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Was Reepicheep in the right at the Dark Island?  

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Reepicheep775
(@reepicheep775)
NarniaWeb Junkie

I've been reading through VDT and the Dark Island chapter really stuck out to me this time - partly because of the parallels with our current pandemic situation and partly because I saw it in a different light than I have before. Younger me was totally on board with Reepicheep in this scene. I loved the idea of going headfirst into a potentially dangerous situation, not for any material gain but simply for the honour and adventure of it. It's a foreign idea to our times and I loved him for it. And, yes, this scene still endears me to him, whether or not I think he's in the right.

But this time around... I have to say, although I still love Reepicheep for his speech in this scene, I don't know if I agree with him. It's one thing to seek honour at your personal risk, but in this scene he put everyone else on the ship at risk too. It almost seems selfish. And I kind of hate that I'm saying that being such a Reepicheep fanboy!

I couldn't help but think of Aristotle's view of virtue being the golden mean between an excess and a deficiency of a quality e.g. courage is the golden mean between a deficiency (i.e. cowardice) and an excess (i.e. recklessness). Was Reepicheep showing that he was the best and most courageous of any on board the Dawn Treader? Or was he simply being reckless? Much as it pains me to say, I think I have to go with the latter. 

Those are my thoughts at the moment, but it made me wonder if the book (or Lewis) was on his side in that scene. Reepicheep himself doesn't seem to show any regret at his decision. He merely tells Caspian that it is his good fortune not to be a man (and suffer from man's weaknesses). But what about in PC when Aslan told him that he might think too much of his honour? Is the Dark Island episode an example of that? Is this a step in his character arc which culminates in him giving up his sword - and possibly his pursuit of honour - to enter into Aslan's Country?

I dunno... has age brought me greater perspective or have I simply misplaced my childhood sense of romance? 🤔 

This topic was modified 2 weeks ago by Reepicheep775

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Posted : September 11, 2020 1:59 pm
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Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut

Well, not being very adventurous myself, my reaction to Reepicheep's speech has always been that of the crewmember who said, "honor be blowed!" LOL (That is to say, it'd have been my reaction if I actually were a character in that scene. As a reader, I want the characters to enter Dark Island for the story to work.)

That being said, if it hadn't been for Reepicheep, Rhoop would have presumably been stranded in Dark Island forever. Yikes! You can still argue though that Reepicheep's reasons for wanting the crew to explore Dark Island (honor and adventure) were shallow rather than truly heroic. It's a bit hard to say since Lewis doesn't explicitly praise or condemn the character here. On the one hand, the book is definitely pro-adventure and honor, and Reepicheep is one of the most idealized characters. On the other hand, most of the positive characters (Caspian, Lucy, etc.) are shown as having flaws and giving into them. I'm willing to consider arguments from both sides.

For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen

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Posted : September 11, 2020 8:59 pm
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Ryadian
(@ryadian)
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Personally, I've always thought that Reepicheep is conflating his pride with his sense of honor and adventure here. As the rest of the crew pointed out, there was nothing to gain from sailing through the darkness, other than... basically, bragging rights. His focus seems to be on what will be said about them ("But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of noble and royal persons... turned tail because they were afraid of the dark", emphasis mine), and not on the potential danger to the crew or their mission.

(I also can't help but think it's a tad bit hypocritical for Reepicheep to tell Caspian he can't go beyond the world's end to satisfy his own sense of adventure... when Reepicheep endangered the crew, and the king, in order to satisfy his own sense of adventure. But maybe Reepicheep had learned his lesson by that point. Or maybe I'm conflating two entirely different situations. Wink )

Then again, this is all how I perceive this scene in the book, and it's grossly influenced by my own opinions on these things. (I also don't remember what I thought of it as a kid, I can only remember the conclusion I came to as an older teen.) But let's face it - it wouldn't have been true to Reepicheep's character to not at least suggest it. Giggle And he did, at least, ask for a compelling reason why they shouldn't explore the Dark Island, and no one came up with a better counterargument than "it's not materially useful".

N-Web sis of stardf, _Rillian_, & jerenda
Proud to be Sirya the Madcap Siren

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Posted : September 12, 2020 12:19 am
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Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Junkie

As Col Klink has said, from a "plot" standpoint it's important that they go into the darkness, as they find and rescue one of the seven missing lords there, so Reepicheep's insistence is what makes that happen. I can't remember what I thought of his stance when I first read the book (aged 7!), but I know the most recent time I read it — last year, I think it was — I was wincing a fair bit at the way he insists on sailing into unknown danger (for them all, not only for him) just for the "honour" of it, or rather to avoid the shame of being called a coward. Reepicheep is one of my favourite characters too, but his courage sometimes crosses the line into recklessness and, I think in this case especially, a bit of sheer ego.

I agree with Reepicheep775 that at the end of Prince Caspian, we see Aslan pointing out this same character flaw with a bit of humour. Reepicheep has to admit he doesn't actually need his tail in order to live — his reason for wanting it back is that "a tail is the honour and glory of a Mouse" — and Aslan seems quite amused at the thought of Reepicheep having to learn to live without it: "It becomes you very well, Small One.... I have sometimes wondered, friend... whether you do not think too much about your honour." It's only when Aslan sees that the other mice are prepared to cut their own tails off for their Chief's sake that he softens and restores Reepicheep's tail. So I would guess Lewis does mean us to see that Reepicheep isn't always wise or admirable, and I'd argue that the Dark Island episode in Dawn Treader is another instance where his attitude is portrayed as questionable at best.

Now that I read over that chapter again, there's a detail I'd forgotten. We see that Reepicheep is genuinely "unmoved" by the darkness even as all the human characters start to see and hear their worst nightmares coming true around them — one wonders, has he never had a bad dream in his life (perhaps Talking Mice don't dream?), or ever felt even a twinge of fear at any time? It's clear he isn't experiencing the same terrors as his shipmates and he genuinely can't understand what they're going through. But when he accuses them of "mutiny" and "poltroonery", there's an exchange between Caspian and Reepicheep that really DOES make me wince:

"... You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face."

"It is, then, my very good fortune not to be a man," replied Reepicheep with a very stiff bow.

Much as I love Reepicheep, I'm afraid if I'd been there, I might have simply hurled him overboard at that point. It's one thing for him to have no notion of fear — but now we see he has no empathy whatsoever, let alone any compassion, for those who DO feel fear. That certainly explains why he had no problem with pushing them to sail into the darkness in the first place, but especially now I re-read it as an adult, it's not exactly one of his most admirable moments.

I'd also say this clashes with Lewis's portrayals of real courage elsewhere in the Chronicles, where other characters (usually the children) face danger much more unselfishly — they go ahead and do what's right even though they are afraid, and not with any thought of their own honour or reputation, but to save or protect others who are in need. (Think of Peter fighting Maugrim, or Shasta running at the lion that attacked Aravis.) So I'd argue that Lewis is not meaning for us to applaud Reepicheep at this point in the voyage, but to view him with some ambivalence. If one doesn't ever experience fear or even understand it, and one's actions are more about one's own glory than the welfare of others, are those actions really courageous? 

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 12, 2020 11:22 am
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Cleander
(@the-mad-poet)
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I must admit I was a bit bothered by that line as well. In fact it seems to go against a point Lewis made in The Weight of Glory, wherein he notes that some people mistakenly think of the virtue of self-denial as being all about simply denying oneself, not actually doing it for a good cause. Sacrifice means nothing if it isn't meant to gain something else, and I think that applies to bravery as well. 

So yes, I think Reep is wrong here, but I doubt anyone takes every word out of his mouth that seriously anyway. His somewhat extreme ideas of glory and chivalry were something I always understood as being intentionally comical (as when Caspian has to immediately tell Reepicheep not to attempt a single combat with a dragon).

This post was modified 2 weeks ago by Cleander

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Posted : September 13, 2020 10:40 pm
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Courtenay
(@courtenay)
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Posted by: @the-mad-poet

So yes, I think Reep is wrong here, but I doubt anyone takes every word out of his mouth that seriously anyway. His somewhat extreme ideas of glory and chivalry were something I always understood as being intentionally comical (as when Caspian has to immediately tell Reepicheep not to attempt a single combat with a dragon).

Yes, I agree. As the quote in Reepicheep775's signature says (I think it's from VDT, but I can't quite remember!): "His mind was full of forlorn hopes, death-or-glory charges, and last stands." I think it's fair to say that that "death-or-glory" attitude of Reepicheep's IS deliberately exaggerated and taken to extremes for comic effect — especially since the dauntless warrior in question is not much more than a foot high. In both PC and VDT, I think we get the clear impression that it's at least partly because of Reepicheep's small size, and the fact that no-one expects a mouse to be a great fighter, that he feels he constantly has to prove his courage at all times and at all costs. Most of the time this is played for humour in the books, but I do find it interesting that in the Dark Island sequence it seems he's incapable of experiencing fear or of empathising with those who are afraid.

It could be that the evil magic of the island simply doesn't work on non-humans — otherwise I'd expect Reepicheep might find himself in a nightmare of giant cats coming to eat him, and perhaps he'd be drawing his sword and trying to strike out against them, which would be totally in character for him. But where he falls down morally here, for me at least, is not so much that he isn't experiencing the terrifying sights and sounds that the others are all going through, but that he has no concept of why they're so afraid, even though he himself isn't. If he had any compassion for others amid his chivalry, he could perhaps have been calling out "There's nothing there! It's only a dream! What you're seeing isn't really happening, it's just dark magic playing on your imaginations — IT'S NOT REAL! Wake up, everyone!!" He could have been a voice of reason in the midst of all that terror and panic, even if no-one else there heeded him or was able to see through their fear until Aslan arrived in the form of the albatross. But instead, Lewis obviously chose to have Reepicheep totally uncomprehending and unsympathetic, unable to see his panicking fellow crew members as anything but despicable cowards.

It's all a bit strange, especially considering we've already seen Reepicheep showing real sympathy towards Eustace when he becomes a dragon, sitting with him and trying to encourage him with stories of others who'd fallen into misfortune and been restored. Even though it's not all that comforting from Eustace's point of view, Reepicheep's kindness leaves an impression on him and he never forgets it — and of course it's all the more remarkable for the fact that Eustace was previously so cruel to Reepicheep. Maybe Reepicheep only lacks compassion for people who feel fear, not for people who get turned into dragons?? I suppose we'll never know why Lewis decided to have him respond to the Dark Island as he does. But as I said, that incident does make Reepicheep come across as a lot less admirable and less lovable (and certainly less humorous) than he otherwise usually is.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 15, 2020 6:08 am
Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut

@courtenay

This is sort of off topic, but how do you know it was dark magic making everyone else hear what they heard? I always thought it was just the power of suggestion. Once they heard that they were on a place where their nightmares would be real, they immediately started panicking and imagining that they heard them. 

For that matter, why do you think dreams didn't really come true on Dark Island? It's true that they could be illusions created by the island's magic, but I also see no reason why they couldn't be real. The main argument for them being illusions is that Rhoop stayed there for years and never died. But that isn't necessarily conclusive. Maybe his bad dreams were terrible but didn't involve life-or-death situations. He also didn't starve to death apparently. That could mean his dreams also involved food somehow.

For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen

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Posted : September 15, 2020 8:27 am
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Junkie
Posted by: @col-klink

@courtenay

This is sort of off topic, but how do you know it was dark magic making everyone else hear what they heard? I always thought it was just the power of suggestion. Once they heard that they were on a place where their nightmares would be real, they immediately started panicking and imagining that they heard them. 

For that matter, why do you think dreams didn't really come true on Dark Island? It's true that they could be illusions created by the island's magic, but I also see no reason why they couldn't be real. The main argument for them being illusions is that Rhoop stayed there for years and never died. But that isn't necessarily conclusive. Maybe his bad dreams were terrible but didn't involve life-or-death situations. He also didn't starve to death apparently. That could mean his dreams also involved food somehow.

Well, we're not told definitively either way whether the dreams coming true were solidly real or just illusion, or indeed whether it happened through magic or the power of suggestion or something else. I'm just guessing from the fact that during their time in the darkness, "each one heard something different" — each individual is starting to experience his (or her, in Lucy's case) own personal worst nightmare, but it seems they can't see or hear each other's. That to me suggests it is only happening inside their own heads, not that real and actual monstrous things are starting to crawl up the sides of the ship or settle on the mast. Plus, again, the fact that Reepicheep seems totally unaffected by it all. If their nightmares were literally and objectively coming true, then logically, everyone would be able to see and hear the same things, including, I assume, Reepicheep. But that's just my take on it and I've no more evidence than that.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 15, 2020 9:00 am
Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut

@courtenay Oh, I agree that the things they heard climbing up the ship, etc were the results of their imaginations. But I'm inclined to believe Rhoop experienced actual dreams come to life during his time on the island.

For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen

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Posted : September 15, 2020 9:46 am
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Junkie
Posted by: @col-klink

@courtenay Oh, I agree that the things they heard climbing up the ship, etc were the results of their imaginations. But I'm inclined to believe Rhoop experienced actual dreams come to life during his time on the island.

Good point — since the Dawn Treader never reaches the island itself, we never do find out what would have happened if they had landed there!!

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 15, 2020 9:52 am
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