Why Puddleglum is not a pessimist
Too often, Puddleglum is simply labeled as gloomy, depressed, or pessimistic. To be sure, Lewis initially sets up the character as a hopeless wet blanket. But that is not the end of the story.
Despite his gloomy predictions, Puddleglum never seems particularly sad. On the contrary, he always tries to put a bold face on it:
"The bright side of it is that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we're safe from being drowned in the river."
"We've done the silliest thing in the world by coming [to Harfang] at all: but now that we are here, we'd best put a bold face on it."
“And there’s one thing about this underground work, we shan’t get any rain.”
“I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it.”
“And you must always remember there's one good thing about being trapped down here: it'll save funeral expenses.”
Yes, he always predicts the worst. But, then he always tries to look on the bright side.
So, is Puddleglum a pessimist, constantly predicting doom? Or is he an optimist, always trying to view the glass as half full?
I think Puddleglum’s tendency to predict the worst actually highlights his courage. You can only be courageous if you know there is something to fear. And through it all, Puddleglum is always the one who keeps his spirits up:
- While crossing the sunless sea, Jill begins to despair, but Puddleglum offers encouragement. “Now don't you let your spirits down, Pole," he says. "We were to go under the Ruined City, and we are under it. We're following [Aslan’s] instructions again."
- When the enchanted prince argues that the words “under me” had no relevance to their quest, the words hit the children “like cold water.” But not Puddleglum. He boldly defies the prince and trusts Aslan.
- He urges Jill and Scrubb to free the enchanted prince from the silver chair. “That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following [Aslan’s sign].” Even when it is perfectly reasonable to expect doom, Puddleglum is not deterred from doing the right thing.
- And, most famously, as our heroes fall into the Witch’s enchantment and begin to wonder if Underland really is the only world, Puddleglum stamps out the Queen’s fire and puts on a bold face. Here, Puddleglum’s determination to find the bright side leads him to the truth; he realizes the absurdity of the Queen’s words.
Puddleglum's unwavering trust in Aslan enables him to keep his spirits up to the bitter end. I call that optimism to the point of stubbornness.
"You talk as if you were afraid of everything, when you're really as brave as a lion."
Just had to say that! 🙂
I wouldn't call him a pessimist either for the reasons you cited. But I think it's also an exaggeration to call him an optimist. You could call him cheerful though. Maybe other people have different definitions of optimism and pessimism than I do, but I would call it expecting good things to happen. Puddleglum expects bad things to happen, but he doesn't let his expectations keep him from doing what he believes is right/most practical under the circumstances. I'd describe him as "resourceful" or "uncomplaining" rather than "optimistic to the point of stubbornness."
I love that the character can't really be pigeonholed as an optimist or a pessimist. It's a good message about how complex people (or in this case, marshwiggles) can be.
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 check out my new blog!
Some people have a dark sense of humor, and that may be what Puddleglum is like. If you are little gloomy it doesn’t mean your a complete pessimist, but you just may have tendencies to look at life through dark colored glasses. I think Puddleglum’s personality was like that. He was a little pessimistic but never to the point of despairing. There are people in real life like that. Didn’t Puddleglum say that the inhabitants of Underworld would teach you to take a serious view of life? It was something like his view, but of course he was a Narnian created by Aslan so he was still cheerful even though he had a somewhat dark view of the world.
This article views Puddleglum as a cheerful pessimist:
I think it is generally quite accurate and for the most part expresses my views. I’m not sure if he could have been considered an alcoholic, although he was quite drunk during the time he spent with the giants.
Simply put, he's a brick. A hardy, determined person who looks for disaster at every turn but braces himself with a positive thought and keeps pushing on.
A pessimist sees the world in a shadow. An optimist sees the world through rose-colored glasses. Puddleglum sees the shadows and even looks for them, but he faces them down while looking on the bright side at the same time (even when that "bright side" runs along the lines of "at least being buried alive will save funeral expenses.") Yet he doesn't live as if bad things never happen.
He's not a pessimist in that he doesn't let the negative things dictate his behavior. As Col. Kink points out, He's not an optimist because he isn't oblivious to bad things or only ever expects good outcomes- far from it! He's more of a tough-as-nails realist.
The best illustration of this is his attitude when the kids are doubtful about setting Rilian loose. He doesn't know what will happen. He even expects Rilian to kill them all. But he maintains that this doesn't let them off following the signs.
A pessimist might have refused to release Rilian. An optimist would have assumed it would all turn out all right. Puddleglum does neither, and that sets him apart as a truly brave person.
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While Puddleglum is an optimist, he is not the type of optimist you would expect. For example being optimistic means the opposite of being pessimistic. While Puddleglum tries to make the best of every situation, he doesn't make their current situation feel any better. If he was completely optimistic then whatever the problem is, he would think the exact opposite of that and give the feeling that they can get out of the problem, giving them hope that there is a solution. Whereas Puddleglum, finds a positive out of the negative situation. Not giving them a solution or hope of a solution even, but instead finding a benefit in the problem they have.
(@gp, I find it quite funny that you're defending Puddleglum so much. It's funny because I would do the exact same thing for Edmund. )
"But even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did." - (King Edmund the Just, Horse and his Boy)