Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
By Alexis Record
“Ohhh, PuddleGLUM. I get it now.”
“Yeah, he’s depressing, but he’s going to help them on their adventure.”
*Little Bit, putting on the best Puddleglum expression* “Unless they die first or eat eaten by a lobster or choke on their gum…”
Jill is whiny and tired. She’s a delicate flower who needs sleep. (I am perpetually a Jill.) Yet Eustace is made from tougher stuff (like a penis) and is ready for adventure. He doesn’t even probably get tired.
“Oh, come on, Pole, buck up,” said Scrubb’s voice. “After all, it is an adventure.”
“I’m sick of adventures,” said Jill crossly.
Jill goes on being “even less pleased” throughout this short flight to the swamp to meet our next primary character: Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle.
“What’s a marsh wiggle?” asked Little Bit. I had to look it up online. The Internet says they are human-like creatures, so we can assume they are people and not just glorified frog animals. They have long limbs and webbed fingers and toes since they evolved to survive in the swamp lands.
Speaking of evolved creatures, C. S. Lewis actually accepted the discoveries of evolutionary science—at least in so far as he understood them and strained them through a biblical filter. He often mixed scientific knowledge with his religious beliefs in an attempt to make them compatible. Many believers retain their own faith by inserting magical interference into the evolutionary story. Did we evolve from ape creatures? Sure. Did God zap the last of the homo sapiens line with souls and place them in the Garden of Eden? Sure. See? It all works! In the same way the marsh wiggles could have evolved to handle the wetlands, and the last of them zapped with souls and personalities by Aslan. (Actually this zapping of creatures is totes what happens in a later Narnia book.)
My own Christian denomination treated scientific discoveries, those painstakingly and meticulously collected bits of data used to make predictions and save lives (also known as “made-up Satan garbage”), as a giant atheist conspiracy. (That link is to a report on my school curriculum I used for eleven years growing up. And, yes, weeping while reading through it is appropriate for grown adults.) I once had someone close to me reject a scientific study because, “You can’t believe all that.” To this person, studies were merely religious faith in something called science.
I guess at least Lewis didn’t have to do the intellectual bludgeoning that Ken Ham (from my faith tradition) has to do when claiming that predators had sharp, flesh-tearing teeth for no reason since they all ate plants in Eden, or why transitional fossils exist, or why we’ve witnessed evolution in the biology lab with bacteria, or seen a new species of mice evolve in isolation, or how all our strata layers confirm evolution from simple to complex. At the same time, Ken Ham doesn’t have to do the intellectual bludgeoning in the other direction to make the Bible fit with what we know about the world. Trying to combine the evidence for evolution with the biblical account ignores the biblical claim that death entered the world AFTER the first sin of Eve and Adam. Apparently we’d been dying for millions of years before this in one of the most brutal systems of killing and maiming and mutating that a loving god could ever have invented. Yet without sin being the catalyst for death, Jesus’s sacrifice to free us from sin and enter eternal life free from death makes less sense. (I’m probably thinking way too hard about all this. What a tangent I got off on!)
Anywho, Jill and Eustace woke up in the wigwam they arrived at late last night, and began looking for their evolved-to-his-environment host. Jill made a nasty remark to Eustace about not bathing under these conditions. Adventures are gross, right? Best leave them to boys.
They found their host, Puddleglum, fishing for breakfast. He is very pessimistic and everything out of his mouth assumed the worst. But we have some real clues that he’s not all bad. He smoked, so as we’ve learned previously, this is meant to communicate that he’s a good guy, and he offered the kids sips out of his “square black bottle” which they thought was nasty—alcoholism being another sign of goodness. In fact, smoking and drinking and eating meat (eels, technically) in Puddleglum’s introduction is the qualifying trinity of a decent chap in Lewis’ world.
Puddleglum tells them they need to go north and leads them to giant country. Jill sees giants and is understandably afraid. (Is Eustace equally afraid? Well, who knows? He’s not a girl so we don’t focus on it.) The giants are the same as in the first book and especially stupid. They ignore the humans while throwing “cock-shies” at a pile of stones as part of a game. We had to look up cock-shies and found out they are hard sticks people in England used to throw at a rooster tied to a fence until they killed the rooster. (Fun game, psychos.) Maybe the simplicity of the game or its bloody roots are supposed to speak to the giants’ character. The giants all end up fighting and then crying like babies as the humans walk past them.
Then our small group comes to a giant bridge. (Literally a bridge built by giants.) They assume it must be built by the giants’ ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago back when they were “far cleverer than the modern kind.” (Another concept from evolution or selective breeding.) The fact that the book so readily accepts that giants are becoming stupider, actually jives with my evangelical education that taught me that human beings were also becoming stupider. It may come from the idea that sin has a cumulative effect. So the longer we are living in sin, generation after generation, the worse our brains are. That thinking could also be mixed with the notion that it was “better back in the old days.” Or maybe this idea is explain the rise of unbelievers who were the result of the information age. I know I was taught humans were getting worse (both morally and intellectually), even as crime rates were clearly going down all over the world and technological discoveries were skyrocketing. This worldview is almost as glum as our friendly marsh wiggle.
Once across the bridge the kids see two human adults. There was a silent knight with his visor down dressed in black and riding a black horse, and a woman in a gorgeous green dress riding a white horse. The white horse is described as beautiful, and the woman atop it, “lovelier still.” (Did she just get compared to a horse? Yes, yes she did.) Lewis does not do a great job describing women outside of calling them beautiful or ugly. The woman also rolls her Rs “delightfully” so there’s that taste of something foreign about her. (Everyone else I assume has a British accent, or what Little Bit and I call a “BBC accent.”) (The rolled r-r-r’s really slowed down the reading as I haphazardly attempted them.)
The children ask where the ruined ancient city of the giants is located and she tells them to head to Harfang, a modern giant city, and ask them. She then tells the children how Harfang is wonderful and will give them warm baths and feed them. When they asked if the giants would take strangers, the woman replies, “Only tell them that She of the Green Kirtle salutes them by you, and has sent them two fair Sourthern children for the Autumn Feast.” I swear, the green dress should have been a clear warning, or the fact that there’s an adult woman in Lewis’ world who seems to be in charge and has a speaking part. (Danger danger!)
Also… her introduction doesn’t give a name, but only calls her “She”? Really C. S.? Her official name is literally “that female in the green dress.”
“She better get a name later,” Little Bit said with a frown. (She doesn’t.)
The children went on about how beautiful she was after she left. They guessed the knight said nothing because “perhaps he just wants to look at her.” (That’s the best thing about those lady folks: lookin’ at ‘em!) And for the rest of the traveling all the children could talk about was hot baths and warm rooms like she had promised. Because, you know, they’re freezing, dirty, tired, and hungry.
(Also, trust the lion with the stern voice and tone and face. That’s all you need to know he is trustworthy. But DO NOT trust the lady with the nice voice and tone and face. Women lie!)
During talk of Harfang, “Jill gave up her habit of repeating the signs over to herself every night and morning. She said to herself, at first, that she was too tired, but she soon forgot all about it.”
I’d like to point out that meditating on any one thing day and night is an obsessive fixation. (Can we say psychiatric disorder, anyone?) We’ve already been over how God, er, Aslan punishes Jill when she is not constantly exerting mental focus on the Bible, er, the signs. For you heathens who have already forgotten them, they are:
They spot Harfang in the distance! “If you have never been in the wild wilderness, day and night, for weeks, you will hardly understand how they felt,” Lewis tells his spoiled rotten audience. That night it was so cold their blankets were covered in frost.
The clear moral of this whole story is not to be tempted by the temporary things of this world, no matter how legitimate they are, and risk taking your eyes off God’s word. Wanting to keep warm, be safe, keep from getting sick, keep from losing toes, avoid pain and discomfort, and keep healthy with good food (all of which are clearly things they need now) is nothing more than some worldly pleasure trip—something the biblical psalmist in our last post flippantly deemed “worthless things.”
Nevermind this life! Pshhhhh! Follow the signs!
December 16, 2017