Half-Dwarves in Narnia and the Colonial Mestizo


“Doctor Cornelius!” cried Caspian with joy, and rushed forward to greet his old master. Everyone else crowded round.

“Pah!” said Nikabrik. “A renegade Dwarf. A half-and-halfer! Shall I pass my sword through its throat?”

“Be quiet, Nikabrik,” said Trumpkin. “The creature can’t help its ancestry.”

The book Prince Caspian, fourth in The Chronicles of Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis, opens with a lonely Prince yearning for stories of the mythical Old Narnia – a civilization eliminated by his ancestors, the Telmarine Conquerors, who perpetuated genocide when they invaded the country, demolished its buildings, and destroyed its society. Prince Caspian believes these tales to be fiction, but when his new tutor, Doctor Cornelius, admits that he himself is half-Dwarf, the truth of the Telmarine invasion is exposed.

The Telmarines are clearly depicted as conquerors that in many ways mirror the European invaders who colonized the Americas in the 16th Century, but the similarities between Telmarine Narnia and the colonized Americas do not end there. Through Doctor Cornelius’ struggle to conceal his Dwarvish features from humans, the rejection he faces even from the Dwarves in Old Narnia, and the strangely passive role he plays in the Narnian rebellion, it is clear that Doctor Cornelius is a perfect example of a disadvantaged segment of colonial population: the mestizo, reviled by both the conquerors and the conquered.

Doctor Cornelius is introduced to the reader as a character who clearly manifests the characteristics of a Dwarf, but presents himself to Telmarine society as fully human for the sake of avoiding discrimination, even death. Under the reign of the Telmarines, even the mere mention of Old Narnia is punishable, and the survivors of the invasion hide in the shadows.  “I’m not a pure Dwarf,” Doctor Cornelius tells Caspian. “I have human blood in me too. Many Dwarfs escaped in the great battles and lived on, shaving their beards and wearing high-heeled shoes and pretending to be men. They have mixed with your Telmarines.”

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Mzungu Town: A glimpse into the post-colonial recovery timeline

My friend grasps my arm as we cross the street. I’m st20160110_171843ill struggling to understand cars driving on the opposite lanes from what I’m used to. A man shouts, laughing as he calls out to her.

“Don’t touch Mzungu’s arm, the white will rub off on you!”

Mzungu means ‘white’. It’s a new name I was given in this country, one that marks me as rich, and possibly as proud. It has people surprised when I give up my seat to the elderly, and has them staring at me as I pass.

I’m not even white. Perhaps half of me is, but only one fourth of my bloodline is somewhat European. The other fourth is Iranian. The rest of me is Hispanic. But here, the contrast is striking. My name is Mzungu, and I have never been so famous.

When I step off the bus, the merchants murmur “Mzungu” between themselves. When I board a bus, a man looks through the window: “Marry me, Mzungu.” Children wave at me “Hello, Mzungu!”.  A man passes me on the street,  a tune playing on his phone. He presses it to my cheek. “Listen to this, Mzungu!”

Is this what people feel like, in other countries, when we stare at them for being different? I suppose one could easily twist these experiences into some sort of discourse on the supposed existence of ‘white oppression’. But that isn’t what this is. The context here is different than in North America or Europe. It is a framework built by hosts of the colonizers themselves, sometime in the past. The perception of wealth, even where it may not necessarily exist. Someone, at some point, has taught the masses that Mzungu means rich. That Mzungu means proud. That Mzungu is different.

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