Narnia: One Small Step For Man

[Narnia Content Note: Threats and Bullying]

Narnia Recap: Digory, Polly, Jadis, Andrew, a Cabby, and Strawberry the Horse have all traveled from London to a magical world which is experiencing creation.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 9: The Founding of Narnia

When we were last in Narnia, the children and those accompanying them were observing firsthand the creation of Narnia, which so far mostly involves Aslan singing in a tuneless deep voice while other things (stars, light, et cetera) leap into existence at the call of his song. But the song has just now "changed" and there are indications that something especially Important is about to happen.

It is probably worth noting in passing that Lewis isn't adhering exactly to the order of creation given in Genesis, probably because the order in Genesis doesn't feel narratively satisfying. Genesis gives Light (Day 1), Sky (Day 2), Ground and Plants (Day 3), Sun and Moon and Stars (Day 4), Birds and Sea Animals (Day 5), then at last Land Animals and Humans (Day 6). The problem with this is that we're leaping from sky (Day 2) to ground (Day 3) and then back up to the sky again for the celestial bodies (Day 4). So Lewis is shaking things up a bit in a way that I agree is more satisfying to follow in a narrative.

   THE LION WAS PACING TO AND FRO about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass.

I've given Lewis a lot of flak over the years for his sometimes-sloppy writing, so let me be the first to praise this part. The imagery of the grass rippling up out of the ground and flowing with the wind like a rippling green sea is genuinely vivid and beautiful. Combined with the music, it reminds me of the parts I like best about Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you just stand in a plain while the music tinkles prettily and watch the wind play in the grass. I've read first-hand accounts from white settlers of the American plains and how the land seemed to stretch out for infinity under the boundless sky and how the long tall grass moved like water under the invisible wind. Most people greeted it with awe; some folks felt so insignificant in comparison that their brains broke a little, like a real-life version of Douglas Adams' Total Perspective Vortex.

   The nuisance of it, as Polly said afterward, was that you weren’t left in peace to watch it all. Just as Digory said “Trees!” he had to jump because Uncle Andrew had sidled up to him again and was just going to pick his pocket. It wouldn’t have done Uncle Andrew much good if he had succeeded, for he was aiming at the right-hand pocket because he still thought the green rings were “homeward” rings. But of course Digory didn’t want to lose either.
   “Stop!” cried the Witch. “Stand back. No, further back. If anyone goes within ten paces of either of the children, I will knock out his brains.” She was poising in her hand the iron bar that she had torn off the lamp-post, ready to throw it. Somehow no one doubted that she would be a very good shot.
   “So!” she said. “You would steal back to your own world with the boy and leave me here.”

Since we started this book, I've really struggled with the fact that Jadis, as written, just does not work the way she should. We are repeatedly told that Jadis is overwhelmingly powerful, possessed of a strong will, and takes decisive action when she feels threatened. We know she is strong; she wrenched the lamp-post out of the ground and threw Digory's aunt across a room. We know that she follows through on her choices; she destroyed an entire world because she would not yield the throne to her sister. And we know that she feels threatened in this world; she has announced that this world holds her "doom" and the narrative told us that she hates and fears the singing voice. Given all this: why isn't she trying to leave??

There have been exactly two attempts to leave this world so far, and both of them have been instigated by Uncle Andrew. Jadis has stopped both of the attempts, ostensibly because she doesn't want Andrew to get away and leave her behind. But why stop him so thoroughly? She knows the rings can take an entire group, and she's perfectly comfortable seizing control of the situation and ordering Andrew around. Why, then, is she helplessly standing by and waiting for Aslan to finish his song?

The Doylist reason, of course, is that Lewis needs to maneuver Jadis into this world so that the events of LWW can take place. I supposed the Watsonian reason is that Digory has threatened to maroon all the adults here if they push him, and Jadis would rather keep him around in order to have a future chance to escape. But... she has a weapon, is within ten feet of the children, and can move inhumanely fast. She's also not one to act in an over-abundance of caution; see, again, her willingness to *destroy an entire world* if she didn't get 100% of all her wishes all the time.

I think this bothers me so much because it makes Jadis seem weak and helpless, when she shouldn't be, and because feels so unnecessary. Jadis is supposed to be this world's Satan, its Lucifer. I can see no reason why Jadis should be *afraid* of Aslan's voice, other than Lewis' weird ego-bolstering theology where you can tell the good guys are good because they're the strongest and meanest and bestest at smiting. If she needs to stay here as an adversary to the lion, why not have her hate him with a passion? Let him remind her of all the good warm things she hated in Charn, or even the things she *misses* about Charn. He could be a subtle living rebuke, a reminder of everything she selfishly snuffed out when she spoke the world-killing word. That would be so much more interesting to me, I think, than this situation where she's literally about to run off shrieking in fear and, presumably, flailing her arms above her head like a distressed muppet.

Uncle Andrew takes a moment to berate Jadis which again feels a bit like everyone's character sheets have been mixed up--is he meek and cowed and afraid of Jadis, or is he reckless and pompous and mouthy--but none of it contains new information or is interesting so it's safe to skip over. Uncle Andrew is silenced by the Cabby who tells him to "stow it" because he wants to listen to the song. Jadis says nothing in response to this underling wretch telling her off because... I don't know why. Seems like she would, but she doesn't. This entire portion honestly feels like an unnecessary repeat of earlier--Andrew tries to use Digory to leave and Jadis stops him--and I think should have been cut because nothing new is revealed.

   All this time the Lion’s song, and his stately prowl, to and fro, backward and forward, was going on. What was rather alarming was that at each turn he came a little nearer. Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. [...] When you listened to his song you heard the things he was making up: when you looked round you, you saw them. This was so exciting that she had no time to be afraid. But Digory and the Cabby could not help feeling a bit nervous as each turn of the Lion’s walk brought him nearer. As for Uncle Andrew, his teeth were chattering, but his knees were shaking so that he could not run away.

I'm pretty sure that the fear described here is supposed to be spiritual in nature. Andrew, as the worst and most sinful of the group (except Jadis, but we'll get to her in a moment--and it's already been established that she's afraid of the lion and his singing) is shaking in his boots. The Cabby and Digory, better men but still possessed of some sin, are mildly nervous. Polly is too enthralled by the lion to be scared, which would indicate she is the most sinless of them all, approaching the innocent child-like state of Lucy who of the four original children was always the closest to Aslan.

But spirituality aside, it's odd that the narrative so blithely lays out that it's "rather alarming" how the lion is coming closer as he sings. I mean, yes, he's a huge lion but this situation is already so far from the norm that it's hard for me to consider being scared of him as a normal occurrence that doesn't require explanation. The lion is *singing the universe into existence*, there's no real reason to assume that he's dangerous in the way earth-lions are, that is to say, in the teeth-and-claws sense. Even on earth there are photographers who are pretty chill about hanging out next to lions, because it turns out that lions aren't particularly dangerous to humans if you behave yourself. Less so than, say, hippos anyway. Hippos will fuck you up.

Lewis probably didn't know that lions aren't bloodthirsty monsters that attack anything which moves, but again I have to stress that the lion is *singing the universe into existence*. At this point, I would just accept that the thing which looks like a lion probably isn't an actual lion and I should not make assumptions about its future behavior. (And if Digory is scared, isn't escape as easy as putting a hand in a pocket?) But this is probably a nitpick when it seems clear that the fear in this scene is presumably meant to be spiritual, not practical, in nature.

   Suddenly the Witch stepped boldly out toward the Lion. It was coming on, always singing, with a slow, heavy pace. It was only twelve yards away. She raised her arm and flung the iron bar straight at its head.
   Nobody, least of all Jadis, could have missed at that range. The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass. The Lion came on. Its walk was neither slower nor faster than before; you could not tell whether it even knew it had been hit. Though its soft pads made no noise, you could feel the earth shake beneath their weight.
   The Witch shrieked and ran: in a few moments she was out of sight among the trees. Uncle Andrew turned to do likewise, tripped over a root, and fell flat on his face in a little brook that ran down to join the river. The children could not move. [...] When [the lion] had passed them and gone a few paces further it turned, passed them again, and continued its march eastward.

Insert muppet arm-flailing.

Uncle Andrew continues to berate Digory and demand his ring, which makes this the third (or fourth?) time this has happened without advancing the plot or revealing character. Vonnegut is rolling over in his grave in frustration, as am I. Digory reminds Uncle Andrew that he wanted to see other worlds, which isn't actually true. If we look back to Chapter 2, we receive this exchange:

   “You will keep on looking at everything from the wrong point of view,” said Uncle Andrew with a look of impatience. “Can’t you understand that the thing is a great experiment? The whole point of sending anyone into the Other Place is that I want to find out what it’s like.”
   “Well why didn’t you go yourself then?”
   Digory had hardly ever seen anyone look so surprised and offended as his Uncle did at this simple question. “Me? Me?” he exclaimed. “The boy must be mad! A man at my time of life, and in my state of health, to risk the shock and the dangers of being flung suddenly into a different universe? I never heard anything so preposterous in my life! Do you realize what you’re saying? Think what Another World means—you might meet anything—anything.”

Back to the scene, Uncle Andrew counters Digory's statement by pointing out that he is filthy from all the shenanigans, but admits that this place is "interesting" but that he would rather send a "big-game hunter" with a gun than explore it himself. The Cabby wanders off to tend to Strawberry the horse, which I thought he had already done / had been doing, while Polly and Digory castigate Andrew for wanting to shoot the lion, questioning whether the lion can even be harmed. They point out that the lamp-post hadn't done any harm to the lion.

   “With all her faults,” said Uncle Andrew, “that’s a plucky gel, my boy. It was a spirited thing to do.” He rubbed his hands and cracked his knuckles, as if he were once more forgetting how the Witch frightened him whenever she was really there.

Kinda feels like Lewis seems to be forgetting that the Witch "frightens" Uncle Andrew, given his behavior towards her in this chapter.

Polly, Digory, and Andrew notice that a lamp-post is "growing" in the ground where the iron bar fell. This is cute, I suppose, and works as an origin story for why there was a lamp-post in the forest where Lucy entered in LWW. I'm not sure it works very well logically as it raises questions when you think about it too hard. Why isn't anything else "growing" from the intruders, such as cotton from their clothes or goodness knows what when the Talking Animals later "plant" Uncle Andrew? Why is the creation guided by Aslan's thoughts and song, but then the land is so fertile that anything "planted" becomes an actual plant? (Later the children will plant toffee and grow a toffee tree.) But, again, this works on a very "vibes" level.

   It was a perfect little model of a lamp-post, about three feet high but lengthening, and thickening in proportion, as they watched it; in fact growing just as the trees had grown.
   “It’s alive too—I mean, it’s lit,” said Digory. And so it was; though of course, the brightness of the sun made the little flame in the lantern hard to see unless your shadow fell on it.
   “Remarkable, most remarkable,” muttered Uncle Andrew. “Even I never dreamed of Magic like this. We’re in a world where everything, even a lamppost, comes to life and grows. Now I wonder what sort of seed a lamp-post grows from?”
   “Don’t you see?” said Digory. “This is where the bar fell—the bar she tore off the lamp-post at home. It sank into the ground and now it’s coming up as a young lamp-post.” (But not so very young now; it was as tall as Digory while he said this.)

Uncle Andrew immediately sees opportunities the flavor of Capitalism.

   “That’s it! Stupendous, stupendous,” said Uncle Andrew, rubbing his hands harder than ever. “Ho, ho! They laughed at my Magic. That fool of a sister of mine thinks I’m a lunatic. I wonder what they’ll say now? I have discovered a world where everything is bursting with life and growth. Columbus, now, they talk about Columbus. But what was America to this? The commercial possibilities of this country are unbounded. Bring a few old bits of scrap iron here, bury ’em, and up they come as brand new railway engines, battleships, anything you please. They’ll cost nothing, and I can sell ’em at full prices in England. I shall be a millionaire. And then the climate! I feel years younger already. I can run it as a health resort. A good sanatorium here might be worth twenty thousand a year. Of course I shall have to let a few people into the secret. The first thing is to get that brute shot.”
   “You’re just like the Witch,” said Polly. “All you think of is killing things.”

This is nonsense, of course. Narnia doesn't work this way (as Aslan will explain later) and it's unclear how Andrew would bring the items back. (Obviously the rings have a limit on how the ripple effect works, since they only brought people--and a horse--over and not the carriage, the street, the homes, or anything else touching the children when they donned the rings in London.)

But it's... interesting nonsense, at least? I've been repeatedly frustrated by Andrew's sketchy characterization throughout the book. What motivates him? He earlier told Digory--and I think Andrew was the truth--that a mysterious relative gave him a dangerous box which contained fine dust. Andrew didn't know at first what the dust would do and had to teach himself a bit of magic, which involved a lot of unpleasant things done to him by unpleasant people. He's here now at the peak of this quest and... what has motivated him to do all these things?

We know he doesn't want to explore; he shuts down that idea multiple times. We know he isn't motivated by trying to make life better for people; he's dismissive later when Digory asks if Narnia might have something that would cure or at least alleviate his mother's (Andrew's sister) illness. Here it seems that he's motivated by the search of profit? Or, at least, the prospect of sudden material profit was enough to cause him to abandon or forget his previous motivations... whatever they were.

If all these years of preparation have been in search of profit, I guess that would make sense from Lewis' point of view. He's writing in the 1940s and 1950s from England, which has an extensive history of profitable colonialism. It's not like he knows that in 1969 men will walk on the moon for the first time without setting up health resorts and factories there. I can object that spending years of studying mysterious dust and learning magic from scratch--extremely unuseful magic, since we never see Andrew use his "magic" in any way except, presumably, to make the rings--seems like an onerous and unlikely source of profit, but clearly Andrew isn't supposed to be *smart*, so I guess that's the sum of his characterization: greedy, foolish, and cowardly. Why is he here? Well, I'm sorry to report that he will be the comic relief later. Oh dear.

Open Thread: October Hunt Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the October full moon is the Hunter's Moon or the Hunting Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.