Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
“‘We’ve brought the anger of Aslan on us,’ he said. ‘That’s what comes of not attending to the signs. We’re under a curse, I expect. If it was allowed, it would be the best thing we could do, to take these knives and drive them into our own hearts.’”
“Stop it, Mom. You made that up. Puddleglum did NOT just say that.”
“I’m just reading what it says.”
“Is he secretly a bad guy?”
“Actually, he’s supposed to be the wisest one this whole time.”
They need to leave Harfang, but they want to sneak out. Little Bit and I have figured out the giants are going to eat them, but they haven’t yet so why the sneaking around? I’m not sure. They just feel trapped or whatever.
Jill is put to work in a very gendered way for this chapter. She acts very silly, adopts a baby voice, and giggles and whips her curls around. (I’m not going to call this “girly” because, um, my principles!) Her job was to get information, but her acting foolishly was so they would think her precious and not suspect her. Some of the giants reacted in a bizarre way to her; they would dab at their eyes or look sad for no reason. (Pssst! Because she’s going to be dinner!)
“She made love to everyone – the grooms, the porters, the housemaids, the ladies-in-waiting, and the elderly giant lords whose hunting days were past. She submitted to being kissed and pawed about by any number of giantesses…”
Female labor is often emotional and this came with giving up bodily autonomy. It wasn’t something she wanted to do, in fact, “it made her hot all over when she remembered it afterwards” so it was embarrassing and degrading. Still, her gender made her the one for the job, as Lewis explained: “Scrubb and Puddleglum both did their best, but girls do that kind of thing better than boys.”
The information Jill obtains is useful: a door in the kitchen is left open for the cat. During lunch, Puddleglum overhears that their meal was a Talking Deer. That means it was not a dumb animal, but a Narnian person. This is horrifying. Puddleglum says this is part of Aslan’s curse for not sticking to the signs better. And he suggests it would be better if they killed themselves as I quoted above, although I doubt that was a real suggestion. It was more like the whole “if your right eye offends you, pluck it out” nonsense that no one takes seriously, well, until someone does take it seriously and then they are written off as mentally ill.
Upon finding they had eaten someone, it was now more important than ever to leave the giants, who were clearly capable of such evil. While in the kitchen waiting for the service staff to leave so they could make their escape, the three discover an Autumn Feast cook book open to a page on how to cook men. The page below it is how to cook marsh wiggle. They see the pies for making man-pies already out. Now they understand why some of the giants felt sad when Jill was being especially cute and childishly endearing.
They wait for the giant in the kitchen to fall asleep and then they make their way out. They see the ruined ancient city, but also the king and queen returning from a hunting party! They are forced to make a run for it as the king shouts to not let their meal get away. They hide in a crack in the rocks and accidentally slide a mile downwards on the loose stones. Congrats! They made it under the city. Easy.
“Now to find the prince!” said Little Bit excitedly. As soon as she says this a stranger greets our heroes (who are covered in cuts and bruises now), but it’s not the prince. It’s just an Earthman who then takes the children and marsh wiggle to their Queen.
On their way, they see giant dragons and bats and weird creatures who are sleeping until the end of the world. They also see a giant man called Father Time who is also sleeping until the end of the world. Are these things explained at all? No. Moving on then.
They board a boat and row endlessly towards a city of underground dwellers. None of the people here look alike, so they must all be different races. Also, they are all always sad and they keep repeating, “Many sink down to the Underworld and few return to the sunlit lands.”
It turns out the Queen is not available, but the Queen’s fiancé tells the Earthmen to bring the children and marsh wiggle to his room instead of the dungeon to wait for her return. This fellow turns out to be the black knight from before, who was with the Lady who told the children the giants would “have them” for the Autumn Feast. This man laughs a lot and seems off. He tells them that the Queen is going to marry him and make him king in the Overworld. All he has to do is follow her instructions and surprise attack a random city they are burrowing under, then kills the city’s chief men.
“‘Where I come from,’ said Jill, who was disliking him more every minute, ‘they don’t think much of men who are bossed about by their wives.’”
No, Jill. Sexism looks bad on you. Don’t do that. The point of this is that the Queen can’t rule the overworld without a man. How sad for her. This is one elaborate plot on her end just so she can have a kingdom to rule. (Poor Queen… or wait, she’s evil. Still…)
The knight also tells them he is under an affliction: every night he briefly turns into a beast and attacks people. Then he wakes up slightly weary with no memory of it. Finally the hour came where the man would turn into a beast. Since the Queen was away and he was scared to go through this alone, he told the others to hide in the other chambers. Then he was tied up by Earthmen onto the Silver Chair this book is named for. After the Earthmen left the children and marsh wiggle came back to keep him company. He told them not to release him from his bonds for any reason, no matter what he said. He would kill them if they did.
So of course ten seconds later they were debating releasing him when he uttered Aslan’s name (while frothing at the mouth). I mean, they are pretty sure that’s the fourth sign. Now they had to do it. (Awkward.) Of course they still thought he was a knight and didn’t know he was Prince Rilian yet, so it’s amazing that they were following half signs with such dire consequences at this point. (Hey, there’s your spot-on allegory of a Bible follower! Good one, Lewis!)
I feel weird harping on these signs AGAIN, but they really do make up so much of this storyline and they teach children all the wrong lessons. For instance, when they hear Aslan’s name, which they interpret as the forth sign, coming from a madman who has told them he would kill them if freed, they decide they must follow Aslan even if it means they die. Signs before sanity!
“That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
Of course it lets you off following the sign!!! (Am I going mad?) Obviously this means the sign is bad now! This is all sorts of messed up.
Side note: This follow-the-signs reasoning brought to you by the religion who told me as a very young child that the greatest thing was to die following Christ and forced me to read missionary biographies in Christian school of people who did just that. Children must obey, even if it brings them harm, the lesson goes, because God demands unquestioning obedience. And this kind of obedience is the only way to be happy. (All links are to cartoons from my own Christian school books.)
While other children were reading adventure stories, I was reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in grade school. In the updated version of this book, the publisher’s notes say it contains, “Stories of love of God and Christ. Stories of the amazing grace of God that enabled men, women, and children to endure persecutions and often horrible deaths.” Because children enduring torture and death is “amazing” if done for God. You must love God and Christ so much, this thinking goes, that you’d want to die for them. That’s what I wanted when I signed up to be a missionary as a teen. I wanted my life to be a sacrifice to my God, like the blood sacrifices he craved in the Old Testament.
Paul in Romans 12 calls this kind of sacrifice “reasonable”: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
Lewis is pushing the Christian idea that people must be sacrificed to their gods. To Aslan. To Yahweh. To Jesus. That’s all humanity is good for. In fact, when Jesus becomes human it says: “And being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!” What a lesson to emulate!
Gods who want blood or human sacrifice is the epitome of Bronze Age thinking. This is so much part of Aslan’s character that the children and Puddleglum understand implicitly that they may be following the signs to their death and decide to be okay with that!
“Let’s get it over. Goodbye, everyone!” Jill says, and they all shake hands. Then they say, “In the name of Aslan,” before cutting the madman’s ropes. When he goes straight for his sword they all think this is it, but the madman instead swings it at the Silver Chair and his enchantment ends for good. He tells them he is really Prince Rilian! (“We knew that,” says Little Bit.) They inform him that he’s been missing for ten years! (And he gets over this information astonishingly fast.) All is well!
Until the Queen (Witch) enters the room.
December 30, 2017