“Lucy never complains. Is that because she’s a girl?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, not in real life, but I meant is it because she’s a girl in Narnia where they have rules for what they should feel?”
“If so, that makes me sad.”
Lucy so unrealistically loves everything about this book experience that it’s unbelievable. She wakes up every glorious morning and soaks in the sights of the sea. She is charmed by the heat, the rocking, the little things she bought at the last stop. The way she is consistently painted as cheerful and never complains is two-dimensional. When the whole ship is in a storm, they lose a lot of their water, and they all come down with fevers and are dehydrated, but Lucy’s reactions to this are not normal. In miserable times it would be okay for the men to complain, and Eustace is utilized to give the whole torturous picture in his diary entries, but Lucy is silent.
If you can’t say something nice, let the men do the talking.
Eustace tries to steal some water (they are rationing) and is caught. Caspian threatens “two dozen” if anyone does it again, which I assume means lashes or beatings. Eustace didn’t get it either, and it says Edmund had to explain what it meant (the author never does). “It comes in the sort of books those Pevensie kids read,” he says, and of course if Eustace disparages those books then those must be the good ones where children are beaten and whatnot. Eustace, as the book repeatedly says, reads the “wrong” kinds of books.
We learned Eustace’s mother once tried to tell him benevolent sexism was bad and women shouldn’t be unnecessarily elevated. The author implied this was rubbish thinking (if Narnia thinking is the standard), and that treating Lucy differently is a good thing. So when Lucy gives some of her water to Eustace and claims it’s because “girls don’t get as thirsty as boys” this is where the gendered othering is really strongly shown to be harmful. Obviously she is just doing a nice thing, but notice she used that “othering” to convince Eustace (who was more than happy to believe her) that the differences between them meant she could be treated differently because her body worked differently. (Men are from Mars and women are spaghetti… or something.) One would assume thinking of women as different, even higher beings would lead to better treatment for them, yet in reality when you “other” someone, it can go in any direction. It also punishes women who act outside the stereotype of generous and compassionate. Lucy almost has to self-sacrifice here, and we expect it as she’s just following her nature. Did she have any other choice? Sure, if she wanted to be seen as less womanly.
Of course Lucy having less water, and we can assume a fever like the rest, is not something she once complains about. She really is saintly and gracious and cheerful and [insert any other stereotype about what a “good” woman should be that is not equally expected of male humans here].
Finally the sailors find land and Eustace decides to sneak away to nap while the others start the hard work of repairing and stocking their ship. He climbs up a mountain, takes a nap, then realizes the others may leave him behind because he’d convinced himself they are fiends, and comes down the mountain, except on the wrong side. There he finds a dragon. “Finally,” pipes Little Bit who is sick of all the sea travel.
This is my favorite part of the entire book, maybe the entire series. While Caspian and the other children were underage drinking the “strong wine of Archenland,” Eustace is off finding a dragon. Of course he doesn’t know it’s a dragon at first, because, once again, “Eustace had read none of the right books.” The dragon dies in front of him from old age or something, maybe a sickness because dark blood gushed from its mouth. Whatever the reason, Eustace now has a free dragon cave to sleep in that was filled with treasure. He never cared about treasure before “unlike most boys” but immediately starts thinking that with enough of it he could move to Calormen, “the least phoney of these countries.”
In other words, the worst, beastly character wants the worst, beastly country, or at least one could assume that based on the fact that every single desire from Eustace so far has been bad. (Calormen is a land of dark-skinned people, after all, so who would want to live there?) We’re told it was his bad thoughts (not the treasure nor the pool of water he drank from that Little Bit and I guessed) that turned him into a dragon, and those thoughts were of Calormen.
Eustace falls asleep only to wake up and discover he’s become a dragon himself! In a stretch of decent writing, Eustace has this dawning awareness of his transformation that is completely relatable. He is in shock and can’t believe it at first, but he eventually accepts it and grieves deeply. His first act as a dragon, after crying, is to eat the other dead dragon, which was a little horrifying to read. (Little Bit: “And this is a children’s book?”)
The transformation was more than just physical. Eustace seems to recognize his wretched state and miss his human friends. He realizes they were not the fiends he made himself believe. In the Christian salvation plan I was taught all growing up, this would be the first step of recognizing he is a sinner.
Meanwhile the sailors are out looking for Eustace (sans Lucy) with no luck. Later that night all the menfolk (sans Lucy again) start speaking to each other about the dragon they have noticed on the beach. For the umpteenth time in this series fear of causing female brain worry has led to female exclusion of important problems. This time it was not just one or two important menfolk discussing an issue, it was “the whole company gathered close together and talking in whispers.” The only ears the whispers would exclude are Lucy’s. She breaks up the party and asked what the problem is. Of course the reader knows the problem is a Eustace dragon.
After a breakfast that includes more wine, they all march against the dragon, protecting Lucy in the middle of the group. They approach the dragon to fight it, but it backs away crying. It’s up to Lucy, the only one with emotional super powers, to have pity. (Aren’t women the best?) Lucy notices a golden bracelet Eustace had put on his upper human arm that was now digging painfully into his dragon arm. Lucy runs towards it and applies her cordial which brings down the swelling. They ask the dragon questions and figure out by his nodding and head shaking that it’s Eustace. The Eustace dragon becomes emotional at this point and thumped his tail making everyone jump, and “some of the sailors” reacted “with ejaculations.” I want some sort of credit for not giggling when I read that part out loud.
Lucy also kisses the dragon in the opening paragraphs of the next chapter. She had to muster up her courage to do it. Upon hearing this, Little Bit pipes up, “You don’t have to kiss anyone you don’t want to, especially if they are gross or scare you.”
Yeah, I think Little Bit will do just fine in life and love.