In the first episode, Edmund made the ironic comment that, “in the country, nothing ever happens.” This week he learns how wrong he was, becoming the second of the children to meet somebody in Narnia, but whereas Lucy was lucky enough to meet gentle, brave Mr Tumnus, Edmund is unlucky enough to encounter the White Witch, or the White Queen, as she calls herself. When she decides he is too useful to be killed, she enters into a period of manipulation, which is uncomfortably close to how grooming of a child must look: the creepy stroking of his face, being kind to him, plying him with treats, offering him the chance of more if he cooperates, persuading him that their relationship is going to be their little secret, and establishing a twisted parent/child relationship:
“I have no children. I would so much like a nice boy I could bring up as a prince.”
It is all quite disturbing, and worst of all, it’s so easy for her. The interesting thing is why it’s so easy. Why is Edmund, an apparently clever child (clever enough to be devious), so gullible? Well, the message here is fairly obvious: selfishness makes a person blinkered. Edmund is clearly a boy who doesn’t care much about anyone else. That’s obvious from the way he treats Lucy, betraying her in the most horrible manner by lying to the other children about Narnia, and that clearly affects her deeply. The reason he does that is entirely to do with himself, and himself alone. His aim is not to bring Lucy to tears, it’s simply this problem:
“I’ll have to admit before all the others that you were right.”
Faced with a choice between the truth or a lie, Edmund cannot look beyond what he thinks is best for himself, even if the outcome of his decision is very bad for somebody else. Somebody that selfish is easily manipulated, because his response to being offered something he wants (Turkish Delight) is to go all out for it, and that single-minded focus on what he wants prevents him from taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture: what does the White Witch want in return? This is where the undertones of grooming become even more uncomfortable to watch, because the narrative blames the victim as much as the groomer. That makes this a story that demands a particular outcome; in order to avoid this being a victim-shaming text, Edmund will have to be redeemed.
The other fascinating bit of this episode is when Peter and Susan go to the Professor for help. This is a stroke of genius that turns a key moment that appears in many children’s fantasy adventure stories on its head. One thing these stories tend to have in common is the removal of useful parental figures from the narrative, in order to make things feel really dangerous for the children who are forced to rely on their own courage and resourcefulness. We saw that in The Box of Delights quite literally when Cole Hawlings was “scrobbled” and removed from the narrative. But this scene is instead a subversion of a common moment when children ask an adult for help and they don’t believe the fantastic tale the children tell. Their disbelief therefore removes the adult from the equation as a helpful figure in the narrative. Instead what happens here is the children approach the adult with their own disbelief, and the adult persuades them to open their minds to the possibility that Narnia might actually exist. C.S. Lewis’s expertise in theology really comes across in scenes like this, because he applies stone cold logic to belief, and Peter and Susan cannot argue with it. Faced with three possibilities (Lucy is lying, Lucy is mad, Lucy is telling the truth), and being able to rule out the first two with a high degree of confidence, “we must assume 3: she is telling the truth”. But the really clever bit is that although this scene subverts what we would normally expect, it doesn’t actually provide the children with an adult ally to help them, because of this line:
“We might all try minding our own business.”
The Professor is willing to believe in Narnia, but he does not jump up to investigate. Does he know more than he’s letting on, and understand that Narnia will only admit the children, or does he believe that some mysteries should not be tampered with by humans? The position he takes makes sense either way, but it will be interesting to see if that question is addressed later in the series.
By the end of the episode, all four children have finally arrived in Narnia, and Edmund’s deceit did not benefit him for long. Liars often end up giving themselves away by some inconsistency in their story, and he demonstrates knowledge of a place he’s not supposed to have visited. The child actors do a great job with this material; note how Edmund is separated off for the remainder of the episode, always standing alone, never quite part of the group. When somebody is caught out in a deception, there are two common responses: repentance, or anger. Presumably next week we will find out if Edmund doubles down on his treachery, or decides to change his ways… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Episode Three