CS Lewis’ love and understanding of story and Myth are evident in all of his works, none more so than The Return to Narnia that is Prince Caspian. I started to look at this last time in my hundredth post – check it out here – and am going to jump right back in looking at the weaving in of story as a concept, along with both Narnian and Earthly myths and stories appearing side by side.
We left Caspian stumbling into the lives of Trufflehunter, Trumpkin and Nikabrik (poor Nikabrik). Surprised and overjoyed that the stories he has been told are real he is then introduced to the idea that the inhabitants of the stories themselves don’t necessarily believe in the veracity of all the tales.
These three “old Narnians” represent different levels of attitude towards and belief in stories in general and the tales of ancient Narnia specifically.
Trufflehunter, loyal badger who holds on to everything in the old stories. His faithfulness in holding to Aslan and to the Ancient Tetrarchy (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) is a powerful force in the story and is instrumental in influencing Caspian’s belief and hope that help will come when he sounds Susan’s horn.
Trumpkin, practical and pragmatic, sceptical to the point of disbelief. Caspian (who here represents the reader in the story) is confounded at Trumpkin’s dismissal of the old stories, after all, to Caspian (and us) Trumpkin is the stories. And yet, even in his scepticism, driven by pragmatism and concern for his people in the now (“Soup and celery! I wish our leaders would think less about these old wives’ tales and more about victuals and arms.”) he is still wise enough, loyal enough and believes enough in Caspian to follow and obey, despite disagreeing in some topics. This is a picture of good friendship and true community, the knowing that in spite of disagreements, you’d still walk all night for someone. Perhaps we “modern thinking” folk could take a leaf out of Trumpkin’s book.
And then we have Nikabrik, who believes in the tales, but only inasmuch as they serve his wants and needs. His behaviour stems from anger, but an anger born of cruelty, betrayal and mistreatment. “I’ll believe in anyone or anything that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslon or the White Witch, do you understand?” His attitude also shows a misunderstanding of the stories themselves – he simply doesn’t understand how harmful the White Witch was to Narnia. His answer that she was “good to dwarves” displays the myopic view of the self-confessed “oppressed” person who looks after only himself and his own kind and sees none of the pain of others. Nikabrik’s fate shows us exactly what can happen when hope is dashed or deferred for too long; bitterness, hatred and eventually violent opposition of things you once believed in.
In contrast to Caspian stumbling into the stories of his childhood, the Pevensies are sucked back into the world of Narnia (a deliberate image by Lewis: they are sucked into Narnia by the magic of the horn just as we are sucked into Narnia by the magic of the storyteller/writer). And landing there they find that as opposed to their last visit, they themselves are the subject of stories, they are the legends believed and disbelieved by others. Imagine that – finding yourself as the story, as the thing people have talked about for centuries, as the thing people believe in or doubt.
There’s something else at play here too. In all my years of reading, the voice of Lewis as narrator is one of the most in your face narrators I have come across. It’s as if you’re sat there in his living room and he’s telling you the story and he just can’t help himself interjecting, can’t help offering a commentary or aside, can’t help offering useful comparisons. For example this line from the beginning of Dawn Treader (which echoes the beginning of this book) – “When the Pevensies returned to Narnia, it was as if King Arthur came back to Britain, as some say he will. And I say the sooner the better.” I love that, don’t you? – “And I say the sooner the better” as if he’s yearning for something, and matter of factly assumes that that something will benefit us all (I happen to agree with him by the way.)
And here too is where one of his most major assumptions about stories becomes most obvious. It’s that he is widely read, he is in love with stories, he knows myths of Greek, Roman, Norse and British culture and he assumes that you do too. He also pulls in inhabitants of the myths of our world (dryads, naiads, the river god, Bacchus, Father Christmas) into the world of Narnia – apparently much to the annoyance of his friend Tolkein, which kind of makes me like it all the more. And speaking of Tolkein, the scene of the awakened trees come to take their vengeance on the Telmarines is reminiscent of the march of the Ents in Tolkein’s Two Towers – or did Tolkein borrow from Lewis? I don’t know the answer but I like the idea of them throwing ideas back and forth to one another in a great story orgy (I need to have me one of those!).
And that’s the kind of storytelling that I most love. A symbiotic trading of tales, a part of the community, a way to build the community. A place where characters from different stories show up here an there and all over the place. ( This is one of the reasons I love the aspects of the Marvel universe that has the heroes showing up in each others’ stories – most exemplified of course in the concept of The Avengers.) A story which grows with the telling, and most of all helps folk fall in love with Story itself.