Guest writer – Alexis Record
“She got the order of the signs wrong? Wait, what were the signs again, Mom?”
“Hold on, let me flip back.”
“You think Aslan will punish us for forgetting?”
Chapter 7 opens up in a snowy torture land. The children’s feet are in great pain, their ears ache, they can’t see more than a foot in front of them, they can’t hear each other even while shouting, the wind is whipping up sheets of snow directly into their faces, and everything hurts. They are heading towards warm baths and relief, but their guide, Puddleglum, reminds them about the signs once more. Jill Pole is not having it.
“‘Oh, come on! Bother the signs,’ said Pole. ‘Something about someone mentioning Aslan’s name, I think. But I’m jolly well not going to give a recitation here.’”
“As you see, she had got the order wrong. That was because she had given up saying the signs over every night. She still really knew them, if she troubled to think: but she was no longer so ‘pat’ in her lesson as to be sure of reeling them off in the right order at a moment’s notice and without thinking.”
“Without thinking” is the primary way I learned, memorized, and meditated upon the Bible as a child. I may have used my brain for these things, but never critically.
We’ve been over my issues with repeating the signs, which is really a lesson about keeping God’s word constantly in mind. Of course God’s word, which would be the Bible to Lewis, has maybe just a few, um, problems, and maybe some, ah, inaccuracies, with possibly a somewhat large, slightly steaming, pile of, er, SEXISM so I’m not the biggest fan of this advice. And while following the Bible gave me a sense of accomplishment growing up, and was obviously rewarded by my faith community and wider culture, it did nothing for me beyond those concocted gold stars. I no longer have my Bible memory down “pat” (and thanks to the Internet I’ll never have to!) yet my life has only improved. Following God’s word and meditating on it day and night is simply bad advice, especially when it comes at the expense of improving the situation you’re in now.
But putting the allegories and life lessons aside for a moment, from the story’s perspective it would be very important to go over the signs, every night if your memory is that bad. The only reason Jill (and only Jill is really supposed to do this, as the boys are never expected to) would not have the signs down by now is if Lewis is maybe trying to belabor the point about Christians needing to read or study their Bibles more.
People often forget the Bible’s “final” (read: conflicting) word on things. That’s understandable. You’d have to work hard at it since the Bible is not always super clear and rarely intuitive for modern life. But signs from a magical lion? Ones in your original language that are directly useful for your exact situation? Ones you’d already been reciting nightly (if not recently), and still forgot? That makes zero sense. The only reason Jill would forget the next sign that she’s supposedly hiking towards is if we’re pushing the false equivalence of the children’s signs being the same as the Christians’ Bible. I’m not buying this.
Jill worries out loud that they are about to die. (Only that’s, like, a possibility here.) Despite this, Puddleglum is getting after Eustace and Jill about the signs and is just about to notice a sign (the ruined ancient giant city) in that nightmare of a snowstorm when Eustace rudely shuts him up and Jill spots Harfang. Then they all race towards earthly pleasures, you know, like all those things that make up the bedrock of Maslow’s hierarchy: food, shelter, warmth, etc.—those boring fleeting pleasures of this world that don’t come close to the amazing heavenly rewards for dying of frostbite in Aslan’s service.
They arrive at Harfang and the giant at the gate remarks that he didn’t realize children were blue. Jill explains that their faces are blue because they are so cold. To warm them up the giant offers Puddleglum some hard liquor. When Puddleglum downs it all, the giant says, “Why, Froggy, you’re a man. See him put it away!” Little Bit interrupted to give a short lesson on toxic masculinity (without using those words since she doesn’t know them) before she would let me read on. She had recently been hit by a certain boy, on accident, who was trying to show off his strength. (Her disability makes it so she cannot lift her arms to shield herself.) She also knows boys with her disability who are not less just because they have less muscle or don’t engage in risky behavior. So that was part of her diatribe against calling Puddleglum a “man” for doing something foolish or gross. Puddleglum took a different offense, “Not a man… Marsh-wiggle.” And later as the liquor took effect, “Marsh-wiggle. Marsh-wiggle. Very respectable Marsh-wiggle. Respectowiggle.”
These books have provided many opportunities to explain drunkenness to my child. Oh joy.
The three are taken (carried in drunken Puddleglum’s case) before the king and queen of the giants. Now giants are supposed to all be ugly, but extra emphasis on the queen’s looks is given. Women are things, remember? To be looked at. Things are supposed to be pretty and are especially not allowed to be ugly. When they are ugly, it’s commented upon at length. The king was alright, for a giant, but the queen was “dreadfully fat and had a double chin and a fat, powdered face—which isn’t a very nice thing at the best of times, and of course looks much worse when it is ten times too big.”
The children explain to the king and queen that the green lady said Harfang would “have us for your Autumn Feast.” That wording is a bit of foreshadowing. Jill starts crying from hunger and the trauma she’s been through so the queen orders them to be bathed and fed. Jill slept 15 hours that night and feels wonderful. Of course Aslan haunts her dreams (she was not thinking about the signs enough) and makes her cry, but overall the sleep did her good. (Aslan is a jerk.)
When they look out Jill’s guest room window, they all see another of the signs. The ancient giant city is before them! They had walked through it the day before, but couldn’t recognize it from the blinding conditions.
Upon further looking they realize the words “UNDER ME” are carved into the stones. So that’s the third sign found right away. Boom and boom.
Instead of rejoicing at this discovery, they are all upset. Why? Because Jill didn’t have the signs memorized well enough to spot it faster.
I don’t understand this at all. Bits thinks it worked out well since they can now start fresh, but for some reason they are all feeling guilty and bad, like they failed Aslan somehow. (Feeling guilty for no reason… insert religious joke here.) Jill takes most of the blame and all of the guilt. Again, why? Didn’t the other two also know there were signs they were following and maybe just maybe it was important to remember them? Jill says she’s muffed all the signs: “I’ve spoilt everything ever since you brought me here.” It reminds me of a time in my Christian elementary school where I was fighting with a certain boy and I got in more trouble because “a young lady should know better.” The Jills of the world end up taking responsibility for the Eustaces of the world.
Next a weird conversation takes place where our party try to work out what “UNDER ME” could possibly mean. Little Bit says, “Go under the city. Duh.” But for this merry band, the instructions are just indiscernible. It’s okay though, because they have faith!
“Aslan’s instructions always work: there are no exceptions,” says Puddleglum without irony. The allegory has officially flown the coop on that one.
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
By Alexis Record
December 23, 2017