By Alexis Record
“So slavery is good and not believing is bad?”
“Apparently in Narnia.”
“But the Calormenes have slaves! And everyone keeps saying that’s why they’re the bad guys!”
“Silly as it seems, Aslan gets special rules. Being free to think for yourself becomes bad if it leads you away from slavery to Aslan. That’s why disbelief is seen as so troubling and wrong; it’s even grieved over. You know, I always took for granted that Aslan was a master of people and they had to obey him.”
“You thought Aslan should have slaves?”
“Yeah, I was raised with some funny ideas.”
“No one should have slaves, Mom. Like, no.”
The dwarves who were approaching in the last chapter finally arrive. Two Calormenes are leading the large group of soon-to-be slaves, with two more Calormenes following behind them. It doesn’t take many guys to keep them in line since they are so submissive. Our blue-eyed king, still in black face, tricks the stupid Calormenes into thinking he’s a Tarkaan. (As if.) He then asks the dwarves why they were going so willingly “to die in the salt-pits,” making it clear to the reader that this kind of slavery was death by labor. They responded with, “Aslan’s orders. He’s sold us. What can we do against him?”
The “sold us” line hit me unexpectedly hard, like a sucker punch. I knew people obeyed Aslan, but here I realized anew that Aslan owns people. And everyone is okay with that! People he can kill for any reason! This is something I just took for granted as a child, but now it unbalances me to see it mentioned so nonchalantly. This “god owns you” idea is often slipped into storylines or Bible readings unnoticed. Now it stands out badly like a third eye.
I shuddered at the idea of eternal torture growing up, but I thought God had a right to do it to people since he was the boss who made them in the first place. If you belong to your deity, then it makes sense that your deity could sell you or hurt you. Again, not to beat a dead (talking) horse, but we’ve seen over and over that things like slavery are presented as fine when God, Aslan, or their representatives who have “pleasant faces” do it, but very wrong if someone we don’t like does it. Here is where that idea gets stretched beyond normal palatability.
In some ways I was sold by my absent and silent deity by that deity’s loud mouthpieces all around me. My body was used for unpaid labor in my church and on missions. My Christian school required I do unpaid work for them, and even my Christian college once required I do a special day-long service project I could not opt-out of. I was bused down to Mexico and painted a church in the sun. (They only pulled that actual slavery crap that one time, though.) My mom did so much unpaid labor for our church and religious school that it was a hardship on our family, leaving us at the poverty line. Thankfully good Christians (we didn’t associate with anyone else thanks to 1 Corinthians 15:33) provided our clothes, shoes, and bread to make up for it.
Not only with labor, but I also had rules about what I could and couldn’t do with my own thoughts. (2 Corinthians 10:5) This led me to often moaning to my mom that I wish I could unplug my brain like I could unplug a television. I couldn’t follow certain trains of thought too far without stepping into sin territory and upsetting my heavenly master. I also had rules that controlled what I did with my own body, including rules against self-touch. This was because I didn’t own myself. The idea of bodily autonomy (which comes up in discussions of women’s health care) didn’t even make sense to me.
My goal as a believer was to be the “good and faithful slave.” The Greek word for slave in Matthew 25 is doulos, but some translations will make this word “servant” because it doesn’t sound as bad. (That’s literally the only reason why it’s translated this way. Go look it up.) 1 Corinthians 6 says to believers, “You are not your own.” The next verse explains it’s because “you were bought at a price.” God paid for you since slaves are property! (Don’t ask for proof of this or wonder why he would need to.)
Aslan owning dwarves is similar, yet Narnians are called free people. How is this not a contradiction (when it really is)? Well, 1 Corinthians 7 claims anyone who is born free is still a slave in Christ and slaves in real life are called free “in the Lord.” (So a biblical “freeman” is technically a slave twice over.) Therefore, Narnians can belong to a master and be free at the same time by the same derp reasoning.
Why does 1 Corinthians 6 pound the idea of slavery (to God) into believer’s heads so much in the first place? One clue would be that the man writing it (Paul) is about to tell Christians what they can and cannot do with their own bodies in this passage. Could it be he wants to control them? How similar is this to our Narnian ape speaking for a silent god! Paul exerts control over people using the deity, Yahweh, who is described as a slaver throughout the Bible.[Fun fact! The New Testament, that many consider to be the softer side of the Bible, loves slavery! Paul even devotes an entire book of the New Testament to a slave owner about what he can do with his slave! Other New Testament letters attributed to Paul teach slaves to obey their masters, fear their masters, and to work hard without complaining. Paul’s equally horrible advice to women (who he considers slaves to their husband owners) is to be silent, don’t ask questions or learn from anyone who is not their master, cover their heads to show their subservient position, not have authority over men, not even teach men, and be saved from God’s wrath through the act of childbearing since it’s a woman’s greatest duty to their owners. This biblical author would find a friend in CS Lewis who wrote in Surprised by Joy, “some of us most dread for our own species […] the dominance of the female.”] [Bonus fun fact! Many Christians in my life defend the slavery in the Bible by saying God was just using what was already going on in that culture to give out life lessons! God had to use baby steps with these people since they loved their slavery so much he couldn’t just abolish it; it would be like taking a child’s favorite dangerous toy away! So a rule that “slavery is bad” would be a bad idea. Instead we have rules greatly limiting and controlling sex, money, clothing, belief, and family life! Those are NO BIG THANG.]
Maybe the dwarves never really thought about Aslan’s dominance over them before. Tirian uses the Socratic method to get them to think about this, perhaps for the first time. It backfires, though, as they don’t stop thinking (like they should)!
Tirian shows them Puzzle in the lion skin: a piece of evidence. The front two Calormenes realize the jig is up and they are outnumbered by no-longer-compliant dwarves. They draw their swords but Tirian quickly kills one while Eustace kills the other. The dwarves themselves take care of the last two.
Keep in mind Eustace is a small child and just killed a person. This should come with a bit of shock, horror, or disgust. Yet Tirian happily pats the boy on the shoulder and Jill becomes hot for him. (Girls just love slaughter.) She was “very impressed with Eustace’s victory over the Calormene and felt almost shy.” Oh Eustace, do you have a bit of grey matter on your shirt? Some small intestine in your hair? You sexy beast, you.
Jill was also “disgusted with the Dwarfs.” They are almost worse than the Calormenes and garner the most grief from our party. What did they do that was so wrong?
A black dwarf (because of course he’s black!!!) who is described only as “not-very-nice-looking” speaks up and says, “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”
(Black and ugly, clearly a bad guy.)
A free-thinking Dwarf? No! That’s awful! You’re supposed to go back to happily serving the other Aslan! You’re not supposed to figure out the game is rigged! Darn you black dwarves always ruining everything!
The book says that Tirian was not pale when he was slaughtering the Calormene, that was nothing, but he becomes pale now at the thought that someone doesn’t believe in Aslan. (Pale under the black face of course.) He starts practically shouting at the former slaves.
The dwarves simply respond, “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see!” (I like how they now sound like old-timey gangsters, see!)
Tirian gets mad and tries to say the real Aslan (who no one has ever seen) is in charge of Narnia and they should follow him.
The dwarf is not having it, “And you’ve got a better imitation, I supposed! […] No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”
Tirian is just spitting mad now and says angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”
They respond, “Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!”
Tirian calls them fools—the insult of a man standing solidly on an empty argument. He says Aslan won’t come show himself as he’s “not a tame lion.” This was the same phrase the ape kept using to convince them that Aslan was selling them into slavery. (A tame lion doesn’t sell people into slavery?) This was obviously the wrong thing to say.
Jill is shocked and disgusted that the dwarves don’t believe in Aslan. She tells the dwarves that she’s seen Aslan herself (um, hundreds and hundreds of years ago by magic… what?) and she doesn’t understand why they would require evidence over claims. I mean, maybe it’s because claims without evidence led them directly into slavery in the first place? (Yeah, their doubt is a complete and total mystery, girlfriend.)
Once they realize they don’t need gods, the dwarves see clearly that they also don’t need kings, either. Oh boy.
Eustace calls the dwarves “little beasts” and yells at them for not saying thank you. They come back with, “You wanted to make use of us, that’s why you rescued us.” Technically yes, the king would require the dwarves to work for him, to pay him tribute, to serve the humans in the hierarchy, and to fight and die with them. In fact, the very next section shows how depressed Tirian is because the dwarves won’t be getting killed (I mean helping) in the upcoming fight with the Calormenes. “[Tirian] had felt quite sure that the Dwarfs would rally to his side […] then the next night he would have led them to stable Hill [to fight the Calormenes].” Despite this, we are supposed to be just as angry as our heroes that the dwarves have not jumped into service to the real Aslan. (What do you know, the “real Aslan” has put the king in charge of these dwarves and conveniently uses the king as a mouthpiece to show his will!)
The dwarves leave; they are finally free with no masters. (It really must be the end of the world.) It reminds me of Lewis’ terrible view of Americans who have no loyalty to the crown. (Except for Queen Beyoncé of course.) Lewis wrote in his diary in the late 1920’s, “Women, Indians, and Americans predominate [Oxford] and—I can’t say how—one feels a certain amateurishness in the talk and look of the people.” They’re the worse for universal but unknown reasons.
It’s no accident that the freedom our king claimed to give the dwarves came with a different kind of slavery. This is New Testament thinking down to its core. No wonder my evangelical kin gobbled these books up!
As our party walk away from the dwarves, they are all upset to the point of depression over the fact there are unbelievers in Narnia.
The Bible speaks of there being believers from every tongue, tribe, and nation who will join Jesus, which is why missionaries travel to get converts. But I couldn’t help but notice when I was in missionary training that there were language groups that died out before Christians could reach them. (There were also all sorts of tribes and nations that existed before Christianity was invented.) I was told it would only take one person to bravely accept Jesus to make that verse true. (And the Bible can’t be made up gobbledygook now can it.) Incredibly, this one person could even be a great great great decedent of that long-forgotten group who had nothing to do with the original culture. The myth of the “lone believer” became a kind of urban legend permeating the stories I heard at VBS, AWANA counsel time, church camp, Missions Week, and Children’s Corner. I immediately recognized this familiar trope when one lonely dwarf comes running after our group, validating their belief in Aslan. (Later we’ll have a lonely Calormene join in. Although that would be one VERY WHITE and VERY NONDWARFIAN Heaven for these poor guys.)
Tirian and the others surround the dwarf, pat him on the back, and give him the weapon he requested to fight alongside them. Their spirits are lifted.
This exact dwarf also happened to have overheard a conversation between a Calormene who works with the ape and a clever cat. They were talking about how there was really no such thing as Tash or Aslan. That’s right! They were dreaded atheists! They’re multiplying! They’re everywhere! Nothing is sacred or good!!!
It must truly be the end.
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at the Chronicles of Narnia
September 1, 2018