Yay! I finally get to talk about the Pevensie children! Well, not all four of them today. I’m just going to tackle the boys and how they reflect Mars.
Guess where the children were when Lucy told them that Edmund had been to Narnia and he denied it. They were in the room with the suit of armor. That’s also where they were when the girls came to tell the boys they had to get out of the way of the tourists and they all went into the wardrobe. Lewis being Lewis, this isn’t a coincidence. The suit of armor naturally, especially for him, wakens thoughts of knighthood and of Mars and masculinity. It calls attention to the fact that one boy is demonstrating Lewis’s ideal masculinity, and one is exhibiting the opposite.
From the beginning of the story, Peter demonstrates a tendency to protect others, especially those weaker than himself. When Lucy goes to Narnia alone, Susan and Edmund make fun and treat her like she’s foolish, respectively. Peter comes up with a more positive explanation for her story. He protects her by arguing that she’s fooling them on purpose. After Edmund returns from Narnia and hurts Lucy further by denying that he went, Peter again steps up to protect her, giving Edmund a thorough tongue-lashing for his bullying. He also takes the lead in telling the professor, trying to get help for her if she is going mad. When they all get into Narnia, he apologizes for not believing Lucy, asks her to lead their expedition, and tells her she makes a good leader. He does all that in just the first few chapters. Throughout the books, Peter exhibits this willingness to sacrifice to protect others. Perhaps the most obvious example of this primary characteristic of Lewisian masculinity, unsurprisingly, occurs in Prince Caspian. He offers to fight the much older and more experienced Miraz in personal combat, as a way to buy time for rescue to arrive and to prevent more bloodshed. Because of all of this, I believe that Peter is a picture of mature masculinity. He has an instinctive desire to protect others and consistently acts to do so. His only failure in this is in his treatment of his brother, Edmund. In his protection of Lucy and in his pride he fails to protect Edmund, instead hurting him with his harsh words. But when confronted by Aslan, he confesses his failure of pride and tries to make it right. He grows.
Edmund is in some ways a more complicated character than Peter. In the beginning of the novel, he is complaining, grouchy, and unpleasant. He generally seems bent on making everyone miserable. When Lucy first discovers Narnia, he makes fun of her. He actively seeks to cause her pain. This is clearly the opposite of Lewis’s portrait of ideal masculinity. When Lewis compares masculinity and femininity to accentual and quantitative metre, I believe he’s making the point that masculinity and femininity are not two ends of a spectrum but are on entirely separate spectra. Lewis uses the four children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to provide an illustration of this idea. The opposite of masculinity is not femininity but bullying – selfishly causing harm, especially to those weaker than you. And this is exactly the way Peter accuses Edmund of behaving – ‘You’ve always liked being beastly to anyone smaller than yourself; we’ve seen that at school before now.’
Edmund is so interesting partly because after Aslan offers himself as Edmund’s ransom, he becomes an excellent example of true masculinity. Aslan keeps the girls from the battle, not because they lack courage, as Lucy supposes, but I believe in part to give the boys a chance to exhibit the sacrificial protectiveness that is true masculinity. Edmund proves as wily in his protectiveness of others as he was in his bullying. When he realizes that the queen’s wand is her means of turning people into stone, he attacks and breaks it, though he knows it could cost him his life – and it almost does. The result of this is a recognition of his masculinity. ‘And there on the field of battle Aslan made him a knight.’ Edmund had exhibited the key characteristic of masculinity – of true knighthood – and Aslan recognized it as such. Now, Edmund isn’t always protective, especially with his words, but he comes through when it really counts. So Edmund changes in the course of the novel from a boy who hurts others to one who protects them – who became masculine. It may be that Edmund grows in his masculinity in the course of the novels, but it would take a closer reading than I’ve yet done to find out.
The two Pevensie boys demonstrate the opposite ends of a spectrum of Lewisian masculinity in the beginning of the novel. Peter consistently protects others, and Edmund consistently hurts others. Edmund also demonstrates that sometimes great growth in masculinity can occur almost instantaneously. I don’t believe that gender is the primary theme of the novel, but I do believe that it was so important for Lewis that it naturally came out in his writing. He was providing examples of heroes for both boys and girls – heroes and heroines who exhibited the essential characteristics of masculinity and femininity, as well as positive characteristics common to both genders such as courage, charity, and mercy.
Next week we’ll take a look at the girls and how they fit into Lewis’s idea of femininity. We’ll finally get to Susan! Meanwhile I’d love to hear what you think about Peter and Edmund as masculine beings.
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