Narnia: The Red Wedding

[Narnia Content Note: Misogyny, References to Torture]

Narnia Recap: Digory prevented Polly from leaving so he could ring a bell.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 5: The Deplorable Word

   THE CHILDREN WERE FACING ONE ANOTHER across, still trembling, though it no longer gave out any note. Suddenly they heard a soft noise from the end of the room which was still undamaged. They turned quick as lightning to see what it was. One of the robed figures, the furthest-off one of all, the woman whom Digory thought so beautiful, was rising from its chair. When she stood up they realized that she was even taller than they had thought. And you could see at once, not only from her crown and robes, but from the flash of her eyes and the curve of her lips, that she was a great queen. She looked round the room and saw the damage and saw the children, but you could not guess from her face what she thought of either or whether she was surprised. She came forward with long, swift strides.

I know I don't say this a lot about Lewis' writings, but I almost like this.

For one, it is successfully creepy. Having a wax figure or a dead body or whatever these things are supposed to be suddenly come to life and start walking towards you is goddamn terrifying. That's a thing that happens in horror movies and with good reason: inanimate things are not supposed to animate. When they do animate, something has gone horribly wrong somewhere.

I almost like, too, that Jadis is described as a "great queen" because of her looks. I mean, we all know by now that I can't stand the way Lewis wants to judge every book by its cover. Are you deformed? You're evil. Are you pretty* but not in a feminine way? You're good. Are you kingly and noble? You're clearly far superior than the working class (with some few exceptions made for the clean and appropriately humble). And I've no doubt that Lewis means for us to take this at face value: Jadis may be evil, but she's noble. Not some peasant upstart.

But if we set all that aside for a moment, I like the fact that one of Lewis' nobles finally is evil. It's a refreshing change from his constant cheerleadering for King Arthur figures and the making of all his villains into working class stereotypes (the dufflepuds and their chief) or penny-pinching upstarts (the lone islands governor). Of course this particular noble is evil because she's a womanly woman, so it's...there's a reason I said I "almost" like this. So close.

*I really do wonder what Lewis thought of Tolkien's descriptions of Aragorn looking foul but feeling fair. I like to imagine Lewis pleading with him to make his inherent kingliness seem a little more visibly obvious. Or, ooh, maybe his name could cause the hobbits to shiver and smile? Wouldn't that be better, for a kingly man to have a kingly bearing and a kingly name?

   “Who has awaked me? Who has broken the spell?” she asked.
   “I think it must have been me,” said Digory.
   “You!” said the Queen, laying her hand on his shoulder—a white, beautiful hand, but Digory could feel that it was strong as steel pincers. “You? But you are only a child, a common child. Anyone can see at a glance that you have no drop of royal or noble blood in your veins. How did such as you dare to enter this house?”

I do not know how to sort out the fact that Jadis is a classist jackass from the fact that Lewis is a classist jackass. Like, he must have known how ridiculous this makes her sound--complaining that her savior is a filthy working class urchin--and yet he...does basically this? all the time? Heck, he couldn't bear for Shasta to just be nobody; he had to be a long-lost prince of Archenland even though that made no sense whatsoever.

   “We’ve come from another world; by Magic,” said Polly, who thought it was high time the Queen took some notice of her as well as Digory.
   “Is this true?” said the Queen, still looking at Digory and not giving Polly even a glance.
   “Yes, it is,” said he.

I think we're supposed to read Polly as jealous of Jadis' beauty and grandeur, as well as of Digory's obvious infatuation with the woman, but I'm just sitting here like. Polly. Polly. Why do you want the scary touchy woman to pay attention to you. 

   The Queen put her other hand under his chin and forced it up so that she could see his face better. Digory tried to stare back but he soon had to let his eyes drop. There was something about hers that overpowered him. After she had studied him for well over a minute, she let go of his chin and said:
   “You are no magician. The Mark of it is not on you. You must be only the servant of a magician. It is on another’s Magic that you have traveled here.”
   “It was my Uncle Andrew,” said Digory.

The Magician's Nephew is weird because while Lewis is clearly a big fan of magic, he's not really a fan of magicians. Jadis' magic is evil. Uncle Andrew's magic is evil. Those who can practice magic have a "Mark" and the mark seems to consist of being able to stare down whatever asshole is getting  up in your grill at any given moment. Can't say I've fully mastered that one myself, to be honest.

There's probably some sort of nuance here that made this internally consistent for Lewis. If I had to guess I would venture that he likes creatures who are magic and whose magic comes from their birth: Aslan, the Stars, Walking Trees, and so on. His contempt would seem to be meted out on people who learn magic: Jadis, Andrew, and....maybe the Hag who tried to bring Jadis back? Can anyone think of any magic users in this book who are (a) good and (b) not born to magic but rather had to learn it? Maybe Magician Cornelius, but he had dwarvish blood so I'm not sure where he falls on the nature/nurture scale here.

I dislike this trope very much because it's really another form of classism: if you're not born with It, don't reach for It. Lewis didn't invent classism, not even in fantasy settings, but I'm going to point it out all the same because I'd like authors to stop doing it. 

   At the moment, not in the room itself but from somewhere very close, there came, first a rumbling, then a creaking, and then a roar of falling masonry, and the floor shook.
   “There is great peril here,” said the Queen. “The whole palace is breaking up. If we are not out of it in a few minutes we shall be buried under the ruin.” She spoke as calmly as if she had been merely mentioning the time of day. “Come,” she added, and held out a hand to each of the children. Polly, who was disliking the Queen and feeling rather sulky, would not have let her hand be taken if she could have helped it. But though the Queen spoke so calmly, her movements were as quick as thought. Before Polly knew what was happening her left hand had been caught in a hand so much larger and stronger than her own that she could do nothing about it.
   “This is a terrible woman,” thought Polly. “She’s strong enough to break my arm with one twist. And now that she’s got my left hand I can’t get at my yellow ring. If I tried to stretch across and get my right hand into my left pocket I mightn’t be able to reach it, before she asked me what I was doing. Whatever happens we mustn’t let her know about the rings. I do hope Digory has the sense to keep his mouth shut. I wish I could get a word with him alone.”

That's... a lot, and I don't know how to assimilate it all. Polly isn't wrong--Jadis is a terrible woman--but she's right for the wrong reasons? Of all the many things which make Jadis terrible, "strong enough to break bones" is not even in the ballpark. Also, we seem to have transitioned rapidly from "Polly is jealous that Jadis is only paying attention to Digory" to "Polly doesn't want to be saved from the imploding castle by the strong lady". What is character consistency?

(I suspect, but of course I don't know, that to Lewis this probably was consistent. By which I mean Polly's earlier bout of jealousy wasn't for Jadis' attention but was rather a two-fer of wanting to be as important as Digory and wanting Digory's attention rather than having Jadis monopolize it. Now, by being grabbed by Jadis, she is further separated from Digory--who is on the other side of Jadis and can't be spoken to alone--and obviously this is all very much more important than escaping the building which is rapidly collapsing around and under them.)

   The Queen led them out of the Hall of Images into a long corridor and then through a whole maze of halls and stairs and courtyards. Again and again they heard parts of the great palace collapsing, sometimes quite close to them. Once a huge arch came thundering down only a moment after they had passed through it. The Queen was walking quickly—the children had to trot to keep up with her—but she showed no sign of fear. Digory thought, “She’s wonderfully brave. And strong. She’s what I call a Queen! I do hope she’s going to tell us the story of this place.”

You could take this any number of ways and frankly I don't know how we were supposed to take it--or if Lewis gave it that much thought.

For one: You could take this as Digory being enchanted by the queen. This isn't totally implausible at this stage: she's apparently familiar with magic, she stared him down and may have messed with his mind while doing so, and we did just read Silver Chair in which a grown man was ensorcelled to behave in almost this exact manner: silly foppish devotion. Cons against this theory are that the enchantment--if there is any--isn't ever really followed up on. Digory doesn't become disenchanted so much as disillusioned, which isn't really the same thing at all.

For two: You could take this as Digory being not all that bright. This isn't totally implausible either: Lewis likes to poke at the intelligence of his male avatars. Eustace make foolish statements in his priggishness, Puddleglum made foolish statements in his cynicism, and so on. It would be very much up his alley for the Smart Professor Kirke to be ironically foolish as heck in one or two comedic scenes, because Lewis had a complicated relationship with his self-inserts.

For three: You could take this as Digory being not very old--or not written by a man who has a clear concept of children's developmental stages. We've seen Lewis struggle with this a lot in the past, with...arguably all his child characters? Shasta was the worst (and most recent) offender, careening wildly from five to fifteen depending on what the page wanted him to do and say. I'm pretty sure Digory is on the younger end of the age spectrum--he's crawling around in attics and fairly smallish--so this might just be Lewis failing once again to tell the difference between, say, a seven year old and a four year old.

Who really knows.

   She did tell them certain things as they went along:
   “That is the door to the dungeons,” she would say, or “That passage leads to the principal torture chambers,” or “This was the old banqueting hall where my great-grandfather bade seven hundred nobles to a feast and killed them all before they had drunk their fill. They had had rebellious thoughts.”

Sounds nice.

(To be continued.)


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