Like many writers, CS Lewis went through several drafts of the Narnia books, and in many cases, character names could be very different. Consider the first draft for Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, that featured Frodo being named “Bingo Baggins”, Stryder being a Hobbit named “Trotter” and a sinister Treebeard that was in league with Sauron. In the case of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe the book originally began with the opening paragraph:
“This book is about for children whose names were Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter.
But it is most about Peter who is the youngest. They all had to go away from London suddenly because of the Air Raids and because Father, who was in the Army, had gone off to the War and Mother was doing some kind of war work. They were sent to stay with a kind of relation of Mother’s who was a very old Professor who lived all by himself in the country.”
CS Lewis wrote this paragraph back in 1939, and set it aside and in fact it wouldn’t be until 1948 that he would pick it up again. By the time resumed his work on the story, the Professor was no longer a relation of their mother’s, nor was any mention made to the father of the children being off in the war. However it was an easy inference for any child who grew up during that time to make, and it was a plot thread that the 2005 film even picked up upon.
More importantly, as the story developed the names and birth order of the children changed. In the end Peter was the only name that remained and he was the eldest. Peter had always been a name that Lewis liked, even as a boy the name occupied in is Boxen stories, featured as the name for a young heroic mouse. It is a good, strong, Biblical name, one that means “Rock” in Greek, and, as it has been often pointed out in works analyzing the symbolism of Narnia, it was the name of one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. It was Peter, of whom after his confession of Jesus being the Christ, the son of God, that Jesus said, “I call you Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church.”
In ancient times as is the case today, a building had to be constructed upon a solid, firm foundation if it’s builders wanted it to withstand the elements. To that end, it is a fitting name for the oldest sibling of the Pevensie family. They are four displaced children who just watched as their home was attacked. It’s a time of fear, uncertainty and upheaval. Listening to the news and reading the paper only makes things worse. Sweet treats, toys, nice clothes, and comic books are limited. Their family is torn apart, their parents are taking part in the war effort and they don’t know if when they return if their parents will still be alive to great them. For a child, that would be nothing short of Hell on Earth.
The younger children would need someone to be strong, to be a rock. Susan may be nurturing, Edmund may be the more diabolical on the outset, and Lucy the more faithful, but Peter is the strong one of the family, trying his best to keep the peace and hold them together. As is the case for a family missing their father during war-time, Peter becomes the man of the house. While Susan at times may come across as patronizing to Lucy and Edmund, Peter still acts like the older brother towards them without trying to completely become “dad”.
This, early on sets Peter and his attitude apart from that of his brother. While Peter is very solemn as Aslan shows him Cair Paravel, as he receives his commission from Aslan, Edmund however thinks of all the things he can that would benefit him that the Witch could give him. As Sarah Arthur notes in Walking Through the Wardrobe,
“For Peter in particular, being the eldest is a role he takes seriously. With the parents out of the picture, Peter’s in charge, an arrangement that doesn’t suit Edmund one bit. Who is Peter to tell him what to do? Edmund is just as important, by gum, and he’s going to prove. By contrast, Peter’s perspective on being perspective on being the leader is not about getting the props he thinks he deserves but about taking care of the others.”
Even Peter has a problem with Susan’s attempts to act like their mother and tell him what to do. In the 2005 film of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Susan wants to play a game where she finds a word in the dictionary and they guess the meaning and origin, he is just as board as Edmund and Lucy. When Lucy decides to play hide and seek, he rolls his eyes and tells her sarcastically that they were already having so much fun. All it takes for Peter to begin the game of Hide and go seek however, is for Lucy to give him the sad puppy dog look, and he begins counting, sending the younger children hiding.
There is a sense in the Narnia books, that of the four, Peter is probably most fond of his baby sister. When she tells them about Narnia, he is the first to head to the wardrobe to check it out for himself, in the same sense that an older sibling would check under a younger sibling’s bed for monsters. In the 2005 film, he even gives her a piggy-back ride across a frozen lake in Narnia when she gets too tired.
In contrast to Edmund, Peter is not only the first to apologize for not believing Lucy when they arrive in Narnia, but too genuinely mean it. As Peter says in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,
“By jove, you’re right…and look there-and there. It’s all around .And this wet stuff is snow. Why, I do believe we’ve got into Lucy’s wood after all…I apologize for not believing you…I’m sorry. Will you shake hands?”
He is also willing to follow her lead wherever she wishes in Narnia, knowing that since she has been in Narnia before, she would have a better lay of the land. When Edmund suggests heading in a different direction, he is angry at his brother, demands he apologize and calls the younger boy a beast for being so cruel to Lucy, continuing his role as his baby sister’s stalwart protector.
Yet despite this, upon meeting Aslan, the Great Lion asks them where Edmund is, Peter does not lay full blame on his brother. After the beaver informs Aslan and all present of Edmund’s treachery, Peter speaks up, saying that Edmund’s downfall was partially his fault. The film goes so far as to have him essentially emasculate his younger brother by making him wear a girls coat, and when Edmund points it out, peter merely tells him, “I know.”Peter felt that his anger had probably helped Edmund go wrong, realizing he probably should have had a cooler head about him when he learned Edmund lied about Lucy.
Peter begins to show his own signs of faith while in Narnia. This is especially evident when Aslan sends four Leopards to speak to the witch, they all notice that the big cats are nervous. Lucy expresses concern for their safety, but, even though he has only known the Lion for a short time he expresses complete faith in the Lion, telling his sister that he didn’t think they would be willing to do it unless Aslan thought it was safe.
We are told that the first mention of Aslan’s name immediately awakens something brave and adventurous inside Peter. It doesn’t take long for us to see the first signs of Peter’s bravery when the wolf Maugrim, the White Witch’s captain attacks the camp, with its eyes set upon Lucy and Susan. Aslan orders everyone else to stay back as it is time for Peter to earn his spurs. This term is a bit odd to American readers as Spurs are simply something worn on boots by cowboys. However, in Great Britain, were CS Lewis was from, to ‘earn ones spurs’ means, according to the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, means to do something to show that you deserve a particular position and have the skills needed to perform it.
In this case, Peter is to be the High King of Narnia, by the simple virtue of being the eldest child. In fighting this wolf, he proves he could one day be the person to lead Aslan’s armies into battle against Jadis, and sit enthroned in Cair Paravel. As is the case for many great myths like Hercules and the Hydra, Theseus and the Minostaur, Perseus and the Gorgon, and even more recently Samwise Gamgee and the Shelob and Luke Skywalker and the Rancor, the threshold of manhood is crossed by slaying some kind of fearsome beast. In old northern European folklore the most fearsome creature is the wolf. The ubiquitous “Big Bad Wolf” features in such fables as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, and fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood”, “The Three Little Pigs”, and “Peter and the Wolf”.
However, it is noteworthy that in the first American editions of Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis temporarily gave Maugrim the name “Fenris Ulf”. This name is derived from the Norse myth of the wolf Fenrir. According to myth Fenrir was the son of Loki, and the biggest and strongest wolf there was. Fenrir was so fearsome that even when bound he bit off the hand of Tyr, the god of war. It was prophesied that the wolf would swallow the sun during the last days. In Norse tradition it was believed that one of the causes of winter was that the sun had been eaten by Fenrir, a fitting connection for Narnia, a land trapped in a 100 year winter until the Pevnesies and Aslan arrive.
Whether named Maugrim or Fenris, Jadis’ wolf is sent to kill all in Aslan’s cap, starting with the other children. It is this moment that is Peter’s baptism of fire.
As Sam McBride notes in “Coming of Age in Narnia”,
“The most important means of Narnian growth toward maturity is the intensely painful or frightening life-changing event. Such events produce emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth…Examples are Peters’ first battle with a wolf…For Peter, slaying the wolf is a rite of passage, symbolic of becoming a man.”
It is an opportunity that presents itself to Peter to sum up whatever courage he may have and prove himself ready for what lies ahead. As Lewis describes in the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wadrobe,
“Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do. He rushed straight up to the monster and aimed a slash of his sword at its side. That stroke never reached the Wolf. Quick as lightning it turned round, its eyes flaming, and its mouth wide open in a howl of anger. If it had not been so angry that it simply had to howl it would have got him by the throat at once. As it was—though all this happened too quickly for Peter to think at all—he had just time to duck down and plunge his sword, as hard as he could, between the brute’s forelegs into its heart. Then came a horrible, confused moment like something in a nightmare. He was tugging and pulling and the Wolf seemed neither alive nor dead, and its bared teeth knocked against his forehead, and everything was blood and heat and hair. A moment later he found that the monster lay dead and he had drawn his sword out of it and was straightening his back and rubbing the sweat off his face and out of his eyes. He felt tired all over.”
This is almost a stark contrast to the sensation that washes over him when he hears Aslan’s name mention of adventure and excitement. After all, heroes should be big, bold and courageous, and show now fear in times of adversity. However as the saying goes, “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”
Peter has every reason to fear Maugrim, as the wolf could very well eat both him and his sisters should he lose. Further, the idea of killing this beast is something unsettling for a young boy who, as Susan reminds in the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was sent away with his siblings to keep them away from a war . Like Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins the Pevensie children are small, ordinary people who have never really done anything big or adventurous before, and along the way find some muster of courage.
After reuniting with his sisters Peter is knighted “Sir Peter Wolf’s Bane” by Aslan, but not before being rebuked for not cleaning his sword. Like ordering the armies of Narnia to stand back so Peter could win his spurs, it seems odd that Aslan would take time to tell Peter to clean his weapon.
However, it is often seen in The Lord of the Rings films that after a big battle, Strider cleans his blade with a rag to wipe off the blood of his foes. For practical reasons it is key for a warrior to clean their weapon. Blood can make it harder to draw a sword from its sheath as the fluid dries, and the blade itself can become duller and harder to use. A good blade is cleaned and sharpened often, otherwise it’s no more than a big butter knife.
Here we see also that contrary to what Father Christmas said, wars are bloody affairs regardless to whomever is fighting, whether male or female. Lewis, as a veteran of World War I would have seen his share of horror and bloodshed and would have never tried to glorify warfare needlessly. As Devin Brown notes in Inside Narnia,
“That Lewis may be using this instance of the first blood-taking in the story to make a fundamental point about violence also seems possible. When Aslan first tells Peter he has forgotten to clean his sword, we are told that Peter ‘blushed” as he looked at the blade ‘all smeared with wolf’s hair and blood’…details which inject elements of shame and then gravity into the scene. Sp in Aslan’s final words ‘never forget to wipe your sword,’ we may hear Lewis saying that while grim violence may sometimes be a necessary part of life in Narnia, it is not the only part and certainly not the central part. Violence is not to be glorified or reveled in. And when it is over, it is not to impede on the tranquil part of Narnia which is primary… Yet another reading of this incident suggests the need for readiness. Aslan could be warning Peter that while he has won a battle, the war is not over and he must always be prepared to fight against the forces of evil, forces that may appear unexpectedly.”
And indeed from there Peter he goes on to achieve great victory at the battle of the Fords of Beruna over the Witch’s forces. Later on we learn he becomes a tall and broad chest man and a great warrior named Peter the Magnificent. In fact while Edmund and Lucy are the ones to help their sister deal with her potential suitor Rabadash during the events of The Horse and His Boy, Peter is absent from the whole thing as he is fighting off the evil giants to the far north, protecting the kingdom’s borders.
Later in the book Prince Caspian we see Peter not only willing to fight to rescue Narnia from the Telmarines, but he is willing to step aside to allow a new king to take the throne. As he tells Caspian in the book, he had not come to take Caspian’s place but to help him claim the throne. Peter loved Narnia and wanted what was best for it and knew it was best for the land to be rule by a king who could rule the kingdom for his whole life and never have to leave it defenseless or without a leader. He had already seen the ruin it could cause otherwise
Despite his nobility and honor, Peter comes across as a boring character to many modern readers. In the Bible, Peter’s namesake was often rebuked by Jesus for his lack of faith, for trying to dissuade Jesus from His destiny on Calvary, and cutting off a temple guards ear in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. In contrast, in the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the only thing Aslan rebukes Peter Pevensie over is not cleaning his sword after a battle, an easy mistake for someone to make in their first time using a weapon.
This is to say nothing of how characters like Peter, and even those of Lewis’s colleague JRR Tolkien look to modern day readers alongside the characters from books like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, or Twilight. Like Captain America next to Iron Man, Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk, or the Punisher or Superman next to Batman or Green Arrow, Peter Pevensie, next to a Jon Snow or a Harry Potter or an Edward Cullen seems like nothing more then a throwback to a bygone era. An ideal to aspire towards and less of a character to relate too.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why Lewis, and his fellow Inkling JRR Tolkien have been able to remain so popular. As O.R. Melling notes in “Being Good for Narnia and the Lion” from Through the Wardrobe,
“…we begin to stray into the gray when we meet the handsome highwayman/bandit/pirate type like Dick Turpin or Captain Jack Sparrow. Here we have robbers and even murderers who win their way into our hearts because they are good-looking and witty and roguish. We weep when they hang at Tyburn or cheer when they make their last-minute escapes…Is it much of a step from liking that charming cut throat-to finding evil itself fascinating and attractive? …Enter CS Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia. Big sigh of relief. It cannot be overstated that, when it comes to CS Lewis, there is no question about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. “
Yet, times are changing. Good characters in literature are often made fun of. Even the recent Nancy Drew movie couldn’t resist in making the titular female sleuth seem almost like a parody as she was still stuck in the 1950’s while everyone else was living in the early 2000s. As Tréza Rosado notes in the essay “The Boy Wizard and His Young Readers” from the book A Wizard of Their Age: Critical Essays from the Harry Potter Generation.
“Protagonists in modernist children’s literature function more or less in an idealist state of unambiguous right and wrong. If we think back to the heroes of CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, we are called back to Peter Pevensie, the High King, and his unwavering integrity, courage, and moral compass. Similarly, the road for Frodo Baggins and his stalwart companion, Samwise Gamgee, is one of uncompromising self-sacrifice and total submission to a higher authority and purpose…Conversely, Rowling’s Harry Potter series allows for shades of gray that permeate our modern existence and always have colored the world.”
Even next to his more dynamic brother Edmund, Peter looks too perfect. Not believing his sister’s claims about Narnia, and yelling at Edmund for lying about Lucy and forcing Edmund to apologize is understandable, normal behavior. Who in his position wouldn’t yell at a sibling and demand an apology when they do something wrong to another sibling? Selling your siblings to an evil tyrant for treats, only to later be redeemed, and then later fight against that evil tyrant, that is something else entirely.
As Diana Peterfruend notes in “King Edmund the Cute”,
“High King over All Kings of Narnia, Noble, Brave, Lion,-fearing, possessed of a Magical Sword, Killer of Talking Wolves. Quite a list. A bit intimidating actually…he’s perfect. Even Edmund is intimidated by the nonstop faultlessness of his older brother. No doubt it is Peter’s superiority in all things that accounts for Edmund’s initial attitude problem. Can you imagine starting at a boy’s school your flawless brother has already conquered. Edmund was probably treated like “the other Pevensie” all year long….Peter is just perfect. Perfect is boring.”
This led the filmmakers to try and find ways to “enhance” Peter’s character to make him more palpable for the screen. In the first film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter was a bit closer to the “reluctant hero” unsure of himself, and even telling Aslan that he wasn’t who the Great Lion thought he was. In his battle against Maugrim, the wolf appears to fall upon Peter’s sword then Peter deliberately kill him.
Despite this brief deviation from the text, Peter in the film still demonstrates full dependence in Aslan. In the book he even asks the Lion if he will be with them in the battle. In the film upon learning via the dryads from his sisters that Aslan is killed, Peter expresses to Edmund that he isn’t sure if he can do this without Aslan. This leaves his brother to acknowledge that he can do it, and says that not only did Aslan believe in him, so does Edmund, allowing the brothers to come to full reconciliation.
Whoever, nothing was more divisive and anger inducing among fans then Peter’s portrayal in the following movie, Prince Caspian. To this day fan debates still rage about his portrayal in the online forums. In the opening scenes from the film, Peter gets in a fight with other kids on the platform waiting for the train, for no other reason than one of them shoved him and demanded Peter apologize. Rather then turn the other cheek, Peter punched him and a brawl issued that Edmund had to bail him out of.
Later in the movie, Peter decides they waited for Aslan long enough and agrees to storm the castle in a night raid. The plan is a disaster and many Narnians die. Edmund again has to bail Peter out. Then in his anger he gets in a brawl with Caspian after the prince points out he could have called it off while there was time, and starts thinking it was a mistake to call them, when Peter reminds him he was the one who asked them for help. Peter then snaps, especially after he accuses Peter of abandoning Narnia, telling him,
“Your first mistake was thinking you could lead these people…You invaded Narnia. You have no more right leading than Miraz does. You, him, your father! Narnia’s better off without the lot of you!”
It nearly comes to a sword duel, and is only stopped after Lucy breaks up the fight in seeing a gravely wounded Trumpkin. Finally when some ne’er do wells in their ranks try and conjure up the spirit of the White Witch, Peter nearly succumbs to temptation only to be rescued again by Edmund. Many fans in forums, on-line reviews, and comment sections expressed disgust over this change as Peter was seen as an angry, petulant jerk. The only hints at his nobility came towards the end after all his mistakes, when , true to his character in the book, he had the chance to slay Miraz but refused saying his life was not Peter’s to take.
To many fans, Peter wasn’t bring but a paragon of virtue, and that was what they loved about him. This is not to say they thought Peter was faultless. Most obviously he doubts his sister’s claims about Narnia, but such skepticism is justified when someone comes to you making what sounds like an outlandish claim. In fact any further struggles he had were all justified. Already it has been noted that he felt afraid to face off against Maugrim and it too is understandable. After all, he is just a boy, who is forced to fight against a big monster who is menacing his sisters. There is plenty to be afraid of.
Much earlier when approaching Aslan he feels fear in the face of the Great Lion, and even tries to have his younger sisters meet the Lion first. While Mr. Beaver much earlier said that Aslan was not a tame lion and a healthy fear of the Great Lion was a good thing, his attempts to send his sisters first is a little cowardly. However, perhaps his biggest failing happens during their return to Narnia in the novel Prince Caspian.
When Lucy claims to see Aslan again Peter doubts her claims. He then insists on putting it to a vote, as to which way they should go, and despite the soundness of Edmund’s logic, and him wanting Lucy to be right, he makes his decision by the virtue of being tired. This leads them to a disaster as they come upon the Telmarine camp. Turning around they realize that the way Lucy suggested was the best way.
Later on after Aslan appeared and spoke to Lucy and she was insistent that by Aslan’s orders she will go on alone if she has to. Edmund still backs her up, saying he would go with her as well, pointing out that twice so far she has been right. Peter responds to them,
“I know she has…And she may have been right this morning. We certainly had no luck going down the gorge. Still—at this hour of the night. And why should Aslan be invisible to us? He never used to be. It’s not like him. “
Here, he demonstrates doubt in Aslan because the Lion does not behave in a typical fashion, despite already being told that Aslan is not a tame Lion. In the end he does see the Lion, starting with the Shadow, and, like his apostolic namesake, repents of his doubts.
Because of his nobility, his faith, and his willingness to admit when he was wrong, Peter was indeed the rock his family, and Narnia needed. It would be his sword that would be passed on to all future high kings of Narnia. He was so great a king, and his faith, and trust in Aslan was so strong at this point that he was capable of driving of Tash the demon god of the Calormen, no longer the boy who got sick fighting the wolf,
“Be gone Monster, and take your lawful prey to your own place: in the name of Aslan and Aslan’s great Father the Emperor Beyond-The-Sea.”
He would be given keys by Aslan to shut the door to Narnia once and for all once that world came to an end. Then when he sees his sister overcome with grief for their beloved world, he takes comfort in something far greater, only to later learn that they will never have to leave Aslan’s side again. He knows there is nothing to fear or mourn anymore. He is no longer the boy who doubted, but the one who learned what faith and trust were all about. As he tells her,
“So…night falls on Narnia. What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?”
FILM: Adamson, Andrew (Dir.)The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, James MacAvoy, Tilda Swinton, Ray Winston, and Liam Neeson. Ann Peacock,Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2005. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
FILM: ” ” The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Eddie Izard, Peter Dinklage, Sergio Castellitto, and Liam Neeson. Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2008. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
Arthur, Sarah. Walking Through The Wardrobe.pgs. 86. 2005. Thirsty? A Division of Tyndale House Publishers .Wheaton, Il.
Brown, Devin Inside Narnia pg. 183-84. 2005. Baker Books. Grand Rapids, MI
Lewis, CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle.pgs. 166, 198. 1978. Harper Collins, New York, NY.
Lewis, CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Pgs. 60,144. 1978. Harper Collins, New York, NY.
Lewis, CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.pg. 156. 1978. Harper Collins, New York, NY.
Melling, OR “Being Good for Narnia and the Lion” Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. ( Herbie Brennan Ed.) pg 166-67. 2008. Teen Libris. Dallas, TX
McBride, Sam. “Coming of Age in Narnia” Revisiting Narnia:Fantasy, Myth and Religion in CS Lewis’ Chronicles (Shanna Caughey ed.) Pg.60. 2005. BenBella Books.
Peterfruend, Diana “King Edmund the Cute” pg. 32. Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. (Herbie Brennan ed.) 2008. Teen Libris. Dallas, TX.
Rosado, Tréza “The Boy Wizard and His Young Readers” A Wizard of Their Age: Critical Essays from the Harry Potter Generation. Pg. 74-75. 2015. State University press. Albany, NY.
Sibley, Brian and Pauline Baynes. The Land of Narnia. Pg.21. 1998. Harper Collins .New York, NY.
This Blog is not authorized, endorsed, or approved by any entities involved the creation, development, distribution or ownership of the Chronicles of Narnia franchise. The views and opinions contained in this blog reflect those of the author and do not represent the views or ownership of in the the CS Lewis Estate, Harper Collins, Walden Media, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox and any other parties involved in the creation or ownership of the books and films.
2005 Walden Media/Walt Disney Studios.