King Peter, the Magnificent|
The following analysis is ® Mark Feezell, and may not be reproduced or redistributed without permission
Why is Peter crowned "King Peter, the Magnificent" at the end of the movie? How does Peter Pevensie become King Peter over the course of the film? This analysis will attempt to systematically approach the question of Peterís character development. To simplify and focus the discussion, I am addressing his character specifically in the movie, not the book. His development in the book is certainly of interest, but would merit a separate discussion and analysis.
I must say that Peterís character growth is really the most difficult to understand on a deeper level, in part because we donít see the full import of it until we first understand the three younger children. This is why I have ordered my series from Lucy to Peter and not the other way around. All four children are important (even integral) to the story, but because of Peterís leadership position, he ties their journeys together in a unique way. As such, our consideration of Peter should incorporate the discussions we have had about Lucy, Edmund, and Susan (links here).
Peterís growth is MORE than a transition from immaturity to maturity (all of the children undergo that transition, as we have explored in our other discussions). Furthermore, Peterís growth is MORE than a question of developing from timidity to bravery. After all, if the story were really only about "the boy becoming brave," shouldnít it be "Peter the Valiant" and not "Peter the Magnificent"?
The truth is that each of the four children must discover courage. Lucy develops the courage to ACT OUT her inner compassion. Edmund develops the courage to ACT SELFLESSLY from his EXPERIENCE (a beautiful culmination of which is his selfless attack against the witch). Susan develops the courage to TRUST (her gifts, Peter, and Aslan). Each of the three younger children is required to be brave enough to do the one thing they find most difficult, and in the end, none is braver than the others. But what then is the point of Peter?
I believe that as the future high king, Peter Pevensie must develop THE COURAGE TO LEAD WISELY. In connection with this process, Peter undergoes growth in two distinct yet related arenas of duty. First, he grows in his duty to balance the strengths of his younger siblings in order to protect and lead his family effectively; I will refer to this as his "first duty" or his "primary duty." Second, and more importantly, Peter grows in his sense of duty to concerns beyond his own family; I will refer to this as his "higher duty."
Comments are orginized by the movie scene order, and you can jump to any particular part of the character analysis by clicking on one of the links below.
1: London Blitz
2: Station Goodbye - Train Ride
3: Arrival at Professor Kirke's
4: Hide and Seek
5: Lucy's first visit to Narnia
6: Edmund follows Lucy into Narnia
7: Lucy and Edmund in Narnia
8: From Lucy and Edmund's exit to third visit
9: Pevensies explore Narnia
10: Meeting the Beavers
11: Edmund sneaks off to the White Witch
12: Kids/Beavers Chased
13: Father Christmas
14: Escape across River
15: Pevensies at Aslan's Camp
16: Edmund's return - Parlay
17: Stone Table - Battle Preparations
18: The Battle Commences
19: Aslan lives! - The battle rages
20: The battle ends - Edmund is saved
21: Coronation! Celebration!
22: Adult Pevensies
23: Back in England
24: Bonus Scene: Lucy and Professor Kirke
1. London Blitz
Our first view of Peter finds him treating Edmund harshly. Granted, Edmund is being foolish, but Peter also shows indifference to Edmundís inner hurt. In the bomb shelter, he accuses Edmund of being selfish, which is only partially true. Edmund really ran back into the house out of love for their father. As the leader of the four siblings, Peter is not getting off to a very good start handling difficult situations.
2. Station Goodbye - Train Ride
Mumís admonishment to Peter drives him through the entire movie: "Promise me youíll look after for the others...Good man." Of the four siblings, Peter is the only one that Mrs. Pevensie addresses as an adult (to Susan she only says, "Be a big girl."). For Peter, the road to manhood is intertwined with his protective leadership role. It is also interesting to note the prominence of "duty" or "honor" here - Peter must give his WORD that he will watch over the others. THIS IS HIS PRIMARY DUTY. As he gets on the train, he sees a soldier almost his age going off to war and realizes how close he is to adult responsibility. The inner conflict he feels between his primary duty to his family and the higher duty to his country is intense - so intense, in fact, that pragmatic Susan must remind him to give their tickets to the railroad agent so they can board.
[Note: In the same scene, Edmund makes a comment that he can get on the train by himself. Amazing what they fit into a scene that must last less than 30 seconds - but the whole movie is like that. That is why, after five viewings, I am certain I am STILL missing important details.]
As they board the train, Peter tries to put Edmundís luggage in the overhead compartment, and Edmund insists on doing it himself, adding to the tension between them.
3. Arrival at Professor Kirke's
Peter and Edmund laugh when Susan is caught "touching the historical artifacts." This is one of many small examples illustrating the complexity of Edmund and Peterís relationship; they arenít always angry with one another.
Peter is oblivious to Lucyís fear as they are listening to the radio report about the bombing of London. At this point, he is more concerned with his own thoughts (their home in London? The soldier at the train station? Their fatherís fate?) than he is about his motherís charge to look out for the others. It takes Susan (a bit tender-hearted or "gentle" even this early) to remind him of his duty, and he then does a wonderful job comforting Lucy with promises of adventures to come.
4. Hide and Seek
As leader of the group, it is Peter that approves Lucyís suggestion of hide-and-seek, over the verbal protest of Edmund.
5. Lucy's first visit to Narnia
Peter is not in the first Narnia scene.
When Lucy emerges from the wardrobe, Peter must decide how to handle the situation. Again we see him mediating among his three siblings: will he listen to Lucyís childlike innocence or Susanís practical reasoning? How will he handle Edmundís troubled heart? In this first major test of his leadership, Peter fails miserably. Lucy ends up crushed ("But I did go there..." *crying*), Edmund ends up angry ("You think youíre Dad, but YOUíRE NOT!"), and Susan ends up feeling like her sound advice was ignored, smugger than ever ("That was nicely handled."). In one stroke, Peter elicits the worst character flaws of each of his siblings, and none of their individual strengths. Again, an incredible amount of complex character development is packed into a very short amount of screen time.
6. Edmund follows Lucy into Narnia
Peter is not in this scene.
7. Lucy and Edmund in Narnia
Peter is not in this scene.
8. From Lucy and Edmund's exit to third visit
When Edmund betrays Lucy by denying the existence of Narnia, Peter and Susan both rush to comfort Lucy. On his way out the door, Peter shoves Edmund onto the bed. Clearly, he has no idea how to cope with Edmund, having neither the authority to discipline him nor the compassion to share Edmundís personal emotional struggle.
During the cricket game, Peter bowls a bad wicket and hits Edmund in the leg, and the audience is led to suspect that he does it on purpose. When Edmund breaks the window, Peter accuses him, saying, "Youíve done it now." It is a little strange that Peter runs away from "the Macready" the way the other children do. In fairness, it is difficult to conceive of a motivation for returning to the wardrobe that would be truly plausible. In any case, Peterís action here is that of a child, not an adult, and certainly not the strong leader he would later become.
9. Pevensies explore Narnia
Once the Pevensies discover that Narnia is real, Peter is the first to apologize to Lucy. He joins right in with the snowball fight, then insists that Edmund apologize to Lucy. Again, he is shown being rough in his treatment of Edmund. Again and again, Peterís overbearing leadership style shows that he is in control of neither the situation nor his own emotions.
Peter insists that the children take the coats from the wardrobe, a means of providing protection for the siblings. From this point on, Peter never fails to consider his obligation to protect his siblings. He finally begins to focus on his primary duty to his family. However, it takes him quite a long time to develop the ability to properly execute and balance that duty against his higher duty to country.
10. Meeting the Beavers
When the children see the destroyed door of Mr. Tumnusís cave, it is Peter who cries out in concern for Lucy. Having seen Lucy proven right about Narnia, Peter is quick to follow her when she starts walking behind Mr. Beaver. Here he soundly rejects Susanís advice, leaving Susan a bit dejected, but validating Lucy in the process. By validating at least one of his siblings, Peter is making a small improvement in his leadership.
After Mr. Beaver reveals the prophecy about the four thrones, it is Peter who utters the line, "Weíre not heroes." At this point in the story, he is quite right. Peter has a very long way to go before he develops the personal courage and strength to serve as High King.
11. Edmund sneaks off to the White Witch
Peterís first response after Edmundís disappearance is the stock response he has had throughout the movie: an urge to crush Edmundís rebellion through a harsh rebuke. ("Iím gonna kill him.")
When he realizes the gravity of the situation, his countenance changes entirely. As the children watch Edmund walk into the Witchís trap, it is Peter who runs after him first (after Lucy cries out in horror). Mr. Beaver has to physically restrain him from rushing into the castle to save his brother. He agrees to go to Aslan when Mr. Beaver tells him, "Only Aslan can save your brother now." In other words, true fidelity to Peterís first duty will require fidelity to his higher duty as well.
12. Kids/Beavers Chased
In the tunnel, Peter is focused on helping the others. He is the last one to crawl out of the hole. He is the one that helps Mr. Beaver put the barrel across the exit. In the tree, he covers Lucyís mouth to prevent her from screaming (and to protect her). Around the fire, after Susan tells the Fox that they wonít fight in any war, the Fox says, "But surely...King Peter...the prophecy." Peter is not ready to accept the mantle of King Peter, and replies, "We just want our brother back." By this point, Peterís courage embraces the protection of his family and the fulfillment of his promise to "Mum," but nothing more. He has lost the self-absorption of the train station and radio scenes, but has not yet moved beyond a defensive position with respect to his siblings.
13. Father Christmas
In the small cave, when they believe that the Witchís sleigh may be nearby, Peter is brave enough to volunteer to see if she has gone. "The time to use these may be near at hand," Father Christmas admonishes Peter and the others. Peter receives his sword, a symbol of authority.
14. Escape across River
This is an important scene for the development of Peterís character. It is Peter who realizes that the melting ice will make things difficult ("you know what that means...no more ice"). Over the course of the scene, Peter must choose between listening to Susan, who at this point still wishes to abandon their Narnian duties and return to England, and listening to Mr. Beaver, who appeals to Peterís higher duty. Three times during the scene Peter rebukes or ignores Susan. First, as they are descending, Susan says she is only trying to be "realistic," and Peter replies that she was only being "smart, as usual." Second, Susan brings up "Mum," and Peter replies that "Mumís not here." Third, Susan tells Peter that "just because a man in a red suit hands you a sword, [it] doesnít make you a hero." Peter refuses to listen to her, the ice breaks, and through some quick thinking Peter saves the day.
The ice scene is important for Peter because it is another example of his continuing growth in personal courage and leadership skills. Specifically, he is learning to trust his own instincts, and developing the courage he will need to face Maugrim at Aslanís camp. The real significance of this scene, however, has to do with the idea of duty and chivalry.
To become King, Peterís idea of duty must expand beyond the promise he made to his mother at the train station to "look out for the others." In the ice scene, Mr. Beaverís alternative to Susanís proposal is the fact that "Narnia needs you." Significantly, this is the first time we see Peter seriously considering his duty to NARNIA, not merely his siblings.
The conflict for Peter is NOT between reason and faith (as I myself have written incorrectly in the past). For one thing, as others have pointed out, Susan is not really being very reasonable here, and Peter is not being asked to trust in anything per se. The true conflict is between TWO LEVELS OF DUTY: Susan wants Peter to focus solely on his duties from the world of England, while Mr. Beaver is appealing for Peter to accept his (higher) Narnian duties as well. So it makes perfect sense for Susan to appeal to "Mum" - after all, Peterís first duty is to fulfill the promise he made to Mum. The idea of two conflicting levels of duty also explains why Susan is so angry when they leave the river and Lucy is missing: by considering his duty to Narnia, Peter appears to have neglected his (primary) duty to protect his family.
Peterís progression thus far has been:
- Self-Absorption: (Not noticing Lucyís fear as the children are listening to the radio)
- Genuine Concern for his siblings, but misguided leadership: (The way he handled the scene after Lucy comes back from Narnia, bringing out the worst in his brother and sisters)
- Commitment to the duties from England: A true selflessness and love for his siblings (Peter grows to this point when he sees Edmund go into the White Witchís palace, and realizes their lives are at stake)
- Consideration of the duties from Narnia: A consideration of the possibility that he has a role and duties in Narnia as well as with respect to his siblings.
15. Pevensies at Aslan's Camp
When the Pevensies arrive at Aslanís Camp, Aslan asks them how Edmund could have betrayed them, and Peter admits that he had been too hard on Edmund. Susan turns to Peter, places her hand on his shoulder, and reconciles with him. Significantly, Susanís compassion toward the heavy load of duty Peter carries, not her reason, is what allows her to forgive and trust him.
Then Peter has his important conversation with Aslan. Aslan admonishes him, "I will do what I can for your brother. But I want you to consider what I ask of you. I also want my family safe." Here again are the two levels of duty: English and Narnian. As Peter is considering this statement, Susanís horn is heard, and he is called to his first true fight. Although his sense of duty to his sisters pulls him into the fight, the result of his courage is the first victory for Narnia, and the first loss for the Witchís army. Peterís sense of duty and courage must embrace not only his own family but also his wider duty to Narnia, and the two levels of duty are inseparably intertwined. After he succeeds in the fight, Aslan designates him a "Knight of Narnia".
16. Edmund's return - Parlay
When Edmund returns, we see Peter respond kindly to him for the first time, and a true reconciliation of the brothers begins.
Peterís ability to lead wisely is still developing, however. When the Witch arrives to ask for Edmundís life, Peter responds emotionally by drawing his sword, ready to fight her. In a bitter irony, the Witch rebukes him for attempting to exercise force in an unjust manner: "Do you think you can deny me my rights, little king?" Peter now has the willingness to fight (for his siblings, at least), but he still lacks the ability to analyze a situation and respond WISELY. Bravery without wisdom is foolishness.
After the Witch renounces her claim on Edmundís life, the four children discuss whether to stay in Narnia. Peter tells the younger three that he is sending them back to England so that he can stay and fight. He has now clearly taken to heart the higher duty embodied in the words of the beaver at the ice dam (and the fox by the fireside) that Narnia needs him. Yet the execution of that higher duty is still lacking balanced wisdom.
Lucy sums up Peterís error when she says, "They need us...ALL FOUR OF US." Wisdom in leadership requires reason, experience, and unselfish emotion (esp. compassion and trust), balanced courageously in the right proportions. As a leader, Peter must learn to balance the insights and strengths of Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Susanís strength is reason that knows its limitations, can trust others, and is tender and open to compassion. Edmundís strength is experience that knows the weakness of the enemy and has tasted the death that betrayal can bring. Lucyís strength is empathy empowered to act in a positive way to help others.
All three siblings show their greatest strengths in this conversation, and all three make a positive contribution to Peterís leadership. Edmund brings in his experience, stating that he has "seen what she [the Witch] can do, and...helped her do it." Lucy makes the bold statement out of love for the Narnians that "they need us," and Susan makes the perfectly reasonable statement that they need to practice - a logically obvious fact - if they are to help. It is after this that we see Edmund and Peter practicing together.
17. Stone Table - Battle Preparations
Peter is not in the Stone Table scene.
Peterís growth is finally complete in the scene with Oreius and Edmund. Even though Aslan is gone, Edmund tells Peter that there is an army ready to follow him: "Aslan believed that you could do it...and so do I." Validated by his brother and now fully ready to accept his higher duty to Narnia, Peter Pevensie looks at the battle map, begins to plan his strategy, and becomes King Peter the Magnificent.
18. The Battle Commences
As the battle commences, we see Peter draw his sword. Now secure in his ability to lead his family, Peter is fully committed to his higher duty to Narnia as well. He turns to Oreius, the very personification of raw valor, and asks, "Are you with me?" Oreius replies, "To the death." Like Oreius at his side, Peterís personal courage is now a part of his deep character, to the death.
19. Aslan lives! - The battle rages
When Peter is knocked off his unicorn, he tells Edmund to take the sisters and get back to England, fulfilling his primary duty to protect his family, while simultaneously accepting his role as Narniaís protector. Peter is visibly amazed when Oreius and the rhinoceros rush past him to attack the witch by themselves. Yet moments later, after the Witch stabs Edmund, the confluence of Peterís two streams of duty - to his family and Narnia - drives him to rush at the Witch with the very same courage.
20. The battle ends - Edmund is saved
Peterís duel with the Witch is the final consummation of his transformation into the High King. In fact, all four of the children experience a similar outward expression of their now-completed growth into royalty. Susanís moment is when she trusts her bow and kills the dwarf. Edmundís moment is when he uses the wisdom of his experience to break the Witchís wand. Lucyís moment is when she begins to use her healing cordial. Also important is the fact that each of the childrenís "culmination moment" has implications for their family AND Narnia. Although as their leader he manifests it most directly, Peterís struggle to balance duty to self-interest (the family) and higher duty becomes the struggle and victory of all of the children.
21. Coronation! Celebration!
Aslan crowns King Peter "to the clear Northern sky." There is clearly a reference to Peterís future defeat of the giants here, but the fundamental reference is to his CLARITY of leadership. Like the crisp winter sky, Peterís ability to balance reason, experience, and emotion, as well as duty to family and country, enables him to lead Narnia wisely and well as the High King. His capacity for wisely balanced leadership is the true glory of King Peter the Magnificent.
22. Adult Pevensies
No significant character development for Peter in this scene.
23. Back in England
No significant character development for Peter in this scene.
24. Bonus Scene: Lucy and Professor Kirke
Peter is not present in this scene.
Although it is off-topic, allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate William Moseley on an excellent performance. I very much look forward to seeing him as the returning victorious High King in Prince Caspian.
And one more tribute, the most important of all: to Lewis. Any one of the four character journeys we have discussed would be more than sufficient to make a compelling story by itself. It is the true genius of Lewis that he was able to take not one, but FOUR compelling character journeys and weave them together into one amazing story. The movie is visually stunning, well edited, and carefully considered, but it would be absolutely nothing without Lewis. His brilliant art is the glow that fuels the embers behind the whole beautiful story.
- Mark Feezell