By Alexis Record
“Wow, Jill is super great at stuff now.”
“Probably because she’s dead.”
“Christians have this belief that after you die you get a new body…”
“No, stop. This makes no sense. When did she die?”
“At the train station. She’s been dead this whole time.”
“You go to Narnia when you die? And fight wars and kill bunnies?”
“I mean, the Bible is just as bad.”
“I’m so confused.”
Our heroes (still in black face, so don’t expect this to make it into the Hollywood version) set out to free Jewel. Jill is the navigator for their trek through the forest and she’s very skilled at the task. She leads them right to the stable where the unicorn is being kept in the dark. We’ve come a long way from the days Jill couldn’t tell she was traveling east when the sun was in her eyes. In The Silver Chair, Lewis remarks, “[Eustace] Scrubb was quite right in saying that Jill (I don’t know about girls in general) didn’t think much about points of the compass.” (I love that his parenthetical was an attempt to be less sexist than his main character.) Now Jill is this badass who can pinpoint their location by looking at the stars.
A confident, capable, and skilled female character is probably a hint that something isn’t right. This is not our first clue that things are amiss with our characters. Their strength is incredible as well. This surprised Tirian since “they both seemed to be already much stronger and bigger and more grown-up than they had been when he first met them a few hours before.”
There may be a reason for the children’s enhancements that has less to do with “Narnia magic” and more to do with the Christian idea of glorified bodies. Previously the children told Tirian that they were sent to Narnia by Aslan without the help of the magic rings, straight from the train station where their entire party was gathered. How did Aslan send them? We’ll find out later he killed them. Or if you’re a sleezy, disingenuous person, you would say Aslan didn’t technically murder his followers, but merely allowed them to be tragically and violently killed by a train he both knew was coming and sovereignly sent. Totes different, y’all.
Now here is where the Christian view of the afterlife comes into play, or I should say the biblical view as the Christian one varies depending on the sect. After death (or after the rapture when the dead will rise, technically) the Bible claims believers shall be changed and receive new bodies. These bodies eat! And the act of killing our food most likely continues as Heavenly feasts are simply Jewish ones, complete with meat and all the same cultural significances. (New Jerusalem is on Earth after the planet is destroyed and rebooted.)
One such feast in Revelation 19 is mentioned that includes death. There is a marriage feast between Jesus and his saints called The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Here the Bride of Christ (Christians) are made pure before being given to the Lamb, which is Jesus. (This is the reason Aslan appeared as a lamb in The Dawn Treader.) This wedding includes female slavery to male authority and is preceded by burning a “whore” who was unworthy of Jesus and would not serve him. (I grew up with this crap. What did you learn in Sunday School?)
So Jill killing and eating a rabbit in the afterlife, like she does in this chapter, is not without some precedent. Our new, glorified bodies are probably carnivorous, and our improved, glorified brains still revel in violence. (Guests at the wedding feast don’t just witness the burning of the prostitute; they celebrate it as the “smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”)
Speaking of violence, right after this wedding feast Jesus, the groom, goes out and “makes war” on folks, but since he’s Jesus it’s done “in righteousness.” (Divine command theory at play again. The most powerful are good and what they do is good.) He has crowns on his head, is called the Word of God (a reference from the book of John who had the same author as Revelation), and he’s wearing a robe soaked in blood. He then strikes people (unbelievers) down with a sword that comes out of his body (like a new body part) and rules them “with an iron rod.” (I don’t want to know where the rod came from!) After the slaughter, an angel tells birds to eat the flesh of the kings and even their slaves who probably didn’t have a choice in the battle. Also their horses. (Don’t tell Little Bit.) Others get thrown into a lake of fire and sulfur (a landmark in Heaven apparently) and the rest of the prisoners of war get slain by the flesh sword that comes from Jesus’ body. He leaves no prisoners and the birds become gorged.
It’s a lovely last battle the Bible has for us.
So when Narnia gets bloody and violent later, this is why. When Aslan implies that this is all normal for the afterlife, as well as planned, we see the clear biblical influence. When this book is named The Last Battle, big shocker there.
What? Were you expecting harps?
Part of the plan to free Jewel is for Tirian to imitate a Calormene by talking “like a curst, cruel, proud lord of Calormen.” He approaches a lazy guard asleep at his post and puts a knife to the man’s back. (In any other children’s book the kids would sneak around a sleeping guard. Not this one!) Inside the barn Tirian has Jewel threaten to kill the guard with his horn while Tirian unties our brony. (And I got to explain what “rive him to the heart” meant to my daughter.) They stuff grass inside the guard’s mouth and leave him. That’s got to be the worst thing they did. Can you imagine? Ew, I’m gagging just thinking about it.
While Tirian is getting Jewel, Jill sneaks into Aslan’s stable. She drew her knife on the imposter (see, she’s much more violent and therefore improved by this book’s standards), but it was an unnecessary threat since Puzzle, who was still in the lion skin, was ready to leave with them. More than ready since the Calormenes weren’t giving him water. If Jill had left the false Aslan alone, then their strategy would surely have failed. The animals would never have backed Tirian without permission from their deity. Jill saved the day! This causes Eustace to be quite impressed.
“If she was a boy she’d have to be knighted, wouldn’t she, Sire?”
“If she was a boy,” said Tirian, “she’d be whipped for disobeying orders.”
Right, because girls can’t be knighted, and they also can’t be held accountable for their actions. They are perpetual babies forever under the authority of men. How delightful.
This view of girls (and women) is horrible, but it’s also precisely why we have girls in this series. Girls can make mistakes, break the rules, and get emotional. They aren’t considered anything more than dependent children, even when they grow up, and don’t have the same expectations of leadership, maturity, authority, or stoic emotional detachment that male characters have. Boys can’t be seen as vulnerable because that’s considered a female trait! When your gender is predicated on limiting your humanity, it’s toxic. In systems of toxic masculinity, boys get beaten at younger ages, are burdened with leadership even in cases where they lack natural talent for it, and are emotionally lobotomized. Therefore, girls must be introduced into the story to provide the emotional range and plot-advancing mistakes any good story needs.
The first version of Lewis’ grand tale started with a small boy protagonist finding his way to Narnia through a wardrobe. Laura Miller in “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” notes how Lewis could not make the story work with a boy.
“Writing about Narnia released something free, lyrical, and tender in Lewis, and none of those qualities fit within the limitations of what he would have viewed as an acceptable boy character. […] Lewis is not the only storyteller to find that his own investment in conventional masculinity makes a female protagonist the most appealing choice. […] Lucy can do and feel much more than a traditional boy character.” (pages 70-71)
Lucy got to cry. Jill got to get lost and forget the mission in a previous book and go off and disobey orders without real consequences in this one. Yet our boys will only cry when they are weak (or before their conversions to Aslan) and will constantly be holding it together rather than showing what they’re feeling. For this reason, there must always be a girl around to carry the emotional labor—both for the male characters and for the reader.
Boys will also have to prove themselves in a violent way as we will soon see with Eustace who is about to taste his first blood in the next chapter. It will only be viewed as a good thing since the person he kills is a Calormene.
Hand-always-on-hilt Tirian has already unsheathed his sword when he discovers Jill just rescued the false Aslan. When asked what the heck he’s doing, he responds, “Drawing my sword to smite off the head of the accursed Ass. […] Stand clear, girl.”
Jill defends the donkey in the meekest and gentlest way, but still gets lectured for being “the most malapert and disobedient.” (You have one female job, here, so submit already! Oh, but we can’t punish you since you’re just an emotional girl who loves donkeys and doesn’t know any better.) The others help convince the king that the donkey is innocent and dumb. It’s the ape who is the real one to blame. Tirian responds by saying “we shall hang that Ape on the highest tree in Narnia.” This mollifies the king for now since at least someone is going to see some death by violence. Even Puzzle doesn’t seem to mind talk of killing his friend.
In the distance they hear dwarves approaching. They first heard them when rescuing Jewel. The king had said they were probably “treacherous Dwarfs, enemies, as likely as not.” I wondered about why he would think this of his own subjects before even meeting them, but apparently it was foreshadowing for their eventually turn from Aslan. In truth, these dwarves are largely bystanders and victims. They won’t be enemies and they won’t be fighting our heroes. But by this book’s logic they’ll be something far worse.
They’ll be… (*whispers*) atheists.
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at the Chronicles of Narnia
August 25, 2018