Narnia Recap: Shasta and Bree are being chased by a lion, and have been railroaded into another horse and rider.
Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.
The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 2: A Wayside Adventure
That was a longer pause than I'd intended; I'm sorry. How is everyone? Making it through the winter okay so far? It's already dipped below freezing here in Texas (during November!) and I have lost the ability to can. But otherwise I'm doing well, despite a strange parrot-like need to squawk "BUY MY BOOK!" every two minutes. I'm sure it'll pass.
I said before that Chapter 2 is difficult for me, because it's... not wrong, but it's not right for me. Part of this is because I have so much investment in the series at this point that I read passages a certain "this way" rather than an alternative "thus way". (Incidentally, that was part of the reason why I was committed to going through these in the order I read them as a child and not in the "canonical" order.) So, for instance, today we meet Hwin, the girl-horse of this book.
There is nothing stopping you from viewing Hwin as a socially savvy female horse who is a mistress of manipulation and capable of maneuvering the horse and humans around her into peaceable company. Indeed, I think the book would be much improved by such an interpretation. What is stopping me from that interpretation, however, is the belief that Lewis intends Hwin to be a shining example of good femininity and he would have rather torn out his own eyeballs than agree with me that social manipulation can absolutely be good.
No, no, these are books about manly men blurting out whatever inconvenient truths cross their manly minds while the good ladies hang back and deferentially follow their lead. If you let a woman manipulate men, then the next thing you know she's leading him about on a leash (literally, in the case of Edmund!) and cats are lying down with dogs, et cetera. And I think this is an important point when the very last book, The Silver Chair, was predicated on the horror of a man being manipulated into actually buying the pretense of chivalry and thinking that he should defer to all his lady's wishes when everyone knows--most especially the men practicing the chivalry!--that such devotion to her will and wishes is a romantic game of pretend, not something you actually do.
So, slipping back into this, when we last left our heroes, they were being chased by lions because that is how god railroads you back onto track in life:
Shasta now gave himself up for lost and began to wonder whether lions killed you quickly or played with you as a cat plays with a mouse and how much it would hurt. At the same time (one sometimes does this at the most frightful moments) he noticed everything. He saw that the other rider was a very small, slender person, mail-clad (the moon shone on the mail) and riding magnificently. He had no beard.
Does Caspian ever get a beard, by the way? I don't recall if he has one in either Dawn Treader or The Silver Chair, and I can't be bothered to look, but it's interesting that Lewis' fetishization of male youth in these books means that the protagonists (Peter, Caspian, Shasta) are clean-shaven and the beards are left to Very Old Men (who of course are denoted as such by having a beard that reaches to their knees), Fantastical Creatures (dwarves and fauns and maybe centaurs), and Swarthy Evil Foreigners.
Someone should write a treatise on facial hair in book protagonists, because it's one of those things that I suspect doesn't work the way you'd like when you're out on the road for weeks carrying the Ring to Isengard or wev. Someone should perhaps write a companion text on girl protagonists and body hair. (I did like that The Hunger Games actually bothered to handwave it, but I wish more of a big deal had been made about the bodily intrusion it implied. Then again, the series was remarkably subtle on those points and trusted the reader to linger on the horror; see also the breast implants that Haymitch prevented them from putting in.)
Something flat and shining was spread out before them. Before Shasta had time even to guess what it was there was a great splash and he found his mouth half full of salt water. The shining thing had been a long inlet of the sea. Both horses were swimming and the water was up to Shasta’s knees. There was an angry roaring behind them and looking back Shasta saw a great, shaggy, and terrible shape crouched on the water’s edge; but only one. “We must have shaken off the other lion,” he thought.
The lion apparently did not think its prey worth a wetting; at any rate it made no attempt to take to the water in pursuit. The two horses, side by side, were now well out into the middle of the creek and the opposite shore could be clearly seen. The Tarkaan had not yet spoken a word. “But he will,” thought Shasta. “As soon as we have landed. What am I to say? I must begin thinking out a story.”
Then, suddenly, two voices spoke at his side.
“Oh, I am so tired,” said the one. “Hold your tongue, Hwin, and don’t be a fool,” said the other.
“I’m dreaming,” thought Shasta. “I could have sworn that other horse spoke.”
Couple things of note here.
One, I am taking this as evidence that the horses do have speech patterns which mark them out as different from non-humans. We saw this earlier with Bree's name and accent, and I think we're seeing that again here because otherwise I would be faulting Aravis for not keeping her mouth shut and letting the others think that she had been the one saying she was tired. No, I am going to assume that "oh I am so tired" was said in a horsey whinny that wouldn't have plausibly come from a human, though I might have appreciated it more as a child if that had been made plain, because this part bothered me quite a bit. Mystery solved, young Ana.
Two, hold up wait a second. Bree and Shasta have been traveling for weeks and weeks, which honestly I thought was a huge mistake at the time (so much so that I missed it entirely until Depizan pointed it out) because it raises all kinds of questions like where is Shasta getting new clothes from, and why do the villagers not question how dirty and weather-beaten he looks, and how long will their money last if they've been traveling for so long, and whatnot. (What about the weather? Are there no seasons in Calormen?)
There's also a problem of characterization: after six-to-eight weeks of incredibly close communion, Shasta and Bree's relationship ought to be pretty intimate at this point. If that's what you want in your narrative, it's fine to skip over some of the early stages of Getting To Know You (sorry for the earworm; also, BUY MY BOOK!), but it means that Bree really can't plausibly keep being all "oh, you weird humans and you weird humany ways" in response to basic personality quirks that Shasta has which Bree ought to be well accustomed to by now. (Well, I mean, he can keep doing it, but as written on the page their interactions suggest no great familiarity with each other as opposed to two established friends teasing each other about their idiosyncrasies.)
But setting all that aside, they've been traveling for "weeks and weeks" yet they had no cover story whatsoever for what they would say if they ran into someone with more institutionalized power than Random Villager du jour? Like "I must begin thinking out a story" is what Shasta should be thinking if he ran into Aravis within the first twenty-four hours of his adventure. That's just barely plausible enough of a timespan for him and Bree to put off the creation of the likely story because they're both overwhelmed by the joy of escape and freedom. Forty days after they escaped is way too late to be thinking about this.
Soon the horses were no longer swimming but walking and soon with a great sound of water running off their sides and tails and with a great crunching of pebbles under eight hoofs, they came out on the farther beach of the inlet. The Tarkaan, to Shasta’s surprise, showed no wish to ask questions. He did not even look at Shasta but seemed anxious to urge his horse straight on. Bree, however, at once shouldered himself in the other horse’s way.
“Broo-hoo-hah!” he snorted. “Steady there! I heard you, I did. There’s no good pretending, Ma’am. I heard you. You’re a Talking Horse, a Narnian horse just like me.”
So, here's one of those bits where I think I would like this book more if it were written by someone else. At first it seems a little strange that "beardless single rider who doesn't want to stay around to talk" isn't questioned more closely by Shasta and Bree. Then I warm to the idea somewhat because why should the human be the center of attention? It is in fact perfectly natural that Bree would be interested more in his kinswoman than he would be in the stupid human she's hauling on her back. That's a nice piece of characterization and has the effect of (correctly) sidelining the humans out of the spotlight.
Except, I mean, the Tarkaan is a Tarkaan. He has a sword. He may have a retinue nearby. I'm not saying Bree couldn't take him (war stallions are supposed to be pretty amazing creatures, so I assume he could) but... I don't know, it doesn't feel right for what we've been given. Supposedly, Bree has lived a life of ironclad secrecy. He's been silent through sleeping, through the thick of war, through everything that has happened to him for years--so great was his fear of discovery.
Now he's barging around and chattering around a Tarkaan like a native-born Narnian, as though there were nothing strange about it. I feel like a good writer could pull this off by showing us how Bree has changed over those "weeks and weeks" or by showing that his delight at meeting another Talking Horse overcame his trained instincts for silence or flat-out by showing a total willingness to kill this guy and rescue his horse. But we don't really see any of those things on the page? You can read them in if you want, but (as with much of these books) I feel we're being asked to do the author's job for him.
“What’s it got to do with you if she is?” said the strange rider fiercely, laying hand on sword-hilt. But the voice in which the words were spoken had already told Shasta something.
“Why, it’s only a girl!” he exclaimed.
Sigh. Yes, in the world of Narnia you can tell the difference between a girl and a boy based on less than a dozen barked words. (How does Shasta even know what girls are if he was only taken to the village three times in his life? Well, I suppose he's been in more villages since then, care of all those "weeks and weeks" of riding. God, now I'm imagining that scene at the end of Jungle Book. Bree being like "but what about Narnia?" and Shasta being all *goofy grin, shrug*.)
“And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl?” snapped the stranger. “You’re probably only a boy: a rude, common little boy—a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse.”
“That’s all you know,” said Shasta.
“He’s not a thief, little Tarkheena,” said Bree.
There is a piece online somewhere--I've seen it, I liked it, I can't find it now--about how "little" is not synonymous with "small" in English. "Little" carries a connotation of youth, immaturity, childishness and/or femininity (which are inextricably linked to men like Lewis), inferiority, and adorableness. A "small woman" and a "little woman" are not the same things in English, though if cornered many a speaker will insist that they are.
As such, I am massively uncomfortable with "little Tarkheena". Aravis has not necessarily admitted to being a girl ("if I am" is ambiguous in English and can be read as hedged non-admittance or as defiant admittance; tone can help here, but I would err on the side of caution and not assume admittance) yet Bree has already switched to a feminine-gendered title and a feminine-gendered description. Not "small" or "tiny", which Aravis may well be to a war horse, but "little".
“He’s not a thief, little Tarkheena,” said Bree. “At least, if there’s been any stealing, you might just as well say I stole him. And as for its not being my business, you wouldn’t expect me to pass a lady of my own race in this strange country without speaking to her? It’s only natural I should.”
“I think it’s very natural too,” said the mare.
“I wish you’d hold your tongue, Hwin,” said the girl. “Look at the trouble you’ve got us into.”
And this is where I start having a lot of conflicting feelings about this scene.
For all that I have been harping on the poor treatment of Talking Animals in this series, I do absolutely appreciate that they have minds of their own in this book. They stand up to humans, they argue, they have their own opinions. That's genuinely great and I appreciate that. What I do not like about this scene is all the trappings of sexism that follow Lewis around like familiar baggage at this point. Let me count the ways.
One, I do not like that our first glimpse of female friendship in this book is of bickering. Lewis doesn't seem to believe that women can coexist without backbiting. We saw this with Lucy being jealous of Susan; we saw this with Lucy's "two-faced" friend whose friendship with Lucy was Forever Ruined because girls just can't forgive and forget like manly men can (that same book had Caspian and Edmund nearly killing each other over gold, but this in no way seemed to damage their friendship) (of course, the fact that Aslan wiped their memories muddled that entire scene to the point of incoherence).
Hwin and Aravis have had all of two interactions on page so far, and in both cases they were arguing. Bree and Shasta, by contrast, get along largely peaceably because that's what men do. I have nothing but cavernous contempt for that sort of thing in literature, and it's not neutral characterization because it happens so often and is used to separate women from bases of support. See also: Exceptional Woman; One of the Guys; Chill Girl; As Good As A Boy. See also-also: Melissa McEwan on finding women likeable.
Two, unless you're going with the interpretation of Hwin as a mistress of social manipulation (and I have already explained why I can't, though ymmv), what she is doing here is actually amazingly careless? Aravis is fleeing the prospect of rape; realistically, Hwin ought to be as well. (NB: There is a chance that Lewis didn't realize this for either of them.) They have now met two strangers who could be very dangerous; Bree could almost certainly kill Aravis, and even if Hwin intervened, it's possible that this boy could do the job. Are they poachers? Kidnappers? Deserters? Bandits? I am not usually one to assume the worst of white men encountered in the dead of night in the middle of a dark forest who seem weirdly interested in whether I and my girlfriend identify as female or not, but I am saying this is not the point where I would plant my heels, turn to my clearly-uncomfortable companion, and declare "but I want to make small-talk why are you being so difficult?"
Yes, there is more in context going on. Bree and Hwin have quite possibly never met another Talking Horse in captivity. And they have every right to tell the humans to shush and let them talk for a moment. But... Lewis didn't set this scene in a relatively safe place. It literally is the dead of night in the middle of a forest (near a sea inlet) (which I guess is plausible?) (it's a magical world so who knows!) and oh yeah, Aravis is soaked to the skin and her clothes are clinging to her while a strange boy peers at her and demands to know if she's a girl. This is not a good setting where I, a female reader, feel comfortable with the point being made that Aravis is such a bitch for not trusting Bree and Shasta instantly as Paragon of Good Femininity Hwin does.
In short: No, at this moment in time, it is not "only natural" for Hwin to be all perky-eared swishy-tail "hiiiiiiii" at Bree. There is absolutely a time and place for that! This is not that time or that place, and I can't blame Aravis for being uncomfortable.
“I don’t know about trouble,” said Shasta. “You can clear off as soon as you like. We shan’t keep you.”
“No, you shan’t,” said the girl.
“What quarrelsome creatures these humans are,” said Bree to the mare. “They’re as bad as mules.
"Haha, let me tell you about the donkey we left behind at the start of all this--"
“What quarrelsome creatures these humans are,” said Bree to the mare. “They’re as bad as mules. Let’s try to talk a little sense. I take it, ma’am, your story is the same as mine? Captured in early youth—years of slavery among the Calormenes?”
“Too true, sir,” said the mare with a melancholy whinny.
“And now, perhaps—escape?”
“Tell him to mind his own business, Hwin,” said the girl.
“No, I won’t, Aravis,” said the mare putting her ears back. “This is my escape just as much as yours. And I’m sure a noble war horse like this is not going to betray us. We are trying to escape, to get to Narnia.”
Again: I appreciate Hwin has a mind of her own, and again this plausibly works if she's cozying up to Bree on purpose in an attempt to keep herself and Aravis safe in an admittedly dangerous situation. But again: I really think this is supposed to be read "straight", i.e. that Hwin's "noble war horse" is what she actually thinks of Bree and isn't shameless flattery to appeal to his male ego. (The fact that it reads so very much like shameless flattery is a little alarming to me, based on the author's views of women. I wonder if this is how women normally interacted with him. I wonder if they were mocking him. I wonder if he ever realized. Perhaps that informed his belief that we are all duplicitous temptresses. I wonder whether it ever occurred to him that the problem might have been himself.)
The other weird thing about this is that Lewis apparently was aware of the concept of racism? For example, how Aravis barks orders to Hwin and tells her to relay them to Bree ("tell him to mind his own business") rather than talking to him as an equal. And yet... that makes all the previous (and coming!) racism in these books cast in even more sharp relief. One cannot hide behind Man Of His Time justifications and then turn around and display an astonishingly detailed understanding of how micro-aggressions work.
This is also why feminists tend to bristle at the suggestion that, say, people who sexually aggress in public are just socially awkward, because they aren't consistently socially awkward. Knowing precisely when you can and can't aggress on a stranger without being called out by the rest of the bus requires a tremendous amount of social awareness, in fact. One cannot claim to be massively unskilled and unschooled in something (racism, rape culture, etc.) while at the same time displaying perfect familiarity with these concepts. Even if their skill was unconsciously learned, they still have it and could choose to examine it at any time. The choice not to examine one's own racism is in itself an act of racism.
“And so, of course, are we,” said Bree. “Of course you guessed that at once. A little boy in rags riding (or trying to ride) a war horse at dead of night couldn’t mean anything but an escape of some sort. And, if I may say so, a high-born Tarkheena riding alone at night—dressed up in her brother’s armor—and very anxious for everyone to mind their own business and ask her no questions—well, if that’s not fishy, call me a cob!”
They've been riding for "weeks and weeks", literally hours and hours straight every day, but Shasta is still (according to Bree) crummy at riding. How is this episode not within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after their first escape, honestly? Did Lewis (or an editor?) feel like that made it too contrived, Aravis and Shasta both running away at the same time?
But... why not embrace that and make their escapes related? We always thought it was weird that a Tarkaan was just randomly demanding lodging at Arsheesh's home, especially with a presumably nicer village right nearby. Like, this guy shows up without a retinue and on a war horse (which is not what you ride around the countryside!) and apparently he's too tired and it's too late to go any farther and so he takes up lodging there and then starts trying to buy Shasta with all of his walking-around money like slaves are suddenly at a premium.
So make the Tarkaan the oldest brother of Aravis, out searching for her. She's run away from home with her younger brother's armor and her mare. The rest of the family--father and older brother(s)--mobilize at once to find her before her honor is stained and the scandal reaches the ear of her bridegroom. They didn't have time to bring servants, or didn't want the story to be widely known; that might also explain why they avoided the village in favor of lodgings in out of the way places. Perhaps the Tarkaan never intended to let Arsheesh live, or perhaps he wasn't worried about the gossip of a senile old man. Shasta could be acquired cheaply and wouldn't be familiar enough with Aravis to recognize her when her brother dragged her back; the slave boy could be told that the girl was just an escaped slave, and then he would be sold off to someone else as quickly as possible.
The thing is, this would thematically work so much better. You wouldn't even need the lion thing to railroad the protagonists together (though I mean if you really wanted it for the Theologies, you still could), and you certainly wouldn't need this argument now. If Hwin and Bree were kept in the same household together, they would likely recognize each other. (God, and wouldn't that be poignant either way? Either they know they are Talking Horses and they abandoned each other because there was no way to escape together, or they didn't know they were Talking Horses and there would be a delicious moment of "but, wait, YOU--?" Either way, we win.) And thematically-speaking, having the entire plot stem from Aravis' flight from home dovetails perfectly with the later flight of Susan from her own bridegroom. The same problem common to women, in each case sending out world-altering ripples. Perfection.
The problem is that you would then have an entire plot that literally came about because of a woman's agency. Rather than Aravis being treated like an afterthought to Shasta's escape (which she currently is), she would be The Entire Reason he had a chance to run in the first place. Theoretically that wouldn't need to change anything, but theologically it does; now Aravis is the capital-h Heroine. All those jabs at her bitchy nature, culminating in being flogged by Aslan, would now be even more uncomfortably contrasted with how gently Caspian was treated in Prince Caspian--not to mention that without her "unwomanly" nature, there would be no story and Shasta wouldn't have escaped in the first place. Despite our token girl protagonist in The Silver Chair, I don't think Lewis was capable of committing to that kind of representation: a girl protagonist who isn't constantly in awe of men!
Team Aravis, is what I'm saying. (Seriously, though, oh my god, it would be so much better. Bree would have been a slave in her household and his asserting himself now would be a lot more powerful to me here than the "shush, little woman, I'm a big war horse manly masculine person" vibe I'm getting.) (Also, before ya'll start shipping Hwin and Bree, they're cousins and Lewis is determined that this adventure be super chaste, sorry.)
“All right then,” said Aravis. “You’ve guessed it. Hwin and I are running away. We are trying to get to Narnia. And now, what about it?”
“Why, in that case, what is to prevent us all going together?” said Bree. “I trust, Madam Hwin, you will accept such assistance and protection as I may be able to give you on the journey?”
“Why do you keep talking to my horse instead of to me?” asked the girl.
“Excuse me, Tarkheena,” said Bree (with just the slightest backward tilt of his ears), “but that’s Calormene talk. We’re free Narnians, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you’re running away to Narnia, you want to be one too. In that case Hwin isn’t your horse any longer. One might just as well say you’re her human.”
The girl opened her mouth to speak and then stopped. Obviously she had not quite seen it in that light before.
Please imagine C.S. Lewis high-fiving Bree over rendering that bitch speechless.
(Again, I would like this more from literally anyone else. Again, everyone is free to feel differently.)
Moving on to the actual substance of Bree's question of "what is to prevent us" from traveling together: possibly quite a lot? It's still unclear how they expect to be fed and watered when they pass through the desert. It's not clear whether two horses and two humans would be more or less suspicious than one horse and one human. It's not clear why Aravis should trust either of these two people not to kill her in her sleep. This whole "I trust, Madam Hwin, you will accept such assistance and protection as I may be able to give you on the journey?" rather carefully doesn't get into the details of what assistance and protection Bree can provide. I mean, as a kid I would probably want safety in numbers but now that I'm an adult? I'm really not at all sold on this plan to team up with this guy who honestly looks like he would eat the lion's share of the food and then explain that I don't need as much as he because I'm smaller or wev.
“Still,” she said after a moment’s pause, “I don’t know that there’s so much point in all going together. Aren’t we more likely to be noticed?”
“Less,” said Bree; and the mare said, “Oh do let’s. I should feel much more comfortable. We’re not even certain of the way. I’m sure a great charger like this knows far more than we do.”
So we're just not going to deal with my objections and concerns, I see. Well, that's one way to keep the story moving; just ignore anything you don't like. Also oh my god THIS GREAT CHARGER KNOWS FAR MORE THAN WE DO may I please remind you that Hwin is the series' example of acceptable adult femininity? Like, she's the first to come to Aslan when he appears later and he's like 'I always knew you were the best', like this is literally how good women talk in this world. And I just cannot get over the fact that if I talked like this on twitter or something you would assume I was mocking you for being a turd AND YOU MIGHT NOT BE WRONG.
"I'm sure a great man like this knows far more than we do." --Ana Mardoll, probably.
“Oh come on, Bree,” said Shasta, “and let them go their own way. Can’t you see they don’t want us?”
“We do,” said Hwin.
Hey, by the way, let's talk about something I read in the comments on Captain Awkward awhile back. It takes two people (or more) to choose to start a relationship, and it takes one person to decide to end it. (This is in contrast to popular culture and entertainment, where reality is treated like the opposite: one person to start the relationship and taking two to agree to end it.)
I mention this because while it's great (sorta. kinda.) that Hwin has a mind of her own and is asserting it in this scene, that doesn't mean that Aravis doesn't get the same. If she doesn't want to travel with Bree and Shasta, she doesn't have to acquiesce just because the other three out-vote her or something. Now, maybe this is such a sticking point that Aravis and Hwin split over this. Maybe that's okay! Maybe they aren't as much "friends" as they thought they would be after years of a mistress/slave relationship. (I actually think that's pretty plausible and not something that we show in fiction terribly often.)
So maybe Hwin and Aravis split here. Maybe Aravis doesn't go to Narnia. Maybe she finds a nice village somewhere and finds a nice family that swears up and down that she's their daughter and everyone agrees that's definitely true the next time census takers come around. Or she poses as a young widow to that boy who moved here a few months back and then died of the plague. Yeah, no, they totally arrived together long before that Tarkeena went missing, nothing to see here, move along. Maybe a lot of things. But the larger point is: Hwin's wonderful individuality doesn't mean that Aravis doesn't get to be an individual as well.
But we're going to run roughshod over that, because there's plot to get on with and pffft female agency lol.
“Look here,” said the girl. “I don’t mind going with you, Mr. War Horse, but what about this boy? How do I know he’s not a spy?”
“Why don’t you say at once that you think I’m not good enough for you?” said Shasta.
“Be quiet, Shasta,” said Bree. “The Tarkheena’s question is quite reasonable. I’ll vouch for the boy, Tarkheena. He’s been true to me and a good friend. And he’s certainly either a Narnian or an Archenlander.”
“All right, then. Let’s go together.” But she didn’t say anything to Shasta and it was obvious that she wanted Bree, not him.
Wait. No. What.
All of this. All of it.
First, if she thinks he's a spy (a spy for what? like... her father? or a foreign power? does she/Lewis mean "an untrustworthy urchin who will sell us out the first chance he gets" because that seems more plausible, but there's different words for that.) why would being told that he's a Narnian or Archenlander put her at ease? "Don't worry, he's not from around here," doesn't make someone not a spy! If Lewis means a spy for the Tisroc--well, first of all that makes no sense because why would the Tisroc have a kid running around in the wilderness spying randomly? and when did Aravis renounce all her nationalism just because her father wants to force her into an arranged marriage?--then it still makes no sense because kings hire foreigners all the time. Do people only spy for the Tisroc out of a sense of nationalism?
Like, I don't know how to read this except Bree saying "don't worry, he's white" and Aravis being "oh, jolly good, I couldn't tell what with it being dark as night out here." Why is Aravis more trusting of some white guy than she would be of her fellow countrymen? There's this frustrating disconnect on the page where Lewis is showing off that Hwin and Bree are Real People, and that's great, but then you have Aravis who is apparently rabidly pro-Narnian for no reason other than because who wouldn't be! Lewis seems to have put some thought into life as a slave in a foreign country (a little, at least) but very little thought into being raised as a native of said foreign country?
What I am saying is: If I'm fleeing from my father because he wants to marry me off to someone I fear and hate, I don't automatically renounce my citizenship and mistrust the President. I might be willing to emigrate for my own safety, but it hasn't (probably) become ideological at that point. Also: Later the leaders of this damn country will barely know anything about Narnia except that it's a dangerous savage place full of winter and witches. Again, I can see Aravis deciding to risk it (TEAM ARAVIS) for her freedom, but not for her to suddenly be pro-Narnian in the sense that Narnian men are somehow more trustworthy than her fellow countrymen.
Come to think on it, it's a tad odd that Aravis doesn't even entertain the fantasy of meeting with the Tisroc and petitioning for mercy. She's a beautiful and cultured noblewoman who is being married off to a very old man; no matter how normalized this has been throughout history (and continuing through the present), there's always that possibility that a Wise Brave King (or other authority figure) will step in and say "no, no, this is a wasteful wrong and something something chivalry". She doesn't seem opposed to marriage in general (because Lewis) so much as marriage to this guy. In Narnia, this would be a story of reaching Good King Peter/Caspian and pleading your case, and he would instantly understand. He would take you by the hand and call you daughter and marry you off with a dowry from his own coffers to a lovely young nobleman who would appreciate you.
I don't blame Aravis for not dreaming that dream; she seems like a practical girl. (TEAM ARAVIS.) But I do think it's noteworthy that in a story set in The Hot Land Of Brown Men, the protagonist seems to instinctively understand that her hope lies with white foreign barbarian men than with the countrymen she knows. That's an... interesting leap of logic and the racism lingers in the room like a particularly flatulent elephant.
Both the children unsaddled their horses and the horses had a little grass and Aravis produced rather nice things to eat from her saddle-bag. But Shasta sulked and said No thanks, and that he wasn’t hungry. And he tried to put on what he thought very grand and stiff manners, but as a fisherman’s hut is not usually a good place for learning grand manners, the result was dreadful. And he half knew that it wasn’t a success and then became sulkier and more awkward than ever. Meanwhile the two horses were getting on splendidly. They remembered the very same places in Narnia—“the grasslands up above Beaversdam” and found that they were some sort of second cousins once removed. This made things more and more uncomfortable for the humans until at last Bree said, “And now, Tarkheena, tell us your story. And don’t hurry it—I’m feeling comfortable now.”
I want to be kind to Shasta here--he's a young boy with a history of abuse, and that does tug at my heartstrings--but I'm also just so done with white men being rude because toxic masculinity makes them feel uncomfortable when a superior woman is existing in the same room. Aravis has better manners than you, Shasta, and honestly is probably better than you at most things because of an accident of birth and circumstance; THAT IS OKAY AND YOU CAN DEAL WITH IT. Don't be a dick to her because of something that she has no control over and also by the way being a surly dick is way worse manners than not knowing what to do with the salad fork that isn't in your saddlebags anyway because this isn't the fucking Ritz-Carlton.
Although it is interesting that Lewis will elevate Shasta to a crown-prince before any hint of romance will enter the picture. I mean, sure, part of it is that Lewis doesn't include romance in his YA stories as a general rule, but I do think it's telling that Shasta has to be raised above Aravis before a romance can really develop. And now I'm sorry that Aravis wasn't a full princess. Like, why do we even need Susan for this story? Make Aravis the Tisroc's daughter, running away from home rather than be married off to a local prince she hates. The Archenlanders take her in (and quickly betroth her to their "found" Crown Prince, which in itself would be an interesting plot point in the hands of a GRRM-esque writer who could hang a question mark over the whole thing; are the Archenlanders claiming this kid as a Lost Prince because they need one and the Foreign Princess they want to keep has already bonded with him?) and the Calormen army shows up to besiege the city.
You could have this go two ways, really. (OR BOTH.) The Tisroc could be legitimately worried that his daughter is being coerced by the Archenlanders, and Aslan could intervene to make the two warring parties sit the fuck down and listen. Or if you just had to have a Swarthy Rapey Man (because god knows we can't cut that out, can we, Lewis?) then the troops could be led by the Local Princeling who Aravis was meant to be married to. Maybe he's a powerful lord with more troops than the Tisroc, and he (the Tisroc, Aravis' dad) doesn't have a good way to tell him no. The story would play out pretty much the same way: Aslan curses the man, the Tisroc accepts him as his heir, but he can't really cause much mischief because Aslan has cursed him to stay at home.
Really, I came into this book finding it kinda the least interesting (seriously, Shasta is such an empty character to me) and now I'm genuinely sad at how much wasted opportunity there is here. What had the potential for a great story with Aravis has been rendered into... this. She's treated as something of an afterthought and Susan is brought in to play Helen of Troy despite the fact that the rest of the world building is clearly set post-Prince Caspian (and possibly post-Silver Chair). Heck, you could do away with Shasta ENTIRELY (yes, I know, a whole book without a white male protagonist!) and Aravis could escape to marry Rilian. Then we wouldn't have this nonsense with Archenland having humans who just... didn't do anything to help Narnia when Jadis was running around?
It's not that The Horse and His Boy could have been a better story with another author; it's that there's like four better stories in here and all of them would have required Lewis to let go of his virulent sexism and racism in order to get within throwing distance of any of them.
Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
Haha, school amiright kids? Don't steal, tho.