Repost: Oral Traditions of the Church of Aslan

[Ana's Note: By popular demand, this is a re-post of an old deconstruction, partly to have content while I struggle with my ongoing disability challenges and partly so that newcomers can comment on old conversations.

The original post is here. I have not edited the content.

Narnia Recap: The children have made their way to the home of the Beavers and prepared a sumptuous meal to serve with a side of exposition.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 8: What Happened After Dinner

   "AND NOW," SAID LUCY, "DO PLEASE TELL us what's happened to Mr. Tumnus."
   "Ah, that's bad," said Mr. Beaver, shaking his head. "That's a very, very bad business. There's no doubt he was taken off by the police. I got that from a bird who saw it done."

This is completely off topic, but I was a little shocked this week to see the Witch's cadre of wolf thugs referred to in the text as "police", especially given how much text is spent analyzing the non-legitimacy of the Witch's reign.

This got me thinking that maybe there's a trend that I've only subconsciously noticed in modern books and movies to refer to the Bad Government Enforcers as, well, something other than "police". I can think of several movies where the BGEs are "agents" or "militia" or "security" (including the Deathlands "sec men") or "enforcers", and then of course there are the made-up-to-fit-the-story names like "monks" and "priests" in various religious dystopias, but I can't off-the-top-of-my-head think of any bad "police" in anything I've read lately. Is this some new trend that "police" are de facto legitimate authorities, and illegitimate authorities require a different name, or is my brain incorrectly engaging in a selection bias?

And, yes, not only did I just derail my own Narnia blog post, I did so in the first paragraph. *fail*

   "It’s no good, Son of Adam," said Mr. Beaver, "no good your trying, of all people. But now that Aslan is on the move --"
   "Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!" said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling -- like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them. [...]
   "Aslan?" said Mr. Beaver. "Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right. [...] No, no. He'll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:
   Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
   You'll understand when you see him."

Now we come back to the question of what makes a legitimate ruler. Aslan is the "Lord of the whole wood" but he's not been in Narnia for years. Google tells me that Beavers live for 16 years, but I somehow suspect that Animals live longer than animals. Even if they don't, however, we can probably give a mid-point for Mr. Beaver at 8-years-old, which means that Aslan hasn't been in Narnia for a decade or two.

Except even that isn't true. The White Witch's winter has been going on for one hundred years. That means that Mr. Beaver's statement, while correct, should be something more like never in my time or my father's time or his father's time or his father's father's time or... hold on, how many fathers is that? Except for a few exceptionally long-lived races in Narnia like (presumably) the river gods and goddesses and of course the Witch herself, no one exists in Narnia who has ever even seen Aslan.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this fits the Messiah analogy. Jesus Aslan is not with us now, but he will come to save us and set all the wrongs right and we just need to be patient and hang on until then. However, when world-building a story, you can't just appeal to your analogy and hope that no one asks the obvious questions.

This is Prince Charles. He's the son of The Queen and the true ruler of America. You have most likely never seen or met him, but you've heard him described by people who have. And once he comes to America and stands at the base of the Statue of Liberty and sings God Save the Queen with his powerful voice, the budget will be balanced, universal healthcare will be instated for all, and global warming will be halted forever.

Getting past the fact that a good half of you are going to be stubborn enough not to believe me (and don't get me started on you eternal winter global warming doubters), at least a few of you are going to get a little shirty about this and ask if this is true, why doesn't Prince Charles get off his tushy and get down here and *do* all this wonderful fixing. I mean, people are dying with the way things are right now, and all this instability in the finances of the country is having serious ripple effects on other countries. What is His Royal Highness waiting for, a signed invitation?

You can kind of get away with this with a god because gods are on a different plane from the rest of us. The omniscient ones understand all possible outcomes of an action, and if they say now isn't the best time to act, it's hard to argue with them because you don't have a complete set of data points to start with. And this may well be the case with Aslan -- but! The other reason you can get away with this with a god is that usually there's something of an implied contract whereby (a) your god helps out a bit on the day-to-day sufferings and (b) your crappy mortal life will pale in comparison with your awesome immortal afterlife.

With regards to the latter, Narnia does have a heaven fleshed out in later books, but it doesn't seem to be a driving theological force in the way you'd expect for a land that is regularly conquered, oppressed, and told to essentially wait it out until their patron deity makes room for them in his busy schedule of faffing about elsewhere. And with respect to the former, I do not think we'll ever see anyone praying to Aslan for a good parking space for their horse -- he doesn't seem to be seen as an arbiter for the tiny day-to-day sufferings.

So, quite frankly, I'm astonished that the "good" Animals of Narnia are all so pro-Aslan when none of them have ever seen him before and he's not been bothered to come help out with that whole Witch thing for one hundred years. I'm additionally astonished that the MASSIVE ECOSYSTEM CHANGE of having spring for the first time in living memory doesn't cause more than a few serious psychological boundaries for the Animals, especially given that a fair few of them will be experiencing shedding for the first time in their lives.

And to top all that surprise off with a surprise cherry and maybe some chopped nuts, I'm surprised that the Animals all have a fairly clear consensus on who Aslan is, what he does, and what his prophecies are, seeing as how I'm still not sure that the Animals have a written language or any kind of information transmission besides oral history. Oral history passed down over multiple generations of Animals. If "a generation" for humans is 20 years, then a "generation" for Animals is, what? 4 years? So their oral history of Aslan has been passed down over 25 generations? It's pretty impressive that they've managed to keep his oral history so uniform -- and under an oppressive regime that "disappears" anyone caught openly teaching about him.

And now lets look at another "article of faith" apparently held by the Church of Aslan:

   "That's what I don't understand, Mr. Beaver," said Peter, "I mean isn't the Witch herself human?"
   "She'd like us to believe it," said Mr. Beaver, "and it's on that that she bases her claim to be Queen. But she's no Daughter of Eve. She comes of your father Adam's" -- (here Mr. Beaver bowed) "your father Adam's first wife, her they called Lilith. And she was one of the Jinn. That's what she comes from on one side. And on the other she comes of the giants. No, no, there isn't a drop of real human blood in the Witch."
   "That's why she's bad all through, Mr. Beaver," said Mrs. Beaver.
   "True enough, Mrs. Beaver," replied he, "there may be two views about humans (meaning no offense to the present company). But there's no two views about things that look like humans and aren't."
   "I've known good Dwarfs," said Mrs. Beaver.
   "So've I, now you come to speak of it," said her husband, "but precious few, and they were the ones least like men. But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be human and isn't yet, or used to be human once and isn't now, or ought to be human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet."

This is, of course, utter poppycock. The river gods and naiads "look like humans and aren't", because the first humans in Narnia inter-bred with them. You don't get to be an immortal water nymph of Greek myth and fall under the designation of "human" just because you're capable of inter-breeding with a human. And I don't think we'll see any Animals in the Narnia chronicles "feeling for their hatchet" when interacting with a pretty water nymph or the Star-Daughter that actually becomes Queen of Narnia by marriage and bears an heir to the throne.

No, pretty women who look human but aren't are not the issue here... as long as they don't have names and all they do is have children for human men. Those are okay. It's the women who don't have babies (clearly, Jadis should have just married her way into the Narnian legitimate ruling class), and the giants and dwarves that should be treated with suspicion, loathing, and a disposition towards violence.

I'm going to admit that I don't know why this discussion is even here. Is it a nod toward Plato and his perfect forms? Is it a reference to that one Bible verse that fantasy authors like L'Engle like to interpret as fallen angels having sexy times with human women? (If I had a penny for every judeo-christian fantasy novel that trotted that verse out...) Is because Lewis wanted to work Lilith -- a figure traditionally wrapped in male insecurity about female sexuality -- into the myth of Jadis, a character who may-or-may-not have sexual connotations herself?

I suppose it may be just another "she's not the true ruler" but that can be as simple as "because Aslan didn't appoint her". There was no need to delve into this bizarre statement about humanoids being bad and evil and dastardly... when, demonstrably in this very novel, they aren't. We're going to see non-human humanoids a few chapters from here, and if you count Mr. Tumnus as humanoid (and I see no reason not to), then the McGuffin for much of the novel is a non-human humanoid who isn't automatically an Always Chaotic Evil monster. Explain this to me, I beg you.

   All the children had been attending so hard to what Mr. Beaver was telling them that they had noticed nothing else for a long time. Then during the moment of silence that followed his last remark, Lucy suddenly said:
   "I say -- where's Edmund?" [...]
   "The reason there's no use looking," said Mr. Beaver, "is that we know already where he's gone!" Everyone stared in amazement. "Don't you understand?" said Mr. Beaver. "He's gone to her, to the White Witch. He has betrayed us all." [...]
   "Then mark my words," said Mr. Beaver, "he has already met the White Witch and joined her side, and been told where she lives. I didn't like to mention it before (he being your brother and all) but the moment I set eyes on that brother of yours I said to myself ‘Treacherous.' He had the look of one who has been with the Witch and eaten her food. You can always tell them if you've lived long in Narnia; something about their eyes."


Well, thank you so much for mentioning that, Mr. Beaver. Maybe -- this is just a thought -- maybe you could bring that up next time before we spill important information in front of a potential traitor and then take our eyes off of him long enough to not notice him open the door of a warm, cozy house into a blustery, freezing winter night and somehow magically sneak out without so much as any of us feeling a draft. And, just thinking out loud here, if you did think to mention that important fact before all that happens, it's just possible that we might be able to get him help and keep him from running off to his doom. Seeing as how he's our brother and all and -- oh yeah -- an integral one-fourth of the prophecy that's suppose to fix everything around here.

*cough* Jerk. *cough*

   "All the same," said Peter in a rather choking sort of voice, "we'll still have to go and look for him. He is our brother after all, even if he is rather a little beast. And he's only a kid."
   "Go to the Witch's House?" said Mrs. Beaver. "Don't you see that the only chance of saving either him or yourselves is to keep away from her?" [...] "Why, all she wants is to get all four of you (she's thinking all the time of those four thrones at Cair Paravel). Once you were all four inside her House her job would be done -- and there'd be four new statues in her collection before you'd had time to speak. But she'll keep him alive as long as he's the only one she's got, because she'll want to use him as a decoy; as bait to catch the rest of you with."

I suppose we should be grateful that the Beavers have magical narration powers, because this is very much not what *I* would expect the Witch to do.

Now, see, I'd want to get out into the snow post-haste and gather Edmund up now before he reaches the Witch's palace. This shouldn't be hard, even with his head-start -- the Beavers should know the way to her house and know the surrounding forest and the paths through it better than a little boy (who isn't even wearing a coat) who has never been there before. And I would want to collect him not just because he's my brother, but also because I would expect an immortal and powerful Witch-ruler to understand the concept of Why Don't You Just Shoot Him.

I mean, "use him as bait"? What?? The Witch doesn't need to kill all the four siblings to throw a monkey wrench in the prophecy -- she just needs to kill one of them. Unless there's a fifth sibling somewhere, she should be pretty good at that point.

   "It seems to me, my dears," said Mrs. Beaver, "that it is very important to know just when he slipped away. How much he can tell her depends on how much he heard. For instance, had we started talking of Aslan before he left? If not, then we may do very well, for she won't know that Aslan has come to Narnia, or that we are meeting him, and will be quite off her guard as far as that is concerned." [...]
    "Oh yes, he was," [Lucy] said miserably; "don't you remember, it was he who asked whether the Witch couldn't turn Aslan into stone too?"
    "So he did, by Jove," said Peter; "just the sort of thing he would say, too!"

Okay, this is just unfair. In a conversation about the White Witch turning all opposition to stone but there's this wonderful new opposition who is going to fix everything, I don't think it's evidence of EVIL to reasonably ask what makes this new opposition immune to the previous barriers preventing meaningful resistance. It's risk assessment, people!

   "Worse and worse," said Mr. Beaver, "and the next thing is this. Was he still here when I told you that the place for meeting Aslan was the Stone Table?" [...] "Because, if he was," continued Mr. Beaver, "then she'll simply sledge down in that direction and get between us and the Stone Table and catch us on our way down. In fact we shall be cut off from Aslan."
   "But that isn't what she'll do first," said Mrs. Beaver, "not if I know her. The moment that Edmund tells her that we're all here she'll set out to catch us this very night, and if he's been gone about half an hour, she'll be here in about another twenty minutes."
   "You're right, Mrs. Beaver," said her husband, "we must all get away from here. There's not a moment to lose."

I throw up my hands. Mrs. Beaver is psychic and really the rest of the novel needs to just be her narrating and then Aslan will do thus, and Edmund will say this, and then there will be cake. And the last line in the novel after that can be And it was just as Mrs. Beaver had predicted. The End.


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