better what this country was like. It had no mountains but many gentle hills with slopes like pillows. An attractive smell came from it—what Lucy called “a dim, purple kind of smell,” which Edmund said (and Rhince thought) was rot, but Caspian said, “I know what you mean.”

So Caspian is either almost-as-spiritual as High Priestess Lucy, or is trying to get into her pants after regretting losing his chance with Queen Susan. (We know, based on his characterization, that he can't be saying this to be polite. Come on.) And since sex and sexuality are disallowed in these books, as well as romantic love because that might lead to regrets upon being booted out of Narnia, it seems we're meant to take the Better Spiritualist route here.

Some people are consistently more spiritual than others, even when they share the same religion as their companions. That's part of our personalities, sure. But it's concernful to me that this repeated drumming of more-spiritual-than-you, more-spiritual-than-you, thrum drum thrum, in these books is meant to be an indictment on character and sincerity and Christianity. Christians may be "not perfect, just forgiven" as the bumper-sticker goes, but High Priestess Lucy is more consistently perfect than (to pick an example) Susan. High King Peter is more consistently perfect than Edmund and Eustace.

There seems to be an underlying theme there, not entirely unlike the weirdly out-of-place stressing in Left Behind of the puritanical purity of "worldly" Buck Williams and "savvy" Chloe Steele that kept them virgins well into their 20s and 30s. Fred Clark notes:

The sense one gets is that Buck and Chloe had to be presented as unspoiled. Had either of them ever been kissed it would have rendered them, in the authors' view, as unworthy of the other's affection -- unworthy perhaps even of the second chance at salvation they have been given.

This feels to me like something similar. Lucy is consistently portrayed as less spoiled than Susan--she is younger, more innocent, loses her temper with the boys less, is noted to be scrupulously honest whereas Susan will confess to the occasional lie (including lies by omission, like not wanting to tell Edmund about Aslan's torture-n-death). And in the end, despite both of them ostensibly being Once A Queen Of Narnia, Susan is set aside by the author as apparently unworthy of the kingdom.

I am fully aware that Lewis wanted to get in a dig at those nasty Once Saved Always Saved heretics (nasty hobbitses!!), but it's interesting that he chose as his sacrificial lamb the one Pevensie who was always hinted at being the least unspoiled--the one who told sympathetic lies, who struggled with her doubts about her salvation, who danced and flirted and was pretty and attractive (and therefore both possessing and being aware of sexual power, even if she never had sex).

It seems to me that a more forthright examination of grace-we-don't-deserve and salvation-we-don't-earn would have been to save Susan and damn Lucy or Peter. Not that I want either of those things, mind you, but it would have been more of a theological upset--and a vastly more brave statement, I would argue--to put forward that the Doubting Thomas of the group got in through grace but the Golden Boy High King and/or Unspoilt High Priestess accidentally excluded themselves through pride in their own virtuous virtue.

Instead, in Narnia, if a character seems virtuous, he or she is virtuous. Lucy is in touch with her spiritual side, and is a shoe-in for salvation. Those who "know what [she] mean[s]"--whether it be about Aslan or the smell of an island--are equally safe. It's the ones who don't fall in line with Lucy who are suspected of having their souls in danger. She's a litmus test for the characters, and therefore for the juvenile reader, but the very idea of this litmus test would seem to undermine the idea that it's not our place to judge who will get into Heaven or not. Aslan's paws would seem to be tied on this score.


   Two men were left to guard the boat and Caspian led the others inland, but not far because it was too late for exploring and the light would soon go. [...]
   When they had gone less than a bowshot from the shore, Drinian said, “Look! What’s that?” and everyone stopped.
   “Are they great trees?” said Caspian.
   “Towers, I think,” said Eustace.
   “It might be giants,” said Edmund in a lower voice.
   “The way to find out is to go right in among them,” said Reepicheep, drawing his sword and pattering off ahead of everyone else.


   “I think it’s a ruin,” said Lucy when they had got a good deal nearer, and her guess was the best so far. What they now saw was a wide oblong space flagged with smooth stones and surrounded by gray pillars but unroofed. [...] But on the table itself there was set out such a banquet as had never been seen, not even when Peter the High King kept his court at Cair Paravel. There were turkeys and geese and peacocks, there were boars’ heads and sides of venison, there were pies shaped like ships under full sail or like dragons and elephants, there were ice puddings and bright lobsters and gleaming salmon, there were nuts and grapes, pineapples and peaches, pomegranates and melons and tomatoes. There were flagons of gold and silver and curiously-wrought glass; and the smell of the fruit and the wine blew toward them like a promise of all happiness.

Earlier in the chapter, when Lucy and Edmund said they were walking through heather, Eustace had said that it wasn't and the text had allowed that he was probably right given that he was good at botany. But now that we have food in need of description, we're right back to Earth-plants and Earth-animals. Earth-plants and Earth-animals, I would add, that don't sound entirely out of place at an English table--I note there is no curry or poi or pelmeni on the table.

And once again, we stumble into the question of how, precisely, it would work to live and play and love and work with Talking Animals while still eating meat. Maybe this is one of the many reasons why Lewis had to abandon that premise and leave all the Animals in Narnia: because finding a table with roast boar on it just wouldn't be as appetizing when there's a literal Boar in the party. It seems a bit of a faux pas to dig in at that point, to say the least. And the hand-wave that little-a animals are fair game while Big-A Animals are not just isn't convincing--one doubts that High King Peter would be okay with Lions and Leopards eating Eloi. (The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, published 1895, or 50 years prior to this books.)

Anyway, a lot of dialogue happens, none of it terribly interesting ("But where are the guests?" asked Eustace. "We can provide that, Sir," said Rhince. Lord, it's like these people haven't already been on three magic islands already, where tampering with shit gets you dragonized, invisibled, and gold-statued, though I guess they can't remember that last one because Aslan, but then again MAGIC FOOD IS A THING, RIGHT EDMUND?) and it turns out there are three men in an enchanted sleep slouched over the table:

   Everyone now came close and saw that what sat in those three chairs was three men, though hard to recognize as men till you looked closely. Their hair, which was gray, had grown over their eyes till it almost concealed their faces, and their beards had grown over the table, climbing round and entwining plates and goblets as brambles entwine a fence, until, all mixed in one great mat of hair, they flowed over the edge and down to the floor. And from their heads the hair hung over the backs of their chairs so that they were wholly hidden. In fact the three men were nearly all hair.   
   “Dead?” said Caspian.
   “I think not, Sire,” said Reepicheep, lifting one of their hands out of its tangle of hair in his two paws. “This one is warm and his pulse beats.”

I... does Lewis know how time works? Does time work at all in Narnia? I am seriously asking here.

Because this book flits back and forth from insisting that the Telmarines have been genociding Narnians for 300+ years to insisting that was just a new-and-recent thing that Miraz started because Miraz was awful and all the Caspians before-n-after him were fuzzy-wuzzy-lovely to the Narnians. And we have things like the Goldwater island where "Narnian" coins with genuinely Narnian motifs (trees, lions, etc) are found alongside a "Narnian" sword, and yet these things that would have to be 300+ years old (and therefore preserved only with magic) should not have been on a Telmarine Lord.

Now we have three Lost Lords who literally look like Cousin It, because... why? It would appear because they've been trapped on this island (out of doors, in an open area, without a roof, it's a miracle there's not animals and mildew living in that hair, ew ew ew) for... 15 to 20 years? At the very least? Which, okay, but does that therefore mean that Lord Rhoop was trapped on the island of nightmares for that long? Because it seemed like maybe we were talking more like 5-7 years on that one. (Although, as with everything else in this book, that's just a guess. We still don't know if the crew is a dozen or a hundred.)

Has Caspian even met these Lost Lords before they were banished, or does he just know of them through...well, not through his father since his father died when he was young. And presumably the Lost Lords, who were exiled by Miraz, were exiled after Miraz killed Caspian Senior and grasped the throne for himself. If Caspian was 12 (maybe?) in Prince Caspian and is 15 here ("exactly three years [since the Pevensies left]") then that would suggest that maybe if Caspian Senior was killed when he was a baby, then the timeline might match up if we... oh fuck it.

Maybe the sleep gives them accelerated hair growth. I just hope someone brought nose trimmers with them on this voyage.

   “It must be an enchanted sleep,” said Lucy. “I felt the moment we landed on this island that it was full of magic. Oh! do you think we have perhaps come here to break it?”
   “We can try,” said Caspian, and began shaking the nearest of the three sleepers. For a moment everyone thought he was going to be successful, 


Ha, I kid, I kid. Really, I'm more interested in the fact that when it's White Men in trouble, the party immediately leaps to "Oh! do you think we have perhaps come here to break it?", which was the epiphany that was suspiciously lacking when it was a community of silly dwarfy things. Nice to see that the Help Others impulse is there and hasn't atrophied and dropped off from disuse; less nice to see who it wakes up for.

[...] for the man breathed hard and muttered, “I’ll go eastward no more. Out oars for Narnia.” But he sank back almost at once into a yet deeper sleep than before: that is, his heavy head sagged a few inches lower toward the table and all efforts to rouse him again were useless. With the second it was much the same. “Weren’t born to live like animals. Get to the east while you’ve a chance—lands behind the sun,” and sank down. And the third only said, “Mustard, please,” and slept hard.
   “Out oars for Narnia, eh?” said Drinian.
   “Yes,” said Caspian, “you are right, Drinian. I think our quest is at an end. Let’s look at their rings. Yes, these are their devices. This is the Lord Revilian. This is the Lord Argoz: and this, the Lord Mavramorn.”

Huh. And I just realized that when the Telmarines discovered Narnia for themselves, and invaded it, and took it over, and set up a totalitarian government to rule it, and murdered every last one of the inhabitants they could find in it, and controlled it utterly for 300+ years on their own, they not once considered renaming the place they'd just taken over. That's kind of unusual, especially since there's strong cognitive bias reasons to rename the things we've "found" (i.e., taken from others). Though I guess it's no less unusual than supposedly keeping all the old symbols of Narnia on the coins and whatnot, even while being stone-cold terrified of those same symbols.

   “Begging your Majesties’ pardons all,” said Rhince, “but why not fall to while you’re discussing it? We don’t see a dinner like this every day.”
   “Not for your life!” said Caspian.

Rhince, the one named sailor in the group who isn't His Noble Smexeh Lordship High Earl Of The Seas Drinian, is clearly too stupid to have survived the voyage this long. The only possible explanation is that this is some kind of coup--an attempt to get Reepicheep and Caspian and possibly those annoying children (who never help around the ship and just play chess with the mouse but thinks their chamberpots smell like roses) to fall asleep so that they can sail back to Narnia and write this entire voyage off as a wash. 

The other sailors do speak up against this plan, but only--and I think this is key--after Caspian points out that this is a bad idea. Then they agree with him in a nameless faceless Greek chorus that sounds an awful lot like the Dufflepuds:

   “That’s right, that’s right,” said several of the sailors. “Too much magic about here. The sooner we’re back on board the better.”
   [...] “Back to ship, back to ship,” muttered the men.

How does that not sound like this:

   “Sirs, now’s our chance.”
   Instantly a whole chorus of other voices replied, “Hear him. Hear him. ‘Now’s our chance,’ he said. Well done, King Caspian. You never said a truer word. Too much magic about here.
   “What I say,” continued the first voice, “is, not to eat this food that's here, not on your lives, men. Instead, we're off to the sea and off this island for certain.”
   “Eh, that’s the way,” shouted all the other voices. “You never made a better plan, King Caspian. Keep it up, King Caspian. The sooner we're back on board the better.
   “Lively, then, Sirs, lively,” said the first voice. “Off we go.”
   “Right again, King Caspian,” said the others. “Couldn’t have a better order. Just what we were going to say ourselves. Back to the ship, back to the ship.

Let it be noted for the record that the fact that the Sailor Chorus can be stretched to sound like the Dufflepuds is not a point in favor of the horrible depiction of the Dufflepuds, but rather a point against Lewis' characterization of the stupid, cowardly, and mutinous (in the most impotent sense of the word, since the mutiny lasts less than five minutes) sailors.

   “I really think,” said Edmund, “they’re right. We can decide what to do with the three sleepers tomorrow. We daren’t eat the food and there’s no point in staying here for the night. The whole place smells of magic—and danger.”
    “I am entirely of King Edmund’s opinion,” said Reepicheep, “as far as concerns the ship’s company in general. But I myself will sit at this table till sunrise.”
   “Why on earth?” said Eustace.
   “Because,” said the Mouse, “this is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me through fear.”
   “I’ll stay with you, Reep,” said Edmund.
   “And I too,” said Caspian.
   “And me,” said Lucy. And then Eustace volunteered also. This was very brave of him because never having read of such things or even heard of them till he joined the Dawn Treader made it worse for him than for the others.
   “I beseech your Majesty—” began Drinian.
   “No, my Lord,” said Caspian. “Your place is with the ship, and you have had a day’s work while we five have idled.” There was a lot of argument about this but in the end Caspian had his way. As the crew marched off to the shore in the gathering dusk none of the five watchers, except perhaps Reepicheep, could avoid a cold feeling in the stomach.

And I think that's where we'll stop for today, because I'm not even sure how to begin to tackle everything that's wrong in this passage--or at least how to tackle it in ways that don't just repeat myself.

We've talked about the fact that these arbitrary "tests" of honor (not unlike the arbitrary "tests" of salvation in, say, Left Behind) work to obscure the fact that Real honor (and Real salvation) means doing the dirty, thankless work that everyone has always known goes with honor. That, in fact, any attempt to link Honor with things other than freeing slaves, and overthrowing despots, and burying the lamented dead, and feeding the hungry, and being a responsible ruler of your people--that any attempt to link it to, say, Sailing Into A Black Hole--is a deliberate attempt to redefine Honor in order to disguise the fact that you are not honorable.

Caspian and his party sail away from slavery in Calormen, laughing all the day long after having plundered the Lone Islanders who remain. They mock the Dufflepuds and throw them cheap "prizes" after schmoozing with the guy who is magically torturing them. They stroll through the burning wreckage of a village, kicking through the dust that covers the charred bodies, looking for something to loot. They leave magically-transformed people at the bottom of magical wells without a single thought of helping them. They don't even take home trinkets of the dead for the surviving loved ones back home--treating those trinkets instead as divinely-given loot. "Catch as catch can!" Caspian calls, as he throws Lord Octesian's arm-band into the air. This voyage is a game to him, and the people they meet are game-pieces.

I'm not a Christian anymore, but that doesn't mean I can't still appreciate what Fred Clark says when he invokes Micah:

The prophet Micah says, “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” That right there is some pretty direct leading.

If you tell me that you’ve received a “direct” message from God to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly, I’m inclined to believe you. If you tell me that God has given you some kind of “direct leading” away from justice, love, mercy and humility, then I say “Bah, humbug.”

The fact that Caspian here confirms what we have suspected all along--that the sailors work while the royals "idle"--just proves to me that these royals have no honor. There are a million activities, easily fully one million things, that Reepicheep and Caspian and Lucy and Edmund and Eustace could do on this voyage to convince me that they care about Honor, that they are trying to live how the Lord Aslan requires them to live.

But those things would require them to do justice. To slaves, to those who enslaved them, to the dead, to the survivors, to those being harmed and tortured. And those things would require them to love mercy. To the islanders they force tribute from, to the old men they beat in the face, to the sailor who refuses to go on and lives tormented with shame. And those things would require them to walk humbly. To actually earn their daily bread on the ship, rather than treating it like an extended chess-playing vacation-tournament. To understand the crew and their fears rather than mocking them for their cowardice and impure blood. And to recognize that they aren't Aslan's gift to Narnia, that they leave harm and devastation in their wake through their careless, self-centered choices. And then to do better.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. It's that simple and that hard to be Honorable and to live (according to Lewis' own sacred text) according to what the Lord requires of his followers. Anything else, made up for the purpose of avoiding that formula--anything like sailing into a black hole, sitting at a table all night, and smelling the color purple? Not so much.

Not Honorable, and not Godly.


Post a Comment