Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
“They’re telling the queen’s story! Now we’ll finally learn her name!”
“Nope. She’ll be referred to as the dead Queen or Caspian’s bride.”
“You know, she is part star. Maybe some women aren’t real people.”
“Was the man who was a former star a real person?”
“Yeah, so maybe just women aren’t real people? In Narnia I mean… You know what I mean, Mom!”
We are finally back in Narnia and the scene is magical. Creatures of all descriptions are gathered wearing royal colors. The sights are so awesome that Jill just stared at it all for half an hour and forgot the signs. (My Sunday School teacher would call this being distracted by the things of the world and failing to focus on God’s Word.) Over and over again this will be the theme: Jill didn’t always constantly have the signs repeating in her head like someone with some sort of psychosis. Her very normal human brain worked normally, and that was punished each time she wasn’t constantly obsessing over the signs.
Psalm 1, the same part of the Bible that tells believers not to be friends with us atheists since God will destroy us, also instructs the pious to meditate “day and night” on God’s words. As someone who has actually tried to attempt this, let me just say it doesn’t lead to a healthy, well-rounded life.
When I was young, I was encouraged to memorize all 176 verses of Psalm 119. (I never did get them memorized all together, but had to break it up into chunks every month.) I memorized six books of the Bible by the time I was 12 years old, broken up into chunks to be recited with only two small errors every month, and thousands of verses besides, including all the verses required to earn the highest award in AWANA: the Citation Award. The monthly memorization was part of my school. (I don’t really have an education thanks to the Accelerated Christian Education system that failed every academic study ever done on it, but I did save all that brain space for the Bible. So… there’s that. Maybe I’ll get a career in… church? Damn it!) Anyway, Psalm 119 is a chapter about constantly thinking about the words of God, similar to how Jill is instructed to constantly think of the signs. Snippets of the chapter include:
You have commanded us
To keep Your precepts diligently.
Your word I have hidden in my heart.
Much of it reads to modern eyes like a man desperate and in pain. He’s hoping the words of God can revive him:
I opened my mouth and panted, For I longed for Your commandments.
My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.
My soul melts from heaviness; Strengthen me according to Your word.
He fills his belly with the holy words in an Ouroboros-like fashion, causing the very pain he’s trying to relieve. He claims to love these words, yet confesses they are not enough for him. When he fills his day with anything else, he considers it worthless and feels guilty:
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things.
And almost every other sentence is this biblical chapter contains all-consuming fear of punishment for forsaking the words of God.
I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!
I will keep Your statutes;
Oh, do not forsake me utterly!
My flesh trembles for fear of You,
And I am afraid of Your judgments.
He even thinks being punished for being distracted by other things is appropriate.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
This miserable, emotionally abusive relationship between the writer and his religion is obviously unhealthy. Even when he’s doing it all right—waking in the middle of the night to repeat the holy words (as Jill was instructed to do)—he is still miserable. His god even lets his enemies torment him.
Princes also sit and speak against me.
The cords of the wicked have bound me.
The wicked wait for me to destroy me.
They persecute me wrongfully; Help me!
But his fear of these dangers is nothing compared to his fear of what his deity would do to him if he didn’t repeat the signs:
I am a companion of all who fear You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread.
But in the end, he’ll stick to the words (the signs) since it’s the only way he believes he will receive help in his afflictions someday. Maybe. His impatience is clear.
Let Your hand become my help,
For I have chosen Your precepts.
It is time for You to act, O Lord.
See the supernatural elements for what they are and this is a tale of tragic suffering for no reason. Yet if we accept this biblical chapter as God’s inerrant Word then it truly portrays the gross injustice of a limited and capricious God who doesn’t care about his follower’s pain. (Coincidentally, many gods of this exact nature were worshiped around the time this was written. I use the term “coincidentally” tongue in cheek. I’m aware of the Bible’s blatant plagiarism of other religions. Hello! Lots of Bible school!)
Now Back to Narnia with a limited and capricious lion that doesn’t care about children’s pain.
Like the Psalmist, Jill has realized her sin of not constantly repeating the signs, and immediately becomes desperate to communicate to Eustace about them before they are punished.
The signs, once again:
Many creatures are gathered to send off their king who is preparing to set sail. Considering the king’s age and description, it will be his last journey. Eustace is not thrilled to see Jill, and they immediately start to argue. So of course they miss the first sign as time runs out. Maybe Aslan should have blown harder? Best sentence in this chapter: “He must have blown you quicker than me.” (These things go over my young audience of one’s head. I save them for you, dear readers.)
The friend Eustace misses, as we’ve said, is King Caspian. Since time moves differently in Narnia, 70 years have passed since Eustace was last there with little Caspian. Seeing his friend now near death is pretty traumatic for Eustace, but Jill shuts down his shocked grieving by reminding him, “It’s far worse than you think. We’ve muffed the first sign.” No time for human emotion in the face of not pleasing Aslan.
Before they can contemplate just how bad things will go, they are being treated to a feast at Cair Paravel. Trumpkin is there, and very old as well, and they make an owl friend who introduces them to everyone. During the feast a blind bard told them the story of The Horse and His Boy. Little Bit threw me some shade here. “We’re reading that book next!” I assured her. Publication order!
The punishment for missing the first sign would be to not be allowed to sleep that night even though the children were exhausted. (Also absolutely everything about their journey will also be harder without proper provisions, clothing, transportation, food, etc. The king would have been helpful here.) Their owl friend, who saw them fly in without wings and so knows they are on a mission from Aslan, goes to Jill’s window and asks if she’s serious about finding the lost prince. She replies that they have to do it because “she remembered the Lion’s voice and face.” Gulp. Scary. That’s totally a journey with her enthusiastic consent right there.
The owl takes her and Eustace to an owl meeting to prepare them for their journey. They bypass Trumpkin who would have tried to stop them since searching for the prince is now illegal. Too many have tried and not come back and they were losing too many of the bravest Narnians to the search. Jill is given full credit for their missing the first sign, and now they have to leave immediately to make up for lost time.
The owl parliament informs the kids of why Caspian set off on a journey despite his age and the likelihood the trip would kill him. It was to find Aslan (who is hiding again) and get his advice on who should be the next king. His own son, Rilian, was the lost prince the children are searching for. He went missing after his mother (whom we are calling Trophyna since she never got a name and was merely the human trophy for Caspian at the end of the last quest) was killed by a snake “as green as poison.” Rilian went off to avenge her but became enchanted by a woman (referred to as a “thing”) who wore a dress “as green as poison” and just happened to hang out in the same place Trophyna was killed. No red flags there.
Lord Drinian (captain of the Dawn Treader from the last book) heard about “the most beautiful THING that was ever made” (emphasis mine for moral outrage) and asked Rilian if he could go with him and “see this fair THING” (grrr). Drinian saw the red flags but didn’t tell anyone since he didn’t want to be a tattle tale.
After Rilian disappears the next day, Drinian tells the king the whole story to help find Rilian. Caspian responds to his dear friend’s information by trying to kill him with a battle axe. Sure, that’s reasonable. Caspian only keeps from killing Drinian because he had just lost his wife and now son and didn’t want to lose his friend, too. (I’m real tight with people who try to battle axe me.) So that’s the story of Rilian.
Jill puts together the whole “green as poison” connection with the snake and the woman possibly being the same character. The owls confirm that magical women are usually evil by comparing her to the White Witch. We’ve already gone over how women with powers are never good. (And we’ll get more into where that idea comes from later… … …pssst! I’ll give you a hint…)
While Jill is alert and even putting connections together one minute, a few sentences later she falls asleep (girls are such frail creatures) so Eustace has to arrange travel north himself. The owls can’t just fly them north. I mean, no reason is given why not, but that would make for a short book. (The owls also can’t just fly them to Caspian’s ship which only just set sail like that afternoon. For reasons.)
Instead, they must first find a nihilistic Marsh-wiggle. So he can preach at us later.
Can we say contrived?
Next the children set out to complete the second sign. Did you forget that one? WELL YOU’RE PROBABLY A TERRIBLE PERSON.
December 9, 2017