“I know all about marriage.”
“Oh really! Enlighten me.”
“Well you hug and kiss, and you fight over the thermostat and hide the video game controllers.”
“That’s actually pretty accurate.”
“No one should be forced to do those things. That would be wrong.”
“You’re right. Someone should always have the right to choose to enter a relationship, especially one that requires bogarting video game controllers.”
Shasta is alone. He makes it out of Tashbaan and to the tombs bordering the desert, but no one is waiting for him there like they were supposed to. He’s forced to stay the night by himself in the spookiest place he can imagine and hope his friends make it out of the city to join him. His fear is heightened by the setting sun and a belief in ghouls. In these books everyone seems to be seriously afraid of ghouls while Lewis continually maintains that out of all the fantastic things in his pretend world, ghouls are obviously not real. Nymphs and dryads are totes for real, so are giants, mermaids, and underground creatures, but ghosts or ghouls are stupid.
This is probably only funny to me because I was taught that people who believed in ghosts were stupid because ghosts weren’t real. Demons, though, were absolutely real. There are quite a few people with religious trauma syndrome who have irrational fears of devils, demons, and Hell, yet the people responsible for teaching them such things, if they are anything like the ones I know, may strongly maintain that it’s ghost stories that harm children. *sigh*
Even if the object of fear has no basis in reality, fear itself has real consequences on the brain. My son, Little Bit’s bitty brother, has PTSD. His life before becoming my son through adoption was highly traumatic. I don’t think I would have survived it half as well. Yet in the last five years of comforting and loving him, he still has nightmares that rock his world. The most random things have triggered him, and during these times the perceived danger would not be real, but the fear would mess him up. Ghosts are not real, but the fear of ghosts does very real, physical things to a person’s brain and body.
When my son is afraid I do my best to minimize his fear and bring down his cortisol levels. This is not the time to test him or do things that will make it worse. That’s why when Aslan pulls the next few stunts to an isolated and terrified child, it makes my blood boil.
At the height of his fear when it’s dark, that’s when Shasta feels something touch his leg. He is so terrified he freezes and almost cannot face what touched him. It turns out to be a cat. It would only be a horribly bad cat if the cat had any awareness of scaring the poor lonely child. (Spoiler: It’s Aslan. And he doesn’t care.)
Shasta even asks if the cat is a Talking Cat to which Aslan flat out refuses to talk to him. Shasta goes to sleep by lying down next to the cat, but the cat abandons him when he is woken up by jackals coming to eat him later in the night. (You can get an idea how terrifying the ghouls were to Shasta when he chooses to face the jackals rather than hide anywhere near those tombs.) The jackals get closer and closer until a lion appears and roars (shaking the sand) and scares them away. (This would scare Shasta as well, who had just run for his life from lions earlier.) Then the lion shrinks back down into the cat which gaslights Shasta into thinking he’s crazy or dreaming.
Not only is Shasta being terrified when there were at least a thousand ways Aslan could have avoided this (by talking to Shasta, letting Shasta know he was approaching, staying with Shasta the whole effing time, making sure Shasta could see him during danger, or not leaving in the first place, reassuring Shasta he was sane, etc.), Aslan will later take credit for comforting Shasta in the tombs! Ha! That’s rich considering Aslan was the scariest part of the experience a few times. I know better than doing this kind of psychological damage to a scared child, and I’m not even a self-proclaimed omniscient god!
Shasta then says he’ll never be mean to a cat ever again (since he once was) and Aslan responds by scratching him! Ouch. (Why when he’s promising to be nice to cats? Well, we’re not supposed to question when Aslan hurts children.) Then Shasta goes back to sleep until morning. He spends the whole next day by himself wondering if his friends left him or were caught. Finally he decides to make the trek across the desert by himself, but before he sets out he sees Hwin and Bree coming towards him with a random groom! No Aravis though.
Turns out Aravis made the mistake of looking up at a passing litter that had a friend (probably also 13 years old) inside named Lasaraleen. (I actually think this is an awesome name. Good work, Lewis! Here’s a cookie for you. xoxo) After being recognized, Aravis had no choice but to join her friend in the litter and tell her what she was doing dressed as a slave. Lasaraleen’s husband (probably much older than 13) is out of town so she offers Aravis a place to hide since Aravis’ father is in the city looking for her!
Now Lasaraleen is the worst kind of girl in Lewis’ mind. She cares a great deal about her new dress. She also laughs at nothing, is spoiled and pampered, and loves being close to the palace as well as to the princes and princesses inside it. (We’ll see in the last book that Lewis absolutely hates this kind of social girl/woman and assumes his god does as well.) Lasaraleen can’t understand why Aravis doesn’t want to be married to an old man in his 60’s who has a hunchback when he has three houses. (I don’t think Lewis had a clue what 13 year olds would actually think of marriage to old men. Like, there would be other concerns…)
Lewis cannot stand womanly foolishness, so it says a lot about the Tarkeena that she was a “terrible giggler” for one thing, and she says “darling” a lot. While Lasaraleen loves pretty things, parties, and the latest news, Aravis loves archery, dogs, and swimming. We are supposed to like Aravis more for this reason. Spending time with Lasaraleen even makes Aravis feel better about hanging out with Shasta and leaving this life behind.
Now, I may be on Team Aravis in terms of taste, but no one ever has my permission to use me to put down another woman. There’s nothing wrong or inferior with being high femme. Period. If someone has to compliment you by putting down a woman or femme, that’s not a compliment. I’m with you, Lasaraleen! You giggle your head off and buy nice dresses and enjoy the company of royalty. That’s a great thing for 13 year olds to do. (Your view of those in different socioeconomic brackets than yourself is troubling, but you’re not a grown-up yet and still learning.) Go paint your nails! You do you.
The two friends plan to go to the palace the next day since Lasaraleen has visiting privileges. That way Aravis can sneak out through the gardens there. (The horses are sent with Lasaraleen’s groom through the gate to meet Shasta, but Aravis needs a whole new adventure for no real reason.) Once in the palace Lasaraleen sees the Tisroc (high king) and dives into a room to hide from him. Unfortunately he goes into that room to discuss some secrets with his son, Prince Baddy, and the elderly Grand Vizzier, who we might remember Aravis is engaged to. The girls listen in from their hiding place in the room and overhear the conversation this whole contrived subplot has set them up to overhear.
Prince Baddy noticed the Narnian ship was gone and wants to give chase and kidnap Queen Susan, whom he calls all sorts of names. Baddy’s daddy (the Tisroc) won’t go to war with Narnia because he fears the strong magic there. So Baddy says he will go with 200 men and conquer Archenland, Narnia’s White neighbors, then ride north to Narnia and greet Susan’s ship when she arrives and kidnap her. Once they have Archenland they will build it up slowly under Narnia’s nose and finally take Narnia as well. Since the Tisroc can’t sign off on this officially as that would lead to war, they all agree to pretend Baddy did it on his own so if he’s caught or killed the Tisroc can just say his impetuous son didn’t consult him first. (Plus there have been five Tisrocs who were killed by their eldest sons who were impatient for the throne, so if Baddy meets a bad end, the Tisroc, who has plenty of sons, doesn’t much mind.)
I just want to point out a few observations from this chapter about this conversation. First off, it’s hard to read because it’s so falsely poetic, and over-the-top wordy. Why use two words when twenty will do? It reads like, “O, my [adjective] son, light of my [noun], may you ever [verb], by the blessing of [name of god] ([parenthetical statement about god]) that the Tisroc ([parenthetical statement honoring Tisroc]) who wise men once said was [long-winded maxim]…”
How insufferable these people are! At one point, rather obviously, the Vizier even directly says that Narnians are inferior because, “their poetry is not, like ours, full of choice apophthegms and useful maxims, but is all of love and war.” We’re breaking some forth wall here, or at the very least that’s some super self-awareness about one’s own culture that would be most beneficial to a third-party observer and not, of course, to other people in that culture. (Also “love and war” is supposed to be superior to this kind of rambling wisdom. Not just love, but also war.)
But the accusation that the Calormenes add obnoxious quotes into their speech and the Narnians don’t is wrong. Queen Susan and King Edmund’s informal discussion three chapters ago was lousy with aphorisms, like, “It is an old saying: see the bear in his own den before you judge of his conditions,” Or, “Come, live with me and you’ll know me,” Or, “Just as the beggar’s only difficulty about riding is that he has no horse.” How’s that much different? Perhaps the author assumes his audience will get the difference between insufferable sayings and wise ones. (A shortcut to figuring that out is to note a character’s nationality and skin color.)
Second, the sexism and violence against women evident in this conversation is downright inappropriate. As Arsheesh’s sister would say, “Jeez Louise!” (Little Bit is rolling her eyes somewhere.) Their evil plot relies on sexist ideas of women, namely that women are so flighty and impossible to understand that King Peter would never send an army to take Susan back if she’s kidnapped and raped because, who knows, maybe she is magically fine with it now. I mean, “women are changeable as weathercocks” and don’t really know what they want until a man tells them.
Also, the men think it’s completely reasonable to teach Susan a “sharp lesson” for rejecting the prince’s proposal. How dare she! And while all this talk of forced marriage and painful lessons don’t spell out rape directly, it’s still pretty terrible to have in a children’s book. I mean, some older children are putting two and two together and realizing they’re not just talking about taking away Susan’s access to the thermostat! (Which I will agree would be considered torture.)
Lastly, there’s violence in general throughout the conversation as Baddy kicks Ahoshta (the Grand Vizier) repeatedly. Plus this insane mission only works because King Peter, who is the high king and ruler of Narnia, is off committing violent acts against folks in a different war. Again, the “Golden Age” of Narnia is mostly about the killing. It can’t just be me who wonders, “Huh, should the Pevensie children be tried for war crimes?”
Narnia is at war in the name of their god, Aslan, so it’s a righteous war. They are the good guys, after all. Yet the reason for the evil Tisroc to go to war is almost the same reason! Because Calormenes are the right ones, blessed by the gods. It’s only the caricature of the Calormene culture (or the East by extension) that we know one god is ridiculous and their wars unjust, and the other, more familiar god is reasonable and those wars just.
Okay moving on, let’s see, skipping ahead a bit, let’s figure out where this book is leading to… oh yeah, to a war!
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia