Repost: A Question Of Legitimacy

[Ana's Note: By popular demand, this is a re-post of an old deconstruction, partly to have content while I struggle with my ongoing disability challenges and partly so that newcomers can comment on old conversations.

The original post is here. I have not edited the content.]

Narnia Recap: Edmund has denied the existence of Narnia and Susan and Peter have visited the Professor to ask his advice. The one thing everyone can agree upon is to let the matter lie for awhile. Some days later, all four children are forced to hide in the wardrobe to avoid a visiting tour group.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 6: Into The Forest

   "There's something sticking into my back," said Peter.
   "And isn't it cold?" said Susan.
   "Now that you mention it, it is cold," said Peter, "and hang it all, it's wet too. What's the matter with this place? I'm sitting on something wet. It's getting wetter every minute." He struggled to his feet.
   "Let's get out," said Edmund, "they've gone."
   "O-o-oh!" said Susan suddenly, and everyone asked her what was the matter.
   "I'm sitting against a tree," said Susan, "and look! It's getting light -- over there."
   "By jove, you're right," said Peter, "and look there -- and there. It's trees all round. And this wet stuff is snow. Why, I do believe we've got into Lucy's wood after all."

We talked last time about Edmund's odd behavior when he came back to the Real World. Despite being magically compelled by the Witch's spell to bring his siblings back to her, he acted against his own interests by denying that the magical world even existed. We could not be sure at the time if this was just supposed to be another instance of Edmund's irrational unpleasantness, or if it was a veiled metaphor for atheism (who -- according to some theists -- all supposedly know heaven exists and just keep saying it doesn't), or if it was just a good excuse to trot out the Liar, Lunatic, Lord Trilemma.

But one commenter made a curious point: What if Edmund was legitimately trying to protect his siblings?

This is a point worth looking at. Edmund must realize that the White Witch was very stern and did not seem completely stable, what with her oscillating between threatening and cajoling him. Edmund himself may have only a rudimentary knowledge of the history of his nation's monarchy, but he must surely realize that very occasionally a legitimate monarch can be mentally unstable and/or dangerously cranky. That doesn't make the monarch necessarily less legitimate or even necessarily a bad ruler, but it does mean you might not want to spend a lot of quality time around them. Edmund may have decided on balance that being a prince of Narnia might be less nice overall than being a relatively safe little boy in the countryside, and he may be trying to protect himself and his siblings with his insistence that Narnia isn't real.

This isn't a viewpoint that stuck out at me in the text, but now that it's been suggested, I do suddenly note that it is Edmund here who says "let's get out -- they're gone." It's possible that in being transported to Narnia, the noise of the tour group has faded and Edmund is just too dumb to realize what is happening, but I don't think that fits with his characterization. He's been through the wardrobe once before, he knows about the trees and the snow, and I almost wonder if his urging now to leave isn't that of a scared little boy wanting to get himself and his siblings back to safety. Let's keep that in mind as a possibility going forward.

   Peter turned at once to Lucy.
   "I apologize for not believing you," he said, "I'm sorry. Will you shake hands?"
   "Of course," said Lucy, and did.

And since I spend so much time pointing out bad things in books, I want to point out that this is very nice. I do think it's very reasonable that Peter didn't believe Lucy, but I also think it's very pretty that he offers this polite apology and Lucy accepts it equally well and without fuss.

   "Ugh!" said Susan, stamping her feet, "it's pretty cold. What about putting on some of these coats?"
   "They're not ours," said Peter doubtfully.

   "I am sure nobody would mind," said Susan; "it isn't as if we wanted to take them out of the house; we shan't take them even out of the wardrobe."
   "I never thought of that, Su," said Peter. "Of course, now you put it that way, I see. No one could say you had bagged a coat as long as you leave it in the wardrobe where you found it. And I suppose this whole country is in the wardrobe."

We've talked in the past about Susan's role being that of the Child-Mother -- a character who serves as a surrogate mother for the other characters so that they can be cuddled and nurtured through the harder aspects of adventuring, but who is fundamentally powerless so that the other characters can still disregard good advice and get into exciting scrapes.

And this would, of course, be a good example of where Susan fills the role of mother: she comes up with the sensible plan to stay warm and provides reasonable justification for why this is morally justifiable under the circumstances. (Although I would have thought something along the lines of look, we're here now and we've no idea how to leave or where to go and we'll freeze to death without them would have been just as compelling, but I suppose it's a Chaotic/Lawful thing.)

It's interesting to note that neither Lucy not Edmund thought to take the coats in their previous adventures in the cold wood, despite Lucy being here twice and Edmund having supposedly a pretty flexible set of morals. Is this because they are less sensible than Susan, or is there some other reason? I'm trying to picture the scene in my mind: are the coats still hanging on racks in the wardrobe "tunnel" that lets out into Narnia, or has the wardrobe vanished around them and the coats are... hanging in mid-air? hanging on the trees? I'm not sure.

I've never really gotten a clear picture of how the children enter and exit the world -- there would seem not to be an actual visible door or tunnel because the children will later be accidentally evicted, but maybe it varies each time. It seems interesting, though, that Susan is the one to think of the coats and then lo-and-behold they are there, despite possibly having nothing to hold them off the ground. If Narnia is a fantasy world influenced by the thoughts of the inhabitants, then Susan has brought sensibility to Narnia.

The children continue on into the wood and Edmund lets slip that he's been in Narnia before, which generates some unpleasantness. Lucy suggests that the children head to Mr. Tumnus' house, which is a bit reckless of her considering that every time she visits him, she endangers him further, but she's a very young child and it fits her characterization to not think of this. When they reach the house, though, it's been burnt out and ransacked -- and long enough ago that the ruins have turned cold.

   "What is this?" said Peter, stooping down. He had just noticed a piece of paper which had been nailed through the carpet to the floor.
   "Is there anything written on it?" asked Susan. [...]
   The former occupant of these premises, the Faun Tumnus, is under arrest and awaiting his trial on a charge of High Treason against her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, etc., also of comforting her said Majesty's enemies, harboring spies and fraternizing with Humans.
   signed MAUGRIM, Captain of the Secret Police,
   "I don't know that I'm going to like this place after all," said Susan.
   "Who is this Queen, Lu?" said Peter. "Do you know anything about her?"
   "She isn't a real queen at all," answered Lucy; "she's a horrible witch, the White Witch. Everyone -- all the wood people -- hate her. She has made an enchantment over the whole country so that it is always winter here and never Christmas."

Now, I promised when I started this deconstruction that I wouldn't force Narnia into a framework where the Witch is a decent-but-wronged legitimate ruler faced with making tough choices for Narnia to survive... though I do think that would have added a very interesting dimension to the story. But, no, I'm perfectly happy to let her wear the villain hat. Having said that, I find Lucy's statement here curious. "Everyone--all the wood people--hate her," she says, and I can't understand if the aside is an amendment of Everyone or an extension of Everyone.

An amendment of Everyone would be a case of Lucy correcting herself. Everyone, well all the wood people anyway, hate her. It would correctly note that there are some non-"wood people" in Narnia who do not, actually in fact, hate the Witch. After all, at the end of this novel, she will be able to field a huge army of apparently quite loyal subjects, and she manages to give the opposing army quite a run for their money. Thus, this could be Lucy clarifying that, ok, the Witch has ghouls and werewolves and giants and dwarves on her side, but they're not wood people. The wood people hate the Witch.

Except... this isn't quite true. Later when the children are approached by Mr. Beaver in Chapter 7, he will caution them saying that even some of the trees are on the side of the Witch. So we can't even categorically say that all the wood people hate the Witch because clearly not all the wood people do. Shoot, even Mr. Tumnus was working for her at the start of the novel and while he may have been employed under duress, it's rather suspicious to look back and note all the not-available-in-eternal-winter-conditions luxuries he had piled up around his home. Was Mr. Tumnus happy to work for the Witch as long as he believed that the human children he'd been posted to watch for were just a mythic fantasy?

If "all the wood people" is an extension of Everyone, the problem increases. Conflating "all the wood people" with "Everyone" would indicate that anyone not a wood person is either not a Narnia (and therefore their opinion of the monarch is not relevant) or not worth considering period. Let's look at that Narnia map again included with my copy of the novel.

How much of Narnia is forest and how much is plains and mountains and beaches? (I'm disappointed that there's no X on the map for the location of the wardrobe, but I am still cheered that there could be in Archenland a Bridge to Terebinthia.) Even if a good deal of forest is left not shown, it is not possible that every citizen of Narnia is a "wood person".

So I tend to see Lucy's statement as an amendment: she hasn't met every member of Narnia, but she has met a wood person and that wood person assured her that all the other wood persons don't like the Witch at all. But this brings up a point: the only person that Lucy has met in Narnia is Mr. Tumnus The Faun. This particular person was employed as a kidnapper, possibly under duress, but also just as possibly with extremely nice black-market items provided to him as a perk from his employer to remind him of where his loyalties needed to lie. None of these things necessarily make him a bad person (complexity! yay!) but it does mean that he may not be the most trustworthy person in the room when it comes to gauging the pulse of the Narnian citizen.

How can Mr. Tumnus say with any certainty that all the wood people feel a certain way about the Witch? The Witch is his employer, and even though he's turned on her when faced with the reality of Lucy, he still has to maintain a facade of loyalty. Are the wood people really coming over to have tea with Mr. Tumnus and speak treasonous thoughts with a guy who has books and furnishings and fine foods provided through his sinecure job under the Witch's regime? Wouldn't Tumnus be seen as a toady, living off the backs of the Good Narnians while he farts about in the woods "keeping an eye out" for mythical Human Children? Wouldn't he be feared as a spy since his whole job is reporting back to the Witch? And wouldn't Tumnus himself be tempted to narc out the occasional Narnian to keep his job as Human Watcher and justify the monthly butter pats that come in the post?

But even if Tumnus has been a double agent all this time, or has joined the underground since his two-weeks-ago-or-whenever conversion, and even if he's right that all the wood people except some trees and birds and a few animals and obviously the wolves of course hate the Witch... then what does that mean?

A good many Narnians do not hate the Witch. Now, unfortunately, all these pro-witch Narnians (except the trees!) seem to be members of Always Chaotic Evil races, which brings up the usual problem in fantasy literature, namely, is the human-flesh-craving Ghoul evil because of their human-flesh-cravings any more than, say, an intelligent Lion is evil for needing to occasionally eat a nice rabbit? (And what a shame it is that we never see Aslan eat.)

Of course, there are two types of animals in Narnia: Talking Animals and dumb animals. Lions, for instance, are not the same as lions. A Lion that eats a Human or a Rabbit would be a very bad Lion indeed; a lion that eats a Human or a Rabbit is a dangerous lion, but not a morally evil one. And, of course, Lions and Humans can eat rabbits, just not Rabbits. Clear as mud?

And maybe the Ghouls and the Werewolves and the Human-eating Giants could eat other things instead. There aren't Humans/humans in the same way that there are Rabbits/rabbits, but protein is protein and there's no reason that the Always Chaotic Evil races in Narnia could eat a passel of dogs or goats or horses instead of preying on intelligent Dogs and Goats and Horses.

So even if the White Witch's claim on the throne is backed by the Narnian Ghouls and Werewolves and Giants and Flesh Eating Bunnies and so forth, that fact wouldn't suddenly make her a good ruler of Narnia. But does it make her any more legitimate? Lucy says that the White Witch "isn't a real queen at all" and this point will be repeated again in the coming chapters almost to a worrying degree. (After all, isn't it enough that the Witch is evil? If she was legitimate, would that make the struggle for freedom from her tyrannical reign somehow less admirable?)

But there's a disconnect here for me. The White Witch may have come by the Narnian throne through violence, but she's also backed by a very strong contingent of admittedly-evil backers who are, nevertheless, native Narnians. What precisely, therefore, makes her an illegitimate ruler as opposed to just an incredibly evil and bad for the health of the country ruler? After all, the home country of the Pevensie children has a rich history of rulers who came to the throne by force or other dubious means and who were revered-by-some-hated-by-others and who -- in many cases -- were utterly ruinous monarchs for the health of the country and its people but they are still generally seen by history as "legitimate" rulers, or at least as legitimate as anyone else.

Narnia is an allegory, and as such the roles are already set for us. Aslan's choice of the children as rulers is Legitimate and Good and Wise not because there is a good reason for inexperienced children from a foreign land and ancestry to rule Narnia but because Aslan is Jesus and his rule is law because he has the omniscience to see that everything will work out According to Plan. The White Witch, on the other hand, is repeatedly pointed out as an illegitimate ruler as opposed to merely an evil one, because she is an allegory for Satan, he who tried to usurp the heavenly throne.

I get that, and I'm not going to say that Lewis isn't allowed to set up the story that he wants to tell. But having said that, when faced with a passel of children who want to overthrow a monarch in order to claim her throne for herself, with information based largely on the say-so of a known traitor-liar-kidnapper, I couldn't help but think of Matheson's I Am Legend. The story tells the tale of the one remaining uninfected human in a city of vampires. Every day, while the vampires are helpless in their day-sleep, the main character raids their homes, staking the helpless vampires. He's on a one-man crusade to kill every last one of them.

It's not until the end of the novel that he realizes what he's done. The undead he's been killing may be creatures who hunger for blood in order to survive, but they have thoughts and feelings and intelligence. They have a humanity, and they're working to build a society and rein in the more violent members. Unwittingly, by slaughtering them wholesale, he has become the legendary Vampire that stalks them while they sleep and they have become the helpless victims. He has become Legend.

In that vein, I'd love to see a Narnia-like tale where the children struggle and maybe even win only to realize that they've been played for fools all this time. Aslan isn't the "legitimate" ruler or Mr. Tumnus has lied to them. Or even just essentially that the Always Chaotic Evil races backing the evil queen were acting out after centuries of oppression and hardship and while they may not have picked the nicest queen to back, they did at least finally get a ruler who didn't decorate the Narnian throne room with Werewolf pelts or Giant skins or something.

The White Witch is an evil ruler. She turns her opposition to stone and keeps the country blanketed in winter for no adequate reason that I can see. She is probably also an illegitimate ruler, rising to the throne through violence and bloodshed. But it's worth wondering whether or not the Pevensie children -- foreigners who rise to the throne through violence and bloodshed and who are backed in their claim by a mythic god-Lion who hasn't been seen for hundreds of years and will immediately disappear after the coronation -- are automatically more legitimate, and what that term actually means from the perspective of the inhabitants.

And I do hope that the old supporters of the Witch are treated with fairness and equality under the new regime. At least until they start eating Rabbits instead of rabbits.


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