A to Z: Polly Plummer

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C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia has been one of the most-loved and most-read children’s series of the past 60 years (of course, it’s had its share of criticism, too), and Susan and Lucy Pevensie are two interesting examples of girlhood–especially as they’re opposite, Lucy of childlike faith and Susan of pragmatism and logic. But we rarely talk about Polly Plummer. Polly is the one of two main characters of The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth Narnia book that Lewis wrote and published, but the first book chronologically (this is actually quite a divisive fandom issue, with some maintaining that the books should be read in their published order with TMN sixth, and some maintaining that the books should be read in order of occurrence, with TMN first).

 

Polly and Digory Kirke (in whose home Lucy finds the Wardrobe–yes, that one, the entrance to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) become friends during the summer of 1900, when they are both living in the same neighborhood. The two play together, and during one of these days they explore the connecting passages between the homes on their block, trying to get to an empty home’s attic. Instead, they wind up in Digory’s Uncle Andrew’s attic and are tricked into using Uncle Andrews invented rings to travel to another world. They manage, during their attempts to get back home, to bring the Witch (yes, that one) Jadis from the dying land of Charn back into our world and then to the newly created Narnia.

It’s Polly who discovered the attic spaces and passages between homes. In fact, she’s been using hers as a “smugglers’ cave,” where, among other things, she writes a story that she keeps locked away from everyone else. The attic, then, is a space that Polly gets to be someone other than a fin de siecle young lady–she gets to be a smuggler and a writer, and the games that she and Digory plays are often of her choosing–as is when the two use any of the provisions, as they’re all hers.

But it’s also Polly who is so attracted by the rings that she cannot help but take one, even when Digory shouts at her not to be a “fool,” not to touch them. And that prompts Digory to have to go after her, an interesting parallel to the Adam and Eve story, in which the woman commits the first sin and the man follows her example. That’s not terribly surprising, given the books’ obvious connections to Bible stories, but it does align Polly with one of the most prolific examples of woman being weaker due to pride and desire, and man following woman to keep her safe, but in the same boat with her. And Polly is absolutely fascinated by the clothing on the sleeping figures in Charn, the dying world the two enter–she contemplates how much they would cost while Digory looks at the figures’ faces.

But it’s also Polly who reminds Digory they must mark the entrance to their own world in order to get back; it’s Polly who will not let Digory stall and get stuck between worlds; and it’s Polly who warns Digory away from ringing the bell that awakens Jadis, even when he accuses her of being too girlish, not wanting to know what happens because “girls never want to know anything but gossip and rot about people getting engaged” and saying he’d “never dream of calling a kid like [Polly] a woman.” This pejorative use of girl is fairly common, both because the word has been attached to servants/slaves in a historical sense and because the cultural of maturity insists that older=better. But over and over, Polly proves herself to be savvy and to be kinder than the adults in the book; she stands in direct opposition to Jadis, who is unkind, brash, and terrifyingly beautiful.

Polly forecasts the importance of characters Susan and Lucy–or she echoes them, depending on what order you read the books in. Either way, she’s an important and all-too-unnoticed part of the story.

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  1. I tend to forget Polly, but at the same time, I tend to identify with her more than Lucy or Susan. They always seemed larger than life to me. Lucy was too perfect, and Susan was too “big sister.” Polly was imperfect, but practical.

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    1. Yes, I agree. Susan and Lucy both felt too one-sided. Lucy, in particular, was hard to relate to because she was so good and always knew just the right thing to do–as you say, perfect. And Susan was almost the opposite of that, so pragmatic and practical, so cold in the later books. Polly–and the way she related to Digory—was refreshing.

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  2. I think I’m going to have to add these books to my someday reading list. I hope that I actually get there to that list, but after reading some of these posts, I can no longer admit that I’m not at least intrigued to go ahead and read them. In fact, how does one miss a whole series like this? I must have been doing something seemingly important.

    Thanks for this series!

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    1. 🙂 You’re welcome. I decided we needed to talk more about girl characters, and I’ve tried to spread out things, not using more than one character from a single series or book so as to introduce more texts this month.

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