Narnia: Much Ado About Nothing

[Narnia Content Note: Mention of Alcoholism & Gun Violence]

Narnia Recap: Digory and Polly returned home, but brought Queen Jadis with them. Now the children have managed to take the Queen, their Uncle, and an innocent Cabby (and his horse) into the Wood Between Worlds.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 8: The Fight At The Lamp-Post

It's been a while since my last post, so I'm going to quote the opening of that prior post because I feel it works well as a summation of what has come before: When we last left Narnia, the Empress Jadis was taxi-surfing through the streets of London after having burgled a jewelry store. She has returned to Digory's house not because it is considered a safe haven to Andrew or a source of escape to Jadis but merely through narrative chance. Digory has been considering whether he should do something protagonisty, while Jadis has introduced herself to the crowd. Lewis wants to take Jadis down a peg or three, so the crowd is about to react unkindly.

That pretty much sums up the last post. The crowd is rude to Jadis, she whips the cab-horse up into a frenzy because her character keeps careening between stately self-control and wild unfocused fury, and the children teleport themselves, and the Queen, and their Uncle, and the Cabby, and the cab-horse into the Wood Between the Worlds.

   As soon as the Witch saw that she was once more in the wood she turned pale and bent down till her face touched the mane of the horse. You could see she felt deadly sick. Uncle Andrew was shivering. But Strawberry, the horse, shook his head, gave a cheerful whinny, and seemed to feel better. He became quiet for the first time since Digory had seen him. His ears, which had been laid flat back on his skull, came into their proper position, and the fire went out of his eyes.
   “That’s right, old boy,” said the Cabby, slapping Strawberry’s neck. “That’s better. Take it easy.”
   Strawberry did the most natural thing in the world. Being very thirsty (and no wonder) he walked slowly across to the nearest pool and stepped into it to have a drink. Digory was still holding the Witch’s heel and Polly was holding Digory’s hand. One of the Cabby’s hands was on Strawberry; and Uncle Andrew, still very shaky, had just grabbed on the Cabby’s other hand.
   “Quick,” said Polly, with a look at Digory. “Greens!”

There are a few things here to note, some of which don't make much sense. The most obvious detail is that in addition to the Witch being helpless in this Wood, Uncle Andrew seems also to be affected adversely. Are they afflicted because they are evil or because they both practice the wrong sort of magic? Meanwhile, the cab-horse--which we will hereafter call Strawberry--seems to be invigorated. That would appear to be a natural opposite of how Jadis and Andrew are feeling, until we remember that previously the Wood made Polly and Digory feel sleepy. None of the "good" people (Polly, Digory, Strawberry, and the Cabby) seem sleepy now, and it's unclear why not. Is it because their adrenaline is more kicked up than Polly's was when Uncle Andrew kidnapped her and sent her here? We do not know.

The second thing to note is that Polly and Digory are very keen to pop into another world. I find this confusing! In their previous visit, they had the presence of mind to move slowly and with sensible clarity: they made sure to mark the pool which led back to Earth, for example. Yet they do not pause here to check that those markings still exist. They just hop into the first pool anyone touches, which is strange. In the Wood, the Witch is helpless; yet they know that when she was brought to Earth, she immediately reinvigorated and regained a portion of her power. (Not all of it, as she was not able to blast their aunt with magic, but she did possess dangerous physical strength.) Why not just leave her to rot in the Wood, and possibly Uncle Andrew too? The only answer appears to be "because plot" but that's far from adequate, especially when numerous plot points up to this point have *also* been implausible coincidences (like Jadis ending up in front of Digory's house whilst he speculated whether or not he should Do Something).

  So the horse never got his drink. Instead, the whole party found themselves sinking into darkness. Strawberry neighed; Uncle Andrew whimpered. Digory said, “That was a bit of luck.”
  There was a short pause. Then Polly said, “Oughtn’t we to be nearly there now?”
  “We do seem to be somewhere,” said Digory. “At least I’m standing on something solid.”
  “Why, so am I, now that I come to think of it,” said Polly. “But why’s it so dark? I say, do you think we got into the wrong Pool?”
  “Perhaps this is Charn,” said Digory. “Only we’ve got back in the middle of the night.”
  “This is not Charn,” came the Witch’s voice. “This is an empty world. This is Nothing.”

Okay, so, apparently the children thought they were going into the Charn pool? And their plan was to return Jadis to the world she came from? That's not a terrible plan, but it was already noted long ago that the pools are so thick on the ground that without a marking there is no way to tell one from the other. The children were wise to mark the Earth pool but did *not* mark the Charn pool, and there's no reason to believe Strawberry was trying to drink from the Charn one. (We will soon find that he was not, and later we will learn that the Charn pool is now a dry grassy depression with no water because that's what happens to dead worlds.) If the plan was to return the Witch to her home world, that was very badly planned out. Furthermore, they know that the Witch is physically and magically powerful in her world, and she knows how to hitchhike on the rings. So how, exactly, were they planning to take her to Charn and leave her there against her will? Once again, it seems much wiser and safer to just leave her to rot in the Wood. Push her off the horse and just go home!

  And really it was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars. It was so dark that they couldn’t see one another at all and it made no difference whether you kept your eyes shut or opened. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth, and was certainly not grass or wood. The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.
  “My doom has come upon me,” said the Witch in a voice of horrible calmness.
  “Oh don’t say that,” babbled Uncle Andrew. “My dear young lady, pray don’t say such things. It can’t be as bad as that. Ah—Cabman—my good man—you don’t happen to have a flask about you? A drop of spirits is just what I need.”

The Cabby does not have any alcohol about him, but instead suggests that they all sing a "harvest thanksgiving hymn" in order to keep their spirits up while they wait for rescue or death in this dark place. (He thinks they've fallen down a dig-site for a new London Underground metro station which... I don't know where to start with that. He's supposed to be a homey down-to-earth figure in this fantastical world, but he *saw* the Wood Between Worlds? but sometimes people forget the Wood after leaving?

Meanwhile, Uncle Andrew draws Digory off into the darkness and asks/tells him to put on his ring so the two of them can go home. Jadis overhears and vaguely threatens him, while Digory tells him off for even considering that he might abandon Polly and the Cabby here. Jadis is present and hears this, so just... hold onto that fact, okay? It will be important several chapters from now. I'm just going to quote the relevant bit so we can all be on the same page as to what Digory said and what Jadis heard.

  But the Witch had very good ears. “Fool!” came her voice and she leaped off the horse. “Have you forgotten that I can hear men’s thoughts? Let go the boy. If you attempt treachery I will take such vengeance upon you as never was heard of in all worlds from the beginning.”
  “And,” added Digory, “if you think I’m such a mean pig as to go off and leave Polly—and the Cabby—and the horse—in a place like this, you’re well mistaken.”
  “You are a very naughty and impertinent little boy,” said Uncle Andrew.
  “Hush!” said the Cabby. They all listened.

Alright, gentlethems, here is the part you've all been waiting for: the Genesis of Narnia.

  In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. The horse seemed to like it too; he gave the sort of whinny a horse would give if, after years of being a cab-horse, it found itself back in the old field where it had played as a foal, and saw someone whom it remembered and loved coming across the field to bring it a lump of sugar.
  “Gawd!” said the Cabby. “Ain’t it lovely?”

This is a little random, but fuckit, it's my blog and I can do what I want. I am going to strongly recommend you go to YouTube and search for "Geoff Castellucci" of VoicePlay fame. He has the deeeeeeepest voice and it's really the only voice I can at the moment imagine pulling off this fantastical feat: the voice is so beautiful you could weep to hear it sing, but there's no tune to the singing. How? Through the magic of Geoff! Obviously it's going to turn out to be Aslan, but let me have this for a moment longer.

  Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.

This is a Biblical reference to Job 38:7, which says that at the dawn of creation "the morning stars sang together". Every so often an astrophysicist will point out the extremely cool fact that all stars produce acoustic waves that are too low-frequency for human ears to hear but which can be picked up by telescopes and reconstructed with instruments to make eerie "music" from the vibrations. Then some Christians will get really excited and use this as "evidence" that the Bible was right about the singing stars and how could primitive peoples have known that without divine inspiration and therefore the Bible is fact, et cetera, whilst carefully not engaging with the fact that (a) stars can't really sing in a goddamn vacuum that doesn't carry sound ("In space, no one can hear you sing.") and (b) the "sound" from the stars had to be thoroughly manipulated in order to turn it into anything resembling music. Not quite as described in Job. I don't know, I guess I get my hair in a twist about this because the idea of stars singing at their creation is so poetic and beautiful, and it feels like something truly lovely is lost when someone tries to jam that poetry into Realism and insist that it's factual fact. Like trying to mathematically prove that a rose by any other name would, in a survey of 9 out of 10 respondents, smell just as sweet. Anyway.

  There was soon light enough for them to see one another’s faces. The Cabby and the two children had open mouths and shining eyes; they were drinking in the sound, and they looked as if it reminded them of something. Uncle Andrew’s mouth was open too, but not open with joy. He looked more as if his chin had simply dropped away from the rest of his face. His shoulders were stooped and his knees shook. He was not liking the Voice. If he could have got away from it by creeping into a rat’s hole, he would have done so. But the Witch looked as if, in a way, she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stronger. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or all worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop the singing. The horse stood with its ears well forward, and twitching. Every now and then it snorted and stamped the ground. It no longer looked like a tired old cab-horse; you could now well believe that its father had been in battles.

Battles, Lewis? Really? I remain deeply frustrated that he has to bring everything good back to the martial arts. His father can't have been a proud race-horse or a mighty farm-horse or a wild stallion on the plains; he has to have been in battles, the most manly of arts.

  The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose.
  Digory had never seen such a sun. The sun above the ruins of Charn had looked older than ours: this looked younger. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up. And as its beams shot across the land the travelers could see for the first time what sort of place they were in. It was a valley through which a broad, swift river wound its way, flowing eastward toward the sun. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock and water; there was not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen. The earth was of many colors; they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else.
  It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song and it was about three hundred yards away.

I will give Lewis this: the actual creation parts are pretty. In the next chapter we'll get to the creation of the animals, which is extremely fun, but this part is good too. The vivid image of a young laughing sun is a delight. Jadis and Uncle Andrew are horrified at the sight of the Lion, with Jadis wanting to "fly at once" back to the Wood and Andrew wishing he had a gun to shoot the lion. Andrew tries to collect both the children and their rings, intending to leave Jadis behind. Jadis lunges for the children but Digory is faster and... sort of takes Polly hostage. Lewis probably didn't intend for me to laugh at this, but it reminds me of that scene in Blazing Saddles when the sheriff takes himself hostage. [Content Note: N-word, Racism]Link is here, at 2:30.[/]

  “Oh, it’s rings, is it?” cried Jadis. She would have had her hands in Digory’s pocket before you could say knife, but Digory grabbed Polly and shouted out:
  “Take care. If either of you come half an inch nearer, we two will vanish and you’ll be left here for good. Yes: I have a ring in my pocket that will take Polly and me home. And look! My hand is just ready. So keep your distance. I’m sorry about you” (he looked at the Cabby) “and about the horse, but I can’t help that. As for you two” (he looked at Uncle Andrew and the Queen) “you’re both magicians, so you ought to enjoy living together.”

Let the record show that Digory is, at least, sorry about the Cabby and Strawberry. The Cabby, however, either does not care what is happening right now or is so lost that he can't follow the action; it's genuinely unclear which.

  “‘Old your noise, everyone,” said the Cabby. “I want to listen to the moosic.”
  For the song had now changed.

And thus we get another of Lewis' baffling chapter breaks in the middle of an ongoing scene wherein nothing has yet been resolved. Chapter 8 is dead, long live Chapter 9.


Post a Comment