Poor communication between Jill and Eustace makes them lose an opportunity. And it only gets worse from here.
Poor communication actually seems to be a running theme in this chapter (and it’ll continue to develop over the course of the novel). First, Jill is unable to communicate Aslan’s directions to Eustace, and Eustace himself fails to communicate his own meaning to Jill.
“[Aslan] said the very first person you saw in Narnia would be an old friend, and you’d got to speak to him at once.”
“Well, there’s nobody here I’ve ever seen in my life before; and anyway, I don’t know whether this is Narnia.”
“Thought you said you’d been here before,” said Jill.
“Well, you thought wrong then.”
Lewis puts the reader in a unique position: We know that when Eustace says that he’d “never been to Narnia”, he means that he’s never been to the kingdom of Narnia (since he was on a voyage in the Eastern Sea), while Jill, who had wondered if Eustace had even been to the world called (as she thinks) Narnia, immediately assumes that Eustace had been lying about the whole thing. On the other hand, Jill has clearly made certain assumptions about how the Signs will look already, as Aslan never did say that the “old friend” would be the first person Eustace saw, only that he would meet him the moment he reached Narnia. It’s a small difference, and probably wouldn’t have made a difference if she had remembered it correctly, but it signals how she’s starting to misinterpret things half an hour after she spoke with Aslan.
At first, I was rather frustrated with how little Jill seemed to understand – and then I realized that that’s kind of the point. Unlike the Pevensies, who are forced to communicate with each other regularly because they’re siblings, Jill and Eustace are virtual strangers. They only know each other from school, and barely even know each other as schoolfellows, let alone friends. Now all of a sudden they’re forced to communicate and accomplish this task together, with nobody in this strange new world to rely on (other than Aslan, of course). It certainly doesn’t help that they’re both annoyed at each other, to put it mildly (Eustace because of the incident at the cliff, Jill because she was relying on Eustace for the first sign, and it was screwed up). From the reader’s perspective far up above the clouds, it’s obvious what’s going on, but neither Eustace nor Jill have the whole story, being influenced both by the story they imagine for themselves and simply by their wants and needs.
“What is the King’s name?” asked Eustace.
“Caspian the Tenth,” said the Owl. And Jill wondered why Scrubb had suddenly pulled up short in his walk and turned an extraordinary color.
Eustace didn’t realize that the elderly King is Caspian mainly because he didn’t want to believe it.
And then there’s a more humorous rendition of miscommunication when the children (with Glimfeather’s help) try to tell Trumpkin their mission.
“The girl’s called Jill,” said the Owl, as loud as it could.
“What’s that?” said the Dwarf. “The girls are all killed! I don’t believe a word of it. What girls? Who killed ‘em?”
“Only one girl, my lord,” said the Owl. “Her name is Jill.”
“Speak up, speak up”, said the Dwarf. “Don’t stand there buzzing and twittering in my ear. Who’s been killed?”
“Nobody’s been killed,” hooted the Owl.
“All right, all right. You needn’t shout. I’m not as deaf as all that. What do you mean by coming here to tell me that nobody’s been killed? Why should anyone have been killed?”
“Better tell him I’m Eustace,” said Scrubb.
“The boy’s Eustace, my lord,” hooted the Owl as loud as it could.
“Useless?” said the Dwarf irritably. “I dare say he is. Is that any reason for bringing him to court? Hey?”
“Not useless,” said the Owl. “EUSTACE.”
“Used to it, is he?”
They eventually make him understand that Aslan sent them, but Glimfeather warns them not to bring up the lost prince. It isn’t until several hours later that they’re actually able to talk things over and realize what a mess they’ve made of things (each blaming the other, naturally). An argument is thwarted by dinner, but it’s clear that their communication issues will continue to pose a considerable threat.
I’m finally starting to get into this book! Jill isn’t the best female character Lewis has ever written, but there’s no denying that he uses her to good effect to illustrate his themes.
Until next time…