Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.
(The dryad’s prophecy to the baby Reepicheep.)
I knew a real-life Reepicheep once. Not that he was a mouse, mark you, but rather that, in the best aspects of his character, he was small, impulsive, undaunted, chivalrous and valiant. And beloved.
CS Lewis’s Narnia books can be deconstructed as essentially Anglo-centric, reactionary and middle-class. It is the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve who become the kings and queens of Narnia. It is Caspian and Rillian who are the noble, handsome princes. The most powerful women, apart from Lucy et al, are predominantly evil, alluring, agents of destruction – echoing Lilith and Lamia. The lower orders do what lower orders do, which is to provide aid and sustenance to the heroes and rulers. One could have endless fun with this and I do not doubt that there are several theses out there making precisely the same points, but my general interest is in those characters from whom we can draw some poetic lessons.
When Reepicheep loses his tail in battle, he loses an essential part of himself and of his honour. He asks Aslan to restore his tail but is rebuked for what the ancients would call vanity and what the moderns would call ego. But the tail is restored when Reepicheep’s brothers-in-arms all volunteer to cut off their own tails for the love of this brave and honourable mouse.
Reepicheep will travel far to find his destiny – even unto the edge of the world and beyond. Having tipped over the edge of the world in his coracle, he appears again in the final Narnia book, The Last Battle, in Aslan’s country, restored, renewed, welcoming those who have fought and won. He has been compared to Saint Peter, to Enoch and to Elijah. I think best to think of him as himself, with that incomparable spirit, foolhardy and fierce.
One writer has said that Lewis’ Irish upbringing shows itself in this tale – and that Reepicheep’s voyage mirrors the Immram, or heroic voyagings of Irish tales. It is no surprise that Reepicheep, unlike Saint Brendan, paddles East, not West. Ad orientem.
“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader