Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Horse and His Boy

        
Next beyond her [Luna]

Mercury marches; –
madcap rover,

Patron of pilf’rers.
Pert quicksilver

His gaze begets,
goblin mineral,

Merry multitude
of meeting selves,

Same but sundered.
From the soul’s darkness,

With wreathèd wand,
words he marshals,

Guides and gathers them –
gay bellwether

Of flocking fancies.
His flint has struck

The spark of speech
from spirit’s tinder,

Lord of language!
He leads forever

The spangle and splendour,
sport that mingles

Sound with senses,
in subtle pattern,

Words in wedlock,
and wedding also

Of thing with thought.
        

Next Beyond Her Mercury Marches

The fourth Narnia book published, after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was The Silver Chair. But it wasn’t the fourth one C. S. Lewis wrote, it was the fifth. At one point it refers by title to the real fourth one, which must have been a fraction confusing for its first readers in the year or so before the latter was published. That real fourth was The Horse and His Boy, which accordingly I now discuss here.
However vague Lewis’s plans for Narnia might originally have been, by the time he set forth on The Horse and His Boy he clearly intended there to be seven books, one for each astrological planet. He’d already showcased Jove, Mars, and Sol, so Luna, Mercury, Venus and Saturn were left. Venus should have been next to continue the established pattern of working down through the Heavens one by one, but the Venereal book (which would eventually become The Magician’s Nephew) was giving Lewis trouble. Which, then, is the guiding star of The Horse and His Boy?
As usual, all the planets appear in at least minor roles. Sol having had his ascendancy, his effects in this book are largely malign, although not malevolent:
Then the light became a nuisance. The glare of the sand made his eyes ache; but he knew he mustn’t shut them. He must screw them up and keep on looking ahead at Mount Pire and shouting out directions. Then came the heat. He noticed it for the first time when he had to dismount and walk; as he slipped down to the sand the heat from it struck up into his face as if from the opening of an oven door. Next time it was worse. But the third time, as his bare feet touched the sand he screamed with pain and got one foot back in the stirrup and the other half over Bree’s back before you could have said knife.
Luna once again performs her now-customary role as the threshold of the Heavens.
Then the cloud rolled away. The moonlight, astonishingly bright, showed up everything almost as if it were broad day...
Something flat and shining was spread out before them. Before Shasta had time even to guess what it was there was a great splash and he found his mouth half full of salt water. The shining thing had been a long inlet of the sea. Both horses were swimming and the water was up to Shasta’s knees. There was an angry roaring behind them and looking back Shasta saw a great, shaggy, and terrible shape crouched on the water’s edge; but only one. “We must have shaken off the other lion,” he thought.
Pale light, silver, cloud, and water are all familiar Lunar imagery, and we know by now to expect Aslan to show up shortly after. This time, it happens twice.
Then they plunged into the fog, or else the fog rolled over them. The world became grey. Shasta had not realized how cold and wet the inside of a cloud would be; nor how dark. The grey turned to black with alarming speed...
The road kept on getting to somewhere in the sense that it got to more and more trees, all dark and dripping, and to colder and colder air. And strange, icy winds kept blowing the mist past him though they never blew it away...
“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta... “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world?”
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”
However, the other planetary motif we have come to expect is absent for the first time in the series. There is no Morning Star in The Horse and His Boy, though we get descriptions of several of the protagonists’s awakenings and a couple of dawns:
It was nearly noon on the following day when Shasta was wakened by something warm and soft moving over his face.

The stars were still out and the grass was terribly cold and wet, but daybreak was just beginning, far to their right across the sea.

Next morning when he woke, the cat was gone, the sun was already up, and the sand hot.

At last, after hours of riding, far away on his right there came a single long streak of paler grey, low down on the horizon. Then a streak of red. It was the morning at last, but without a single bird to sing about it.

It was Aravis who awoke first. The sun was already high in the heavens and the cool morning hours were already wasted.
Instead, Venus is chiefly evident through her influence on Rabadash. Her powers, like Sol’s, are in this story largely turned to ill effect.
“And they are gone – gone – out of my reach! [cried Rabadash.] The false jade, the—” and here he added a great many descriptions of Queen Susan which would not look at all nice in print...
“But I want her,” cried the Prince. “I must have her. I shall die if I do not get her – false, proud, black-hearted daughter of a dog that she is! I cannot sleep and my food has no savour and my eyes are darkened because of her beauty. I must have the barbarian queen.”
Rabadash is equally prone to the blandishments of Mars. Indeed he represents Mars-turned-to-evil quite as well as Miraz did in Prince Caspian.
“We are now within a furlong of the castle [said Rabadash to his men]. Remember your orders. Once we are in Narnia, as we should be by sunrise, you are to kill as little as possible... The gods will send us a happier hour and then you must leave nothing alive between Cair Paravel and the Western Waste. But we are not yet in Narnia. Here in Archenland it is another thing. In the assault on this castle of King Lune’s, nothing matters but speed. Show your mettle. It must be mine within an hour... Kill me every barbarian male within its walls, down to the child that was born yesterday, and everything else is yours to divide as you please... The man that I see hanging back when we come to the gates shall be burned alive. In the name of Tash the irresistible, the inexorable – forward!”
Edmund correspondingly embodies Mars-working-for-good, because Lewis wasn’t about to go siding with pacifists. And although this is the only Narnia book where Jove is never named, he too is present in royalty and magnanimity.
Suddenly he heard a horn – not a great throbbing horn like the horns of Tashbaan but a merry call, Ti-ro-to-to-ho! Next moment he came out into a wide glade and found himself in a crowd of people... some in the saddle and some standing by their horses’ heads. In the centre someone was holding the stirrup for a man to mount. And the man he was holding it for was the jolliest, fat, apple-cheeked, twinkling-eyed King you could imagine.

Before they had reached the gate King Lune came out to meet them, not looking at all like Aravis’s idea of a king and wearing the oldest of old clothes; for he had just come from making a round of the kennels with his Huntsman and had only stopped for a moment to wash his doggy hands. But the bow with which he greeted Aravis as he took her hand would have been stately enough for an Emperor.
Standing against these good kings is the Tisroc: grim, cynical, joyless, pragmatic, and efficient – in a word, Saturnine.
“If the Prince succeeds [said the Tisroc to the Vizier], we have Archenland, and perhaps hereafter Narnia. If he fails – I have eighteen other sons and Rabadash, after the manner of the eldest sons of kings, was beginning to be dangerous. More than five Tisrocs in Tashbaan have died before their time because their eldest sons, enlightened princes, grew tired of waiting for their throne. He had better cool his blood abroad than boil it in inaction here. And now, O excellent Vizier, the excess of my paternal anxiety inclines me to sleep. Command the musicians to my chamber. But before you lie down, call back the pardon we wrote for the third cook. I feel within me the manifest prognostics of indigestion.”
But none of these planets rule the whole book. By elimination, then, we have already discovered its guiding star. Except somebody is going to suggest that Lewis might have abandoned the planetary schema, or perhaps (despite the evidence of the last three instalments) that it was never in his head in the first place. Well, there is more yet to be said.
When we hear the word “astrology” nowadays, we don’t tend to think of the Seven Planets in their crystal spheres. We think, instead, of the Zodiac, the twelve “star-signs” which furnish the sub-headings for those fraudulent little space-fillers we get in the newspapers, with a warning label saying “for entertainment purposes only” though I’ve never seen one that was entertaining in any way unless you believed in them. I don’t know how many people do believe in them, but the fact that it’s evidently a big enough number to warrant print space in 2013 is a disgrace to our education system.
The signs were part of the mediaeval schema as well, but mainly because of their relation to the planets. Each sign was “ruled” by, was the “house” of, a planet. What that means, I leave to you to explore if you feel it’s a good use of your time. Sol rules Leo, Luna rules Cancer, and each of the other five has two houses. Up until now, they have been irrelevant to the Narniad, as the planets’ alchemic effects were until the previous book. Archery, centaurs, and fishes (for Jove’s houses Sagittarius and Pisces) appear fleetingly in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; sheep and scorpions (for Mars’ houses Aries and Scorpio) are not mentioned at all in Prince Caspian; the Lion (for Sol’s house Leo) is no more prominent in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader than he is in the other stories. But The Horse and His Boy is a tale of twins separated and reunited, and of two maidens’ escape from their respective unwanted marriages. And Mercury’s two houses are Gemini the Twins and Virgo the Maiden.

Madcap Rover

The Horse and His Boy was always my favourite Narnia book as a child. I don’t know that I could have told you why in so many words. Certainly it seemed like a more satisfying story. I put that down to there being less palaver about crossing between worlds than in the others. Now I have a better idea of what’s so good about it: Lewis has at last sorted out his problem with giving protagonists useful things to do. The children discover the threat against Archenland with very little contrivance, and then they and the horses have to get across the desert and stop Rabadash. This book, alone of the Narniad, conveys a sense of urgency.
“By Tash!” said Aravis. “It’s the army. It’s Rabadash.”
“Of course it is,” said Hwin. “Just what I was afraid of. Quick! We must get to Anvard before it.” And without another word she whisked round and began galloping North. Bree tossed his head and did the same.
“Come on, Bree, come on,” yelled Aravis over her shoulder.
I don’t think this is because Lewis suddenly realized that urgency would make for an exciting plot. Otherwise, he’d have made the remaining three Narnia books chase stories as well, and he didn’t. I think it’s because The Horse and His Boy is ruled by Mercury, the fleet-footed messenger of the gods. Bree gallops for the joy of freedom even before there is any need to. At a critical junction, just as they are veering away from a mysterious mounted stranger, they are pursued by lions.
When they had galloped for several minutes without any further noise from the lions Shasta said, “I say! That other horse is galloping beside us now. Only a stone’s throw away.”
“All the b-better,” panted Bree. “Tarkaan on it – will have a sword – protect us all.”...
[Shasta] was feeling less frightened of lions than Bree because he had never met a lion; Bree had...
The two horses and two riders were galloping neck to neck and knee to knee just as if they were in a race. Indeed Bree said (afterwards) that a finer race had never been seen in Calormen.
Later we will learn that “There was only one lion; but he was swift of foot.” It is, of course, Aslan himself. Nor is this the only occasion when Aslan uses fear as an expedient.
From the top of the second ridge Shasta looked back again... he now saw a black, moving mass, rather like ants, on the far bank of the Winding Arrow. They were doubtless looking for a ford.
“They’re on the river!” he yelled wildly.
“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “...Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war-horse.”
It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions; but he thought, “The poor chap's doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing...
At that moment everyone's feelings were completely altered by a sound from behind. It was not the sound they had been expecting to hear – the noise of hoofs and jingling armour, mixed, perhaps, with Calormene battle-cries. Yet Shasta knew it at once. It was the same snarling roar he had heard that moonlit night when they first met Aravis and Hwin... And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast – not quite as fast – as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all out. In a few seconds they were well ahead of Hwin.
Even then, Shasta’s race is not over.
“And now, my son, [said the Hermit,] waste no time on questions, but obey. This damsel is wounded. Your horses are spent. Rabadash is at this moment finding a ford over the Winding Arrow. If you run now, without a moment’s rest, you will still be in time to warn King Lune.”
Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left... But all he said out loud was:
“Where is the King?”
The Hermit turned and pointed with his staff. “Look,” he said. “There is another gate, right opposite to the one you entered by. Open it and go straight ahead; always straight ahead, over level or steep, over smooth or rough, over dry or wet. I know by my art that you will find King Lune straight ahead. But run, run; always run.”
Shasta nodded his head, ran to the northern gate and disappeared beyond it.
But the sense of urgency is not the only respect in which The Horse and His Boy’s plot is superior to those of the other Narnia stories. There’s also the fact that each protagonist has something different to do. Which introduces one of the most subtle themes of the book.

Meeting Selves

This is the first we see of Tashbaan:
A broad river divided itself into two streams and on the island between them stood the city of Tashbaan, one of the wonders of the world.
The river parts upstream of the city, only to meet again downstream. Which is precisely what is continually happening to the characters.
First Bree and Shasta meet Aravis and Hwin at the river. Their backstories parallel each other closely. Both humans are have been sold by their fathers into possession by evil masters; both escape in collaboration with the horses. They are separated in Tashbaan when they meet the Narnians.
There were about half a dozen men and Shasta had never seen anyone like them before. For one thing, they were all as fair-skinned as himself, and most of them had fair hair. And they were not dressed like men of Calormen. Most of them had legs bare to the knee. Their tunics were of fine, bright, hardy colours – woodland green, or gay yellow, or fresh blue. Instead of turbans they wore steel or silver caps, some of them set with jewels, and one with little wings on each side of it. A few were bare-headed...
The leader of the fair-headed men suddenly pointed at Shasta, cried out, “There he is! There's our runaway!” and seized him by the shoulder. Next moment he gave Shasta a smack – not a cruel one to make you cry but a sharp one to let you know you are in disgrace and added, shaking:
“Shame on you, my lord! Fie for shame! Queen Susan’s eyes are red with weeping because of you. What! Truant for a whole night! Where have you been?”
(While we’re quoting that scene – note the winged cap. Which god wears a winged cap? I don’t think I need to answer that question.) Shasta briefly meets Corin before separating from the Narnians again.
Shasta had never seen his own face in a looking-glass. Even if he had, he might not have realized that the other boy was (at ordinary times) almost exactly like himself. At the moment this boy was not particularly like anyone for he had the finest black eye you ever saw, and a tooth missing, and his clothes (which must have been splendid ones when he put them on) were torn and dirty, and there was both blood and mud on his face.
“Who are you?” said the boy in a whisper.
“Are you Prince Corin?” said Shasta.
“Yes, of course,” said the other.
Aravis, meanwhile, having parted from her father and fiancé before the story opened, narrowly misses meeting the one—
“Oh, Las, do be serious,” said Aravis. “Where is my father?”
“Didn’t you know?” said Lasaraleen. “He’s here, of course. He came to town yesterday and is asking about you everywhere. And to think of you and me being here together and his not knowing anything about it! It’s the funniest thing I ever heard.” And she went off into giggles. She always had been a terrible giggler, as Aravis now remembered.
—and actually meets the other, albeit without his knowledge. At which time she also meets Rabadash, similarly unawares.
First came the two slaves (deaf and dumb, as Aravis rightly guessed, and therefore used at the most secret councils) walking backwards and carrying the candles. They took up their stand one at each end of the sofa [where she and Lasaraleen were hiding]... Then came an old man, very fat, wearing a curious pointed cap by which she immediately knew that he was the Tisroc... After him came a tall young man with a feathered and jewelled turban on his head and an ivory-sheathed scimitar at his side. He seemed very excited and his eyes and teeth flashed fiercely in the candlelight. Last of all came a little hump-backed, wizened old man in whom she recognized with a shudder the new Grand Vizier and her own betrothed husband, Ahoshta Tarkaan himself.
Now that Aravis and Shasta are apart, their stories once again flow in parallel: both, from the shelter of sofas, inadvertently overhear plots to spirit Susan away.
“Wait, wait,” said Mr Tumnus impatiently. “All we need is some pretext for going down to our ship today and taking stuff on board... how would it be if your majesties bade the Prince to a great banquet to be held on board our own galleon, the Spendour Hyaline, tomorrow night? And let the message be worded as graciously as the Queen can contrive without pledging her honour; so as to give the Prince a hope that she is weakening...
“And then... everyone will expect us to be going down to the ship all day, making preparations for our guests. And let some of us go to the bazaars and spend every minim we have at the fruiterers and the sweetmeat sellers and the wine merchants, just as we would if we were really giving a feast. And let us order magicians and jugglers and dancing girls and flute players, all to be on board tomorrow night... we’ll all be on board tonight. And as soon as it is quite dark—”
“Up sails and out oars—!” said the King.
“And so to sea,” cried Tumnus, leaping up and beginning to dance...
“Oh Master Tumnus, dear Master Tumnus,” said the Queen, catching his hands and swinging with him as he danced. "You have saved us all.”

“Hear then, O father [said Rabadash]. This very night and in this hour I will take but two hundred horse and ride across the desert. And it shall seem to all men that you know nothing of my going. On the second morning I shall be at the gates of King Lune’s castle of Anvard in Archenland. They are at peace with us and unprepared and I shall take Anvard before they have bestirred themselves. Then I will ride through the pass above Anvard and down through Narnia to Cair Paravel... I shall find Cair Paravel, most likely with open gates, and ride in... And what then remains but to sit there till the Splendour Hyaline puts in, with Queen Susan on board, catch my strayed bird as she sets foot ashore, swing her into the saddle, and then, ride, ride, ride back to Anvard?”
Leaving the villains, Aravis is reunited with Shasta at the Tombs. On the other side of the desert, they narrowly escape meeting Rabadash again. Shasta is then once again separated from the others, to meet King Lune in Archenland. At the end of the story, we will discover that this meeting is in fact yet another reunion, Shasta having been parted from Lune in infancy.
“[The wicked Lord Bar] succeeded in kidnapping me... [said Shasta] and rode away down the Winding Arrow to the coast. He’d had everything prepared and there was a ship manned with his own followers lying ready for him and he put out to sea with me on board. But Father got wind of it, though not quite in time, and was after him as quickly as he could. The Lord Bar was already at sea when Father reached the coast, but not out of sight. And Father was embarked in one of his own warships within twenty minutes.
“...Our people took the ship in the end. But I wasn’t there... early that morning, as soon as he saw he was certain to be overhauled, Bar had given me to one of his knights and sent us both away in the ship’s boat. And that boat was never seen again. But of course that was the same boat that Aslan (he seems to be at the back of all the stories) pushed ashore at the right place for Arsheesh to pick me up...”
Shasta is again parted from the Archenlanders, and almost meets Rabadash once more. He is then reunited with the Narnians and Corin, and they all meet King Lune and Rabadash at the siege of Anvard. Finally, he meets Aravis once again at the end of the story, his name now having been changed to Cor. And look how Lewis projects their relationship in the dénouement:
Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I’m afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again; so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.
And that’s without mentioning all the meetings and partings with Aslan.

Same but Sundered

The Horse and His Boy is full of matched pairs: two children, two Talking Horses, two lions (apparently), two slaves walking backwards before the Tisroc, two girls hidden behind the sofa, two peaks on Mount Pire, two free Northern countries to escape to, and, at the core of the plot, two identical twin brothers. As already mentioned, the brothers are there to embody the constellation Gemini.
Pretty much every constellation the Greeks could see was given a story that went “Somebody did something brave or had something bad happen to them, and to honour or pity them the gods placed them among the stars.” Gemini was the twins Castor and Polydeuces, or in Latin Pollux. They are named in both the Iliad and the Odyssey with the same epithets
Castor, breaker of horses, and Pollux the mighty boxer.
The former’s name becomes a portmanteau: Shasta + Cor = Castor. Corin, then, is Pollux.
“A boy in the street made a beastly joke about Queen Susan,” said Prince Corin, “so I knocked him down. He ran howling into a house and his big brother came out. So I knocked the big brother down. Then they all followed me until we ran into three old men with spears who are called the Watch. So I fought the Watch and they knocked me down. It was getting dark by now... I came out quietly and then I found the first boy – the one who had started all the trouble – still hanging about. So I knocked him down again.”

“Splendid or not," said Thornbut, ’I have the strictest orders from King Edmund to see to it that your Highness is not in the fight. You will be allowed to see it, and that’s treat enough for your Highness’s little years... Either I must have your solemn and princely word that you’ll keep your pony beside mine – not half a neck ahead – till I give your Highness leave to depart; or else – it is his Majesty’s word – we must go with our wrists tied together like two prisoners.”
“I’ll knock you down if you try to bind me,” said Corin.
“I’d like to see your Highness do it,” said the Dwarf.
That was quite enough for a boy like Corin and in a second he and the Dwarf were at it hammer and tongs. It would have been an even match for, though Corin had longer arms and more height, the Dwarf was older and tougher. But it was never fought out (that’s the worst of fights on a rough hillside) for by very bad luck Thornbut trod on a loose stone, came flat down on his nose, and found when he tried to get up that he had sprained his ankle; a real excruciating sprain which would keep him from walking or riding for at least a fortnight.

...they quarrelled and fought just about as often as any other two boys would, and all their fights ended (if they didn’t begin) with Cor getting knocked down. For though, when they had both grown up and become swordsmen, Cor was the more dangerous man in battle, neither he nor anyone else in the North Countries could ever equal Corin as a boxer. That was how he got his name of Corin Thunder-Fist; and how he performed his great exploit against the Lapsed Bear of Stormness, which was really a Talking Bear but had gone back to Wild Bear habits. Corm climbed up to its lair on the Narnian side of Stormness one winter day when the snow was on the hills and boxed it without a time-keeper for thirty-three rounds. And at the end it couldn’t see out of its eyes and became a reformed character.
Other Greek legends reveal that Castor and Pollux were only half-brothers. Castor was the son of King Tyndareus of Sparta, while Pollux’s father was Zeus. Castor was therefore mortal, and Pollux immortal. However, at Pollux’s request, Zeus granted Castor half of Pollux’s immortality, so that the twins spent their afterlife ping-ponging back and forth between Olympus and Hades before being raised to the heavens. King Lune, being a Jovial figure, stands for Zeus, but Lewis has flipped several things around. Here, both twins have the same genetic father and are raised by different men. Here, it is Castor who earns the higher place by right of birth, and his request to have it transferred to his brother cannot be granted.
“And tomorrow, Cor,” [King Lune] added, “shalt come over all the castle with me and see the estres and mark all its strength and weakness; for it will be thine to guard when I’m gone.”
“But Corin will be the King then, Father,” said Cor.
“Nay, lad,” said King Lune, “thou art my heir. The crown comes to thee.”
“But I don’t want it,” said Cor. “I’d far rather—”
“’Tis no question what thou wantest, Cor, nor I either. ’Tis in the course of law.”
“But if we’re twins we must be the same age.”
“Nay,” said the King with a laugh. “One must come first. Art Corin’s elder by full twenty minutes. And his better too, let’s hope, though that’s no great mastery.” And he looked at Corin with a twinkle in his eyes.
“But, Father, couldn’t you make whichever you like to be the next King?”
“No. The king’s under the law, for it’s the law makes him a king. Hast no more power to start away from thy crown than any sentry from his post.”
“Oh dear,” said Cor. “I don’t want to at all. And Corin – I am most dreadfully sorry. I never dreamed my turning up was going to chisel you out of your kingdom.”
“Hurrah! Hurrah!” said Corin. “I shan’t have to be King. I shan’t have to be King. I’ll always be a prince. It’s princes have all the fun.”
But Castor and Pollux were not strictly twins; they were quadruplets. They had two sisters, born to the same mother at the same time as themselves. One was Helen of Troy. Again the Narniad does not exactly follow the myth. Rabadash might be either Paris (since he entices Susan away to a foreign city) or Menelaus (since she is snatched out of his clutches and he leads an invasion force to get her back); unlike either, his rival is not another suitor but Susan’s own virtue. Helen wept to be the cause of war, as does Susan.
“We have our weapons, King,” said the first Dwarf. “And this is a reasonably defensible house.”
“As to that,” said the King, “I do not doubt that every one of us would sell our lives dearly in the gate and they would not come at the Queen but over our dead bodies. Yet we should be merely rats fighting in a trap when all’s said.”
“Very true,” croaked the Raven. “These last stands in a house make good stories, but nothing ever came of them. After their first few repulses the enemy always set the house on fire.”
“I am the cause of all this,” said Susan, bursting into tears. “Oh, if only I had never left Cair Paravel. Our last happy day was before those ambassadors came from Calormen. The Moles were planting an orchard for us ... oh ... oh.” And she buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
The other sister was Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s queen. Having angered the virgin moon goddess Artemis, Agamemnon was told he must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia if he wanted fair weather while his fleet sailed to Troy. He sent a letter home pretending that Achilles had asked for her hand in marriage, then killed her on the altar when she arrived. In revenge, Clytemnestra had her lover murder him when he returned from the war. Aravis’s path is different, but note how the major elements of her escape have roots in the legend.
“We returned to my father’s house and I put on my gayest clothes and sang and danced before my father and pretended to be delighted with the marriage which he had prepared for me. Also I said to him, ‘O my father and O the delight of my eyes, give me your licence and permission to go with one of my maidens alone for three days into the woods to do secret sacrifices to Zardeenah, Lady of the Night and of Maidens, as is proper and customary for damsels when they must bid farewell to the service of Zardeenah and prepare themselves for marriage.’ And he answered, ‘O my daughter and O the delight of my eyes, so shall it be.’
“But when I came out from the presence of my father I went immediately to the oldest of his slaves, his secretary, who had dandled me on his knees when I was a baby and loved me more than the air and the light. And I swore him to be secret and begged him to write a certain letter for me. And he wept and implored me to change my resolution but in the end he said, ‘To hear is to obey,’ and did all my will. And I sealed the letter and hid it in my bosom...
“This letter was feigned to be written by Ahoshta and this was the signification of the writing: ‘Ahoshta Tarkaan to Kidrash Tarkaan, salutation and peace... as I made my journey towards your house to perform the contract of marriage between me and your daughter Aravis Tarkheena, it pleased fortune and the gods that I fell in with her in the forest when she had ended the rites and sacrifices of Zardeenah according to the custom of maidens. And when I learned who she was, being delighted with her beauty and discretion, I became inflamed with love and it appeared to me that the sun would be dark to me if I did not marry her at once...’”
Ahoshta is no Agamemnon. He does persuade a parent (the Tisroc) to send his child to be killed, and this confirms Aravis’s contempt for him, but she never thinks of murdering him.
“Oh Aravis darling,” said Lasaraleen. “Won’t you change your mind? Now that you’ve seen what a very great man Ahoshta is!”
“Great man!” said Aravis. “A hideous grovelling slave who flatters when he’s kicked but treasures it all up and hopes to get his own back by egging on that horrible Tisroc to plot his son’s death. Faugh! I’d sooner marry my father’s scullion than a creature like that.”
Treasure that line. It is a very rare example of Lewis approving female rebellion against male authority.

Guides and Gathers

The seven days of the week are derived from the seven planets, though they’re arranged in a staggered order for reasons too complicated to explain in one sentence and not interesting enough to warrant a paragraph. This is evident in most European languages. In French, for instance, the days from Monday to Friday are lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi – Luna’s day, Mars’ day, Mercury’s day, Jove’s day, Venus’ day. The English weekend, Saturn-day and Sun-day, completes the septet.
Now in the Germanic languages, including English, the days are named for Germanic gods evidently believed to be the same beings. Jove the Thunderer is equated with the god whom the Saxons called Thunor (the origin of our word thunder as well as Thursday) and the Norse called Thor. You’d think the identification would carry through to his father, that Saturn would be considered equivalent to the god known to the Saxons as Woden and the Germans as Wotan, now most familiar to us by his Norse name Odin. And certainly that would fit Odin’s appearance as an old man, his reputation for wisdom, and his association with the dead. At least, that’s what I’d have thought. But I would be wrong. Wednesday, Woden’s day, is mercredi. Odin was unambiguously identified with Mercury. Perhaps this was because they both spent more time wandering among the mortals than any of the other gods. Perhaps it was because they were cunning tricksters. Perhaps it was because they carried souls from this life to the next. Also, I guess, Saturn was a Titan rather than strictly a god, which in Germanic terms would make him a Frost-Giant, and this Odin was emphatically not.
Several elements in The Horse and His Boy have a decidedly Odinic flavour. Odin had two raven companions, Hugin and Munin, who flew all over the world and brought news to him. The one Talking Beast in the Narnian delegation to Calormen is an old raven named Sallowpad.
“I know that desert well,” said the Raven. “For I have flown above it far and wide in my younger days,” (you may be sure that Shasta pricked up his ears at this point)...
“He that would find that way,” said the Raven, “must start from the Tombs of the Ancient Kings and ride northwest so that the double peak of Mount Pire is always straight ahead of him. And so, in a day’s riding or a little more, he shall come to the head of a stony valley, which is so narrow that a man might be within a furlong of it a thousand times and never know that it was there...”
Hugin and Munin weren’t Odin’s only means of spying on the earth. Odin sacrificed one of his eyes to drink from Mímir’s Well, so that he could see the future. When the children and horses cross into Archenland, they meet this fellow:
Their way was barred by a smooth green wall about ten feet high. In the middle of that wall there was a gate, open. In the middle of the gateway stood a tall man dressed, down to his bare feet, in a robe coloured like autumn leaves, leaning on a straight staff. His beard fell almost to his knees...
“Are – are – are you,” panted Shasta. “Are you King Lune of Archenland?”
The old man shook his head. “No,” he replied in a quiet voice, “I am the Hermit of the Southern March.”
Bare feet, robe, long beard. We’ve seen these sartorial choices before. Coriakin and Ramandu both dressed like that in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. What else did they have in common? They were both stars, that is, gods, dwelling incognito on earth as old men – like Odin. The Hermit gives himself no name, but the word Hermit should remind us that Mercury’s Greek name was Hermes. All he tells us of his past is that he has “now lived a hundred and nine winters in this world”, which leaves open the possibility that he has previously lived a good many more elsewhere. As for Mímir’s Well, Lewis yet again reuses elements from the mythology rather than reproduce the original story.
For it was in this pool that the Hermit looked when he wanted to know what was going on in the world outside the green walls of his hermitage. There, as in a mirror, he could see, at certain times, what was going on in the streets of cities far farther south than Tashbaan, or what ships were putting into Redhaven in the remote Seven Isles, or what robbers or wild beasts stirred in the great Western forests between Lantern Waste and Telmar...
The pool raises a problem of internal consistency. The Hermit can see far-off things in it, but not hear anything. Yet he knows without being told that the children are seeking King Lune. Either the pool is not his only source of information, or he’d already figured out that Rabadash’s army was heading for Anvard and was just putting two and two together. He also knows where King Lune is in that very moment. So why didn’t he bring the warning himself?
The most Odinic figure in The Horse and His Boy, however, is Aslan. The trouble with making Mercury a figure of the Christian God, as Lewis had already done with Jove, Mars, and Sol, is that the classical Mercury is so clearly a servant – he’s basically a celestial courier. So although Aslan is “swift of foot” like Mercury, it’s no wonder Lewis preferred to model him mainly after a more supreme deity. And what Odin does is appear on earth in disguise and nudge events along. Being a lion, Aslan’s disguise is somewhat different.
Just as Shasta was saying to himself, “We must be nearly at those sandhills by now,” his heart leaped into his mouth because an appalling noise had suddenly risen up out of the darkness ahead; a long snarling roar, melancholy and utterly savage. Instantly Bree swerved round and began galloping inland again as fast as he could gallop.
“What is it?” gasped Shasta.
“Lions!” said Bree, without checking his pace or turning his head.
...the roar broke out again, this time on their left from the direction of the forest.
“Two of them,” moaned Bree.

...[when] there came two more lions’ roars, immediately after one another, one on the right and the other on the left, the horses began drawing nearer together. So, apparently, did the lions. The roaring of the brutes on each side was horribly close and they seemed to be keeping up with the galloping horses quite easily...

“Ow! Ow! Help!” he shouted suddenly, for at that very moment he felt something touch his leg... He looked round; and his heart almost burst with relief. What had touched him was only a cat.
The light was too bad now for Shasta to see much of the cat except that it was big and very solemn. It looked as if it might have lived for long, long years among the Tombs, alone. Its eyes made you think it knew secrets it would not tell.
“Puss, puss,” said Shasta. “I suppose you’re not a talking cat.”
The cat stared at him harder than ever. Then it started walking away, and of course Shasta followed it. It led him right through the tombs and out on the desert side of them. There it sat down bolt upright with its tail curled round its feet and its face set towards the desert and towards Narnia and the North, as still as if it were watching for some enemy. Shasta lay down beside it with his back against the cat and his face towards the Tombs, because if one is nervous there’s nothing like having your face towards the danger and having something warm and solid at your back.

The cries rang out again and again. “There’s more than one of them, whatever they are,” thought Shasta. “And they’re coming nearer.”...
He was just going to run for it when suddenly, between him and the desert, a huge animal bounded into view. As the moon was behind it, it looked quite black, and Shasta did not know what it was, except that it had a very big, shaggy head and went on four legs. It did not seem to have noticed Shasta, for it suddenly stopped, turned its head towards the desert and let out a roar which re-echoed through the Tombs and seemed to shake the sand under Shasta’s feet. The cries of the other creatures suddenly stopped and he thought he could hear feet scampering away. Then the great beast turned to examine Shasta...
But instead of teeth and claws he only felt something warm lying down at his feet. And when he opened his eyes he said, “Why, it’s not nearly as big as I thought! It’s only half the size. No, it isn’t even quarter the size. I do declare it’s only the cat!! I must have dreamed all that about its being as big as a horse.”
And whether he really had been dreaming or not, what was now lying at his feet, and staring him out of countenance with its big, green, unwinking eyes, was the cat; though certainly one of the largest cats he had ever seen.
“Oh, Puss,” gasped Shasta. “I am so glad to see you again. I’ve been having such horrible dreams.” And he at once lay down again, back to back with the cat as they had been at the beginning of the night. The warmth from it spread all over him.

“It’s not fair,” thought Shasta. “I did think we’d be safe from lions here!”
He looked over his shoulder. Everything was only too clear. A huge tawny creature, its body low to the ground, like a cat streaking across the lawn to a tree when a strange dog has got into the garden, was behind them. And it was nearer every second and half second.
...The lion had almost got Hwin now. It was making snaps at her hind legs, and there was no hope now in her foam-flecked, wide-eyed face.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and—”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
Which should bring to mind another myth, since we know Lewis was a big fan of Wagner and especially the Ring operas. Siegfried, the title character of the third opera, is orphaned and raised by the dwarf smith Mime, having been placed in that position by the machinations of Wotan (Odin) in the second opera, Die Walküre. Mime is quite an unpleasant person and keeps Siegfried around mainly so that he can one day kill the dragon Fafner for him. In The Horse and His Boy the dwarf smith Mime becomes the Calormene fisher Arsheesh. Both stories begin with the arrival of a stranger demanding hospitality, though in Siegfried this turns out to be Wotan in disguise, which is not the case in Lewis’s book.
In the opera Siegfried does not know fear, which Mime offers to teach him by taking him to the dragon. Mime claims fear is an essential craft. In the Narnia story Mime’s claim comes true, as Aslan uses fear to speed the horses along. Mime’s own death has been prophesied at the hands of one who does not know fear, so when Siegfried is not afraid even of Fafner Mime tries to poison him. However Siegfried has gained the power to read thoughts from the dragon’s blood, and so Mime’s very attempt to avert the prophecy ends up fulfilling it. Such an irony would also be typical of Greek legends, so of course there is an analogous event in The Horse and His Boy.
“...Well, Corin and I were twins. And about a week after we were both born, apparently, they took us to a wise old Centaur in Narnia to be blessed or something. Now this Centaur was a prophet as a good many Centaurs are...
“Well, as soon as he saw Corin and me, it seems this Centaur looked at me and said, A day will come when that boy will save Archenland from the deadliest danger in which ever she lay. So of course my Father and Mother were very pleased. But there was someone present who wasn’t. This was a chap called the Lord Bar who had been Father’s Lord Chancellor. And apparently he’d done something wrong – bezzling or some word like that – I didn’t understand that part very well – and Father had had to dismiss him... it came out afterwards he had been in the pay of the Tisroc and had sent a lot of secret information to Tashbaan. So as soon as he heard I was going to save Archenland from a great danger he decided I must be put out of the way...”
“And I wonder how the prophecy will work out,” said Aravis, “and what the great danger is that you’re to save Archenland from.”
“Well,” said Cor rather awkwardly, “they seem to think I’ve done it already.”
You know, I always wondered why Lewis chose to write one Narnia book in which the protagonists did not come from Our World. I guess it would have been too confusing to try and put the long-lost son of a Narnian king into England somewhere.
Just by the way, most of the connections I’ve drawn between the planetary gods and the Narnia stories thus far have come from Michael Ward’s analysis. Not this time. The Odinic harmonics in The Horse and His Boy are my own discovery. Of course it is to Ward’s credit, not his detriment, that things he hasn’t picked up on nevertheless support his thesis.

Patron of Pilf’rers

Hermes was a thief. His very first act, on the day of his birth, was to steal cattle from his half-brother Apollo, who was only appeased when Hermes gave him the lyre whose creation had been his second act. Presumably that is why Lewis is so forgiving of theft in this book, when he will be so very stern about it in The Magician’s Nephew.
“I say, Bree, didn’t you say something about breakfast?”
“Yes, I did,” answered Bree. “I think you’ll find something in the saddle-bags. They’re over there on that tree where you hung them up last night – or early this morning, rather.”
They investigated the saddle-bags and the results were cheering – a meat pasty, only slightly stale, a lump of dried figs and another lump of green cheese, a little flask of wine, and some money; about forty crescents in all, which was more than Shasta had ever seen...
“Won’t it be stealing to use the money?” asked Shasta.
“Oh,” said the Horse, looking up with its mouth full of grass, “I never thought of that. A free horse and a talking horse mustn’t steal, of course. But I think it’s all right. We’re prisoners and captives in enemy country. That money is booty, spoil. Besides, how are we to get any food for you without it? I suppose, like all humans, you won’t eat natural food like grass and oats.”

Though nobody much liked it, it was Hwin’s plan which had to be adopted in the end. It was a troublesome one and involved a certain amount of what Shasta called stealing, and Bree called “raiding”. One farm lost a few sacks that evening and another lost a coil of rope the next...

The next job, clearly, was to get something to eat and drink. Shasta... had no difficulty in doing a little “raiding” (as Bree called it). It involved a climb over a garden wall and the results were three oranges, a melon, a fig or two, and a pomegranate.
Aslan will later take Bree to task for his self-conceit, but not for his thefts. The delicious dinner that Shasta eats with the Narnians might also count as stolen, since he obtains it under false pretences – albeit without much choice in the matter. On a grander scale, the whole book is in a sense the story of a theft; Lewis planned at one stage to call it The Horse Stole the Boy. The title he eventually chose highlights the concept of people as property, which unsurprisingly turns out to be one of its major themes.
“Why do you keep talking to my horse instead of to me?” asked the girl.
“Excuse me, Tarkheena,” said Bree (with just the slightest backward tilt of his ears), “but that’s Calormene talk. We’re free Narnians, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you’re running away to Narnia, you want to be one too. In that case Hwin isn’t your horse any longer. One might just as well say you’re her human.”
In Narnia and Archenland, persons (humanoid or Talking Beast) cannot own other persons (humanoid or Talking Beast). Calormene law, by contrast, allows humans to own other humans. The beginning of the story is glossed as an “escape”, but from Anradin Tarkaan’s point of view he has been robbed of a valuable war-horse and a slave he has just legally purchased. Lewis had made Calormen a slave-owning society in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and evidently he felt he had not covered all the angles he needed to cover, hence his return to it here. First he confirms our speculation from last time that Graeco-Roman slavery, not American plantation slavery, is the model he has in mind:
You must not imagine that Shasta felt at all as you and I would feel if we had just overheard our parents talking about selling us for slaves. For one thing, his life was already little better than slavery; for all he knew, the lordly stranger on the great horse might be kinder to him than Arsheesh...
“I wonder what sort of a man that Tarkaan is,” he said out loud. “It would be splendid if he was kind. Some of the slaves in a great lord’s house have next to nothing to do. They wear lovely clothes and eat meat every day. Perhaps he’d take me to the wars and I’d save his life in a battle and then he'd set me free and adopt me as his son and give me a palace and a chariot and a suit of armour. But then he might be a horrid cruel man. He might send me to work on the fields in chains. I wish I knew. How can I know? I bet this horse knows, if only he could tell me.”
Lewis, you may remember, did not believe that one person having the right to command and control another was wrong in and of itself. The evil of slavery, rather, is that it erodes one’s self-reliance and willingness to endure pain.
“P-please,” said Hwin, very shyly, “I feel just like Bree that I can’t go on. But when Horses have humans (with spurs and things) on their backs, aren’t they often made to go on when they’re feeling like this? and then they find they can. I m-mean – oughtn’t we to be able to do even more, now that we’re free. It’s all for Narnia.”
“I think, Ma’am,” said Bree very crushingly, “that I know a little more about campaigns and forced marches and what a horse can stand than you do.”
To this Hwin made no answer, being, like most highly bred mares, a very nervous and gentle person who was easily put down. In reality she was quite right, and if Bree had had a Tarkaan on his back at that moment to make him go on, he would have found that he was good for several hours’ hard going. But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself.
Last time, the slaves had to wait for Caspian to rescue them. There is still no uprising, but at least Lewis lets Shasta rebel and escape. At least this time he acknowledges that breaking bad laws can be a good thing to do. He then turns to the related subject of forced marriages.
“...Now it came to pass [said Aravis] that my father’s wife, my step-mother, hated me, and the sun appeared dark in her eyes as long as I lived in my father’s house. And so she persuaded my father to promise me in marriage to Ahoshta Tarkaan. Now this Ahoshta is of base birth, though in these latter years he has won the favour of the Tisroc... Moreover he is at least sixty years old and has a hump on his back and his face resembles that of an ape. Nevertheless my father, because of the wealth and power of this Ahoshta, and being persuaded by his wife, sent messengers offering me in marriage, and the offer was favourably accepted and Ahoshta sent word that he would marry me this very year at the time of high summer.”

“I do not think we shall find it easy to leave Tashbaan. While the Prince had hope that you would take him, we were honoured guests. But by the Lion’s Mane, I think that as soon as he has your flat denial we shall be no better than prisoners.”...
“Do you mean he would make me his wife by force?” exclaimed Susan.
“That’s my fear, Susan,” said Edmund. “Wife; or slave which is worse.”
We needn’t buy into the idea of persons as property ourselves to see how the logic works. From Rabadash’s perspective, Susan has been stolen from him. From the Narnian point of view, Rabadash is planning to steal her from them. Clearly Lewis intends us to understand that the one is virtuous and the other vicious. But what constitutes their respective virtue and vice? Lewis thought equality a sadly necessary remedy for a fallen world. He openly said that wives ought to be under their husbands’ authority, although that was before he met the redoubtable Joy Davidman, to whose two sons The Horse and His Boy is dedicated.
Part of the answer is that Susan does not want to marry Rabadash, but only part; Lewis, through Edmund, rebukes Susan for showing Rabadash too much favour to begin with.
“Now, Madam,” the King was saying to Queen Susan... “What think you? We have been in this city fully three weeks. Have you yet settled in your mind whether you will marry this dark-faced lover of yours, this Prince Rabadash, or no?”
The lady shook her head. “No, brother,” she said, “not for all the jewels in Tashbaan.”...
“Truly, sister,” said the King, “I should have loved you the less if you had taken him. And I tell you that at the first coming of the Tisroc’s ambassadors into Narnia to treat of this marriage, and later when the Prince was our guest at Cair Paravel, it was a wonder to me that ever you could find it in your heart to show him so much favour.”
“That was my folly, Edmund,” said Queen Susan, “of which I cry you mercy. Yet when he was with us in Narnia, truly this Prince bore himself in another fashion than he does now in Tashbaan. For I take you all to witness what marvellous feats he did in that great tournament and hastilude which our brother the High King made for him, and how meekly and courteously he consorted with us the space of seven days. But here, in his own city, he has shown another face.”
Part is that Rabadash is an obvious villain and not worthy of sullying a pure Narnian lady by looking at her, let alone touching her – we’ll get onto the racist undertones of the book later. Ana Mardoll’s read-through of the Narniad is, as I write this, about halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but she has taken the time to write one piece on The Horse and His Boy which resonates here:
If Susan marries a foreigner – whether Rabadash or any other king in this [uni]verse – she will be utterly alone in her new country and potentially abusive new relationship. She cannot even be sure of being able to communicate her situation back home to her family, let alone be assured that they will intervene on her behalf, since such intervention would risk not only her life but also war between two or more countries. And if she conceives a child before her family can intervene on her behalf, there’s another huge can of political worms: it’s a rare country that would be okay with their foreign queen absconding back to her homeland with the heir to the throne in her possession.
I can’t help feeling that in some sense Susan belongs to Narnia and not to Calormen, a sense whose alignment with her own wishes is fortuitous rather than definitive. And this is where it occurs to me that Lewis has gone out of his way to set this story during the Pevensie years rather than the Telmarine era, despite that choice creating a couple of continuity problems. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe humans were so rare that Tumnus owned a book titled Is Man a Myth? and the children’s arrival was treated as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy. Now there is a neighbouring all-human kingdom called Archenland and, it appears, several humans (Lord Peridan is the only one given a name) in the Narnian court, any four of whom could supposedly have filled those fabled thrones. Then Lewis gives two reasons why Calormen hasn’t conquered Narnia already—
“Alas,” said Edmund. “My guess is that the Tisroc has very small fear of Narnia. We are a little land. And little lands on the borders of a great empire were always hateful to the lords of the great empire. He longs to blot them out, gobble them up... Most likely he hopes to make one mouthful of Narnia and Archenland both.”
“Let him try,” said the second Dwarf. “At sea we are as big as he is. And if he assaults us by land, he has the desert to cross.”
“True, friend,” said Edmund. “But is the desert a sure defence? What does Sallowpad say?”
“... if the Tisroc goes by the great oasis [said Sallowpad] he can never lead a great army across it into Archenland. For though they could reach the oasis by the end of their first day’s march, yet the springs there would be too little for the thirst of all those soldiers and their beasts...”

“But why, O my father,” said the Prince... “why should we think twice about punishing Narnia any more than about hanging an idle slave or sending a worn-out horse to be made into dog’s-meat? It is not the fourth size of one of your least provinces. A thousand spears could conquer it in five weeks. It is an unseemly blot on the skirts of your empire.”...
“Know, O enlightened Prince,” said the Grand Vizier, “that until the year in which your exalted father began his salutary and unending reign, the land of Narnia was covered with ice and snow and was moreover ruled by a most powerful enchantress.”
“This I know very well, O loquacious Vizier,” answered the Prince. “But I know also that the enchantress is dead. And the ice and snow have vanished, so that Narnia is now wholesome, fruitful, and delicious.”
“And this change, O most learned Prince, has doubtless been brought to pass by the powerful incantations of those wicked persons who now call themselves kings and queens of Narnia.”
“I am rather of the opinion,” said Rabadash, “that it has come about by the alteration of the stars and the operation of natural causes.”
“All this,” said the Tisroc, “is a question for the disputations of learned men. I will never believe that so great an alteration, and the killing of the old enchantress, were effected without the aid of strong magic. And such things are to be expected in that land, which is chiefly inhabited by demons in the shape of beasts that talk like men, and monsters that are half man and half beast... Therefore the attacking of Narnia is a dark and doubtful enterprise, and I am determined not to put my hand out farther than I can draw it back.”
—neither of which explains why they didn’t invade a generation or so later, since we know the Telmarines will have no navy at all. Whereas, if all this had happened after Caspian’s naval reforms, we could have supposed that Calormen simply hadn’t previously expanded so far. Lord Bern in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader feared war with Calormen might follow Caspian’s campaign against the Lone Islands slave trade; The Horse and His Boy could have slotted neatly into the sequence, if only Lewis had chosen to set it at that point in Narnian history. We’ve already found Lewis to be quite cavalier about series consistency, but he usually has a reason for his retcons. In this case the reason must be: he wants Susan for his Helen. Why?
Susan, as Lewis made crashingly clear in Prince Caspian, is the one Narnia protagonist without a single Martial bone in her body. In The Last Battle she will cease to be a friend of Narnia because (like Lasaraleen in the present book) she’s concerned only with fripperies. In Lewis’s view, the latter makes her more susceptible to having her head turned by such as Rabadash, and the former makes her easier prey for men who would seek to appeal to her bialacoil.
In the third group [of figures representing aspects of two courting lovers’ personalities in The Romance of the Rose] we have those characters who belong to the heroine. These are the most important actors in the drama and we shall go far astray if we do not understand them. Among them Bialacoil perhaps holds the first place. The name, of course, means “fair welcome” – the belh aculhir of the Provençals. If we ask what he represents... there is such a thing as failing or succeeding in mere ordinary conversation with one’s mistress, long before there is any question of succeeding or failing as a lover. At the first introduction the lady may be, as modern English would say, “nice to you” or she may not. If she has been “nice to you” you have met Bialacoil... Bialacoil is not the same thing as Courtesy, but he is the son of Courtesy. He is something more than mere politeness and yet a something more which a woman of gentle breeding will find it hard to withhold from any acquaintance not obviously dishonourable or vulgar. He is a false friend to a maidenhead; and yet, when all is done, you can say truly, or almost truly, that he meant no harm.
The Allegory of Love pp. 122–123
From which it would appear that, at least when he wrote The Allegory of Love, Lewis had no idea that bialacoil is a culturally conditioned response to social expectations placed on women in Western patriarchy. I don’t think that’s where Lewis’s theory of attraction in the real world began and ended. I think he put it into his stories because it was part of the literary heritage he was working so hard to refresh for later generations. Narnia is full of ideas that Lewis considered archetypal, with sporadically unfortunate results.

Lord of Language

Above all else, Mercury was to Lewis the god of words. Accordingly, The Horse and His Boy explores in depth a theme which has hitherto been background: the nature and experience of being a Talking Beast. Every Narnia Chronicle has Talking Beasts, of course, but never have they been so central to the story. Consider The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Suppose that the four children had been entertained by a couple of gnomes rather than of beavers; that the Witch’s police pursuing them had been orcs rather than wolves; that Aslan had been a golden angelic being rather than a lion. It would be a very different story in look-and-feel, but the structure of the plot, such as it is, would hang together just as well as the actual one. Likewise, in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader you could replace Reepicheep with some kind of chivalrous pixie, and, though lacking those books’ chief grace, the plots would make as much sense as before. Not so The Horse and His Boy. If Bree and Hwin are anything but talking horses, the entire thing collapses.
That Hideous Strength is not one of Lewis’s better works, but it contains some powerful scenes for all that, including the delirious climax where Mercury rescinds the boon of language from an entire dinner-party of villains all at once. (The tiger makes sense in context.)
For the first few minutes, anyone glancing down the long tables would have seen what we always see on such occasions... But if you have gone on looking down the tables [sic] you would presently have seen a change. You would have seen face after face look up and turn in the direction of the speaker. You would have seen first curiosity, then fixed attention, then incredulity. Finally you would have noticed that the room was utterly silent, without a cough or a creak, that every eye was fixed on Jules, and soon every mouth opened in something between fascination and horror...
“We shall not,” Jules was saying, “we shall not till we can secure the erebation of all prostundiary initems.”... Mark [the protagonist] looked round again. Obviously it was not he who was mad – they had all heard the gibberish...
Then Wither cleared his throat. He knew how to do that so that every eye in the room turned immediately to look at him... He saw that he already had them in hand... Then he began to speak.
They ought to have all looked more and more comfortable as he proceeded; and there ought soon to have been murmurs of grave regret for the tragedy they had just witnessed. That was what Wither expected. What he actually saw bewildered him. The same too attentive silence which had prevailed during Jules’ speech returned. Bright unblinking eyes and open mouths greeted him in every direction...
The Deputy Director could not understand this, for to him his own voice seemed to be uttering the speech he had resolved to make. But the audience heard him saying, “Tidies and fugleman – I sheel foor that we all – er – most steeply rebut the defensible, though, I trust, lavatory, Aspasia which gleams to have selected our redeemed inspector this deceiving. It would – ah – be shark, very shark, from anyone’s debenture ...”
The woman who had laughed rose hastily from her chair. The man seated next to her heard her murmur in his ear, “Vood wooloo.”... Four or five people in that part of the room were now up. They were shouting... “Bundlemen, bundlemen,” said Wither sternly in a much louder voice. He had often before, merely by raising his voice and speaking one authoritative word reduced troublesome meetings to order.
But this time he was not even heard. At least twenty people present were at that very moment attempting to do the same thing... One thought of a sharp word, one of a joke, one of something very quiet and telling. As a result fresh gibberish in a great variety of tones rang out from several places at once...
There came an ear-splitting noise and after that, at last, a few seconds of dead silence. Mark noticed first that Jules had been killed; only secondly, that Miss Hardcastle had shot him. After that it was difficult to be sure what happened. The stampede and the shouting may have concealed a dozen reasonable plans for disarming the murderess, but it was impossible to concert them. Nothing came of them but kicking, struggling, leaping on tables, pressing on and pulling back, screams, breaking of glass...
Something had darted very quickly across the floor between the two long tables and disappeared under one of them. Perhaps half the people present had not seen what it was – had only caught a gleam of black and tawny. Those who had seen it clearly could not tell the others; they could only point and scream meaningless syllables. But Mark had seen it. It was a tiger...
...the doom of gibberish frustrated all their efforts... The majority had not seen Miss Hardcastle lock the door; they were pressing towards it, to get out at all costs... A large minority, on the other hand, knew that the door was locked. There must be another door... the one whereby the tiger had got in. They were pressing to the opposite end of the room to find it. The whole centre of the room was occupied by the meeting of these two waves – a huge football scrum, at first noisy with frantic efforts at explanation, but soon, as the struggle thickened, almost silent except for the sound of labouring breath, kicking or trampling feet, and meaningless muttering.
That Hideous Strength pp. 340–345
In The Horse and His Boy only Rabadash is rendered speechless, and it’s played for laughs.
Rabadash had been wagging his ears all the time and as soon as Aslan said, “The hour has struck!” the ears began to change. They grew longer and more pointed and soon were covered with grey hair... [until] what had been Rabadash was, simply and unmistakably, a donkey. The terrible thing was that his human speech lasted just a moment longer than his human shape, so that when he realized the change that was coming over him, he screamed out:
“Oh, not a Donkey! Mercy! If it were even a horse – e’en – a hor – eeh – auh, eeh-auh.” And so the words died away into a donkey’s bray.
In the volume commissioned for the Oxford History of English Literature series, Lewis divided sixteenth-century prose and poetry into two broad periods, which he termed “Drab” and “Golden”.
In the Drab Period nearly all prose writers sound middle-aged; in Harrison we recover that spirit of youthfulness which is often characteristic of the “Golden” period... It is less important that we should criticize than that we should perceive the change – whether we describe it by saying that the fog has lifted, or that the age of the martyrs has given place to that of the fantasticals, or that Mercury has succeeded Saturn.
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century pp. 303–304
Or that Mercury has succeeded Saturn. Even in a cerebral work commissioned as part of an official survey of England’s literary heritage, Lewis could not resist an astrological fancy. That’s because, to him, it wasn’t a fancy; it was his habitual lens for looking at the world. If you’re one of those who finds the planetary theory of the Narniad “far-fetched”, I’m starting to think the burden of proof is on you.
Poetry is woven into the backdrop of The Horse and His Boy. Calormene poetry is modelled after the Drab writers: compare
“How well it was said by a gifted poet,” observed the Vizier... “that deep draughts from the fountain of reason are desirable in order to extinguish the fire of youthful love.”
with
The trust that hyred is and bought by brybes and moneies fre
Thy counsell to bewray agayne with brybes entyste wil be.
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century p. 254
Here’s the very first dialogue in the book:
Sometimes if Arsheesh was there Shasta would say, “O my Father, what is there beyond that hill?” And then if the fisherman... was in a peaceable mood he would say, “O my son, do not allow your mind to be distracted by idle questions. For one of the poets has said, ‘Application to business is the root of prosperity, but those who ask questions that do not concern them are steering the ship of folly towards the rock of indigence’.”
When Arsheesh and Anradin negotiate a price for Shasta, in the first dialogue pinned to a definite point in time, they argue by an exchange of verses.
“...Has not one of the poets said, ‘Natural affection is stronger than soup and offspring more precious than carbuncles?’”
“It is even so,” replied the guest dryly. “But another poet has likewise said, ‘He who attempts to deceive the judicious is already baring his own back for the scourge.’ Do not load your aged mouth with falsehoods...”
“How well it was said,” answered the fisherman, “that Swords can be kept off with shields but the Eye of Wisdom pierces through every defence!...”
Perhaps because substantive words are so sparse, Drab poetry is fearfully long-winded. The couplet I quoted above is a Drab translation of a five-word Latin phrase: pretio parata vincitur pretio fides, “faith furnished by reward is conquered by reward”. In The Horse and His Boy this is how Lewis draws the contrast between the Narnians and the Calormenes. It’s more easily drawn out by an experiment than by any specific quotes. Open the book to the chapter where Shasta Falls In With the Narnians and have a look at how long the paragraphs of dialogue are. Then do the same with the chapter set In the House of the Tisroc.
We don’t get to see any Narnian poetry, but their proverbs turn out to be epigrammatic:
“Ah!” croaked the Raven. “It is an old saying: see the bear in his own den before you judge of his conditions.”
“That’s very true, Sallowpad,” said one of the Dwarfs. “And another is, Come, live with me and you’ll know me.”

“I warned your Majesties, I warned you,” said Sallowpad the Raven. “Easily in but not easily out, as the lobster said in the lobster pot!”

“Yes,” said a Dwarf dryly. “Just as the beggar’s only difficulty about riding is that he has no horse.”

“...And now, as we birds say, nests before eggs...”
Though we don’t hear any of his actual work, a Narnian poet does turn up at the end of the story:
And the wine flowed and tales were told and jokes were cracked, and then silence was made and the King’s poet with two fiddlers stepped out into the middle of the circle. Aravis and Cor prepared themselves to be bored, for the only poetry they knew was the Calormene kind, and you know now what that was like. But at the very first scrape of the fiddles a rocket seemed to go up inside their heads, and the poet sang the great old lay of Fair Olvin and how he fought the Giant Pire and turned him into stone (and that is the origin of Mount Pire – it was a two-headed Giant) and won the Lady Liln for his bride; and when it was over they wished it was going to begin again.
with an echo from the scholarly text, in case you didn’t believe me about the connection.
Sidney’s work rises out of the contemporary Drab almost as a rocket rises...
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century p. 347
Classical Greece, pagan Germany, sixteenth-century England – so far Lewis’s sources for Calormen seem thoroughly European. So why did he model their culture on the Middle East? One reason (we’ll see more in a moment) is surely to evoke the Arabian Nights, in which a virtuous young maiden saves herself from the ill-will of a tyrant by her gift of the gab. Story-telling is the one verbal art Lewis allows the Calormenes; Aravis is Scheherazade as well as Clytemnestra.
Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
Back in my first Lewis post, I said rather vaguely
I really do wonder what he would have thought of the internet. Lewis was not a big fan of science and technology, but I think he might have made an exception here. He felt that the “modern age” was descending into a grey, culturally ignorant shabbiness, neglectful of art and language. But his “modern age” was the early-to-mid-20th century, before the electronic revolution brought art and music and knowledge undreamed-of into our homes and now, even, our pockets. I like to think it would have given him hope.
Now you can see what I think it would have meant to Lewis. His “modern age” was dominated by Saturn. Today, the internet combines Hermes’ message-bearing role with Odin’s all-seeing eye. Puns, epigram, and the skills and tricks of story-telling are returning to us. As for poetry,
Once, song, poetry, and dance were all parts of a single dromenon. Each has become what it now is by separation from the others, and this has involved great losses and great gains.
An Experiment in Criticism p. 96
I have heard a member of the English Faculty in a university say openly “Whatever else matters in poetry, the sound doesn’t”. Perhaps that was only his fun. But I have also found as an examiner that a surprising number of Honours candidates, certainly in other respects literary people, betray by their misquotations a total unconsciousness of metre.
How has this astonishing state of affairs come about?... At some schools children are taught to write out poetry they have learned for repetition not according to the lines but in “speech-groups”. The purpose is to cure them of what is called “sing-song”... In childhood sing-song is not a defect. It is simply the first form of rhythmical sensibility; crude itself, but a good symptom not a bad one. This metronomic regularity, this sway of the whole body to the metre simply as metre, is the basis which makes possible all later variations and subtleties. For there are no variations except for those who know a norm, and no subtleties for those who have not grasped the obvious.
An Experiment in Criticism pp. 102–103
The idea of combining spoken verse, music, and dance in a single art-form is no longer foreign to us. I doubt that Lewis would have approved of the aggressive masculinity of much rap and hip-hop; he thought masculinity should be courteous and lordly. But I think such complaints would be swallowed up in astonishment to hear young people, teens and pre-teens even, spontaneously expressing themselves in rhythmic verse in the shopping-malls and streets. In short, I think Lewis would say of our time that Mercury is contending with Saturn, and winning.

Thing with Thought

For much of his life, Lewis puzzled over the question of meaning. How does a word mean what it means? What is the connection between horses and the word horse? Obviously, the person who says it or writes it is thinking of a horse at the time, but what is the connection between horses and thoughts of horses? How can a collection of neurons and chemicals be about something? I won’t try and figure that out here, because I expect it will take an entire Imponderable one of these days. Lewis founded his own philosophy on essentialism, which accordingly we’re going to have to confront yet again.
Essentialism is the idea that every individual object is what it is by participating in the “essence” or true nature of an object of that kind. So a tree is a tree because it has tree-nature; a bird is a bird by virtue of having birdness. Platonic essentialism went further, asserting that tree-nature and birdness are not mere abstractions but deeper realities of which the trees and birds we see are merely symbols or copies. Meaning belongs to that deeper reality, and so do our reasoning minds. Which you may notice doesn’t actually answer the question. (“How does a word mean what it means?” “Supernaturally.” Are you any the wiser?) Metaphor – a subject Lewis spent much time and ink on – employs the visible objects as pointers to other things; symbolic or sacramental metaphor, to the spiritual realities in which they participate.
It is, in fine, “the philosophy of Hermes that this visible world is but a picture of the invisible, wherein, as in a portrait, things are not truly but in equivocal shapes, as they counterfeit some real substance in that invisible fabrick”...
The Allegory of Love p. 45
Lewis’s theism grew out of his essentialism, and Christianity came later still. Human minds were contingent; God was the Primordial Meaner, if you will. In Christ, God had taken up human nature into God-nature. Aslan states his own double (and treble) nature more explicitly in The Horse and His Boy than anywhere else in the Narniad:
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself”, loud and clear and gay; and then the third time “Myself”, whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.

“If he was a lion he’d have to be a Beast just like the rest of us. Why!” (and here Bree began to laugh) “If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and Whiskers! ... Aie, ooh, hoo-hoo! Help!”
For just as he said the word Whiskers one of Aslan’s had actually tickled his ear...
“Now, Bree,” he said, “you poor, proud frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast.”
Though language is a great gift, somehow words (Lewis says in many places) can never quite capture the essences of things. Poetry, done well, comes close. The quest to isolate, and verbally replicate, the ineffable quality of things experienced – the Donegality of the Donegal landscape, the Correggiosity of a Correggio painting – was what drove Lewis to write. Naturally, being ineffable, it would always evade him. Every Narnia book up to now has described a scene that would have been beautiful if only the characters had been able to appreciate it properly:
It would have been a pretty enough scene to look at it through a window from a comfortable armchair; and even as things were, Lucy enjoyed it at first. But as they went on walking and walking – and walking – and as the sack she was carrying felt heavier and heavier, she began to wonder how she was going to keep up at all. And she stopped looking at the dazzling brightness of the frozen river with all its waterfalls of ice and at the white masses of the tree-tops and the great glaring moon and the countless stars and could only watch the little short legs of Mr Beaver going pad-pad-pad through the snow in front of her as if they were never going to stop.

But the gorge of the Rush was not at all a nice place for travelling either. I mean, it was not a nice place for people in a hurry. For an afternoon’s ramble ending in a picnic tea it would have been delightful. It had everything you could want on an occasion of that sort – rumbling waterfalls, silver cascades, deep, amber-coloured pools, mossy rocks, and deep moss on the banks in which you could sink over your ankles, every kind of fern, jewel-like dragon flies, sometimes a hawk overhead and once (Peter and Trumpkin both thought) an eagle.

When morning came, with a low, grey sky but very hot, the adventurers found they were in a bay encircled by such cliffs and crags that it was like a Norwegian fjord. In front of them, at the head of the bay, there was some level land heavily overgrown with trees that appeared to be cedars, through which a rapid stream came out. Beyond that was a steep ascent ending in a jagged ridge and behind that a vague darkness of mountains which ran into dull-coloured clouds so that you could not see their tops. The nearer cliffs, at each side of the bay, were streaked here and there with lines of white which everyone knew to be waterfalls, though at that distance they did not show any movement or make any noise. Indeed the whole place was very silent and the water of the bay as smooth as glass. It reflected every detail of the cliffs. The scene would have been pretty in a picture but was rather oppressive in real life. It was not a country that welcomed visitors.

They were now in the palace garden which sloped down in terraces to the city wall. The moon shone brightly. One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of grey lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.
So far, so harmless. When applied to people, however, essentialism is another word for stereotyping. It’s one thing to make your Talking Bears all buffoonish over-eaters and your Dryads all lissome beauties who don’t talk. It’s quite another to make your Evil Empire a distillation of the atmosphere you (you, a bourgeois Anglo-Irish male academic of the mid-twentieth century) feel when contemplating the mysteries of the Orient.
The Calormenes first appeared in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as turbaned bearded slave-merchants, though there they were called “the Calormen” – singular presumably Calorman, from calor + men (Latin calor, heat). That immediately calls to mind every hackneyed stereotype of Arabs or Turks or Iranians from the glory days of the British Empire onwards. Rabadash’s battle-cry “In the name of Tash the inexorable, the irresistible” unmistakably echoes “In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate”. Overlaid on this is a dollop of Hinduism-as-seen-from-the-outside, in Calormen’s plural gods and its temples, and perhaps a dash of China in its divine ruler and its fondness for admonitory proverbs.
Though seldom universal, there have always been Christians who believe the gods of other religions to be demons. I’m not aware of any religion that returned the favour. Muslims in particular believe that Christ was a prophet, which doesn’t tally at all with the Calormene picture of Aslan.
“It is commonly reported that the High King of Narnia (whom may the gods utterly reject) is supported by a demon of hideous aspect and irresistible maleficence who appears in the shape of a Lion.”

“Demon! Demon! Demon!” shrieked the Prince. “I know you. You are the foul fiend of Narnia. You are the enemy of the gods. Learn who I am, horrible phantasm. I am descended from Tash, the inexorable, the irresistible. The curse of Tash is upon you. Lightning in the shape of scorpions shall be rained on you. The mountains of Narnia shall be ground into dust. The—”
“Have a care, Rabadash,” said Aslan quietly. “The doom is nearer now; it is at the door; it has lifted the latch.”
But this doesn’t seem to be ignorance on Lewis’s part. In That Hideous Strength, he identifies Mercury with the Egyptian god Thoth. Thoth was worshipped in the classical world under the name Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice-Great”); whether the Greeks believed this to be the same person as the planetary Hermes is less clear. Reinterpreted in the Middle Ages as a sage contemporary with Moses, Trismegistus was credited with a body of Greek writings known as the Hermetica, which in fact date to around 300 CE. Islamic tradition makes him the prophet Idris, an ancestor of Muhammad. It’s unlikely to be coincidental that the Islamic stereotypes appear in the Mercurial Narnia book.
I can give Lewis only one excuse. Previous English children’s adventure stories had been even worse. Brown protagonists like Aravis were rare, and I think she may have been the very first female one. Though the Calormenes are hostile, there is no suggestion that they lack any innate moral or mental capacities that the Narnians have; the ills of their society flow from its laws, government, and religion, not from the deficiencies of its members. We are invited to laugh at Lasaraleen, granted, but there is no Oriental component to her silliness – she talks like Lewis’s idea of the kind of woman who follows women’s magazines. To the Calormenes, the Narnians are the savages, as evidenced by their unenlightened poetry.
“For the gods have withheld from the barbarians the light of discretion [said Ahoshta], as that their poetry is not, like ours, full of choice apophthegms and useful maxims, but is all of love and war. Therefore nothing will appear to them more noble and admirable than such a... hazardous attempt, especially because it is undertaken for the love of a woman. Therefore, if the Prince by misfortune fell into their hands, they would assuredly not kill him. Nay, it may even be, that though he failed to carry off the queen, yet the sight of his great valour and of the extremity of his passion might incline her heart to him.”
The Horse and His Boy was, in its own cultural context, a step in the right direction, though too small a step to meet our standards. We have superseded it largely by abandoning essentialism.

His Flint has Struck

And yes, Lewis’s other chief fault is also very evident in The Horse and His Boy. We’ve already seen Aslan terrify the Horses out of their wits to make them run faster. Once again, moral improvement comes about through pain and humiliation. I can’t say I’m particularly sorry for Rabadash—
The unfortunate Rabadash appeared to be suspended from the castle walls. His feet, which were about two feet from the ground, were kicking wildly... Early in the battle one of the Giants had made an unsuccessful stamp at Rabadash with his spiked boot... one of the spikes tore the chain mail, just as you or I might tear an ordinary shirt... And when Edmund pressed him back nearer and nearer to the wall, he jumped up on a mounting block and stood there raining down blows on Edmund from above... And he meant to look and sound – no doubt for a moment he did look and sound – very grand and very dreadful as he jumped, crying, “The bolt of Tash falls from above.”... And then, in the neatest way you could wish, the tear in the back of his hauberk caught on a hook in the wall... And there he found himself, like a piece of washing hung up to dry, with everyone laughing at him.
—but what has Aravis done to deserve this treatment from Aslan?
And now all three – Aravis, Hwin, and the lion – were almost on top of Shasta. Before they reached him the lion rose on its hind legs, larger than you would have believed a lion could be, and jabbed at Aravis with its right paw. Shasta could see all the terrible claws extended. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders.
Granting for argument’s sake that the fear is necessary, obviously it won’t work if the lion doesn’t appear to be a threat. You get the same idea in A Life Less Ordinary where the angels pretend to be assassins in the hope that, if they go through a dangerous experience together, the protagonist couple will fall in love. Bumblers though they are, the angels manage to carry their plan through without either dropping their cover or actually harming anybody. You’d think Aslan would be more competent, rather than less. Of course Aslan has his own explanation.
“...Draw near, Aravis my daughter. See! My paws are velveted. You will not be torn this time.”
“This time, sir?” said Aravis.
“It was I who wounded you,” said Aslan. “I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings. Do you know why I tore you?”
“No, sir.”
“The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.”
Lewis did not neglect to put the offence into Aravis’s backstory:
“Then I called the maid who was to go with me to the woods and perform the rites of Zardeenah and told her to wake me very early in the morning. And I became merry with her and gave her wine to drink; but I had mixed such things in her cup that I knew she must sleep for a night and a day...”

“And what happened to the girl – the one you drugged?” asked Shasta.
“Doubtless she was beaten for sleeping late,” said Aravis coolly. “But she was a tool and spy of my stepmother’s. I am very glad they should beat her.”
“I say, that was hardly fair,” said Shasta.
“I did not do any of these things for the sake of pleasing you,” said Aravis.
But one might ask Shasta the same question. When Anradin Tarkaan woke in the morning to find both his horse and his slave missing, the logical conclusion would be that the latter had stolen the former. Shasta is quite aware of this.
“But, Bree!” said Shasta. “We might just as well be killed by lions as caught. Or I might. They’ll hang me for horse-stealing.”
Now if I were in Anradin’s position, and if I were the cruel, domineering man that Shasta knows Anradin to be, I would have some very hard questions to ask Arsheesh at this point about whether Shasta was working alone. I would quite probably make use of my horse-whip, if not my sword, in the process. Shasta thinks about what happens to other people, or he wouldn’t have asked Aravis about the slave-girl. Any grounds that can be adduced to make Aravis liable for the slave-girl’s beating, can be adduced to make Shasta liable for what Anradin does to Arsheesh. Yet Aslan doesn’t say a word about it. That tells me that the whole thing with the slave-girl was an afterthought on Lewis’s part, an excuse to inflict a bit of pain and some nice stripey wounds on young female flesh.
Yes, he does foreshadow it in another scene as well, but that one doesn’t make sense either.
“I’ll never do anything nasty to a cat again as long as I live,” said Shasta, half to the cat and half to himself. “I did once, you know. I threw stones at a half-starved mangy old stray. Hey! Stop that.” For the cat had turned round and given him a scratch. “None of that,” said Shasta. “It isn’t as if you could understand what I’m saying.”
As a Christian parable that is completely weird. Shasta repents and confesses his sin, and Narnia’s Christ-figure punishes him. It sits well with Aslan clawing Aravis, but not with anything else. Like I said, afterthought.
And then there’s the big tense climactic exciting battle scene, as narrated by the Hermit looking in his pool. Mostly this book was my favourite of the Narniad, but I tended to skip over this bit – not because of the violence, I was a boy, but because to me one of the dreariest uses of the human voice (rivalled only by schmaltzy American Christmas songs) is sports commentary, and this reads just like sports commentary.
“But Rabadash has reformed his line and has a hundred men in the saddle. They’re riding to meet the Narnians. There’s only a hundred yards between the two lines now. Only fifty. I can see King Edmund, I can see the Lord Peridan... Only ten yards – the lines have met. The Giants on the Narnian right are doing wonders ... but one’s down ... shot through the eye, I suppose. The centre’s all in a muddle. I can see more on the left...
The gates are opening from the inside; there’s going to be a sortie. The first three are out. It’s King Lune in the middle; the brothers Dar and Darrin on each side of him. Behind them are Tran and Shar and Cole with his brother Colin. There are ten – twenty – nearly thirty of them out by now. The Calormen line is being forced back upon them. King Edmund is dealing marvellous strokes. He’s just slashed Corradin’s head off... The Giants are closing in on the right – Cats on the left – King Lune from their rear. The Calormenes are a little knot now, fighting back to back... Lune and Azrooh are fighting hand to hand; the King looks like winning – the King is keeping it up well – the King has won. Azrooh’s down. King Edmund’s down – no, he’s up again: he’s at it with Rabadash. They’re fighting in the very gate of the castle. Several Calormenes have surrendered. Darrin has killed Ilgamuth... Chlamash and King Edmund are still fighting but the battle is over everywhere else. Chlamash has surrendered. The battle is over. The Calormenes are utterly defeated.”
Such a Martial incident would have been just fine in Prince Caspian; indeed it would have been a welcome relief from all the forest-walking, which I presume is why Andrew Adamson wrote an attack on Miraz’s castle into the movie version. It doesn’t fit here, just as Aslan killing the Witch doesn’t fit in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That wasn’t Jovial, and this isn’t Mercurial. No, I’m not complaining about the climax taking place at the walls of a castle. That’s how it had to go, given Rabadash’s scheme. But why does it have to come to killing? Why not a tense parley across the castle walls? Why not have Aravis and Shasta discover some uncomfortable truth in Tashbaan, something that undermines Rabadash’s legitimacy to command, and reveal it at that moment so that his men surrender? That would have been yet another kind of justified theft, and one carried out entirely through the use of language – a nicely Mercurial conclusion to this Mercurial story. Instead, we have charges and crushings and beheadings. What a missed opportunity.
Four down, three to go. Luna, Venus, Saturn. And yes, they will arrive in that order. Next we return to the main sequence of the Narnia chronology with The Silver Chair.

1 comment:

  1. "There is no Morning Star in The Horse and His Boy"

    Are you certain? The Morning Star of Narnia is called Aravir....

    ReplyDelete