Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Nobility of Children

            I remember hiking up Valley View Trail looking for an elevator, or anything to propel me up the trail. Valley View Trail is a skinny, dirt-road neck of the Alleghany Mountains that extends for 2.5 miles among a cluster of other skinny, dirt-road necks that each ramify out and inevitably intersect with more skinny, dirt-road necks, none of which have elevators. They do, however, have miniscule stones that slip into your shoes and jab at your toes. And they do have flora that chafe against your legs and leave bothersome, red rashes that linger for weeks and beg to be itched and itched. And they do have unknowable creatures that scarper in the dense mountain trees and thrash in the thrushes and rumble about, but these creatures are never seen and may be easily mistaken for black bears when in actuality they’re something so innocuous as rabbits or Dufflepuds. But, being a fatigued ten year-old on a trail I resented to climb, I was predisposed to believe in black bears and not Dufflepuds. So, upon hearing a rustling in the trees to my right and seeing, I think, a flash of black fur, I decided to quit my hike all together and feigned dead on Valley View Trail, very quietly grumbling about “’what would have happened’” if only I had stayed back at the hotel where they had no black bears and two, running elevators. (Lewis 171).

              On Valley View Trail, I was as petulant as Eustace on the Dawn Treader. However, Eustace was resilient. He underwent healing and rebirth, becoming a nobler boy who comported himself more chivalrously and, in a defining scene, even relented against a hulking sea creature (125). In contrast, I played possum at the sight of a fur patch.

              Eustace, I mean to say, is a noble boy (far more noble than most Earth-based boys) befitting the Narnian archetype of noble child-kings and child-warriors, who, despite being in their nonage, are exceptionally self-sufficient, autonomous, and admirable individuals.  These child-kings and child-warriors, C.S. Lewis shows, encounter difficult, adult-type problems and tackle them with a child-like savvy, suggesting that children are the purest and noblest of humankind.
The seven lords that came before the Dawn Treader failed. The four boys and girls (Caspian, Lucy, Eustace, Edmund) that came after the seven lords succeeded. Where men foundered, children triumphed.  Trials and tribulations were not light for these children either. For example, Lucy was tasked with dispelling a magician’s curse on pain of death. And, midway through this task, she began to encounter the particular eeriness of the magician’s abode. “It would have been nicer if there had not been strange signs painted in scarlet on the doors,”  Lucy ruminates (158). She goes on to acknowledge the eeriness of other things as well - the masks and the doors. But, nevertheless with some childish optimism and bravery (“It’s quite harmless,” she reassures herself of the ostensible dangers), the little Lucy undoes the curse, an act that can be effectively described as an emancipation of a people (161).

           The Dufflepuds owe all gratitude to Lucy and, more broadly, to children. For men could not have done the same. The fully grown Dufflepuds were incapable of helping themselves and the seven adult lords were more so inept, not even able to prevent themselves from being killed, turned to gold, or otherwise lost in darkness or sleep. And certainly the sailors on the Dawn Treader could not have mustered the courage to penetrate the magician’s abode, for these sailors wavered and hesitated when the utter East was within reach and were compelled only after the adolescent Caspian had warbled out a speech and given them “the heart to go further” (230). In this instance and similar ones, where men are seen to be foolish, unthinking, and self-defeating, children are seen to be autonomous, self-sufficient, and able.  Well, except for ten year-old me.

       Perhaps I was acting more of an early-state Eustace while I was cowering on Valley View, perhaps I needed a King Caspian rabble-rousing speech or an edifying whisper-in-the-ear from Lucy to propel me up the trail. Either way, I was pathetic in my nonage. And it was quite clear that I “had read none of the right books,” looking for an elevator and not the unadulterated confidence within to push me up the mountain (89).

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