[Narnia Content Note: Slavery, Racism]
Narnia Recap: Shasta has crossed the mountains into Narnia. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.
The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 12: Shasta in Narnia
When we last left off, Shasta had crossed the mountains into Narnia and was explaining to the first local inhabitant he stumbled across that there was, like, a war going on. And I must say this puzzles me for reasons because I had thought--and was clearly wrong--that passage through Anvard was kinda mandatory for getting into Narnia.
The fact that there are two routes into Narnia--one through Anvard and another through the mountains--seems relevant here because in very short order Rabadash will be wasting his precious time and element of surprise by besieging Anvard when what he really wants is to ride into Narnia in order to get Susan. Anvard is the carrot he dangled for his father to agree to the mission, but I never got the impression that Rabadash cared about the place at all except as an excuse.
Shasta has now learned there is a way into Narnia other than through Anvard, which means there is another way to kidnap Queen Susan, which means that Shasta's warning to King Lune to close the gates of Anvard didn't necessarily accomplish whatever Shasta's goal has been all this time. This is why I've been harping on the fact that his goals are never disclosed to the reader: If Shasta's goal was to protect Anvard, well, he did do that. But if his goal was to stop the abduction and rape of a nice lady who was kind to him for a few minutes (a very chivalrous deed I think we can all agree Lewis would approve of), then that one is still up in the air in terms of whether he's saved her.
In Doylistic terms, of course, none of this matters because Lewis will have Rabadash fling himself against Anvard rather than seek another route to his ultimate target, but in Watsonian terms it does make it seem very odd that Shasta is so chill about whether someone ought to, like, warn Queen Susan about the impending abduction.
“Good morning,” said Shasta. “But I’m not a neighbor. In fact I’m a stranger in these parts.” “Ah?” said the Hedgehog inquiringly. “I’ve come over the mountains—from Archenland, you know.”
“Ah, Archenland,” said the Hedgehog. “That’s a terrible long way. Never been there myself.”
“And I think, perhaps,” said Shasta, “someone ought to be told that there’s an army of savage Calormenes attacking Anvard at this very moment.”
“You don’t say so!” answered the Hedgehog. “Well, think of that. And they do say that Calormen is hundreds and thousands of miles away, right at the world’s end, across a great sea of sand.”
“It’s not nearly as far as you think,” said Shasta. “And oughtn’t something to be done about this attack on Anvard? Oughtn’t your High King to be told?”
What's really weird here is that Shasta seems to have forgotten that an abduction is the point of this attack. He's focusing on Anvard and doesn't even mention the threat posed to Susan, which is doubly weird because he only really ever heard about Anvard secondhand from Aravis' brief recap. What are the odds that Aravis, a girl fleeing from marital rape, would have focused more on the danger presented to some random city than she would have on Queen Susan being in danger of marital rape?
Moreover, even from a utilitarian perspective, it makes sense to tell the Narnians about the danger to their Narnian queen rather than presenting this as some kind of Calormene-Archenland scuffle that Narnia might want to know about. It feels as though Lewis is focusing on Archenland because that's the stage he's interested in right now; it's the place where the Big Battle is going to happen and then Shasta will be the crown prince and we'll get the whole backstory and prophecy we don't care about (because there's been no build-up to it whatsoever, so it doesn't feel like a proper payoff).
Anyway, I'm going to cut ahead, but the gist is that we get a comedy of Animals all agreeing in silly voices that something ought to be done but not actually doing anything because Animals Are Silly and Lewis has never treated them with a modicum of respect.
For the truth was that in that golden age when the Witch and the Winter had gone and Peter the High King ruled at Cair Paravel, the smaller woodland people of Narnia were so safe and happy that they were getting a little careless.
Which is absolutely hilarious in a setting where King Lune just lost his long-lost-son again because he couldn't be arsed to assign a courtier to ride with them, and Susan and Edmund provoked an actual war by swanning into a foreign country without a proper guard and then sneaking out whilst burning every diplomatic bridge behind them. But, no, it's the Animals who are "careless" in this story.
Presently, however, two more practical people arrived in the little wood. One was a Red Dwarf whose name appeared to be Duffle. The other was a stag, a beautiful lordly creature with wide liquid eyes, dappled flanks and legs so thin and graceful that they looked as if you could break them with two fingers.
“Lion alive!” roared the Dwarf as soon as he had heard the news. “And if that’s so, why are we all standing still, chattering? Enemies at Anvard! News must be sent to Cair Paravel at once. The army must be called out. Narnia must go to the aid of King Lune.”
And again there's this bizarre "aid of King Lune" bantering about. Has Lewis forgotten that Rabadash doesn't give a shit about King Lune and that his goal is Queen Susan? I mean, yes, Lune needs help but also someone needs to get a message to Susan and that message needs to be stay at sea because they don't have boats. Or something! This makes no sense, that literally no one would try to warn her! What if Rabadash sends in a small strike team to ride in and kidnap her? (Why isn't Rabadash sending-- oh nevermind, we all know why.)
“I’ve got speed,” said the Stag. “What’s my message? How many Calormenes?” “Two hundred: under Prince Rabadash. And—” But the Stag was already away—all four legs off the ground at once, and in a moment its white stern had disappeared among the remoter trees.
Well, hopefully nothing important was going to follow "and".
“Wonder where he’s going,” said a Rabbit. “He won’t find the High King at Cair Paravel, you know.”
“He’ll find Queen Lucy,” said Duffle. “And then—hullo! What’s wrong with the Human? It looks pretty green. Why, I do believe it’s quite faint. Perhaps it’s mortal hungry. When did you last have a meal, youngster?”
“Yesterday morning,” said Shasta weakly.
“Come on, then, come on,” said the Dwarf, at once throwing his thick little arms round Shasta’s waist to support him. “Why, neighbors, we ought all to be ashamed of ourselves! You come with me, lad. Breakfast! Better than talking.”
I cut this part, but they won't find the High King because he's off on a campaign to the north killing giants or some other Chaotic Evil race, as one does. I'm not sure what to think of the fact that Edmund and Susan went a-courting while Peter went a-killing and Lucy stayed behind; there's a lot of ways to interpret that division of labor.
I will note that Lucy apparently sees no problem in leaving the capital to join the Anvard fight. I would have been interested in knowing how the Narnians feel about that, like whether they have a superstition that one of the four human rulers must remain in the capital at all times or the White Witch will rise up and invade again. That would be interesting world-building. I guess not, though, because later in this timeline all four of them will go hunting together and fling themselves out of a wardrobe.
Anyway. Duffle takes Shasta home to his brothers. (Have we ever seen a female dwarf in the Narnia books?)
And immediately, mixed with a sizzling sound, there came to Shasta a simply delightful smell. It was one he had never smelled in his life before, but I hope you have. It was, in fact, the smell of bacon and eggs and mushrooms all frying in a pan.
“Mind your head, lad,” said Duffle a moment too late, for Shasta had already bashed his forehead against the low lintel of the door. “Now,” continued the Dwarf, “sit you down. The table’s a bit low for you, but then the stool’s low too. That’s right. And here’s porridge—and here’s a jug of cream—and here’s a spoon.”
By the time Shasta had finished his porridge, the Dwarf’s two brothers (whose names were Rogin and Bricklethumb) were putting the dish of bacon and eggs and mushrooms, and the coffeepot and the hot milk, and the toast, on the table.
It was all new and wonderful to Shasta for Calormene food is quite different. He didn’t even know what the slices of brown stuff were, for he had never seen toast before. He didn’t know what the yellow soft thing they smeared on the toast was, because in Calormen you nearly always get oil instead of butter. And the house itself was quite different from the dark, frowsty, fish-smelling hut of Arsheesh and from the pillared and carpeted halls in the palaces of Tashbaan.
Shasta has never smelled bacon before, which I chalk up to the Calormen being Fantasy Muslims and presumably not pork-eaters. He's never had toast, which... makes less sense to me; he's surely had bread and there wouldn't be any reason not to toast bread that was getting a little stale or going off. Heat makes things tasty and safer, yes? He's never had butter before, which... no? There's butter in the Arabian Nights that Lewis was stealing from, so this is just food exoticism for the sake of making English food better, as is Lewis' wont.
Of course Shasta gobbles up all the food and loves it and is immediately converted to preferring English food above all others, because (a) the English are just better at everything forever amen and (b) it would be super inconvenient for Lewis if the white boy who was raised in another country actually preferred their food and customs and such, bringing him to miss those things later as an adult or (worse and unthinkable) even going so far as to introduce those foods and customs to his kingdom when he became king.
Then Duffle and Bricklethumb took Shasta outside to a bench which ran against the cottage wall, and they all stretched out their legs and gave a great sigh of contentment and the two Dwarfs lit their pipes. The dew was off the grass now and the sun was warm; indeed, if there hadn’t been a light breeze, it would have been too hot.
“Now, Stranger,” said Duffle, “I’ll show you the lie of the land. You can see nearly all South Narnia from here, and we’re rather proud of the view. Right away on your left, beyond those near hills, you can just see the Western Mountains. And that round hill away on your right is called the Hill of the Stone Table. Just beyond—”
But at that moment he was interrupted by a snore from Shasta who, what with his night’s journey and his excellent breakfast, had gone fast asleep. The kindly Dwarfs, as soon as they noticed this, began making signs to each other not to wake him, and indeed did so much whispering and nodding and getting up and tiptoeing away that they certainly would have waked him if he had been less tired.
He slept pretty well nearly all day but woke up in time for supper. The beds in that house were all too small for him but they made him a fine bed of heather on the floor, and he never stirred or dreamed all night. Next morning they had just finished breakfast when they heard a shrill, exciting sound from outside.
So Shasta has a cozy meal and a sleep.
On the one hand, I hate to begrudge him that. He's worked hard and deserves a rest. I get it. On the other hand, he still doesn't seem to care about anyone. He doesn't mention Aravis and the Horses, not even to ask if someone can send a message to them to tell them he's safe and to ask after their health. He doesn't insist that someone warn Queen Susan who everyone knows for a fact is not at Cair Paravel, i.e., the place where the Stag was going with his warning. At the very least, you'd think people would want to get a message to King Edmund and the warriors he has with him. But no.
There's this almost surreal insistence in this chapter that the reader view all this coziness as Shasta's cosmic reward for finishing his task and doing a job well done, but he hasn't finished his task. He finished the one Lewis set for him--"warn King Lune"--but warning King Lune was never the finish line here. The finish line should be "keep Queen Susan safe" and there's still a lot undone on that front. Maybe Shasta doesn't have the energy or resources to fix that but he should at least try. For all intents and purposes, he doesn't.
This is badly written.