Narnia: There Was A Reward Offered

[Narnia Content Note: Nothing too awful this chapter, I don't think.]

Narnia Recap: The protagonists have found a hole and boosted Jill up.

The Silver Chair, Chapter 15: The Disappearance of Jill

When we last left our protagonists, they had dawdled unnecessarily long and put their lives in danger. They've now made their way through the tunnel that was supposed to be entirely ready for invasion while also being narrow enough to only allow people through single-file and also there is no apparent means of egress. Now they have found a hole in the ceiling and have boosted Jill up, which normally I would be in favor of but I will subtract points here because of inconsistency with chivalry.

THE PATCH OF LIGHT DID NOT SHOW UP anything down in the darkness where they were standing. The others could only hear, not see, Jill’s efforts to get onto the Marsh-wiggle’s back. That is, they heard him saying, “You needn’t put your finger in my eye,” and, “Nor your foot in my mouth either,” and, “That’s more like it,” and, “Now, I’ll hold on to your legs. That’ll leave your arms free to steady yourself against the earth.”

We aren't going to have many chapters left to hate Puddleglum, so feel free to get in on this while you still can.

   “I say—” began Jill, but suddenly broke off with a cry: not a sharp cry. It sounded more as if her mouth had been muffled up or had something pushed into it. After that she found her voice and seemed to be shouting out as loud as she could, but they couldn’t hear the words. Two things then happened at the same moment. The patch of light was completely blocked up for a second or so; and they heard both a scuffling, struggling sound and the voice of the Marsh-wiggle gasping: “Quick! Help! Hold on to her legs. Someone’s pulling her. There! No, here. Too late!”
   The opening, and the cold light which filled it, were now perfectly clear again. Jill had vanished.
   “Jill! Jill!” they shouted frantically, but there was no answer.
   “Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.
   “I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum. “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder. Fated. Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang. Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”
   “This is the greatest shame and sorrow that could have fallen on us,” said the Prince. “We have sent a brave lady into the hands of enemies and stayed behind in safety.”
   “Don’t paint it too black, Sir,” said Puddleglum. “We’re not very safe except for death by starvation in this hole.”
   “I wonder am I small enough to get through where Jill did?” said Eustace.

I know Lewis is trying to create a little tension here, and that if we'd started with what Jill had seen, we wouldn't have had that whole couple of paragraphs of wondering what had happened. But. This is a great example here of how Jill isn't really the protagonist of this story, despite the book trying to pull a fast one and pretend she is.

For starters, she doesn't volunteer to look out through the hole; Puddleglum comes up with the idea and sends her up. We don't even see her agreement to the plan: Chapter 14 ends with Puddleglum telling her to get on his shoulders, and Chapter 15 starts with Jill already clambering up him. The whole scene is setup from Puddleglum's point of view: his idea, his discomfort, his words, his view of the situation, his awareness that something is wrong, his call for the others to do something, his dramatic failure to hold onto Jill.

The narrative looks up at Jill from the ground, from the point of view of the men. We don't see or hear anything Jill sees or hears until later, when the separation of the group requires the narrative to dive into her point of view. And even that not before we squeeze in some near-comedic reactions from the men: Puddleglum's over-the-top fatalism that minimizes what could be happening to Jill right then, Eustace's casually musing over whether he might not be able to follow her up.

And since there's no sense of urgency over Jill's condition--just some parceling out of blame and leisurely discussion--that makes the choice to not show this from her point of view to begin with particularly galling. There's no sense that we've departed from the protagonist's viewpoint for a necessary building of tension, as there is no tension built. Instead, Jill is treated as an afterthought, as she has been for much of the novel.

   What had really happened to Jill was this. [...] She was looking out of a hole in a steep bank which sloped down and reached the level about fourteen feet below her. Everything was very white. A lot of people were moving about. Then she gasped! The people were trim little Fauns, and Dryads with leaf-crowned hair floating behind them. [...] They had not only got out into the upper world at last, but had come out in the heart of Narnia. Jill felt she could have fainted with delight; and the music—the wild music, intensely sweet and yet just the least bit eerie too, and full of good magic as the Witch’s thrumming had been full of bad magic—made her feel it all the more.
   All this takes a long time to tell, but of course it took a very short time to see. Jill turned almost at once to shout down to the others, “I say! It’s all right. We’re out, and we’re home.” But the reason she never got further than “I say” was this. Circling round and round the dancers was a ring of Dwarfs, all dressed in their finest clothes; mostly scarlet with fur-lined hoods and golden tassels and big furry top-boots. As they circled round they were all diligently throwing snowballs. (Those were the white things that Jill had seen flying through the air.) They weren’t throwing them at the dancers as silly boys might have been doing in England. They were throwing them through the dance in such perfect time with the music and with such perfect aim that if all the dancers were in exactly the right places at exactly the right moments, no one would be hit. This is called the Great Snow Dance and is done every year in Narnia on the first moonlit night when there is snow on the ground. [...]
   What had stopped Jill when she got as far as the say of “I say” was of course simply a fine big snowball that came sailing through the dance from a Dwarf on the far side and got her fair and square in the mouth. She didn’t in the least mind; twenty snowballs would not have damped her spirits at that moment. But however happy you are feeling, you can’t talk with your mouth full of snow. And when, after considerable spluttering, she could speak again, she quite forgot in her excitement that the others, down in the dark, behind her, still didn’t know the good news. She simply leaned as far out of the hole as she could, and yelled to the dancers.
   “Help! Help! We’re buried in the hill. Come and dig us out.”

This strikes me as thoroughly sensible, though I'm not sure the text sees it that way. Jill is standing on Puddleglum's shoulders and he's not supposed to be possessed of titanic strength; calling for help in the limited time window available to you for communicating with the outside world seems like a legitimate priority.

Nor can I really see why the others below can't hear Jill's words except for narrative convenience. She's yelling, for crying out loud. Yes, she's yelling laterally and the hole is below her waist, but they could hear her fine when she was speaking in a normal voice one minute ago from the same position. All of this feels so contrived and pointless: tension isn't properly set up or sustained, and there are mild hints of blame ("forgot in her excitement") for things that shouldn't be blameworthy in the first place.

Really, a lot of the second half of this book feels like an extended lost opportunity; I can imagine this chapter re-written from Jill's point of view being tighter, neater, and with more impact than this. But we trudge on.

   The Narnians, who had not even noticed the little hole in the hillside, were of course very surprised, and looked about in several wrong directions before they found out where the voice was coming from. But when they caught sight of Jill they all came running toward her, and as many as could scrambled up the bank, and a dozen or more hands were stretched up to help her. And Jill caught hold of them and thus got out of the hole and came slithering down the bank head first, and then picked herself up and said:
   “Oh, do go and dig the others out. There are three others, besides the horses. And one of them is Prince Rilian.”
   [...] But as soon as they understood what Jill was saying, they all became active. “Pick and shovel, boys, pick and shovel. Off for our tools!” said the Dwarfs, and dashed away into the woods at top speed. “Wake up some Moles, they’re the chaps for digging. They’re quite as good as Dwarfs,” said a voice. “What was that she said about Prince Rilian?” said another. “Hush!” said the Panther. “The poor child’s crazed, and no wonder after being lost inside the hill. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” “That’s right,” said an old Bear. “Why, she said Prince Rilian was a horse!”—“No, she didn’t,” said a Squirrel, very pert. “Yes, she did,” said another Squirrel, even perter.

Everything I have ever said about the racism of Talking Animals being "silly" goes here. I've belabored that point enough, I think.

   Then Jill heard cries of “Hi! What are you doing? Put that sword down,” and, “Now, young ‘un: none of that,” and, “He’s a vicious one, now, isn’t he?” Jill hurried to the spot and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when she saw Eustace’s face, very pale and dirty, projecting from the blackness of the hole, and Eustace’s right hand brandishing a sword with which he made lunges at anyone who came near him.
   For of course Eustace had been having a very different time from Jill during the last few minutes. He had heard Jill cry out and seen her disappear into the unknown. Like the Prince and Puddleglum, he thought that some enemies had caught her. And from down below he didn’t see that the pale, bluish light was moonlight. He thought the hole would lead only into some other cave, lit by some ghostly phosphorescence and filled with goodness-knows-what evil creatures of the Underworld. So that when he had persuaded Puddleglum to give him a back, and drawn his sword, and poked out his head, he had really been doing a very brave thing. The others would have done it first if they could, but the hole was too small for them to climb through. Eustace was a little bigger, and a lot clumsier, than Jill, so that when he looked out he bumped his head against the top of the hole and brought a small avalanche of snow down on his face. And so, when he could see again, and saw a dozen figures coming at him as hard as they could run, it is not surprising that he tried to ward them off.

That last paragraph there is ~200 words of what Eustace thought and experienced internally as a person. That is, I believe, 200 more words than what we get for Jill's internal thoughts and experiences for this chapter. And of course all this is setup so that Eustace has great depth of emotions and courage and bravery, and Jill is utterly unsympathetic and given to silliness for not realizing just how traumatized he is. All this makes her out to seem excessively infantile, while he seems very adult and responsible.

And I guess here is where I apologize for going a month between updates. It's not that I don't want to do Narnia anymore (I do), it's just that... I'm running out of words to point and go "good grief, what is this even?" And it's not like this chapter has anything really flail-worthy. It's just not good. So, um, if you're in the audience struggling to write that novel, I guess this installment is here to brighten your day with the knowledge that you can probably write a female protagonist better than this? Go you! Yay!

   Then Eustace did see, and apologized to the Dwarfs (and the Dwarfs said not to mention it), and dozens of thick, hairy, dwarfish hands helped him out just as they had helped Jill out a few minutes before. Then Jill scrambled up the bank and put her head in at the dark opening and shouted the good news in to the prisoners. As she turned away she heard Puddleglum mutter. “Ah, poor Pole. It’s been too much for her, this last bit. Turned her head, I shouldn’t wonder. She’s beginning to see things.”


   No one in our world can work at a job of that sort as Dwarfs and Talking Moles work in Narnia; but then, of course, Moles and Dwarfs don’t look on it as work. They like digging. It was therefore not really long before they had opened a great black chasm in the hillside. And out from the blackness into the moonlight—this would have been rather dreadful if one hadn’t known who they were—came, first, the long, leggy, steeple-hatted figure of the Marsh-wiggle, and then, leading two great horses, Rilian the Prince himself.
   As Puddleglum appeared shouts broke out on every side: “Why, it’s a Wiggle—why, it’s old Puddleglum—old Puddleglum from the Eastern Marshes—what ever have you been doing, Puddleglum?—there’ve been search-parties out for you—the Lord Trumpkin has been putting up notices—there’s a reward offered!”

Wait what.

Someone offered a reward for Puddleglum. I'm going to avoid the obvious snide question ("WHYYYYY??") and merely observe that this means that Puddleglum didn't leave a note or tell a neighbor or anything, and also apparently all those Owls didn't bother to tell anyone. I... guess that makes sense if they were technically guilty of treason for aiding and abetting a forbidden Rilian rescue?

Seems kinda churlish, though. All those people wasting their time searching places that he surely wasn't, churning out notices with his picture drawn on it, offering up rewards only to have to sift through the pretenders... lotta time and effort that didn't need to be spent.

This would also seem to indicate that Narnia is incredibly peaceful, because I had gotten the impression that Puddleglum lived on the far borders of the country, and he had at least pretended to be familiar with the habits of the local giants, so apparently Narnia is not accustomed to people going missing for long stretches, not if a single Marsh-Wiggle of no social account going missing is enough to spur this much effort to recover him. That seems kind of nice? It also sounds like a shitload of bureaucracy, which I get the impression Lewis wouldn't like at all. But those search parties aren't organizing themselves. (At least, not if they're meant to be effective ones.)

Really, there's just so much implied world-building there--some of which seems to conflict with all the other world-building--that I don't know how to even process it. Everyone knows Puddleglum on sight and the whole world has been missing him. Okay. Maybe we'll chalk that up to his Author Surrogate status.

   But all this died away, all in one moment, into dead silence, as quickly as the noise dies away in a rowdy dormitory if the Headmaster opens the door. For now they saw the Prince.
   No one doubted for a moment who he was. There were plenty of Beasts and Dryads and Dwarfs and Fauns who remembered him from the days before his enchanting. There were some old ones who could just remember how his father, King Caspian, had looked when he was a young man, and saw the likeness. But I think they would have known him anyway. Pale though he was from long imprisonment in the Deep Lands, dressed in black, dusty, disheveled, and weary, there was something in his face and air which no one could mistake. That look is in the face of all true Kings of Narnia, who rule by the will of Aslan and sit at Cair Paravel on the throne of Peter the High King. Instantly every head was bared and every knee was bent; a moment later such cheering and shouting, such jumps and reels of joy, such hand-shakings and kissings and embracings of everybody by everybody else broke out that the tears came into Jill’s eyes. Their quest had been worth all the pains it cost.

Oh for fuck's sake, now it's just patriarchal porn.

   The whole crowd began to move away through the trees toward the cave. Jill heard Puddleglum saying to those who pressed round him. “No, no, my story can wait. Nothing worth talking about has happened to me. I want to hear the news. Don’t try breaking it to me gently, for I’d rather have it all at once. Has the King been shipwrecked? Any forest fires? No wars on the Calormen border? Or a few dragons, I shouldn’t wonder?” And all the creatures laughed aloud and said, “Isn’t that just like a Marsh-wiggle?”

Does seriously no one want to talk to the protagonist? No? She's a human child, which means she's effectively royalty in this land (though that's now been somewhat diluted by there now being a royal "class" that includes every Telmarine who stayed in Narnia, plus any of their descendents, or at least the ones who pass the "human enough" Beaver test). But everyone is crowding around the guy they already know for a fact will be a gloomy-guts who won't tell the story accurately...?

Oh, right, Author Surrogate. Carry on.

   The two children were nearly dropping with tiredness and hunger, but the warmth of the cave, and the very sight of it, with the firelight dancing on the walls and dressers and cups and saucers and plates and on the smooth stone floor, just as it does in a farmhouse kitchen, revived them a little. All the same they went fast asleep while supper was being got ready. And while they slept Prince Rilian was talking over the whole adventure with the older and wiser Beasts and Dwarfs. And now they all saw what it meant; how a wicked Witch (doubtless the same kind as that White Witch who had brought the Great Winter on Narnia long ago) had contrived the whole thing, first killing Rilian’s mother and enchanting Rilian himself. And they saw how she had dug right under Narnia and was going to break out and rule it through Rilian: and how he had never dreamed that the country of which she would make him king (king in name, but really her slave) was his own country. And from the children’s part of the story they saw how she was in league and friendship with the dangerous giants of Harfang. “And the lesson of it all is, your Highness,” said the oldest Dwarf, “that those Northern Witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.”

Well, gee, uh, I think we figured out a lot of that on our own already. And even if we hadn't, I kind of feel like talking that out organically might have made better sense from a story-telling perspective. But I guess an info-dump here to wrap up the adventure is, uh, well, it's a thing. That is a thing that happened.

One more chapter left, folks. The end is in sight.


Post a Comment