Last week marked the 70th anniversary of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the first anniversary of this column! Many thanks to everyone for creating the wonderful and interesting community that’s been building around the comments here over the last year.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells us in the final chapter that our main characters—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—grew to be adults in Narnia, and lived their lives as kings and queens. This all takes place in the space of a few paragraphs, and though it’s referred to often enough in other books, the “Golden Age of Narnia” mostly unfolds between the stories recounted in the books, not within them.
Except in The Horse and His Boy, where we see the siblings (save Peter) as royal adults in Narnia. It’s a fun and inventive bit, giving us a little flavor for what we missed of the larger stories through our former heroes’ generous cameos in this tale.
Not only do we see a bit of their Narnian adventures, but this is also the oldest we see the kids in the Chronicles. The Pevensies enter Narnia in 1940, when they are (roughly) 13, 12, 10, and 8 years old. They arrive in Narnian year 1000 and stay there as the Kings and Queens of Cair Paravel for fifteen years, when they follow the white stag back to Earth, arriving at the very hour they left…and finding themselves to be children again. The Horse and His Boy takes place in the penultimate year of their reign, 1014, when Peter is 27, Susan 26, Edmund 24, and Lucy 22. The last book of the series, The Last Battle takes place in 2555 (Narnia time)/1949 (Earth time), and our dear Susan finds herself orphaned and without siblings as a 21-year-old, still younger than she had been in Narnia.
As a refresher, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe tells us:
And they themselves grew and changed as the years passed over them. And Peter became a tall and deep-chested man and a great warrior, and he was called King Peter the Magnificent. And Susan grew into a tall and gracious woman with black hair that fell almost to her feet and the Kings of the countries beyond the sea began to send ambassadors asking for her hand in marriage. And she was called Queen Susan the Gentle. Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgment. He was called King Edmund the Just. But as for Lucy, she was always gay and golden-haired, and all Princes in those parts desired her to be their Queen, and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant.
As always, Lewis doesn’t let consistency get in the way of the story he’s telling, and we’ll notice that the Pevensies courtly flavor of speaking comes and goes a bit. But overall, Lewis more-or-less sticks to his Wardrobe description of the kids when it comes time to write The Horse and His Boy.
Let’s start with the High King himself, Peter, who doesn’t appear in this book because he’s off killing giants. We’re told Peter has defeated the Tisroc “a dozen times over” in the previous years. He’s still involved in matters of state and the various ceremonies required of him. Tumnus tells Shasta (thinking he’s Corin) that Peter has promised to knight the boy himself in a few years. Even his enemies think highly of him. Rabadash says Peter is a man of “prudence and understanding” and of “high honour.” We’re told that the Golden Age Peter and his siblings have brought to Narnia leaves the woodland creatures feeling “safe and happy” and maybe even a bit careless. He’s also instructed Lucy that she’s not to carry her magic cordial around all the time, but to save it for special need in battle. Overall, we don’t get much more about Peter than what we’re told at the end of Wardrobe.
Our first sight of Lucy shows us “a fair-haired lady with a very merry face who wore a helmet and mail shirt and carried a bow across her shoulder and a quiver full of arrows at her side.” Lucy does what she pleases, and that includes firing arrows at the enemies when at war. She joins Edmund in making the plans for battle…she seems to be treated as a valuable member of the army and treated with respect as someone who ranks only below the High King himself. We’re told she’s “as good as a man” or “at any rate as good as a boy.” (Though these comments come from Prince Corin, who is portrayed as someone with a good heart but questionable judgment. It certainly seems that others see Lucy—as Queen of Narnia—as rather more important than just any man.)
Any time there’s trouble, people come to Lucy for help. She’s the first person the talking beasts suggest should be told the news of the impending attack from the Calormenes, and when Aravis needs help getting settled, it’s Lucy who is called upon. She and Aravis hit it off at once and Lucy has not only prepared her apartment, she also sets out to help Aravis get her clothes and get her bedroom and boudoir (a sort of sitting room) all set up as well as “all the sort of things girls do talk about on such an occasion” which I can only imagine is Lewis’s shorthand for, “I don’t know what else they would have talked about, but they certainly did talk about it.”
No doubt Lucy was entertaining at a meal, too, because King Lune sits her at his right hand and Aravis on his left, and when she gives him council regarding Rabadash, he listens to her. She’s not a bit terrified of Rabadash, and thinks that his terrible faces are because he’s feeling ill. And at the great feast at the end of the tale, it’s Lucy whose story is most popular and in demand, even though everyone has heard it before. In other words, Lucy is more-or-less perfect like always and definitely Lewis’s favorite.
Edmund, interestingly, has the largest presence in this book. He shows real deference to Susan’s preference on whether to marry Rabadash, and when she says she’s come to realize he’s a terrible guy, not only agrees but runs the guy down as well, basically saying “he was never good enough for you.” He’s shrewd—he’s quick to make sure there’s no spy listening in on them—and the first to recognize that Rabadash isn’t going to let them go quietly when Susan rejects his offer of marriage.
Edmund also has the clearest picture of Rabadash among the Narnians. Edmund has already recognized Rabadash as someone who’s not used to being crossed. Edmund has wisely avoided giving any answer for Susan, but he also floated a trial balloon of how Rabadash would respond to a “no”…and recognizes the prince’s response as both “angry and dangerous.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at Edmund’s response to Susan’s (very reasonable) question about whether Rabadash might try to force her into marriage. Edmund replies, “Wife: or slave, which is worse.” I’m not sure if this is meant as a denouncement of slavery, a condemnation of Rabadash, or a reflection of Lewis’s thoughts on marriage, but whatever it is Edmund’s heart at least shines through: he wants something better than Rabadash’s intentions for his sister, and he’s going to make sure she gets it.
Edmund has a clear picture of the politics as well as the potential for war. On the other hand, he keeps everyone focused on the most important challenge: escaping Tashbaan with their lives. The Tisroc knows to keep Edmund alive, too, and when he presses Rabadash on this part of his plan, Rabadash tells the Tisroc he’s planning to use “ten men” to disarm and restrain Edmund. He’s a well-respected fighter.
Edmund made me laugh a second time when, later, he’s the one who tells everyone to dismount “for a halt and a morsel.” I hope the old boy managed to pack along some Turkish Delight when they headed north.
The king has a gentle way with others because of his own history, too. When Shasta desperately assures Edmund he’s not a traitor, he puts a hand on Shasta’s head and tells him, “I know now that you were no traitor,” but advises that he should work harder not to eavesdrop if he wants to avoid that appearance. Even the evil Rabadash is seen as worthy of a second chance from Edmund’s point of view: “Even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did,” he says, and then, Lewis tells us that Edmund “looked very thoughtful.” I love that after all these years Edmund is still remorseful for his actions, and that remorse causes him to be kind and forgiving to those around him.
King Edmund is wise, too, wanting to keep Corin out of battle (and getting increasingly angry at the boy as he causes trouble). He’s an amazing fighter (he lops someone’s head off in this book, which I hope he gets counseling for back in Britain). He’s chivalrous, too. When Rabadash is caught on the wall, Edmund plans to let him back down so they can keep a fair fight going, even though Rabadash ambushed them. All in all, we meet the best sort of transformed person, and it’s no surprise that he’s gentle and kind with his cousin in a future adventure (which is a little confusing, as that’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, two books back in the reader’s past and two books forward in Edmund’s future).
Then we come to Susan, and the Susan we see in this book is going to be important when we get to The Last Battle. We are told in Wardrobe that she became a gracious and gentle woman, and I think we can see that in The Horse and His Boy. She sees something good in Rabadash when he visits Narnia, or she wouldn’t have come to visit him. When Corin sneaks out she’s so distressed and worried about him that her “eyes are red with weeping.”
She’s the “most beautiful lady” Shasta has ever seen—Lewis always tells us how beautiful Susan is—but she’s also consistently portrayed as caring and kind. She’s been close with Corin ever since his own mother died, and she was worried not only for him but also for others who would be hurt by his actions…his father, and even the kingdom of Archenland.
She’s quick to own the blame for bringing them to Tashbaan, and admits to being deceived by Rabadash, who seemed wonderful both in and out of battle during his time in Narnia. Here he has “shown another face” and she’s ready to be on her way. She’s also quick to sense the moods of others, and when she sees Edmund’s face change as he considers the situation she gets up and goes to him…she cares deeply about the people around her.
Susan takes the blame rather too much, I think, for being deceived by someone who had evil intentions, but no doubt it’s that she gives people the benefit of the doubt. She sobs when she remembers their last happy day in Cair Paravel, when the moles were planting an orchard for them (a fun reference to Prince Caspian…our poor heroes won’t see that orchard in its maturity for a thousand years).
Poor Susan alters between sex object and motherly figure, depending on whose point of view we have. She swoops in as the motherly best friend for dear Corin when his mother dies. Corin goes after someone from making a “beastly joke” about her. Rabadash apparently describes her at length in a way that Lewis says “would not look at all nice in print.”
She is, as Corin later describes her, “an ordinary grown-up lady.” She’s great with a bow but never goes to war. I don’t think that Lewis means this to reflect poorly on Susan…it’s not much different than she has been presented in other stories: “Beautiful Susan who tends to be mothering, is quick to apologize, and kind-hearted.” It’s interesting to compare her to Aravis, who is also in a bad situation because of a marriage proposal, and takes it upon herself to solve the problem for herself. Susan keeps saying it is her fault but as soon as they get to Narnia she heads off to the castle and doesn’t even come out for the battle. Of course, Rabadash has threatened to force her into marriage (the only clear reference to sexual violence in the Narnia books that I can recall) and/or make her a slave, so it seems reasonable that she might prefer to be as far from Rabadash as possible, even after he’s been captured (she doesn’t appear at the feast, and doesn’t see Aslan appear and give Rabadash his punishment).
It’s unfortunate that in their 15 years reigning in Cair Paravel this is the best glimpse we get of the Pevensies’ lives, but I’m sure Lewis would say that we should make those stories ourselves should we care to see them. Thus ends the one adventure we have of King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, King Edmund the Just, and Queen Lucy the Valiant. A year after this particular adventure they were told that a white stag had returned to Narnia, and they set out to catch it. They came upon a lantern in the middle of the forest, and a strange foreboding came over them all, and it was Queen Susan who said, let’s turn back.
But King Peter said, we never turn back from something we’ve set out to achieve, whether a battle or a feast or an act of justice.
Queen Lucy said they would be shamed if they turned back because of fear or foreboding.
King Edmund said he so strongly desired to understand this sign that he wouldn’t turn back for the richest jewel in Narnia or the isles.
And Queen Susan said, in the name of Aslan, if that is what you all want, then I’ll come, too, and we’ll take whatever adventure befalls us.
So they appeared, children again, in the old Professor’s house.
It was 1940, and they had another nine years before all but Susan would climb onto that train…six years less than they had spent adventuring together, once upon a time, in Narnia.