Disclaimer: Last night I was discussing this line from the PC movie with North Wyn. Somehow I managed to miss it when I saw it in theaters, and my fanfiction-plot alert started dinging madly. Of course, today when I was trying to study I couldn't attend to my calculus until I got this out of my system.
I apologize if I've terribly mutilated musical terminology; I'm not an expert and I left off my viola a while back, thus I haven't been immersed in the lingo for a few years. As usual, my name is not Clive Staples. (Ever wonder if he invented a character with the name "Eustace Clarence Scrubb" out of a desire for character-empathy?)
The Most Noble Contradiction –by JotM
I. Allegro non troppo
It begins in a swift, hopeful sort of way that corresponds with the green of the trees and the clean smell of Narnian air that somehow remains in spite of the Telmarines' best efforts to ruin it. Perhaps there is extra enchantment around the Howe, or perhaps the return of the Four had brought back some of Old Narnia already. Whatever the reason, it was there—lingering like the sweet, opening chords of some grand, beautiful song that has not yet been resolved but promises a beautiful ending.
In that green, hopeful place, Dr. Cornelius offers him the chance to become the "most noble contradiction." Frankly, he isn't sure how that will work. Pacing swiftly before the doorway, images of late last night and early this morning running through his head, it doesn't seem likely to happen.
Trembling, he finds himself consumed by this odd sense of half-terror, half-joy. He struggles to find the source of this mixture warring within him.
Terror, he determines, comes with the already accomplished half of the contradiction that Cornelius promises. Staring at his stained hands—stained with the crimes of murder and enslavement his forefathers committed against the people he now must rule—he doesn't think armies and psychopathological uncles really scare him as much as the thought that he might be too Telmarine to ever really be Narnian. He's terrified by the possibility that one day a historian will write: "Poor chap—started out with good intentions, but you know which road those pave…"
There's also joy, and he struggles especially hard to determine why in the face of death, starvation, or at least a hideous downfall after victory he can possibly have this lovely, expectant sense of the fulfillment of some beautiful promise. Joy, he decides as he wrings his fingers and makes that cracking noise that Aunt Prune always complained so much about, comes from the possibility that perhaps—just perhaps—the other half of the contradiction might come later. Perhaps the contradiction might be completed, and perhaps he might be seen as honorable rather than a tyrant.
In the midst of the conflict between terror and joy, it occurred to him that perhaps he was already a contradiction in those strange, warring senses. The "noble" part would come later, Aslan willing.
II. Adagio affetuoso
"How can a man of tyrants lead the people he has enslaved to freedom?" he wonders aloud
"How can a man of lies and betrayal become a King of justice and wisdom?" a voice asks in response from behind him, and he turns to see Edmund the Just standing in the doorway, quietly watching him pace.
"Your fathers were tyrants and murderers, and you writhe in guilt over their deeds as if they were brought upon your shoulders—and to some extent they have—but I've done it all." With a jolt, Caspian realizes this is a mere boy who has lived a few years in one world and more than a thousand as a legend in another. The Just King continues, "I tried murder and betrayal and deceit and backstabbing all for a box of sweets and the ability to rule a kingdom as a tyrant alongside a tyrant. Worst of all, I hated Aslan. I tried to rule his land without bowing the knee to him first."
"Yes, but—" Caspian begins but Edmund waves him silent.
"Ask yourself this, Caspian. Why am I not continually shaking with self-condemnation? I am no stronger than anyone else—nay, I am the weakest of all, yielding to the simplest temptation. Prince of Telmar, how can an unjust man be justified?"
Then Caspian finally looks him in the eye and sees depths of wisdom there, a wisdom that cannot be learned from long hours of study but wisdom of a deeper, more splendid sort. This is wisdom born only of the grieving knowledge that one has committed more crime than one can repay, and yet the sweetness of having that crime covered with an abundance of mercy.
A thrill runs through him at the second part of the song. Full of ancient sadness at the debts of his fathers and the debt of the legendary king of Justice, and yet full of hidden promise. Intangible hope though it may be, still beyond his reach, waiting for the last part of the song—yet it is hope. At the end of this song, he realizes that somewhere amidst the grief the hope has grown in size and beauty.
The ache of longing no longer aches. In fact, is the best sort of longing in the world.
He can't wait for the next part.
III. Tranquillo dolce
Caspian never hears the third movement, for it does not happen in his world, and all he knows of this part of the song is a vague sense of lacking something. He wonders perhaps if his own imperfections and struggles have somehow negated something, but in the end he decides to accept the song Aslan has given him.
He need not worry. Few hear this movement, regardless of sins or struggles, for it is of the sort that is best left unheard. It is rather hard to hear the bittersweet refrain of a mighty king acting in humility. This is the song of the reconciliation of meekness and magnificence, a song to the glorious truth that one does not have to be weak to be a servant.
This is, in fact, the song of Peter giving his time to the dirtiest soup kitchens and hospitals of London town in the years following his last journey to Narnia (and long before he took the greatest journey of all to Aslan's Country). The High King is careful not to be recognized in his work, and so no one really hears the song. Nevertheless, it gives comfort to many, and many wonder how someone with so much nobility written on his brow can be bothered to wear a dirty apron and muck about in dingy, smelly hallways or a broken down stall in a smokey street.
The melody of Peter the Magnificent is not grand or pompous, and it does not strike anyone as majestic or magnificent. Of his song there is only the faintest trace in the air telling the story of a wise young man who has learned to follow before he leads. The sweet aroma of sacrifice can never be completely erased from his presence as it passes up to the ears of the One who hears and judges all songs.
Peter's movement is chiefly silent, but it is the sweetest sort of silence, and though Caspian never hears it he loves his High King all the more because of it.
IV. Vivace con fuoco
When he hears of Aslan's sacrifice, he shudders at the thought of pulling together death and life into one being. He wonders if this most terrible of contradictions was united in this most noble of Kings so that his own, comparatively paltry one might be possible.
Somewhere in the midst of the song he realizes his hands are no longer stained, and a little later—somehow—a cloak of nobility has been thrown 'round his shoulders.
He weeps as the song ends on a crescendo, but not from grief. Grief isn't possible in this wonderful, terrible moment of glorious absolution.
The last notes fade into silence. They are dying, but not without the promise of rebirth.
That was the most noble contradiction of all.
[Definitions: allegro non troppo—fast but not too much; adagio affetuoso—slow and with feeling; tranquillo dolce—tranquil & sweetly; vivace con fuoco—lively with fire.]