“Lions are really bad!”
“Just this one.”
“I was talking about the ones in Calormen, too.”
“They are all the same one.”
“Wait…it’s Aslan? Really?”
“Yeah it will all be revealed in a chapter or so.”
“But these lions were all shaggy and bitey.”
“It was still Aslan.”
“He’s really awful.”
The Tisroc, Baddy, and Royal Vizier all leave the room and our girls can breathe again from their hiding place. Lasaraleen is trembling so much so that she invites Aravis to feel how violently. Aravis has no real empathy for her friend and starts to get up to leave when Lasaraleen begs Aravis to go back to her place and forget their plan. The book says Aravis found this was no time for mercy and shakes her friend by the shoulders and then threatens her life by giving away their location if Lasaraleen doesn’t do what she wants. (“But we shall both be k-k-killed!”) The poor Tarkeena has no choice but to help Aravis to the garden gate, although she is shaking so badly at this point that she cannot open the gate and Aravis has to do it.
Lasaraleen, who is supposed to be very put upon, to say the least, and in extreme danger, then decides this is a great time to try and convince Aravis to marry the Grand Vizier who we just saw Baddy kicking like a dog. Really? Why was a terrified 13 year old even striking up a conversation in this situation?! (Because women are so foolishly talkative all the time?) Aravis scoffs that she would rather marry “my father’s scullion” (a bit classist) than marry someone who was “egging on that horrible Tisroc to plot his son’s death.” Lasaraleen replies that the evil plot they just overheard “must be right if he’s going to do it!” Oh sweet heavens! I love that she’s appealing to Divine Command Theory in the same way Christians have all my life. I feel like my current humor would be lost on Lewis, though, since Lewis’ God does command horrors in Lewis’ holy book multiple times. And CS Lewis has some very tortured and twisted logic to excuse it.
It’s such a ridiculous conversation contrived to invite Aravis to say the right things so we can cheer her on and condemn Calormen thinking. We’re supposed to believe that Lasaraleen is that superficial that she’d still care about that stuff while fearing for her life. This part of the book is just so… lazy. It completely hangs on misogyny to even be a bit believable.
Anyway, Aravis shoves off her friend’s “affectionate” embraces and leaves Tashbaan for good. Aravis “hated every minute of her time in Tashbaan” (eff you very much, Lasaraleen, and your baths and meals). She has now broken free of the kind of femininity (social, talkative, overly affectionate, blubbering) that Lewis so despises.
(Poor Lasaraleen. You don’t need friends who just use you. You need someone who loves to watch you twirl in your pretty dresses.)
It’s not that Lasaraleen is my favorite character, far from it, but that’s the point: she’s no one’s favorite character. And the reason is kinda sexist. In reality, she was a freaking hero who gave refuge to a friend in need, protected this friend from her father even though she didn’t quite agree with her decision, and put herself in danger to meet his friend’s needs, as well as put off her own plans of getting carried around in a litter in her pretty new dress. I just feel like she needs more credit.
At least Aravis finally (finally!) tells Lasaraleen that her dresses were pretty before departing. (About effing time, Aravis!)
Next Aravis finds the tombs, and “her heart quailed” due to thoughts of the ghouls. She sees the horses and immediately dismisses their groom who runs away since he also feared the ghouls. But everything was alright now. Even Shasta (who had been hiding from the groom) came out. Shasta shares what he overheard from Edmund and Susan on how to get through the desert. Aravis relays her info about what Baddy is planning. Now they have a mission to get to Archenland first and warn King Lune what’s coming.
This quest requires endless walking through sand. At one point the sand was so hot it burned Shasta’s feet. Then we get this bit:
“It’s all right for you,’ said Shasta to Aravis who was walking beside Hwin. ‘You’ve got shoes on.’ Aravis said nothing and looked prim. Let’s hope she didn’t mean to, but she did.”
So let’s get this straight: Aravis is doing the hard work of actually walking through the endless desert while Shasta rides and saves his energy, but a look she may or may not have given him, one of looking too “prim,” is bad? Girls can’t be arrogant; they can’t even give looks like they are! What kind of face policing is this? Can you guess how many times Shasta gave bad (mostly sulky) looks and Lewis opined that it would be best if he didn’t mean them? I’ll give you a clue: NEVER. Boys are allowed feelings, and even allowed to show feelings on their faces. Girls? Not unless those feelings are proper ones for ladies. (Feeling impressed by men is proper. Feeling superior to men in any given situation is not.)
Another thing girls or women are not allowed to do is be opinionated or demanding or in command. After a day’s march through unforgiving sand, they found a river and slept. The next morning Bree wouldn’t set out until he’d eaten. Everyone thought this was wrong since it was late and lives were on the line. Hwin, the female horse, tried to communicate how important it was and encourage him to keep going. She had to do this in the most round-about, careful way though. Hwin couldn’t be demanding because Hwin was a proper lady. Once Bree put her in her place, Hwin “made no answer, being, like most highly bed mares, a very nervous and gentle person who was easily put down.” When she speaks she’s shy, and when they travel she sets the pace, but silently, even though she’s weaker. It’s this quite grace that is what Lewis thinks femininity is all about. (Hwin will continue to be silently graceful as she’s attacked by Aslan and then silently submit to him and allow him to even eat her if he wants.) In my church it was the best kind of woman who quietly submitted to the will of the men in her life, even when the consequences were costly.
So, you know, that’s bullshit.
Finally they see something odd behind them like a swarm of ants in the distance. It’s Baddy’s Band of Bad guys! Now they had to gallop! Remember they’ve been riding hard for a while already.
“And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could; all they thought they could, which is not quite the same thing.”
You know what would make them go faster? Fear for their lives! Enter His Dickness.
A stupid lion (Aslan) chases them and roars. It terrifies the horses who find they can go faster all of the sudden due to adrenaline. (It’s assumed their pre-adrenaline efforts were not good enough, and somehow this is a personal failing on their parts.) Bree obviously is faster than Hwin, who the lion targets. Why Hwin? Because screw females, that’s why. Ugh, apparently he wants to claw up Aravis on Hwin’s back for leaving her handmaid (but not Shasta who leaves Arsheesh). Anway, Hwin, who was a sinless character from Lewis’s point of view, screams (“one of the most terrible noises in the world, a horse’s scream”) as the lion snaps at her hind legs (seriously, what in the world did Hwin do to you, jerk?!) and Aslan finally gets to rip Aravis’ shoulders to shreds.
Shasta jumps off Bree and “half mad with horror” yells at the lion. The lion was done playing cat-and-mouse with our heroes and leaves. They all then ran/galloped into a strange, green gate conveniently ahead and were greeted by some prophet-like dude called The Hermit of the Southern March. Hermit prophet dude knows all about Baddy and tells Shasta to run to the king. Shasta feels like passing out, but leaves at a run. Aravis and the horses stay with the hermit to recover.
Aravis wakes up on a bed made of the best bedding which “was a thing she had never seen or heard of.” As if Calormen didn’t trade with Archenland (a day’s travel north?) and a high bred Tarkeena in the land of sin and pleasure wouldn’t know of good bedding. Okay, whatever. Her back is also so badly torn up that Hwin has to ask if she’ll live. The hermit tends to her wounds and says they don’t look infected and will heal. Aravis makes the mistake of saying she has good luck and is quickly told that there’s no such thing as luck by Hermit guy. Why? Because Aslan is in control and our deity is so sovereign that coincidences don’t exist. This is borrowing right from my former church’s play book. For us, luck was for shmucks. I made the mistake once of telling my friend’s new husband at her wedding that he was a lucky guy. He looked taken aback and corrected me, “Not lucky, blessed!” They’re divorced now so not so blessed I guess. (Haha, that’s the pettiest thing I’ve ever written and it was delicious.)
Luck means that some good things can be random. This flies in the face of Christianity which claims every good and perfect gift is from above—a sentiment from James 1:17 that’s written out on the first gift my husband ever gave me back when I was his gift. (Er, back when we were good Christians who believed in husband ownership, which didn’t work out for us.) If good things are gifts from God that means they cannot be attributed to luck without slighting God. I know a member of my former church who thought of luck as similar to witchcraft, astrology, or tarot cards. It was a completely pagan idea to him. It wasn’t until I was a 30-year old brand new atheist that I learned that coincidences were clearly real and meaningless. I had no idea. That’s how brainwashed I had been about luck.
Anyway, Aravis can’t just sleep off her pain, because there’s more emotional labor demanded of our ladyfolk! Bree is sulking. And how! He says he’s going to go back to Calormen and be a slave. Sure he is. This has nothing to do with getting the girls to cheer him up. Bree beats himself up for running to safety while the lion (his own god, unbeknownst to him) threatened the others. The hermit says it’s actually a good thing Bree is completely miserable because it means the horse has lost his self-conceit. This is seen as humility, which all good believers must have. And for the worst sentence in the chapter: “As long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse.”
And here it is: Christianity’s most mixed message. You’re a beloved child of the King! Also, you’re a dirty, rotten sinner! Which is it? Both! And if you start thinking of yourself as the former, believe me, you will be reminded of how much the latter you are. Ugh, we saw this when Caspian was praised for not feeling ready for the crown because he shouldn’t ever be so arrogant to the point of capability.
So the lion’s deed was to hurt Aravis, scare Hwin, and humble (decimate the self-esteem of) Bree. What did he do to Shasta? Well, he’s off doing it right now! The next chapter is called “The Unwelcome Fellow Traveller.” As Shasta travels in Archenland, a dick with fur will be stalking him.
By Alexis Record
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia