By Alexis Record
“If war means killing people, why would anyone want to do it?”
“Maybe to defend their land or lives.”
“Okay, but why look forward to it?”
“Warriors get honor and glory out of killing in battle. It shows how strong they are.”
“That shouldn’t get you honor and glory.”
“Grownups are wrong about a lot of things.”
Bree and Shasta decided stealing the Tarkaan’s money (and wine for young Shasta) was fine since it was “booty, spoil.” (Bree called it “raiding” instead of stealing.) They established that Calormen was the enemy and they were fighting it. This makes them still the good guys since stealing the way they were doing is okay if they are stealing from an evil enemy. They were at war with Calormen, after all. Lewis goes out of his way to explain away otherwise bad behavior as good under the right circumstances. For example, lying to someone is a sin, unless that person is a yucky Calormene. (Or in my experience, they are an unbeliever and their soul is on the line, then it’s a holy war!)
War is an element of these stories I took for granted as a child, but now I see its veneration as hugely problematic. This is the “Golden Age” of Narnia where it will never get better, and wars are everywhere? What does that say about the Christian view of peace? (Even in the last book of the Bible when Jesus finally saves his followers and gives them peace, he comes with a sword for a tongue and death and destruction in his wake. This is the Christian future I looked forward to as a child. How awful it tastes to me now.)
Bree was a warhorse, and fought in Calormene wars, but he longed to go to Narnia where there would be peace under Aslan and good rulers and… no I’m kidding. Of course he longed for Narnian wars! “Give me the Narnian wars where I shall fight as a free Horse among my own people! Those will be wars worth talking about.” Yay war!
The pair traveled for “weeks and weeks” until one day they came upon a snarling roar that was “utterly savage.” It was a lion. They galloped away, terrified, as the lion gave chase. Then there was another lion on the other side, kind of herding them to a specific spot. Another horse and rider were also being herded by the lions until Shasta and Bree were galloping side-by-side with the other horse and rider. When the two horses tried to put distance between each other “two more lions’ roars” on either side of them drove them back together. So is that three lions now? Four? A million? Just lions everywhere. It was lousy with lions. Finally the horses dove into an inlet of water out of desperation and the “shaggy and terrible” lion (just one now) behind them finally stopped following.
They thought they were going to die. It was an awful experience. So of course if you’ve read enough of these books by now you know that all those (“utterly savage,” “terrible”) lions were just the one magically fast lion named Aslan. Being a dick. Per usual. (I’m sure there was no other conceivable way to get these two riders and horses together without scaring the shit out of them.)
Shasta noticed the other rider was slender and “he had no beard.” But when they get out of the water and could see the rider more clearly, Shasta says, “Why, it’s only a girl!” (What’s that doing riding? Or outside the house and out in public? The indecency!) This girl, Aravis, is very rude and defensive. She particularly dislikes Shasta. He responds by sulking. (So of course they’ll get married later.)
One thing I’ve noticed while reading through this book (twice recently) is that there’s no mention of Aravis having dark skin. We know she must since she’s from Calormen, from a long line of Calormene patriarchs. In fact, she’s a true Calormene with all the greed, pride, lying (embellishing), looking down on others, talking too much while female, and other personal failings Calormene folks have. But her figure is remarked upon (slender), and her face (smooth/beardless), and other things, but not her skin color. I remember reading about her as a child and assuming she looked like me because it was not obvious she wouldn’t. (She’s played by a White woman in the BBC production of this book.) Maybe Lewis avoided a description of her skin color to make her more appealing to his English audience? Maybe her skin color would have said something evil about her character, in keeping with the rest of the series, so he just left it out of her opening descriptions? (For those playing at home: This is called r-a-c-i-s-m.)
The horse Aravis is riding, Hwin, is also a Talking Horse from Narnia. Hwin was also kidnapped like Bree was, and it’s assumed she hid her talking abilities as well. Her journey is also one back home. “Same story, different horsey,” says Little Bit. The important thing is she’s a girl horsey, er, horse so they can all heterosexually partner up. (Although Hwin and Bree don’t get married to each other later.)
Aravis, however, is fleeing a forced marriage. Now here’s where I explain that this is doubly gross because she’s only 13 years old, or maybe even younger. We only know she’s not as old as Shasta from his words, “You’re not grown up. I don’t believe you’re any older than I am. I don’t believe you’re as old.” Since Shasta is currently 14 we assume Aravis is 13 at most. This means she is still a child and she’s being given in marriage (in a children’s book) to a man in his 60s. So what does she do? Well she goes to kill herself (in a children’s book) after the engagement is announced. That’s when Hwin made herself known as a Narnian horse and they agreed to run away together to superior Narnia.
Aravis got away by pretending to go make sacrifices that were customary of brides (killing animals for the god Tash because Calormen didn’t have a civilized New Testament telling them that wasn’t necessary anymore), but instead she drugged the maidservant with her and ran. The servant (who is said to be bad and a spy for her wicked stepmother) would surely be beaten for falling asleep on the job, and Shasta self-righteously points this out. Somehow Shasta’s running away and leaving his “father” to probably be beaten or killed by that Tarkaan for cheating him out of their deal and stealing his horse is ignored entirely, but Aravis, it seems, will be called to task for her behavior while fleeing for her life. (Aslan is even going to tear her skin up over it later!) Girls, apparently, don’t get the same excuse as men of being at war or fleeing when their bodies and lives are at risk.
Just so we’re clear:
Avaris flees for her life (and bodily autonomy) leaving her maidservant to maybe be punished. She’s portrayed as having sinned and later severely physically punished for it by their “righteous” deity.
Shasta flees for his life (and to avoid slavery) leaving his “father” to maybe be punished or killed by that Tarkaan. Shasta avoids any consequence whatsoever and his behavior is considered completely understandable. Their “righteous” deity seems to reward him.
Could the difference in response be… I don’t know… because one is, to quote Shasta, “only a girl”?
To make this story triply gross (if that’s possible), Aravis also had a letter written up that pretends to be from her uncle (her father’s brother). In it the uncle says he grabbed Aravis (his niece) in the woods and married her/forced himself on her (in a children’s book). She’s hoping anyone looking for her will go to her uncle’s house that’s in the opposite direction and it will buy her some more time to get out of the country. Apparently this kind of incest/kidnap marriage is normal for Calormen (and children’s books).
(Kidnapping children! Raping/marrying off girls! These situations require the great wisdom of Sir Antoine Dodson.)
The new party of four (two children and two horses) decide to flee to Narnia together. Unfortunately there is one last Calormene city in their way: Tashbaan. After that is a stretch of desert leading to the country of Archenland in the mountains. Get it? Land of arches! ARCHenland. Remember the last book where there was a land of giants? It was named Ettinmoor, which is literally Ettin’s moor. (Ettin means “giant.”) It’s like Lewis was just all, “This land has arches! This land has giants! This land has colored people!”
Archenland will be important later because it’s a nation of civilized (read: White) people. (When Bree was proving Shasta was trustworthy he said our White hero is “certainly either a Narnian or an Archenlander.” As if skin color or nationality was a legit defense of someone’s character.)
So it’s on to evil Tashbaan where some very familiar characters from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe are waiting for us. Then to “Narnia and the North!”
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
January 27, 2018