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The Reepicheep Syndrome

This character is the author’s pet: The author is transfixed by him, but the audience just can’t share the joy.
| Aug 2, 2017 | 12 comments |

It happens in fiction. A character strides through scene after scene, endlessly impressive to his fellow characters and obviously beloved of his author. He is invariably showered with attention and almost always with praise – except from the audience. The audience can only watch, baffled and annoyed. This character is the author’s pet: The author is transfixed by him, but the audience just can’t share the joy. Call it the Reepicheep Syndrome.

Reepicheep is, of course, the bold, talking mouse of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. We know he’s bold because they tell us he’s bold, and also because he recommended the phenomenally bold course of sailing to the Island where Dreams come true (though here I am using “bold” in the sense of “stupid”). Reepicheep talked incessantly of honor and his sword, though his only known uses of the sword were to beat a coward and stab Telmarines in the foot. His habitual threats of violence thus rang hollow. But everyone took him as a paragon of valiance and courage, and by the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it was all rather too much.

Though the namesake of this syndrome, Reepicheep is a mild example of it. Why C.S. Lewis decided to anoint him “most valiant of all the Talking Beasts of Narnia” is a mystery, but at least he remained fairly tolerable. A far more extreme (and obnoxious!) example is Wesley Crusher. Widely taken as an avatar of Gene Wesley Roddenberry, Wesley Crusher was the Enterprise‘s wunderkind, a precocious genius and occasional savior of the ship, the captain, and possibly the galaxy. What he is truly famous for, however, is the irritation and, yes, hatred he inspired in the fans.

The hatred is probably out of proportion to the actual offense. But the point is that it was very real. For some reason, it struck the writers – or perhaps just Roddenberry – as a good idea to present Wesley as genius, savior, and sometime-victim of adult stupidity, while viewers – according to their account – mostly suffered. Wesley Crusher is an exemplar of the Reepicheep Syndrome.

But the greatest example – the model of imperfection for the ages – is Jar Jar Binks, the symbol for all that is wrong with the prequels. The mockery and hatred directed at Jar Jar Binks is a rare distinction; that he is annoying is as universal an opinion as that the world is round. (There are always dissenters.) George Lucas thought he was a good idea, though, and that was when the franchise started going off the rails. Even after receiving the judgment of the fandom, Lucas insisted on including Jar Jar Binks in following movies. In one sense, he broke from the usual pattern of the Reepicheep Syndrome: Jar Jar was not an object of much admiration (though the people of Naboo, proving that they should have been left to the Trade Federation, elected him senator). But the divergence between the author’s judgment and the audience’s is rarely so overpowering.

Divergence of opinion between author and audience is common. The Reepicheep Syndrome distinguishes itself by a blatant fondness on the side of the author that is inexplicable to the paying public. Wesley Crusher and Jar Jar Binks are star examples of this phenomenon, but all readers have their own experiences of it. Reepicheep is one of mine. What are yours?

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12 Comments on "The Reepicheep Syndrome"

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Travis Perry
Member

I think your reaction probably is based on the movie version of Reepicheep, which was mostly annoying. I’m not sure that’s what inspired you, mind you, but I know I personally found the movie version a pain in the neck, whereas I had always loved the book version.

The way I imagined Reepicheep from having read Narnia was not the same as the way he was portrayed in the movies. More muted. More serious. Not annoying.

CW Briar
Guest

A lot of Mary Sues would meet this criteria.

Laura
Guest

I like Reepicheep. I also love Eddie Izzard and Simon Pegg, though Izzard’s iteration was my favorite. I also liked and identified with Wesley Crusher, though I haven’t watched any of the Wesley-centric episodes as an adult and might feel differently.

All that to say: Jar-Jar should have been Vader’s first force-choke.

Roger Spendlove
Guest

Shannon, I don’t think your dislike of Reepicheep is shared by most of the rest of fandom. Everyone I know who has read the Narnia books has LOVED Reepicheep! It’s not so much his physical fighting courage, boldness, or ability that we admire, but his spiritual courage, devotion, and Faith in Aslan. He is bold and fearless above and beyond his physical size. But mostly, his faith in Aslan leads him to boldly–even eagerly–voyage to the Edge of the World — to the Emperor’s Country. And during that voyage he wisely advises Lucy, Eustace, and the others in faith matters.
Now Wesley and JarJar — I totally agree with you!

Tony Breeden
Guest

When you hate Reepicheep, one of the most beloved characters in the Narnia series, enough to pretend that your pet peeve is a syndrome shared by everyone else, you need a reality check… not a soapbox.

Filed under further reasons I am losing faith with this website.

Heather
Guest

If you read this article, it’s about the SYNDROME, not just about Reep. And it said Jar Jar and Wesley were far worse. Reep is just a character. She’s entitled to her opinion whether she loves the characters you like or not.

princesselwen
Guest

It just doesn’t work well as a name for the syndrome, because Reepicheep is a well-liked character in his fandom. So if you were trying to explain it to a fan, they might get confused over why you’re calling it that. On the other hand, if you called it after a really disliked character, they’d know what you were talking about a lot sooner.

Veronica
Guest

Amen!!!!!

Kelly
Guest

I’ve never agreed with anything more in my entire life…

Elspeth Allen
Guest

Dobby and Winky!

R. J. Anderson
Member

Dobby, absolutely. Why so much of Book 7 was wasted on a weepy funeral for a house-elf when much more well-drawn and established characters died with barely a nod is still baffling to me.

Eric
Guest

Reepicheep, Wesley Crusher, Jar Jar Binks? One of these things is not like the others.

In trying to find any other Narnia fan ever on record saying Reepicheep, of all characters, is “annoying,” the closest I came was this quote:

“Reepicheep is so much the opposite of Eustace that he too can become annoying at times. What I mean to say is that he puts me to shame, which I always find annoying.” (Smith, Aslan’s Call 42).

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