on character transformation (and a song I’m obsessed with)

I’ve inflicting this song on everyone I know for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before I wrote about it:

I came across The Oh Hello’s by accident one day, through another one of their songs, Pale White Horse. I found it while I was avoiding working on a story (which, hopefully, you’ll get to read soon!) by reading fanfic. The writer had posted the song in the chapter header as her inspiration for that section. I listened to it, and again, and again, without context, and found that it perfectly matched the cold and somber atmosphere I needed to get to the end of my project. And then  I found out it was part of a The Screwtape Letters concept album, and I’m a sucker for any band who will use music to force the world to acknowledge their obsession with a book.

Anyway. The Lament of Eustace Scrubb is not from that concept album, but it falls in line with the band’s larger CS Lewis obsession. (By the way, I haven’t read Narnia in ages. Who’s up for a reread?) For those few uninitiated, Eustace Scrubb was introduced in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is one of those books everyone seems to like enough, but no one ever talks about, at least in my experience. Eustace is the intolerable, arrogant, selfish cousin of the Pevensie siblings, whom Edmund and Lucy had the misfortune of living with.

Now, I’ve written about unlikable characters before. But, I sort of love Edmund? Which is a total shock. I think it has to do with age, and perspective. When I first read Narnia, I was young. It was easy to despise Edmund. He was a cruel, whiny bully who was mean to my favorites. And sure, he changes, but he was taking page time from the people I already liked! And yet, as I revisit it, I find his character arc beautiful, relatable in its simplicity, and satisfying in its tangible, outward construction.

I didn’t understand this before. So when I came across this song, my first thought was, “Why would anyone write a lament for Eustace?”  This band got it before me, and listening inspired me to give his story another chance.

Maybe it’s age and experience that have changed my perspective, made it easier for me to see through his cruelty early on, to empathize with the fear that motivates it. But I find that I can. I can understand his behavior, which is repulsive, and through that understanding, connect with him. He’s a bully, but a lonely one, living now alongside a sibling bond he could never hope to penetrate, with a mother whose love, so easily revoked, hinges on that same arrogance that victimizes the Pevensies.

But I think it’s more than that. There’s something really tragic and gorgeous about his sudden, dramatic, symbolic transformation. Eustace transforming, on one level, into a literal representation of his dragon-greed, but on another, into something as big and powerful as the airs he’s been putting on from the beginning. Becoming the thing he’s been trying to become to chase away that fear once and for all. And then, once transformed, to look into the pool and see clearly what he has become. And then to accept willingly the pain and anguish of tearing his mistakes from his flesh, and moving beyond them.

And yes, there’s the obvious baptism metaphor, and sin metaphor, but what really sticks with me is that moment of realization, that Eustace has, unknowing, become unrecognizable even to himself. To stare himself in the face and know suddenly that, having gotten what he wanted, he never wanted this.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this analysis. But it’s something, as a writer, I really want to do. The slow destruction of a character by his own actions, and a moment of clarity, when that character realizes his mistakes and accepts culpability and the visceral pain of remaking himself to get past them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *