Narnia: Ode to the Third Cook

[Narnia Content Note: Racism, Violence, Forced Marriage, Misogyny]

Narnia Recap: Aravis and Lasaraleen end up hiding in a room with the Tisroc. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.

The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 8: In The House Of The Tisroc

When we last left Aravis and Lasaraleen, they were hiding behind a divan while the Tisroc, his son Rabadash (Susan's suitor), and the vizier Ahoshta (Aravis' suitor) plan an invasion of Narnia. Let's finish up Chapter 8 because there's not much more of it left.

  “To hear is to obey,” cried Rabadash, and after kneeling for a moment to kiss his father’s hands he rushed from the room. Greatly to the disappointment of Aravis, who was now horribly cramped, the Tisroc and the Vizier remained.

So Rabadash has left the room. You could even say he dashed out, and I'm increasingly uncomfortable with how much his name resembles "rapid dash" or indeed "rabid dash". Has anyone with more naming knowledge than I been able to pin down the etymology here? Because there's meaningful names and then there's outright insulting racist ones, but I could be way off base.

Anyway. Rabadash is gone, so it's time to make really sure we understand that the Tisroc is evil and not just a doting father giving in to his rash son's demands. Also, did we mention he's not just evil, he's also Oriental-y evil? Because he very definitely is!

  “O Vizier,” said the Tisroc, “is it certain that no living soul knows of this council we three have held here tonight?”
  “O my master,” said Ahoshta, “it is not possible that any should know. For that very reason I proposed, and you in your infallible wisdom agreed, that we should meet here in the Old Palace where no council is ever held and none of the household has any occasion to come.”
  “It is well,” said the Tisroc. “If any man knew, I would see to it that he died before an hour had passed. And do you also, O prudent Vizier, forget it. I sponge away from my own heart and from yours all knowledge of the Prince’s plans. He is gone without my knowledge or my consent, I know not whither, because of his violence and the rash and disobedient disposition of youth. No man will be more astonished than you and I to hear that Anvard is in his hands.”
  “To hear is to obey,” said Ahoshta.
  “That is why you will never think even in your secret heart that I am the hardest hearted of fathers who thus send my first-born son on an errand so likely to be his death; pleasing as it must be to you who do not love the Prince. For I see into the bottom of your mind.”
  “O impeccable Tisroc,” said the Vizier. “In comparison with you I love neither the Prince nor my own life nor bread nor water nor the light of the sun.”
  “Your sentiments,” said the Tisroc, “are elevated and correct. I also love none of these things in comparison with the glory and strength of my throne. If the Prince succeeds, we have Archenland, and perhaps hereafter Narnia. If he fails—I have eighteen other sons and Rabadash, after the manner of the eldest sons of kings, was beginning to be dangerous. More than five Tisrocs in Tashbaan have died before their time because their eldest sons, enlightened princes, grew tired of waiting for their throne. He had better cool his blood abroad than boil it in inaction here. And now, O excellent Vizier, the excess of my paternal anxiety inclines me to sleep. Command the musicians to my chamber. But before you lie down, call back the pardon we wrote for the third cook. I feel within me the manifest prognostics of indigestion.”
  “To hear is to obey,” said the Grand Vizier. He crawled backward on all fours to the door, rose, bowed, and went out. Even then the Tisroc remained seated in silence on the divan till Aravis almost began to be afraid that he had dropped asleep. But at last with a great creaking and sighing he heaved up his enormous body, signed to the slaves to precede him with the lights, and went out. The door closed behind him, the room was once more totally dark, and the two girls could breathe freely again.

Where do you even start with that section?

The first thing that stands out is that while Rabadash's younger brothers were alluded to before, we didn't have that stark number of eighteen. That strongly implies that the Tisroc has a harem of wives rather than just the one or serial monogamy--I mean, it's possible that a series of wives have produced a child every nine months or so since Rabadash was born (I'm assuming Rabadash is in his late teens / early twenties, but I honestly do not know the ages of anyone in this book--there's a fanon calendar, but I don't think Lewis himself ever nails down whether Susan is 18 or 27 or 42 in this book), but with a number that high I really strongly feel the intention was to wave a harem at us.

The second thing, tangential to the first, is that Lewis has now established--just to be very clear!--that this is a violent country where fathers kill their sons and sons kill their fathers and this is just something everyone sorta of politely accepts without too much scrutiny or consternation, much in the way we accept that people poop but we generally don't talk about it in public. "More than five" Tisrocs have died at the hands (or at least the schemes) of their sons, and presumably quite a few princes were killed along the way by fathers or brothers.

All that could be excused as politics, of course; kings and princes aren't really known to be the most peaceful people in the world. So to put the cherry on the sundae, Lewis has the Tisroc order a death sentence (or, rather, rescind a pardon for a previously ordered death sentence) on the head of a cook for the extremely petty reason of feeling slightly gassy. Just to be very clear that this is definitely an absolute monarchy of the most powerful kind (unlike those more civilized Western monarchies where kings aren't worshiped as gods on earth) (even though Lewis' ideal kingly model basically is a king who is god on earth) (but it needs to be a white king and a Christian god) and that the Tisroc is evil, etc.

I feel sorry for the third cook, as we presumably are meant to, but I can't help but come back to that moment in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Caspian's armed guard smacked an elderly gate-keeper in the face for being insufficiently respectful and that was definitely supposed to be a super-cool thing to do. I don't mean to make that one moment a nadir for the series, but it exists and it's hard to forget about whenever Lewis throws someone downtrodden onto the narrative for us to pity. We do pity them, but there's always that nagging awareness that the pity is supposed to hinge at least partly on the Legitimate Authority of the person doing the downtrodding. It's just... a lot of dissonance to juggle.

Anyway! None of that gets into the detail that Ahoshta wants Rabadash to get himself killed. Lewis (and later Aravis) seems to find this pretty abhorrent which is frankly a bit confusing to me because Lewis himself wants Rabadash to be, if not killed, then at least brought low via humiliation and extreme non-consensual body modification. In light of that, it seems strange--even almost hypocritical--to paint Ahoshta as unusually evil for... not shedding too many tears if the guy who is in the habit of physically abusing him bites off more than he can chew and receives appropriate comeuppance?

I mean, let's say Rabadash is 100% successful in this venture: he will have embroiled Calormen in a potentially costly war for no meaningful reward, he will have secured his place as the next Tisroc, and he will go on beating Ahoshta and churning out babies (on his unwilling kidnapped wife) who will probably carry on that behavior through basic modeling. Yeah, gee, it seems just awful and cowardly and craven for Ahoshta to secretly wish for the opposite available outcome to occur.

Anyway. Chapter 8 ends there and we reach Chapter 9!

I'm going to cut this post off here because I want to devote a longer post to Chapter 9, but there won't be as long a delay between posting this time. (And for those of you in the audience who signed up to beta read my latest book, bless you!)


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