Strong Female Characters: Lucy Pevensie

For those of you that don’t know, Lucy Pevensie is one of the main characters in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. First published just after the Second World War, the books cover the adventures of Lucy and her friends in a magical land called (unsurprisingly) Narnia. Lucy is a feature of almost every book – mostly helping her friends and family to defeat whichever baddie is menacing Narnia this week and encouraging them to put their trust in a giant magical lion rather than stuff like maps and logic. The books have become a classic of children’s literature, with more adaptations than you can shake a stick at, and Lucy herself has become one of the most beloved child characters in modern fiction.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

The way that Lucy relates to her own destiny is really interesting. She’s the first of the Pevensie siblings to discover Narnia – she finds it at the back of an old wardrobe, rather than all the old shoes I seem to get. She leads her siblings into Narnia of her own accord – mainly as a result of curiosity and as a desire to prove herself to her siblings, who didn’t believe her story. However, through most of the rest of the story this isn’t really the case. Once the Pevensies get to Narnia they’re swept up in the fight against the White Witch thanks to an old prophecy, which means they have to defeat her whether they like it or not. After that, when they return to Narnia, they never go back of their own accord: they’re always called back by Aslan.

A whole other dimension is added to this when we consider the beliefs of their author, C. S. Lewis. Lewis was widely known to be a devout Christian by the time he began writing the Chronicles of Narnia, and some of his letters directly state that the character of Aslan is intended to be read as a representation of Jesus Christ. Most literary academics accept that the books as a larger whole can be read as some degree of Christian allegory. This raises all sorts of questions about free will, particularly in regard to Lucy’s character: is she truly in control of her own actions, or is she fundamentally responding to a higher calling? How do the books relate to beliefs such as predestination, and how does this affect the actions of the characters? These are questions that academics are still trying to answer after over sixty years – so I’m just going to steer clear of the debate and give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

We never hear a lot about Lucy’s hobbies, but it’s established in the books that she’s considered a tomboy and has ridden into battle more than once, so we’re given a vague idea of the sort of things she would be likely to enjoy. Her goals are much more clearly established – they vary from book to book, but largely centre around keeping her family together, finding a way back to Narnia and defeating whichever baddie is menacing Aslan and his mates.

Apparently it's wildebeest today. (image: catersnews.com)
Apparently it’s wildebeest today. (image: catersnews.com)

Her beliefs, however, are one of her defining characteristics. Lucy is established as the character who believes in Aslan the most out of the entire cast of the series. She is consistently shown to be the most faithful out of all her friends and family – not only is she always the one that Aslan appears to first, she is also fully prepared to drag her friends and family after him when they don’t believe she has seen him. The strength of her belief is central to her character, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For the most part, Lucy’s character is largely consistent. She’s a good, kind little girl with an enormous capacity for faith and a strong attachment to her friends and family. There’s only one instance where she really wavers – in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where she displays a vanity she’s never exhibited before and considers casting a spell to make herself more beautiful – but as this is a two-page incident in a seven-book series, I’ll overlook it. Her skills are largely consistent too – she’s established as being competent in battle with a strong capacity for healing, which never really wavers. I’ll give her the point this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 2.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

An innocent, forgiving, kind little girl stumbles into a magical land and must fight to keep it safe.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Lucy doesn’t really have a love life, so this question doesn’t really apply. It’s stated in the series that when she grew up to be one of the Kings and Queens of Narnia, she had many suitors, but we can safely assume she wasn’t interested in them as she never married. Ordinarily this might not warrant any further discussion, but given how this plays out for her sister, Susan, I’ll be bringing this up again later. I’ll talk more about what this means for her character in the gender stereotypes section, but for now I’ll give her the point.

Just you wait. JUST YOU WAIT. (image: giphy.com)
Just you wait. JUST YOU WAIT. (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Lucy starts the series as an eight-year-old and ends it as a seventeen-year-old, and she also grows into an adult and reverts back to a child over the course of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. However, her character doesn’t actually develop much at all. Her faith in Aslan never wavers, she never finds it harder to forgive people as time progresses, and even when we see her as an adult she’s so similar to her younger self that it’s only the physical descriptions of her character that really set the two apart. This isn’t realistic character development – especially for a character that appears in five out of the seven books – so I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Lucy doesn’t really have a weakness at all. She’s presented as an overwhelmingly kind, good, innocent character, so much so that she doesn’t really have any negative qualities. She’s the first to forgive her brother Edmund for betraying them all to the White Witch, she doesn’t succumb to her siblings’ peer pressure when they doubt that Aslan is trying to lead them in Prince Caspian, and she doesn’t even lash out at her incredibly annoying cousin Eustace. The most deplorable action she ever commits in all seven books is a moment of vanity, where she considers casting a spell to make herself beautiful. This lasts all of twenty seconds – she backs off almost immediately, and never displays any similar kind of vanity before or after the incident, so I can’t really count it as a flaw.

However, this is a trait which is pretty common in the child characters of classic literature. Many child characters of classic literature were not treated with the same complexity as adult characters – Dorothy Gale is a perfect example of this – and this is largely to do with the way that children were viewed by society as a whole. In middle-class Western society children were largely seen as innocent little darlings who magically developed a personality on their eighteenth birthday – it was really only with the development of the ‘teenager’ in the 1950s and 1960s that more attention began to be given to children’s personalities in literature. Regardless, Lucy doesn’t pass this round.

Oh God she's got her game face on. (image: tumblr.com)
Oh God she’s got her game face on. (image: tumblr.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Lucy is a very active player in all her appearances in the Chronicles of Narnia. She’s the first one of the Pevensie siblings to discover Narnia itself, she’s the one who leads them through the wardrobe and persuades them to help Aslan, and she’s the one who leads them to Aslan time and time again. She exerts a real force on the plot in all her appearances, so I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Oooooohhhhhhhh boy. Brace yourselves, kids.

You too, Gran. (image: tumblr.com)
You too, Gran. (image: tumblr.com)

Lucy does have some redeeming qualities on the gender stereotypes front. We’ve established earlier in the post that she’s a tomboy, and that she’s led armies into battle in the past – hardly the behaviour you’d expect to see from a young girl. But we don’t actually see much of this behaviour, as most of it happens off the page – the readers are simply told that it happened, rather than getting a chance to witness it happening. The result of all this is that Lucy’s reputation as a tomboy doesn’t hold as much weight as it should – it’s undercut by the type of behaviour we see her exhibiting on the page.

Lucy Pevensie hits pretty much all the stereotypes surrounding the ways that little girls ought to behave. She’s good, she’s kind, she’s innocent, she’s devout, she’s forgiving, she’s trusting. One of the special gifts she receives from Father Christmas is a healing cordial – a profession traditionally associated with women both in the real world and fantasy fiction – and it’s this that we see her using most often, rather than the dagger she’s also given. This is in direct contrast to her brothers, who go around chopping off heads all the time: Lucy’s dagger is explicitly reserved for self-defence.

There’s another layer added to this when we consider Lucy as an adult, and how she relates to her sister, Susan. We’re told that Lucy grows up into a beautiful woman, but she remains fundamentally pure. Even though she has many suitors, she never expresses an interest in them, preferring to devote her life to a greater good, whether that’s ruling as a Queen of Narnia or serving Aslan. Contrast this to her sister, Susan, and yet another layer is added to the gender stereotype cake. Susan also grows up into a beautiful woman, but unlike her sister, she actually changes as she does so, becoming more interested in her human life than the goings-on of Narnia. Susan’s interest in dating and her appearance is actively disparaged in the final book. The characters state that:

“…she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations.”

It’s implied that Susan has been tempted away from Narnia by her own vanity, and this puts the comparison between her and Lucy in an entirely different light, especially when the religious dimension of the books is factored in. Susan becomes a cautionary tale for young girls – a warning that if they get too distracted by material things, they’ll lose their chance to get into Narnia/Heaven. Lucy, by contrast, becomes an example for young girls to follow, clearly showing the sort of behaviour that young women ‘ought’ to be engaging in – that is, remaining, chaste, pure and devout. It’s a message we’ve all heard before.

Long story short? She doesn’t pass this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

We see Lucy interacting with a number of different female characters in the Chronicles of Narnia. Of course, there’s her sister, Susan, her cousin’s friend, Jill Pole, the Professor’s housekeeper, Mrs Macready, the White Witch, and a number of talking lady animals.

However, she reacts to these characters in all the same ways, depending on whether they could be counted as her enemy or her friend. If they’re her friend she’ll be welcoming, warm and kind towards them; if they’re her enemy she’ll be guarded, vigilant, and won’t be taken in by anything they say. It’s a wide range of relationships, but they’re not ones with any real complexity, so I’ll give her half a point.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

 

Lucy Pevensie is a character with a real influence on the plot with a range of hobbies, goals and beliefs who remains largely consistent throughout the story, but she still hasn’t passed my test. She doesn’t develop over the course of the story, she doesn’t have a weakness, and the way she relates to other female characters, her wider destiny, and gender stereotypes raises way too many questions for her to pass my test. Part of this is due to the way in which child characters were written in the past, but a much larger part of this is due to the role the story assigns her.

Next week, I’ll be looking at one of the best-received books in YA literature: The Book Thief. Liesel, I’m coming for you.

 

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

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