By Alexis Record
“And that, honey, is why black face is wrong.”
“Why did the book put it in there? They could have done something else as a disguise. Like a magic spell.”
“Or hoods, or animal costumes, or capes. That’s a good point. An author is only limited by imagination. A responsible author would avoid elements that hurt disadvantaged groups.”
“Okay let’s get back to the story! I can’t wait to see how this blows up in their faces.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no way black face will work. This is a stupid plan.”
Leave it to old Jack (CS Lewis) to describe someone experiencing torture, often after some violence has befallen them, in a way that makes you feel like you’re there. He’s gotten so good at these descriptions due to how often it occurs in his writing it’s almost expected. Tirian is tied to a tree while bleeding. He’s rather out of it due to blunt force trauma and is becoming increasingly thirsty, hungry, cold, and sore.
Come to think of it, suffering and torture appeared a lot in the Christian books I read growing up. When I was little I assumed without question that I would die in some brutal way if I followed Jesus. (That’s all kinds of messed up, but I was force fed lots of examples of people doing this and it felt normal at the time.) I guess a group can only become a bit masochistic when their Bible promises that they’ll for sure be persecuted and suffer for Jesus in a world who hates them so they can receive the special persecution blessing. (Tirian must be a good Christian.)
When my suffering was meaningless, it was so comforting to believe it has a grand purpose designed by an all-powerful sadist who loved me and rewarded me with his pleasure if I endured it. (Kinda kinky.)
Folks (the animal people, not the Calormenes) walk past their young king looking sad and sorry, but there was little they could do since Aslan had ordered this inhumane treatment. This is like when parents reject their LGBTQIA+ or unbelieving children for similar reasons even though it tears them up inside. Or it’s like when “good” believers refuse to alleviate the suffering of loved ones based on the New Testament belief that it’s God doing it to them for some reason they deserve. (We’ll discuss New Testament abuse for God a bit later on.)
The awful thing is that these sorry passersby would have been rewarded for ignoring this suffering (or adding to it) if the real Aslan had ordered it. A quick and imperfect example of this that springs to mind is when Aslan’s people laughed at the suffering of the Calormene prince in The Horse and His Boy. Or maybe a better example would be when Aslan tore through towns in Prince Caspian and changed little boys into pigs for ignoring him or killed others while his followers danced with joy. It was okay since Aslan did it.
In my experience, when Christians do horrible things to people in the name of God (based directly on biblical passages), other Christians immediately pipe up with, “Hey! That’s not the real God!” I’m not against this necessarily—it is how modern Christianity has evolved past its biblical roots. I just find it utterly dishonest in a weird way only a (former) biblical fundamentalist can truly feel. I mean, the biblical Jesus is no prince. He lies (about a few things, like attending a party), verbally abuses women (calling one a dog), snubs his mother, is xenophobic, invents the idea of eternal torture (that didn’t exist in Abrahamic faiths until this point), advocates violence to one’s family if they don’t follow him (with a sword), preaches giving up money and clothing since the world is ending in his follower’s lifetimes (2,000 years ago), fails to stand up to the immorality of his day that stemmed from the sexist laws he backed, slut shames women on the street by saying their bodies shouldn’t be looked at (with no such admonishment for men’s bodies), and comes back in the end to kill everyone and be covered in their blood.
I did rotten things to people and I believed rotten things about people while a biblical Christian, but liberal Christians (as much as I love them) can’t tell me it wasn’t straight from the “inspired” pages! It’s not like there’s another book that formed the foundation for this silly religion!
Yet obviously Christians can be some of the loveliest people. I’ve seen the best of compassion from believers in my life due to a moral pull that directs them away from those yucky biblical commands and towards the passages that promote acts of mercy and kindness. In my childhood environment it was the best, most compassionate people who felt the most guilt when they lent a hand to someone the Bible didn’t like. (No good deed goes unpunished if it goes against a barbaric religious document in a fundamental church.) For example, we were told that we should not eat with family or friends who go against God, especially gay ones or those who had premarital sex. We were to “hand them over to Satan” via 1 Corinthians 5 (another winner of a New Testament passage). Our moral pull to do otherwise was described as weakness, or worse, disobedience.
The animals felt this pull as well as they sneak back to help. “I suppose what we’re doing now may be wrong,” they admit as they feed him, alleviate his thirst (with lots of wine), and provide comfort by washing off the blood on his face. They wanted to untie him, but they couldn’t since “Aslan might be angry.” This offering of wine may have been reminiscent of Jesus being offered wine and gall or vinegar while also hanging on a “tree” (cross made of wood). Scriptures tells Christians to endure or “take up” a cross. (Not literally, but by suffering in the world.) My guess is this imagery being significant. The text says they had water with them, but they never offered him that to drink. (A head injury plus lots of wine might explain what happens next much better than an out of body experience.)
After giving him “some more wine” they assured him:
“If it were only the Ape and the Calormenes who were against you, we would have fought till we were cut into pieces before we’d have let them tie you up. We would, we would indeed. But we can’t go against Aslan.”
Lewis has to make it clear that these animals are violent enough to be good guys. They are only allowing this injustice for the “right” reasons. They would have fought for their king otherwise.
One sad thing about all this is that the animals believe that they deserve punishment. It’s the cry of a people who can’t question their deity or fight back against him, so they must comfort themselves that these hardships are not meaningless. There’s a reason. It may not make a lick of sense, but his ways are above their ways after all.
“‘[Aslan] seems to have come back very angry this time,’ said the first Mouse. ‘We must all have done something dreadfully wrong without knowing it. He must be punishing us for something.’”
This false Aslan resembles the biblical god closely enough that no one easily spots the difference. In Revelation, the Christians’ “loving” God is angry, violent, and insane. (I don’t use that last word lightly.) He kills, he tortures, he swings his weapons wide so the guilty and innocent fall together. He enacts terror and calls it justice. He releases disease and calls it mercy. He lashes out, not only against an enemy army, but against regular people—the kindly grandmas and ignorant children who didn’t accept the god claim while alive. The biblical god would enjoy a burning pile of grandmas without empathy or shame and then call their burning just. God may not be “willing that any should perish” but doles it out with aplomb and happily “dashes infants against the stones.” (“I don’t want to hurt you baby, but I will.”)
Sadly, describing a false, evil god and a good, just one often involves all the same words in Lewis’ religion. I remember being taken aback when I read about Jesus warning believers to fear god since he can throw them into hell. The Jesus character doesn’t say to respect a loving god, but to fear a horrible one. This was supposedly good since Jesus said it. It’s the same logic we’re up against with this book. Lewis seems to be aware of this absurdity as he sets up the false Aslan so well, yet he completely fails to acknowledge it. Modern readers see the similarity of the fake Aslan to the real one and understand that either one committing these actions would be wrong. Lewis’ intended audience will only see it’s wrong because the real Aslan is not doing it.
In the distance Tirian sees a bonfire and a very stiff “Aslan” (Puzzle the donkey) emerging from the stable. The ape pretends to get instructions from the creature, proving Aslan is the one ordering all these hardships and horrors.
The animals all cry out in grief: “Aslan! Aslan! Aslan! […] Be angry with us no more.”
It’s tough having a god with anger management issues. Over and over throughout Scripture the “good guys” beg god to stop being so gosh darn angry and punitive all the time. In a website called “Knowing Jesus” there’s a page with 20 verses about God’s anger (pulled from hundreds) for those studying the Bible. This religious group literally chooses least awful ones, but do they not realize how evil he sounds regardless? A boyfriend acting this way would warrant police involvement.
My childhood god was a bully. An angry, disagreeable, bloody bully.
Tirian cries out to Aslan as well as those ignorant animals, but the text implies he cries to the right one: “Aslan! Aslan! Aslan!” He begs his magical lion, “Let me be killed, I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.”
Aw the magic words of self-abasement and sacrifice! Aslan loves that shit! Tirian must be very familiar with the biblical heroes who did the same. Begging God to do the right thing is a repeated throughout the Bible since, apparently, God can’t be bothered to just do the right thing on his own.
Tirian asks rather specifically that the children who have come and helped save Narnia in ancient times would once again show up. [Aslan is listening since he’s literally watching horrible things happen in his name and is doing nothing. He’s seriously just right there letting innocent people be slaughtered and beat up.] Granting his request, Aslan triggers the out of body experience. All the sudden Tirian finds himself standing in front of a group of seven familiar people sitting around a dining table in London.
Peter (yes that Peter) tells Tirian, “You have a Narnian look about you.” (What, was he white or something?) Tirian found he could not speak and simply faded away from their sight. He wakes up still tied to the tree, but no longer alone. In front of him were two well-known children named Eustace and Jill.
They untie the king and flee. Eustace explains how Digory and Polly (now old people) had invited all the friends of Narnia who had appeared in the previous books as children: Peter, Edmund, (not Susan), Lucy, himself, and Jill to talk about Narnia in London. That happened to be exactly when the king appeared like a ghost. This was the catalyst for a series of events that would lead the entire group meeting up on a train where Aslan would warp the two of them to Narnia. (Or something like that. We’ll get back to the train they’re all on later.)
It was only Eustace and Jill who came because the others had been told by Aslan that they would not be returning to Narnia in their lifetimes. Eustace hints that they have magic rings and may try to come if they can since this was an emergency.[As a side note, the number seven is considered a godly number in Biblical Numerology. Seven represents “totality of perfection” or “completion.” Susan is our Judas who betrays Narnia by wanting the things of the world. This leaves us with our perfect predestined number. The Bible teaches that God predestines some people for eternal torture before they are even born or have done anything wrong (Romans 9:22) and hates others without reason (Romans 9:10-13) so we have justification for a beloved character who hasn’t done anything wrong to be rejected by Aslan. We’ll get into Susan’s story more later.]
While telling this long story, (Jill doesn’t get to speak if a boy is around, by the way) Eustace has to stop several times to explain trains and telecommunication and London (“big town”) and all sorts of modern devices since Narnia, like the Bible, is stuck in the Iron Age as the Good Lord prefers. We also learn that Narnia is very young (a few thousand years old at most I’d guess), and it’s only been about two hundred years since Rilian was king. The Bible makes similar claims about the age of the earth and the end of all things happening while the earth is not as technologically advanced.
The three heroes make their way to an outpost where they can get weapons for killing and put on black face. (I’m not even joking a little bit.)
“And look on this stone bottle. In this there is a juice which, when we have rubbed it on our hands and faces, will make us brown as Calormenes.”
“Oh hurrah!” said Jill. “Disguises! I love disguises.”
“Nothing but oil and ashes will make us white Narnians again.”
Besides black face (which is bad enough) there’s something insidiously horrible about making a whole magical world white. Especially when that world is portrayed as the epitome of goodness, run by “God.”
Finally our heroes end the chapter by moaning the fact they have no wine. Because of course they do.
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at the Chronicles of Narnia
August 18, 2018