Revisiting Childhood Landscapes: Revenants of Druid's Grove and Narnia
Twentieth-century children's literature is full of characters going back: Wendy revisits Neverland; heroes and heroines of boarding school stories return to school; Bilbo travels "there and back again"; and Lyra and Will promise to reenter the Botanic Garden year after year. In this article I focus on two instances in children's literature where characters return to a significant landscape from their past: the first occurs in Nina Bawden's Carrie's War (1973) and the second in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, specifically in Prince Caspian (1951), although I shall also be making reference to The Last Battle (1956). Aside from the fact that Carrie and the Pevensie children are also evacuees, at first glance there seems little else to connect Carrie's War and Prince Caspian; however, it is perhaps not insignificant that Bawden and Lewis were both displaced by war (Bawden herself was an evacuee in the Second World War while Lewis was wounded while serving in France in 1917) or that Bawden studied philosophy (along with politics and economics) at Oxford in the 1940s while Lewis was a fellow teaching English literature and language there.1 Their novels share a strong sense of treasured and mythical place and an even stronger relationship between remembered landscapes and remembered selves. Druid's Grove and Narnia evoke powerful memories and emotions for the fictional adults and children who revisit them. These characters act as revenants of a kind, experiencing a jolt of recognition alongside a strong sense of change in both the place of return and their own identity. Carrie's War and Prince Caspian therefore provide a useful comparison pair, offering complex perspectives on the trope of return as the adult Carrie revisits her childhood environment and the Pevensie children return to the topography of their first adventure in Lewis's fantasy world. Indeed, the French term revenir with its spectral connections to the "revenant" and thus an implication that death inhabits these places is even more apt, as I shall go on to explain. Exploring the revisited landscapes of [End Page 303] Druid's Grove and Narnia allows us to consider how place constructs child and adult identities in these children's books, while the complex themes of memory, aging, and mortality within them help us understand some of their uncanny power.
Studies of space and place2 in literature, particularly children's literature, rely heavily on Romantic ideas about nature and its influence on individual imagination and growth. Real and fantastic landscapes provide the setting for adventures and character development but also reflect the child's status as natural. Roni Natov notes the particular force of pastoral in children's literature and argues that the "green world," as she puts it, represents a retreat from unnatural civilization. More than this, the child in children's literature can also "serve as the green world itself. In such an allegory, where childhood is the green world, the retreat from the worldly world is the child himself, the figure of escape, renewal and possibility" (Natov 92). As Natov indicates, the pastoral, the garden, the sublime have all been extensively interpreted as metaphorical reflections of essential aspects of child protagonists or the more abstract concept of "childhood" itself. However, the effect of specific places on particular characters can also be illuminating, especially if we ask how the environment shapes identity, or indeed, how environment and identity are co-constructed. The concept is familiar to humanistic geographers who broadly speaking claim that "worlds, places, landscapes, meanings, and human experiences are socially constructed" (Adams et al. xv). According to this perspective, there is no simple distinction between reality "out there" and imagination within; rather, the world we experience is formed by our interactions with it while our subjective selves, in turn, are partially created through those interactions. This is a commonplace of cultural studies, of course, and represents a constructionist stance that has been influential in literary criticism since the 1960s, but the rise of ecocriticism and ecological approaches to literature has helped shift attention away from an exclusive focus on the social world toward a consideration of physical and geographical spaces and how they inflect selfhood.
In this discussion, topography and identity must also be understood as constructed through memory, adding an essential temporal axis to moments of engagement between protagonist and place. Here enters the revenant, a figure at once linked to the specter returning from death that haunts a place or person and to the exile returning to a homeland from which they have been banished. The trope of the revenant is a potent one, and what Laura O'Connor describes as its "ambiguous ontological status" (15) provides strong resonances for theories of the "Other." David Punter refers to postcolonial history as being written according to "the logic of the revenant" (55), for example, while Terry Castle's work on the "apparitional lesbian," focuses on the potential for the specter of female homosexuality to return and be re-embodied. The revenant [End Page 304] is also theoretically bound to ideas of repetition and can thus be understood as a manifestation of Freud's repetition compulsion: the need to cast off and then retrieve objects of desire or fear. Freud's account of the childhood game "fort/da" in Beyond the Pleasure Principle provides a model for mastery of this process, as does his analysis of one of his own dreams in which he is visited by a childhood friend who—although dead—appears again and again as a revenant of many forms throughout Freud's life (The Interpretation of Dreams 456-57). These resonances rely on connections between returning and ghostly haunting, but I prefer "revenant" to "ghost" in the context of this article. This is partly because revenants are defined by a return to a place in a way that ghosts may not be; but in addition, "revenir" contains many of the same connotations of haunting and strangeness without being explicitly supernatural, or as Freud puts it "purely gruesome" ("The 'Uncanny'" 364). Part of the purpose of this essay is to consider how far Bawden's and Lewis's texts resist traditional tropes of the safe, welcoming return to childhood landscapes and work instead to enact a more uncanny sense of revenir. At the core of this question is the importance of place in simultaneously constructing child and adult selves. Lawrence Kramer's discussion of oneself as revenant in music and literature provides a useful spatial image, although he is not specifically concerned with childhood: "The revenant both bridges the gap between past and present, the old self and the new, and, in bridging that gap, maintains it, thereby creating a new, intermediate space, strung across prospects and dangers like a tightrope" (453).
The revenant in Carrie's War, therefore, first appears at a clear intersection of space, time, and childhood identity, bridging that gap:
Carrie had often dreamed about coming back. In her dreams she was twelve years old again; short, scratched legs in red socks and scuffed, brown sandals, walking along the narrow, dirt path at the side of the railway line to where it plunged down, off the high ridge, through the Druid's Grove.
Carrie's War tells the story of a wartime evacuee and the emotionally rich but fraught period she spends living in a Welsh valley with her brother. They are cared for by brother and sister, Mr. and Miss Evans, but emotionally nourished by the small household run by a third Evans sibling and dominated by her housekeeper and caregiver, Hepzibah Green, and her charge, Johnny Gotobed. The events of this childhood experience are introduced in a framing narrative focalized primarily through the eyes of a grown-up Carrie, who is now a widow in her forties with four children of her own. Druid's Grove and the house located in it, Druid's Bottom, provide the focus for framing chapters at the beginning and end of the novel, and in the first of these the reader is led to understand that Carrie is somehow emotionally defined by these places through memory. This understanding is initiated by the very physical opening [End Page 305] lines quoted above, which create an immediate connection between the adult Carrie and her younger self and locate both firmly in a geographical space. Bawden's prose reveals profound connections between the landscape and Carrie's seemingly meticulous emotional recollections. She remembers the delicious taste of blackberries growing in the valley, "not dusty, like at the side of a road" (3), and recognizes the location of "[t]he first yew!" (6). She also indicates a very specific point on the railway line out of the valley, which she remembers is "the exact place where the train always whistled when it came round the bend" (12). It is not until the end of the novel that the reader realizes the significance of this spatial memory: Carrie remembers precisely the place where the train whistles because it evokes the traumatic moment when she finally leaves the Welsh valley and sees Druid's Bottom in flames. As David Rudd points out, for the adult reader this horrific vision may be reminiscent of literary moments in Jane Eyre (and, we might add, subsequent revisionings in Wide Sargasso Sea and Rebecca) where the burning house is a gothic emblem of ancestral and historical guilt, but for the young Carrie the building is a topographical symbol of her own personal remorse, based not only on a conviction that it was her action of throwing a cursed skull into the pond at Druid's Bottom that has unleashed disaster, but also due to unarticulated feelings about her responsibility for the happiness and unhappiness of people she has left behind.Bawden's psychological characterization is astute: Carrie's precise memory in this opening chapter contrasts with the main part of the novel, which is told in a more conventional third-person storytelling mode. Cognitive psychologists argue that the human brain records and recalls the key elements of emotionally-charged events with more intensity and accuracy than other moments from the past—a process of emotional "tagging" known as "mood congruent recall" (Evans 82)—suggesting that images of landscapes where traumatic or euphoric incidents occur are likely to remain vivid when those incidents are recalled. However, the text also allows for ambiguity that overrides straightforward cognitive explanations. The adult Carrie struggles to decide whether the fusion of memory and geography acts to reconstruct her childhood self, or, conversely, if it is her own sense of identity that is changing the way she looks at the landscape. The text reveals ways in which the quiet Welsh mining valley has transformed since she was a child: electrified lines replacing the old steam railway and the town itself forsaking its appealing atmosphere of wartime community and appearing now "desolate and ugly" (no doubt due to the decline in its major industry). Carrie wants to claim that her own subjectivity has gone through no such transformation:
Places change more than people, perhaps. You don't change, you know, growing older. I thought I had changed, that I'd feel differently now. After all, what [End Page 306] happened wasn't my fault, couldn't have been, it just didn't make sense. That's what I've been telling myself all these years, but sense doesn't come into it, can't change how you feel.
Carrie's one-sided argument expressed to her children contends that the intense feelings experienced in youth (in her case, primarily joy and guilt intertwined) do not disperse or resolve themselves, either when they are repressed or when they are resurrected through the process of revenir, revisiting the site of their origin. These feelings construct the individual: they have shaped Carrie's growth and development, and they re-emerge unchanged when triggered by a familiar scene.As a revenant, Carrie insists that she can rejuvenate the essence of her twelve-year-old self, experiencing again the precise moment and tenor of feeling—bridging the gap between past and present—by revisiting this childhood landscape. And indeed, after her visit to Druid's Grove she goes to bed and cries like a young girl, "[o]n and on, like a waterfall" (182), as if time and her adult/child self have collapsed in on themselves. Michael and Margaret Rustin employ psychoanalysis to explain this slippage between adult and child, suggesting unconscious desire at the nub of Carrie's returning. They point to her recurring dream, which always ends with twelve-year-old Carrie running through yew trees that magically reach out for her, and they note how this nightmarish environment is paralleled in the description of Carrie and her children pushing through bushes that are like the "tangled wood round Sleeping Beauty's castle" (Carrie's War 2). For the Rustins, "some part of herself is trapped in the dream and her journey may enable her to find a way through the thickets and to re-establish contact with this" (197). In this reading, rather than performing as a marker for emotionally fraught memories, landscape is wholly symbolic, representing the way that memories of strong emotional significance are those that are most deeply repressed and hidden from the conscious mind as if by thorny bushes.
Bawden addresses both theoretical possibilities for the dramatic pull toward childhood and landscape—the psychoanalytic and the cognitive—in her portrayal of the adult Carrie.3 These theoretical approaches also allow for the possibility that retrieving an earlier self, particularly a child self, through memories of place presents as many difficulties as insights. The intermediate space that is bridged by the revenant in Kramer's model is "strung across prospects and dangers like a tightrope," and Bawden's novel hints at the simultaneous safety and peril in that space when Carrie explains to her children "[w]e were so happy here, Nick and I. I thought—I hoped that was all I'd remember" (8). She has put some trust in the joyful Druid's Grove that is embodied in delicious blackberries and her friends, Mister Johnny and Hepzibah, but the hints of fear and a strange atmosphere reveal a less neat [End Page 307] picture of her past: the Grove has a "queer feeling" (4), the "gnarled yews" that the adult Carrie seems so excited to spot scare her littlest children (6), and when her son suggests visiting the ruined Druid's Bottom, she snaps and "g[i]ve[s] a queer, trembly laugh" (8). She discovers that rejuvenating a child self does not always mean conjuring the pleasant, happy child of conventional nostalgia: indeed, Bawden is skillful at rejecting exactly this inauthentic figure to create what Lissa Paul describes as "ambiguous behaviour" in her young characters (66).4 The idealized, happy and innocent child in children's literature is famously revealed and deconstructed by Jacqueline Rose in The Case of Peter Pan, of course, and the repetition of "queer" in the opening chapter of Bawden's text might have interested David Rudd, who argues that Carrie's War "troubles the child-adult binary," much as Peter Pan does for Rose. Rudd mentions only briefly the framing narrative of the adult Carrie and focuses instead on the ways in which the child Carrie and her brother resist Mr. Evans' attempts to transform them into versions of himself. Drawing on postcolonial and Lacanian theory, Rudd demonstrates how Carrie and Nick mimic Evans in many ways, an action that might be considered flattering: however, "the child's presence masks difference: it is not an adult; it behaves differently—which, of course, threatens the adult's wholesome identity" (66).
Just as troubling is the collapse of adult and child in the framing narrative, particularly when they coexist within an ambiguous landscape that is only half real and half created through memory. As we have seen, Bawden's text points to the potential dangers of revisiting a place that has become unstable in the remembered imagination. In the first place, Carrie's regression in front of her children unsettles them—"[t]heir mother was frightened and this frightened them" (8)—and this shifts the family dynamic away from the safety of parent-child relationships that they are used to. Indeed, from the perspective of the children in this framing narrative, Carrie's strange behavior makes her alternately recede from and loom toward them in ways they cannot control, presenting a rather impotent version of fort/da (a correspondence rendered stronger and more tragic through the manner in which their dead father is also conjured and then vanished). But more importantly, both the ravaged Druid's Bottom and Carrie's own implication in its demise are false constructions, and neither the place of her memories nor her remembered childhood are quite as she has recalled. Bawden demonstrates a very clear awareness of the false recollection of adult revenants. In her autobiography she relates how she returned to the Welsh village where she herself was evacuated during the war for the filming of Carrie's War and struggled to recognize its streets and buildings: "The film, the image—as with a photograph of someone who is dead, or absent—had dismissed the original, or imposed itself upon it like a [End Page 308] palimpsest" (In My Own Time 42). In the novel, on the other hand, Bawden is very keen to give priority to the child Carrie in this novel, and has argued in interview that her character is "not really telling [the story] from the point of view of a grown woman looking back over her shoulder, but from the point of view of the child she was when it happened, a twelve-year-old girl putting her own interpretation, which is still a child's interpretation, on what goes on around her" ("A Dead Pig and my Father" 12). This is true to a degree, and certainly most critical appreciations of Bawden's work are more convinced by the child-centred story than the adult-centered reflective framing chapters. Nevertheless, the novel ends in Carrie's adult world, and the final chapter unpicks her narrative to reveal a redemptive alternative to her personal story of guilt and pain. Even if Carrie's actions did cause the fire (and this supernatural explanation is never wholly ruled out), her happy childhood landscape has not been completely destroyed: Hepzibah and a version of Druid's Bottom remain despite the fire. Carrie's memories and the role she has assigned to her childhood self must be rewritten, while at the same time this conclusion and the final image of Carrie following her children down to Druid's Grove help to return her utterly to that twelve-year-old identity. As Hepzibah points out, "[s]he may have grown taller, but she's the sort doesn't change other ways" (190)—reiterating Carrie's point.
The palimpsest effect here overlays Carrie's adult self onto her childhood identity, and a reader may be struck by the potentially uncanny aspect of this return to Druid's Grove. The widowed Carrie feels compelled to return to the valley, to repeat her experience there, and she has summoned herself as revenant to address an issue "familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression" ("The 'Uncanny'" 363-64). After all, as Kramer points out, "the revenant does not pop up gratuitously; something—a wish, a need, a question, a wound—must compel it to return" (465). The uncanny nature of this return is doubly figured: first by the landscape that to Carrie is familiar and yet changed; and also by Carrie herself. She enters the Grove as an exile returned home from her guilty self-banishment and as a ghost returning to haunt. It is difficult to pin down whether the child Carrie is haunting the adult Carrie or vice versa, however; and the framing narrative structure only intensifies this ontological ambiguity, since the adult Carrie physically returns to Druid's Grove but then through her storytelling also invokes the return of the child Carrie, as if speaking a ghost into presence. We might conclude that both child and adult Carries are revenants, unified by their desire to haunt the hallowed landscape of the past. While Carrie's final journey into the valley in some respects presents a conventional children's literature narrative of return and redemption (similar to Maria Nikolajeva's pattern of the "circular journey" common in fantasy [End Page 309] fiction), the revenant theme also introduces a hint of mortality that pervades the idea of identity in time and space. Carrie does not literally haunt Druid's Grove but her visit marks a return from a kind of metaphorical death of spirit. I shall come back to this point in order to ask whether revenants in Carrie's War and Prince Caspian can escape the connection with death inherent in their ontological status and the places that they haunt.
Turning to my second text now, we encounter a different type of revenir. Narnia represents a compelling fictional space for remembering identity, and it is worth considering how its initial child protagonists are constructed through landscape and memory. At first glance, Narnia as a place does not address repressed desire and fears of mortality in the same way as Druid's Grove. Indeed, there is only the most tangential intertextual reference to death in the opening pages of Prince Caspian, which I shall also return to later. Waiting for a train to take them back to school after the holidays, Prince Caspian's heroes and heroines, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie, are suddenly drawn out of the real world and into a new place, "such a woody place that branches were sticking into them and there was hardly room to move" (12). The eager and attentive reader may recall a similar transportation from a wardrobe to a wood in an earlier book: it is obvious to any rereader that this is Narnia. But Lucy and the others initially imagine they have arrived in and are exploring a new landscape for the first time. Emerging from a thicket they look down on a sandy beach. The sea is calm and dazzling, the sky is cloudless: unlike Bawden's landscape of precise, earthy detail, this is archetypal scenery reminiscent of the early imaginary countries to be found in Lewis's juvenilia.5 Indeed, some critics have argued that the geographical space of Narnia in this early section of Prince Caspian is crudely drawn, lacking descriptive power and somewhat irrelevant to the novel. Peter Hunt asserts that Lewis fails to a degree as a fantasy writer because, unlike Tolkien, he does not set his stories in a coherent landscape (although Hunt concedes that Lewis succeeds in allegory because his worlds are coherently symbolic). Dennis Quinn skips over the early part of the novel in search of action, suggesting that the landscape of Narnia "is not memorable" (117), and Donald E. Glover argues that Lewis's focus of attention in this installment of the Narnia chronicles is not "on the world [the children] reenter [sic] but on what they are to do" (144). In slightly different ways, Quinn and Glover consider the literary landscape of Prince Caspian as secondary to the main plot in which the Pevensie children are summoned to reassemble the creatures of Old Narnia and reinstate Caspian as the true ruler, and for both critics the early chapters act primarily as a reminder or acclimatizing tool for the reader.
It is true that the landscape seems to present a bland, if perfect, seaside spot at first, and so long as the surroundings continue to be rather nondescript [End Page 310] the children also remain silent and relatively passive ("for quite a long time there was no more talking, only splashing and looking for shrimps and crabs" ). It is only when they begin to explore, examine, and remember the landscape that the narrative comes to life. The children stumble across an ancient castle, its courtyard orchard, and the remains of its great hall, and recognize something in the shape and quality of the ruins:6
"Why, you silly," said Peter (who had become strangely excited), "don't you see? That was the dais where the High Table was, where the King and the great lords sat. Anyone would think you had forgotten that we ourselves were once Kings and Queens and sat on a dais just like that, in our great hall."
"In our castle of Cair Paravel," continued Susan in a dreamy and rather singsong voice, "at the mouth of the great river of Narnia. How could I forget?"
"How it all comes back!" said Lucy. "We could pretend we were in Cair Paravel now. This hall must have been very like the great hall we feasted in."
"But unfortunately without the feast," said Edmund. "It's getting late, you know. Look how long the shadows are. And have you noticed that it isn't so hot?"
"We shall need a camp-fire if we've got to spend the night here," said Peter. "I've got matches. Let's go and see if we can collect some dry wood."
In this episode the children are forced to observe and interpret the physical features around them, becoming active not only in negotiating obstacles or tasks for survival, but also in constructing themselves in a manner that humanist geographers would certainly recognize. In fact, they reconstruct the selves we as readers first encountered in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950). Something of the essence of each child's character is revealed in this scene in the castle, as they each make links between their newly meaningful environment and their personal concerns. Thus, as well as taking the lead in reasoning and action in a slightly "boy-scoutish" way, Peter asserts his status as High King by also evoking their previous identities as regents for the first time; Susan dreamily reminisces about the castle and the natural world of Narnia, displaying romantic attachment to the landscape that temporarily obscures her usual stance of sense over sensibility, but highlights a strongly feminized connection to nature; Lucy suggests a game of role-play that charmingly evokes her initial relationship to Narnia as one of playfulness and delight with a willingness to immerse herself in place; and Edmund voices a sardonic note of concern about the lack of food in this landscape, reminding us briefly of his greed and worldly preoccupations in the previous chronicle.Those critics who argue that all the Narnian chronicles—and particularly Prince Caspian—lack memorable landscape fail to read meaningful connections that do exist between place, space, character, and action.7 But it seems clear that one of the major themes that Prince Caspian shares with Carrie's [End Page 311] War is the way that character is constructed through a relationship with place and in particular the relationship a revenant has with the home to which they return. Like Carrie, the Pevensies seem to instinctively grow into more authentic versions of themselves once they feel a connection to their environment. The process of socially constructing "places, landscapes, meanings, and human experiences" (Adams et al. xvi) becomes more self-conscious as the children finally realize that the world around them truly is Narnia, transformed over hundreds of years. A shift from archetypal landscape to one remembered and particularized signals the importance of specific subjectivity, and is marked, not by luscious blackberries, but by the delightful sighting of an apple tree, "heavy with large yellowish-golden apples as firm and juicy as you could wish to see" (18), which the children later remember is part of an orchard they planted themselves many years earlier. The Pevensies begin exploring with a new adventurous drive, and when Susan shows reluctance, Peter asserts the importance of previous identity, telling her, "[i]t's no good behaving like kids now that we are back in Narnia. You're a Queen here" (26). All four children are shaped in positive ways by their return from exile as they figure themselves as "Crusaders or Anglo-Saxons or Ancient Britons" who will excite a welcome from the current Narnian population (34). This connection between place and identity is strengthened throughout the Chronicles of Narnia by periods of normal life that occur between adventures. The thrill of rediscovering themselves in Narnia is heightened by the fact that the child protagonists are regularly exiled, either to a year of ordinary existence and school or more permanently, when they grow "too old" as Peter and Susan do at the end of Prince Caspian (188).
Subjectivity is also shaped by time, of course. As the philosopher John Campbell points out, we are only conscious of our own subjectivity as it is located in particular spaces and times—the self in space without a temporal fix is merely animal egocentricism (31-32). This awareness works at a basic level in Prince Caspian: the children's search for firewood is simply undertaken for immediate survival, but their shared recollection of previous lives lived in Narnia indicates conscious humanity. In more complex ways, the children's status as revenants also create an uneasy bridge between past and present. In the same way that Carrie's temporal fix in Druid's Grove locates her as always partially shaped and defined by a childhood self, whether imagined or real, a similar collapsing of space and time occurs in Prince Caspian because the selves that the Pevensies recall through their memories of Narnia are paradoxically drawn from both a recent childhood and a distant adulthood. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are children in Prince Caspian, a year older than they were in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, by the end of that earlier chronicle they are also portrayed as [End Page 312] grown adults and have "aged" within the timeframe of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the difference between their childhood and adulthood is clearly marked by appearance and speech. Throughout most of the text they are recognizably youthful, in a middle-class, mid-century way, playing hide-and-seek, squabbling among themselves, and delighting in the magic of talking animals and Father Christmas, but in the final chapter Susan becomes a "tall and gracious woman" (166) and Edmund is a "grave[r] and quiet[er] man" (167) while all four adult sovereigns speak in a "grown-up," archaic form of English. This transformation is ignored in Prince Caspian, and when the children reminisce about their reign in Narnia they revert to their usual childish language to describe previous regal activities. When High King Peter leads the hunt for the white stag in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, he declares, "Fair Consorts, let us now alight from our horses and follow this beast into the thicket; for in all my days I never hunted a nobler quarry" (166) while the general discourse when the children discover their old treasures in Prince Caspian is notably less pompous: "Oh look! Our coronation rings—do you remember first wearing this?—Why, this is the little brooch we all thought was lost—I say, isn't that the armour you wore in the great tournament in the Lone Islands?" (28-29). It is difficult to square the children's nostalgia for tournaments and adventure, expressed with such childlike glee, with the altogether more solemn and grown-up textual reality presented in the earlier text.
The children's previous foray into adulthood remains a troublesome anomaly throughout the chronicles until The Last Battle, where Peter, Edmund, and Lucy briefly appear again as kings and queens, recognizable to the reader but clearly older, and without the distancing formal language they display in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (126-28). Of course, the narrative cannot fully explore the problems inherent in a child recalling their development into adulthood. For if subjectivity partly relies on memories and experiences from the past, then the Pevensies's very nature as children is threatened by the fact they have adult memories and experiences. This scenario presents the reader with an interesting version of revenir, best expressed by Kevin Ohi's description of the revenant as "out of step with history . . . stranded in a time foreign to it" (50). As in Carrie's War the child becomes stranded in an adult subjectivity—or vice versa—like a ghost from the future haunting itself. It is possible to argue that unlike Bawden's novel, Lewis's work fails to explore the possibilities the revenant presents as a form of repetition compulsion for dealing with repressed feelings: rather, confused chronology and shifts in characterization are often considered further evidence of poor narrative style. Lewis does provide tacit solutions to the problem of shifting ages by constructing Narnia as a place where being adult is very much like being [End Page 313] a child and core identity is not troubled by experience in time, but this is a strategy that Philip Pullman has famously interpreted as perverse: "[Lewis] was so keen to keep the Narnia children in a state of grace that he refused to let them grow up" (Pullman and Wavell). Many of the most attractive adults in Narnia display aspects of playfulness that can be read as distinctly childlike, and when Susan is prevented from re-entering Narnia in The Last Battle it is partially because she is trying too hard to be "grown-up" in a manner that actually marks her out as being less mature—less consistent—than her siblings in Narnian terms.
To me it seems that such a critical disapproval disregards certain aspects of the text still left open to interpretation. Lewis's solution to the paradox of children remembering their adulthoods is to figure that adulthood as a form of play-acting separate from real growing up, but this does not quite overcome the strangeness of the children's display of nostalgia for their adult lives as they rediscover evidence of this existence in the ruins of Cair Paravel because this strangeness in reconstructing previous selves in familiar landscapes is also represented symbolically. To go back for a moment to the Pevensies's arrival in Narnia from the railway station in Prince Caspian: once the beauty of the seashore is admired, we might note the peculiar obstinacy of the rest of this natural world, which shares archetypal patterns with Carrie's nightmarish returns to Druid's Grove. The children have to struggle out of the thicket "with some difficulty" (13) as the wood is "thick and tangled" (14). When they later explore the woods for roots and berries, "they had to stoop under branches and climb over branches, and they blundered through great masses of stuff like rhododendrons and tore their clothes" (17). While some critics might consider these obstacles in terms of psychoanalytic journeying toward the symbolic mother,8 they can also be read as representing the struggle of travelling back into memory and accessing an earlier self that is troublesome in some way. Even when the children emerge from the thicket and rediscover a familiar landscape that places them within reach of their earlier selves, the imagery is ambiguous. For instance, when the children fight their way into the castle courtyard,
[t]hey found themselves in a wide open place with walls all round it...level grass and daisies, and ivy. . . . It was a bright, secret, quiet place, and rather sad; and all four stepped out into the middle of it, glad to be able to straighten their backs and move their limbs freely.
The space is natural, delightful, secret—with all those connotations of the natural link between gardens and childhood that Natov describes—but at the same time it is quiet and sad because it has aged and fallen out of use and into ruin. The children feel strange in this space, and that telling term "queer" is employed as it is in Carrie's War, describing a space that is at once familiar [End Page 314] and unfamiliar. The pattern is repeated in the treasure chamber, where they are thrilled to rediscover their old gifts—"like meeting old friends"—but where the cold and dust of the place makes it seems "sad and a little frightening . . . because it all seemed so forsaken and long ago" (28). Peter Schakel's reading of this textual moment emphasizes the potential for positive reassurance in its symbolism: "[the children's] sense of discovery and nostalgia epitomizes a key imaginative appeal of the stories for readers: what happens is strange and new, but familiar and comfortable" (61). Although familiarity may well help the reader to feel at ease in the narrative, an appeal to Freud's working of the uncanny as a return to an unheimlich place, alongside consideration of our earlier route through Druid's Grove, helps offer the alternative reading that revisiting places from the past is troubling because it destabilizes remembered identity.For Carrie's War, returning to a familiar yet unfamiliar landscape threatens subjectivity by bridging the gap between child and adult. What makes this new, intermediate space most troubling is the specter of death that hangs over Druid's Grove, since it introduces a sense of mortality that convention dictates should be kept separate from childhood. For Bawden, however, Druid's Grove marks an opportunity to explore the possibilities for childhood to encounter fears of death that might be repressed. The adult Carrie returns to Wales just a few months after her husband has died, and his presence haunts her children (who cannot say his name out loud but know he would have been interested in the valley and its relics). Adult bereavement has drawn her to the place where she first experienced death, in an incident ripe for repression which is related in the main part of the novel:
she . . . turned to the window . . .
And screamed. The train whistle blew at the same moment and her scream was drowned in it. Nick only saw her dark, open mouth and her eyes, shocked and staring . . .
She said, in the dark of the tunnel, "It's on fire, Nick. Druid's Bottom is on fire. Blazing away, flames and smoke—they'll all be dead, Nick. . . ."
The Pevensies have no such repressed guilt to deal with, although they are compelled to return in order to address a need (to awaken Old Narnia). Importantly, mortality also shades their return to Narnia and another train journey also signals death.9 Readers familiar with the last book in Lewis's chronicles may recognize the train station featured in the opening of Prince Caspian as the future location of a tragic accident that will kill all the children who have ever entered Narnia and allow them to finally live in the "real" land forever. It is just an empty, country station in Prince Caspian but in The Last Battle it becomes the setting for the death, not just of Eustace and Jill who [End Page 315] are travelling by train, but of the whole cast of human protagonists who have visited Narnia throughout the series. Eustace explains:
Well there we were in the train. And we were just getting to the station where the others were to meet us, and I was looking out of the window to see if I could see them when suddenly there came a most frightful jerk and a noise: and there we were in Narnia. . . .
(The Last Battle 51-52)
Returning to Narnia from the dead and from exile in the final chronicle, the Pevensies enact in reverse the transformation from child to adult and back again that occurs in Prince Caspian. While they appear in Narnia at first as grown kings and queens, their status as adults soon becomes ambiguous. This is illustrated most clearly by the Narnian King Tirian's thoughts about Jill, who he has known as a girl but who then appears as a queen: "at first he thought she looked older, but then didn't, and he could never make up his mind on that point" (126). A similar uncertainty has plagued Jill herself at the end of The Silver Chair, where the dead King Caspian is resurrected by Aslan and transformed into "a very young man, or a boy. (But Jill couldn't say which, because of people having no particular ages in Aslan's country)" (The Silver Chair 202). Neither instance of confusion over child/adult status is uncanny, however, because the landscape has changed. Aslan's land—Lewis's Platonic Narnia—"more real and more beautiful" than the old one (The Last Battle 169), does not represent a long-hidden place brought to life, but is a completely new and rejuvenating world where death is overcome and adulthood irrelevant.The figure of the revenant helps to clarify and compare the themes of identity, place, and time in the work of two very different authors. In exploring the ghostly revenant in Hamlet, Jacques Derrida usefully points to the dual nature of this figure, who is "both a dead man who comes back and a ghost whose expected return repeats itself again and again" (10). In this way, he argues, and contrary to good sense, the revenant "signals towards the future" (196). For all its potential ideological problems, Lewis's new "real" Narnia allows its returning children to move "further up and further in" toward the future, even as their identities are dislocated from normal temporal axes of memory and change. Bawden's novel grapples more explicitly with the uncomfortable nature of the past and while the only direction for Carrie to take is back and down to the bottom of the Grove and her childhood self, she is shaped by the knowledge that time and death can transform landscapes and identity. In both cases, there is a bridge between past and present that allows us to question the differences between child and adult and consider instead an intermediate space, "strung across prospects and dangers like a tightrope" (Kramer 453). [End Page 316]
Alison Waller Alison Waller is a Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University, UK, where she teaches Children's Literature and convenes the distance learning MA. She published Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism (Routledge) in 2008 and has written articles on Margaret Mahy, Robert Cormier, and J. D. Salinger. She is currently researching the practice and processes of adults rereading childhood books.
1. Although Bawden was not taught by Lewis, her future husband, Austen Kark, did study under him.
2. Parts of this article were first delivered at the "Place and Space in Children's Literature" conference held at Keble College, Oxford, in March 2009.
3. Bawden is clearly fascinated by the way that self is constructed through place and time, and by writing an adult character into a specific landscape in order to tell the story of her childhood her work reflects something of the cultural turn in scholarly discussion I have already referred to. As well as exploring the mental processes involved in memory and place, and providing a fictionalized form of humanistic geography—an understanding of the epistemological relationship between human subjectivity and place—Carrie's revisiting and storytelling is also a type of oral history, producing a narrative of identity that is tied to time and space in order to give a "history from below" or "living history." In Theatres of Memory (1988-99), Raphael Samuel discusses this "new history" and points to the shift in approaching history in schools in the 1960s: "History was no longer the biography of great men but rather the record of everyday things" (I. 198).
4. It is possible to add "ambiguous feelings" such as guilt and anxiety to Paul's account of the children in Carrie's War. As critic Kate Agnew points out, "[t]he novel examines themes of guilt and responsibility, and of absolute versus relative morality" (85).
5. In "The Quest for Bleheris," for example, the young Lewis describes "The Land of Two Nesses": "for there was a wide bay, and on either side of it stood great, bold nesses where the rocky hills sank down into the sea, and between them was a beach of fair, golden sand" (qtd. in Walsh 126).
6. Incidentally, Mervyn Nicholson points out that there is also potential intertextual recognition for the reader, showing how Lewis's depiction of the ruined Cair Paravel has a significant debt to pay to Edith Nesbit's ruined castle in The Phoenix and the Carpet (19). [End Page 317]
7. Not all critics ignore spatial and ontological connections, of course. Michael and Margaret Rustin's Narratives of Love and Loss offers a number of psychoanalytically-informed readings of Narnia, including a well-known interpretation of the geography of the White Witch's house in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, "which stands 'between two hills,' the place of regressive temptation, where the infantile part of Edmund is promised perpetual gratification from the Witch's sweet food, as a baby might nestle between two breasts" (46).
8. The Rustins's approach to the geography of Narnia has already been mentioned, while David Holbrook's article "The Problem of C. S. Lewis" (1973) also offers a Freudian reading of Narnia as the manifestation of a desire for the body of the (lost) mother.
9. It is irrelevant—but surely uncanny—to note with respect that Bawden's husband, Kark, was killed in the 2002 Potters Bar rail crash.
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