[Narnia Content Note: Rape, Misogyny, Religious Oppression]
Narnia Recap: The trio have been brought to an underground palace and are being entertained by the Black Knight.
The Silver Chair, Chapter 12: The Queen of Underland
I haven't updated in awhile because Real Life has been a bit busy, and for this I am sorry. Narnia is kind of a "sit down and think at things for awhile" task and a lot of times I just don't have a chunk of time between work, family, disability, and trying to write my next book. (Chapter 3 is done, yay!) But here we are staring down Chapter 12, and of course this is the chapter that we've all been waiting for because it contains the Puddleglum speech. *rolls up sleeves*
When we last left our heroes, they had freed Prince Rilian from the Silver Chair, and really they were only able to sit with him because the Queen / Witch / Green Snake Lady was far far away and not here. So naturally she's going to walk into the room five minutes too late. I can't remember if this is explained later, but I kind of don't care because this is something that ought to have been established in advance, like, "my lady is normally here to strap me in by now, but something must have delayed her! will you sit with me instead, etc."
TWO EARTHMEN ENTERED, BUT INSTEAD of advancing into the room, they placed themselves one on each side of the door, and bowed deeply. They were followed immediately by the last person whom anyone had expected or wished to see: the Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Queen of Underland. She stood dead still in the doorway, and they could see her eyes moving as she took in the whole situation—the three strangers, the silver chair destroyed, and the Prince free, with his sword in his hand.
And, I mean, here again: she's the "last person" expected to see in this palace? Ooookaaaay. Then why is she here now? Anyway, I don't care except to point out that even as a child this felt very abrupt to me.
She turned very white; but Jill thought it was the sort of whiteness that comes over some people’s faces not when they are frightened but when they are angry. For a moment the Witch fixed her eyes on the Prince, and there was murder in them. Then she seemed to change her mind.
“Leave us,” she said to the two Earthmen. “And let none disturb us till I call, on pain of death.” The gnomes padded away obediently, and the Witch-queen shut and locked the door.
We still don't have a reasonable explanation for why the Green Witch doesn't kill Prince Rilian. She doesn't seem to be in love with him, or even to like him, so... why is she doing all this? He seems like a lot of effort and magic for no real pay-off on the horizon.
The weird thing is that in the hands of a better writer, there could be a germ of an idea here--something something Aslan line of succession--but instead it just comes off as evil for no real reason. That's bad enough with generic villains, but when this is one of the major female characters in this series, it become especially jarring to me. This woman wants to dominate and emasculate Rilian, but for no discernible reason. Apparently she's doing this because emasculation is just what evil women do.
“How now, my lord Prince,” she said. “Has your nightly fit not yet come upon you, or is it over so soon? Why stand you here unbound? Who are these aliens? And is it they who have destroyed the chair which was your only safety?”
I find myself in the unexpected position of giving villain advice now. If there's anything I've learned from Priedric and Paloma, it's that interrogations should be conducted separately. I feel like letting the trio and the Prince stick together to shore up their arguments is a tactical error.
But, and this is a bigger problem with the chapter, this whole situation is utterly artificial. Everything here is so clearly a setup for Puddleglum's zinger about Christianity being so much better than atheism (and/or other relevant alternatives, but we'll get there in a bit), that I can't take the chapter seriously. Consider: the Green Witch has phenomenal magic powers and an entire army outside these doors. So of course she sequesters herself alone with four armed (there are three swords in the room!) hostile enemies and tries to beat them in a logic debate. This is too stupid to live: she's taking a million risks for ridiculously low rewards, and all so Puddleglum can mouth off to her face. Hurrah.
Prince Rilian shivered as she spoke to him. And no wonder: it is not easy to throw off in half an hour an enchantment which has made one a slave for ten years. Then, speaking with a great effort, he said:
“Madam, there will be no more need of that chair. And you, who have told me a hundred times how deeply you pitied me for the sorceries by which I was bound, will doubtless hear with joy that they are now ended forever. There was, it seems, some small error in your Ladyship’s way of treating them. These, my true friends, have delivered me. I am now in my right mind, and there are two things I will say to you. First—as for your Ladyship’s design of putting me at the head of an army of Earthman that so I may break out into the Overworld and there, by main force, make myself king over some nation that never did me wrong—murdering their natural lords and holding their throne as a bloody and foreign tyrant—now that I know myself, I do utterly abhor and renounce it as plain villainy. And second: I am the King’s son of Narnia, Rilian, the only child of Caspian, Tenth of that name, whom some call Caspian the Seafarer. Therefore, Madam, it is my purpose, as it is also my duty, to depart suddenly from your Highnesse’s court into my own country. Please it you to grant me and my friends safe conduct and a guide through your dark realm.”
...Rilian. Rilian, pal, what are you doing?
You know this woman is a sorceress. You know that she has an army outside. You know that she knows who you really are. You aren't telling her anything she doesn't know. You are telling her the exact extent of where her magic has failed and making it abundantly clear to her that she needs to re-ensorcell you. You're essentially telling her that she needs to break out the drastic measures. You are erasing any chance you had to subterfuge your way out of this problem.
And this is partly why I can't really celebrate Jill's sneakiness in the Harfang episode. Bad enough that the narrative was holding its nose in disgust the entire time, but now that the chips are down and we're in front of the Big Bad, the manly men are like pfft subterfuge. This is the embodiment of privilege, and something we saw with Puddleglum insulting and needling the earth-people earlier: the idea that god forbid you actually have to keep something to yourself, whether it be from politeness or a need for survival. Aslan's Manly Men just blurt whatever the fuck they're thinking, and if their thoughts are insulting or empower their enemies, well, so be it. We'll get out of any problems than arise, probably by stabbing said problems to death.
Now the Witch said nothing at all, but moved gently across the room, always keeping her face and eyes very steadily toward the Prince. When she had come to a little ark set in the wall not far from the fireplace, she opened it, and took out first a handful of a green powder. This she threw on the fire. It did not blaze much, but a very sweet and drowsy smell came from it. And all through the conversation which followed, that smell grew stronger, and filled the room, and made it harder to think. Secondly, she took out a musical instrument rather like a mandolin. She began to play it with her fingers—a steady, monotonous thrumming that you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood. This also made it hard to think. After she had thrummed for a time (and the sweet smell was now strong) she began speaking in a sweet, quiet voice.
And while we're talking about how artificial this scene is, what are the good guys doing? Literally everyone in this situation apparently thinks it's perfectly normal to settle things with war-mongering sorceresses via debate team tactics about the nature of reality? With a ticket back to Narnia being the wagered prize here?
I'm not saying that the guys should have reached for their swords the moment the Green Lady walked into the room, but it would be nice to have some kind of thought put into what they hope to get out of this scene. We're in this bizarre situation where Rilian has defiantly asked if maybe they could please leave now, and Eustace and Jill and Puddleglum are just standing there? I realize that they were taken by surprise, but this... it's just not satisfying writing to me, as a reader. The chapter doesn't have protagonisting; it has theologizing. This is propaganda, and it might be (arguably) better written than most, but it's still propaganda.
If ever a chapter needed Jill's subterfuge skills, this was the one. Running forward to the Green Lady who she clearly admired before and could pretend to admire again, wrapping her arms around her waist in an enthusiastic hug. "Lady! Oh, I was so afraid we wouldn't see you again! The Harfang giants were so cruel to us and we only barely escaped down here to warn you about them! We stayed with the prince through his ordeals, knowing your love for him, but Eustace stupidly broke the chair--boys, amiright?--but thank all the stars that the prince recovered after a short daze and has not changed in any way (shut up, Rilian) and everything is very perfectly normal and do you think we could borrow a boat to sight-see in? The goblin-men did not show us much on the way in, and we would love very much to see the sights of your kingdom, dear lady!"
And of course that's just off the top of my head and not intended for actual reader-consumption, but dammit that is how you kick off a tense social-sparring scene full of words and cleverness and mental chess. You do not kick it off by ham-handedly setting up a Platonic discussions about shadows on Aslan's cave walls.
“Narnia?” she said. “Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.”
“Yes there is, though, Ma’am,” said Puddleglum. “You see, I happen to have lived there all my life.”
“Indeed,” said the Witch. “Tell me, I pray you, where that country is?”
“Up there,” said Puddleglum, stoutly, pointing overhead. “I—I don’t know exactly where.”
“How?” said the Queen, with a kind, soft, musical laugh. “Is there a country up among the stones and mortar on the roof?”
“No,” said Puddleglum, struggling a little to get his breath. “It’s in Overworld.”
“And what, or where, pray is this … how do you call it …Overworld?”
Years ago, I reviewed the movie Blindness, which is (in my opinion) meant to explore the themes of how humanity and society will "inevitably" break down, given the chance... and also *cough cough* a bunch of highly unlikely restrictions and conditions that basically wall off every other possible response in the face of a disaster. My overall feeling was that if your Universal Theme about humanity needs a slew of strict starting conditions in order to get exactly the desired result, then maybe your themes aren't as universal as you might think.
I mention that to segue into this: This conversation makes no sense if we discard the allegory of Christianity and heaven. The Green Lady was mentioned earlier to be in the overworld, preparing for invasion of it. She's been up there numerous times with the Prince. The earth-men referenced the overworld numerous times. This is the first mention of overworld as being some supposedly fictional place. And while it might make sense for Rilian to doubt his senses (as he's been living down here and under an enchantment for the better part of a decade), Eustace and Jill and Puddleglum have been down here a few days at most.
So, okay, you probably couldn't forget everything you've ever known just because someone played a lute at you. Instead, we're seeing magic: presumably the same Amnesia Dust that Aslan used on the kids when they got kicked out of Narnia to dull their memories of the years and years they spent growing up. But the thing is, if you have to resort to Magic! to characterize the arguments of your real world atheist opponents who don't believe in heaven, then you've already kind of lost the argument, in my opinion. We are now in the realm of the truly fantastical, so none of this can really apply to our lives, except as heavy-handed allegory that will inspire the faithful and fail to convince (or fly over the heads of) those not already convinced.
“Oh, don’t be so silly,” said Scrubb, who was fighting hard against the enchantment of the sweet smell and the thrumming. “As if you didn’t know! It’s up above, up where you can see the sky and the sun and the stars. Why, you’ve been there yourself. We met you there.”
“I cry you mercy, little brother,” laughed the Witch (you couldn’t have heard a lovelier laugh). “I have no memory of that meeting. But we often meet our friends in strange places when we dream. And unless all dreamed alike, you must not ask them to remember it.”
“Madam,” said the Prince sternly, “I have already told your Grace that I am the King’s son of Narnia.”
“And shalt be, dear friend,” said the Witch in a soothing voice, as if she was humoring a child, “shalt be king of many imagined lands in thy fancies.”
If you're trying to characterize feminine things as evil, this is a good attempt at it. If, on the other hand, you're trying to characterize the Green Witch as a competent villain, then this isn't really doing it. And this is frustrating to me, because I do like social-themed villains who manipulate people with the power of words and psychology and cleverness. But this isn't tenable. It doesn't work. She's planning on taking the prince to Narnia, like, tomorrow. There's no reason for her to be denying the existence of a thing that she plans to take him to on the next morning. How is that conversation even supposed to go??
And, okay, you can say that magic means she doesn't have to be consistent, but the reader deserves to have some kind of consistency. Or at least motivation! If the Green Witch doesn't need to tell a cohesive story because her goal is to just gank them all while they sleep tonight, then why bother fighting and contradicting at all? Why give them something to rail against rather than just tiring them out and lulling them into a sense of safety? Why create the opening for a Puddleglum speech? Why not just ask them to tell her all about it, and nod slowly and pretend to have been misunderstanding things all this time ("You don't say! well... I was only asking the earth-people to help us dig to overworld because you kept saying you wanted to rule Narnia and I love you so much, my darling. Of course we don't need to invade if you don't want, I am so sorry. I have only ever wanted you to be happy...") while she makes them more and more sleepy until at last they drift off, confident that they've done what Aslan asked and fulfilled all the signs... and now they can finally rest... *gank*
I know Lewis is smarter than this. When his devils and demons are male-coded, they understand real manipulation. But give them a pair of boobs and they become so instantly a hateful caricature that their motivation is impenetrable and they don't seem capable of manipulating their way out of a damp plastic bag. (Shades of the White Witch yelling at and snapping a whip at her remaining servants when she really needed to be currying favor like never before.)
“We’ve been there, too,” snapped Jill. She was very angry because she could feel enchantment getting hold of her every moment. But of course the very fact that she could still feel it, showed that it had not yet fully worked.
“And thou art Queen of Narnia too, I doubt not, pretty one,” said the Witch in the same coaxing, half-mocking tone.
“I’m nothing of the sort,” said Jill, stamping her foot. “We come from another world.”
“Why, this is a prettier game than the other,” said the Witch. “Tell us, little maid, where is this other world? What ships and chariots go between it and ours?”
Of course a lot of things darted into Jill’s head at once: Experiment House, Adela Pennyfather, her own home, radio-sets, cinemas, cars, airplanes, ration-books, queues. But they seemed dim and far away. (Thrum—thrum—thrum—went the strings of the Witch’s instrument.) Jill couldn’t remember the names of the things in our world. And this time it didn’t come into her head that she was being enchanted, for now the magic was in its full strength; and of course, the more enchanted you get, the more you feel that you are not enchanted at all. She found herself saying (and at the moment it was a relief to say):
“No. I suppose that other world must be all a dream.”
“Yes. It is all a dream,” said the Witch, always thrumming.
“Yes, all a dream,” said Jill.
“There never was such a world,” said the Witch.
“No,” said Jill and Scrubb, “never was such a world.”
“There never was any world but mine,” said the Witch.
“There never was any world but yours,” said they.
This is definitely how atheists work, by the way. True facts.
Puddleglum was still fighting hard. “I don’t know rightly what you all mean by a world,” he said, talking like a man who hasn’t enough air. “But you can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We’ll never see it again, I shouldn’t wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing more likely. But I know I was there once. I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.”
Puddleglum’s words had a very rousing effect. The other three all breathed again and looked at one another like people newly awaked.
“Why, there it is!” cried the Prince. “Of course! The blessing of Aslan upon this honest Marsh-wiggle. We have all been dreaming, these last few minutes. How could we have forgotten it? Of course we’ve all seen the sun.”
“By Jove, so we have!” said Scrubb. “Good for you, Puddleglum! You’re the only one of us with any sense, I do believe.”
Here, have some more Puddleglum fanfic. ("My god, Marty Stu! You've solved the mystery that the Chosen One of God couldn't even work out for herself. You're the only one in this setting with any sense! A true credit to House Sparklypoo!") I'm really glad that he was randomly included in this adventure Because Owls, rather than major plot points being solved by the two English children that Aslan dragged into this setting and traumatized. That was definitely worth it and it feels very satisfying in terms of literary payoff. *crowbars cranky old male author insert out of the scene*
Anyway, then the Green Lady explains that since they can only describe a sun in terms of a lamp (and a lion in terms of a cat) (and where are they getting cats now that overworld doesn't exist) (who even cares not me) then therefore overworld must be a figment of their imagination and again this makes zero sense except in the context of propaganda. There is no reason given for why the Green Lady is so invested in convincing them that overworld doesn't exist, but Lewis is very interested in explaining why heaven-doubters are wrong to say that heaven sounds like an idealized version of things we already like here on earth.
“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”
“Yes, I see now,” said Jill in a heavy, hopeless tone. “It must be so.” And while she said this, it seemed to her to be very good sense.
Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together, “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.
“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.
“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.
Then we get a lot about how Aslan is just a big cat and therefore a figment of our imagination, just like how our Heavenly Father is based on popular father images, et cetera. And I sort of vaguely remember this chapter being fraught and tense when I was a child, only to be disappointed that it seems so boring now.
The only "good" thing here is that Jill is the one who brings up Aslan, which is kind of nice (agency!) but also kind of weird given that 100% of her experiences with him have been terrifying and guilt-ridden. She hasn't had the Lucyesque hugging times, he hasn't been her comfort in times of storm, he hasn't carried her through the hard times. She's met him all of... twice? Once being in a dream? And both times were horrifying. But she remembers him more clearly (and apparently more fondly) than anything she's left behind on earth. Okay then.
The Witch shook her head. “I see,” she said, “that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun.You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ‘tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”
And I'm just going to hammer on this one more time: if the goal was just to get the four off to bed (and presumably separated), there were fully one million easier ways to do this. Telling a blatantly false story ("everything you have ever known is wrong") marks her indelibly as their enemy and is only going to put them on guard and in an adversarial position.
Pretending to cooperate with them, like an actual socially skilled villain would do, would have set them off-balance and put them in the position of having to try to work out whether to kill her "to be sure" or try to work with her for a peaceable solution. (Remember: They don't know that the earth-people are only invading because she is forcing them to. A non-peaceful solution, as far as they know, could get everyone in Narnia slaughtered in revenge for the death of their queen.)
But if she'd pretended to cooperate with them, we would have had a Story instead of a Theology. Jill would have had to rely on her social skills to parry verbally with the witch, and she would have Protagonized. The men would have had to shut the fuck up with their cocky posturing "I just say what I feel coz I'm honest" privilege bullshit. And while that surely would have made for a more interesting book, it would not have suited the theological and social agenda that Lewis is pushing.
The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn’t hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck’s. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.
First, the sweet, heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone’s brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.
Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, “What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I’ll turn the blood to fire inside your veins.”
Sigh. And there goes any hope for a socially skilled villain. Or even a cohesive one. She put up with a privileged man-baby for ten years but screams like a Stereotypical Fish Wife after five minutes with Puddleglum. Sure, that seems really internally consistent characterization.
Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
And there it is. And I'm left not knowing what to say. You're either going to agree with this, or you're not, and I don't really have any investment in which way you want to land. But I'll try to explain why I hate this speech and why I find it genuinely harmful.
To start with, I'm not going to pretend that Puddleglum isn't talking about Christianity here. "Live as a Narnian" makes no sense; Narnia is a country and he is a Narnian by virtue of being born there. "I'm on Aslan's side" and "I'm going to live as a Narnian" are, to me, plain-as-day references to Jesus and Christianity. You're welcome to take it otherwise, but I cannot.
And here is the thing. The deck is stacked here. We know that Narnia exists, in the context of this book. The characters were there yesterday. They'll be there again tomorrow. If we were dropped in the middle of this scene without anything that has come before, then this might be a worthy allegory of not knowing what lands lie beyond the underground sea, but given that we've already been there, we know that the Green Witch is wrong and lying. There's no way to apply this to atheists and other non-Christians such that they aren't wrong and/or lying. That means this isn't a statement of belief so much as a "gotcha" at people who aren't in your religious in-group. "I know this is right and therefore I know you are wrong" is the message here, even if it is couched in double-speak "I could be wrong" hemming and hawing that Puddleglum doesn't really believe. And that attitude--that anyone not-a-Christian is wrong and/or lying--is not going to foster a cooperative spirit within Christians, most of whom are in a more privileged position than the people they are failing to cooperate with.
For two, hello persecution complex. Christianity is an incredibly privileged religion, despite loud claims to the contrary. Here it is the non-Christian who is wrong and lying and oppressive, but in order for this speech to be even close to the reality I know, it really ought to be the Christian doing the thrumming and the non-Christian saying "no, I'm going to live my religion whether you like it or not". That at least might have some basis in actual marginalization. And, I mean, individual readers are welcome to adapt the speech as they need ("I'm on Gaia's side even if there's no Gaia to lead it!") but I just can't get past the Christianity here.
For three, I cannot and never will get on board with Lewis' (and mainstream Christianity's) belief that their version of the world is better than ours. Puddleglum would frame this argument as Christians believing in something lovely-if-untrue and atheists (and others) believing in harsher, uglier realities. But it is incorrect to frame non-Christians as viewing this world as ugly; that is a belief that I have far more often encountered in Christian groups. I am a Wiccan who describes herself as "an atheist on Thursdays" and I am married to an atheist. I don't find the world ugly. I love this beautiful world. I don't need a heaven to exist as an idealized version of this world anymore than I need idealized versions of my friends and family. I love the real thing. I cannot even imagine waking up every morning and thinking "ugh, this world is so ugly, can't wait to get to heaven", yet that is how Puddleglum feels about the underworld. He's welcome to feel that way, but it's a mistake to characterize that subjective judgment as a universal truth.
For four, and this is where a lot of the "harmful" parts come in... for every Christian reading this speech and fist-pumping the air, how much of those same people go on to seriously talk about the fact that Christianity has been harming people for centuries? I know that lots of liberal Christians exist, and I'm profoundly grateful to them that they are working to change the system from within. I also know that there are lots and lots of Christians who are marginalized; that the authority figures within the religion who devote their lives to harming people are not the same as religious members who are doing good work. This is not intended to be an anti-Christian screed. But. Here's the thing. But.
That reference to "Aslan leading" isn't necessarily figurative. This is occurring in the context of a series where Aslan twice leads actual armies to kill actual people. Lewis' Christianity, and therefore Puddleglum's Christianity, is a conquering harmful force that revels in being lead by a turbo-Jesus who literally mauls people. Puddleglum is identifying that by gum he's going to be a part of that, he's going to be on Aslan's side. Fine. That's his choice. But Aslan hurts people, and Puddleglum is apparently acting in support of that. There's a big difference between working to fix the system from within versus just joining the privileged side so that you can roll around in the riches that come with.
Now, to be clear: Most Christians aren't members of their religion for the privilege-spoils. Religion is personal and meaningful for many people. I'm certain that most of the people who cheer at the Puddleglum speech find the sentiments herein to be very meaningful in personal ways. I respect that. But it's... very different, at least for me, to be on the other side hearing "I'm on the side of the dangerous guy who oppresses you, yeah!" At best, I can only feel like... "well, I'm glad that's nice for you." At worst, on the hard days, the days when the wounds are raw and the pain is fierce, I can't really share in a rousing cry for the side hurting me. No matter how innocently intended the cheer is meant. #ymmv
So in short: I get the speech. I understand why rallying cries are meaningful to a lot of people. But a rallying cry for a privileged group that so frequently inflicts harm on non-members, while at the same time characterizing those same non-members as wrong and liars, I just... can't really take any pleasure in it. Your mileage is going to vary, but it needs to be noted that enthusiastic support for a harmful force can itself feel harmful to the people harmed by that force.
“Oh, hurrah! Good old Puddleglum!” cried Scrubb and Jill. But the Prince shouted suddenly, “‘Ware! Look to the Witch.”
When they did look their hair nearly stood on end.
The instrument dropped from her hands. Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were intertwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs. And that writhing green pillar was curving and swaying as if it had no joints, or else were all joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer, every other part of her face seemed to disappear, except her eyes. Huge flaming eyes they were now, without brows or lashes. All this takes time to write down; it happened so quickly that there was only just time to see it. Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill’s waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince’s legs. Quick as lightning another great loop darted round, intending to pinion his sword-arm to his side. But the Prince was just in time. He raised his arms and got them clear: the living knot closed only round his chest—ready to crack his ribs like firewood when it drew tight.
The Prince caught the creature’s neck in his left hand, trying to squeeze it till it choked. This held its face (if you could call it a face) about five inches from his own. The forked tongue flickered horribly in and out, but could not reach him. With his right hand he drew back his sword for the strongest blow he could give. Meanwhile Scrubb and Puddleglum had drawn their weapons and rushed to his aid. All three blows fell at once: Scrubb’s (which did not even pierce the scales and did no good) on the body of the snake below the Prince’s hand, but the Prince’s own blow and Puddleglum’s both on its neck. Even that did not quite kill it, though it began to loosen its hold on Rilian’s legs and chest. With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.
The Prince, when he had breath, said, “Gentlemen, I thank you.” Then the three conquerors stood staring at one another and panting, without another word, for a long time. Jill had very wisely sat down and was keeping quiet; she was saying to herself, “I do hope I don’t faint—or blub—or do anything idiotic.”
Items of note here:
1. It is always convenient when atheists and members of the debate team turn into a snake because if you can manage to kill it, that means an immediate win for your side. It would have been far less convenient for the Witch to just be like "tsk, yes, your willingness to maim your feet definitely convinces me of the maturity of your position, I'm going to bed now." Lord knows what they would have done then. Probably would have had to social the earth-people into an alliance and *shudders* that would have been unthinkable.
2. The most climactic scene of the book, the scene that is most often put on the book cover, and the Female Protagonist sits down and tries not to faint.
“My royal mother is avenged,” said Rilian presently. “This is undoubtedly the same worm that I pursued in vain by the fountain in the forest of Narnia, so many years ago. All these years I have been the slave of my mother’s slayer. Yet I am glad, gentlemen, that the foul Witch took to her serpent form at the last: It would not have suited well either with my heart or with my honor to have slain a woman. But look to the lady.” He meant Jill.
“I’m all right, thanks,” said she.
“Damsel,” said the Prince, bowing to her. “You are of a high courage, and therefore, I doubt not, you come of a noble blood in your own world. But come, friends. Here is some wine left. Let us refresh ourselves and each pledge his fellows. After that, to our plans.”
“A jolly good idea, Sir,” said Scrubb.
One more thing I want to point out that Lewis didn't (and could have, at least euphemistically): There is every possibility that Rilian was sexually intimate with the Green Lady. If so, he is a rape victim and presumably has been so for years. I can absolutely understand him feeling like it would not have sit well with his heart to kill someone that still felt like a "lover" to him; I've been in a relationship with my rapist before and these things are complicated.
Instead we just whoosh by with some chivalric nonsense about killing women. And while battles may be ugly when women fight, it's super convenient how the women in this series are always killed in "acceptable" ways: Aslan mauls Jadis in LWW; the Hag in PC is killed in the dark and no one knows who is responsible; the Green Lady conveniently turns into a serpent and flings herself at a man who is armed with a sword and backed up by two more men also wielding swords.
There's a lot of criticism of feminism from MRA groups that women and feminists don't care about male-rape, but in my experience the people who are ignoring the damage caused to men by women who rape them are themselves male authors and writers. I care about the fact that Rilian seems to be a rape victim (or, at the very least, was being groomed for that position, if the Witch intended to marry him once he was king). Lewis doesn't seem to care about this abuse that has happened to the prince. That is a problem.