|Sad girl in snow
||[Dec. 6th, 2005|11:02 pm]
I also read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the other day, which was ehhh in all the ways I remember it being. People on the flist have been posting a lot of Narnia meta-links in the run-up to the last movie, and I greatly fear that I will have to re-read the whole series in order to write about the things that are wrong with Narnia that do not have to do with ham-handed Christian allegory that misses the point entirely, or post-feminists feeling guilty about sex. Pity me, who may have to struggle all the way through to the Last Battle just so I can write the rest of this story:
Susan found the green glass paperweight when she was cleaning out a wardrobe, ironically enough. She had been cleaning out a lot of wardrobes lately, and trunks, and rooms, because she would not let anyone else to it. The paperweight was wrapped in an old soiled linen shirt, and it was much heavier than it ought to be, for its size. She pulled it down, unwrapped it, and laid it on the floor to look at it more carefully. It consisted of four globes of green glass, stacked in a pyrimid, and it had not got dusty or clouded at all, although there was a white crack around the top globe. She sat staring at it for a time, not inclined at all to move, for she had no reason to move, or do anything at all, and she looked at her wobbly distorted reflection in the globe until it seemed almost that it was a different face looking back at her. A crowned face, smiling delightedly. that turned aside to speak to someone behind it. Susan jerked back, suprised, and the image pulled back to, until she saw the appearance of a fair queen in a green meadow, laughing at her brother the King who had fallen from his horse.
But kings and queens had been no more than a game, a game to get them through the war, Susan thought, when she and her brothers and sisters had been young enough to believe in a place where they had the power to stop bad things from happening, and if they couldn't, why Aslan could fix it. In the real world it didn't work that way; wars happened, and trains crashed, and it turned out in the end that there were more important things than crowns and silk gowns and hunting-parties.
That didn't stop the globe from showing her scenes of the land they had made together, though. Cair Paravel and the fair woods and the sea and even the wide plains of Calormene flashed by, one after another, and Susan, fearing that she was going mad at last, made to knock the impossible thing over. But it would not move, it would not crack. Susan bent over herself, gasping to keep back the tears that she had avoided until now. The bottom three globes were showing snow, snow falling gently over a winter forest at night, and something just out of view shedding a soft light on a low clearing that might have been a path, under the snow.
Susan gulped and pulled herself back together, and reached out to wrap it again, to send to the charity shop with all the rest of the things, but she saw the light in the snowy forest again, and that brought to her what all of the other memories had not brought her: she said to herself, "I wonder."
Wonder is something that many people begin to lose at that age, as life fills up and we let ourselves be told that maybe there is no room for wonder anymore; if we are lucky, we find it again later, in a story or a forest or a good friend. But Susan had a lot of empty spaces in her life just then, and maybe that little touch of wondering was all it took. For, though she sighed to herself and shook her head at thinking again of that adolescent silliness, and put it all back again to play-pretend; still, as she carried the paperweight out to the bin in the hallway, something happened.
At first, she thought that she had been trapped inside one of the globes, which was clearly impossible, and anyway, the green tinge around the world, and the curvy edges like looking in a Christmas ball, soon went away. Also, she still held the paperweight in her hand. She was standing in a snowy forest under a lamp, at a crossroads. Only the trees were not firs, but bare winter branches; and under the lamp was a carven stone marker that made her shiver to look at, like the opposite of Aslan. But why had Aslan come to her mind just then? This was clearly not his place; for one thing, the lamp was not a friendly street-lamp to guide her home, but a bare bulb hanging from a wire which ran up the sky into dark invisibility.
There were no convenient fur coats, either, and Susan, in her slim, fashionable suit, was getting cold, but she could not see a way home. It would do no good whatsoever to stay here until her feet froze off, so she tucked the paperweight in her jacket and started walking, in what felt like it ought to be the right direction.
The road in the forest led on for what must have been several miles, and Susan came to regret the stylish high heels more than anything else. But, she thought, at this point it would be silly to turn back; she had known since she was a girl that trying to go back rarely did any good; and anyway, this road must lead somewhere *eventually*.
Eventually, it did. It came to a low, overgrown stone fence; and in the fence there was a gate, with gate-posts and a low set of stone stairs leading up. A sign was propped up on one gate-post, neatly lettered with the words:
Lawnmowers and Axes Sharpened
Hammer Handles Made
Used Nails and Back Doors For Sale
In certain circumstances, that would be a great variety of useful things, but unfortunately, Susan had no need just then of lawnmowers, axes, hammer handles, used nails or back doors. She went up all the same; perhaps M. Millhorn would at least offer her hot tea, and if she asked politely, some dry socks to wear over her poor nylons.
The snow was much deeper away from the road, but she struggled up, and inside the wall was a big, cozy-looking farm house, sheltered by two ofthe only firs Susan had seen here, with smoke rising from its chimney and warm yellow light pouring out the kitchen window. she gave one more look up and down the empty road, and then waded throught the snow and up the front steps to the door: she was quite beyond minding the cold at this point, when there was shelter to be had just ahead, and she rapped at the dor, perhaps a trifle impatiently.
From behind the door came a variety of strange sounds - crashes and tinklings mainly, and a muffled voice that might have been cursing gently, but in a few moments the door opened to reveal one of the oddest little men that Susan had ever seen, even if she counted the ones in Narnia. He was short, with a square beard and oval spectacles and a funny little round hat, and he was wearing a faded dressing gown with a shawl over it.
But, thought Susan, perhaps I am as strange to him as he is to me, and she pulled herself into her best queenly bearing despite the sodden dress. "Mr. Millhorn?" she asked. "I'm not interested in hammers, or nails, or lawn-mowers, or any of the other things on your sign, but I have been walking very and I am cold and I wonder if I could rest by your fire for a spell." She found she was shivering, though queens to not shiver. And when were you ever a queen, Susan Pevensie?, she asked herself severely, but the odd little man interreupted her thought by smiling delightedly.
"Why, Queen Susan!" he said. "You must come in, of course - there's a pot on the kettle, and I think I've some chicken broth somewhere--"
Susan found herself ushered into a room that was as extra-ordinary as its owner, crowded with disassembled machines, cracked pots, vats of old nails, completely impractical candleholders, stacks of lawnmower blades, dusty paintings, and threadbare velvet furniture. Most of all, though, there were books, high bookcases and piles on the tables and any clear space in the floor.
An overstuffed chair was pulled up to the stove, and Susan was bundled into it, wrapped in an old soft tapestry with carpet-slipers for her feet, a cup of hot tea from the iron kettle that was boiling, and chicken broth heating up beside it. Mr. Millhorn politely occupied himself with puttering around his books, until Susan had got some breath back, and her toes no longer hurt quite so much. But just as she was feeling warm and drowsy enough to start asking Mr. Millhorn some questions - where she was, and who he was, would be two to start with - he picked up one last book and pulled a chair around the fire to face her.
"So, Queen Susan," he said cheerfully. "You say that you don't want hammer-handles, or nails, back-doors, or anything sharpened. What is it you want, then?"
Susan blinked at him, and for once, couldn't think of a thing she wanted at all.
"Oh, surely there must be something. What did you come here for, then?"
He reminded her a bit of the old Professor, she thought, and she got her voice back. "Please, I didn't mean to come here at all," she said. "Only I found this paperweight, made of green glass, and it showed the forest and the snow, and the light, and then I was there." She's forgotten she still had the thing, and pulled it out to hand to him.
"Ah!" said Mr. Millhorn. "So that's where it went. Cheeky little thing, I think it gets bored just sitting on my mantelpiece after all this time," he added, as he returned it there, among a most esoteric crowd of other objects. "And you've done a bit of travelling yourself, in your day, so it decided to send you through."
"I suppose I've travelled a bit," said Susan, staring into her soup, which was in a chipped beaker that said "deadly nightshade gardening club" on the side. "But I certainly wasn't expecting that. And," she added, glancing up at him, "I certainly wasn't expecting you at all."
"Well, then," he said, sitting back down and propping his feet up, "We're getting somewhere. What were you expecting?"
"Oh, I don't know!" said Susan, bewildered and angry again and thinking that maybe she could cry into the blanket, if only he would go away. "Only it was the snow and the forest and the light - but that couldn't be, it was only a story we made up, the three of us, and Lucy and Peter and Edmund shall never go back, so why might I?"
"Go back where?" he asked, gentle but relentless.
She did not want to say it, but there did not seem to be any other thing to say, so at last she replied, "Narnia. Where I was queen. Where I was queen for fifteen years, and was courted by kings from many lands, and turned them all away. Some times I dream of it. But it is no more than a dream, what was a folly, it could never have been real,and my brothers and sister are dead." She swallowed, and swallowed again, dry, because she did not think she could get down any of the soup. Mr. Millhorn looked at her, and his face was so full of compassion that Susan thought, if he did not say something, it would all come rushing out right there, in front of a stranger.
"But Narnia is real, my lady," he said. "I have read all about you and your reign, in its histories. It is as real as any other place I have a back-door to, at any rate."
There: she could be angry at him for making fun of her now, and perhaps - she swallowed down the lump and felt the anger come up instead - perhaps even talk. "Of course Narnia isn't real," she said scornfully, with all her royal ferocity. "How dare you try to patronize me; I do have a brain of my own. How could I have spent fifteen years a queen and come home and been just Susan again?"
"Well," he said, "Perhaps Narnia is not quite the same as every other place. But you are every bit a queen tonight, lady - had you not noticed?"
No, she had not noticed. She huddled back down into her blanket and held her cup of soup the way her aunt had taught her, in London, when she was six. "And anyway," she said, quite changing the subject, "What do you mean, every place you have back-doors to? The only place you can have a back-door to is your own back garden."
"I have backdoors to a great many people's back gardens," he said. "That's one of the things I sell, a back way in. I have a door to Narnia somewhere, I think." He scratched his head under his cap. "I think I stacked it in the corner with the door to Oz and the tollbooth-door, last spring. I'd give you a trip through it, if you wanted, in gratitude for bringing back my errant paperweight."
Susan blinked at him.
"Of course, I also have a back door home, to your London," he said. "That one gets a bit more use, it does. Either one - it's up to you. Well, you think about it," he added kindly, picking up their empty teacups and heading for the basin. "You must be quite sleepy - we can talk at breakfast. And there are a few more things you ought to know about a back-door to Narnia."
Susan spent that night curled up in the chair by Mr. Millhorn's stove, which grew more comfortable the longer she sat in it, and cried into the blanket until she could sleep. She didn't dream of anything at all.
And, yeah. That's where I need to read "The Last Battle" first. *sigh*
(Mr. Millhorn, the paperweight, and the ever-snowy forest with the lamp are all borrowed from "The Face in the Frost" by John Bellairs, by the way. Excellent book. Totally confused me, because for awhile there I thought all the streetlamp in the snow allusions were about it.)
Yes, it's a silly crossover. Did you expect anything else? Upstairs in the typewriter is the beginning of the story where the Professor becomes the guardian of three unfortunate orphans, who find a weird wardrobe and travel through it, because what Narnia *really* needs is a good case of the Baudelaires.