Narnia: Truffaut Was Right

[Narnia Content Note: War]

Narnia Recap: Shasta has united with the Narnian army and Corin has strong-armed him into being his "bodyguard" for the upcoming battle. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.

The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 13: The Fight at Anvard

We didn't have a Narnia thread for April and this is honestly because I think this book has broken me. I don't mean it has made me sad or upset (though it surely has done so in the past), but I mean that it just doesn't work. Trying to analyze this book as a piece of fiction is like trying to explain a fever dream according to the rules of conventional storytelling. This book was not written to those rules because its author didn't care about conventional storytelling.

I'm honestly not sure what Lewis' intent was writing this--the best faith interpretation I can give this mess is that he'd gotten this far and people wanted more so he tried to give them something entertaining in as short a time and with as little effort as he had to spare rather than turn them down and send them away empty-handed--but we can say fairly certainly that things like Coherent Plot and Consistent Characterization and Not Breaking The World-Building With Impossible Details were not high on the list.

I've been re-reading Fred Clark's Left Behind posts on my Kindle and I'm struck by how often he talks about writing as being a craft worthy of work and effort and care and mindfulness. Obviously this is going to be a matter of opinion, but I just don't see Lewis as taking care with his craft of writing. And that's maybe not automatically a bad thing, depending on personal taste and preference? If an author wants to write and publish a book in a month and their readership loves their work and overlooks any flaws which weren't caught in the rapid editing, then more power to everyone involved. (Consent! It's what's for dinner.) But I won't sit here and pretend that the people who can get away with that kind of fast-and-dirty work (without suffering a blow to their reputation as a Serious Author) tend to be super-privileged. The rest of us have to be capital-p Perfect and even then we're likely to be considered less good as our privileged peers.

Steering this horse back onto the path here, the lack of craftsmanship is what makes analyzing this book so hard because... where do you begin? I can't tell if the things which happen just to propel the plot along are supposed to be coincidences or if they're just lazy writing. Shasta stumbles into a community of Animals (and Dwarves) (is this a town or do they all just live in the forest together?) and the forest is also a mountain (I guess?) and the dwarves live in the mountain and can see the Stone Table from their house (ummm?) but they cannot see Cair Paravel and not the approaching Narnian army from their house (because reasons?).

Then the army pulls to a halt in front of the dwarves' home but apparently this is a coincidence rather than a deliberate attempt to locate the original messenger (I think?), and Edmund and Lucy are charmed by Shasta's similarity to Corin but they seem otherwise not to care or think anything of the two boys being functionally identical (despite vastly different upbringings and nutrition), which wouldn't be a sensible response in our world, let alone a world with actual magic where magicians take over thrones via enchanted figureheads. (Granted, the Pevensies don't know about The Silver Chair, but we do!) Then Corin fights and accidentally temporarily maims his dwarven bodyguard because he's angry to hear he won't see battle. Edmund scolds him and then wanders off, apparently assuming the bodyguard situation will sort itself out?

Shasta--a boy who ought to be much taller and less stout than this bodyguard dwarf--pulls on his armor and pretends to be a new dwarf no one in this very small army knows or has ever seen before. How is it even possible to blend into this small group? Is the group small? It surely must be, when Peter has the larger share of his troops up in the north fighting evil giants. But they're planning to meet Rabadash's two hundred horsemen on a field of battle, so you'd think they'd want to be fairly evenly matched. Lucy couldn't have had two hundred troops just lounging about Cair Parvel, but they haven't had time to call up an emergency draft; the Stag carrying the news has been gone less than a full day.

Just... how? Where did all these people come from? We have no answers so we plunge on without.

   BY ABOUT ELEVEN O’CLOCK THE WHOLE company was once more on the march, riding westward with the mountains on their left. Corin and Shasta rode right at the rear with the Giants immediately in front of them. Lucy and Edmund and Peridan were busy with their plans for the battle and though Lucy once said, “But where is his goosecap Highness?” Edmund only replied, “Not in the front, and that’s good news enough. Leave well alone.”

Patreons who have already seen my Rabadash fanfic I posted for May will understand why I am so pleased by this further evidence that Lucy is the smartest damn Pevensie in the room and Edmund needs to take all the seats. Ramblingites who have read my prophetic fixfic will note that there is only one reason--and it's not a kind one--I can think of for why Corin isn't left at Cair Paravel with Susan.

Why is the crown prince here at all? Is Lune going to thank the guardians of his son for exposing him to a lethal situation where he is at risk of being killed in battle or captured by enemy troops? It makes sense for Edmund and Lucy to be here in spite of the risk because they're useful at killing people, but they literally brought Corin to sit in the back and do nothing. Where is the return-on-investment of this massive risk they're taking? Lewis would probably not be thrilled with the comments here that the Pevensies are trying to get Corin killed, but what other explanation is there? Their actions are trying to get Corin killed, the only question is whether their intent matches.

I must admit, The Horse and His Boy holds a special place in my heart as the Narnia book I hold the most acrimony towards. For one, this is the book where Aravis is scourged and I was very troubled by that in my childhood. (It is the youngest, strongest memory I have of unadulterated unfairness. The sort of unfairness that shocks the innocent. Peter Pan described this well.) For two, people like to trot this book out for Lune's speech of good kingship and it always rankles my shorts when they do. We'll get there later, but suffice to say that the kings in this book do not live up to the ideal they preach. Corin's presence here is a good example of that.

Corin isn't here because the situation is desperate and they need every 15-year-old boy with a sword in his hand to make a difference. That would be bleak and unhappy, but it's a narrative we know and respect. He's a prince, his people are in danger of death or enslavement, and he's been trained his whole life for this moment: this is a story we know and respect. (It's also the argument Lune, and therefore Lewis, puts forward to justify monarchy.) But that's not this situation here. The upcoming battle is treated by Corin and his guard as sport for him to watch, while Edmund seems to think that this is an educational field trip, akin to taking the boy to the Botanical Gardens or a Butterfly Museum.

All of this conflicts mightily with Lune's grave moralizing that kings should be at the head of every desperate battle charge because that's what kings do to protect their people. Corin not only isn't at the head, he's not even scheduled to fight! For the record, I'm very okay with not putting a fifteen-year-old boy on the battlefield, but if he's not needed here then he shouldn't be here. His coming out here to view the "sport" endangers his people because, again, he could be captured and used as a bargaining chip to open the gates to the city. Or he could be ransomed or killed, robbing his people of money or their years of investment raising and feeding a crown prince.

I'm not surprised at this point in the series that Lewis had a major boner for gentlemanly warfare. I can even feel sympathy; he lived through a very brutal war indeed and I can imagine Arthurian wars could seem gentler and kinder by comparison. But his personal mix of longing for Ye Good Old Kings and Ye Good Old Wars somehow landed him into the idea that wars are not horrible things to be avoided at all costs, but rather fun jolly romps that make for enjoyable afternoon outings. Maybe that was easier for him to cope, but I can't help but look at generations raised on Lewis' works and wonder if another message might have been better. I don't really know if Fran├žois Truffaut was right and you can't make an anti-war movie, but Lewis seems not to even have tried.

[This is a short post, but I'm going to cut it off today and pick it up at a later date because my shoulders are giving me trouble while I type. More next time.]

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