“Mom, we already know Aslan is a jerk. I don’t even have to say it.”
*we continue reading*
*reading some more*
“What a total jerk!”
*two seconds later*
“Aslan is a real jerk!”
In this next section Aslan will be (*gasp*) a jerk. I know, you’re all shocked.
We left Jill and Eustace in another world that was bright and beautiful. It was filled with birds and bugs, trees and rivers, “blue shadows and emptiness.” It will often be described as very lonely. Jill would later call it “dreadful.” This was Aslan’s Country.
In all my years as an evangelical I’d never felt brave enough to try and describe Heaven; my best guesses seemed empty of all the wonders it must contain. But I appreciate authors who attempt it, and Lewis does a fantastic job describing an incredible scene. Although his version of Heaven (or Aslan’s Country) seems horrible if anyone were to actually live there longer than a few days, I mean, it may be a wonderful sight to stumble upon, but it was sparse (no undergrowth, level turf, nothing moving on the ground) and boring. Lewis has to update and expand Aslan’s Country in the last book of this series so it is not so much of a monotonous eternity. (And I think he does an excellent job of it.)
Even though this is Heaven, Jill is about to suffer immense emotional turmoil (that would haunt her dreams and interrupt her sleep for years to come) and cry most of the time she is here while lion Jesus watches pitilessly and even threatens her life.
They arrive in “That Place” on the edge of a cliff that is at airplane height because just like Aslan, his “place” is regrettably dangerous. Eustace notices the cliff and pulls Jill back. Jill is apparently put out that Eustace tried to save her so she purposely walks to the edge where she predictably starts to faint. (That’s what girls do, right Lewis?) So far the girl character has been ignorant, a careless damsel in distress, cried, almost swooned, ran away, and cried some more. Lovely. Anyway, Eustace calls her a “blithering little idiot” on his way over the cliff as he falls while trying to pull her back. She assumes he’s dead and it’s her fault. She is naturally destroyed by this. Aslan is being a voyeur from the bushes. (Is it just me or does he seems to get off on pain?)
Aslan comes out of hiding and blows Eustace (heh) to safety. Eustace flies away (to Narnia) on lion’s breath while Jill lies there sobbing. He allows her to mourn Eustace’s death without telling her that he just saved the boy. When she finally stops crying she is given a supernatural thirst. She heads towards the sounds of a stream, but carefully as she’s terrified the lion would be behind every tree. It turned out the lion was in front of the water. The lion gives her permission to drink, but she’s too scared. Once hearing Aslan’s voice (“deeper, wilder, and stronger [than a man’s]; a sort of heavy, golden voice) she responded by being “frightened in rather a different way.” Scared is bad, but scared of Aslan is good “in rather a different way.” Oh how sick Little Bit and I are of hearing how fear is good when applied to the right deity. The thought that the proper response when you love a deity is to fear them, or that we should honor and worship something terrible who inspires terror, is rubbish. Period.
Jill asks Aslan to promise not to eat her if she approaches to drink from the stream. Remember, she’s now dying of thirst. What would a total dick say in this situation?
“I make no promise.” Yep, that.
Agreeing to not kill her would maybe diminish his power over her and he’ll have none of that. Jill asked him to move at least, and when he wouldn’t even consider it she “realized she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.” When is trying to save yourself from death or severe harm described as inconveniencing someone?
It doesn’t end. Jill then asks Aslan if he eats girls. He answers, “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms.” First off, he swallows female gender then male gender in a pattern until we come to those in power then its male gender and more male gender. Yeah, I noticed.
Second, Aslan just admitted he was a mass murderer. Every time these books mention how good he is they have to deal with that. (Very biblical, actually.)
Third, he’s a psychopath who the book points out doesn’t feel sorry or angry about this revelation. He’s all, “So I kill people. I might kill you. Whatevs…”
Yes, Aslan is so amazing and fear-inspiring and powerful. Ooh and ahh and *barf noise*.
After all this Jill admits, “I daren’t come and drink.”
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. It’s a thirst he supposedly gave her. He’s going to kill her.
Jill finally approached the lion and it was “the worst thing she had ever had to do.”
If that weren’t all bad enough, we come upon the most problematic sentence in this chapter in my opinion: “It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that.”
You may argue that threats, control, and violence are way more problematic and you’d have a point. We’ve definitely had worse sentences so far. But I think it’s the most problematic for what it teaches children—you know, the books’ primary audience. They may not come upon lions with magic powers, but they will absolutely meet many tricky individuals. You cannot tell for sure if someone is lying based on their face, their claims alone, or their tone. Yet all three of these have been used as “evidence” of truthfulness: from Eustace’s assurances, to Aslan’s furrowed brow, to the children’s whispered tones. Baseless faith is repeatedly confused with actual truth, and we prop up this “truth” with the flimsiest of supports that should have been recognized instantly as falling well below the threshold for evidence. And then that dumb faith is rewarded! Dah!
Next, Aslan says to come close, and Jill “had to.” This power dynamic is giving us several gross feelings. He makes Jill admit she was showing off by standing so near the cliff (while she is made to stand between his paws and cannot meet his eye) and he punishes her for showing off by making the task he’s about to give her harder. She gets no say in having a task in the first place, either, especially one she must either accomplish or “[die] in the attempt.” But now it’s harder! Oh, and Jill gets 100% of the blame for what she did near a cliff Aslan purposely set her on. Aslan gets none. How would he know what would happen? Except for he’s supposed to be omniscient. Or at the very least the adult in this situation.
Jill brings up the way they got there, which seems awkward. This is obviously just so Aslan could say, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.” If we had any delusions that praying (not witchcraft) caused Aslan to do jack diddly, he set us straight. Oh, okay, whew. The lion is in charge and humans are still powerless garbage.
Apparently Aslan had a task for them the entire time. It involves steps or “signs” he already knows will turn out specific ways. He makes Jill memorize four signs word perfect (summarized below):
Jill is instructed to repeat these signs “when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night.” It’s almost identical to the language in Deuteronomy 6:7 where believers are instructed to repeat the Scriptures “when you lie down and when you get up.” Aslan warns that “whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.” I recognized this as my own forced obedience to the teachings of the Bible as a child. It’s like a hymn we used to sing in church:
When we walk with the Lord, In the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way. While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, For there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.
If you’re not catching the master/slave dynamic here, it’s much clearer in the Bible, but there are plenty of winks to it here as well. Jill is in the slave role while this capricious, deadly lion is playing the master. Aslan gets to punish her, order her, torture her, scare her, inform her how to think, and task her with a quest that puts her life at risk. She has no equal power, even to just ask him anything “inconvenient” like not mauling her please.
In the Bible slaves could be beaten at will for any reason or none at all:
“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21) (YES THIS IS IN THE BIBLE)
This gives Aslan permission to blow her over a cliff next. She flies straight into Narnia. The sun got in her eyes at one point, and because she was so bad at the points of a compass she didn’t know that meant she was heading west. Lewis does put in a helpful parenthetical about her directional ignorance by conceding, “(I don’t know about girls in general).” Little Bit was appreciative of that crumb offering. #NotAllGirls #Maybe #IDontKnow #LewisOut
Aslan’s blow job (couldn’t help it) is described really well, with reasons given why she didn’t feel the rush of wind at the thousands of miles per hour she was traveling because it was as if she were encapsulated inside the breath. But rather than a completely comfortable ride, Jill is driven into a cloud and flown too close to crashing waves so she arrives completely drenched. (It wasn’t until writing that out just now that I realized the whole explanation for fast travel is kind of ruined by the fact she could be driven into a wave at, what?, a thousand miles an hour? And not die?) But she lands a few feet away from Scrubb! And they immediately miss the first sign as time runs out. Maybe Aslan shouldn’t have had her sit there and memorize it word perfectly then or apologize so much for a complete accident. Even if he purposely ran out the clock, we all know whose fault it would 100% be.
The friend Eustace misses, by the way, is Caspian.
Alexis Record, Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
December 2, 2017