This whole book is worth it just for Puddleglum.
“I’m not going to lose an opportunity like this. It will do me good. They all say – I mean, the other [Marsh-]wiggles all say – that I’m too flighty; don’t take life seriously enough. If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We’re only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.’ That’s what they say. Now a job like this – a journey up north just as winter’s beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen – will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.” And he rubbed his hands together as if he were talking of going to a party or a pantomime.
Puddleglum is amazing. He’s another one of those wonderful characters where I’m tempted to quote every word that he utters for sheer brilliance and/or hilarity. And he’s actually coming along for the journey! It’s like if the Professor had gone with the Pevensies into Narnia instead of just gracing one chapter! Additionally, he provides a much-needed anchor for Eustace and Jill, keeping their quarrels from escalating too far. When Eustace loses his temper at Puddleglum’s pessimism, this is how he responds:
“That’s the spirit, Scrubb. That’s the way to talk. Put a good face on it. But we all need to be very careful about our tempers, seeing all the hard times we shall have to go through together. Won’t do to quarrel, you know. At any rate, don’t begin it too soon. I know these expeditions usually end that way: knifing one another, I shouldn’t wonder, before all’s done.”
Between Eustace’s short temper and Jill’s often romanticized view of “Adventure”, Puddleglum looks to be a helpful grounding agent for both of them.
“We’ve got to start by finding a ruined city of giants,” said Jill. “Aslan said so.”
“Got to start by finding it, have we?” answered Puddleglum. “Not allowed to start by looking for it, I suppose?”
Basically, he’s shaping up to be the glue that keeps them together and focused on the quest – or perhaps “duct tape that keeps all of them from tearing apart” would be a better metaphor.
“Now,” said Puddleglum. “Those eels will take a mortal long time to cook, and either of you might faint with hunger before they’re done. I once knew a little girl – but I’d better not tell you that story. It might lower your spirits, and that’s a thing I never do.”
It’s particularly enlightening to contrast Puddleglum with some of the cynical characters from prior books, because he’s not a cynic at all – he might not even be precisely a “pessimist”. He tends to anticipate the worst possible outcome, but only so he can prepare for that outcome. He acts to prevent that worst outcome whenever possible, but he won’t deny when times are tough or might get a good deal harder.
Next time: The journey begins…