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This American Life episode 141: A Whole New World. (Transcript)

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Prologue

Ira Glass So during World War Two, as you probably know, London was heavily, heavily bombed. Night after night, there were German bombing raids. And the British government decided that London was just too dangerous for little kids. Or big kids. Really, for anyone who didn’t absolutely need to stay there. So they ordered an evacuation. Nearly every child in London was loaded onto a train, with their gas mask, a tag with their name, and a bag of belongings, and shipped off to some remote area. And in the rural areas and small towns, any family with extra space -- any space at all, really -- was told that they’d be taking some of those evacuees in.

For a lot of those kids, this was very traumatic. Bombings were frightening, sure, but at least they were with their families. Now they were uprooted from their homes, their parents, their neighborhoods, everything familiar. For other kids, though, it was terrifying, but also something else.

Will Oakley It was the first time in my life I actually got enough to eat.

Ira Glass Will Oakley had grown up in London in dire poverty.

Will Oakley My mother was severely -- well, she was quite mentally ill, we’d say now. Back then we said she wasn’t right in the head. Except I didn’t say that, because it was all I knew before I was evacuated to Little Weirwold.

I was nine years old, and I was placed with an old gentleman I called Mr. Tom.

Ira Glass What did your mother send with you?

Will Oakley She sent a belt. She sent a belt for Mr. Tom to use on me, if I misbehaved. That first night, Mr. Tom took that belt out and said, “I’ve never hit a child in my life, but if I felt I had to, I’d use my own hand,” and he threw it in the fire. And he never hit me, not once.

Ira Glass Will was nine years old. He’d been raised by an abusive, mentally ill woman. He’d never known his father, or really anyone other than his mother, because he’d also never been to school.

Will Oakley I was terrified of everything in Little Weirwold at first. But everyone there was [PAUSE]

Everyone there was kind.

Ira Glass By the end of the war, Tom had become Will’s foster father. He later adopted him permanently.

Will Oakley I still live in Little Weirwold. I’ll live there till the day I die. This town gave me my life. It gave me my life.

Ira Glass From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life . I'm Ira Glass. Today on our radio program, we have three stories of people stepping from one world, the only world they’ve ever known, into an entirely new world. What happens when you open that door? What do you do with what you find, and -- when you look back -- how do you understand what you’ve left behind? Stay with us.

 

Act One. The Long Sleep.

 

Ira Glass Steve Rogers grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He was born on the 4th of July in 1920, though you wouldn’t know it looking at him.

Steve Rogers People usually assume I’m thirty or maybe forty. So they think I was born in 1975 or so at the absolute earliest.

Ira Glass Steve looks younger than he is because he was literally on ice from 1944 until just a couple of years ago. During World War II, he volunteered for an experimental serum. The serum worked: it made him incredibly strong, incredibly fast, and incredibly tough. And that’s probably how he survived for all those years, in suspended animation.

It doesn’t give him any particular advantage in catching up on the modern world, though.

Steve Rogers I keep a list.

Ira Glass A list -- like in a notebook? I guess you wouldn’t use…

Steve Rogers Right, I don’t use a phone for this. I have a little book I bought at a … I guess it wasn’t a Five and Dime.

Ira Glass Probably a Target.

Steve Rogers No, it was smaller than a Target. Anyway, I keep my list in a notebook. And it’s a list of things I need to look up, to learn more about.

Ira Glass What’s on your list, right now?

Steve Rogers Okay. I’ll just read it to you. [PAPER RUSTLING] E.T. the movie. The Peanuts Christmas Special. Pac-Man and arcade games. 1984 . AIDS, and there’s a book here, “The Band Played On” that I’m supposed to read. Tiramisu. M*A*S*H, the TV show.

Ira Glass So have you gotten to any of these yet?

Steve Rogers No, I told you, that’s my current list. [PAPER RUSTLING] Here’s from a few weeks ago. I Love Lucy . The Moon Landings. Berlin Wall, up and down. Steve Jobs from Apple. Disco. Thai food. Star Wars and Trek. Nirvana, that’s a band. I mean, I guess you know that’s a band but I didn’t, so I wrote that down. Rocky and maybe Rocky II, and Troubleman, the soundtrack.

Ira Glass You’ve researched all of those?

Steve Rogers Well I guess it depends on what you mean by researched. Natasha picked out some I Love Lucy episodes for me to watch and I watched them. I liked them but I haven’t had time to watch more yet. She’s the one who said I ought to watch M*A*S*H, she thinks I’d like it, but I haven’t had time. I read up on the Moon landings and the Berlin Wall, I watched the first Star Wars movie, and I tried Thai food.

Ira Glass Did you like it?

Steve Rogers Thai food? Oh yeah, it was pretty good.

Ira Glass Everyone knows the fairy tale about the princess who spends a century asleep, but that story ends with her waking up. We don’t talk about whether she felt bewildered by the new world she woke up in; we don’t talk about how much she had to learn just to feel caught up . Whether she ever felt caught up.

Ira Glass What do you miss the most?

Steve Rogers I miss my friends. [LONG PAUSE] Almost all of them died of old age while I was away.

Ira Glass It must be incredibly lonely for you.

Steve Rogers I don’t want you to think … I mean, I have made new friends. Natasha, Clint, Sam… I have a good life. But you asked what I miss the most, and people ask that a lot, and I think they expect me to say something nostalgic about the food from the 1930s, or a world without Facebook and iPhones. But really, all the stuff on my list, that was never the hard part. The hard part was waking up, and almost all the people I’d known and cared about were gone.

On the other hand, the war was also over and we’d defeated Hitler. That wasn’t so bad.

Ira Glass Are there things you like better about the future? Or...about the present, I guess.

Steve Rogers Thai food? [LAUGHS] Actually, there are a lot. And they’re also not the things people expect.

Ira Glass People again?

Steve Rogers Yeah. I guess...yeah.

Ira Glass When Steve was found, he was identified -- not because anyone recognized him, but because he still had his shield -- and he was brought back to New York City. And the decision was made to lie to him, to try to ease him into the modern world. So he was tucked into a bed in a room done up to look like a hospital room from the 1940s, with a recording playing of a 1940s-era baseball game. The game, it turns out, was a mistake.

Steve Rogers I remembered the game. I’d actually been at that game. Of course, it didn’t occur to me that I was decades into the future -- I assumed I was a prisoner of war, that someone was trying to trick me into trusting them. So I decided to try to escape.

Ira Glass And he did escape. Breaking through a wall to run out the door and into the street. On the spot.

Steve Rogers And I found myself in Times Square.

Ira Glass Did you recognize it?

Steve Rogers No. Not right away. Then Nick -- people caught up with me, and they told me I’d been asleep for almost seventy years. A lifetime, more or less. I’d slept through an entire lifetime.

Ira Glass You’ve been in the modern world for a few years now. Are there things you still haven’t adjusted to?

Steve Rogers Cell phones. [LAUGHS] I don’t like them. Well, texting isn’t so bad. It’s a little like sending a telegram. Held up in traffic, STOP. Will be ten minutes late, STOP. Go ahead and order without me, STOP. I’ll have the pad thai, STOP.

Ira Glass I suppose it is kind of like a telegram.

Steve Rogers Have you ever gotten a telegram?

Ira Glass No, but I’ve read about them in books. You had to keep them short, that’s how they’re like texts.

Steve Rogers Right.

Ira Glass Steve waited just a week or two before wanting to get back to work. With his superhuman strength and speed, even without knowing how to use e-mail or the Internet, or even knowing how to merge a car onto a highway -- controlled-access highways were built in the 1950s, while he was asleep -- even with all those things he didn’t know, SHIELD was more than willing to find a use for him.

Steve Rogers The worst thing about waking up here was that I was afraid I’d just be useless. The war was over -- the war against Hitler, I mean. What good was I even going to be able to do?

Ira Glass How quickly did you find an answer?

Steve Rogers It took me about four hours.

Ira Glass Four hours, really? Four -- that just doesn’t seem like very much time.

Steve Rogers Well, I thought about everything about the world back in 1943 that I didn’t much care for. And I figured, well, probably not all of those problems had been solved. I’d probably be able to find something I could make better.

Ira Glass Did you make a list?

Steve Rogers Yeah. Yeah, I made a list.

Ira Glass The man from SHIELD who came to find Steve, when he broke out of that fake hospital room, was a black man. Steve had served in an integrated unit, his own elite force, basically, in a time when the U.S. military was still almost entirely segregated.

Steve Rogers You want to know what I like better about the future? I like equality. I like civil rights. You know, in 1943, there were black soldiers but they could only eat in canteens for black people. And back home, even in the northern states there were restaurants that wouldn’t serve black people.

Here’s what I like: I like that Sam and I can go out to lunch -- Sam’s black -- Sam and I can go out to lunch, and we can go into any restaurant we like and sit down and order. Not because I’m Captain America, but because it’s the law of the land.

Ira Glass Do you ever look back and think, “we couldn’t have been friends, back in 1943, because people wouldn’t have let us?”

Steve Rogers All the time.

Ira Glass So now I’m wondering if Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was on one of your lists.

Steve Rogers Yes. Also his Letter from Birmingham Jail. I also read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and more recently I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Ira Glass It really wasn’t just the Beatles and the Moon Landings you’re catching up on.

Steve Rogers The Beatles? Do I need to add them to my list? [PAUSE] I’m messing with you, don’t worry, I’ve listened to the Beatles.

But yeah, no. It wasn’t just the Beatles and the Moon Landings. I missed out on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation of Little Rock high school, the March On Washington.

Ira Glass Is that something you regret?

Steve Rogers Yes and no. I wish I could have met the Reverend Doctor King, just like I wish I could have been there for the end of the war. But the struggle’s not over. You know Sam gets followed around in stores? He moved apartments recently to a suburb in Virginia because the rent’s lower and when he went running around his own neighborhood, the police stopped him and demanded to see his ID. Sam’s a U.S. Air Force veteran who’s devoted his life to serving his country, but all they see, all the bigots see is that he’s black.

Ira Glass When you look at things, from your vantage point, how far does it feel like we’ve come?

Steve Rogers Looking back, it’s shocking to me what I was willing to accept as normal. What all of us were willing to accept as normal. I guess I don’t want to try to attach a number of miles to it. But we’re not done, we’re not even close, really. There’s still a lot to do.

Ira Glass Do you think coming from the past, and seeing how much things changed, do you think that makes it easier or harder for you to see how much further we have to go? Does this question make sense?

Steve Rogers Yeah. It definitely makes it easier. I mean -- when I was doing the USO tours, when I went around England it was the first time I’d ever been out of the U.S., and seeing a foreign country for the first time made me notice all these things I’d never noticed before about the U.S. If you’ve always driven on the right side of the road, it can feel like that’s just the natural order of things, rather than a decision someone made at some point.

Anyway, coming from the past -- it makes it really easy to see that there are things we’ve decided to do. And we could decide to do something else.

Ira Glass Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, lives and works in Washington, D.C.

[MUSIC: Yesterday , The Beatles.]

Ira Glass Coming up, sometimes you don’t wake up in a new world. Sometimes you’re invited to that new world. By letter. When you’re eleven. That’s in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

 

Act Two. Owl Post.

Ira Glass You’re listening to This American Life . I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, people finding themselves in new worlds. We’ve arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, Owl Post.

Think back to when you were eleven years old, and getting ready to start middle school. Maybe you were going to a different school for the first time since kindergarten. Imagine that one day a letter arrives, inviting you to a school you’ve never heard of, that your parents have never heard of, that you haven’t applied to -- a school for wizards. Wizards, and witches.

Sarah Koenig explains.

Sarah Koenig When Hermione Granger was eleven years old, she was expecting to start that September at her local Comprehensive school. But she received a letter in early August that changed everything. It was written on parchment, sealed with wax, and said that she was being offered a place at a school called Hogwarts. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Hermione Granger I actually thought it might be a very unkind prank. Because at my primary school I had actually been teased a great deal by some students who called me a witch, and didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Sarah Koenig Most of the students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are born to parents who are also, themselves, wizards. But a small number are born to ordinary people -- muggles, as the wizards call people who can’t do magic. Wizards and witches born to muggles are referred to as “muggleborns.” Rare, but certainly not unheard of. But Hermione, and her parents -- they definitely had not heard of this phenomenon before.

Hermione Granger Well obviously we hadn’t heard of it, since in fact wizards were quite secretive about their society. I found out later that they’d had someone keeping a bit of an eye on me since my magic manifested when I was eight. Not that I had any idea what was going on at the time, mind you, nor did my parents. But the Ministry of Magic sent an Accidental Magic Reversal Squad out to my primary school to repair the damage.

Sarah Koenig What happened?

Hermione Granger It started with a rather cruel boy in my year who was teasing someone a good deal smaller than himself and ended with an explosion.

Sarah Koenig An explosion?

Hermione Granger Yes. No one was injured, fortunately. I blew up a shed in the schoolyard where they normally stored the games equipment like those rubber balls schools have, you know? I didn’t intend to, obviously, at that age magic is almost never under the control of the wizard. But I went and checked the records a year or two ago and oh yes, the gas explosion was just a story put out by the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. It was actually me. All me. [LAUGHS]

Sarah Koenig The letter arrived by itself, but a teacher from the school arrived a day later to answer any questions Hermione or her parents might have.

Minerva McGonagall My name is Professor Minerva McGonagall and I am currently the Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Sarah Koenig Are you the one who visited the Grangers?

Minerva McGonagall Yes. At the time, I was the Deputy Headmistress, and I made most of the home visits to muggleborn families.

Sarah Koenig What did you think of the Grangers?

Minerva McGonagall I thought that Mr. and Mrs. Granger seemed like lovely people. Thoughtful and polite. I liked Hermione instantly. I was perfectly delighted when she was Sorted into my House.

Sarah Koenig Sortings. Of all the rituals of Hogwarts, this one is probably the most fascinating to outsiders.

Minerva McGonagall We have a hat. You put it on your head, and it places you in a House.

Hermione Granger There are four houses. The Headmistress actually explained this when she came to visit. Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. When she’d left, I was under the vague impression that Gryffindor was where you should go if you wanted to fight dragons, Ravenclaw was where you should go if you wanted to read books, Hufflepuff was where you should go if you were rather dull and ordinary for a wizard, and all I really knew about Slytherin was that I was never going to be Sorted there so I didn’t have to worry about it. I rather thought Gryffindor sounded the best.

Minerva McGonagall I was the Head of Gryffindor House and I will admit I may have emphasized the virtues of my own house a bit more with Hermione than I did with most students I visited. Especially since it was so clear that without me putting my thumb on the scales just a bit, she’d go straight into Ravenclaw.

Hermione Granger I probably would have quite liked Ravenclaw.

Minerva McGonagall What would the rest of us have done with you in Ravenclaw? We’d have all been doomed.

Sarah Koenig Hermione asked Minerva McGonagall for books -- she wanted to learn as much as possible about her new world before she entered it. For the next month, she read books about Hogwarts School, about important events in the wizarding world, about the shadow history of this whole society she’d never heard of but was now going to be a part of. So she knew, because she’d read about it, that there had been a war in the wizarding world a decade earlier. What she didn’t know, not really, was that the war wasn’t really over.

Hermione Granger In the 1970s, an extraordinarily powerful Dark Wizard called Tom Riddle had gathered a large number of followers and was trying to take over. On Halloween night in 1981, he’d tried to wipe out James, Lily, and Harry Potter, Harry being just a baby at the time, because there’d been a prophecy that Harry would have the power to defeat him. And in fact Harry defeated him on the spot; Tom Riddle successfully murdered both his parents, but when he tried to kill Harry his curse rebounded. Harry was one of my classmates in Gryffindor, and became one of my best friends. His other best friend, Ron Weasley, is my fiance, by the way.

Minerva McGonagall I called you the Unholy Trinity, you know.

Hermione Granger That is so unfair!

Minerva McGonagall I could not turn my back on the three of you for an instant. For an instant . Without you getting into some new trouble.

Hermione Granger I’d like to see how well you’d have kept Ron and Harry out of trouble, if you’d been in my place.

Sarah Koenig The reason Hermione didn’t have to worry about being Sorted into Slytherin was that this house did not take Muggleborns. The wizarding world, in addition to having its own schools and its own sports --

Hermione Granger Please don’t ask me any questions about Quidditch. When I went to the matches I just watched the other Gryffindors and clapped whenever they seemed excited.

Sarah Koenig --it also has its own set of prejudices.

Hermione Granger There are wizards who are very, very proud of the fact that they don’t have any muggle ancestry. They call themselves “purebloods” and their word for muggleborns is extremely rude. It’s probably a word you can say on the radio but it shouldn’t be, so I’m not going to say it. I never heard that word from anyone in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff, but I did hear it from Slytherins, more than once. And Slytherin, in fact, was where Tom Riddle had recruited most of his followers.

Sarah Koenig Did you know about this prejudice before you arrived?

Hermione Granger No. When I found out about it, I was furious. Because first of all, racism is such an awful flaw in muggle society, and I’d really hoped that wizards would be better than that. But also, I knew that I was better at magic than any of those self-satisfied purebloods.

Sarah Koenig When did you realize that the war was going to be coming back?

Hermione Granger Even among wizards, it’s not exactly normal for people to come back from the dead. Tom Riddle used some very, very dark magic to manage it, and by the end of my first year at Hogwarts, it was quite clear to me that while he might be dead, he was definitely not really most sincerely dead. Just, you know…[SIGHS]...mostly dead.

Sarah Koenig Can I just ask, does anyone in the wizarding world understand either Wizard of Oz or Princess Bride jokes?

Hermione Granger They don’t. And it’s so frustrating! I’ve been discussing a popular culture curriculum with the professor of Muggle Studies at Hogwarts, but I haven’t told her it’s really just because I want people to get my jokes.

Sarah Koenig What was the hardest thing to get used to when you went to Hogwarts?

Hermione Granger Writing with a quill instead of a ballpoint pen.

Sarah Koenig And what was the hardest thing to get used to when you’d go back to the muggle world in the summer? You weren’t allowed to use magic, right?

Hermione Granger That’s correct, because I was underage. I’d say probably the worst was not being able to use a bed-warming or bed-cooling charm at bedtime. Oh, wait, no. That was annoying, but really the hardest thing to get used to was having to get up when I wanted a book that was out of reach. Especially if my cat was in my lap and I was really comfortable, having to get up instead of just using a summoning charm felt like I was having to make do without hot water or some other basic necessity. That probably sounds ridiculous.

Minerva McGonagall It doesn’t sound ridiculous to me .

Sarah Koenig Tom Riddle returned -- really returned -- in the spring of Hermione’s fourth year at Hogwarts.

Hermione Granger I should say, I’d been keeping secrets from my parents all along. I was petrified by a basilisk in my second year -- they did hear about that, but the school did their best to make it sound like a routine mishap. It wasn’t, actually, but my parents hadn’t a clue. But, other than when I was petrified, I wrote home every week faithfully and somehow never got round to mentioning that one of my classes was taught by a werewolf; that the forest next to the school was filled with giant spiders who ate people; and that the school brought in three dragons and a sphinx for a friendly inter-school competition.

When Tom Riddle returned, he killed a student called Cedric Diggory and he tried to kill Harry but again, he wasn’t able to. Harry escaped and brought Cedric’s body back and told everyone what happened. The Minister for Magic at the time, Cornelius Fudge, refused to believe him. But I knew Harry was telling the truth.

Minerva McGonagall Was that when you sent your parents to Australia?

Hermione Granger Yes. That’s when I sent them to Australia. I didn’t tell anyone, even Ron or Harry, for years, because I didn’t want it getting back to the school. I didn’t trust Dumbledore not to do something utterly idiotic with me, given that he made Harry live with his abusive aunt and uncle.

Minerva McGonagall I wish I’d known.

Hermione Granger It was just during the summer, and those weren’t so bad. I think Molly Weasley suspected, because she never questioned me spending weeks at the Burrow. And I knew that I might have a very small window to get my family to safety. Tom Riddle and his followers hated muggles. They hated muggleborns. They hated Harry. I was a muggleborn and best friends with Harry; my parents were obvious targets and completely unable to defend themselves magically. If that idiot Minister Fudge hadn’t insisted that there was no way Riddle was back, I could have asked for someone to be assigned to protect them, but there was no way that was going to happen. It was up to me.

Sarah Koenig How did you persuade your parents to move to Australia?

Hermione Granger I used a charm to make them forget they had a daughter, and another charm to make them believe that they had always, for their whole lives, wanted to live in Australia. [PAUSE] That sort of magic isn’t usually considered ethical, but I felt that in this case it was the least of the available evils. After the war was over I tracked them down and undid everything.

Sarah Koenig How did they react, when the realized what you’d done?

Hermione Granger They were utterly, utterly furious with me. They did say, eventually, that they understood why I’d done it, but things have never really been the same between us. They actually still live in Australia.

Sarah Koenig In Hermione Granger’s seventh year, she didn’t return to school.

Hermione Granger Tom Riddle and his followers had fully taken over. Muggleborns were no longer allowed at Hogwarts, and in fact were being rounded up to have their wands confiscated. But it didn’t matter. I was joining Harry and Ron to fight a war, essentially. There are things that are more important than school.

Minerva McGonagall This sort of attitude is why I knew you belonged in Gryffindor. That, plus I knew about the shed.  

Hermione Granger You knew about the shed?

Minerva McGonagall Of course. It was in your file. You blew up a shed to defend a child from bullying. Of course you belonged in the House of the Gallant, Brave, and True.

Hermione Granger I guess you’re right.

Sarah Koenig The magical world really is Hermione’s world now. She made up the year she missed and passed her exams with the highest possible scores. She considered applying to Oxford or Cambridge, but decided that her talents were needed more urgently in the wizarding world than the muggle world, and that meant pursuing advanced study in the legal system of the wizarding world.

She does think sometimes about what she’s left behind, and what she’s given up -- her parents, still living in Australia. People who read the same childhood books she read, who saw the same movies. In a sense, it wasn’t just Hermione’s parents who immigrated: Hermione did, as well, from the muggle world to the wizarding world. Her new country is strange, with customs and currency of its own. But it’s hers.

Ira Glass Sarah Koenig is a producer for This American Life . Hermione Granger lives in wizarding London, where she is interning with Magical Law Enforcement. Minerva McGonagall is now the Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

[MUSIC: Black Magic Woman , Carlos Santana]

 

Act Three. Always Winter. 

Ira Glass This is Ira Glass. We’ve arrived at Act Three of our show, A Whole New World. Act Three: Always Winter. So imagine. You’ve found a new world. You don’t know anything about it -- you don’t know the history, you don’t know the politics, you don’t even know what sort of food or weather to expect. Now imagine you have to pick a side -- five minutes after you arrive, and you need to decide, you know, which team here you’re going to root for. Only the stakes are high and it’s not a game. What if you pick wrong?

Susan Pevensie has the story.

Susan Pevensie Thinking back, I have a lot of questions I didn’t know enough to ask at the time. For instance, how on earth did Professor Kirke manage to have only four evacuees placed into that enormous old house? Was it because he was an old bachelor, or was the evacuation coordinator for the area too terrified of his housekeeper to inflict more than four children on her?

Also, why didn’t he just tell us that he’d been to that other world, too?

The first one of us who found it was Lucy, my little sister. We’d been exploring the house and she’d lingered behind the rest of us to look at a wardrobe full of fur coats, only to come running out after us with a story about the wardrobe leading to another world. She said she'd been there for hours and hours. We went straight back and looked, of course -- who wouldn’t? -- but all we found was coats.

The next rainy day, we were playing hide-and-seek, and both Lucy and Edmund found their way there. There were four of us. Peter was the oldest, then me, then Edmund, and finally Lucy. When Lucy went, she met a kindly faun, but Edmund, when he stumbled through a few moments behind her, didn’t have quite the same luck. Instead, he came face to face with the White Witch.

It’s strange now to think how much we all blamed him for everything that happened later. He was ten years old. He’d stumbled straight into deep snow and frigid winds in his shirt sleeves. Lucy had told us that there was a terrible witch who ruled over Narnia, after her first visit, but we all thought she was playing a game, or maybe that she’d been dreaming -- how much attention did you pay to the passing fancies of your younger siblings when you were ten years old?

If our parents had read us more fairy tales and fewer morally educational stories, perhaps Edmund would have known how dangerous it is to accept magical food and drink. But then, given that she’d threatened to kill him bare moments before, perhaps he’d have eaten and drunk anyway because it seemed the safest course of action. The duty of a prisoner is to survive, and escape. And once the spell is upon you? Once you’ve eaten the magical food, which will course through your veins like narcotics demanding more, more, more? What is your duty then, exactly?

When they returned, and Lucy told us her story again, Edmund denied her. He swore they’d been playing a game and pretending it was all real. Peter was furious at Edmund for winding her up, and so was I. And we were more furious still when we realized later that he really had been there. That it was a lie, a cruel lie, when he said that he hadn’t.

But now I wonder -- was it a cruel lie? Or was it, instead, this: the part of him that was still Edmund was doing everything in his power to keep us out of the Witch’s grasp. First, by trying to keep us out of the wardrobe, but also, when that failed -- because in the end, of course, all four of us went through together -- to ensure that we would not trust him. To ensure that we would not follow where he led.

We thought him so despicable, when we realized.

When we were told that Edmund was a traitor, I didn’t ask how anyone could possibly commit treason against a country they knew nothing about.

When we were told Edmund had attempted to deliver us to our deaths at the hands of the White Witch, I didn’t say, “Edmund? are you completely unhinged? Edmund is ten years old and carries spiders out of the house on a piece of paper because he doesn't want to hurt them. We’re supposed to believe that he wants to have us murdered?” Because of course the White Witch did not tell Edmund that she planned to kill the four of us; she told him that she wanted to make us lords and ladies, and if that sounds too absurd to believe, you should know that the other side, the ones that turned out to be the good guys, wanted to make us kings and queens.

Edmund’s sin was to be helpless and alone at the wrong moment. His crime was to be placed under a spell. His offense, for which he was condemned to die, was to believe the extraordinary claim made by the wrong person.

It all worked out, in the end. Edmund was rescued. The White Witch was vanquished. The four of us were crowned, and we reigned for years in Narnia, before being spat out one day without warning. Back through the wardrobe. Back to our old lives.

For some reason, questions are often associated with children. You’ll hear adults make jokes about how many questions children will ask. I find this so odd, given all the questions I didn’t ask when I had the chance. What makes four children from another world qualified to rule, exactly? Why are battles ugly when women fight, but not when boys fight? Even Peter, the oldest, was nowhere near old enough to fight for England. Why exactly were we brought to Narnia, for surely it wasn't an accident when we stumbled in. And why were we sent away again?

I was a child, when I went to Narnia. And these are the sort of questions adults ask.

All three of my siblings died in a railway accident years ago, when we were all still terribly young. So I can’t tell Edmund how sorry I am that we blamed him, even a little, even for a moment, even though we forgave him. Forgave him. When there really wasn’t anything to forgive.

Lucy used to complain that I wanted too badly to grow up. She thought it was about cosmetics and boys, nylons and silliness. I did want to grow up. I did. But what I craved was not the trappings of adulthood.

What I wanted -- what I demanded -- was the right to ask questions.

Ira Glass Susan Pevensie writes for the Washington Post and is a producer for WHYY in Philadelphia. Her books, Fallen Queens and Through the Wardrobe are available from Harper Collins.

 

Credits.

Ira Glass Special thanks for this week’s Narnia coverage go to blogger Ana Mardoll, whose deconstructions of C.S. Lewis are truly some of the best out there. Thanks also to ink-splotch on Tumblr for her post, “Can we talk about Susan’s fabulous adventures after Narnia?“ in which Susan moves to America and becomes a journalist.

For the interview with Hermione Granger, special thanks to stavvers on Tumblr for the post that begins, “I’ve just come to the realisation that Hermione Granger probably memory charmed her parents and packed them off to Australia long before she told Harry and Ron she’d done it at the beginning of Deathly Hallows.” Absolutely! That is in fact exactly what she did, no question.

And for the Avengers coverage, special thanks to idiopathicsmile (same handle on both Tumblr and AO3) for “Steve Rogers: PR Disaster.” This is obviously not quite the same Steve she wrote about, since Steve in this interview was a bit more focused and didn't even come out as bisexual. However, he shares that Steve's uncompromising commitment to social justice.

To read the whole story of what happened with Will and Tom Oakley, pick up the book Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian.

Our website is at thisamericanlife.org.

This American Life is either produced by WBEZ in Chicago or delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, depending on which year you’re listening to it.

Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. He went for a walk the other day and got a bit confused.

 

Steve Rogers And I found myself in Times Square.

Ira Glass I’m Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.