I think the main problem with Jill’s characterization is that Lewis focuses far too much on writing “a girl” and not nearly enough on writing “a person”. The reason Lucy was always likable and relatable was because he never bothered to worry about making her relatable – he simply based her on a girl he actually knew, and the character grew fairly naturally from there. Similarly, Peter, Edmund and Eustace clearly grew out of his own boyhood experiences (but of course Susan’s character was never really rooted in experience, so she only grew more divorced from reality). Jill doesn’t appear to be based on any such prior experience, which combines with the lack of ANY backstory to create a blandly nice character. And when I say “no backstory”, I mean “not so much as a word about her family, socio-economic status, etc.” Oh, and she cries a lot. Because that’s something girls do, right?
Anyhow, despite all this, her conversation with Aslan is pretty interesting (mainly because Lewis knows how to write Aslan).
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
Now that’s an amusing microcosm of Lewis’s comfort zone if ever I saw one: He writes GOD better than he writes girls.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
Unfortunately, this is going to be pretty nearly the only time Aslan speaks to anyone face to face in this book. Instead, he’s setting Jill and Eustace on a quest to find a lost prince, with four signs to guide them: 1) Eustace will meet an old friend as soon as he reaches Narnia, and if he greets his friend immediately, they will get help for their venture; 2) they’ll have to journey north until they come to a ruined Giant city; 3) they’ll find writing on a stone in that city, and they must do what the writing says; and 4) they’ll know the prince because he will be the first person in their travels to ask something in Aslan’s name.
“First, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there.”
Next time: The quest begins on a sour note…