By Alexis Record
“People actually believe they’ll have to kill other people when they die?”
“Beliefs aren’t anchored to reality. They can be anything.”
“So bad people who want to kill others have those beliefs?”
“Maybe. It’s more complicated with kids who have been indoctrinated. I didn’t want anyone to suffer after they died, but when my little brain was still developing I was taught not only would that happen, but it was true and right and good since God did it. I didn’t get a choice to believe it or not. It took decades to shed that belief.”
“I’m glad you didn’t ever doctorate me or however you say it.”
“I don’t know. Your love and knowledge of Star Wars even though you’ve only seen A New Hope probably counts. Also, your bedtime song is really the theme to Firefly, so I am working to pre-program some affinity for fantasy and sci-fi.”
By this point Tirian and the children have FINALLY removed their black face disguises since they “didn’t want to be mistaken for Calormenes and perhaps attacked by any loyal Narnians.” Why would the good guys just attack people for being black? (Hmmmmm.)
After getting back to being white again Tirian says, “I feel a true man again.” Groan.
The last chapter closed with our party reminiscing about the history of Narnia. In pure Lewis fashion they will speak of the good old days. It was never as good (whenever it was) as it was before then. No statistics on crime rates going down or society advancing will convince a person like Lewis that it wasn’t better back in the day. (Read: When equality was a pipe dream and white men were on top.)
The picture of all those happy years, all the thousands of them, piled up in Jill’s mind…
“Oh, Jewel – wouldn’t it be lovely if Narnia just went on and on – like what you said it has been?”
“Nay, sister,” answered Jewel, “all worlds draw to an end, except Aslan’s own country.”
Here we see some major foreshadowing that the world is ending. A talking eagle flying overhead (who they threaten to shoot with an arrow) spots them and reports that Cair Paravel has fallen to Calormen. At finding out the monarchy has been taken over my humans with dark skin, Tirian announces, “Narnia is no more.” (It’s either white or it’s done.)
By way of more foreshadowing, Eustace asks Jill what will happen when they die in battle in Narnia—whether their bodies will appear back in London. They are presently marching back to Stable Hill where they plan to kill the ape and Calormenes there. It’s likely they’ll die in the effort and they refer to this as “the adventure that Aslan sends.” (How to know if your deity is a sadist in one easy step!) Jill says she’s glad to die in Narnia than live a long life back home. (Death = glory!) Eustace strangely responds, “Or be smashed up by British Railways!” He explains that the “awful jerk” they experienced when coming to Narnia felt like the beginning of a railway accident. (Spoiler: It was and they’re dead.)
The party sneaks behind the stable where Puzzle has been presented in the lion skin every night. As usual, the ape, clearly hungover, comes out to address the crowd. He says a donkey has been dressing up like Aslan! This enrages the other animals. Due to this sacrilege, Aslan won’t be coming out tonight. Our heroes are horrified that their plan is now ruined as the ape beat them to the reveal and used it to his advantage.
The black dwarf from the slavery rescue (who was marching off in the other direction last we heard and is now suddenly back here) does the crowd a favor by telling everyone that it was the same donkey in a lion’s skin the entire time. No one listens. The dwarf tells the ape to show the crowd what exactly is in the stable since “seeing is believing.” This would fly in the face of biblical “wisdom” that not seeing is believing and somehow counts as evidence. (Hebrews 11:1) (And I used to wonder why my Christian school curriculum failed so miserably to teach me the scientific method. Now it’s pretty obvious.)
The ape says the crowd is welcome to see Tashlan, who is totally in the stable (wink), but whoever wants to go in must do so alone behind closed doors. The dwarf points out that this shady set up allows Calormenes with swords to lie in wait to kill whoever walks in. Ignoring this, the ape asks for a volunteer from the audience to go in and tell the others what they see. A plant in the audience, the atheist cat, volunteers. It’s all like a bad magic act. (Wow, that is my number! He has the gift!)
One thing I want to specifically mention is Lewis’ repeated use of the slur “Darkie” in this part of the story. It’s always the dwarf saying it to the Calormene captain or his men. I found it hard to read to my daughter and explained that it was a bad word and not to use it. In this context it’s the closest thing to the N word Lewis can manage in a children’s book. I think if we all look at our Narnia racism bingo cards, all the boxes are now marked.
The cat goes into the stable to see Tashlan and comes out terrified. It loses the ability to speak (which separates talking animals from being food or slave animals as we learned in The Magician’s Nephew) and it is never seen again. We get the idea that something is not going according to plan. Even so, the effect on the crowd is the desired one with the animal people begging the ape to speak all Moses-like to Aslan on their behalf.
Next a young Calormene named Emeth asks to go into the stable. Since Aslan and Tash are one and the same he is eager to meet the god he has served all his life. He is so brave that Jewel tells Tirian he is “worthy of a better god than Tash.” Emeth goes into the door of the stable and a few brief moments later a dead man falls out of the same door. The captain announces that Emeth is dead after looking at Tash. (Before you think badly of Tash, this whole seeing-equals-dying thing is originally a brutality of the god of the Bible. Exodus 33:20.) Our heroes behind the stable, however, see that the dead man isn’t Emeth, but some other Calormene. Weird.
In a move that made no sense whatsoever, the ape volunteers a talking boar to come next to meet his death in the stable. The implication is that all the Narnians are going to be killed one by one in this plan. Why would he do this when he already has the crowd cowering and obedient? It seems like lazy writing just so Tirian will finally have a motivation to step out from his hidey spot and start attacking folks. (Like Tirian needs much prodding.) The first thing Tirian does is pick up Shift and throw him in the stable. A weird greenish-blue light appeared and a “clucking and screaming as if it was the hoarse voice of some monstrous bird” was heard from inside.
Tirian then addresses the crowd and asks all Narnians to join the fight. The dogs (who are loyal by nature) join up immediately as well as a few small woodland creatures, but most of the crowd is too afraid of Tashlan’s wrath. (This would be a good thing if it were God’s or Aslan’s wrath, but since it’s Tashlan this will be considered cowardice.)
Tirian orders the woodland creatures to go to where the talking horses have been tied up by the Calormenes and ask them if they are going to fight to the death for him. If they agree to do it, the creatures are to gnaw the ropes and free them. Can’t let them out of their unlawful bondage if they aren’t willing to go into slavery for the king and die for him, though. (Seriously, this is messed up.) This ends with the horses arriving just to be slaughtered immediately by the dwarves! (Who are bad due to their atheism mostly.)
The battle rages and several animals die. Little Bit had major problems with this section of the story. When the doggies died it was sad, but it was somehow worse when they were injured and whimpering. The saddest of all was when the bear, who has always been described as a gentle giant, died.
“The Bear lay on the ground, moving feebly. Then it mumbled in its throaty voice, bewildered to the last, ‘I – I don’t – understand,’ laid its big head down on the grass as quietly as a child going to sleep, and never moved again.
Eustace gets a lecture about not acting like a “kitchen-girl” and to man up by killing more men. Jill is now killing humans as well as Narnian animals who are fighting for Tashlan with her bow (while crying because… girl). Yet even through the slaughter they are outnumbered and losing. Finally Tirian calls them to retreat and all but one run a safe distance away.
They turned to see who was missing. It was Eustace. He was being thrown in the stable.
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at the Chronicles of Narnia
September 15, 2018