The Problem with Peter

One author's quest to discover Peter Pevensie's character flaw

I have been writing for nearly twenty years, and Narnia fan fiction for about three years now, and through it I have had one firm rule: no Peter stories. Why? Well, I did not feel that there was anymore to be said about the character. Peter is brave, kind, smart, fair, a devil with a sword and the greatest king Narnia had ever known. He is sweet to his sisters, patient with his brother, a great leader to his people, and with the 2005 movie release, one of People Magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People.

Peter is fine as a secondary character, and can easily be called upon to be the moral standard and the ruler against which other's courage can be measured. But as a main character, Peter stories seem to fall into one of three categories: the tragic hero, fighting to save his family, Narnia, or both; the hero in love, who falls for some girl or boy on either side of the wardrobe door; or, the hero in exile, who must struggle with his new (old) identity as plain (old) Peter, helping his siblings do the same. There are, of course, other stories out there, and many containing a Peter that no one could recognize from the books. It is not this author's intent to slight or insult these storylines, either. These ideas have given forth a great number of wonderful pieces, which have made me laugh and cry and cheer.

While writing a piece of my own recently, I began to wonder about this character. Everyone else who appears in the books, particularly the children from our world, change a great deal before the end of The Last Battle. Some of them, like Susan or Caspian, change more than once. Of course, Peter does as well; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has elements of a "coming-of-age" story. He grows from a teenager bent on having a bit of fun ("'We've fallen on our feet and no mistake…that old chap will let us do whatever we want.'" p. 2, LWW) to a young man ready to take on the responsibility for his family and a country that needs him ("Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt like he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do." p. 127, LWW). But is that it? Does Peter simply shed his childishness and become a king?

One of the great pleasures for a writer, and for a reader, is the exploitation of a character's flaws. Decide what a person's weakness is, devise a situation where that weakness is tested, and force the character to change in order to overcome it. As I sat down to write Peter into my story, I found myself completely stuck. What is Peter's character flaw? What about him could I exploit? The first answer was, simply nothing. Peter's imperfections seemed so small that they were almost non-existent. Then how do I test this character? How do I portray a vulnerable Peter, when he has no weaknesses?

I began by pulling out my old copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the beginning of LWW, there isn't nearly as much arguing among the siblings as the movie would suggest. Peter is quite clearly in charge of the group, and he acts as the eldest would: he announces what he wants to do, and allows the others to tag along with him. Even when Edmund gets in his jabs at Lucy and Susan, Peter does not step in to correct him. The arguing does not begin, in fact, until Lucy goes to Narnia, and returns the first time. In Prince Caspian, we find out that Lucy is Peter's favorite sister. Therefore, when she "lies" to him about her adventure, he becomes cross with her. That sets the tone for the rest of the group, with Edmund going so far as to find reasons to taunt her.

Of course, I do not suggest that Peter is responsible for Lucy's misery throughout chapter three. But the eldest has a certain authority over the others, and as the only role model for behavior (other than Mrs. Macready and the housemaids), Susan and Edmund follow suit. When Peter finally does lay into Edmund for his meanness, the younger boy has no response. Edmund seems at a loss as to why making fun of Lucy is suddenly the unpopular thing to do ("Edmund was beginning to feel that his plan wasn't working as well as he had expected." p. 43, LWW). If Peter had believed her from the start, would the others? I think they would. After all, it is Peter who announces that Lucy was right when they all enter the forest, and once he does, Susan accepts it without question.

The acceptance of the sword from Father Christmas seems to mark Peter's change. When they finally meet Aslan, he suggests that the Beavers or Susan should speak first, but then he realizes that it is up to him and tells the others to "pull yourselves together" (p. 123, LWW). Then, one of the most remarkable things happens: Peter takes some of the blame for Edmund's betrayal! Why does he do this? It seems that he recognizes his influence on his younger siblings, and that he fed into Edmund's behavior when the whole business began. This is a clear sign that Peter is growing up.

So now, Peter's childishness is no longer a flaw. He has overcome it, and fulfills the destiny that has been laid out for him. There is also no indication from the other books and the tidbits of information we get that he is cruel, or self-centered, or greedy for riches and glory. Is Peter now perfect? I now had to turn to Prince Caspian.

We don't know much about the Pevensies' life between their first and second journeys to Narnia, but when we meet Peter again in PC, he is certainly a good leader and role model for the others and his authority comes from more than simply being the eldest. He is patient with the others; he gives credit to Edmund's ideas, and tries to comfort Susan when she finds the chess piece. It seems that perfect Peter has made a return.

But he isn't perfect, is he? He is the third to see Aslan when the Lion finally arrives. And once again, it is his influence on the group that starts to shape their adventure. Peter becomes annoyed with Susan, and speaks to her with what Lewis calls "pardonable sharpness" (p. 114, PC). Why was his harsh tone pardonable and Susan's not? It is at this point that Edmund declares Susan a wet blanket, and goes on to articulate "the trouble with girls" (p. 114, PC). It is boys v. girls now, because of Peter's pardonable sharpness. And when Peter admits he is lost, the entire party starts to argue. Then, Peter makes his greatest mistake: he decides the group should not follow Lucy, who claims to have seen Aslan, but leads them in the opposite direction. As a reader, I just want to shout at Peter! Doesn't he remember what happened the last time he didn't believe her? Lucy dutifully follows her older brother instead of following Aslan.

So now I've come to it: Peter's weakness is his inability to recognize his influence over others. Not exactly a character flaw, I know, and not nearly as exciting as those of the others. But it does lead to a question of Peter's pride. He is a natural and charismatic leader. Hearing from the Beavers, and then Aslan, that he is to rule Narnia comes with no objections, or even surprise. He leads the Narnians into battle with the Witch, becomes a great king, and puts Caspian's sorry army together. Trumpkin begs Susan to obey him in Prince Caspian. The other children follow him as well: in The Last Battle, we see him question the vision of King Tirian and put an end to the discussion about Susan. It is no wonder that he believes he is usually right.

Peter makes some poor decisions, other than disbelieving Lucy a second time. (It is interesting to note that Peter questions "whether Aslan was really there" (p. 122, PC) on the gorge—as though if he cannot see him, no one else should!) Peter goes on to challenge Miraz to a one-on-one match. Certainly Peter was an impressive swordsman when he ruled Narnia—Lewis calls him a "great warrior" (p. 181, LWW). But how can the 14-year-old version of himself truly believe he can defeat a grown man, who has been a soldier most of his life? It can be argued that the "magic" that affects them in Narnia awakens that part of his mind, but Peter has not tested his sword fighting skills at this point in the story. He is confident he can beat him, and believes that his reputation will be enough for Miraz to accept his offer. He continues to assert he can defeat Miraz even after taking a beating from him in the ring.

Also remember, it is Peter who suggests that they follow the White Stag past the Lantern, despite the fact that they all have a strange feeling, which Edmund describes as "foreboding" (p. 183, LWW). Susan even goes on to suggest that they return to their horses and go back. But Peter says that they must go on, and the others decide to follow him. Susan at least is still skeptical but willing to go along with the group (much like Lucy will in the next book). If Peter had listened to their instincts and stayed away from the place that made them feel so peculiar, would they have stumbled back through the wardrobe door? The Pevensies needed to return to England so that they could make their second journey to help Caspian—we believe this must have been Aslan's plan. But if it wasn't, then Peter is responsible. With this supposition, it is reasonable to imagine that if the Pevensies had continued to rule, then there would have been no need for the second journey, for they would have left heirs to the throne that could have stopped the Telmarine invasion.

In another case, we learn in The Last Battle that the Friends of Narnia decide to use the Rings to return Eustace and Jill to Narnia. Imagine what Aslan would have said if they had succeeded! Aslan made it plain to Jill and Eustace that he calls them to Narnia, a tidbit that they certainly would have shared with the others. Then why does Peter take it upon himself, accompanied by Edmund, to fetch the Rings? We do not know how it all came about (other than it was the Professor's original idea), but with Peter's influence on the group we know he could have easily put a stop to it. If Narnia needed them, Aslan would have provided a way—and he did, in the train accident.

Peter seems to suffer from pride and overconfidence. When he makes the wrong decision it can lead to disaster. Finally, a flaw for the fan fiction writer to exploit! It is well worth mentioning that despite his flaw, Peter readily admits when he is wrong and always offers a handshake in apology. It is this quality that makes him such a beloved character, and allows him to become a king of legend despite his imperfection.

A/N: To those who don't know me, I'm usually found over at Fan Fiction (dot) Net, but this is my home for my non-fiction work. I hope to hear your comments, whether you completely agree or think I've got it all wrong, or maybe a little of both.