Heroism, heroes and heroines in children’s literature (or, the one where I talk about Edmund but not Peter)

I watched Prince Caspian last night. It is, as is nigh tradition with my relationship with the Narnia books and films, a complicated thing but even amidst that complexicity, I was struck by something. I was struck by Edmund and his wry growth as a character in a way that I’ve never quite realised before.

Edmund is somebody who’s lived and lost and been subject to the moods and madness of life in a way that, I think, not many of the other characters in Narnia are. His journey is the fall, the rise; and it is perhaps worth nothing that those that fall often rise harder than those who have not. He’s perhaps one of the few perfect notes in the film, commenting wryly that: “Last time I didn’t believe Lucy, I looked pretty stupid.” He is, I think, a bit of a hero.

I’ve talked about heroism before on the blog, about characters such as Ruth Hollis from KM Peyton’s work and Roberta from the Railway Children by E Nesbit and it’s a topic that I keep coming back to. I think the recursive nature of this thought process centres around my belief that children’s literature allows us to engage in the process of ‘creating’ heroes, but I think another part of this thought process centres around the idea of flaws. Good literature, truthful dark and honest literature, acknowledges those flaws. It acknowledges the Katniss, the Ruth, the Roberta and the Edmund through letting them be flawed but also letting them learn from those flaws and letting them grow. Letting them live. Letting them be.

There’s a reason that Peter the High Pain In the Posterior never ever hits home with me and I think that a lot of that comes from his perfection. He is an exalted character, both in the books and the films and the television adaptations; the noble elder brother who Decides Things and Looks After Family and Does The Right Thing. He isn’t real to me somehow. He’s lost in a melee of ciphers and metaphors and implications and I never quite manage to find him in that.

But I found Edmund. Oh God, it’s taken me far too long but I have, at last, found Edmund Pevensie. I’ve found his bravery, his foolishness, his complexicity, his realism, and I am giddy with the implications of that finding. It’s as though I’ve known somebody for a thousand years and only now have I come to see his true face.

Character does that; characters who hide from you and give you the something that you expect them to see, whilst the reality of them is hand-held somewhere dark and deep inside them and they’ll only let you see it when you’re ready, willing and able to see it. And that moment, oh that moment when you do, it is intoxicating.

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2 thoughts on “Heroism, heroes and heroines in children’s literature (or, the one where I talk about Edmund but not Peter)

  1. Yes, Edmund seemed more ‘real’ to me when I read the Chronicles, but (as I recently wrote in a review of ‘Planet Narnia’) the generally weak cardboard characterisation compared to Lewis’ overall schema seemed to me a case of the tail wagging the dog. And if like me one is not enamoured by the schema there’s little else to engage with, I feel.

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