[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery]
Narnia Recap: Our heroes meet Aslan and return to England.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 16: The Very End of the World
I have to admit, I'm a little apprehensive about VoDT ending for us soon, because my plan is to segue into the film adaptations like I usually do, except I'm not entirely sure how that's going to work because there is no way I'll be able to fit the Disney movie into one post, as I have vast and epic feels about it.
And I don't know how long Chapter 16 will last because Lewis had kinda this habit of rushing the final chapters like whoa. (See also LWW which was like "and then they had all these adventures and grown-up things and then the end" in the space of a single paragraph.) So let's take a deep breath and dive in.
REEPICHEEP WAS THE ONLY PERSON ON board besides Drinian and the two Pevensies who had noticed the Sea People. He had dived in at once when he saw the Sea King shaking his spear, for he regarded this as a sort of threat or challenge and wanted to have the matter out there and then. The excitement of discovering that the water was now fresh had distracted his attention, and before he remembered the Sea People again Lucy and Drinian had taken him aside and warned him not to mention what he had seen.
We've already discussed this and won't belabor the issue, but briefly: Reepicheep is a menace to all the things. He doesn't even fit the ridiculously over-enthusiastic chivalry mode anymore since, as I understand it, Chivalry absolutely had a paradigm for everyone making menacing postures in order for all the involved parties to go, yep, you're totes manly, man-guy, without people necessarily killed over the posturing. I don't remember who brought it up--and Disqus isn't cooperating--but I more and more love the stellar idea that Reepicheep is an NPC who was embraced by Peter Pevensie's player a touch too enthusiastically.
And this is probably the last time we'll get to talk about it, but it's never entirely clear to me how Lewis felt about this character. On the one hand, Lewis' love affair with chivalry seems pretty obvious to me, so in some ways this may be the favored character--the one who is allowed to act out all the chivalric impulses that sadly have to be set aside for things like Prudence and Plotting and whatnot. On the other hand, Reepicheep is a Talking Animal and therefore well-established as silly and empty-headed, so it's possible that he's some kind of cautionary tale for going overboard (literally!) with chivalry when Good Christians of course only go to the Caspian level of chivalry.
Maybe Lewis himself didn't know. Maybe Reepicheep became one of those fondly exasperating characters who, as the author, you just end up shaking your head at as they fling themselves at plot obstacles with wild abandon. And... to a certain extent, that's not entirely a bad thing? But we're still left with the problems that Reepicheep is the single representative character of a marginalized population (the Talking Animals) and that his violent, homicidal urges create a lot of unfortunate implications to go along with the underlying theologies in Narnia.
When the guy who makes it to heaven on-page is the guy who tried to slaughter his way there, and the slaughtering-attempts are never really addressed narratively as an immoral (as opposed to silly and inconvenient) thing, then I have side-eye feels at the whole theologies in general. Anyway.
Just before midday Lucy saw a large shoal of fishes grazing on the weed. They were all eating steadily and all moving in the same direction. “Just like a flock of sheep,” thought Lucy. Suddenly she saw a little Sea Girl of about her own age in the middle of them—a quiet, lonely-looking girl with a sort of crook in her hand. [...] Neither could speak to the other and in a moment the Sea Girl dropped astern. But Lucy will never forget her face. It did not look frightened or angry like those of the other Sea People. Lucy had liked that girl and she felt certain the girl had liked her. In that one moment they had somehow become friends. There does not seem to be much chance of their meeting again in that world or any other. But if ever they do they will rush together with their hands held out.
And I... mmph.
Okay. I get that for a lot of us this was a really sweet passage growing up. (And I love what bluecarrot brought up in a previous post, that it was very rip-off in retrospect for this moment to not pay off in Last Battle because that would have been sweet and lovely.)
There's still a lot of problematic implications in this passage that just kinda ruin it for me. We have the Exceptional Person who is a member of her society without being other like them, in this case the Sea Girl isn't scared of the privileged people nor is she angry with them. And of course this willingness to not be sad or angry at the privilege people makes her one of those Good marginalized/other people, the sort that Lucy can identify with.
Once we've established that goodness, then she and Lucy can be friends forever without any of that messy talking or bonding which might, potentially, require Lucy to manage her privilege somewhat (as well as being aware of the privilege of her friends and companions). And this is especially problematic in the context of the characters in this novel having privilege like whoa, that one of the few times we see Queen Lucy making any friends, she does so wordlessly or almost entirely off-screen (see: Aravis, if I recall correctly), which means that Queen Lucy never has to make an on-screen attempt to check her buckets of privilege in order to interact with, for example, someone whose lands she just invaded.
None of this also delves into the fact that these friendly relationships between girls are occurring in a book where girl-friendships are otherwise noticeably absent and often outright antagonistic. Lucy and Susan are not noticeably friendly to each other in the books, and in fact Prince Caspian has that long walk through the woods which is overlaid with a lot of sibling rivalry and generalized unhappiness with one another. And the only girl-friendships we've seen in this book were the ones depicted in the Magician's tower, when Lucy lost a friendship forever and eternity because girls are catty and awful like that. Notably, Lucy does not befriend Ramandu's Daughter (despite them probably having some stuff in common, like Future Queen Of Narnia), and I'm not entirely sure we'll see any girl-friendships in the series from here on out, with the exception of a few brief (and also problematic) interludes with Aravis.
Someone, somewhere, will excuse this as a Write What You Know problem: Lewis never had any girl-girl friendships (on account of not being a girl himself) and therefore didn't want to tackle them. But he does tackle girl friendships, when he wants to give cautionary tales that never quite seem to apply equally to other genders. And even if all this avoidance of girl-friendships was an authorial weakness instead of a misogynistic impulse (and again I remind here that Intent Is Not Magic, etc.), it would have been relatively simple to write a few lines about Lucy befriending Ramandu's Daughter (and maybe learning her name that would have been good too), or hey even having had a few lady-Animals on the boat would have been nice too.
So. Lotta problems all rolled up into this particular girl being the first-and-only friend Lucy makes on this voyage, and their compatibility being wrapped up in the girl not being like those Other members of her community and also the friendship wheels being greased by a total lack of communication beyond a quick soulmates-at-first-glance moment.
“My Lord,” said Caspian to Drinian one day, “what do you see ahead?”
“Sire,” said Drinian, “I see whiteness. All along the horizon from north to south, as far as my eyes can reach.”
“That is what I see too,” said Caspian, “and I cannot imagine what it is.”
“If we were in higher latitudes, your Majesty,” said Drinian, “I would say it was ice. But it can’t be that; not here. All the same, we’d better get men to the oars and hold the ship back against the current. Whatever the stuff is, we don’t want to crash into it at this speed!”
[...] “Blooming lilies, your Majesty,” said Rynelf. “Same as in a pool or in a garden at home.”
“Look!” said Lucy, who was in the stern of the boat. She held up her wet arms full of white petals and broad flat leaves.
“What’s the depth, Rynelf?” asked Drinian.
“That’s the funny thing, Captain,” said Rynelf. “It’s still deep. Three and a half fathoms clear.”
“They can’t be real lilies—not what we call lilies,” said Eustace.
Something something something theologies.
And actually, this part isn't that bad. I guess? There's a lot about how otherworldly it all is and the sea is so bright and the days are longer and it's just white-white-white everywhere and the scent of lilies covers everything but none of it is unpleasant exactly except that it's not exactly nice either and Lucy says, "I feel that I can’t stand much more of this, yet I don’t want it to stop," and I kinda like that line, although not personally in this context.
(For the record, in case anyone cares, though it's not really relevant to the larger post, the line reads a lot to me like newly-in-love feels. And while I am fully aware of the oft-used metaphorical link between religion and love, that's not a metaphor that has personally ever resonated with me. So I like the line and I can see where it's coming from and going, but it doesn't quite work for me here. Not that this is relevant to anything whatsoever. Disregard.)
There came a day when they had to row out of the current and feel their way forward at a snail’s pace, rowing. And soon it was clear that the Dawn Treader could sail no further east. Indeed it was only by very clever handling that they saved her from grounding.
“Lower the boat,” cried Caspian, “and then call the men aft. I must speak to them.”
“What’s he going to do?” whispered Eustace to Edmund. “There’s a queer look in his eyes.”
“I think we probably all look the same,” said Edmund.
This is really the point where Beverly Crusher is supposed to sweep out and declare the admiral unfit for duty on account of being under the influence of weird sea water, but the designated Narnian theocracy doesn't really allow for human intervention against a king--we'll have to leave that to Aslan. More on that in a bit.
(Also please savor that it was Edmund who was not worried about a "queer look" in the eyes after having eaten magical food. I don't even with consistency in this series.)
“Friends,” said Caspian, “we have now fulfilled the quest on which you embarked. The seven lords are all accounted for and as Sir Reepicheep has sworn never to return, when you reach Ramandu’s Land you will doubtless find the Lords Revilian and Argoz and Mavramorn awake. To you, my Lord Drinian, I entrust this ship, bidding you sail to Narnia with all the speed you may, and above all not to land on the Island of Deathwater. And instruct my regent, the Dwarf Trumpkin, to give to all these, my shipmates, the rewards I promised them. They have been earned well. And if I come not again it is my will that the Regent, and Master Cornelius, and Trufflehunter the Badger, and the Lord Drinian choose a King of Narnia with the consent—”
“But, Sire,” interrupted Drinian, “are you abdicating?”
“I am going with Reepicheep to see the World’s End,” said Caspian.
(God, Caspian is so wall-of-texty.)
And. I mean. It's probably some kind of measure for how much Lewis and I are not on the same page, that of literally every single choice Caspian has made in this book, this is the choice I have the least issue with. Like, if you're going to abandon your recently-wrecked-by-civil-war country in order to sail out on a ridiculously useless and deathly dangerous quest that in no way benefits your land or your subjects, then I kind of guess it doesn't matter if you go all the way to the World's End or just all-the-way-minus-a-couple-days-rowing. I'm not saying this is a good idea, I'm saying that it may be the least bad idea of all the many bad ideas that Caspian comes up with.
Can the Dawn Treader even just stay there for a few days? They're in shallow waters, and they must have some kind of anchor. They are literally consuming the surrounding sea in order to survive, so they're not going to run out of food or water. Jumping ahead, the text says it takes three days to get from Point A to the next Point B, and while I freely grant that the adventurers have no way of knowing that, it just feels so arbitrary to have a schedule now. (Did we not have a schedule when we were lounging about on Dragon Island, killing sheep and stuff?) It just seems kind of odd to not send out a scouting party composed of more than three children and a mouse who is determined to never return, but that's Aslan for you. HE IS A HELPER.
Which, really, that is the stupid part of Caspian's plan. Not the "I'm going on ahead, I'll be back" part, but the "I'm going on ahead, you guys leave immediately, I'll come back in a tiny row boat". That part is not well-thought out, I grant you that. But, you know. Caspian.
“Caspian,” said Edmund suddenly and sternly, “you can’t do this.”
[...] “Can’t?” said Caspian sharply, looking for a moment not unlike his uncle Miraz.
“Begging your Majesty’s pardon,” said Rynelf from the deck below, “but if one of us did the same it would be called deserting.”
“You presume too much on your long service, Rynelf,” said Caspian.
“No, Sire! He’s perfectly right,” said Drinian.
“By the Mane of Aslan,” said Caspian, “I had thought you were all my subjects here, not my schoolmasters.”
“I’m not,” said Edmund, “and I say you can not do this.”
“Can’t again,” said Caspian. “What do you mean?”
And then, ugh. There is all this. I THROW UP MY HANDS AT THIS.
Can I just, like, primal-scream at C.S. Lewis for a minute? I am so done with all this physical manifestation of evil stuff, where you just know someone is bad because their face is wrong or their eyes are glinty or whatever. Because, first? NO.
And second? Caspian has been acting like his Uncle Miraz since this voyage began. The Uncle Miraz Ship sailed around about the time that Caspian was calmly looking on while men in full armor under his command were bludgeoning elderly gatekeepers for not being sufficiently obedient to the king they'd never met before. The Uncle Miraz Ship was circumnavigating the globe around about the time they were discussing leaving dragon!Eustace behind (rather than hauling him back to Narnia whatever damn way they could manage) and was returning to port laden with spices while Caspian was kicking through the ashes of a ruined village looking for loot.
You do not, do not, get to have a main character who does everything that Caspian does and then invoke the Uncle Miraz card the moment he gets stubborn about not wanting to follow the authorial plans.
“If it please your Majesty, we mean shall not,” said Reepicheep with a very low bow. “You are the King of Narnia. You break faith with all your subjects, and especially with Trumpkin, if you do not return. You shall not please yourself with adventures as if you were a private person. And if your Majesty will not hear reason it will be the truest loyalty of every man on board to follow me in disarming and binding you till you come to your senses.”
“Quite right,” said Edmund. “Like they did with Ulysses when he wanted to go near the Sirens.”
Caspian’s hand had gone to his sword hilt, when Lucy said, “And you’ve almost promised Ramandu’s daughter to go back.”
Caspian paused. “Well, yes. There is that,” he said.
And then there's this. What can I even do with this?
"You shall not please yourself with adventures as if you were a private person." Yes. WE KNOW. Welcome to the point that everyone in the audience has been making since Lucy and Edmund and Eustace were all hauled out of the ocean and given the tour. It is an insult to my intellect, actually, to expect me to believe that everything up until now has been For The Good Of Narnia, but if Caspian takes six more days (round trip and back) to glance at the end of the world and return, then those are Private Person Adventures.
(Please take a moment to insert all the juvenile snickering you might need.)
“Well, have your way. The quest is ended. We all return. Get the boat up again.”
“Sire,” said Reepicheep, “we do not all return. I, as I explained before—”
“Silence!” thundered Caspian. “I’ve been lessoned but I’ll not be baited. Will no one silence that Mouse?”
And yada, yada, Caspian is struggling with personal demons right now and is totes Uncle Miraz etc., except that I'm not entirely sure I agree with the implication that a king who doesn't want to let his friend sail off into the sunset fully intending to never return is therefore a Bad Guy. I mean, I guess? I'm actually pretty pro-Letting Reepicheep Make His Own Life Choices, and if that means sailing over the edge of the world, I reckon that's his right? It's just... amusing to me that obviously this is Caspian being in a childish sulk as opposed to Caspian being kinda not on-board with never seeing Reepicheep again.
But when the others rejoined him a little later they found him changed; he was white and there were tears in his eyes.
“It’s no good,” he said. “I might as well have behaved decently for all the good I did with my temper and swagger. Aslan has spoken to me. [...] It was terrible—his eyes. Not that he was at all rough with me—only a bit stern at first. But it was terrible all the same. And he said—he said—oh, I can’t bear it. The worst thing he could have said. You’re to go on—Reep and Edmund, and Lucy, and Eustace; and I’m to go back. Alone. And at once. And what is the good of anything?”
“Caspian, dear,” said Lucy. “You knew we’d have to go back to our own world sooner or later.”
“Yes,” said Caspian with a sob, “but this is sooner.”
“You’ll feel better when you get back to Ramandu’s Island,” said Lucy.
He cheered up a little later on, but it was a grievous parting on both sides and I will not dwell on it.
I have this sort of sneaking feeling--and I realize this is a Your Mileage May Vary moment--but if your god or your boyfriend or whatever the case may be, if someone you love only really ever interacts with you in ways that are terrible, frightening, menacing, and/or leave you crying and sad, then maybe that relationship is not a healthy one for you. Or it wouldn't be for me, I'll put it that way.
I know that these books do establish good parts of Aslan, too; the awe and wonderment and mane-huggles and whatnot. But they're so few and far between (in my opinion) all the fear and terror and crying bits. And there's so little, so horribly little, of quieter moments with Aslan. The times that are neither crying with fear nor crying with joy, but rather just cuddling up with him for the warm comfort that is all the warmer and more comforting because you know you don't have to savor it up. It'll be there tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next.
So much of Aslan, as written on the page, reminds me of one of those tempestuous lovers that I could never have any fondness for in books, movies, real life, etc. The ones where they stir every emotion inside you, fully and deeply and passionately yada yada, and it's vibrant and exciting and so forth, but there's always that overlaid fear that you need to treasure this moment right here right now because it may never happen again and he may be gone for good tomorrow. And okay maybe Aslan isn't the kind of lover to dump Lucy and Edmund, but are they going to see him with their eyes and feel his mane with their hands between VoDT and their eventual death? I know Lewis would probably be all mmph mmph mmph theologies and feelings but it's not the same for me. Maybe it's the same for them, but it wouldn't have been for me.
I never liked those kinds of lovers, because I can't be happy feeling like this good moment in time is my last good moment in time. Instead, I've always preferred the non-stormy, non-tempestuous lovers who act like your shared long-term happiness is a priority for them beyond just the immediate and short-term. The kind of relationships, to quote Jane Austen, that bring "that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself"--or, to put another way, the quiet belief that things will continue to be good. I guess Lewis would call those lovers "tame" lions. But I also fail to understand what would be wrong with preferring them to wild ones, if there were your thing. And I'm not quite sure why "doesn't make me cry all the time" is a bad criteria to have for gods or lovers.