Narnia: Waiting For A Hero

[Narnia Content Note: Ableist Language]

Narnia Recap: Digory and Polly have returned home, but have accidentally brought Queen Jadis with them. She has ordered Uncle Andrew to procure means of transportation so she can begin her world conquest.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 7: What Happened at the Front Door

When we last left off, Uncle Andrew was trying to hit up his sister for money so that he could take Jadis out on the town. This was a highly awkward conversation to have because Andrew mismanaged all of Letty's money in the semi-distant past, which is possibly the most interesting detail in this novel so far to me and I'm sorry Lewis just passed right over it as adult and uninteresting. While Andrew and Letty were discussing all this, Jadis decided to enter the room.

   “NOW, SLAVE, HOW LONG AM I TO WAIT for my chariot?” thundered the Witch. Uncle Andrew cowered away from her. Now that she was really present, all the silly thoughts he had had while looking at himself in the glass were oozing out of him. But Aunt Letty at once got up from her knees and came over to the center of the room.
   “And who is this young person, Andrew, may I ask?” said Aunt Letty in icy tones.
   “Distinguished foreigner—v-very important p-person,” he stammered.
   “Rubbish!” said Aunt Letty, and then, turning to the Witch, “Get out of my house this moment, you shameless hussy, or I’ll send for the police.” She thought the Witch must be someone out of a circus and she did not approve of bare arms.

Now, this is a novel written for children; I get that. It's also a novel written by a guy who was seriously into BDSM, wrote letters describing women he wanted to spank, and signed himself "whip-lover". I mention all that to say now that Letty almost certainly did not think "this young person" in her dolled up dress and thundering voice was from *the circus*. The only reasonable interpretation here is that Andrew has added sex work to his list of indulgent personal expenses, and that he and Jadis are engaging in some form of consensual BDSM where she yells at him and calls him her slave.

Obviously Lewis can't say all that here in this novel for children, but there's something very twee about all this winking at the camera about Andrew's adult feelings about Jadis only to suddenly pull up sharply here and claim that Letty thinks Jadis is a professional juggler or whatever. It would be just as simple--and wouldn't make Letty look like a comedic fool--to have her quickly realize that Andrew is smitten with this woman and to not want her in the house due to her bad attitude, general shoutiness, and sure okay, bare arms. But, no, we're going with circus.

   “What woman is this?” said Jadis. “Down on your knees, minion, before I blast you.”
   “No strong language in this house if you please, young woman,” said Aunt Letty.
   Instantly, as it seemed to Uncle Andrew, the Queen towered up to an even greater height. Fire flashed from her eyes: she flung out her arm with the same gesture and the same horrible-sounding words that had lately turned the palace-gates of Charn to dust. But nothing happened except that Aunt Letty, thinking that those horrible words were meant to be ordinary English, said:
   “I thought as much. The woman is drunk. Drunk! She can’t even speak clearly.”

Again, you'd think that she'd think those were curse words she wasn't familiar with--possibly ones uttered in another language; I feel that there's a good French joke in here somewhere--but Letty is our comedic fool for this scene and therefore assumes that a woman who is otherwise clearly in control of her speech and faculties is now falling-down drunk.

   It must have been a terrible moment for the Witch when she suddenly realized that her power of turning people into dust, which had been quite real in her own world, was not going to work in ours. But she did not lose her nerve even for a second. Without wasting a thought on her disappointment, she lunged forward, caught Aunt Letty round the neck and the knees, raised her high above her head as if she had been no heavier than a doll, and threw her across the room. While Aunt Letty was still hurtling through the air, the housemaid (who was having a beautifully exciting morning) put her head in at the door and said, “If you please, sir, the ’ansom’s come.”

I would've expected a powerful backhand rather than Letty being literally picked up and thrown across the room. (I'm struggling to visualize how Jadis can pick someone up by the neck and knees at the same time; this isn't something that lends itself easily to my imagination.) And we have the running joke about the housemaid having an "exciting morning" due to all this violence and chaos. Lewis coming in strong with the realistic female characters here, as always.

   “Lead on, Slave,” said the Witch to Uncle Andrew. He began muttering something about “regrettable violence—must really protest,” but at a single glance from Jadis he became speechless. She drove him out of the room and out of the house; and Digory came running down the stairs just in time to see the front door close behind them.
   “Jiminy!” he said. “She’s loose in London. And with Uncle Andrew. I wonder what on earth is going to happen now.”
   “Oh, Master Digory,” said the housemaid (who was really having a wonderful day), “I think Miss Ketterley’s hurt herself somehow.” So they both rushed into the drawing-room to find out what had happened.

Like, what do you do with this, really? On the one hand, whomst among us wouldn't love to see Jadis the Snow Witch throw our boss across the room and liven up an otherwise boring day? On the other hand, this is just over-the-top comedic to the point of overwriting any sort of real personality for the housemaid. Does she really think Letty has "hurt herself somehow" when she saw with her own eyes Jadis throwing her across the room? Is this euphemism supposed to indicate that she doesn't want to admit what she saw, for fear of getting in trouble? Does she really not realize Letty could be seriously hurt, or is her blase attitude meant to indicate that she doesn't like Letty and is fine with the prospect of grievous bodily harm befalling her? We're not really supposed to infer character from all this, though; it's just comedy for the sake of comedy, and "the housemaid" might as well waggle her eyebrows at us and tap a cigar, Groucho Marx-style.

   If Aunt Letty had fallen on bare boards or even on the carpet, I suppose all her bones would have been broken: but by great good luck she had fallen on the mattress. Aunt Letty was a very tough old lady: aunts often were in those days. After she had had some sal volatile and sat still for a few minutes, she said there was nothing the matter with her except a few bruises. Very soon she was taking charge of the situation.
   “Sarah,” she said to the housemaid (who had never had such a day before), “go around to the police station at once and tell them there is a dangerous lunatic at large. I will take Mrs. Kirke’s lunch up myself.” Mrs. Kirke was, of course, Digory’s mother.

Letty is well and safe, which is good, but I find her response to this situation, uh, interesting. Jadis isn't a violence rando running around town; she's a violent rando invited into Letty's house by her terrible brother who makes terrible decisions. Even if Letty isn't worried about herself, she has Digory's mother to worry about. Does she send for a locksmith to change the locks? Seize the opportunity to have Andrew arrested with Jadis, thus ridding herself of a long-standing problem?

We can perhaps surmise that she doesn't want her own brother tossed in the slammer, but she seems to have left that entirely in the lap of the gods: Sarah is to tell the police about Jadis in broadest terms and then maybe they'll go after her and maybe they'll arrest her and maybe Andrew will be taken in with her or hey maybe not. I don't know, there's just something very ineffectual about all this. "Go and tell the police about that woman who nearly killed me and I'll take Mrs. Kirke's lunch up myself since you're busy." Stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, yes okay, but still ineffective.

   When Mother’s lunch had been seen to, Digory and Aunt Letty had their own. After that he did some hard thinking.
   The problem was how to get the Witch back to her own world, or at any rate out of ours, as soon as possible. Whatever happened, she must not be allowed to go rampaging about the house. Mother must not see her. And, if possible, she must not be allowed to go rampaging about London either. Digory had not been in the drawing-room when she tried to “blast” Aunt Letty, but he had seen her “blast” the gates at Charn: so he knew her terrible powers and did not know that she had lost any of them by coming into our world. And he knew she meant to conquer our world. At the present moment, as far as he could see, she might be blasting Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament: and it was almost certain that quite a number of policemen had by now been reduced to little heaps of dust. And there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about that. “But the rings seem to work like magnets,” thought Digory. “If I can only touch her and then slip on my yellow, we shall both go into the Wood between the Worlds. I wonder will she go all faint again there? Was that something the place does to her, or was it only the shock of being pulled out of her own world? But I suppose I’ll have to risk that. And how am I to find the beast? I don’t suppose Aunt Letty would let me go out, not unless I said where I was going. And I haven’t got more than twopence. I’d need any amount of money for buses and trams if I went looking all over London. Anyway, I haven’t the faintest idea where to look. I wonder if Uncle Andrew is still with her.”

Now here's a passage that really ought to have taken place in the last chapter, ideally as a conversation between Polly and Digory as they considered what to do with Jadis, rather than as an infodump here. The children should be afraid that Jadis is about to take over their country, and while normally one would be powerless in the face of an all-powerful witch who can destroy worlds with her words, they have a unique advantage that no one else in history has ever had: anyone they touch while putting on their magic teleportation rings is instantly yoinked off earth and taken to the wood between worlds. Bonus: the wood seemed to hurt Jadis, so if it does that to her again then Digory might survive this experience.

   It seemed in the end that the only thing he could do was to wait and hope that Uncle Andrew and the Witch would come back. If they did, he must rush out and get hold of the Witch and put on his yellow Ring before she had a chance to get into the house. This meant that he must watch the front door like a cat watching a mouse’s hole; he dared not leave his post for a moment. So he went into the dining-room and “glued his face” as they say, to the window. It was a bow-window from which you could see the steps up to the front door and see up and down the street, so that no one could reach the front door without your knowing. “I wonder what Polly’s doing?” thought Digory.

Were I advising Lewis as he wrote this book, here is where I would recommend some changes. A protagonist who can't do anything but wait around threatens to very quickly turn uninteresting--especially when Digory believes that Jadis is invading Buckingham Palace right now, so why should she come back to this little house? Lewis himself doesn't seem to know, and you get the sense that he wrote himself into a corner here.

I would recommend aging Digory up a little; I really don't see any reason for him to be so very young here (it's not even because only the young can enter Narnia, since he enters via nasty human magic rather than the Aslanian call!) and an older Digory could have a bicycle or some money saved up so that he can take a cab or three. Yes, it would be a sacrifice--spending his precious money and/or energy on a wild goose chase around town--but that's what heroes are supposed to *do*. They spend their resources and play long odds and sometimes it pays off but they do it because sitting around and waiting while a witch murders everyone in your city isn't something most heroes can bear to do.


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