Narnia: What's the Terrible Hurry?

[Narnia Content Note: Slavery Apologetics, Animal Cruelty, Forced Marriage, Rape]

Narnia Recap: Aravis has rejoined Shasta and Bree and Hwin in the desert. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.

The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 9: Across the Desert

Now we come to the meat of Chapter 9, wherein we walk across a desert for a very long time. What could be more arresting? I mentioned in the last post that a lot of this chapter feels like it was a chapter that needed writing--they have to cross the desert, after all--but which Lewis didn't quite know what to do with the characters to make the slog interesting.

But! And this is weird, but give credit where credit is due, two odd things happen here. For one, Bree--who feels like the closest thing this book has to an author-avatar (though he's still a far cry from the beloved and worshiped Puddleglum)--is wrong about something. For two, Hwin--who is female and (like Susan) speaks vastly less than the other characters in this book--is right about the thing Bree is wrong about. That is very unusual for Lewis, so let's dive in and see how that goes.

   “And now,” said Aravis. “There’s not a moment to lose.” And in hasty words she told them about Rabadash’s expedition.
   “Treacherous hounds!” said Bree, shaking his mane and stamping his hoof. “An attack in time of peace, without defiance sent! But we’ll grease his oats for him. We’ll be there before he is.”
   “Can we?” said Aravis, swinging herself into Hwin’s saddle. Shasta wished he could mount like that.
   “Brooh-hoo!” snorted Bree. “Up you get, Shasta. Can we! And with a good start too!”

So I hate to be a nitpicky Nancy, but they already know where they are going (because Shasta has had ample time to tell the horses about the valley with the stream that they need to aim for if they want to safely cross the desert) and they already know they need to make haste because it's a desert and you really don't want to linger in a desert.

Right now it is night (which is the best time to travel in a desert, or at least I hold this as an article of faith from numerous movies and video games telling me so) (though of course the random monster encounter rate always rises at night) so they really should be traveling while Aravis tells them these things. Can the horses not walk-and-listen at the same time? I just find it somewhat hilarious that Aravis is like "there's not a moment to lose, let's all stand very still while I summarize the last chapter!"

   “He said he was going to start at once,” said Aravis.
   “That’s how humans talk,” said Bree. “But you don’t get a company of two hundred horse and horsemen watered and victualed and armed and saddled and started all in a minute. Now: what’s our direction? Due North?”
   “No,” said Shasta. “I know about that. I’ve drawn a line. I’ll explain later. Bear a bit to our left, both you horses. Ah—here it is!”
   “Now,” said Bree. “All that about galloping for a day and a night, like in stories, can’t really be done. It must be walk and trot: but brisk trots and short walks. And whenever we walk you two humans can slip off and walk too. Now. Are you ready, Hwin? Off we go. Narnia and the North!”

Later events will seem to prove Bree slightly wrong here--they really don't have much (if any) of a head-start on the prince, Rabadash really does assemble his two hundred horsemen right away, and it is only through the urging of Aslan that Shasta reaches King Lune in time to deliver his portentous message. But I'm not sure I really understand why Bree is wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty delighted when the Older Male in the group is incorrect because that so rarely happens in Narnia novels (though I wonder if it matters that Bree is non-humanoid). But Bree is a war-horse. He has experience in campaigns that are pretty much exactly like this, yes? I mean, maybe his side was always honorable and didn't "attack in time of peace, without defiance sent" (ugh), but surely his side must have been on the receiving end of such attacks once in awhile? Or his side was quickly mustered up to provide succor to other people being attacked or otherwise embroiled in warfare?

In which case, Bree should have firsthand experience that you don't "get a company of two hundred horsemen watered and victualed and armed and saddled and started all in a minute." Like, of all Bree's claims about pretty much anything, this is the most factual, self-evident claim he's ever made. He should be right. Are we to think that Rabadash just managed to move logistical mountains because he's that angry and horny and driven? Are we to understand that the Tisroc maintains an army ready to move out at a moment's notice? Is this meant to be evidence that the Calormen culture is just so warlike and violent (when it's not lazy and indolent) (and, no, these stereotypes don't sit well together)?

The funny thing is, these questions of logistics raise the point that the Tisroc and his son and his closest adviser didn't bring these things up at all. Which is... kind of strange, when we think about it. Because Rabadash outright asked "hey dad why haven't we conquered Narnia given that conquering is sort of our thing" and neither the Tisroc nor his vizier said "maybe you didn't notice but there's a desert in the way and horses need water". And when Rabadash said he was going to take two hundred horsemen with him (which is supposed to be a small strike team?), the Tisroc didn't note that this would effectively drain the Tashbaan army of bodies (so presumably two hundred is a drop in the proverbial bucket?) and didn't seem concerned that they wouldn't be able to cross the desert safely (so presumably it's not that far to travel and/or they've done this before, possibly in a less war-like way?).

The only logistics we've been given so far was by the Narnians and hey let's review what they said:

   “Let him try,” said the second Dwarf. “At sea we are as big as he is. And if he assaults us by land, he has the desert to cross.”
   “True, friend,” said Edmund. “But is the desert a sure defense? What does Sallowpad say?”
   “I know that desert well,” said the Raven. [...] “And this is certain; that if the Tisroc goes by the great oasis he can never lead a great army across it into Archenland. For though they could reach the oasis by the end of their first day’s march, yet the springs there would be too little for the thirst of all those soldiers and their beasts. But there is another way.”
   Shasta listened more attentively still.
   “He that would find that way,” said the Raven, “must start from the Tombs of the Ancient Kings and ride northwest so that the double peak of Mount Pire is always straight ahead of him. And so, in a day’s riding or a little more, he shall come to the head of a stony valley, which is so narrow that a man might be within a furlong of it a thousand times and never know that it was there. And looking down this valley he will see neither grass nor water nor anything else good. But if he rides on down it he will come to a river and can ride by the water all the way into Archenland.”
   “And do the Calormenes know of this Western way?” asked the Queen.
   “Friends, friends,” said Edmund, “what is the use of all this discourse? We are not asking whether Narnia or Calormen would win if war arose between them. We are asking how to save the honor of the Queen and our own lives out of this devilish city. For though my brother, Peter the High King, defeated the Tisroc a dozen times over, yet long before that day our throats would be cut and the Queen’s grace would be the wife, or more likely, the slave, of this prince.”

So... the Tisroc (and Rabadash) can't cross the desert with an army. Period. At all. Because the desert doesn't have enough water to sustain an army across a multi-day trek. But... two hundred horsemen isn't an army, it's more of a tiny strike team (I guess??), and so the oasis can sustain them just fine and Rabadash will have no trouble crossing and everyone knows this so there was no need for Aravis to overhear from Rabadash his planned route or any logistical concerns that could be useful now.

I confess I don't know much about oasises (oasi?), but two hundred riders plus their horses is a lot of bodies in need of water. And horsemen don't travel alone and Lewis ought to know this. They have servants to care for their horses, and saddle their horses, and help them into their armor, and do various other servant things. Even if each horseman only has one squire (which seems like a very small number to me), that's four hundred people and two hundred horses at bare minimum. That's assuming the squires walk and that the riders ride their war-horse over the desert which they really would not do. You don't ride a war-horse any more than you use your sword to cut vegetables; you have a mare or a gelding or something for riding. Your war-horse isn't ridden until the war parts start.

What I'm getting to is that this is a big oasis that Rabadash will be stopping by (and oh-by-the-way, they expect to come back this way with prisoners in tow, so they're expecting the oasis to have enough water to support them twice for the round-trip to work) and so it seems a wee bit contrived that Swallowpad was like "oh the oasis can't support an army but there's this secret way that would be useful if any protagonists were in the room to overhear me".

And, wrenching myself back to the current text, I agree with Bree that these hundreds of people and animals really should take a wee bit of time to mobilize. It is just really weird to have that treated as either pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking or, at best, a technically-true very-slightly advantage that Bree then proceeds to waste. Well, let's see how it goes.

   At first it was delightful. The night had now been going on for so many hours that the sand had almost finished giving back all the sun-heat it had received during the day, and the air was cool, fresh, and clear. Under the moonlight the sand, in every direction and as far as they could see, gleamed as if it were smooth water or a great silver tray. Except for the noise of Bree’s and Hwin’s hoofs there was not a sound to be heard. Shasta would nearly have fallen asleep if he had not had to dismount and walk every now and then.

I know these books are supposed to be cozy, but I am missing the "delightful" part here. This isn't a New Adventure or their first time out like with English children just yanked here to this new world. Shasta and Aravis and Bree and Hwin have been night-traveling for weeks and weeks in their quest to get to Narnia. None of this is new except the scenery is now different in a more-likely-to-kill-you manner since there are no towns to shop from and nowhere to scavenge food and water.

They should be sore and tired from their previous weeks of riding, and honestly that tiny taste of luxury in Tashbaan would have made it harder for me at least to swing back into those hated saddles. I mean, c'mon, I've taken horeback riding in college and it's not rainbows and unicorn farts. They should both have calluses all over their butts and Shasta's testicles have probably been numb for the last week and a half. (Obligatory link to a fascinating Reddit discussion.)

And this brings up a new question I haven't really considered: why aren't they new to this? I feel we've broken the Vonnegut rule of starting as close to the end of the story as possible here. Aravis is a regular visitor to Tashbaan and Shasta's foster-dad-slash-slave-owner could have lived anywhere and done anything. Why not make Shasta a slave in Tashbaan (instead of some remote fishing village) and have him meet Bree more naturally than a single rider waltzing up and demanding the fisherman's best flea-ridden straw mat for the night? Why not have Shasta help Aravis escape? It feels like the opening could have been a lot punchier than having Shasta and Aravis ride around the countryside for weeks before deciding they now have to ride over a desert and also now the desert is delightful for some reason.

Heck, now that I'm thinking about this, I'd make Shasta a street rat in Tashbaan. (I still maintain there was an early draft in Lewis' head where Shasta was precisely this, and which would fit the Thousand and One Nights framing he's ripping off as hard as he can.) Have the Narnians visit, mistake him for the missing prince, and whisk him into the palace. While he's trying to escape, he runs into Aravis who is doing the exact same thing--she's running from her planned wedding. Hell, make her a princess and the Rabadash plan a forced dual-marriage. He plans to marry Queen Susan and give his sister Aravis to King Edmund in return.

Anyway, Shasta agrees to help the Princess escape and they head down to the stables to find talking Horses. The Talking Horses had planned to try to leave with the Narnian delegation, but they never had an opportunity to speak with them alone ("We're one of you but if the Calormen know, they'll never let us go! We'll play mute and you offer to buy us! They'd not refuse such an offer.") and now they'll never have the chance if the Narnians are flying by boat. They decide to take the desert way that Shasta overheard (or, hell, even knows about--make him a caravan slave who knows the safest routes by heart. now he's actually useful and his knowledge isn't limited to "aim for that massive landmark there").

Damn, now I'm upset because I feel like this would be so much better.

   [...] Then suddenly the sun rose and everything changed in a moment. The gray sand turned yellow and twinkled as if it was strewn with diamonds. On their left the shadows of Shasta and Hwin and Bree and Aravis, enormously long, raced beside them. The double peak of Mount Pire, far ahead, flashed in the sunlight and Shasta saw they were a little out of the course. “A bit left, a bit left,” he sang out. Best of all, when you looked back, Tashbaan was already small and remote. The Tombs were quite invisible: swallowed up in that single, jagged-edge hump which was the city of the Tisroc. Everyone felt better.
   But not for long. Though Tashbaan looked very far away when they first saw it, it refused to look any further away as they went on. Shasta gave up looking back at it, for it only gave him the feeling that they were not moving at all. Then the light became a nuisance. The glare of the sand made his eyes ache: but he knew he mustn’t shut them. He must screw them up and keep looking on ahead at Mount Pire and shouting out directions. 

Another nitpick here, but why does Shasta need to be the one shouting out directions? He told everyone where they are going, so it seems like all four of them are competent to, like, "aim directly for that mountain thataway"? This feels like an odd way to add tension: Shasta has to stay alert and has to keep awake because otherwise the other three might not see the mountain ahead.

   Then came the heat. He noticed it for the first time when he had to dismount and walk: as he slipped down to the sand the heat from it struck up into his face as if from the opening of an oven door. Next time it was worse. But the third time, as his bare feet touched the sand he screamed with pain and got one foot back in the stirrup and the other half over Bree’s back before you could have said knife.
   “Sorry, Bree,” he gasped. “I can’t walk. It burns my feet.” “Of course!” panted Bree. “Should have thought of that myself. Stay on. Can’t be helped.”
   “It’s all right for you,” said Shasta to Aravis who was walking beside Hwin. “You’ve got shoes on.”
   Aravis said nothing and looked prim. Let’s hope she didn’t mean to, but she did.

Oh for fuck's sake, Lewis, just admit that you hate all women and be done with it.

   At last there was something different—a mass of rock sticking up out of the sand about fifty yards long and thirty feet high. It did not cast much shadow, for the sun was now very high, but it cast a little. Into that shade they crowded. There they ate some food and drank a little water. It is not easy giving a horse a drink out of a skin bottle, but Bree and Hwin were clever with their lips. No one had anything like enough. No one spoke. The Horses were flecked with foam and their breathing was noisy. The children were pale.
   After a very short rest they went on again. Same noises, same smells, same glare, till at last their shadows began to fall on their right, and then got longer and longer till they seemed to stretch out to the Eastern end of the world. Very slowly the sun drew nearer to the Western horizon. And now at last he was down and, thank goodness, the merciless glare was gone, though the heat coming up from the sand was still as bad as ever. Four pairs of eyes were looking out eagerly for any sign of the valley that Sallowpad the Raven had spoken about. But, mile after mile, there was nothing but level sand. And now the day was quite definitely done, and most of the stars were out, and still the Horses thundered on and the children rose and sank in their saddles, miserable with thirst and weariness. Not till the moon had risen did Shasta—in the strange, barking voice of someone whose mouth is perfectly dry—shout out:
   “There it is!”

I'm trying to get a sense of timeline here. They started at night, trotted all night long, trotted all day long, had a very short rest, and trotted through the night again. So that's... at least 24 hours without sleep, just trotting their little hearts out? Hold on to that.

   There was no mistaking it now. Ahead, and a little to their right, there was at last a slope: a slope downward and hummocks of rock on each side. The Horses were far too tired to speak but they swung round toward it and in a minute or two they were entering the gully. At first it was worse in there than it had been out in the open desert, for there was a breathless stuffiness between the rocky walls and less moonlight. The slope continued steeply downward and the rocks on either hand rose to the height of cliffs. Then they began to meet vegetation—prickly cactus-like plants and coarse grass of the kind that would prick your fingers. Soon the horse-hoofs were falling on pebbles and stones instead of sand. Round every bend of the valley—and it had many bends—they looked eagerly for water. The Horses were nearly at the end of their strength now, and Hwin, stumbling and panting, was lagging behind Bree. They were almost in despair before at last they came to a little muddiness and a tiny trickle of water through softer and better grass. And the trickle became a brook, and the brook became a stream with bushes on each side, and the stream became a river and there came (after more disappointments than I could possibly describe) a moment when Shasta, who had been in a kind of doze, suddenly realized that Bree had stopped and found himself slipping off. Before them a little cataract of water poured into a broad pool: and both the Horses were already in the pool with their heads down, drinking, drinking, drinking. “O-o-oh,” said Shasta and plunged in—it was about up to his knees—and stooped his head right into the cataract. It was perhaps the loveliest moment in his life.
   It was about ten minutes later when all four of them (the two children wet nearly all over) came out and began to notice their surroundings. The moon was now high enough to peep down into the valley. There was soft grass on both sides of the river, and beyond the grass, trees and bushes sloped up to the bases of the cliffs. There must have been some wonderful flowering shrubs hidden in that shadowy undergrowth for the whole glade was full of the coolest and most delicious smells. And out of the darkest recess among the trees there came a sound Shasta had never heard before—a nightingale.
   Everyone was much too tired to speak or eat. The Horses, without waiting to be unsaddled, lay down at once. So did Aravis and Shasta.
   About ten minutes later the careful Hwin said, “But we mustn’t go to sleep. We’ve got to keep ahead of that Rabadash.”
   “No,” said Bree very slowly. “Mustn’t go sleep. Just a little rest.”
   Shasta knew (for a moment) that they would all go to sleep if he didn’t get up and do something about it, and felt that he ought to. In fact he decided that he would get up and persuade them to go on. But presently; not yet: not just yet …
   Very soon the moon shone and the nightingale sang over two horses and two human children, all fast asleep.

The falling asleep here is going to be treated as a very bad thing, and I'm honestly not sure I follow why. They've been riding non-stop for twenty-four hours. I would need sleep after being awake for 24 hours straight, and that's not even considering the extra fatigue caused by things like "trotting non-stop through a desert" and "without hardly any water to speak of" and "also not really much of any food". They're exhausted because they've been working hard, but they're supposed to keep going  out of sheer determination and English pluck.

And, okay, they've got a good reason to keep going: they're trying to outrun an army and prevent a war. But tired people make stupid mistakes and they can't afford to get lost or turned around right now. There are good reasons to take a brief nap, and honestly I'm not sure why it's being taken as read that the party isn't doing enough and that Rabadash's army would be doing so much better. The party has, for the record, (a) set out immediately, (b) traveled twenty-four hours at as fast a pace as they could safely set while (c) taking only one brief rest.

Are we seriously meant to believe that Rabadash's army of at least two hundred people and horses will somehow have been able to leave Tashbaan faster, ride through the desert faster, rest less than one brief time, and sleep less than not-at-all? An army moves at the pace of its slowest members! Rabadash can't just leave the stragglers behind en masse; he's already working with a skeleton crew just to cross safely in the first place.

   It was Aravis who awoke first. The sun was already high in the heavens and the cool morning hours were already wasted. “It’s my fault,” she said to herself furiously as she jumped up and began rousing the others. “One wouldn’t expect Horses to keep awake after a day’s work like that, even if they can talk. And of course that Boy wouldn’t; he’s had no decent training. But I ought to have known better.”
   The others were dazed and stupid with the heaviness of their sleep.
   “Heigh-ho—broo-hoo,” said Bree. “Been sleeping in my saddle, eh? I’ll never do that again. Most uncomfortable—”
   “Oh come on, come on,” said Aravis. “We’ve lost half the morning already. There isn’t a moment to spare.”
   “A fellow’s got to have a mouthful of grass,” said Bree.
   “I’m afraid we can’t wait,” said Aravis.

The sun is "high in the heavens" but later Lewis says they leave at eleven o'clock in the morning, so it's high in that... 9 am way? Ish? If they fell asleep around 2 am (I'm guessing a time based on the description of the moon and night and how long they traveled during the night), that means they've rested 7 hours out of the last 31? And if they start out at 11 am, that will be a delay of 9 hours from 33 hours total. I... am pretty sure that would be an amazing rest-to-travel ratio for a medieval army, but I can't swear to it.

Anyway, I have more thoughts but let's set them aside for a moment.

   “What’s the terrible hurry?” said Bree. “We’ve crossed the desert, haven’t we?”
   “But we’re not in Archenland yet,” said Aravis. “And we’ve got to get there before Rabadash.”
   “Oh, we must be miles ahead of him,” said Bree. “Haven’t we been coming a shorter way? Didn’t that Raven friend of yours say this was a short cut, Shasta?”
   “He didn’t say anything about shorter,” answered Shasta. “He only said better, because you got to a river this way. If the oasis is due North of Tashbaan, then I’m afraid this may be longer.”
   “Well I can’t go on without a snack,” said Bree. “Take my bridle off, Shasta.”
   “P-please,” said Hwin, very shyly, “I feel just like Bree that I can’t go on. But when Horses have humans (with spurs and things) on their backs, aren’t they often made to go on when they’re feeling like this? and then they find they can. I m-mean—oughtn’t we to be able to do more even, now that we’re free. It’s all for Narnia.”
   “I think, Ma’am,” said Bree very crushingly, “that I know a little more about campaigns and forced marches and what a horse can stand than you do.”
   To this Hwin made no answer, being, like most highly bred mares, a very nervous and gentle person who was easily put down. In reality she was quite right, and if Bree had had a Tarkaan on his back at that moment to make him go on, he would have found that he was good for several hours’ hard going. But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself.


Okay. So. Points to Hwin for being the right one, and points for Bree being both wrong and wrong in exactly the kind of arrogant "I am the man here with the experience and I eat honorable combat for breakfast so how rude of you to question me with your girlish questions" way that Lewis does so often without irony. I am almost amazed that Lewis was able to write this passage without reflecting on all the times his arrogant honorable male characters do precisely this to a woman yet the narrative lauds them for it. (I mean! When Susan asks Aslan if they can't change the Deep Magic, he basically pulls this card but without as many words. But that was fine and good.)

But. What. The. Fuck. with that last paragraph? What in the hell is this: But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself. Well, I guess we have a reason for why Edmund the Just (who has been in captivity and whipped and force-marched, for the record) thinks that "slave" is the best insult he can reach for in a pinch. Because clearly slaves are lazy and dishonorable because they can't make themselves do things once they get their freedom. I... this is slavery apologetics 101, for the record: you can't free slaves because they don't have the capability of self-determination. That is literally what slave-owners say to themselves to justify not freeing their slaves.

How does any of this work with what has been written? Bree has been an escaped slave for months but he's managed to force himself to do plenty of things he didn't want to do. So have Hwin and Shasta! Did their freedom and its terrible consequences to self-determination not assert itself until they crossed the border of the desert? How does this work with Lewis' own theology, where we are enslaved in sin until we become Christians? (Though I guess in his framework, we're still slaves. We're just slaves of The Emperor Across The Sea instead of slaves to evil and Satan and stuff? I guess?)

Also... um... I hate taking the side of an arrogant asshatted male here but... Bree kinda does know more about campaigns and forced marches and what a horse can stand than Hwin does? I mean, thank god the narrator pops in to assure us that the horses would have been fine, really, if only someone had touched jagged bits of metal to their flanks to make them go faster, but... does Lewis know that horses can run themselves to death? I know Google didn't exist when these books were written, but "how long before a horse has to rest" yields amazing results that confirm my suspicions that, well, these horses need to rest.

This kind of question bothers me as it seems to flirt with thinking in a manner that disregards the animal's health and well-being. [...] Some horses do have tremendous endurance capabilities, but not many. The average companion-horse probably would not comfortably go 35 miles in one day. The average rider would find 35 miles too far, as well!

In contrast, an endurance horse (a horse that has been bred, trained and managed specifically for use in long-distance competitions) might go 100 miles in just 12 hours with 5 stops along the way, in a competition. Endurance races require each horse and rider team to stop at check points along the course so that the horse can be given a full physical exam by a qualified veterinarian, to prove it is still in excellent physical condition and able to continue the race. [...]

Not surprisingly, the terrain the horse must cross, the weight it carries, and even factors such as weather can have dramatic effects on how far a horse can travel, and how fast. The Pony Express riders carried mail across 8 states - a distance of over 2,000 miles, during 1860-1861 (18 months) in the fledgling United States. About 400 horses were used, 80 riders and around 400 staff members who manned the way-stations. Each horse only went ten or twelve miles and traveled, on average, only about 10 miles per hour, due to the severity of the terrain, the weight of the rider and of the mail. Riders changed horses at stations located about 10 miles apart, all along the route, and each rider continued for about 100 miles. For this reason, the Pony Express only hired young men in excellent physical shape.

Early US cavalry horses were required to be able to travel 100 miles in one day, carrying 300 lbs. I've been unable to find data that reveals what the average life expectancy of those horses was, although we can be sure that many which survived the march, died in battle. Horses used for freight and carriages in New York City circa 1910 struggled with heavy loads over uneven, slippery surfaces with meager rations and worked from sunrise to dark. Most of them started work before the age of 2 and their average life expectancy was 4 years. Modern horses' life expectancy is about 23 years, although many live into their 30's and some may reach 40 years of age. They get that old because the quality of their care is a major concern for today's horsemen. Horses are an expensive investment as well as deeply loved companions, and working them for long periods over difficult terrain is the exception rather than the rule, in today's horse industry.

The thing is, Hwin isn't trained to endurance riding. Hell, Bree isn't trained to endurance riding because a war-horse doesn't carry a rider and luggage on the campaign trail. Not in a medieval setting! You don't want your specially-trained, highly-strung war-machine to be dull and tired and broken down when you get to the battle! So when Bree says he knows a thing about campaigns, he's being a condescending asshole, but he's also right! On a campaign, he wouldn't have a rider on his back and all their food and water strapped to his flanks.

Side-note: When have these horses last been shod? They've been tramping about the countryside for months. That's not something that most villages would be equipped to do--to shoe a fancy war-horse--plus it would raise suspicion. In fact, if I remember correctly, Shasta always went into villages alone to buy food while Bree hid on the other side of a hill or whatever. So that's right out. I suppose they could have been shod in Tashbaan, but I very much doubt Lasaraleen had a shoe-er ("farrier", new word for the day) in her personal staff and thought to tell him to give the horses new shoes.

Google says horses need to be re-shod every 4 to 6 weeks. Since people here on Earth have been shoeing horses since at least 400 B.C., I feel Bree and Hwin should have been shod prior to their escape. This presets a problem: as (per Google) "hooves grow continuously and when shod the hoof cannot wear down as it can (in the correct conditions) with an unshod horse". So it kinda seems like every step these horses are taking right now is probably uncomfortable, painful, or difficult? I don't know if it's reasonable for Lewis to have thought of this, but I did and you can fit what I know about horses into a matchbook so it seems reasonable to ask.

I guess my thesis here is that I'm glad Lewis finally decided a man could be wrong and a woman could be right, but it's a little aggravating to feel like the man--while definitely being a tool!--does actually seem kind of right and also all this slave apologia is gross and creepy.

   So they had to wait while Bree had a snack and a drink, and of course Hwin and the children had a snack and a drink too. It must have been nearly eleven o’clock in the morning before they finally got going again. And even then Bree took things much more gently than yesterday. It was really Hwin, though she was the weaker and more tired of the two, who set the pace.
   The valley itself, with its brown, cool river, and grass and moss and wild flowers and rhododendrons, was such a pleasant place that it made you want to ride slowly.

I do love the passive-aggression in this paragraph though: "so of course" Bree had food and water, and then the kids and Hwin decided they might as well too. I mean, this is a logical thing to do--eat and drink before riding another twenty-four hours--but it's presented as, like, Bree slowing everyone down with his biological needs. How dare he. Also, he set the pace more gently than before which kind of makes sense because (a) they aren't racing through a desert in an attempt to beat dehydration before it beats them and (b) they're traveling through hilly rocky country where a broken ankle is more likely and would completely wreck their goal of informing the Archenlanders that the British Calormen are coming.

Which... okay, this is going to sound odd, but why do they care?

I don't, for the record, question that they should care. There are many reasons to care about this invasion. But Lewis never stops to tell us which ones Aravis and Shasta and Bree and Hwin picked. In fact, Aravis and Shasta are curiously silent in this chapter; Shasta barks out "the mountain is to the left" a few times (thank you, Shasta, what would we do without a man to listen to) and Aravis blames herself for everyone falling asleep (thank you, Aravis, what would we do without a woman to blame), but then they just... go quiet. They don't argue with Bree or Hwin in either direction, they just sort of fade into the background as baggage.

Aravis says they haven't a moment to spare and they've got to get there before Rabadash. This is urgent to her. But... why? What is her motivation here? Does she care about never letting another woman be forced into marriage the way she very nearly was? Does she care, more abstractly, about preventing the suffering of another woman? Does she want to ingratiate herself with the Narnian nobility so that her life in Narnia will be as a favored courtier rather than as a lowly farmer? Does she hate Rabadash and want to foil his plans for the principle of the thing? Does she care about preventing a war because her father might be in those horseman ranks? What is her motivation?

These aren't abstract questions we can just fling aside with "well, she's a good person so it's kinda all-of-the-above". A few chapters from now she will be savaged by a lion-god for her sins and brought into the community of Aslanites. It matters what her outlook of the world is and why she makes the decisions she makes because she's about to be told she's wrong and shown how to do better. And it particularly matters in context here because she's helping save a woman from being beaten by a man, but her greatest sin is of failing to save a woman from being beaten by a man! Are things Different This Time because the woman (Susan is noble, the servant was not), because the man (Rabadash is an asshole, but Aravis loved her father), because an attempt at redemption (Aravis failed the last one, but she will make it up now), because... why? Her internal state matters because there's a direct parallel to her Great Sin and we need to know what she's thinking! This isn't optional in a book about changing her internal state from wrong and sinful to good and holy!

Moving on, why does Shasta care? Why does Hwin* care? Why does Bree care? There are reasons--good reasons!--for them to want to thwart the Calormen, prevent a war (or at least prevent a one-sided massacre), save Susan, and so on. But we never hear them. We know this is urgent to them, but we never hear why. We see Bree dawdling, but it's never examined whether his lack of haste has to do with different priorities. Maybe his driving motivation is just to Get To Narnia and now that that's in sight he's satisfied and doesn't care nearly so much about Queen Susan And Her Problems. (“What’s the terrible hurry?” said Bree. “We’ve crossed the desert, haven’t we?”) I wouldn't agree with that stance, but it would come out in dialogue if anyone engaged on this matter! "The terrible hurry is that a woman is about to be raped / a massacre is about to happen / the people who gave me flavored ice in Tashbaan are about to be hurt!" isn't said by Aravis/Hwin/Shasta, so we have no sense of their priorities and no way to flesh out Bree's.

I think Lewis is a poor writer because he doesn't get into the characters' heads and consider what they'd be thinking. But that leads us to poor theology: Bree and Aravis will be punished later for their respective sins, but since we never understand why they did those sins--why Aravis wouldn't help one woman yet was so driven to help another; why Bree was so haughty and dawdly when lives depended on their haste--we can't really understand their redemption. "Stop doing bad things," the Lion says, and they nod and promise to never ever do a bad thing again. There's no growth, no catharsis, no understanding of how they'll be able to do better in the future. They just will because the Lion told them to.


[TW: Rape, Animal Cruelty, Forced Pregnancy]

* The "why does Hwin care" question brings up a fridge horror that I've been trying not to think about: have Bree and Hwin been bred while they were in captivity? They're adult horses and they're supposed to be some of the Finest Horseflesh In Calormen because they came from Narnia and obviously a Narnian Horse is better in every way from a Calormen horse.

How psychologically scarring would that be for them? We know nothing about Horses and their mating rituals, so it's probably a mistake to default to my human view, but even understanding that I am a human over here, it seems pretty horrifying to me? Horses and horses are treated like a different species in Narnia, so would this be like a human being bred to a monkey? Would they be capable of having offspring together? If they were able to have children, those children would almost certainly be separated from them against their will (for Hwin, after nursing; for Bree, he'd probably not meet the children at all if he was loaned out to stud). Would the children be sapient and able to talk? That would be an extra blow--not to mention would almost certainly ruin their cover story as definitely-not-Talking-Horses.

I'm not saying I want a backstory where Hwin had a horse-baby taken from her and it hurt so very much, but damn that would be a blow to the feels if she did and if this was why she cared so very much about making sure that Queen Susan not be bred to a man she hates and her children taken from her to be raised as future Tisrocs.


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